My name is Charlie, but if your looking for my work, I go by C. E. Dorsett. I write scifi, fantasy, and a touch of horror. I like to play with gothic, steampunk, decopunk, epic fantasy, and wuxia. I love to tell stories and talk about books, movies, series, and music.
What is Progressive Speculative Fiction?
"Progressive Speculative Fiction is a story told in any medium which has a “What if” at its core and is filled with hope for the future and promotes a sense of community (Project: Shadow Manifesto)." Of all the things I wrote in the Project: Shadow Manifesto, that one sentence has proven to be the most controversial. Writers have emailed me asking if their work is Progressive SF or not. Let's approach the question slowly.
What is Speculative Fiction?
Speculative Fiction is any fiction that has at its core a "What if?" There are five main subgenres of Speculative Fiction:
- Science Fiction
- Alternative History
What sets these stories apart from the mainstream?
All fiction asks the question, "Suppose X happened to this character, what would happen?" Speculative Fiction asks, "What if X were true about the universe, how would this character react?" For example:
- Harry Potter: "What if magic existed in the world and it could do anything but bring people back from the dead?"
- Lord of the Rings: "What is the prehistory of Europe where a mystic struggle between the powers of light and darkness over the nature of the world to come?"
- Dune: "What if it were possible to alter consciousness enough for people to see the interconnectedness of all things"
- Cthulu Mythos: "What if there were beings in the universe as powerful and incomprehensible as we are to an ant?"
The question is the heart of the story. You cannot have a ghost story unless you ask, "What if ghosts interfered with the lives of people?"
That is why it is called Speculative Fiction. It speculates about a world that is different from ours in some way.
What makes Speculative Fiction Progressive?
Hope for the future and promotes a sense of community. Some have taken this to mean that dark fiction cannot be Progressive. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Heroes and Battlestar Galactica
- Image by Mostly Lisa via Flickr
Heroes is not progressive, but Battlestar Galactica is. Both of these stories are dark, and at times bleak. Why is one Progressive and the other not?
There is no hope in Heroes. Nothing inspires the characters forward. They looked into Kierkegaard's void and could not take their eyes off of the fact that the world is free from purpose and meaning. They embrace their meaninglessness, and robs the series of any lasting merit it could have.
Battlestar Galactica looked into the same void, and the characters chose to carve out their own meaning in the cosmos. They have hope for the future, even if it is challenged often, and they are continually struggling to build a viable community.
Hope for the Future
Hope is a necessary element of fiction that many post-modern writes/producers neglect.
- Without hope, the characters have nothing to loose.
- With nothing to loose, there is no tension.
- Without tension, there is no reason to care about the characters.
- If you don't care about the characters, there is nothing left but spectacle.
That is the primary problem with shows like Lost, Heroes, and Fringe. All they have is spectacle and shock value. They have no depth, and there is no reason for people to care about them. People watch simply to see what crazy thing happens next. They will be forgotten quickly.
A side effect of the hopelessness and ennui that fills post-modern SF is the focus on the individual to the detriment of the community. This factor alone was able to change my opinion of Battlestar Galactica. I didn't used to like the show, but after I marathoned the boxsets, I could see and better still feel the communities that were trying to maintain themselves.
A sense of community is integral to Speculative Fiction because most if not all stories present a world that is different from our own, and without a sense of community it is hard if not impossible to understand the nature of the setting. For example look at Legend of the Seeker:
- The levels of mistrust amid Darken Rahl's soldiers
- The submissive population of
All these and more add up to a better understanding of the world under Darken Rahl's control. Through these communities and the relationships between Richard, Zedd, and Kahlan defines the setting.
Hope and community are part of what Progressive Speculative Fiction is, but they are also Why Progressive Speculative Fiction is important, which we will talk about in the next post in this series.
Project: Shadow Manifesto
To mark the 10 year anniversary of the Project: Shadow Manifesto, we thought it was time to overhaul it again, but this time to open up the project to all of the like-minded fans out there who are tired of the status quo, and who are hungry for something new. Brian and I drafted the original Project: Shadow Manifesto in 1999 as an outline we saw in professional publishing. The original draft was heavy on problems, light on vision, and even lighter on solutions. We took years investigating the limited options available at the time, built the original Project: Shadow, and I started writing.
In 2004, we revised the manifesto, and re-launched Project: Shadow. The new draft focused on the solutions possible through new technologies. The world/culture presented us with newer challenges.
We are fans.
We love our music, stories, characters, and settings. We know about what we love. We participate in what we love. We support what we love. What we love supports us.
At heart, a fan is not someone who enjoys a movie, a song, a band, a book, or a show. A fan feels an intense connection with the object of their love. Fans decorate their homes, offices, and desktops with items that announce their allegiance with their favorite bands, movies, shows, and books.
The problem with our popular culture is that it doesn’t blink at a sports fan wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with their favorite team, or even a replica jersey, but wear a Star Wars shirt or dress like a goth and they think they have the right to mock you.
What is the difference between a fan wearing a jersey to a game or fan bringing a light saber to a movie? Or for that matter, what is the difference between a sports fan painting themselves up to go tailgating or a fan dressing as their favorite character at a convention?
Perception. Pop Culture has classified sports fans as acceptable and speculative fiction fans as geeky. I have to say, it is just as geeky to now all of the stats for everyone who has ever played for a particular sports franchise as it is to know the stats for every creature in the Monster Manual. The only real difference is one fan accepts they are a geek, and the other pretends their geekiness is proof they are a jock.
The disapproval is the least of the problems facing today’s fan.
From Storytellers to Copyright
Problem: People are natural storytellers. We hear a story, embellish it, and pass it on.
Solution: We tell each other stories, sing songs, write books, make videos, and create art to share these stories with each other.
Every story we tell is not original. We like to tell the same stories over and over. We borrow stories from any where and retell them in our own vernacular. It is intrinsic to who and what we are to share stories with each other.
Problem: The only constant in the world is change.
Solution: We ask ourselves the question, "What if," and share the answer with each other.
Problem: Artists and Writers need to make a living singing their songs, writing their books, making their videos, and creating their art.
Solution: We establish systems of Copyright.
The Cultural Cycle
Before the era of Copyright, stories, heroes, melodies, and lyrics belonged to the people. Stories were told, and retold. Numerous visions of each story competed against each other. The best were remembered, collected, retold, embellished, and built upon. The rest were forgotten.
Who told the first story about Hercules? Or Jason? or Troy? Who started the legends of King Arthur? or Beowulf? The first tales and their countless reiterations have been lost, but the best, most iconic stories survived.
Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, only a few comedies have no obvious sources, and even they rely upon well established patterns and archetypes.
This is the Cultural Cycle that keeps important stories alive. Each generation must retell the tales of the preceding generations in their own context to keep them relevant. This cycle has been broken.
- Problem: Companies lobby to prevent Intellectual Property from reentering the commons of the culture.
- Problem: Companies control the instruments of culture, making it harder to engage culture creatively.
- Solution: Fans retell these stories as not for profit tales, films, and songs.
- Solution: Fans organize themselves into clubs and conventions.
These solutions are are not enough. Fanfiction and film relies on the good will of the copyright holders and the fact that the fans do not make money from their works to slip through the thinnest of loop hole in copyright. As a result, pop culture is unaware of the cultural developments and retelling of these new stories. The subculture may be enriched by them, but the culture as a whole is not.
The Creative Commons and the Cult of the Dollar
Problem: Publishers and producers focus more on the commercial and popular value of a work, and the creative energy of the work suffers. Readers/viewers will not become fans, and fans will not continue to accept passionless works of Speculative Fiction.
Solution: Placing honesty over consumerism, we fans must stake out our own home to create and share the works we love. We must stand between the darkness and the light: This is the purpose of Project: Shadow.
Problem: The Companies and Rights holders lashed out against the fair use of their properties.
Problem: Some Rights Holders have lulled fandom into a false sense of security by not suing and even encouraging those who produce fanworks
Creative Commons is one of many proposed solutions to this problem. Others have lobbied for copyright reform. Neither of these is a solution to the problems.
Copyright reform is a doomed enterprise while corporate lobbyists have the power they do over the congress. While it is a goal to work for, it is just not realistic in the short term.
Creative Commons is closer to a solution, but the adoption rate has not been sufficient to even start chipping away at the problem.
The reason Creative Commons is an uphill battle is that it is a major evolution in the way rights holders handle permissions to use their work, and exists without an intermediary form. Existing rights holders have not adopted it because they are unwilling to give up all the rights entailed under Creative Commons.
I approached the Creative Commons Foundation with a proposal for a Fan Works License:
Some of the rights holders I have talked to are reluctant to use the CC because they are concerned they are giving up too many rights to their works. A Fan Works License would allow rights holders to clearly state what they will allow others to do with their characters, content, and settings.
It would be a bit more complicated than a standard CC, stating whether others may make original text, video, music, or art projects based on their works. It would also allow them to set the content rating they would allow fan works to have. This could be aligned with the MPAA ratings or the ESRB ratings system or an original system. The reason for this is so a young adult novelist could set a max rating of PG-13, allowing others to know what standards they would apply to determine whether a fan work is legitimate or not.
The other terms would be the same as in the standard CC.
You may not think something like this is necessary, but the current state of fan works is hazy. While few have been sued in the last couple years, at any time, rights holders could decide to start suing again. By creating a license that covers works with the same characters and settings rather than a particular book or movie, I believe we could get more rights holders to use the license to allow for the creation of fan works, which is a step on the road to open up works to the commons.
They responded with a simple, “CC probably isn't going to be expanding the license offerings, and in fact, over the past few years CC has been reducing the number of licenses.”
I do not believe that a fanwork or Creative Commons license is the ultimate solution, but as a possible stepping stone toward an open culture.
Progressive Speculative Fiction
- Problem: Modern and Post-modern fiction is antithetical to hope, imagination, and community
- Problem: Success is easier through snark, hate, and discrimination.
- Solution: We will promote, support and create Progressive Speculative Fiction.
What is Progressive Speculative Fiction?
Progressive Speculative Fiction is a story told in any medium which has a "What if" at its core and is filled with hope for the future and promotes a sense of community.
How can disaster fiction be progressive?
Watch a Godzilla movie or either The Day the Earth Stood Stills. If there is nothing worth saving, then there is no tragedy. The heroes must at least try to save someone or something worth saving.
How can horror be progressive?
Watch nearly any horror film made prior to 1990 or for the best example read The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker or anything by Anne Rice. If life is not worth living or there is nothing worth defending, where is the horror. If life is worthless, then death is merely a release from a nightmare. There is nothing scary about it. If there is no free will, nothing is lost by imprisonment or possession. If sanity is not worth preserving, why bother.
What works are Progressive Speculative Fiction?
There are too many to mention all of them, but to offer a spectrum:
- The Matrix/ The Matrix Reloaded/ The Matrix Revolutions/ The Animatrix
- The Dark Knight
- Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within
- The Lord of the Rings
- Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, and The Tale of the body Thief
Just to name a few.
- Problem: The word "Myth" has become a marketing term.
Homogenized works are released more often by the industry every year. Focus groups and market analysis have replaced quality work, but since the cultural cycle is broken, industry has no alternative. It is safer to release works like the ones that sold last year than it is to seek out new talent/ideas that would be more of a risk.
They know what the fans want. We want myths, stories that speak to us on a deep level while entertaining us. Myths are hard to make. It is easy to add in a wizard or a starship and call it mythology. Fans see through it, but the masses are looking for little more than sex, violence, and humor. Speculative Fiction has been watered down to little more than:
- imitation space opera
- knock-off cyberpunk
- repackaging of the rings
- martial arts boom-boom
- torture porn
They, then, wrap it in a shiny box, slap the word myth, saga, legend, or reboot on it, and wait for the masses to spend their money on it... and they usually do.
We do not need another company driven by profit margins, or another author whose self-important propaganda obscures the art.
We need writers and artists that love what they are doing.
We need fans who are not afraid to speak their minds.
We need places in our towns/cities and online where we can meet and share the few gems that we find from the industry and from the independent artist, writers, and filmmakers who are still following their bliss rather than the dollar.
That is why we are here. Project: Shadow and dashPunk will provide a platform for writers, artists, filmmakers and fans to “follow their bliss.” We are dedicated to finding and promoting the best Speculative Fiction out there: the little/well known writers, filmmakers, artists and works, fostering their talents, and helping them to not only follow their hearts, but to share that vision with others.
But we cannot do it alone!
Fandom Strikes Back
- Solution: We must seek out and support the writers, artists, and producers that encourage and support fan works.
- Solution: We must get writers, artists, and producers on the record about their position regarding fan works.
- Solution: We must live according to our values of hope, imagination, and community.
- Solution: We must build a community around hope, imagination, and community, and reject the rote cynicism that defines the faux-fandom that loves to tear things down rather than build things up.
- Solution: We must spread the stories, videos, songs, and art that speak to us.
Together, We can make dashPunk and Project: Shadow more than an idea or a website, but a vibrant community of fans who share the things we love with each other.
Together, we can make it easier to find and share the things we love and find new things to love.
Together, we can build a community of fans who support and engage one another for our mutual benefit.
Alone, none of us can stand up to the corporate powers who control the music, video, text, and art that we love, but together, our voice will be heard.
Fandom is a vibrant culture with its own music (filk), events (conventions), games, and myths. Until now, we have gathered periodically, or in disparate groups.
Now is the time to bring the great multitude of fan bases together.
Now is your time! Copy this Manifesto. Print it, post it, email it, share it! Tell a friend, and most importantly Make your voice heard.
Project: Shadow Manifesto by Project: Shadow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at dashpunk.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://dashpunk.com/about/.