Great, great essay by Becky Chambers on science fiction and social change, and how it kept her going when she was doing socially conscious theater that she felt wasn’t reaching people in the way she wanted to:
If I tell you a disturbing story, and I say, “this is how it is right now,” you may be motivated to do something about it. More likely, however, you will end up like me and my friends, picking at fries and feeling hopeless. You’ll feel pessimistic and disillusioned. You’ll feel like our species totally sucks.
But if I show you a fantastical place – even a scary one – that lights up all the little imaginative parts of your brain, and I tell you, “this is how it could be,” that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. If the underlying message is positive, then just like Dr. King said, you’ll feel empowered to work towards that future…
The danger, of course, is getting so caught up in those alternate realities that we lose touch with the real world. This is what society thinks of when it thinks of geeks – sexless misfits devoid of social graces and personal hygiene. And yeah, those geeks exist. For some people, life is just so unpleasant that they wear their fictional worlds like a suit of armor. However, what we are dealing with here is a case of squares and rectangles. Some shut-ins are geeks. Not all geeks are shut-ins.
Or, to put it another way, just because you are a geek does not mean that your interests are without societal value.
Progress is impossible without imagination.
The challenge is activation. I’m not saying that the measure of a work’s worth should be how many people it convinces to say, get out of their chairs and go into STEM fields. Fiction is fiction, and primarily should be judged at how well it brings you into another world while you’re consuming it, whether it’s the stifled air of the early 1960s or the cold, dead atmosphere of space. But I would be curious to see more examples of things like the Harry Potter Alliance, or the Browncoats, where people are doing charity work based on the tenets of fiction, or documentation of scientific discoveries or breakthroughs that have been inspired by fiction.