A while back, I did a little overview of a minor clash between some people in the Superversive camp at Superversive SF and some of the Pulp Revolutionaries over a book review, and in it, I laid out five qualities for a work being Superversive. They were:
- Not Subversive
This is the first of five essays/blogposts/random word-vomits to explain what I meant by these categories, starting with Aspiring/Inspiring and working my way down the list. So, as this is the first of the essays, we’ll be dealing with Aspiring/Inspiring.
Now, I said in the article above that both the idea of ‘betterment’ (characters aspiring to be better, or being inspired to rise above the challenges that fought them) and ‘wonder’ (i.e. the beauty and majesty of the world) fall into this category. Now, one might ask why precisely that’s the case. They seem like different things, and they are. But they intersect on one crucial point, that point being the focus of the topic.
To be aspiring, you must aspire towards something. To be inspired, you must be inspired by something. Something greater than you has to be out there for you to go towards, and something greater has to be out there to lift you up.
For characters, oftentimes this greater thing is a heroic ideal, a collection of virtues to strive to fulfill. Call it chivalry, call it a standard of righteousness, this ideal is perfect while our characters are not (That’s why it’s an ideal). They aspire to fulfill those virtues. And while we’ll discuss those virtues when we get to the other topic of Heroic fiction, there is another thing that this applies to. Self-betterment. Discipline. Improvement.
It is found in acknowledging that the character can do better, whether that’s by bettering himself (training or changing his personality) or by bettering his situation or environment. The character isn’t helpless, and he isn’t going to sit in the swamp of relativism. Things can get better, and by golly, the main character will make sure that happens (That plays into another part, the idea of Decisiveness, but we’ll talk about that later). To aspire towards something, you have to acknowledge that there is something better.
Now, onto Wonder.
To be in awe and inspired by beauty, by the mystery of the world, you have to acknowledge something greater than yourself. People are in awe over things that they cannot do, things that are greater than them, whether they be artistic endeavors, engineering feats, or massive, jaw-dropping vistas of natural beauty; these things invoke awe because they are beyond us. And you have to acknowledge that this Greater element exists to feel wonder.
So, the first part of Superversive fiction is about aspirations and inspirations. It is about people being called to rise above their situation, to fight their inner demons (or outer demons). It is about people stopping, and being stunned by the beauty and wonder of the world around them. It is the acknowledgement that something greater, something beyond our mortal and limited scope, is out there. And this greater reality, whether it be moral ideals or beauties fair and breathtaking, is worth pursuing.
There is another word that can describe this. It is uplifting. Being Aspiring means being Inspiring, and that means being Uplifting. There has to be something to lift up the reader, whether by people aspiring to be better, or being inspired by lofting ideals. The reader is uplifted, inspired, and led to aspire to better.
And that is what Superversive is about.