I sponsor a science fiction and fantasy club at the local high school, but to be quite honest, I’ve done a pretty poor job the past few years. About ten years ago, the club was one of the most active at school. We held meetings twice a month, hosted movies after school, held contests so students could win signed books and memorabilia. Last year, I think I called meetings maybe four or five times and probably the same for the year.
I always have a big turn out for the initial meeting and sign up, but after that attendance drops off drastically. I think I had thirty people sign up; five came to the last meeting. I really believe it’s the survey I have them fill out during the first gathering that scares them off. I mostly use the survey to get a feel for what the members like and want to do with the club. I ask them to list their 5 favorite books, movies, and games. Truth be told, it’s the survey that keeps me from committing to the club the way I used to.
The game column fills up first anymore. Of course, the names of games changes every year as members want to list the newest games as their favorites. This column generates the most fervor and excitement. I created the games list thinking they might put down Dungeons and Dragons or some other paper and pencil rpg. Nope, not in the last ten years or so anyway. The only rpgs my members no are computer or console games. Collectible card games haven’t even made the list in five years. I’ve been playing for over twenty years now so it’s always exciting to discuss things with the next generation. Even when the 3rd and 4th editions came out, I expected to see a lot of interest generated, but what was there didn’t last very long. When members started listing nothing but video games, I realized that paper and pencil games were becoming a thing, maybe not of the past, but of a very select audience.
The new gaming trend saddened me. Oh, they saw it as great advancement in technology and entertainment, which I do not deny. What they don’t see is what the new games are doing to them, or rather to their imaginations. With D&D, we had to immerse ourselves in the game, visualize it, invent it with our thoughts and words. Video games will not allow that. Games have taken all the imagination out of play. You just react to it, not create.
But I let that go.
Movies. Well, again most members typically put what’s current. It’s like they have no conception of “past” or “classic.” I suppose classic is a relative term. To me the classics mean The Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and even Star Wars and Blade Runner. Star Wars episodes I-III they’ve seen and enjoyed. They don’t like the original trilogy because the special effects look fake, or even worse, they’ve not even bothered to watch it because it’s “old.” How do you convince someone that a movie is good because of its story or characters when all she cares about is how the movie looks? Again, today’s audience seem to focus on the look over substance. There is no willing suspension of disbelief, only the will to be dazzled.
Very frustrating, but I let it go.
The book column, however, was the straw that broke this fan’s back. They don’t read! Most of them haven’t read a book in their life. And their proud of it! The ones that do read, read mostly media tie-ins. According to the recent crop, the first Halo book is the best book ever written. What? Now, I don’t have anything against media tie-ins. I’ve read my fair share, but how do you even begin to justify that a Halo book is better than Foundation or Ringworld (both of which my current members have never heard of). If I’m lucky, I have a few, and not just the girls, that think Twilight, or any of its recent trendy rip offs, is the best book ever. (Probably the only time I’ve ever missed Anne Rice – but they don’t have a clue who she is either, so what difference does it make?) When I do manage to convince one of them to check out a book, they don’t read it because it’s boring or it’s confusing or it’s not as good as the movie. (I, Robot and Starship Troopers are the usual victims of the latter excuse.)
Am I old fashioned in thinking that, to be a science fiction fan, one must be a fan of its literature? Seems to me that the whole basis of being a fan began with the stories, The Lensmen or Fahfrd and the Mouser – there’s too many to think of. Sadly, all of them are fading from memory. Of course, publishers aren’t helping. Where is the Mouser on bookstore shelves? Where is Doc Smith? Where’s Burroughs? We do have great talent putting out great stuff today, so no one can argue that there’s nothing worth reading. You got McDevitt and Gaiman and Gibson and Card and Martin and Scalzi and on and on. There’s a lot to love about genre fiction today.
Am I too demanding? I personally do not think so. I refuse to give in on this point. Fandom began with literature, and to me, to be a true fan you have to read, not necessarily older stuff but read quality to work, the successors to the greats, the ones who followed in the footsteps of the giants and the ones who have made their own.
So, there’s the root of my club problem. It’s not that I cannot connect with the new generation, it’s that I don’t consider them true fans. Science fiction and fantasy literature is a celebration of the imagination. True fans know that.