Occasionally the idea of a “superversive canon” comes up in our discussions. We’re flexible enough in our terms (good storytelling, heroic characters, and a sense of wonder) that people can have varying ideas of what is and isn’t superversive. My wife, a woman who is supremely kind and beautiful but a muggle, doesn’t really see anything with a lot of tension as uplifting. She’s an outlier, but the fact remains: what I find to be soul-restoring (huge explosions and improbably large space fleets) she finds to be stressful. I’ve got several very good friends who look at huge explosions and improbably large space fleets and give them a shrug of the shoulders and a disdainful “meh,” as it’s infrequent to find elves and dwarves involved in such things. (Frikkin’ fantasy folks.) Sense of wonder’s probably supremely negotiable except perhaps in the hands of a very skilled writer.
The other problem with the idea of a superversive canon is the question of “Where do we start?” Superversion didn’t need to exist once upon a time, before the literary world’s petty-mindedness hadn’t crept into the land of skiffy. So I kind of feel like it’s hard to look at a work and say “It’s superversive” when maybe it was just more representative of a culture that actually produced people who could do things like fight to stop pure evil from conquering our planet. So maybe, the issue is just what stories formed us in the superversive mold.
CS Lewis is an obvious choice; Madeline L’Engle probably no less so. But y’know, if I had to pick one work that formed a pattern I wanted to follow in my own superversive writing, a place to start my canon, it would probably E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen books. It’s probably an odd thing for a guy known for writing mostly introspective, character driven stories to say, but there you have it. Doc Smith is the start of my canon; and if I’ve found one weakness as I’ve been working on my own novel, Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep, it’s that I’m a Flannery O’Connor who really wants to be a Doc Smith. But really, the Lensmen saga has almost everything that I want in a book: heroism,
giant explosions and weaponized solar systems, sense of wonder, and enough manliness that Gurren Lagann‘s Kamina would approve of its burning soul. Deeper characterization might not have been amiss, but too often such things turn into unending navel gazing.
After the Lensmen, things get fuzzier. And it’s odd. I think Scifi’s descent into the morass of distasteful modern thinking really started with Robert Heinlein. I loved his books so much as a kid, and eventually I found my way from his juveniles to his “adult” works without ever realizing that there were two different sorts of writing that came out of Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land was so distasteful to me that it was one of the last Heinlein novels I ever read– I think the only one I’ve read since then was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and that was a good ten years ago.
But my superversive canon definitely includes some choices some might find questionable: The Hyperion Cantos, for one. I feel like Hyperion and its sequels become something like what a character driven Lensmen might have been. And Neuromancer: It’s not exactly wallowing in heroism, but it’s still a fantastic work that I cheerfully count amongst my inspirations.
Y’know, when it comes down to it, some things are all very individual and hard to quantify: A woman’s beauty, bacon’s appropriate crispiness, a workable theodicy, and the works that inspire us to do objectively great things. The canon might be doomed to remain highly individual.
So I ask you, readers: What’s your canon?
Josh Young is a seminary student, Castalia House author (featured in God, Robot and author of the forthcoming Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep) and blogger at Superversivesf.com If you enjoyed this, we’d love to have you visit our main site!