We interrupt your regularly scheduled genre news programming for an important message. The world is on fire. A plague ravages a nation that once stood tall atop the ashes of former world powers. Evil forces are working to keep ordinary citizens beaten down, unable to rise up against them. There is rioting in the streets, and people are being murdered by the police and armed militias. Neither should be allowed this kind of authority over life and death. I know this sounds like the plot of a dystopian genre fiction novel. But this is real life. There are no heroes coming to save us. You are the hero in your own story. Now, it’s our turn to be the heroes that swoop in to save the world. And we do that by casting a vote on Election Day, November 3, 2020.
This is a plea for everyone reading this in the United States to go vote on Tuesday, if you have not done so already. As genre fans we hold dear the ideals of liberty, justice, and community. We believe in the inherent goodness of humanity that is so often warped and twisted by power or propaganda. So, I would like to share with you what I have learned about fighting against oppression from sci-fi and fantasy. I have spent a lifetime absorbing the lessons of so many genre stories. They taught me several important lessons about how to keep fighting for what is good and right in the world, even in the face of seemingly hopeless odds.
Never Think You Are Powerless
One of my earliest memories is of my father reading aloud The Lord of the Rings to me and my siblings when we were young. I remember an overwhelming fear that Frodo and Sam would not complete their journey, that the Dark Lord Sauron would somehow prevail. The odds were always stacked against two little hobbits who wanted nothing more than to till the soil of their home, and read books into the late hours of the night. I remember that fear vividly these days when it feels like the end of the Age of Man is upon us.
Fighting Corrupt Systems of Power Is Essential
The first fantasy series that forced me to face the complexities of power and corruption was Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. It is a classic series born out of role playing games, namely Dungeons & Dragons. Through Dragonlance I learned that a group of ordinary people, a group of friends who find themselves in the midst of world-shattering events, can change everything.
Image via Wizards of the Coast
I learned that not everyone can survive the journey to save the world. And that love and grief are powerful motivating factors. I learned that betrayal can come from those closest to us. That some can be redeemed while others will remain forever beyond our reach. This feels all too relevant right now as family members and friends we thought were decent people spout xenophobic, racist, sexist, alt-right propaganda. They do not listen to reason. They are in thrall to an evil power, and that is not easily broken.
From Star Wars I learned about the dangers of A totalitarian Empire, about having an absolute ruler whom all others bow to. A ruler who is obsessed with forcing everyone into line only in services of his own obsession with cruelty and power. I learned the value of resistance, of rebellion. We learned that we all have something to offer the fight, no matter how small or powerless we think that we are. We learned that liberty can die with thunderous applause. But I’m not ready to clap along just yet.
Image via Lucasfilm
What Genre Authors Have Taught Me About Survival
Other stories have told me of the horror and hope inherent in fighting corrupt systems and evil systems of government. Octavia Butler foretold all of this and more in her powerful Parable of the Sower. She taught me that we all do what we must to survive, and that everything has an expiration date. Margaret Atwood taught me that we are only a step away from a dystopian nightmare at any moment. And right now it feels like we have already crossed the line from America into Gilead. Ursula Le Guin taught me about the power in our differences, that diversity in humanity is what makes us unique, individual, powerful. They all taught me about the complexities of being human. We all have our own individual hopes and fears, flaws and weaknesses. They can either empower us, or strangle us.
Image via Hulu
Weave A New Pattern In The Wheel
Another major fantasy series that defined my life was The Wheel of Time. Through these books I learned that evil takes many faces, and they can become all too familiar. I learned that the cycles of corruption and despair come and go in an endless circle. I learned the futility of trying to break the wheel and can only hope to weave a new pattern as we enter a new age for humanity. The wheel keeps spinning, and the patterns repeat again and again. Eventually the weave must fray, and new threads join together to form a different pattern. We are all the threads, and we stitch the pattern.
Image via Tor
A Choice Between Destruction And Salvation
There is an election on Tuesday. A choice to be made between death, despair, corruption, violence and hope, community, integrity, and responsibility. It feels like a choice between destruction and salvation. Of course I know that it is more complicated than that, but this is a year that boils down to absolutes. This is the final arc of a series with an irresponsible author who has written themselves into a corner. They have already killed off so many characters without a second thought. And they have introduced smoking guns that only go off in the hands of the villains. They don’t know how this story is going to end, and neither do we.
Make Your Voice Heard And Vote
Everything I learned about fighting oppressive regimes, I learned from Sci-Fi & Fantasy. I learned the importance of one voice that speaks up, and how it can be joined by a chorus of others. In the past four years (and especially over the past six months) those voices have grown louder. But the opposition is cruel and unfeeling, they will not listen to our sorrows and fears. They can only perpetuate them. They care only for power, and want to use that power to force us all into submission. This is a classic genre trope. The villains are cartoonish and overwrought, with little nuance or complexity. They are literally keeping children in cages and ripping the wombs from women. If this was a book, you would roll your eyes at the unnecessary horror of it all.
Image via the official Star Wars Twitter Account
We have no heroes to save the day for us. We have no magical powers at our disposal. Except for the power of our voices. The power to vote. And I beg you: please vote. If you live in the U.S. and have not already turned in your ballot via mail or dropbox, please vote on Tuesday. I know that it may feel pointless or hopeless. I know that you may feel like your one voice does not matter, but it does. Without anyone to save us, we must step up to face this chaos and madness in order to save ourselves (and everyone else).
It Is Time To Be The Hero
None of us are Katniss, Harry Potter, Rand Al’Thor, or Tanthalas. We are not the people of Gondor or Rohan, fighting their entire lives against impending darkness. Most of us are Hobbits, who want the green fields to grow and little rivers to run clean. We want to live a good life and feel safe in our homes. But the Shadow will consume everything if we don’t climb the mountain of fire and cast away the evil that threatens the world.
Please vote. This is our chance to begin a new pattern that is so bold and brilliant that it overwhelms the old one. This is our moment to be the hero. All of us together standing up as one against injustice, tyranny, corruption, chaos, and madness. We know that once a Hobbit leaves the Shire, it is difficult to return to a quiet life. But our only chance of ever having that life again, is to take the steps necessary to keep the world safe.
Image via New Line Cinema
Vote against the oppressive regime stealing children from their families. Those letting us die while they live in decadence and weaponizing fear. Vote in numbers so great that they cannot take a victory away from us. Stand up for what is right. Vote for the hundreds of thousands who cannot, for those who have been taken by the plague. Take a lesson from your genre heroes. Be brave. Don’t let them take away your hope. Follow your moral compass. Take all that you’ve learned from the heroes of your favorite genre story and put it into practice. We must be our own heroes now. Vote to save our country. Do it to save humanity. Vote to spare our story from a very tragic ending.
We now resume our regularly scheduled genre news. Please follow us at Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter for everything you need to distract you in the days to come.
(Featured image via DC Comics)
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.