Martin Luther King Jr, Nichelle Nichols, and Building a Positive Future Through Fiction, on NPR

Monday, the day the US celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. day, there will be a special segment highlighting MLK’s conversation with Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura in Star Trek for both the first series and a majority of the movies.  While Trek fans are familiar with the story, most people aren’t aware that Nichols almost left the show after the first season.  She was tired of her very limited role on the series and wanted to return to the musical stage.

King said something very profound to her and I’d like to just comment on it.  When Nichols met King, he told her that he was a fan of the show.  When she said she was thinking about leaving the show, he had this to say:

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Nichols says King told her, was showing the nation a universe where  “‘for the first time, we [African-Americans] are being seen the world over … as we should be seen’.” And ” ‘you have created a character’ ” that is critical to that, he said.

King’s assertion that imagining a future, even in fiction, was powerful enough to create that future is a concept Science Fiction writers need to take to heart. If they see it, they can make it happen.  Yes, we made cell-phones to look like Trek communicators, and named our shuttle after the Enterprise, but more importantly, we modeled peaceful relationships with different races and different nationalities.  We saw Russians, Japanese, Scottish, American midwest, American Southern, Vulcan, and African-American all working together as a team.  King thought that this image of peace was as important as the peace itself–and that an image could lead us there.  It’s natural to imagine dystopia after dystopia, and even, sadly, Star Trek, seems to mess with every Utopia it showcases.  But I think we can imagine a better place, a better us.

Writers have the ability to model the future we want.  While stories must have conflict, we can guide people towards something positive by helping them imagine it.  Blueprinting.  King thought we could too.  And his inspirational talk with Nichols kept her on the show at a time when we needed to see that we could work together.  (I wish someone would design a show with an American and North Korean working side by side.)

You can hear snippets of Nichols’ interview with NPR on their site, and listen in Monday, on the show Tell Me More.  The link has listening times.

Shine Anthology, and Dreaming of a Better World

In another post I talked about thinking positive about the future.  I linked to an anthology, SHINE, open to writers, that wants to make the world a better place in the future–a vision of how we WILL get it right eventually.  How  decisions we make technologically, politically, personally will solve–or begin to solve–global crises we face right now.  For years, scientists have been cast as Dr. Frankensteins in movies–playing God with forces we don’t understand–and rarely are they those who solve the problem.  If they do arch heroically at the end, it’s often to put back what went wrong, the Hamlets of a technological Denmark gone rotten.

When doing the radio series, Yukon 2058, I was sitting with Lil from Lil’s Diner and we were talking about Angel’s Nest, the future home for the homeless teens in our area, a cause Lil’s Diner has taken a personal investment in, literally.  For Halloween, the employees at the diner donated all wages made that day to Angel’s Nest and they kept the diner open most of the night to host a fund drive party.  We sat and talked about what teens need in this town, and I realized that science fiction could be used to describe what we want in the world–not just to warn people, not just a good story, but planting seeds in the minds of those who might be able to help us make those changes.  SF can be used to help people envision.

Who wants to walk into a post-apocalyptic future?  Why not place things in the future we need to see–and once seen, that we can create for real.  So, via radio, I created a youth center, the kind I would love to see the town create in the old Canadian Tire building.  And I put it on the air, and inside my vision for the future.

So, if you have ideas about what kinds of positive strides the world could make in the future–ways of solving crises in the world– allow me to suggest some positive outlets for you, outlets where your vision could inspire the vision of others who can make it happen:

1)  CBC North is going to want to interview you for your vision of the Yukon–a place that will be much changed in the next 50 years.  Imagine the future, and then talk about it on the radio.

2)  SHINE anthology, edited by Jetse de Vries, is open to writers this next spring who want to write optimistic science fiction.  This doesn’t mean that utopia comes without dramatic tension or story, only that it includes a positive vision of the world of the future.  If you want to write up your idea as story, read these guidelines.  This is going to be a great opportunity for writers and thinkers, since anthologies, collecting these positive views of science, will likely have a great distribution and put you in pages populated by well-known, world-class thinktankers/writers.  (If only there could be a weekend to gather engineers, scientists and science fiction writers to pool ideas…)

3) the 24hr Playwriting competition, held here in Whitehorse by Nakai Theatre in April, might be another place to launch a positive future in the Yukon, as local plays are funded, produced and showcased through the Homegrown Theatre Festival in the Yukon, in order to get them ready for possible Canadian distribution.

4) Write directly to the Governmental groups that might help implement your idea: help them see what impact your idea–all consequences considered–might have on the Yukon.  Write for funding to research it through the Northern Research Institute

5)  Don’t forget other Canadian science fiction magazines: On Spec needs you!  And loves you.  And wants to promote Canadian voices.

I think if a people down south, my fellow Americans, can be inspired to change by electing Barack Obama as President, then anything is possible.  I think we are being called on to help make that change ourselves, first by envisioning and then by doing.  I think science fiction writers inspire change.

Else why would the first American space shuttle be named Enterprise

Predicting the Yukon of the Future: a new radio series

I’m excited to announce that there will be a new 5-part radio series beginning sometime in November, either next Monday, 17th, or the following Monday, lasting 5 days in a row, exploring life in the Yukon in 2058. In honour of CBC North’s 50th Anniversary, we take you flash-forward into a very positive look at the future.

Recently I read a column at Fantasy Magazine’s website entitled, Why We Need Scientist Heroes Again, and the author made a good case for thinking positive:

“Show of hands – who wants to retire to their grandchildren’s sub-prime one-room hovel in the decayed urban warzone that was once America?

Or perhaps roam the sweltering wasteland looking for gasoline while the mutants hunt you down?

Yeah, thought so.

Then let’s inspire some smart folks to get scientifical and create smart solutions to our stupid problems.”

So, in that spirit, I pitched Yukon 2058 to CBC North and they liked it. And I think things will get more and more interesting in the north over the next 50 years. Not every positive accomplishment will have positive consequences all the way round. And that too is a power science fiction has–to warn us. If everything turns out just hunky-dory we never have to change what we’re doing. But in the spirit of thinking positive– of actually dealing with climate change (cause it will happen), I hope you enjoy Yukon 2058, my own personal vision of the Yukon of the future. If you like some of the things, don’t wait 50 years to start them, or to think up things on your own. Create the place you want to live in, the place you want your kids to live in, the place you want to retire in. The world is going to turn its collective global head north very soon–let people know what you would like to see in fifty years.

Also, there’s a science fiction anthology in the works looking at optimistic near future science fiction, called Shine. Check out the website and submit your stories. I’ll write another post about Shine too.