The rise of fandom, one of the newer entries in our trend collection, was front and center earlier this month at the 2015 New York City Comic Con. Final official attendance topped 167,000 people over the four days of the show. That growth was helped by an expansion of the convention from the Javits Center to offsite locations - further evidence of the growth of fandom and fandom events.
I had a greater appreciation for this year’s event having had my own fandom awakening during a recent trip home to Arizona (in August, as only a native Phoenician would do).
I was visiting my mom in Phoenix and lined up two meetings while I was in the area. The first was in Tucson with staff from the Pima County Public Library. We talked about several of the community-focused activities the library had taken on, including their support for MegaMania!!, the library’s 4-hour version of a Comic Con-like experience for teens and young adults. I won’t quote this correctly, but at some point in the conversation librarian Emily Lane noted, “If you have a group of young people who are interested in books, comics, films, television, or any other kind of media, it only makes sense for the library to be there to help harness that excitement and make sure we carry it on to other forms of media, literacy, and creativity.” The approach seems to be working – the program has grown from a library branch to the main campus of Tucson’s community college and crowds of over 1,000 kids.
Two days later, back in Phoenix, I met with Joey Eschrich from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, one of several unique initiatives happening at ASU under the leadership of their president, Michael M. Crow. According to the Center’s web site:
“The Center for Science and the Imagination brings writers, artists and other creative thinkers into collaboration with scientists, engineers and technologists to reignite humanity’s grand ambitions for innovation and discovery. The center serves as a network hub for audacious moonshot ideas and a cultural engine for thoughtful optimism. We provide a space for productive collaboration between the humanities and the sciences, bring human narratives to scientific questions, and explore the full social implications of cutting-edge research.”
Through several projects, the Center has focused on the power and reach of science fiction. Some of that work materialized in their project Hieroglyph and the resulting 2014 anthology, Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future. While today’s popular, future-focused fiction skews toward the dystopian, the Center for Science and the Imagination is challenging science fiction writers to envision a better future. This is a push for a return to the spirit of the golden age of science fiction that spawned visions of robots, rocket ships, and cyberspace – iconic inventions in science fiction stories that served as “hieroglyphs,” visions of an innovation integrated into society towards which we could all strive. The Center believes that society needs moonshot ideas, the next set of hieroglyphs, to help spur innovation and discovery.
In describing the development of both the Center and Hieroglyph, the anthology’s co-editors, Ed Finn, who also directs the Center, and Kathryn Cramer, write:
“We need to share a broader sense of agency about the future. It’s not something people in white coats are cooking up in a lab somewhere. Whether we consciously accept it or not, we are all making choices that shape the future we are creating together….We need to become more comfortable with the tools we have for envisioning that future.”
In the seventeen stories in Hieroglyph, those tools include both the creative imaginations of science fiction writers and the latest real-world developments in technology and science. Many of the stories include footnotes to papers, reports, and research from leading scientists. And many of them reflect a vision Lawrence Krauss laid out in his foreword to the book - “exploring possibilities that might actually spur useful collaborations with scientists and engineers to produce new technologies to deal with problems just beyond our current horizon.”
I walked away from my meeting with Joey inspired by the Center’s model. Like the Long Now Foundation, another group whose work inspires and challenges thinking, the Center pushes us to explore the fringes, whether of science, technology, or art –yes, including those sci-fi fandoms – and to bring those interests together into productive and collaborative efforts to build the future.
Leafing through Hieroglyph’s foreword I read Stephen Hawking’s line from the foreword to another book, The Physics of Star Trek, “Science fiction like Star Trek helps inspire the imagination.” As fandom grows, libraries can provide the spaces and services to help fans turn their passions and interests, whether for science fiction or other genres or media, into constructive visions for our futures.