Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Monday, May 28, 2018

Fannish Hearts and Firehawks

It's been a while - over a year, apparently - since I had anything to say worth posting here. But I spent the long weekend hashing through some thoughts on recent events in my life, and thought it might help to post them for posterity. (It has nothing to do at all with procrastinating on other projects...)

I was born with a fannish heart. I come by it honestly enough; both my parents are fans, and I was raised with a love of sci-fi and fantasy. Escaping into imagined worlds via books, television, or movies, falling in love with the unreal and the never-could-be… I've been doing that for as long as I can reliably remember. That sense of wonder when I find the good stuff is a joy like nothing else on Earth.

But it does not come without risks.

Sometimes, what was a source of joy becomes instead a source of pain. Series take nosedives, changing direction or simply disintegrating before my eyes. Promising new journeys are abruptly ended before they can find their audience. Re-imaginings or reboots strip out the old wonders and sometimes forget to put in new ones, or seem unclear on why the source material was interesting or popular enough to warrant a reboot in the first place. Network executives make decisions rendering the devotion of millions of viewers – not to mention the fictional universes and characters to which they are devoted – insignificant overnight. It's never personal, of course, but it still hurts. When dealing with a franchise, it's rare for a fannish love affair to come to a natural and painless conclusion.

It's picked up bruises and scars, my fannish heart. Yet I keep coming back. The good stuff, when I find it, is too sweet to let the pain stop me for long.

Recently, I was lured in again by one of SyFy's newer and most critically-acclaimed offerings: The Expanse, based upon the noir space opera novels by James S. A. Corey. The first two seasons, found and viewed via Amazon Prime, made me eager enough to overlook some old bruises and watch it as it aired on SyFy.

Now, SyFy and I have a bit of a history. They were the ones that, once upon a time, introduced me to Farscape, to the living ship Moya and her crew… and then dropped the axe after the fourth season cliffhanger, there to leave the characters in limbo until massive, focused fan outrage gave them the finale and closure they deserved. But that was twenty years ago, and The Expanse had the backing of not only a best-selling book series, but numerous high profile genre publications, not to mention celebrities and scientists and even astronauts praising its depiction of interplanetary exploration. Watch any ten minutes, and it's clear this show's a cut above on all levels. It's the good stuff, the sense-of-wonder-inducing top shelf science fiction that so rarely graces the airwaves.

So it was that, shortly after watching a new episode on May 10, I was poking about the internet when I found out that SyFy had done it again. The axe had fallen. Season Three would be the last aired on their network.

Another starship-sized bruise on my poor fannish heart.

This time, unlike my Scaper or X-Phile days, I was not part of any fanboards. I had no community with which to commiserate. I had the books, of course, but it wasn't the same. In desperation, I found my way to Twitter… where I found a veritable hornet's nest of angry, confused Expanse fans: Screaming Firehawks, they called themselves, after a line in the show. And screaming they were, and flaming mad. Among them, apparently as gobsmacked by the news as us lay viewers, were the cast and crew. But not all of them were willing to take it lying down.

Over the coming days, the fans organized. Tweetstorms and hashtags targeted likely new markets and streaming services. Led in no small part by cast member Cas "Pilot Alex Kamal" Anvar, efforts to increase live viewing numbers – and thus market potential – spread. (He also tipped off viewers that DVR views only "count" within three days, a terribly outdated notion that ignores how many people consume their entertainment.)

I added my voice, what little I have of it, to the storm, one more drop of water hoping for a flood. Deep down, I didn't hold a ton of hope. It was a numbers game, after all, and the numbers apparently just weren't good enough. But too much else has gone wrong in my world to simply let this one pass unchallenged. For the time, I was a screaming firehawk myself... or at least a whispering spark-sparrow.

Within a week, what had looked like the full-stop end had bent around into a question mark. The firehawks blazed across the internet and around the globe, and one little spark-sparrow fluttered along with them. An airplane banner was quickly crowdfunded and flown over Amazon Studios. More and more prominent names – celebrities, publications, scientists – came on board. (SyFy could only dream of this kind of publicity...) When word came down that the striking of the sets had been put on hold, a hopeful sign, efforts redoubled. The hawks screamed louder, burned hotter. By the second week, another crowdfunded publicity stunt launched a model of the spaceship Rocinante to the edge of space aboard a weather balloon. It was shocking, almost terrifying, how quickly it all came together. (I think we may have spooked the crew; it seems several of them had had little experience with this unique force of nature, the rage of angered fannish hearts. Any veteran of the battle for Farscape's finale could've warned them, though the Expanse Extinction Event was like that on steroids. Modern fandom moves much faster - and, it seems, screams much louder.)

As for me, I did what I could. I posted on my Facebook page that nobody visits. I made appeals on the writing board that's as close to a social circle as I have. Moreover, I kept watching. I kept trying. I never did get the hang of tweeting simply to tweet, but I did what I could, for what little good it made. (I've gotten used to that feeling, especially since November 2016; sometimes the only victory you can hope for is simply refusing to give in.)

On the evening of May 25, after rising viewership numbers and a clamor that was only increasing with every passing day, Jeff Bezos himself made the announcement. Season Four of The Expanse had been picked up by Amazon Prime. The good stuff had prevailed. For now, at least, the Rocinante is safe.

Yes, having a fannish heart is not without its risks. Sooner or later, pain is a given. There are no guarantees The Expanse won't eventually leave another spaceship-sized bruise, or even an outright scar. Still, I wouldn't trade my fannish heart for anything in the world, especially at times like this.