Science fiction and fantasy give us the heroes to fight the world that scares us. Captain America and Luke Skywalker fought Nazis. Tolkien’s heroes fought industrialization and the ravaging of nature. Post-9/11 heroes fought a previously incomprehensible level of destruction: how many movies and books in the decade or so afterward involved buildings or even cities crumbling?
So when I try to think of where SFF is heading, I’m really trying to think of what scares people, what they want to fight, what they need to fix or stop or tame. Plenty of recent fiction has been about, for instance, rebuilding a world altered by climate change. Afrofuturist works seek to fix the wound of colonialism.
But I wonder if the thing we fear most right now is the hero himself. If you saw the Star Wars movie The Last Jedi, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was a film about the nobility of failure and using that failure to grow as a person. Every day on Twitter, some long-admired icon is revealed to be undeserving of their heroic status and is mass-cancelled: Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Joss Whedon, man… I could go on. Even the minor monsters horrify us. But what horrifies us even more is that we idolized them to begin with.
Possibly, then, the next movement of SFF will follow The Last Jedi. No, not in the sense that it will declare that self-annihilation is the only true expression of heroism. I mean rather that the heroes will come with a qualifier: don’t look up to me, don’t admire me, I’m just doing a job. And the other characters will heed the warning, because no one likes to see their heroes fall. Or maybe the only heroes will be the masses, the groups made of imperfect pieces who only succeed when they work together.
Regardless of the form it takes, I think fighting the hero is a nuance that SFF is absolutely able to achieve. And I expect to see more of it.