Fans of science fiction and fantasy are a rare breed of folk. They’re generally smarter than the average bear, they’re extraordinarily passionate (and may be slightly obsessive/compulsive) about their fandom, and perhaps most importantly — they know their own kind.
That, I think, is why you see some books/movies/TV shows live well beyond their allotted time. Fans can tell when you’ve brought your A-game.
At San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, there was intense passion for a product that wasn’t initially successful. Firefly lasted just 11 episodes before it was cancelled, leaving three additional episodes unaired. Yet the fans of those handful of episodes stubbornly nurtured Firefly to the point where a movie was made (Serenity) and a series of successful comic books. At SDCC, they celebrated Firefly‘s tenth anniversary — an anniversary celebration for a cancelled TV show! — with a panel of returning stars and creators. Thousands of people waited in line and were ultimately turned away, including my friend and fellow author Jason M. Hough. Good effort, though, Jason!
With the success of The Avengers, Joss Wheadon could do whatever he wants. And yet there he was with his actors — many of whom have gone on to greater success in other areas — talking about how this little cancelled show was the best gig of their lives. They’d do it again if they could. The presence of so many fans brought many of the anniversary panelists to tears. The creative team knew it was special. The fans who latched on could tell. Ten years on, the passion is as intense as anything in pop culture. Small, perhaps, compared to Justin Bieber. But I bet in the long run, Firefly will have more staying power.
What can Firefly teach us about good science fiction? Arguably, the plots and writing and acting weren’t terribly awe-inspiring — it was the chemistry and passion of those involved that elevated Firefly to the point where it’s in the same fandom discussion as Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. And that, I think is the lesson we can learn.
When you bring passion to what you’re doing, the people reading or viewing it will forgive a lot of sins. It’s not like Star Wars was a paragon of good screenwriting, particularly when it came to dialogue. But the passion resonated. That’s what I try to harness as a writer. In the end, I need to be a passionate, slightly OCD fan of my own work. It has to get me wired and excited and thrilled to be doing it. Otherwise, the reader isn’t going to latch onto it.
Bring the passion and excitement. Bring total commitment to being awesome, like the Firefly crew. The fans will follow. And it’ll be shiny.