Some of my works have been labeled with the term “superversive.” But it’s not a common term, and people often ask me what it means.
Urban Dictionary says the following:
Nurturing; supportive, building up — opposite of subversiveThe superversives decorated the object with daisy chains, linked their arms around it and sang “Jerusalem.”
“You know how subversive means to change something by undermining from below? Superversive is change by inspiration from above.”
This definition is slightly less concise but far more informative. The last half century or so has seen quite a bit of subversive literature – literature designed not for building up civilization but for tearing it down. It has many features to it: heroes who aren’t heroic, the world is portrayed as a terrible, evil place, beauty is nowhere to be found, good always loses in the end, etc. Some of this started out as a fair and necessary reaction to literature that had become too whitewashed. The world has warts in it, and portraying a world without them lacked character and truth. But the pendulum has swung too far. Too much art today shows only the warts and neglects to show the beauty of the world.
OK, that gives us a good idea of what superversive isn’t. But superversive is more than just “not subversive.” We could take the next step by looking at the Superversive Manifesto, proposed by M.C. Tuggle. But although there’s plenty there to like, I think it misses some the mark.
If subversive is about tearing down the structures of society, superversive must be about building them back up. Specifically, I believe superversive fiction absolutely must contain some of the following elements:
- Heroes who are actually heroic. They don’t have to be heroic all of the time, or even most of the time. But when the time comes, they must actually be heroic.
- People are basically good. Not all the time, not in every case – and certainly not every person. But basically.
- Good Wins. Not every time – a good story always has setbacks in it. But evil winning is most definitely not superversive.
- True love is real. Again, maybe not for everybody. But it’s real.
- Beauty is real. It’s ok to show the warts. But show the beauty, too.
- The transcendent is awesome. There’s no obligation to show any particular religion, or even really religion at all. But superversive literature should show the glory and splendor of the wider universe around us, and it should leave us in awe of it.
- Family is good and important. Not every family, sure. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
- Civilization is better than barbarism. This doesn’t mean barbarians are evil, or that they aren’t fun. But in the end, they’re… well, barbaric.
- Strength, courage, honor, beauty, truth, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility are virtues. This can be demonstrated by showing people breaking the virtues. But they must be recognized as virtues.
- There is hope. Superversive stories should never leave the reader feeling despair.
The “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech from Secondhand Lions sums it up very well.
I apply the term superversive pretty strictly. I’ve put out two anthologies of science fiction and fantasy short stories that were deliberately themed with superversive intent. The first, Make Death Proud to Take Us, carried a theme of manly courage. Every story is specifically written to showcase men being courageous – something that is lost in a great deal of modern fiction, where too many men are slimy, sleazy, weaselly, and fearful. The second, Between the Wall and the Fire, tells stories about devotion to family. We live in a world that is constantly trying to break down families in every way. We opted to instead showcase families: why they are important, what they bring to the world.
Some of the contributors didn’t even know they were participating in superversive projects. In fact, I’ve had to explain the term – after the fact – to more than one of them. And yet in the case of one of my authors, I can specifically say that throwing out a superversive topic – with no explanation of why I’d chosen that topic – resulted in the best story she’d yet submitted to me, hands down. The fact of the matter is that even if you don’t agree with the superversive movement, these are the kind of stories that resonate with people.
At Silver Empire, we continue to make the effort to publish superversive fiction. Not everything we publish is explicitly superversive. Indeed, I’m pretty strict about using the label. But I’m also not particularly interested in publishing subversive fiction. There are plenty of other outlets who will do that. Enough other people are tearing the world down without my help. I’m ready to build.