August 6, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The Fantasy (& Science Fiction) of Poverty

Using the Programme Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki Finland in August 2017 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Programme Guide. The link is provided below…

Fantasies of Free Movement: A number of recent works have explicitly linked the trope of transportation in SF to issues of migration and home, ranging from the strange topologies of Dave Hutchinson's "Fractured Europe" series, to the "death of the majority" in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota, or the more contemporary parable about seeking refuge found in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West. What do such works do to help us explore the opportunities and challenges of a free-movement world? In a time of (seemingly) closing borders, where in fantastika can we find grounds for hope? And what questions remain under-explored?

Niall Harrison – moderator and member of the WorldCon 2o17 team
Nicholas Whyte – science fiction fan
Rosanne Rabinowitz – contributed to anthologies: Jews vs Aliens, Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, Something Remains and Murder Ballads. Her novella “Helen's Story” was shortlisted for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award.
Teresa Romero – no information on her and she only participates in this event
John-Henri Holmberg – Swedish author, critic, publisher and translator, and a well-known science fiction fan

This is truly a fantasy that only the wealthy might even be able to imagine…

I can’t respond to Dave Hutchinson’s series, but having read Ada Palmer’s first book, I am of the belief that the kind of movement she postulates will ONLY be possible for the mega-wealthy.

In fact, it may be embarrassing how little of the world’s population even have an INKLING of what such a world would look like. According to the two articles below, one seventh of the world’s population has to walk some six kilometers to just to get drinkable water. Hilary Clinton made the issue a cause de célébrité. Based on a wild guess, Christine Negroni of AIR&SPACE magazine says that perhaps six percent of the world’s population has flown at all…

That means that 94% of the Earth’s population would have little to no idea what such a concept as “freedom of movement” is ( -- even as a purely physical concept.

Politically, out of the 197 regimes on this planet, one in four are considered “not free”. Of the other three fourths; one third are only partly free. In 2016, the “free world” was made up of less than half the countries on Earth…the only places where someone MIGHT be able to come and go as they please (note however, that to go from here to Canada or Mexico, I need a $60 US passport and a plane ticket or a gas budget that would cover the trip...for starters.)

While science fiction writers have for decades attempted to both entertain and cast a light into the future and explored possible futures, I am increasingly bothered that those futures. They seem to be more for the wealthy and less for the poor and for some reason “the poor” have vanished miraculously – from Gene Roddenberry’s wildly optimistic United Federation of Planets of which Deanna Troi says, “…Poverty was eliminated on Earth, a long time ago. And a lot of other things disappeared with it - hopelessness, despair, cruelty...

And to which Samuel Clemens replies, “Young lady, I come from a time when men achieve power and wealth by standing on the backs of the poor, where prejudice and intolerance are commonplace and power is an end unto itself. And you're telling me that isn't how it is anymore?”

In virtually every other story I’ve read recently (though Kameron Hurley created a new definition of “poverty” in her THE STARS ARE LEGION), poverty (if it even exits according to some) is a thing of the DISTANT past. In 2013, Charlie Jane Anders sparked a discussion about how science fiction writers deal with poverty (read the original article and the comments here: I’ve got a few books to check out because of the Anders article, but I can just note that her debut novel isn’t about poverty but about teen love, magic, and technology. Nothing wrong with that, but I simply note that here for effect.

So…my rant is over. The reason I feel strongly about this is that “some” people in the comment section of Anders’ article claimed that there is no poverty anymore and that it’s just a matter of distribution. I would direct them to the nearest Calcutta slum; or possibly the Chicago projects; or even Mary’s Place in downtown Minneapolis -- to have a little chit chat with someone who lives on the streets.

I know students who live in their family cars. I personally know two boys who were born in the back of a van in which the family lived because there was no way for them to afford an apartment, the trip to the hospital, or to live anywhere else (may I also point out that they were born 21 years ago in 1997 during the reign of the Democratic Party…which prides itself on taking care of the poor…which, in this case, it didn’t.). When attempting to interview for a job (I might point out that this incident occurred in the Golden Age of Barack Obama), they were told “No.”

The reason given was that they were “urban hillbillies”…

At the risk of sounding undemocratic, the Bible is pretty clear on the subject of poverty. Doesn't mean we can't WORK for the eradication of poverty, but working toward something doesn't mean it's going to succeed.

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