using the Programme Guide of the 2020 World Science Fiction Convention, ConZEALAND (The First Virtual World Science Fiction Convention; to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I WOULD jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…
On July 11, 2020, I wrote the following Slice of Pie essay: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2020/07/slice-of-pie-science-fiction-fantasy.html
On reflection, I was wondering HOW I could possibly write a story in which the main character has a problem to solve, but no way to solve it. They will lack not only physical resources like food, water, and transportation; but the fact of the matter is that they’ll also lack imagination and connections.
Lacking imagination is NOT the same thing as being stupid. What I’m talking about is that they live in a world where not only is it circumscribed by limited opportunities to LEAVE their place, they have (most likely) no idea where they could go.
Absolutely, they watch television – HGTV, ESPN, or even TV shows on broadcast if they can’t (probably) afford cable or dish TV (and it’s unlikely that their cellphone minutes would be wasted on watching TV on a tiny screen.)
I do not, myself live in poverty, but come from a version of it – my parents and the four of us kids know all about food stamps, back when they were actual stamps; and while it isn’t recent, my wife and I received food stamps as well as living in a high lower class block of apartments. When my wife did daycare, it was for a single mother whose child was the product of rape…(who now has her PhD…by the way; Mom is a nurse and got her degree over a very long period of time).
So, I suppose I answered my own question: how can you have a protagonist live in abject poverty and expect anything to happen in the story? I think the answer is that unless a writer imbues their poor character with exceptional gifts or powers, there IS no story.
I recently commented on a novel I read through a review on Amazon.com, “Also, other than the sadness of his life story, the main characters suffers not even the slightest side effects of being a slave for twenty-some years -- except that he doesn't understand human slang. While the story doesn’t need to be a leaflet denouncing slavery, Vogel writes in the 21st Century while Heinlein wrote in the middle of the 20th. I would have liked to see a few peeks into his damaged personality and see more than [his fiancé’s] comment when she finds out that [his] father sold him with the [starship]: “‘That's disgusting!’ I wanted to condemn [his] father more, then I remembered the approaching fleet...”
Robert A Heinlein’s CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY at least attempts to delve into the disastrous effect of slavery on a person. Alan Brown re-reviews the book here: https://www.tor.com/2019/08/29/duty-and-dystopia-citizen-of-the-galaxy-by-robert-a-heinlein/ But again, the changes in the “universe” at large aren’t made by the powerless slave. They’re made by first his owner, then by himself…when he discovers he’s an immensely rich man.
This sends a sad message: the only way out of poverty is to get rich.
Even Barack Obama reinforced this paradigm: yes his mom was poorer than average; but he was smart and ended up using the smarts to attend private schools and colleges. He was by no means a child brought up in poverty. Oprah Winfrey started life poor and became a billionaire…Abraham Lincoln was NOT wealthy, yet is one of the most fondly remembered and influential presidents in American history. So there’s one story…another might be former slave Josiah Walls was drafted a Confederate, captured by the Union and freed and eventually became a congressman in Florida.
There is, in fact, a huge list of people who began their lives enslaved and ended up having a profound effect on the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_enslaved_people)
While I am not familiar with most of them, it might be instructive for me to do some reading and discover what allowed them to become who they LATER grew to be – and then perhaps take a stab at reimagining a story like CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY without the discovery that they’re the long missing child of someone rich, famous, or powerful.
And I’d need to examine what exactly happens to the soul, heart, and spirit of the individuals who come from poverty or slavery and become “someone”…