Fred Schepartz (author and cab driver Union, editor and publisher) M, Eleanor Arnason (writer), Diana Sherman (plays and video game writing), Chris Hill (reviewer, working class Brit background), Michael Lowrey (state clerical worker, steward & past president of AFSCME local, reviewer, wobbly bookstore employee).
Briefly, what is working class?
EA: people who do not own the means of production; cannot be fired by a boss.
DS: personal schedules not under their own control.
CH: background limits opportunity;
ML: someone whose economic well-being is at the mercy of someone else.
What is status quo for working class characters in SF?
EA: not represented in large areas: no plumbers in the future, no blue collar; lots of underclass, criminals, particularly in cyberpunk. And we’re not told why not. Why? Not much creative problem-solving, tends to be not inherently exciting: source in Ripping Tales of Manly Youth. Bias toward individual action.
DS: working class hero, secret prince (Harry Potter), or apprentice. Leaving the working class, it is seen as a trap. SF, fantasy, teevee, movies. Usually comedic.
CH: this is a generic truth of literature: working class is not generators of story unless they are escaping. Work is repetitive or uncreative. Escape or failure of attempt. As in Dickens, who at least was writing about them, always tragic or comical.
MJ: soldiering does show up in SF, mostly uncreative boring work, but sometimes breaks out. American (pulp) bias against collective plotline. All about leaders, not movement. Harry Turtledove is sometimes exception. Eric Flint 1642 series, ordinary workers potential. Mute Inglorious Miltons. (Gray)
FS: taboo on discussion of class in American political discourse. Many writers escape their own class, and enable readers to escape. Labor struggle requires ensemble cast instead of single protagonist. Will there be a working class in the future? Robots all the way down.
EA: people are more versatile and cheap than robots. General agreement.
CH: ubiquitous absence. Have authors not thought about it?
ML: who maintains the technology? There’s no such place as Away. Asimov story about a garbageman, untouchable.
CH: SF written from the top down, big idea, down to level of detail, instead of from bottom up. ?
Audience: service class sometimes appears; pink collar, invisibility of females.
ML: blue collar is not honored, service class is more visible.
FS: Should a worldbuilding writer be able to write a working class? Cop out like men not writing women; like white people not writing poc.
EA: proletarian literature of the thirties [edit to put in author I didn't catch whose name Orange Mike spelled out for me later:] Haldor Laxness. Farmers as workers. Politically highly charged, politics, organizing, collective struggle will be part of story. Matewan (John Sayles) This kind of story moves away from the way SF has been written. Think about how the future is organized socially.
DS: bottom up imagining will add realism
EA: plumbing is about gravity. How do you move water etc in zero g? Pumping stations need maintenance.
FS: need gravity to take showers
Audience: Kevin J Anderson’s work?
CH: to see working class as race is odd,“clannish” is made Other from the middle class
FS: Call to arms! How do we agitate to get more working class characters and issues portrayed in the literature?
EA: as a writer, consciously thinking about how the world works from the bottom up. As fans, cons can be useful, confront authors on the representation of working class. Is the world a stage set? Background is useful.
CH: not even important that they are main characters, but that they get it right. As in Benford’s Timescape, which has working class stupid or crooked. No free pass!
ML: fantasy writers, consider the serving wench’s story.
Audience (look! It’s Peter Larsen!) Perdido Street Station! There could be lots of stories without end of the world explosions.
DS: scale of story is different
EA: fifties SF short stories inserted novum to our world, not necessarily glamorous world. Kornbluth story (of Good Will Hunting...) working class dishwasher, imprisoned by military until his math is gone, gets a girlfriend then they let him go; reporter realizes math is still there, he made a choice. Somewhere we lost that particular kind of story and those people.
CH: use of working class to reflect on other people’s stories, with none of their own. A bit dumb, and don’t understand how the world works.
FS: Why is it important that working class characters be portrayed?
EA: same reason women and people of color should be: they are there, the literature should be true to some kind of reality. The readers should be able to see themselves. Not a genius scientist, superhero. Message that You’re not going to be able to solve problems unless you’re special. Everybody can have an effect on the world.
FS: If such characters are portrayed, you become a subject instead of an object. Role models. Working class people can be artists.
CH: If people who are not working class find them in their reading, they might take another look at humanity of working class around them.
ML: The SF story becomes more rational, sociologically feasible, scientific, if you’ve thought out the economics of the world. There were more fiction magazine markets available to working class than now.
Audience: see “Class Dismissed” video on working class on tv.
FS: what writers do this well?
EA: Anne Harris, Melissa Scott, Rebecca Ore, Maureen McHugh, Fred Schepartz, C. J. Cherryh sometimes, Christopher Barzak, and WALL-E
DS: Nina Kiriki Hoffman, the Incredibles?
FS: William Gibson’s Virtual Light. BSG “Dirty Hands”?
CH: also Ian McDonald. Writers do working class more easily from non-western background?
ML: Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire series. Alan Steele.
EA: This one worked! Every other class & SF panel went down like the Titanic.
DS: Never been to this panel before! Think about it. It’s a challenge.
CH: Writers I could take a look at. See fanzine.
ML: When the Union's inspiration through the workers blood shall run, There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun, But what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one, For The Union Makes Us Strong.