Friday, October 28, 2011

World Fantasy Con and the Class panel

World Fantasy is being a lot of fun—seeing many old friends we haven't seen in much too long.

I maybe should've stayed off the Class panel. Six people is too many for a subject that hasn't been explored much in this community, so this ended up feeling like an intro panel to me, not Class 101, but Intro to Class 101. Then again, that's undoubtedly necessary, and we had a large audience, so I hope we laid a good groundwork for future discussions, even if all we did was to do it so wrong that others want to correct us.

Everyone contributed well, and no one seemed defensive, so that was pure win. I was glad to have everyone up there, but I was especially happy that Kari Sperring was there; she brought an informed British perspective that was especially helpful, for me, at least.

Things I wish I'd mentioned:

1. Martin Luther King's quote about talking about poverty rather than race because there are twice as many poor whites as poor blacks (which is still true today).

2. The L-curve of US income.

Things I wish we'd gotten to:

1. Fiction! It was all intro material and author backgrounds. Or it seemed that way to me. I wanted to get into what we take for granted and what we could use more skillfully.

2. Fear of the working class in our genre. That's obvious with Morlocks. Is it implied with Frankenstein's monster? How often are rednecks used as "the other"?

3. Who are the working class heroes? Is Sam Gamgee a class traitor? If Conan's a prole and Elric's a king, where do Fafhrd and the Mouser fit?

4. Contemporary fantasy is a rejection of the imaginary setting of pseudo-medieval fantasy, but is it also a rejection of rigid class systems?

Well. Back to the convention now.


  1. Urban fantasy has a few working class heroes such as Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson (half native American car mechanic who can shift into a coyote), Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse (telepathic Southern small town waitress) or Rob Thurman's Niko and Cal Leandros (sons of a itinerant fortune teller and occasional prostitute with a Greek Romany background, who survive by working odd jobs and are definitely poor - one is half monster as well). Plus, the female protagonist of one of Ilona Andrews' Edge novels lives in a trailer park. Quite often, there is a variation of the Cinderella plot in modern style urban fantasy with the working class or downright poor heroine (or hero in the case of the Leandros brother) nabbing the vampire/werewolf/fae king. But otherwise working class character are pretty rare in SFF. And of course the SFF community pretty much ignores urban fantasy, particularly the newer style, though that's more due to gender than class prejudice (at least, I think so).

    Finally, if you want explicit working class heroes, try the British TV show Misfits. It's about five juvenile delinquents from a London council estate (shot in Thamesmead, the same estate where parts of A Clockwork Orange were shot) who gain superpowers. It's a stunningly scathing critique of the British social and justice system and particularly how it treats young people of lower class backgrounds disguised as a teen superhero comedy. Try it, if you can find it anywhere, because I think you'd really get a kick out of it.

  2. Adding that I find it very telling that Steampunk so rarely manages to develop a class consciousness, considering that Steampunk would be the genre to write about class conflict and working class heroes. And interestingly, no one ever really complains about that either, compared to the many criticism about Steampunk's problematic treatment of race issues, legitimate as those criticisms are.

  3. I was thinking about whether the Quaddies in Bujold's Falling Free would be considered "lower class"?

  4. Cora, my take is also that urban fantasy/paranormal romance has gender obstacles.

    Misfits sounds great! I'll look for it.

    I hear from Emma that Cherie Priest does interesting things with class in her steampunk. I intend to try Boneshaker.

    Harvestar, I think so, though it's been too long since I read about 'em.

  5. Hi, Will! :)
    Re L curve -