I gave up on yet another audiobook today, and this one I really regretted. I liked the writing style and it was well narrated. However, I realized the central thesis, although a common one, was something that I can no longer believe.
The idea behind the setting was that some human beings (about 1%) were born with special talents and the normal humans hated and feared the specials and drafted special laws against them.
Like I say, it’s a common trope, practically a sub-genre of SF in itself, but I’ve never cared for it and today I realized that I just wasn’t buying it any more.
I don’t buy it because extraordinary individuals exist now, and they aren’t regarded with fear and hatred and they aren’t discriminated against. On the contrary, they are celebrated. Top athletes, extremely talented musicians, scientific geniuses–they are our superstars.
I am a very intelligent person, myself. I have a near-perfect memory for verse–I never set out to memorize anything, I just love poetry and the words stick in my mind.
I also have an abnormally clear grasp of mechanics. My joking explanation is that machines fear and obey me. To me the relationships between moving parts is obvious. I can nearly always “just see” how something is supposed to work and why it isn’t doing what it was designed to do.
Far from being resented for my talents, I’m admired for them. People at work like having me around, and I get called in a lot to “take a look” at things, even things for which I have no formal training.
I feel the same way about people who have talents that I do not. I’ve known prodigies personally. I used to live two doors down from a musical prodigy–he could hear a song once and play it back flawlessly, on virtually any instrument he picked up. I know, because I saw him do it. And he was entirely self-taught–he never had a music lesson in his life. Someone gave him a guitar and that was it. I love music, but I could never manage to play it–the relationship between doing something with my hands and the sound that is produced is opaque to me–so I thought that this guy was amazing. I could listen to him play for hours.
I enjoy being around people that I admire. I appreciate working with people who are better than I am, people who I can seek out for help when I get stuck. And I think that most of the people that I have known feel the same way.
So why is there this prevalent theme in SF/F that the “normals” would inevitably turn against people with extraordinary talents?
Well… I used to think that people resented me for my intellectual gifts. No one really appreciated just how smart I was. People expected me to do ordinary, menial work instead of just showering me with praise and money because I was so gosh-darn clever. They were jealous of my great brain, I thought. They felt inadequate in my presence and took their feelings out on me.
I honestly believed that for a long time. Then, eventually, I grew up and realized that people didn’t hate me for being a genius, they hated me for being an asshole. And I couldn’t really blame them.
And that’s the same feeling I get from “super people persecuted by the normals” trope in fiction. Yes, it is true that certain groups of people have been (and still are, in much of the world) persecuted. But it isn’t because they are seen as being better or more powerful than everyone else. It’s because they are seen as weak and bad. The Soviets didn’t send people to die in Siberia because they had great talents–the people with great talents were lauded and paraded in front of the world.
I see Bryan Singer’s mutants and A E van Vogt’s slan (among many others) as being a kind of collective Mary Sue. The noble and selfless Specials are persecuted by the Normals who fear what they don’t understand and envy what they cannot do. And then, of course, some cosmic catastrophe threatens which only the Specials can avert, and so they risk everything to save the Normals that hate them.
“I’ll show you–I’ll just go and die because you don’t appreciate me–and then you’ll be sorry! You’ll see that I was really super secret extra special the whole time. You’ll see that I was always the bestest and you didn’t buy my books because you were jealous. And stupid–you were too stupid to understand my genius. And so you called me names and never let me sit with the cool kids. But I’ll show you. And then you’ll be sorry.”
Nope. Not buying that any more.