Last time I posted, WordPress congratulated me and offered me a prompt for my next one. It was, “What does home mean to you?”
I consulted Maya Angelou for my answer. To quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
That’s good enough for me, definitely how I want to live. Cook a decent meal, do the dishes, see what’s on TV. Ask if either of my family wish to watch with me. If nothing’s on, curl up on the couch with a book. My daughter will go watch something on her computer; my husband might open his iPad and immediately fall asleep. We relax.
But if we’re watching or reading science fiction, we will more likely than not be enjoying tales of the mostly not-at-home, have-no-home, and left-home-never-to-return.
Science fiction protagonists can have disastrous or nonexistent home lives. Home, when it exists, is something to be invaded by aliens, zombies, Big Brother, or a rival galactic empire. Alternatively, home is a place escaped from long ago, or too boring to mention much. Or perhaps it was destroyed, and can’t be gone back to.
One partial exception that comes to mind is Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. There our heroes live inside monastery/university-like concents, which are pretty cool places, and we are allowed to spend some time there before the cozy, cocoon-like atmosphere is ripped apart by political and social upheaval. A truer exception to science fiction homelessness might be found in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, which is three volumes of turning the red/green/blue planet into a home. Granted, there are parts of the trilogy which, much as I admire it, I find a bit tedious, mainly where they are discussing what sort of government the new Martian nation will have. And that is the point. Good government is boring. Even only semi-ok government. Non-boring government is never any good.
Good homes are boring and tedious as well. There is a lack of drama between those who live there. No one screams at each other. They are generally glad to see each other. Bickering, moodiness, and grumpiness are okay, in moderation, of course. There are negotiations, to keep the peace. There is the upkeep, the cleaning, the laundry, and the rent or mortgage to do. There is a modicum of fun picking out paint colors and furniture. There is the delight of one’s stuff, which one gets to use and enjoy, and one hopes other family members haven’t messed with or moved. There are the ordinary troubles, but danger is not something we seek at home.
If you’re a science fiction protagonist then, you’d best not be a homebody. If you stayed home all comfy and cozy, you’d be out of a job, and possibly dead, having been invaded or destroyed as described above. No one would want to read about you or watch you. Let us therefore raise a glass (or just drink directly out of the milk carton, I don’t care) to our SF protagonists. Let’s thank them for entertaining us, for giving up the comforts we enjoy, so that we can have vicarious adventures through them.
On occasion, I may grow tired of being a homebody; I may want to pack my bags and exchange my land-based abode for a spaceship. In that case, here are some options I might consider:
1) The Enterprise looks nice in its mid-century futuristic fashion–all whites, grays, whooshing doors and blinking lights, but it’s all a bit too antiseptic. I’d never make it through the five-year mission without missing my cluttered, mismatched, homely decor.
2) Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels have a seductively strange ambience in their sentient ships. Who wouldn’t want to take a ride on something named Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints, or Sense Amidst Madness; Wit Against Folly, or even Kiss My Ass? The personalities of these ships, however, are overwhelming, and I would feel quite exposed. Ships of the Culture universe can be a bit like the overattentive waiter or bus-person who keeps interrupting table conversation filling water glasses and asking if everything’s okay.
The only ship I could stay on for a long period is the Tardis. Huge inside, sentient but discreet, and with cheerful retro-techy decor. The series has implied from time to time that in between dangerous adventures and looming arcs of The End of Everything, the Doctor and his companion(s) have a some non-eventful sightseeing trips that don’t make it to the screen. This, I would like. Also, the Doctor can drop me off at home moments after I left.
That way, I don’t have to miss anything or anybody. It’s a cheat, but I think it’s a necessary one.