Pariah Elite

Tagged: Theme

Term introduced in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, having been suggested by Roz Kaveney as shorthand for the common genre trope of a specially gifted but also distrusted, feared, and/or persecuted minority (as distinct from Secret Masters who influence the world but whose existence is generally unknown). The cadre that surrounds the Superman protagonist of Olaf Stapledon's Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest (1935) comprises a pariah elite. The classic instance in American sf is A E van Vogt's Slan (September-December 1940 Astounding; 1946; rev 1951), whose oppressed human-descended Mutants – the slans – have the power of Telepathy and are forced to conceal themselves. So must the Shapeshifters of Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think (December 1940 Unknown; exp 1948), the mind-controllers of the Second Foundation in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy during the period in Second Foundation (January 1948 and November 1949-January 1950 Astounding; fixup 1953) where they lapse from the status of Secret Masters – and the telepathic children in John Wyndham's Re-Birth (1955; rev vt The Chrysalids 1955). Further such telepathic elites are publicly visible in Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (January-March 1952 Galaxy; 1953) and Henry Kuttner's and C L Moore's Baldy stories, assembled as Mutant (stories February 1945-September 1953 Astounding; fixup 1953 as by Lewis Padgett; 1954 UK as by Kuttner). The Psi Powers of the humanlike Aliens stranded on Earth in Zenna Henderson's People stories are obsessively concealed from humanity at large. Despised though generically psi-gifted Mutants were to become an sf Cliché: an inoffensive example is the mutant ghetto in Robert Sheckley's The Status Civilization (1960). This trope is spoofed in the game Paranoia (1984), where mutant powers are strictly forbidden and every character secretly has one. Shapeshifter actors in Alan G Yates's Coriolanus, the Chariot! (1978) are feared and quarantined by galactic society.

Humanity as a whole may also be depicted as a pariah elite among galactic civilization. In David Brin's Uplift series, we are regarded askance for having apparently attained sentience and a Technology-based civilization without the expected assistance of "Patrons" (see Uplift). Greg Egan's Quarantine (1992) suggests that the apparent collapse of quantum wave functions upon observation results from a special human talent which threatens the multi-valued quantum reality of other civilizations, necessitating the quarantine of the title; Homo sapiens, in John Clute's Appleseed (2001), are shunned for the appalling sexual (see Sex) aroma they universally emit, but are honoured for their deafness to the allure of God, against whom they are about to wage war; Peter Watts's Blindsight (2006) introduces Aliens who are deeply perturbed by our strange gift, or handicap, of self-awareness. [DRL]

see also: Wainscot Societies.

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