Possibly because a high percentage of science fiction and fantasy authors don’t always fit comfortably into “conventional” roles in society, an equally high percentage of F&SF is about outsiders or some sort or people who fit poorly into the society in which they find themselves. Yet how many “outsiders” are there? What percentage of people don’t really fit?

That all depends on the degree of “outsiderness.” Certainly, at least some members of the Society for Creative Anachronism [SCA] feel different enough from U.S. society that they participate in SCA events and pay dues – but the paid membership of the SCA is about 30,000, or less than 1/1000 of one percent, and these are individuals who, for the most part, are anything but total outsiders, most of whom fit without obvious notice into society. A darker kind of outsider is represented by the Ku Klux Klan, whose membership is estimated at between five and ten thousand. But, as members of groups, are these individuals really “outsiders”?

Certainly, historically speaking, while true individual “outsiders” may be striking figures, they seldom threaten societies as a whole and almost never change them. While Jesus and Mohammed were outsiders, what changed societies as a result of their preaching and doctrines was their converts. Once someone has thousands or millions of converts, that individual is no longer an outsider, but a competing cultural force.

Another kind of outsider is the “inside-outsider,” the individual who is apparently part of a culture, but who perceives it, or some part of it, in a very different fashion than almost anyone else. In the 1930s England, one could have cast Winston Churchill in that role. He’d been disgraced by the Gallipoli disaster in WWI, and he had very few supporters within the British government, especially given his unwelcome warnings about Adolf Hitler at a time when no one wanted to listen. In a way, one could also categorize Bill Gates initially as an “inside-outsider.”

Then there are outsiders who create their own groups to challenge the status quo. Certainly, Dorrin in The Magic Engineer is an outsider at the beginning. Even his friends don’t understand or appreciate his obsession with machines and devices. Creslin in The Towers of the Sunset is clearly a total outsider, almost from birth, but he can’t accomplish much of any lasting significance until he can enlist others and build support.

The reason I bring this up is because in life (and as it should be even in F&SF) a true outsider who stays an outside can do little except create mayhem against a limited number of people. To do any more than that requires resources, comrades/accomplices, and supporters… and anyone who’s developed all that isn’t truly an outsider. Harry Potter isn’t the outsider; Voldemort is.

2 thoughts on “Outsiders”

  1. Tom says:

    Creslin was an outsider because he was trapped on The Roof of the World in a female group. He was not an outsider if one considers the whole of Candar; or was he still an outsider if compared to Churchill’s situation in the 1930’s?

    Given your insider knowledge of Washington DC how would you characterize President Trump? An outsider within his own administration despite winning a national election and still having a substantial support group; or outsider who created his own group and thus is no-longer an outsider?

    1. I see Trump as a definite outsider in Washington, but given the fact that something like thirty percent of the U.S. population still strongly supports him, there’s no way you could say he’s an outsider on a national scale. He’s an outsider to liberals, but an insider to his base.

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