I Wanted a Roc’s Egg

My wife and I were discussing how to make characters appealing to readers, especially to science fiction readers. My theory is that science fiction readers are a special breed who are seeking something invisible to mainstream readers, something not found close to home, not found within the Fields We Know, perhaps not found on Earth at all.

So an appealing character, according this particular method of approach (there are many other methods) is to give the hero that same homesickness for the unknown realms and higher stars which many a science fiction reader knows so well.

I notice that there are many characters with this particular trait: Frodo Baggins wishes his comfortable life were interrupted with adventure, and this mood comes upon him strongly in autumnal months. Luke Skywalker mocks his planet as being the world farthest from any bright center of the universe there might be. Harry Potter suffers with Oliver Tristian levels of abuse before discovering he is  a wizard, and that the world of muggles is not his home. Belle from the Disney musical BEAUTY AND THE BEAST yearns for so much more than “they have planned”, and Jasmine from ALADDIN has the same yearning. Kip from HAVE SPACE SUIT WILL TRAVEL opens his story with the arresting and simple line: he wants to go to the moon.

One of the best expressions of this homesickness for somewhither comes from the pen of Robert Heinlein, put in the mouth of Oscar Gordon, the hero of GLORY ROAD, and Heinlein’s homage to the swashbuckler genre. (And my thanks to Mary for reminding me of this quote http://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/09/03/the-redheaded-step-genre/#comment-197627)

“What did I want?

I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist, and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get up feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a likely wench for my droit du seigneur – I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

“I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and Lost Dauphin. I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake.

“I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and to eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be the way they had promised me it was going to be, instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is. I had had one chance – for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. Helen of Troy, whatever your true name may be – and I had known it and I had let it slip away. Maybe one chance is all you ever get.”

― Robert A. Heinlein,