Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Top 5 Unemployed SF Characters

I've been working on contract for the better part of the last year, and last week, my contract came to a close. Admittedly, I'm enjoying the opportunity to get a little more sleep, and to catch up on my reading (any opportunity to cut into the towering stack in my inbox is a good thing) and blogging. But I do enjoy my line of work, and I'm mindful of that strange addiction to food and shelter that we all have, so I'm looking to get into another gig soon. Being unemployed has made me think about some science fiction and fantasy characters who, for one reason or another, have been without jobs.

And so I give to you the Top 5 Unemployed SF Characters:

5) Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings) - This legendary halfling starts our list off for being a notorious gentleman layabout. Sure, you can argue that for the bulk of The Hobbit he's employed, albeit against his will, on a contract basis as a thief for a band of dwarves who need help settling a grudge against a dragon. But the fact is that he begins the story jobless, and happily so, and once the whole business with Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies is wrapped up, he wastes no time going back to his easygoing lifestyle that consists of eating well and avoiding most of his relations. In fact, when Frodo comes of age, Bilbo leaves home and becomes the classic epitome of the unemployed bachelor, sleeping on his friend's couch in Rivendel and in the end bumming a ride (to Valinor) when it suits him. You might argue that during his later years in the Shire and in Elrond's house Bilbo has taken up the profession of writer or historian, but because he isn't paid for this, I'd say that this activity constitutes a hobby more than a job (granted, many would point out that people who claim to write professionally often don't get paid, or get paid so little as to be considered not in a paying job and yet we say they're employed none-the-less, and I'd have a hard time arguing with this) and so would still classify him as a lord of leisure, or, at least an esquire of leisure.

4) Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) - Arthur Dent is an interesting cat. Or, the friend of an interesting life form descended from cats, anyway. When the Hitchhiker's Guide opens, Arthur's in his jammies as work crews show up to tear down his house. That tells us that it's probably a weekday, because city crews are more likely to be on the job on a weekday than a weekend, and yet, amidst all of the hubbub, not once does Arthur voice any concern about all of this potentially making him late for work, something that makes me wonder if our hero is currently "between projects". All of this soon becomes irrelevant anyway, as the Earth is destroyed. From that point on, Arthur schleps from one corner of the galaxy to another in a state of near-constant joblessness. Those around him, like Ford Prefect, have jobs (updating entries into the Guide), but Arthur's more or less a tagalong, rather than an employee. At one point near the beginning of Mostly Harmless, Arthur is running his own business, a sandwich shop, on an alien world. But that falls by the wayside in the usual Hitchhiker's kinda way. It seems Arthur Dent is proof that you need a towel to travel the length and breadth of the galaxy, but not a job.

3) Dave Lister (Red Dwarf) - At 3 million + years without a job, Lister makes it into the coveted top 3 for being the individual who's spent the most time, a truly staggering amount of time, unemployed (even if he was in stasis for most of that period). While you can certainly say that all of the Boys from the 'Dwarf are unemployed, Lister gets the nod for being out of work the longest (you might say only minutes or seconds longer than Rimmer, but remember that's when Rimmer died, and so, not being activated as a hologram until Lister was decanted, he wasn't around in any form to be unemployed), and most importantly for being unemployed by choice. He planned to be out of work. Remember that he brought Frankenstein the cat aboard specifically to get fired and put into stasis for violating quaranteen regulations. That's more than being okay with being jobless, it's wanting to be that way. Repairs to the ship? That's just keeping his home intact, which is vital to his survival; it's not a job. All of the misadventures that happen to him on the way home? Again, merely survival. I'm reminded of an episode where a hologram from another ship asks something to the effect of "So all you guys do is fly around the universe eating curries, getting drunk and salvaging the occasional wrecked ship?" to which the boys reply "Yeah." That tells you pretty clearly, they're just killing time, filling their days. Lister is among the kings of the unemployed in the SF genre.

2) The Doctor (Doctor Who) - Whatever he did on Gallifrey in the deeps of time before he stole the TARDIS and headed out across the universe in search of fun, The Doctor, is unemployed. Sure, he gets into a lot of adventures, some of them on a grand scale, fighting ancient foes and helping people out, but that isn't a job. He isn't paid for any these deeds. It's good samaritanism. Travelling around on a whim volunteering to help people doesn't even make him self-employed, it makes him The Littlest Hobo. You might say that The Doctor deserves to get paid for this, that perhaps the Shadow Proclamation or some other pan-galactic power should recognize his efforts and bestow an official title, list of qualifications, job description, pay scale, complaints process and annual performance review upon him, but they haven't really (or at least not in any meaningful, paying way) and so he remains a volunteer rather than an employee or contractor. Poor guy even has to live out of his vehicle. It would probably be accurate to say he was employed during the last Time War against the Daleks, conscription or enlistment in Gallifrey's armed forces certainly counting as employment. But since the end of the war he's been out of work. Could he settle down and find a job somewhere? Probably. But it's his steadfast determination not to, and everything that he's accomplished with his ample spare time, that puts him this high on the list.

1) Frodo Baggins (The Lord of the Rings) - This halfling is the ultimate example of the trust fund kid who made good. Adopted by Bilbo as a young orphan, Frodo drifted easily into his uncle's happily unemployed lifestyle. After all, with all of the elder Baggins' wealth, he didn't need to work. Taking it easy with his buddies down at the Green Dragon, smoking his pipeweed of an evening, and eating well seemed to fill his days well enough until all of that hassle with the One Ring. And as far as the destruction of the Ring goes, that certainly wasn't work. It was fall cleaning. Sure, he may have received gifts of gratitude from all of the various lords of the realms for destroying a singularly powerful tool of evil, but he was basically getting rid of old clutter that was taking up room around the house (and in the back of his mind). Similar to the pattern set by Bilbo, after the War of the Ring Frodo went back to a life of leisure as a country gentleman. Frodo ranks so much higher than Bilbo, and in fact leads this list, because he saved the world while being unemployed, and unlike The Doctor, did it without the benefit of a whole TARDIS-full of high-tech resources or centuries of experience. Frodo may have received a couple of magic gifts along the way, but ultimately he had to trudge through endless leagues of bad country, surrounded by hostile forces, with no idea of what lay ahead or how he was going to get through it. Not bad for a kid who never had a job.
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