We're on the countdown! It's less than one week until the release of the Crossed Genres Publications anthology "Menial: Skilled Labor in SF", edited by Kelly Jennings and Shay Darrach, which includes my story "Diamond in the Rough". The antho will be available in paperback and ebook format from January 21st, 2013.
Why "Menial"? Sure, stories of the blue collar have been told in space, but true to Crossed Genres editorial intent, "Menial" explores more intersectional aspects of physical labor in space and/or the future. What impacts will capitalism, gender, race, sexuality, and disability have on transitioning these jobs into a different environment?
One aspect of science fiction that amuses me in its absence is the toilet habits of space goers. I don't mean in a scatological sense; we all must pass waste from our bodies, and I do not understand the almost puritanical avoidance of talking about basic bodily functions, let alone in unusual environments. We can talk about the fantastical ideas of light speed and meeting alien beings, but pee and poo is almost a no-no unless aiming for eye-rolling toilet humour.
It's a rare story that describes ablutions, even when amazing technology is present to deal with biological waste, like a living ship. Where are the toilets on a ship, station, or habitat? I always wondered where the loos on the Enterprise were. We could see Sonic Showers but not a potty! How did different species dealt with their ablution needs? Seriously, did anyone else think about how difficult getting out of those TNG onesies would have been when you were dying for a dump? Who was the designated plumber amongst the crew? (I bet Miles O'Brien always drew the short straw) What about when you just HAD to go when you were on an Away Mission? So THAT'S why so many redshirts got killed off - it wasn't hostile alien attacks or environments, they just took a dump in the wrong bush that bit back.
How have people progressed beyond current technology with going to the toilet in reduced gravity or freefall? How is the waste processed, discarded or recycled (yeah, what DID the Enterprise do with all their poo)? Are ships dumping blocks of shit in the vacuum of space, and will this come back to bite us in the butt?
And if we were to reduce the reliance on ablution facilities, what are the post-human implications of modifying our bodies to deal with such processes? Imagine the knock on from that; a reduced reliance on organic food, farming or food production processes lost, body modifications. Wow, the self-recycling, fusion powered body!
Some people may find this sort of subject boring, disgusting or unnecessary but if we're to explore the fantastic of our future, we need the reality in place to allow us to do that. There may be quite some time between adapting our current body needs and a more streamlined system. We need to value the expertise that goes into designing these facilities for our future environments, value the creation of accessible technology for everyone, and value those who will maintain the technology for us.