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April 22, 2005


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Syd Webb

For what it's worth I've only read two Bujold short stories and these would be IIRC about 15 years ago. In one there was a terrible war crime, hundreds of women being raped and falling pregnant. Naturally these women didn't want to carry the foetuses to term. The solution was to put the foetuses in jars and shift them off-world to another planet where other women would be delighted to be surrogate and adoptive mothers.

The other story tells of Miles mother and some chemical or biological attack that results in her becoming told her child-to-be will be deformed. Naturally mum carries Miles to term and a Good Thing Too.

For some reason I mentally classified Bujold's oeuvre as "Right to Life SciFi" - not that there's anything wrong with that - and missed all of Miles and the gang's subsequent adventures travelling around the galaxy in a van and solving crimes.

So when Miles and his spouse have fertility issues I'm inclined to view these through the lens of 'Right to Life'. Viz: "There's lot's of good people who want to have pregnancies but can't so you should be grateful for yours. At least consider putting the sprog up for adoption."

As for the bisexuality thing ISTM that in a Right to Life universe even if one is homosexual in inclination one should at least have a crack at a heterosexual relationship. For The Children.

Bernard Guerrero

Ok, alternate theory. I've managed to avoid lit-crit and semiotics and such like the plague, so please feel free to toss in any appropriate terms or jargon as you see fit.

"Regression to the Mean", Decadence and Progress

The stories we tell ourselves about World Conquerors and the Successful In General include the following one: If you're successful, your kids stand a good chance of being blockheads or jerks. I think this plays a large part in the pattern you're claiming. It offends our natural desire for progress and improvement.

This pattern manifests itself in one of three ways. If your Conqueror is a moral one, he is prevented from having children which will doubtless backslide and might even require our hero to get rid of them, which also offends our notions of progress. If your Conqueror is an immoral one, he may have children under the notion that whatever comes next can only be an improvement. And if our moral Conqueror _does_ manage to have kids, it’s either a way to display decadence and decay or the kids die early.

I can immediately find three examples in Stirling.

Eric Von Shrakenberg: A sensitive kid who in the modern U.S. would donate what little money he manages to make between volunteering at the church food pantry and the women's shelter to feed hungry kids in India, by Draka standards he's already excessively moral by virtue of avoiding rape and unnecessary killing. Can't be allowed to have kids. Either they'd be _so_ moral that any shreds of remaining plausibility in the story would be removed, or they'd be regular old Draka and we'd hate 'em, which Stirling does not want to taint his hero with. (He _does_ have one kid, by a slave, but ships her off to live with the Quakers in the back-story, where she can be hyper-moral without screwing with the story.)

The Chick from Snowbrother (maybe you remember the name): Once again, Stirling's moral heroine in an immoral world has a kid in the back-story and ships her off. (Childless couple?) She's thus absolved of having created yet another regular old Whatever They Called Themselves (Commanza?). _Her_ mother, however, is a vividly immoral, cold-hearted meany-poo-poo-head who actually appears on-screen, and so is allowed to sire so many kids she can't remember who fathered the heroine.

William Walker: The ultimate meany-poo-poo-head, he's allowed to have a vast number of get, and even manages to impart a few good lessons to them, thus allowing for a touch of progress.

Non-Stirling examples: Anderson has Hans Molitor come out of the fringes of the Empire to restore Truth, Justice and the Terran Way. He's allowed to actually start a dynasty only because Anderson _wants_ to display decay and decadence, and the Emperor's son is a poster-child.

Darth and Luke: 'Nuff said.

Arslan: Yet another meany-poo-poo-head, he's allowed to sire one son who appears to be the only creature in the world Arslan actually cares about, and who turns out surprisingly loyal and helpful, what for having been raised by the guy who killed the human race. He may be the only evidence of anything I'd call progress in the entire book.

Card's Worthing: _Loads_ of kids. Even raises a bunch of brain-wiped adults a second time. Worthing's always portrayed as calculating, willing to kill, etc. Yet his kids always manage to get around to creating some utopia or another, progressing from their base beginnings (and in the process providing some sort of absolution for his "gift", which I gather Card sees as a mixed moral blessing.)

Back to the Future: Ok, Marty’s not a Conqueror, but he's clearly an improvement over his folks (whom he has to go back and fix) and is then forced in the sequel to go and fix his decadent, decayed kids.

My hypothesis has the advantage of producing possibly testable predictions. If Stirling ever puts out either the projected sequel to _Drakon_ or follow-ups to Nantucket, I'm willing to bet that either Gwen's clone or Walker's surviving daughter will turn out to have a "turning around" by the end of the book, finding some way to peaceably co-exist with the moral world around them. If Lucas ever does anything with the last three projected Star Wars stories, Luke's kids (if they exist) will not be happy-campers.

Mitch H.

The tying of fertility with conquest reminds me of a recent discussion of Abraham's infertility, and God's promise to him that his progeny would be numbered as the stars in the sky. Masculine fertility is about making a permanent mark upon the world - preserving your name unto posterity.

Abraham solves his inability through submission to God, through divine intervention. There's the suggestion that this is the way things ought to be - through faith and the natural course of life. This is why the life of Abraham makes for excellent philosophy and religion, but terrible drama.

Saul and David and Solomon, on the other hand, are classic high-drama material. The infertile man who turns to conquest hasn't relied on God, but rather, has attempted to make posterity remember him through violent change - to carve out a lasting empire or kingdom which will remember his name. Saul, of course, is the failed king - too damaged to preserve his kingdom over the tribes in such a way that it would remember him as their Father. David begins as a good king, but through a fertility-plot - the rape of Uriah's wife - becomes a bad king, repents, and is blessed by the intervention of God with the true Good King - Solomon.

You can see this echoed in the Arthurian legends, with the hero-king Uthur betraying a subordinate and raping his wife, thus producing his own good king successor via rapine, btw.

These sorts of conquest and fertility-driven plots are better-suited to fantasy than science fiction, to be honest. Fertility issues aren't particularly relevant to political drama outside of a monarchial system, and Wil McCarthy's bizarre assertions to the contrary, monarchism isn't a particularly plausible SFnal trope. Its use in space opera tends to give off a faintly musty, Ruritanian air.

(McCarthy's Collapsium books, with their eccentric insistence that monarchy is the natural, default, and best political system of the human animal, kind of freaks me out. I keep waiting for him to reveal that the scientist-good-king had intentionally manipulated humanity via his monopoly over the transportation system to be brain-washed into an artificial deference to monarchial authority.)

James Nicoll

Consider _who_ in the Queendom of Sol insists that monarchy is the natural human government.

Consider what sort of person the Crown Prince turned out to be in the two published sequels (I've read the third one but I don't want to spoil it).

It's clear from the frame that the Queendom is even worse at planning than they appear to be from the fact that there's a crown prince whose parents are immortal.

Bernard Guerrero

"It's clear from the frame that the Queendom is even worse at planning than they appear to be from the fact that there's a crown prince whose parents are immortal."


James Nicoll

Hey, you laugh but that's what drives the plot in the first book of the trilogy: there's an entire generation of immortals who have clearly not bothered to think about the implications for their kids. The "solution" they hit on is an apparently endlessly extended childhood for the next generation, without much concern about whether the kids will be willing to settle for that.

The first Queendom of Sol book features a communications device whose failure modes are worse than the Aswan Dam's.

Mitch H.

I think it was the second "Queendom of Sol" book that got into the inadvisability of immortals having children. The first book was before our philosopher became king the old-fashioned way - by marrying the queen.

Basically, if your main purpose in having children is to achieve a sort of immortality? Once you've achieved true immortality, having kids is going to invariably end in grief. I suppose, structurally, you'd call this the "rebellious crown prince" motif, or if you're classically-inclined, the Kronos problem. Of course, all this begs the question, which is "if you're immortal, why bother being king?" This way lies power-for-its-own-sake, and the death of psychosexual dramatic theorizing, I fear.

James Nicoll

The problem is, I think, that the first generation of immortals is the one with the least experience of how to properly manage it and in this case, they are the ones in charge.


Syd, that's an interesting interpretation of Bujold. But I feel there are many readers of HDTD more competent to discuss it with you than I am.

(I wish they would stop lurking, hint hint. Claudia, want to trade? I can post about the Pope again, and you can write about LMB.)

Mitch, I wonder if the story of Abraham isn't another transformation of the same structure? Rotated around another axis. Not the kingdom of earth : but the kingdom of heaven :: difficulty siring children : as many children as stars in the sky.

I have bounced off the Wil McCarthy I have read. There's nothing wrong with it. It's just missing whatever Ingredient U I need.

Monarchy in science fiction is still overrepresented, despite (I agree) the Ruritarian feel this gives to many novels. So is despotism, and fascism with the serial numbers filed off. Politics in general are simplified to a cartoonish level -- and not a good cartoon either, but something like B.C. or Ziggy. There's no science fictional equivalent of Allen Drury or The West Wing.

Here's a question: are there structural reasons for this? Or is a function of politics not being central to most SFnal plot, and thus being elided? (Or, as James Nicoll suggests elsewhere, is it the dead hand of Deglerism, a psychological artifact of the fringe natures of many science fiction writers?)

Bernard, I'm thinking you've never read the first edition of Snowbrother.

I think "reversion to the mean" as a form of writerly pressure to balance the plot only holds true if the original generation stays as the baseline. In an single novel or story arc, like Arslan, sure. To take a different example, however, the fertility-impaired conqueror Aral Vorkosigan: is his son Miles a reversion to the mean?

(I've actually used "reversion to the mean" deliberately in writing the character of Vince Mercator, Junior, in the For All Nails timeline. A very average guy. Shame about his dad.)

Finally, are there any unusual structures within SF about immortality? You don't see many Tithonus figures, that's for sure. One commonality: most SFnal immortals are as annoying as all get out.

Bernard Guerrero

"Bernard, I'm thinking you've never read the first edition of Snowbrother."

There's more than one?!

Or perhaps you mean that they must have changed the character, since the one you remember was decidedly not moral? I'll claim relative merits. IIRC, she wasn't bad when compared with the rest of her people. Limited number of rapes, no death-fetish....

Jeez, looking back, I realize I've read some funky $#@*. I shudder to think what must be rattling around in _your_ head...


Bernard, Snowbrother was toned down for the Baen edition. The protagonist, whom I will call Shakira because I can't be bothered to find the correct, apostrophe-laden spelling, is a much more typical member of her people in the first version.

Jeez, looking back, I realize I've read some funky $#@*. I shudder to think what must be rattling around in _your_ head...

Did you know William Burroughs used Henry Kuttner and Poul Anderson in his cut-up novels? Fury and Virgin Planet, if memory serves.

Bernard Guerrero

"Bernard, Snowbrother was toned down for the Baen edition."

And once again HWDTD manages to shock me.

James Nicoll

What other editions did Snowbrother have?


Google says it was a NAL / Signet edition. 1985, which jibes with my memory.

David Allen

Man, I haven't read as much SF as I thought I had...(and I'm not sorry, either).

"There exists a lone bisexual world conqueror; if moral, he has a romance with a woman but has difficulties siring children with her; if immoral, he rapes and restricts the fertility of others in his conquest."

Let me look at this in terms of possible opposites:

"There exists a lone straight world conqueror, if moral, he has a romance with a woman"

By itself, trivial.

"but has difficulties siring children with her;"

This neither rings bells nor resonates as an archetype. (Which isn't what was expected. Hmm.)

"if immoral, he rapes and restricts the fertility of others in his conquest."

This is almost a definition of the evil use of power in re sex/fertility. But let's look at it next:

"There exists a lone bisexual world conqueror; although in some ways immoral, he is generally chivalrous toward women."

Got to stop now; someone else wants to use the hotel computer. Will resume later.


David Allen

David Allen

Okay, back.

Was saying:

"There exists a lone bisexual world conqueror; although in some ways immoral, he is generally chivalrous toward women."

This sounds like a bad conqueror with some redeeming qualities. He might be interesting in a story, but (at least with me) doesn't resonate as an archetype.

(And he does pretty much have to be a he.)

"There exists a lone bisexual world conqueror; he gathers himself a harem, has dozens of kids, and lives happily ever after (or she has her pick of the Palace Guard, has a large family, and ditto)."


Hmm. Saudi Arabia? At least, a recipe for civil war.

The Amber series?

"There exists a lone homosexual world conqueror;
he or she faces obvious problems founding a dynasty."

Oddly enough, this feels closer to the heart of the matter than I expected. Is it possible that in our cultural subconscious there is a belief that homosexuality is essentially selfish and destructive, and thus a natural characteristic for a world conqueror, while heterosexuality is at some level selfless and generative?

Shakespeare's Richard III? (I may have the wrong Richard.)

I'm showing my ignorance here, but I can't think of any clearly positive and clearly homosexual characters in traditional Western heroic literature anywhere. (And I'm going to have to stop rereading that sentence. Everytime I do I come up with another qualifier.)

"There exists a lone bisexual average guy; if moral, he has a romance with a woman but has difficulties siring children with her; if immoral, he attempts to rape and restrict the fertility of others."

And to my surprise there is resonance here also. On the one hand there is a man with double-mindedness about his marriage, on the other are hundreds of uncles, guardians, teachers, and other corrupt father figures who try to stop the fun and fulfillment of young couples out of jealousy.

"There exists a lone world conqueror with no interest in sex."

Darth Vader, although he doesn't really conquer the world. The Emperor?

Hmm. I'd say the pieces of Carlos's structure are:

1. Conflicted sexuality (maybe "conflicted feelings about sexuality" is better) resonates with audiences in a lot of ways.

2. The more power the conflicted character(s) have/has, the more ways the conflict can play out.

3. In a traditional patriarchial/authoritarian society. a sick king means a sick country directly and logically, as well as symbolically, so the king's physical and mental health is everyone's business.


David Allen


I promise I will comment - eventually. What with the boys being awake and Doug in Albania, I don't get much leisure. In fact, gotta run right now, I hear suspicious sounds. Maybe when they nap - if they nap.

How do single parents manage? I guess they stop procreating, that's what they do.


So when Miles and his spouse have fertility issues I'm inclined to view these through the lens of 'Right to Life'. Viz: "There's lot's of good people who want to have pregnancies but can't so you should be grateful for yours. At least consider putting the sprog up for adoption."

I don't think Lois' books are pro-life -- they are about how to behave in a decent way, especially when things have gone wrong. The easy way out, it ain't.

Lois often writes about moral dilemmata and lets her characters have a go at solving them - more often than not, there is no moral solution. Especially the short story you refer to (which I haven't read) seems to fall in this category -- how to solve a problem morally? You are responsible for the consequences of your actions, is what she tells us.

Nothing wrong with that, I think.

Anyhow, Miles and Ekaterin don't have problems at all -- they have a son and a daugher in replicators and things are not complicated at all. Miles is as fertile as the next door jock and Ekaterin already had proven her fertility with her first son (I know, secondary infertility and all that - point being, they don't have fertitly problems).

It's Aral (and Cordelia?) who is/are rendered infertile after the Soltoxin poison attack - however, IIRC, not from the poison but from the antidote.

However, they could overcome those issues easily enough with modern medicine -- they consciously decide against another child, though, as not to have to put up with any pressure that might be exerted on them to exclude Miles the Mutant from inheriting the title.

So bisexual - yes. Infertile - yes, after fertility (they got pregnant with Miles very quickly, or so it says somewhere in Vorgame, I think), and easily to overcome. I think in order to decide whether this is structure, we'd have to ask her.



I am in Albania! I am in an Internet cafe full of young Albanian men, mostly playing CounterStrike, many screaming at each other! I read the first version of Snowbrother!

...I'm backing away from Carlos' vision a little. Had cause to flip through the first couple of Bujold books last night. Aral's bisexuality is really incidental. It happened umpty years before the story starts. In most of the books where Aral appears, it plays no part at all. It's only significant in _Barrayar_, and it's not /crucial/ there.

I'm still baffled by the refusal to include Wolfe. Yah, Wolfe knew of Levi-Strauss. Is the begendered conqueror figure present in L-S' work?

Taking another tack: if this is something that appears regularly in written SF, we'd expect it to pop up at least occasionally in sibling fields: fantasy, comic books, SF movies and TV.

But it doesn't much that I can see. Yeah, you can find examples if you dig. But they're pretty exceptional. The standard candles for "World Conqueror" in all those genres are hypermasculine: Sauron; Doctor Doom and Darkseid; Darth Vader and The Master and Khan.

Is there something different about SF? Or is this a Lincoln/Kennedy random chance kinda thing?

Doug M.

James Nicoll

I don't think Aral and Cordelia are infertile, in a physical sense. My memory of the reason why Miles never had siblings is that it was hard enough for his parents to provide for him a role in Barryaran society, given his near-mutant status. A healthy, normal appearing Vorkosigan child would have been seen by society as the one who should be the eventual heir and at least one native (Aral's dad) would have been happy to remove Miles the scene as it was.

James Nicoll

Hmmm. I see a slight trend towards physical disability in that list. Sauron, Doom and Vader are all maimed.

Sauron is corporially challenged and so isn't likely to father kids.

Doctor Doom's forays into reproduction involved clones. I will say that as far as I know he still have the Fun Bits (His scars are mostly because he couldn't wait to put on his mask until after it cooled from red-heat, but I don't think there was a matching cod-piece).

Darkseid has sons but probably wishes he didn't, since Orion will some day kill him.

Darth Vader probably lost the ability to have kids in his very bad accident, since the only kids we know he has are from before then.

The Master's an immortal and so doesn't need to reporduce but as far as I know has never been said to be incapable of it.

Khan had kids but got them all killed in his bid for revenge.


Claudia, that would be very cool! Yes, please.

Doug, I am beginning to wonder if your own personal antipathy to Wolfe is coloring this discussion? If Levi-Straussian structures are an active part of a writer's toolkit, it becomes much more difficult to analyze their works structurally. How can you tell what's an unconscious structure versus something the author put in deliberately? (Perhaps with the intent to trap, mislead, or joke with the reader, like the narrator's name in "The Fifth Head of Cerberus".)

As for other genres, part of Levi-Strauss's point is that shared hidden structures define genres. So, no, I wouldn't expect to find the same SFnal structures in comic books or sci-fi movies, which have their own conventions ("women in refrigerators", the origin story, the black computer whiz, and so on).

I can even offer a functionalist reason for this: written SF has far more female authors than superhero comics or sci-fi movies do. The first three authors I used as examples -- Bujold, Elliott, and Engh -- are women. Just from that alone, I'd expect SFnal structures regarding sexuality and fertility to be different from those produced by a boy's club, like (say) the Marvel Bullpen.

Anyway. I thought of three reasonably famous SF stories which might illuminate the theme some more; or at least, they seem to draw their SFnal power from something other than the bare narrative:

"Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)

"The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal", by Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger)

"Adam and No Eve", by Alfred Bester

Bernard Guerrero


Damn, I thought so. Though that brings up troubling questions itself.

Randy McDonald

It's only significant in _Barrayar_, and it's not /crucial/ there.

Hmm. Mark Vorgosigan's tortures?


James - yes and no.

"One of the lesser-known side effects of soltoxin poisoning is testicular scarring, on a micro-level. It could reduce fertility below the point of no return. Or so my examining physician warns me."

From Barrayar

So yeah, some fertility problems there.

One question which confuses me, though: If the structure is intentional, then it's not structure? Do I understand this right? (Heh, mushy brain, too little coffee, early rising in the morning - excuse if I overread something.)


Hi Claudia! Same coffee deficiency, different time zone.

Structures in their original conception were analogies between story elements: similarities, inversions around a theme, or transformations involving family relationships -- CLS came up with a predictive system to analyze kinship systems before writing about mythology.

Levi-Strauss realized that what he ironically called "the savage mind" could navigate within these very complex structures with ease. Moreover, when presented with new phenomena -- say, new types of fauna -- they would use pre-existing structures to compose original myths and stories about them.

So far so good?

But in the Levi-Straussian conception, while the story composer might be well aware that they are inverting a story element, the choice of how the element is inverted -- around what axis, to use a mathematical analogy -- is not available to them. It operates at an unconscious, cultural level (not at a subconscious, universal level, the way Jungian archetypes do).

So in the SFnal plot of the World Conqueror, there seems to be an unconscious axis linking morality and fertility.

However, not all these unconscious structures are equally opaque to the people who manipulate them. It's possible become aware of them, create new ones, and even overuse them till they lose their force. (CLS omitted discussing the Aztec, Maya, and Inca myth systems for this reason -- too worked over by structural innovators.)

With regards to current writers -- LMB versus Wolfe, for instance -- I don't see LMB as trying to mess with structure for its own sake. Rather, she wants to extend the structure's range. She's a Classical science fiction writer.

On the other hand, Wolfe can, will, does, and admits to messing with every story convention he gets his hands on. He's a Modernist science fiction writer. Like Delany, like LeGuin. [1]

(And Stirling -- at this point in his career, at least -- is a Derivative science fiction writer. Or, to use the shorter word, a 'hack'.)

Does this make sense to you? I am only on my second cup.


[1] It's probably not a coincidence that Wolfe, Delany, and LeGuin are the writers most admired by the 'literary establishment', whatever that is.

Doug Muir

I'm not antipathetic to Wolfe. Pas de tout. The misogyny thing creeps me, he has several tics that get up my nose, and I think your "slabs of Wolfe" point is well taken. But the _New Sun_ is a work of genius, and much of the rest of his ouevre is well worth reading. (Much, not all. I recognized what he was trying to do with _Free Live Free_; it was boring as hell anyhow.) He's a great, if flawed, writer, and well worth our attention.

I think you might be a bit too _deferential_ to Wolfe. But, well.

I liked your Classical-Modernist distinction but, being me, immediately began looking for ways to niggle and blur. Michael Swanwick plays with structure in everything longer than a grocery list that he's ever written; where does he fall? To me, he's a Classical SF writer who's having a little fun on the side.

Apropos of your other SF stories: "Suzdal" seems a bit obsolete to me. Still creepy, but it draws a lot of its power from the idea that homosexuality is transgressive and Bad. A modern reader would probably say, hm, but why would an all-male society _necessarily_ be psychotic?

The Bad unisex society seems to be another old SFnal trope that is no longer around much. (Recall the Lyranians from, oh well, the Lensman books. All-female society, the males runtish demented creatures good for one thing only. The Lyranians are callous Amazons who suffer from flattened affect and bad hair.)

"Houston, Houston", now... that's an /interesting/ story. Not so much by itself, but because of its effect on readers. To this day, fans are still reading that one and going, "Huuhhh??"

Which is very strange, because it's not a particularly subtle story. Yeah, it has a somewhat unreliable narrator, but he's pretty clearly signalled as such. And it's got a bog-standard SFnal infodump just before the end. Yet for some reason Fandom Assembled tends to react to this story with bafflement and frustration. I'm not sure wsup w/that, except that maybe it's connected to the way F.A. reacted to Judith Merrill.

Randy: I was talking about Aral's bisexuality in particular. Although I would add that Mark seems to be not so much bisexual as love-starved.

James: as I think of it, comic book conquerors tend to be hypermasculinized /and/ asexual. (Just try to imagine Dr. Doom... no no no.) Which arguably could be an inversion of bisexuality, but I wouldn't want to go there.

Genre: Carlos has a point, but some structures cross genre lines; notice, frex, how readily the structures of noir detective stories translate to fantasy and SF.

I would agree that the walls are higher between written SF and movie SF/TV/comics. Fantasy, though... the genre lines are blurry there, and it's often the same damn authors.

Which leads to a thought: who's the opposite of the world conqueror? At first I thought of Libertarian Man, Lazarus Long and his many literary descendants. But maybe it's the world _savior_? (Though they can sometimes be the same figure, cf. Severian.) I was thinking in particular of LeGuin's Sparrowhawk (asexual, but he battles unpleasant female priestesses and a would-be world conqueror who's explicitly associated with infertility imagery), but let's bring it back to SF.

So: we have a world /savior/ who's... asexual? And who seeks to promote or preserve the fertility of others? Is there a red-headed woman in here somewhere?

David, it was Richard II, and Shakespeare makes it pretty clear that his gayness is part of the problem. (Though, interestingly, only part. He's a bad king not because he's gay per se, but because he's surrounding himself with cute male favorites, and feeding the kingdom to them.)

Zelazny... I was just thinking about this. I can't recall if old King Oberon was bi. If yes, that would be a strike against him in a Zelaznyverse. Z's heroes are, almost without exception, straight males, and homosexuality is usually viewed askance. The ur-Zelazny narrative is a male coming-of-age story in which female characters are always secondary, and are either villainesses, victims, or appurtenances to the hero.

I like Zelazny a lot, but he was New Wave in style only... strip away the lovely language and the gods and demons and whatnot, and most of his work is riding on a chassis of plot and theme that's pretty much Travis McGee. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

"Conflicted sexuality" takes Ender and Leto out of the game. For purposes of this discussion, I'd go with "somewhat bigendered, which may be marked in a variety of ways, of which bisexuality is perhaps the most obvious".

I am still in Albania. I should get back to work now.

Doug M.


So: we have a world /savior/ who's... asexual? And who seeks to promote or preserve the fertility of others? Is there a red-headed woman in here somewhere?

Mary Magdalene.

I am only partly joking. In fact, I think similar reasoning led Wolfe down some interesting roads.

More later.

Mitch H.

Carlos: as to why monarchies, fascist states, and other totalizing variants are over-represented in SF and fantasy, I'd offer the theory that it's two-thirds dramatic tension, one-sixth structural bias, and one-sixth artistic temperament. That is, that monarchies and totalizing states are in a certain practical sense more prone to generate bad situations and ugliness - which leads to fruitful, bright, shiny conflicts ripe with dramatic possibility. Stories flourish when well-manured with oppression and tyranny. That leads you to the structural bias, by which I mean that monarchies and totalized states reduce the stable of characters with agency, and thus simplify matters. The more centralized your politics are, the less you need to worry about keeping track of dozens of factions and hundreds of political actors. The black and white of the Perfect State drives out the maddening shades of grey that goop up the narrative and slow down the plot. Finally, I suspect the creative tendency has an unfortunate affinity with the totalizing mindset - the idea that the world can be fixed, created anew. I have this theory about why so many fascists and totalitarians started out as failed or frustrated artists of one stripe or the other. Even Stalin dabbled in movie criticism...


As for the archetypal Conqueror, or evil warlord, my Roman History professor in college made a big deal out of the Roman archetype of the One-Eyed Warlord. I know I've seen this archetype in SF, but I can't remember where...


Mitch, yeah, both Horatius Cocles (the one-eyed) and Mucius Scaevola (Lefty) are considered by Indo-Europeanists as euhemerized myth. (The Romans loved historicizing myth as much as the ancient Chinese did, or even more so.) My Puhvel is in storage, otherwise I'd go more in depth.

If there's a connection to modern SF, I'd expect it to be via Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, Horatius at the bridge and all that.



(It's later. Heating difficulties. Yes, it was a mild pleasant spring day in NYC. Don't ask.)

Wow, this thread is getting a little unwieldy again, and I see I've missed people I wanted to respond to.

David Allen, I like your combinatorial approach. I'm not sure whether 'polygamous' really belongs in the same category as 'bisexual', 'asexual', or 'homosexual', but this might be my own unconscious structure coming to light.

Bernard, why is Engh's gender troubling? Is her choice of topic any weirder than Steverino's fascination with Hot Bi Babe World Conquering Action (C)?

Doug, James, what did you think of Neil Gaiman's take of a late medieval / early modern von Doom in 1602?

Doug, I see Swanwick as very much a Modernist. Stations of the Tide is Swanwick playing Wolfe-style games with Wolfe's oeuvre. Jack Faust (ugh) is very hard to explain as the work of a Classical SF writer.

(I wouldn't take those labels too seriously. I taxonomize the way Edward James Olmos's character in Bladerunner made little animals out of scrap paper.)

Incidentally, the children's author Bruce Brooks started off on Wolfe with Free Live Free, and loved it. I suppose there are people who fell in love with Bujold who started with Memory or Falling Free too.

Mitch H., I don't want to step on any political toes here, but that also sounds like a good description of Ayn Rand's novels. So I don't think it's necessarily the artistic urge to totalitarianism... or, considering the way Rand ran her Manhattan salon, perhaps it is? Ow, my foot.


Bernard Guerrero

"Bernard, why is Engh's gender troubling? Is her choice of topic any weirder than Steverino's fascination with Hot Bi Babe World Conquering Action (C)?"

Not the HBBWCA(c), per se, though that's odd enough itself. Rather, it's the fascination with sexual violence, after taking into account my own bourgeois sentimentality and a passing familiarity with violent crime statistics. Steve's _clearly_ got issues, but he's a dude. Even leaving aside his...odd...upbringing, I'd expect him to be more prone to that sort of weirdness as a simple matter of distributions. Not an excuse, mind you.

More in a second post. I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell's _Blink_ this morning on CD, and a connection to the topic at hand struck me. Need to do a little research first, though, to see if it pans out. Tomkins, Ekman and the Kukukuku, specifically.

James Nicoll

At the risk of betraying myself as the sort of slope-foreheaded knuckle-dragger that plagues my favourite genres, I am not especially a fan of Gaiman's prose and I have not read 1602.

Brian DiNunno

Science Fiction books that should never be written:

Steve Stirling writing a sequel to David Brin's Glory Season.


James, I bring Gaiman's von Doom up because Gaiman re-imagines him initially as a handsome thuggish rapist in 1602.

(I was not impressed with 1602, after preliminary high hopes. Question -- and this is not why I was not impressed: is there a Gaiman comic without a 'swirly face in the clouds' panel?)

David Allen

"I'm not sure whether 'polygamous' really belongs in the same category as 'bisexual', 'asexual', or 'homosexual'"

Me neither. I was looking for an opposition to "difficulty conceiving a child." In other words, hyperfertility.

BTW, a mild definitional issue: my understanding of archetypes comes not from Jung, but from Northrup Frye's Anatomy of Criticism which I read years and years and years ago as an undergraduate. As such, my use of the term is broader and more pragmatic than your use seems to be, so probably your "structures" and my "archetypes" are much the same things.


David Allen

S.M. Stirling

Bernard Guerrero writes:

"I can immediately find three examples in Stirling."

[of good characters who don't have children]

>Eric Von Shrakenberg:

>Can't be allowed to have kids.

-- does have kids, though after the action of "Marching Through Georgia". He marries his love interest from that book and reproduces. This is mentioned several times in the other two books of the trilogy.

>The Chick from Snowbrother (maybe you remember the name): Once again, Stirling's moral heroine in an immoral world has a kid in the back-story and ships her off.

-- actually, she's pregnant in the last book in that series, and has several adopted children.

>William Walker: The ultimate meany-poo-poo-head, he's allowed to have a vast number of get

-- two that are mentioned.

However, to the best of my recollection _every single one_ of the good characters in that series also has children, including the gay ones, if you count adoption.

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