Wow. I've created a monster! I'm going to bring up some points that might have been lost in that Holbonically long comment thread. The basic idea, so far, is that there might -- or might not! -- be a Levi-Straussian "structure" in many otherwise unconnected science fiction novels. To wit:
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.Syd Webb proposes functionalist reasons for parts of this. We want our heroes to have feet (or other organs) of clay. David Allen on one hand sees a connection to Jung's idea of the archetype, specifically the Fisher King, and on the other suggests that the well-known phenomenon of sexually active characters being the first to die in American horror movies and crime dramas is related. James B. brings up the possibility that Alexander is the vir classicus of this motif, so to speak. Mitch H. compares Saul, the failed king, to David, the hero king, and suggests that the flawed conqueror stands in the same relation to Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces". Doug is not entirely convinced. Specifically, he dislikes the lack of rigor this type of analysis can be subjected to. Is 'bigendered' the same as 'bisexual'? Noel Maurer is confused, even though he is a long-time heavy reader of science fiction. Do structures even exist? Many people suggested other historical figures in addition to Alexander. (I will bring up a few that weren't mentioned: George Washington, the childless "Father of His Country"; Elizabeth I of England, with "the heart and stomach of a king"; and Lord Byron, the bisexual clubfooted model of the Romantic anti-hero.) Doug also wonders if such a pattern would exist in non-Western science fiction. Specifically, wouldn't the world conqueror be extremely fertile? (No word from Claudia, even though she's read just as much SF as either Doug or I have.) I think that does justice to the main line of the discussion.
I speculated that the bisexuality or bigendering of the conqueror was an attempt to show his universality. In the science fictional examples we've been discussing, either the conqueror is sexually attracted to men and women, is able to access female personas within his mind, or is carrying an egg to be hatched. [At this point I will be a million lei that Doug is having a Grant Morrison moment.] On the other hand, we don't see any hermaphroditic or transvestite world conquerors within SF (that I know of). There are Theodore Sturgeon stories about superior hermaphrodites, but it's a stretch. An example I think just fits the general structure is Algis Budrys's Michaelmas. The main character, Laurent Michaelmas, is the secret ruler of the world, but, as Gene Wolfe put it, he's the secret president of the world. A newsman who programmed the earliest by far news aggregator -- which eventually becomes an artificial intelligence in its own right -- Michaelmas finds that his knowledge gives him power. Being a decent man, he's reluctant to use it. So he presides, and occasionally corrects. Michaelmas is heterosexual, widowed in fact, but I think his access to all the world's information (through his AI, named DOMINO, which I suppose could be viewed as important), and his empathy, provides the character with enough symbolic universality. He becomes enamored with a French woman journalist during a mysterious news event. He deduces that the event -- the resurrection of an astronaut who must surely be dead, burnt up on re-entry, at a Swiss clinic -- must be caused by an outside presence. He deduces that this presence is able to duplicate people to specifications by taking them from elsewhere in the multiverse. Michaelmas also realizes that the news event is bait to draw him out, even though the presence has no idea who or what he is. (It's an amazing short novel.) He learns that the French journalist once stayed at that clinic. So he has the dilemma: he can continue with the romance, with the possibility that this journalist's desire for him was specified by this presence; or awkwardly, without good reason, break it off. The journalist herself doesn't realize that she might be a duplicate (and on her world-line, would sense no duplication). It's like the immoral rapist/infertile moralist crux, shifted to a very subdued key. I also speculated that the need to "balance" the characters drives the structure I see. It sounds plausible enough (Doug agrees), but do we actually see this giving and taking away of character flaws and assets in composition? Well, here's China Mieville on the process in his Perdido Street Station:
If you kill a main character, then you’re obviously a ‘brave’ writer. Etc etc. This is the specious and middlebrow gravitas of charactercide. It’s not always an aesthetic con to do a protagonist in, of course, but it shouldn’t be an automatic brownie point. This apparently most extreme thing you can do to a character, bumping her/him off, is easily assimilable by nebulous structures of comfort. (The question of what if anything is wrong with that is huge, of course, and fundamental to many of the issues here. For here, I’m just going to assert that all my writing tends to be sceptical of consolation and comfort.) This is precisely why I’m not surprised by Belle’s resentment at the fate of Lin in PSS. It was, yes, precisely ‘uncalled for’. ‘That Lin should get killed,’ Belle says, ‘OK.’ Well quite. Had she been killed, it would have been ok. More than that, it would have presented us with one of the most trite figures in Romantic Art: The Beautiful Dead Female Lover. I didn’t want Lin to turn into Eurydice, which is why what happened to her had to be utterly foul and uncalled for. I maintain that it was more respectful of her as a character to give her a fate that vigorously resisted aestheticisation, than to subordinate her to the logic of myth, symbol and genre. (Particularly when (Ophelia in the water, consumptive beauties a-coughing) it’s a logic deep-structured with fetishised misogynist despite. Hmmmm… raping and mind-ruining a female character as striking a blow against the structures of gender essentialism? Well yes, actually.)Of course, Mieville is simply falling into that structure of putting "women in refrigerators", well-known to comics readers. "What's the most utterly foul and uncalled thing we can do to Elongated Man's wife?" Although I don't think the people at DC thought of themselves as "striking a blow against the structures of gender essentialism". Finally, I wondered if the conqueror figure could be fitted to Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces". I thought of several ways: 1) The Hero becomes the Conqueror. 2) The Hero is the father of the Conqueror. 3) The Conqueror is the father of the Hero. There's an asymmetry here, because the Conqueror is not very fertile. 4) The Hero and the Conqueror are friends. 5) The Hero and the Conqueror are rivals. 6) The Hero and the Conqueror are lovers. Again, an asymmetry here, since the Conqueror is typically bisexual, while the Hero, not as such. 7) The Conqueror becomes the Hero. There's also room in the Hero's story for the elderly mentor. All these plots, at least to my jaded eye, could stir the narrative viscera up a bit. However, I note that this is very guy-centric. It puts the woman's role -- very strong in Shards of Honor and Jaran, the first two books we started with -- into a very peripheral position. So further tweaking appears necessary. Anyway. Thoughts, comments, manifestos?