So I have been bingeing on Claude Levi-Strauss lately. CLS is an excellent memoirist in his own right, and despite the subject's reputation for obscurity, his expositions on structuralism can be quite engaging. I personally think that the Native American subject matter of Mythologiques has contributed to this reputation. Let's face it, the Bororo and the Kwakiutl aren't exactly household names in most places.
The Pure Product of America: But Carlos, isn't this French theory? Of no relevance to anything other than itself? I know you, you like reading about epicycles too. What can you use this for?Well. Hm. I'd say that structuralism can be an interesting organizing principle that can sometimes lead to new insights. I wouldn't call it the Holy Grail of human thought or anything, but here's an example. I recently read Kate Elliott's novel Jaran. It's a culture clash anthropological romance, which means it's science fiction. A female offworlder and a complex yet fundamentally moral nomadic warlord fall in love; wackiness, as is said, ensues. The set-up is formulaic, but there are unusual incidental details. The warlord, a fellow named Ilya Bakhtiian, is poised to conquer his world; and he and the heroine have difficult fertility issues. Now, Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor -- which I will take a wild guess is somewhat familiar to certain readers of this blog -- is also a culture clash anthropological romance, where a female offworlder and a complex yet fundamentally moral warlord fall in love. We later learn that Aral Vorkosigan has already conquered a world, and the fertility issues in his marriage drive every subsequent book. (Whew, no spoilers.) The specific internal explanation of these common elements differs markedly: there's an immunological incompatibility (somewhat like the Rh factor) between Ilya Bakhtiian and Tess Soerensen; on the other hand, Cordelia Naismith is exposed to a teratogenic chemical weapon while pregnant. And these differences flow from deep within the author's backstory. Of course, the publication dates for these two books are 1994 and 1986 respectively, so it's possible that Shards of Honor influenced the basic plot of Jaran. This is where structuralism comes in. Are there other novels that contain this structure, which pairs infertility with conquering the world? And if so, how do they develop it? The first one that came to mind was M.J. Engh's Arslan. In this one, a Turkmeni general during the Cold War manages to use the logic of Mutually Assured Destruction to take over the world, and then renders the world's population infertile for crackpot ecological reasons. There are commonalities in unusual incidental details. All three conquerors have strong affinities to Russia and central Asia: Ilya Bakhtiian (the nomads in Jaran nearly all have Russian names, although their language seems to be more Altaic); Aral Vorkosigan, with the Aral Sea referenced in his given name, and his last name derived from Vor + Kosigan ~ Kosygin; and General Arslan of Turkmenistan. But, instead of being a romance, Arslan is a dystopia. The United States is conquered, and the novel begins with Arslan brutally raping two Illinois high school students as a show of his power. (Incidentally, one of the students raped is male; and all three world conquerors are bisexual.) So the romance is reversed, inverted. Instead of the moral conqueror, we have an amoral one; instead of love, rape; and instead of the conqueror's personal fertility being diminished, the world's fertility is diminished instead. It's a classical structuralist inversion. Arslan was first published in 1976. I don't think it influenced Shards of Honor much. Moving further afield, I think Orson Scott Card's early Ender novels might also fit this pattern.
Originally, "Ender's Game" was a short story about a child genius whom the Earth's military uses to wipe out an alien race by having him play 'video games'. According to Card, its genesis had to do with the dramatic problems of presenting the mechanics of a space battle on stage. Card later expanded it into a young adult novel, and then wrote a sequel (and then another, and another, until the Enderverse is now its own cottage industry. But I digress). In the novel Ender's Game, the young Ender wipes out all the insect-like "Buggers", again through the power of video games. (By this point, Card had become a columnist for COMPUTE! magazine, where he reviewed new game releases.) He's a Third, a third child in a future world where the goverment limits couples to two children. The elimination of the Bugger threat -- and man, I sound like John Derbyshire here -- allows humanity to settle their worlds, which is done along ethnic lines, and breed like bunnies. So fertility and world conquering are again linked. (I dunno what happened to the demographic transition in the Enderverse; perhaps Card's Mormon background has something to do with its absence.) But Ender feels remorse; and at the same time discovers the last egg of the Buggers, from which they can rebuild their civilization. He becomes an itinerant eulogist, beginning with the Queen of the Buggers, going anonymously from ethnic world to ethnic world, looking for a place to hatch his egg. His eulogies become something like a religion, while Ender himself remains single and celibate. (But not bisexual! Though I don't know about you, but the egg thing sounds a little gender-bendy to me.) In Speaker for the Dead, Ender ends up on a Brazilian-settled world (Card did his missionary work in Brazil) that happens to have the only other intelligent race discovered up to that time. For plot reasons, the population of the settlement is limited; if it grows beyond a certain point, the excess will be ferried off by the interstellar government. There's also an order of married but celibate Catholics located there. I think it's safe to say human fertility is a dominant theme in this novel. Anyway, assorted killings and revelations occur, but in the first editions of the book, Ender finally settles down with a feisty widow with a passel of kids, and they start work on the next generation of Enders immediately. It's a charming ending. Card changed this ending with the publication of a sequel, and new printings of Speaker for the Dead contain his revision. Now, Ender and his new wife don't have marital relations, and are (understandably, in my opinion) incredibly bitchy to each other. Would it surprise you to discover that this sequel is about Ender's stand against further human acts of xenocide? It's called, oddly enough, Xenocide. Once again, the moral world conqueror has restricted personal fertility; while the amoral world conqueror would restrict the fertility of others. I wonder if this structure can be traced back to the early days of modern science fiction, to Isaac Asimov's Foundation stories of the 1940s. There, the ambiguously presented world conqueror is called... the Mule, and is personally sterile. It seems to be Asimov's personal innovation, since he intended the Mule's role in the Foundation stories to be roughly analogous to Muhammad's role in European history. And Muhammad (as Asimov knew) had descendants. Anyway. Any thoughts, or (better yet) other examples?