« Feast or famine | Main | The Pope and I »

April 19, 2005


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mitch H.

In the early Eighties, when Card wrote Ender's Game, I don't think anyone was talking about demographic transitions, at least not outside of specialist publications. I know I remember being terrorized by the Zero-Growth guilt-mongers at the time. The Boom had gone through a bust, but it was pretty clear that a mini-boom was coming after the trough, at least locally in the States. I don't remember anyone connecting the European dots with the Japanese dots to make a trend.

Did I just miss it? Admittedly, a skiffy-obsessed teenager might miss such things.

As for the connections you're talking about, I have to say it all sounds a lot like selection bias. Although I wouldn't be surprised at all if LMB copped to being influenced by Ender's Game. There's a certain continuity between Heinlein's juvenile novel protagonists, through Card's protagonists, to Miles.


Mitch, it might be selection bias, but "the world conqueror with fertility issues" is a weird sort of detail. Why shouldn't the moral world conqueror have a lot of kids? _Especially_ in science fiction, which is a genre that tends to reward virtue in its characters.

Historically, the demographic transition had been well-known by the 1980s, and in fact occupied the minds of many many Europeans during the 1930s. The ZPG crap -- Paul Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, et cetera -- was in fact a worry about the postwar growth in the world's population of brown people, who were assumed incapable of economic growth or demographic change.


(A little bit more, because I am an egomaniac.)

There are further parallels between Jaran and Shards of Honor that are inverted in Arslan. In the first two, the trend on the warlord's planet -- either Rhui or Barrayar -- is towards modernization. In Arslan, however, the trend is towards technological simplification. In the first two, the conqueror's confidant is the woman he loves. In the last, the conqueror's confidant is the young man he rapes.

Jaran is not by any means a clone of Shards of Honor. They're very different in tone, setting, and plot. Shards has an allusive, almost bantering prose style, while Jaran's is much more workmanlike. If I had to guess, it's because Bujold had Shakespeare's history plays at the back of her mind, while Elliott had the epic form. (And Engh's touchstone for Arslan was Matthew Arnold's "Sohrab and Rustum". Go figure.)

At the level of relationships between the main characters, Cordelia's quip is, "[Aral] used to be bisexual. Now he's monogamous." But in Jaran's matrifocal steppe society, monogamy is much less an issue, and homosexuality, much more so.

Even within the Vorkosiverse books themselves, you can see the link between world-conquering and fertility. When does Miles Vorkosigan finally get the progeny he's always wanted? When he stops trying to follow in his father's conquering footsteps. What do the Cetagandans -- in general, bad hats -- do to maintain their conquest-based empire? All sorts of fertility control. (I don't think Bujold ever puts it in those words, but their conquest of Barrayar was a eugenics experiment.) And who's the biggest schlemiel of all in A Civil Campaign? No, not Ivan Vorpatril, but that sadly misunderstood social visionary, Count Vormuir.

So I do think there's something to this.

Syd Webb

Mitch, it might be selection bias, but "the world conqueror with fertility issues" is a weird sort of detail. Why shouldn't the moral world conqueror have a lot of kids? _Especially_ in science fiction, which is a genre that tends to reward virtue in its characters.

I dunno, man. There is that escapist element in SF, of wish-fulfilment. So a powerless kid might read SF where the future is utopian, or at least things can be put right as the reader imagines themselves behind the eyes of the protagonist. Or a middle-aged man such as myself - who realises that their childhood dreams of being a train-driver, cosmonaut or VFL footballer are never going to be achieved and that other childhood dreams like becoming a computer programmer are not all they�re cracked up to be - can read about a hero who actually makes something of their life.

But SF has pretensions to literature as well. So in creating a well-rounded galactic heroes irony or bathos is added to the mix. The Mule can establish an empire spanning one-tenth of the Milky Way but he can�t establish a dynasty. It leaves the readers feeling good about themselves. I may just be a cog in the machinery of the Second Australian Empire but I have a wife and child who love me - take that, Ender!

And this is the consolation of the meek and powerless throughout history. The poorest merchant can console himself that on his death bed he will be surrounded by his children and grandchildren. (Perhaps all but one of the grandkids, to save him the final words of, �Who�s minding the store!?�) Even in the past 20 years, who among us has not looked at the great families, the Reagans and the Windsors, and not felt a certain schadenfreude? I may only afford generic jellybeans but at least my daughter hasn�t disowned me nor do I have a ballet-dancing son.

I�d like to think the better class of author sees the need to give their heroes feet, and scrotums, of clay.


'The Persian Boy'? Okay, that's facetious. Though Alexander was a bisexual world-conqueror. (I believe that the Alexander in Renault's series did have a son, but a mentally-challenged one who didn't last long). Effectively, he was sterile.

Happy birthday, by the way.

David Allen

What comes to my mind is the celebrated horror movie cliche: the people who have sex get killed by the monster, while those who exercise self-restraint survive. A similarity?

Once something puts that pattern in mind, it shows up everywhere. One place is the Las Vegas CSI, where the murders of hookers, transvestites, and sexy girls are solved by a bunch of celebates.

Doug Muir

What Syd said.

Also, agreement about the selection bias. This is why I don't much care for structuralism, actually. Yeah, you get the occasional flash of profound insight. You also get a lot of "Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln". (And they both ended up +DEAD.)

There's also the familiar Structuralist problem with shoehorning. It's a bit of a stretch to call Aral Vorkosigan a world conqueror; it's a much bigger stretch to say he has fertility problems. Aral's /fertility/ is never at issue. Choosing not to have more children isn't about fertility, unless you're adopting a conveniently broad definition thereof.

Note, BTW, that in the first draft of the book, Elena was Miles' younger sister. Bujold changed it not to keep Aral infertile, but because having Elena as a love interest (and Bothari as a parent) offered more dramatic possibilities.

...look, it's an easy enough game to play. If SF contains characters who are +WORLD CONQUEROR and -FERTILE, a structuralist would start looking around for characters who were -WORLD CONQUEROR and +FERTILE. Right?

Presto: Lazarus Long, libertarian id personified, the Man Who Doesn't Want to Be King. ("The hours are too long", IMS.) Or Pham Nuwem, another omnicompetent libertarian with thousands of offspring.

I don't think "Structuralism as critical metalanguage" is completely useless. In fact, I suspect the "binary opposites tool", in particular, could be very useful for picking apart a lot of themes and tropes in SF. But I'm underwhelmed by the particular examples. The conqueror who is infertile -- or who has only a single flawed or deformed offspring -- is an old, old trope, and far from unique to SF.

Two other thoughts. (1) Kimball Kinnison. He's as deeply ancestral in SF as the Mule, he's at least as much a conqueror as Aral Vorkosigan, and his fertility is the whole point of the exercise. (Eugenics seems to have gone into remission as a major theme in SF, but I wouldn't count on it staying dead. Fans will always *want* to be Slans.) (2) Paul Muad'Dib: +CONQUEROR +FERTILE, and both are crucial to his story.

Arguably he represents a different "structure" -- that of the Dynastic Founder. And SF has a number of these. (Poul Anderson alone has four or five.) But that's another critique of Structuralism. +A+B+C gives you a story; invert it and -A-B-C gives you another. But when you find +A+B-C, a good Structuralist can just shrug and say you've found a new structure. (Which is one of the few poststructuralist critiques that makes much sense IMO.)

Doug M.

Doug Muir

The pair entered a maze of cholla. The famously vicious Southwestern cholla cactus, whose sausage-link segments bore thorns the size of fishhooks, had been rumored from time immemorial to leap free and stab travelers from sheer spite. A soupon of Venus flytrap genes had turned this Pecos Pete tall-tale vaporware into grisly functionality. Ribo Zombie had to opt for brute force: the steely wand of a back-mounted flamethrower leapt into his wiry combat-gloves. Ignited in a pupil-searing blast, the flaming mutant cholla whipped and flopped like epileptic spaghetti. Then RZ and the faithful Skratchy were clambering up the limestone leg of the Federal cache.

Anyone who had gotten this far could be justly exposed to the worst and most glamorous gizmos ever cooked up by the Softwar Department's Counter-Bioterrorism Corps.

The ducts of the diatom structure yawned open and deployed a lethal arsenal of spore-grenade launchers, strangling vegetable bolas, and whole glittering clouds of hotwired fleas and mosquitos. Any scab worth his yeast knew that those insect vectors were stuffed to bursting with swift and ghastly illnesses, pneumonic plague and necrotizing fasciitis among the friendlier ones.

"This must be the part where the cat saves him," said Tupper McClanahan, all cozy in her throw rug on her end of the couch.

Startled out of his absorption, yet patiently indulgent, Fearon McClanahan froze the screen with a tapped command to the petcocks on the feedlines. "What was that, darling? I thought you were reading."

"I was." Smiling, Tupper held up a vintage Swamp Thing comic that had cost fully ten percent of one month's trust-fund check. "But I always enjoy the parts of this show that feature the cat.


"How can you expect Skratchy Kat to get Ribo Zombie out of this fix? Do you have any idea what those flying bolas do to human flesh?"

"The cat gets him out of trouble every time. Kids love that cat."

"Look, honey: kids are not the target demographic...


Tupper waved her comic as a visual aid. "I still bet the cat's gonna save him. Because none of that makes any difference to the archetypical narrative dynamics."

Fearon sighed. He opened a new window on his gelatinous screen and accessed certain data. "Okay, look. You know what runs security on Federal Biosequestration Sites like that one? Military-grade, laminated, mouse brains. You know how smart that stuff is? A couple of cubic inches of murine brain has more processing power than every computer ever deployed in the twentieth century. Plus, mouse brain is unhackable. Computer viruses, no problem. Electromagnetic pulse doesn't affect it. No power source to disrupt, since neurons run on blood sugar. That stuff is indestructible."

Tupper shrugged. "Just turn your show back on."

Skratchy was poised at a vulnerable crack in the diatom's roof. The cat began copiously to pee.

When the trickling urine reached the olfactory sensors wired to the mouse brains, the controlling network went berserk. Ancient murine anti-predator instincts swamped the cybernetic instructions, triggering terrified flight responses. Mis-aimed spore bomblets thudded harmlessly to the soil, whizzing bolas wreaked havoc through the innocent vegetation below, and vent ports spewed contaminated steam and liquid nitrogen.

Cursing the zany but dangerous fusillade, Ribo Zombie set to work with a back-mounted hydraulic can opener.

Glum and silent, Fearon gripped his jaw. His hooded eyes glazed over as Ribo Zombie crept through surreal diorama of waist-high wells, HVAC systems and plumbing. Every flick of Ribo Zombie's hand torch revealed a glimpse of some new and unspeakable mutant wonder, half concealed in ambient support fluids: yellow gruel, jade-colored hair gel, blue oatmeal, ruby maple syrup...

"Oh, honey," said Tupper at last, "don't take it so hard."

"You were right," Fearon grumbled. His voice rose. "Is that what you want me to say? You were right! You're always right!"

"It's just my skill with semiotic touchstones, which I've derived from years of reading graphic novels...

From The Scab's Progress, by Paul DiFilippo and Bruce Sterling.


Syd, that's probably a large part of it. But what a particular way to give one's hero feet of clay. (Oh, Lord, I am unconsciously ending in rhyming couplets already this morning.) Why not lose an arm or something.

David Allen, could be, could be. James, I think the model of Alexander has something to do with it; but then we get into the meta-question of why that particular aspect of Alexander is popular.

Doug, I think you're missing the point. It's not simply +CONQUEROR -FERTILE. It's a whole slew of traits with high co-variance. Given a fictional universe where characters can exhibit moral qualms, you often have the moral male world conqueror -- who, it turns out, is bisexual, or otherwise has strong female traits, like carrying around an egg to hatch, or going places only women can otherwise go -- who falls in love with an outlander woman but whose ability to have offspring is impaired by the choice he makes. You also have the bisexual _immoral_ male world conqueror, who _rapes_ the outlander, and would impair the ability of _others_ to have children. The world conqueror, either way, often has a name from central Eurasia; and the outlander's hair is often red.

It's as if the restraint shown by the moral conqueror shows up in his difficulty in having children. Fertility, for want of a better word. Might be related to David Allen's point.

(And if memory serves, Aral Vorkosigan got a soltoxin vasectomy in the same attack, no?)

E.E. "Doc" Smith's novels -- not particularly influential by the 1980s, since they fell out of print for years and years -- are not set in a universe with moral qualms. Trillions dead, and neither Arisia nor Boskone (nor Kinnison) think it more important than a hangnail.

As for the Dune novels, let's see. Paul Atreides' first, a boy: murdered while still a small child. Has twins, a boy and a girl, and is widowed. All his descendants come through his daughter, who falls out of the books pretty quickly.

The son turns into a giant world-conquering worm who can access his male _and_ female ancestors' memories. No progeny.

You might say I'm pigeon-holing, but come on. Look at that.

The connection between conquest and fertility restriction in the world conqueror seems intuitive enough. I think the bisexuality or male-and-female aspect of the world conqueror arises from the need to show the conqueror is universal. This is made explicit in Arslan and God Emperor of Dune, by the way.

Incidentally, I'm not saying that these details are necessarily indicative of deep mental structures in science fiction writers. Sometimes, I'm pretty sure they're just convenient shorthand, like the Cool SFnal Woman often being a redhead. (In much more literature than one might suspect, if the hero has two possible love interests, one is blonde and the other brunette, the blonde pure and the brunette not. Decisions, decisions.)

Still, let's play around with this. Say that the need to give a heroic conqueror earthly dimensions is satisfied by making him disabled. The bad world conqueror then, through inversion, disables -- mutilates -- entire populations. And the need to make the world conqueror universal is satisfied by making him, hm, a connoisseur. (Less of a thematic link than between bisexuality and infertility, but what can you do.) Should still work, no?

Doug Muir

WRT clan Atreides, yeah, I do say you're pigeonholing. Paul is the conqueror. His son is the consolidator. That makes a good narrative in its own right, but still: they're two completely separate characters.

I think you've a point on bisexuality and universality. Again, though, you're conflating bisexuality and bigendering. Ender is most definitely not bisexual -- author Orson Scott Card is a mouth-breathing homophobe, so that's right out -- and Leto Atreides isn't sexual at all.

Yeah, SF is full of red haired women: Heinlein, and of course all those Poul Anderson heroines (complete with spray of freckles across tip-turned nose). And that maybe does go back to Doc Smith.

I don't think making the conqueror a connoisseur works, though. If you're spending all that time learning all the lesser works of Chopin (or whatever), then where are you finding time to conquer? Conquerors have to be a bit single-minded, almost by definition.

Crippling is also thematically troublesome. In a premodern setting, it's not easy for a cripple to be a conqueror; the sole historical exception, Tamerlane, is emphatically a Bad Conqueror, not a good one. And in an SFnal setting, what sort of disability can't be fixed?

BTW, it's explicitly stated in the books that Aral and Cordelia /can/ have more kids; Vorkosiverse tech can generate gametes from ordinary cells.

But, you know, just to be annoying: Raj Whitehall. World conqueror, South Asian name, wife can't have kids (and he's faithful to her). Wife seems to be ethnically SE Asian, but hey... she wears a blonde wig. He's not bisexual but two of his Companions are explicitly gay. Then, his successor in _The Chosen_: he's been sterilized (though he adopts). Don't remember his name, and he's more a defender than a conqueror. But hey.

You see where this is going, right?

Doug M.

Bernard Guerrero

"But, you know, just to be annoying"

Speaking of annoying, I'm trying to recall if he let Eric Von Shrakenberg have kids with _his_ freckle-faced wife. I know he did with his Central Asian concubine...


Re Raj Whitehall: he's Yet Another Avatar of Belisarius. There are very few new variations of the Belisarius story in those books, aside from the ending; most of it is reasonably clever search-and-replace work. Structuralism, as a theory of analyzing which structures are allowed in new variations, and which are unobserved, doesn't really apply. (And Whitehall is the descendant of Tejanos; his family banner is described. It's the Texan flag.)

It's why Charlie Stross's flowchart of the Bond movies is a formula, not a Levi-Straussian structure. Though comparing it to The Incredibles, a family superhero movie with a James Bond plot, or to the Simpsons' Hank Scorpio parody, might be interesting.

I think you're missing the point about putting bisexuality and bigendering in the same category. Structuralism is about how symbols relate to each other, not real world behavior. Yes, a man obsessively carrying around an egg, looking for a place to hatch it, is not much like a man being sexually interested in both men and women in the real world. Fictionally, on the other hand, their behaviors might have the same symbolic role. (Especially if the author can't bring himself to write a positive bisexual character.)

Re Tamerlane: again, you're mistaking these fictional structures for mimesis of real world behavior. What I'm asking is, would those symbolic substitutions make an interesting science fiction story? Connoisseurship might be an outgrowth of the conqueror's genius; or perhaps he's a crippled, frustrated artist. (Like they've never conquered anything in the real world.)

Finally, it strikes me that the real underlying psychological questions are, why are our heroes balanced? and, why are our conquerors universal? Again, not very historically mimetic.

Bernard Guerrero

"Re Tamerlane: again, you're mistaking these fictional structures for mimesis of real world behavior."

Isn't mimesis of real world behavior something that decent writing strives for? You have to believe characters at some level. (In this particular case, I'll note the limited reproductive success of the last two guys who overran Europe. I think the idea that a decent conqueror requires excessive focus has merit, and so rings true.


Actually, Bernard, I was going one generation further along. I'm surprised Carlos didn't follow along. (Or maybe he did, and recoiled.)

We have a Bad Conqueror who has interfered with the world's fertility, and wants to interfere even more. Said Bad Conqueror's first experience of conquest is in Pakistan. Bad Conqueror is bisexual. Bad Conqueror is also a rapist. Okay.

But -- BC has no known offspring and has fertility issues (she's the only one of her species). She eventually solves this by drafting one of her love-slaves (she has two, one male and one female) to bear her clone.

Oh, and BC is a red-haired woman.

Parse me that, if you will.

-- I don't think I'm missing the point. Yes, structuralism is about how symbols relate to each other. So, sure, a man carrying an egg around may indeed be taking on a female role without being bisexual.

The problem here is that structuralism (IME) tends to keep stretching the definitions. First we have bisexuality, which is pretty clearly definable. Then we have bigendering, which is less so. Now we have "taking on a female role". Would a man nursing another man out of sickness count? What about a man who cooks?

This brings us to another of the post-structuralist critiques of Structuralism. Once you stretch the envelope to something like "take on a female role", you're opening yourself to the challenge of "female to whom?" There are cultures where men cook, clean, care for the sick. There are cultures where men spend large amounts of time with babies. Hell, there are cultures (part of Latin America, frex) where certain sorts of homosexual behavior are not seen as bisexual, but as _hyper_masculine.

If that seems a bit farfetched in the case of, say, Aral Vorkosigan, then remember that Bujold was a big fan of Eastern European history. Rebecca West notes that Serbia had a long tradition of intense male friendships among junior officers, which in turn led to endless interlocking and competing political conspiracies... sometimes with dire consequences. West obstinately refused to see a sexual aspect to these, but if you look at the history it's hard to miss. Certainly the relationship between Aral and Ges Vorrutyer could have come straight out of early 20th century Serbia.

So, on one hand, there may be an element of mimesis or at least inspiration there. On the other, while my SF-reading friends in Serbia loved the books, they definitely were finding things in them that I wasn't. (Which might be worth a post of its own someday, but never mind that now.)

No, I'm not mistaking fictional structures for mimesis. One of the key elements of Structuralism-as-applied-to-literature is genre. SF operations under conventions of popular literature generally and of the genre in particular. One of those conventions is plausibility. (Which is a can of worms in its own right. But let us note that it is related to, though quite distinct from, realism.) Willing Suspension of Disbelief, right?

So -- within the genre, one of the ways to signal plausibility is to refer, either explicitly or subtly, to real-world history. And this has been true from SF's very earliest days.

So -- readers are more likely to accept a future-historical character who they can relate to something in RW history. (An interesting question is whether this works even when the reader is not historically literate and/or the historical reference is obscure -- I think it does -- and if so, why.) Contrariwise, it would be an uphill struggle to present a future-historical character with no relation to anything in the past. Not impossible, I think, but tough.

So, the conqueror-as-crippled-connoisseur doesn't work because (1) it's not inherently plausible in and of itself, and (2) it has no historical referent.

-- This raises an interesting point. When you say "world conqueror" to a historically literate westerner, you'll probably get back names like Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler. None of these left any descendants. So the issue here may simply be the referent.

Now Genghis Khan left a bajillion descendants. This doesn't seem to be well known in the West, though. This in turn makes me wonder if, say, Chinese SF might associate conqueror-figures with *excess* fertility.

Doug M.

Mike Ralls

> In much more literature than one might suspect, if the hero has two possible love interests, one is blonde and the other brunette, the blonde pure and the brunette not.

Mike Ralls

>So, on one hand, there may be an element of mimesis or at least inspiration there. On the other, while my SF-reading friends in Serbia loved the books, they definitely were finding things in them that I wasn't. (Which might be worth a post of its own someday, but never mind that now.)


Mike, yes. By at least two hundred years.

The problem here is that structuralism (IME) tends to keep stretching the definitions. First we have bisexuality, which is pretty clearly definable. Then we have bigendering, which is less so. Now we have "taking on a female role". Would a man nursing another man out of sickness count? What about a man who cooks?

It's interesting that you bring this up. Kate Elliott remarks in her foreword to Jaran that she deliberately made Ilya Bakhtiian an embroiderer, to confound expectations... but that she based it on the macrame-weaving warrior men of the Dani of New Guinea.

What you seem to be objecting to is the subjective nature of this sort of analysis. Sure, conceded. Do you have a better way to go about it?

(Perhaps we could assign a number between one and ten to the degree of perceived bisexuality by polling a focus group of readers. But I know you don't like _that_ methodology either.)

As for plausible mimesis in science fiction, look at the examples. A child genius destroys an alien race by playing video games, and then, consumed with guilt, carries around a giant bug egg for decades. As I.I. Rabi once said, "Who ordered that?"


If you step back from the genre just a little, you'll see that it's filled with WTF moments like that. (Although less so than, say, superhero comics.)

As for the bad example of Stirling, I think it's a similar quirk to Card's aversion to portraying sympathetic homosexual characters. A society whose rulers' uniformity is based on British-derived boarding schools, separated by gender, where only the strong survive, somehow leads to... straight male and bisexual female world conquerors? Instead of, I dunno, ruling cliques of gay men who like being caned often? Which would be the _historical_ analogy.

It probably has to do with Stirling's near [?] rape experience and subsequent bad socialization at one of those boarding schools. (In Kenya, wasn't it?) Instead of following the obvious Greek model, Stirling has male and female heterosexual soldiers getting it on in Marching Through Georgia, Eric von Shrakenberg dryly commenting that the Greeks would probably have not approved. Gay male relationships between Draka are notable by their absence -- even though Stirling had Oscar Wilde move there. On the other hand, throughout Stirling's writing, women are bisexual as their default state. (And he will personally defend this, at tedious length. Sort of like John Norman claiming that women are naturally submissive.)

Finally, in our history, Napoleon had a son, L'Aiglon. Kind of famous. Died of consumption in his twenties. Too many drafty castles.


PS Incidentally, Delany once wrote a crippled, bisexual, dubiously fertile, ambiguously moral, and quite mad world conqueror and connoisseur: Vondramach Okk. Worked for me. Of course, it's possible that Delany made the same sort of analysis I did.

Bernard Guerrero

"Finally, in our history, Napoleon had a son, L'Aiglon. Kind of famous. Died of consumption in his twenties. Too many drafty castles."

Hey, I _said_ limited, not non-existent. Anyway, the King of Rome hardly counts as a reproductive success. A sickly tuberculitic does not a dynasty make.


Bernard: sorry, that was part of my response to Doug's comment. But of the last two men to overrun Europe, one had three children from two marriages.

Bernard Guerrero

No more than half of Europe, surely. And he didn't _like_ two of 'em. Hmmnn.

Syd Webb

E.E. "Doc" Smith's novels -- not particularly influential by the 1980s, since they fell out of print for years and years -- are not set in a universe with moral qualms. Trillions dead, and neither Arisia nor Boskone (nor Kinnison) think it more important than a hangnail.

Hmm. They were in print in the mid-70s in the UK, and by extension, Australia.

Still, it creates an idea for an ought-to-have-been film of the '80s. I'm seeing a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, wearing the leathers of a Grey Lensman, declaiming, "Consider it... collateral damage."

Now that's a moofy, sorry movie, that I'd pay to see.

David Allen

"Choosing not to have more children isn't about fertility, unless you're adopting a conveniently broad definition thereof."

Broad yes, but I don't know why it's particularly convenient. As a male primate, I suspect that one deep seated anxiety we have about 800 Pound Gorillas is whether they are going to gather up all the available females in a harem, have affairs and expect us to raise their bastards, or show decent restraint. Women have their own questions and worries. The bisexuality makes everything more complex, but I think the basic idea applies.

Also, Coyu and Doug started with structuralism, but what I'm hearing now sounds more like archetypes. In that context, two words:

Fisher King.


David Allen


The subjective nature of the analysis: that's part of it. Again, one falls very quickly into post-structuralist critiques. (Since post-structuralism is really nothing but a collection of critiques of structuralism, this is hardly surprising.)

Plausibility: I said it was fraught. Highly derived, as a biologist would say. Dependent on a lot of weird stuff that's rather hard to explain to an outsider. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of SF fans have read _God-Emperor of Dune_ without batting an eye.

I don't need to step back from the genre. I can well remember being ten years old and trying to expain _Dune_ to my skeptical older sister. "See, and they ride these giant worms..."

That was my *point*, dude. Genre conventions allow stuff that's insane outside the genre. Just as, say, Celtic legends allow goddesses to turn into serpents to turn into pear trees, or bards to physically mutilate skeptics with a few well-turned verses. Or as mainstream TV crime drama allows Angela Lansbury to discover and solve a new murder every week. Outside the genre, it's a whole series of WTF moments. Inside the genre, it's fine, it's even cool... as long as you're playing by the rules.

Now, decoding those rules in SF is damnably harder than it looks at first. Which may be one reason why the genre is relatively closed, and rather opaque to outsiders. You almost have to grow up reading SF.

As to historical referents: a world-conqueror builds an empire in youth, dies in middle age, and after some kerfuffle is succeeded by a younger male relative who is a great administrator and consolidator. The administrator has a long, peaceful, rather dull reign, then dies childless. Hmmmm.

You're conflating "historical referent" with "search-and-replaces on Byzantine history." Tch. The references can be subtle, and may even be unconscious. (Although I vaguely remember something from _God-Emperor_ that suggested Frank Herbert had Gibbon in mind.)

But to come back to specifics: when I gave "the bad example of Stirling" -- and why bad? Other than that you loathe Stirling and all his works, I mean -- I wasn't looking for a rant about the awfulness and implausibility of Stirling's Draka. We *know* you can do that.

Accept arguendo that Gwen is a "legitimate" SFnal fictional world conqueror. From here it looks like she has most of the elements of your schema, but thrown up in the air and rearranged. Without simply dismissing her as Stirling's, and therefore Bad (the argument against the author, I guess that would be), can you make her fit?

Note that a quick scan of rec.arts.sf-written shows "Drakon" cites outnumber "Arslan" cites by about 7 to 1. So arguably _Drakon_ is a more mainstream work, if that term has any meaning in this context.

One thing this discussion has done is make me reappraise an old Brian Aldiss story, "A Romance of the Equator". At the time I thought it was Very Silly. Now I belatedly realize it was a rather clever piss-take on structuralism. "One of them was fair-haired, and the other was dark. One would always rise before the dawn, while the other would sleep until the sun was high..."

-- Historical referents: again, I said that none of those left any descendants. Kids who die childless don't count, obviously.

Uncle Joe: doesn't seem to register as "conqueror". Go figure. Although driving your children insane might fit.

BTW, quick googling shows that the Lensman books were almost continuously in print from the 1960s onward. (Which fits my own memories. Read them as a kid c. 1975, and again in college, mid-'80s.) Mass market paperpack printings in the US in 1973 and again in 1982.

...I'm amazed you haven't mentioned Severian the Lame yet. No kids, but Earth, er, Urth restored to fertility under him.

Doug M.

Charlie Stross

Carlos: the formulaic Bond flow charts exist for a specific purpose -- I'm working on a direct pastiche of Bond, rather than a redeployment of the heroic structure that Fleming latched onto. (From my sub-literate code monkey perspective it's the bottom-up approach rather than the top-down one ...)

I'm surprised nobody's paid more attention to Hitler in the context of the bisexual fertility-impaired world conqueror archetype. Certainly he doesn't appear to have left any children, and there's Lothar Machtan's research on his homosexual affairs (e.g. with Roehm): the timing is right for Hitler to have been an influence on Asimov's creation of the Mule (although my time-fogged memory of FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE renders the Mule as somewhat more Napoleonic in stature).Yeah, he's a bit less of a fit than Napoleon or Alexander -- the latter two didn't bequeath to history a reputation for being bugfuck monsters, just ordinary conquerors and extraordinary generals -- but the timing makes me wonder.

Mind you, the Fisher King archetype has a lot to answer for. Off the top of my head, and recently, there's Jon Courtenay Grimwood's "Arabesk" trilogy; it's too early in the morning for my brain to be working but I'm sure I'll think of some more a couple of seconds after I hit the post button.

Jussi Jalonen

On the subject of Napoleon's offsprings, I must say that both Douglas and Carlos are forgetting one rather important person - Napoleon's _first_ son, Alexandre Walewski, born from the liaison with countess Maria Walewska.

As you no doubt remember, count Walewski became the foreign minister of the Second Empire France, and he ended up spawning a number of offsprings. As a present-day example, comte Nicolas Walewski (the youngest of three brothers) is the serving trustee of the _Fondation Napolon_.

(The ancestors of the mezzosoprano Malgorzata Walewska are unknown to me, but I wouldn't be surprised.)

... but, the point is that infertility isn't a feature that I'd associate with Napoleon. The man certainly had his testified sexual shortcomings, and was himself frightened that he _might_ indeed be sterile, but in the end, he wasn't, and he has a number of descendants still today.


Mike Ralls

>As to historical referents: a world-conqueror builds an empire in youth, dies in middle age, and after some kerfuffle is succeeded by a younger male relative who is a great administrator and consolidator. The administrator has a long, peaceful, rather dull reign, then dies childless. Hmmmm.

Doug Muir

Jussi: right, my bad. (Poor Walewska.) Though the fact that I've forgotten him suggests that he's not impinging on the collective historical consciousness much.

Mike: I mentioned Gibbon. Think about it.

I think you're right about Alexander. Deep, deep impression. Especially since his legend can easily be broken down and consolidated into SFnal stories. That's a huge point right there. There have been a dozen SF/fantasy reworks of the story of Belisarius. Exactly one (AFAIK) of Charlemagne. I suspect that it's Bel's _failure_ that makes him more fascinating. SF is a literature of wish-fulfillment, so it's an obvious leap to "if only this had turned out right". But for that, something has to turn out wrong in the first place. Charlemagne... "he did what he set out to do, and died a satisfied old man. The end." It just doesn't draw you in.

Mao had four kids that survived to adulthood, BTW. (And probably had more, but they either died in infancy or were given away.) Two boys, two girls. One son was killed in Korea; the other was mentally unstable, details unclear. There are a number of middle-aged Mao grandchildren running around today.

Again, I really wonder if non-Western SF would use these tropes. I suspect not.

Doug M.


Wow. Did you know that yesterday was HDTD's busiest day ever? Dear readers, you are the true alpha geeks of this blog.

Lots of things to respond to. But: "He must needs be brief. Work beckoned."

Archetypes: kinda sorta. Structuralism deals with how these types transform in different contexts. It's not Jungian at all, though I don't think they are necessarily opposed.

The Fisher King: In terms of modern literary influence, I'd trace it back only to T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", and from there, Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance. Sure, the Arthurian/Wagnerian strain -- which dates only to the later 19th century -- but it's a culmination. Not many current writers go back to the Pre-Raphaelites, or to Wagner, for their inspiration, but Eliot's well is far from dry.

Belisarius: while Asimov probably got Bel Riose from Gibbon, within SF, the Belisarius figure comes from Robert Graves' Count Belisarius through L. Sprague deCamp's Lest Darkness Fall.

Alexander: deep deep impression for centuries, as witness the Alexander Romance, versions of which exist in languages that don't anymore. But when did the bisexual, infertile part become important? Was it as late as Mary Renault, as James Bodi suggests?

James Bond: one possible structural inversion that came to mind is the Simpsons' variant. There, Hank Scorpio has the James Bond figure machine-gunned heavily (though I believe he appears in later episodes). And yet, Hank Scorpio is a great boss. So the inversion might be: James Bond lives, villain treats underlings poorly :: James Bond dies, villain treats underlings well. Charlie Stross, take note.

Drakon: Stirling, when he wants, can assemble motifs rather well. Drakon is a bad example not because Stirling is a raving loony bigot (although he is), but because Stirling picked and chose pieces from all over the map, lazily writing fanfic set in his own universe. So there's a thinly disguised Clarice Starling character. There's a thinly disguised Jane Fonda character. There's the honest New York Italian cop character from a dozen movies dealing with the corrupt city administration ditto. And so on.

Wolfe: I don't discuss Wolfe for the same reason, but from the opposite direction. Drakon is like one of those collages junior high school students make, with photos of their favorite celebrities cut from magazines and pasted onto mash notes. On the other hand, Wolfe's writing, from the word-to-word level to the anagogic one, is so polished that if you see an apparent flaw, it's very hard to determine whether Wolfe put it there to baffle you or not. It's the difference between an apprentice and a master.

Plausibility: yes, I know that the genre conventions nearly have to be lived in from birth to make sense. (One of the reasons why I think modern SF is in a sharp decline.) What I'm trying to see is if the conventions are amenable to a (layperson's) structural analysis. So: why doesn't the crippled conqueror work -- like Tamerlane or Nelson -- but the infertile one does? Really, you can't tell me that SF fandom is very historically literate. I've seen too much of the newsgroups. (Now, "folk" history -- or should that be "filk" history? -- is another story.)

Walewska: Thanks, Jussi. I was blanking on the name. Dembinska? Sklodowska? Proof that I am not Johnny Pez.

Hitler: certainly within the Anglosphere, the idea of Hitler as sexually peculiar has been popular. The lyrics of the Colonel Bogie March make that clear. My take on Adi H, though, is that knowing he could have pretty much any Aryan woman he wanted was enough for him. (Although I may have to finish that Hitler/Unity Mitford story. Boom chicka wow wow.)

Lensmen: if memory serves, the Lensmen books had a fifteen year gap before Old Earth Books reprinted them in the mid-1990s. Nice edition; I reviewed them for the Onion.

Jussi Jalonen

Purely as a side note, I must say that this is both very intense as well as very interesting discussion. While I have a limited knowledge on science fiction, the topic of physically or sexually/reproductively inadequate conquerors somehow appeals to me. Perhaps it's because the historical examples are indeed quite numerous, when one thinks of it.

Gustav II Adolf. Gout. Partially crippled by a war wound. Obesity. Hemorrhoids. High blood pressure. Has experienced one tragic love affair as a youth, dies in a battle in his '30s. Leaves one daughter who has a distinctively masculine upbringing, is suspected of being lesbian, and eventually forsakes the crown as well as the faith of her father.

Peter the Great. Bisexual hedonist who tortures and kills his own son, and is succeeded by one of his female sex slaves.

Carl XII. Ah, there's the archetype... although the fact that he lost his wars may disqualify him from this gallery.

And then there's the good old Fritz, who was suspected for being either a submissive homosexual, completely asexual or, in Fraser's words, a "non-practicing sodomite".



Bernard Guerrero

"Stirling picked and chose pieces from all over the map, lazily writing fanfic set in his own universe. So there's a thinly disguised Clarice Starling character. There's a thinly disguised Jane Fonda character. There's the honest New York Italian cop character from a dozen movies dealing with the corrupt city administration ditto. And so on."

Very nicely put, dead on. Though I think the character you're pinning as Starling was actually Scully. There was even a Mulder, IIRC.


Alright. I give up. I'm lost. What are the conventions of SF whereof you speak?

I get a strange feeling from reading all you people, which is that I'm not a science fiction *fan*, I'm just a guy who happens to have read a wildly disproportionate amount of science fiction.


I read Drakon on a delayed Caltrain many years back, and enjoyed it immensely, like a good milkshake. I think I finished the whole thing in about two hours, maybe three. Read Arslan after a review when I was a young teenager, just to creep myself out. It didn't work. I kept expecting the Marines to show up and kick Arslan's ass, or the raped kid to, well, shoot him. Enjoyed most of Bujold's stuff during various research trips to Mexico. Couldn't finish the last book, though. Dune? Oh man, did that suck, although I somehow got through the entire series-to-date without remembering a word while laid up with a very high fever in 1983. (I enjoyed the Sci-fi miniseries. Watched it with my old man and a whole lot of beer.) Foundation, very cool for a teenager, not bad on re-reading.

And what any of these have in common besides being set in putative future worlds (kinda sorta in Drakon's case) is beyond me. So can somebody clue me into the subtext that I'm missing? What are these conventions? And how can I possibly not be a fan when I've given away boxes and boxes of the stuff?


Hey Noel! Just talking about you. (Nothing bad, never fear.)

What we're looking for are associations between concepts. As such, numeric and falsifiable methodology is a little problematic, because of the fuzziness involved. But here's an example.

In all of world literature, there are relatively very few descriptions of a character answering a call of nature. We tend to think of literature as being "realistic". But it doesn't describe an act all of us perform on a daily basis! The absence seems to be part of the "structure" of literature.

Structuralism tries to find covariant elements of these unusual presences or absences between different stories; and then sees if the covariant structure itself is replicated elsewhere, but with different symbolic elements. If so, this might mean there is a common mental structure that two wildly dissimilar story types are using to produce their effect.

There's not going to be 100% agreement, in part of the fuzzy nature of the elements being studied -- is bigendered the same as bisexual? -- and in part because even among stories with historical connections to each other -- the North American myths Levi-Strauss studied, for instance -- no one story necessarily has every element. (A point where CLS differs from "the Finnish school" is that he doesn't think there necessarily was a primeval Ur-myth from which parts were lost during transmission. CLS comes up with ways that this might be tested, so he's not thinking phlogiston.)

Going back to the bathroom example. There is one famous work where the main character takes a dump in all its glory: Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. There's also a fair amount of porn and satire. Are there other connections? Turns out Bloom uses a page from a best-of anthology for toilet paper; and Ulysses contains a fair amount of satire and smut itself. Following that, one can connect these three elements -- satire, smut, and shit -- to authors like Rabelais and Swift, and a whole host of other things below the radar. Moreover, it's an inversion of serious-minded, sexless, bathroom-free fiction.

Anyway. To get back to science fiction: first, does the covariance I think I spotted actually exist? Lone bisexual world conqueror? If moral, has a romance with a woman but has difficulties siring children with her; if immoral, rapes and restricts the fertility of others? I'm thinking there is something there.

The second part: can we transfer this pattern of covariance to another situation with different symbolic referents, and still 'make sense' as part of the genre? (If you object to 'make sense', substitute 'be already published'.) Hence, the differently-universal -- I suggested connoisseur, but I don't think it's strong enough -- conqueror whom if moral, is crippled, if immoral, cripples others?

(Doug doesn't think so; and weirdly no one has brought up Miles & Mark Vorkosigan yet.)

The third part: why why why? This is where I join you in your confusion. I can swim in the water, but I can't drink it. Doug? Claudia?

Bernard Guerrero

"In all of world literature, there are relatively very few descriptions of a character answering a call of nature. We tend to think of literature as being "realistic". But it doesn't describe an act all of us perform on a daily basis! The absence seems to be part of the "structure" of literature."

Odd that you mention this. I just read King's "The Little Sisters of Illuria", and it's the first time said absence really bugged me. I suppose I mentally set aside part of the character's time for that sort of stuff "off screen". But in this particular story, the main character's bed-ridden for an extended period of time, under such circumstances as I find it difficult to believe that he's getting plenty of TLC and clean bed-pans. Bothered the hell out of me.

Mike Ralls

>In all of world literature, there are relatively very few descriptions of a character answering a call of nature.


Final thought for the day. The plot I describe: "Lone bisexual world conqueror; if moral, has a romance with a woman but has difficulties siring children with her; if immoral, rapes and restricts the fertility of others," -- which would make a hell of a personal ad, wouldn't it? -- is *not* very much like the Jungian Joseph Campbell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces".

Y'all know this one too: mysterious birth, call to power, exile, ordeal, emergence, victory. It's Moses, it's Jesus; it's Luke Skywalker, it's Darth Vader; it's a whole host of other figures. Lord Raglan was the first to really publicize the pattern, long before Jung or Campbell did. Dozens and dozens of examples.

And it stands apart from the "lone bisexual world conqueror" plot. I don't think the one is a structural transformation of the other; or if it is, I'm not clever enough to see it. I think I'm willing to stretch the LBWC structure to Algis Budrys's Michaelmas (of which more later) but not beyond.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces strikes me much more directly as wish-fulfillment than the LBWC. How would one connect the two (narratively speaking, not structurally)? Does the HKF _become_ the LBWC? Is the HKF _involved_ with the LBWC? Not necessarily sexually: there is room for the old mentor of the HKF, the Obi-Wan Kenobi slot. Going back to the dawn of literature, perhaps they could just be good friends, like Gilgamesh and Enkidu; or rivals, like Cain and Abel.

Or perhaps they don't mesh at all, and there's an exclusion principle structure, either one or the other.

Do these new combinations make SFnal sense?


PS Bernard, I'm pretty sure it's Clarice Starling, not Scully. FBI, country accent and background, studies serial killers. (And I want to say she has a bird name too, like "Finch", but that would mean me going back to check.) The medical examiner, true, is female, but Chinese-Vietnamese, and not in the Bureau.

Mitch H.

Since we're getting all archetypical here, and Carlos has already brought up the Hero of a Thousand Faces and the infertile conqueror and their apparent opposition as archtypes, don't you think a consideration of Saul and David might be in order?

Saul was the failed king - heirless, biologically or psychologically damaged - chosen by God, and then rejected. We're essentially given Saul at his height - his point of closest completion, his peak. With David, however, we're offered his entire character-arc - from the child-entertainer, to the boy with the sling, through generalship and rebellion and eventual kingship and tragic failure. The hero is, well, a hero - the protagonist of the extended story.

Saul, on the other hand, has an arc which is more of a plunge. He's a moral lesson, a monster, no more than the sum of his tragic flaw. The various failed king character-types - the mad king, the infertile conqueror, the rapist-tyrant - they tend to be supporting players in most stories or productions. The only exceptions that really comes to mind are Richard III and Drakon - revenge-play material.


Drakon: you're still doing it. "It's a bad book" -- well, okay. Why does that make it inappropriate to use these tools on it?

...this touches on yet /another/ post-Structuralist critique: the "privileging" of certain texts and certain approaches. But that is a deep quagmire, so let's not go there now. Point being, you're basically saying _Drakon_ is too bad a book, while the Wolfe stuff is too good.

Hrm. I think this is wrong.

What makes _Drakon_ interesting from a structuralist POV is that (1) it's the fourth book in a series, and (2) we know Stirling so well that we can identify a source for almost everything in the book... either in someone else's work, or in the peculiar quirks of the author's psyche. So, Gwen is bisexual because that's the default state for women -- especially strong women -- in Stirling's work. She's a rapist because he's intrigued or titillated by the notion of the woman as rapist; that goes all the way back to his earliest work (okay, who else here read _Snow Brother_?). She's a world conqueror because, thematically, it's been established in earlier books that this is what the Draka are all about. At another level, it's because Stirling is fascinated with issues of power and dominance, and this too pervades his work.

IOW, while it may be slightly mysterious why Bujold made Aral Vorkosigan bisexual, we know exactly why Stirling did everything he did. In other words, ISTM that _Drakon_ is like one of those lab animals -- fruit flies, or the worm C. Elegans -- whose developmental pathways can be mapped from fertilized egg to adult. You might not want to share your living space with them, but they're potentially very educational.

Meanwhile, Wolfe... I think you're being a bit too deferential. Yes, most of Wolfe is very deliberate. Hyperdeliberate? He falls into that category of artists who can say "not a line, not a word is accidental". IMS William Blake was the first. Dave Sim may be the most recent. (Yes, really. He quotes Blake approvingly, in the course of claiming that he had every panel of the last two years of "Cerebus" planned out in advance.)

But hyperdeliberation doesn't exempt the author's work from analysis, structural or otherwise. Quite the opposite. There's plenty of stuff in Wolfe's books that he didn't intend to put in there. Most obviously, I'm sure he'd indignantly reject the charge of being a misogynist. Yet misogyny, often of a deeply creepy sort, is all over his later work. (And Sim, I'm sure, would vehemently deny that the last 20 years of "Cerebus" was about him working off his resentment at his failed marriage. Yet that analysis works *remarkably* well.)

I note that there's at least one red-headed woman associated with Severian. And while he's not bisexual, he's definitely at least occasionally bigendered. So...

Lensmen: yes, a 15 year gap. Mass market paperback editions in '73, '82, and '98. But your original assertion was that "by the Eighties, they'd been out of print forever". Not to quibble, but.

Final thought: you couldn't *have* a bisexual character in SF before, ohhh, 1975. So this is a pattern that can only have emerged in the last 30 years. Hm.

Doug M.

Mike Ralls

Oh, other world conquering Sci-Fi book:

Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson.

It wasn't until reading this thread that I realized how strong it's based upon Alexander. But for the life of me I can't remember if he's bisexual or infertile. Anyone remember?

Mike Ralls

> which would make a hell of a personal ad, wouldn't it?



Mike, tsk, you shouldn't have done that.

Lensmen: Doug, you misread (and misquoted) what I wrote. I said they were "not particularly influential by the 1980s, since they fell out of print for years and years". And what did you find? A sixteen year gap, starting in the 1980s.

Drakon: It's not applicable not because Drakon is a bad book (although it is), but because the methods used to compose it make it too self-consciously derivative. We're going to apply structural analysis to Steverino's DVD library?

Wolfe: I am really not sure about that. There are Doors has some of the creepier gender relations in the Wolfe oeuvre, and this is saying something. I too once thought, "Aha! unconscious misogyny et cetera." Then I read an interview where Wolfe bothered to explain exactly what he was meaning to do with that book. Every creepy part about gender (and parts I had missed, but on retrospection were also creepy) was deliberate.

You can go up a level, and wonder, "Well, why does Wolfe feel the need to make the relations between men and women in his fiction this sort of creepy?" But I don't think "He must be unconsciously misogynist!" is necessarily the correct answer. It's like noticing that Orson Scott Card loves putting children in extreme danger in his fiction, and then concluding, "He must really hate kids!" Probably not the case.

But this gets into psychoanalyzing authors from their work. Keep in mind, we know Sim is damaged, and we know how he's damaged, because we've read his manifestos and his letter columns, and see how they tie into his work. We know how Stirling is damaged, because we've seen his personal ramblings on Usenet, and see how they tie into his work. We have access to more of their private thoughts. We don't have that for Wolfe.

And it's not structuralism.


Bernard Guerrero

"okay, who else here read _Snow Brother_"

"It's like noticing that Orson Scott Card loves putting children in extreme danger in his fiction, and then concluding, "He must really hate kids!" Probably not the case."

Ever read his _Worthing_ stories?


Bernard: see, the trick is to read everything. Then you can admit to having read Snowbrother without embarrassment.

Yeah, I've read Card's Worthing stories, some as they were originally published, the versions he had printed in Capitol, and the ones he revised even further in The Worthing Saga. (He's going to keep a lot of grad students in business.) Card, too, is fixated on images of extreme brutality (ever read "Kingsmeat"?) and he doesn't even have an ex-Indian Army headmaster to blame for it.

I don't know the Mormon scriptures well enough to speculate how they played a role in shaping this imagery. But I do get the vibe -- especially in that story of the poor schmuck being tortured and resurrected repeatedly until he recants -- of the Book of Daniel. Especially the boiling in oil part.

Mitch: yeah! Science fiction often looks at what would otherwise be the peripheral character.

Functionally, the Hero with a Thousand Faces is often too easy to write as pulp or Mary Sue fic. The Hero with the Tragic Flaw What Is His Downfall is usually too much of a downer for SF. But the LBWC comes prefab "balanced".

Structurally, it's as if the position of the HKF can be forbidden or tabooed, and the incidents of the narrative shift to the LBWC.

Hm. "Saul has his thousands, but David has his tens of thousands." Well, SF readers have always been in the minority.

Doug Muir

It's a confusing quote. I thought you were saying they weren't particularly influential because they'd fallen out of print. Response: they hadn't. But now you seem to be saying that they weren't particularly influential, _therefore_ they fell out of print. Do I have that right?

Umm. In SF being OOP for ~20 years is not a strong signal of influence or the lack thereof. To give just one example, Heinlein's juveniles were hugely influential, but most of them were not reprinted once between the early '60s and the 1977-8 mass market paperpack editions (the ones with the Darrell Sweet covers).

FWIW, I agree that they had little or no direct influence on '80s SF. But that seems orthogonal to the question of whether they were in print then or not. (Actually, that's a potentially interesting thread in its own right.)

More in a bit, perhaps -- must eat dinner.

Doug M.

James Nicoll

Ace had most of the RAH YAs before 1977-78 (The exceptions were FARMER IN THE SKY, STARMAN JONES and if you count it, PODKAYNE OF MARS, I think). I believe the covers were by Steele Savage, and that the Sweets were from when Ballantine got the books.


Doug, that's a whole lot of quibbling over one slightly less than clear sentence on my part. For shame! People might think you're a lawyer or something.

But, no: I don't think that the Lensmen books fell out of print simply because they had lost their hold on SF by the 1980s. I think that the Lensmen books fell out of print by the 1980s because they had lost their hold on SF because that's what the forewords to the reprints implied.

Unfortunately, said reprints are in the Brooklyn Containment and Storage Facility Unit, next to the Patrick O'Brian and the Tor Jack Vance, under a sign saying "Beware of the Jaguar". What can you do.


James Nicoll

And not that anyone cares but if I recall correctly, part of the problem with MMPK RAH YAs was that the company that held the HC rights really really did not want to have competing products in the form of inexpensive paperbacks out there, and they were more interested in persuing their own interests than thos of the Heinleins.

Andrew Gray

Most of the Heinlein juveniles were in print in the late-sixties-early-seventies, at least this side of the pond.

Current pile to hand (I'm never sure how juveniles are defined, but I guess these are):
Assignment In Eternity (71, 73)
Citizen Of The Galaxy (69, 72, 78)
Time For The Stars (63, 68, 5th printing 83 so a couple in the seventies)
Between Planets (68, 71)
Space Family Stone (71, 78)

NEL seem to have been publishing a lot circa 1971, FWIW.

(On a related note, these 70s reprints are great. Cheap, small enough for a trouser pocket, and light enough to read in bits during breaks at work. The shiny new Neal Stephenson book waiting for me is somewhat less suited here.)

Bernard Guerrero

Jeez, what is this, a reunion?

Syd Webb

Jeez, what is this, a reunion?

Indeed it is, Bernard, indeed it is.

BTW, when are you coming back to s.h.w-i? You'd like it now. Apart from all the nazi spammers it's very value neutral.


Not to beat a dead horse here, but I disagree that _Drakon_ is "too self-consciously derivative." I think you're overfocusing on the Easter Eggs.

Back in the days when I was still occasionally corresponding with Steve Stirling, I once pointed out to him that Gwen in Drakon could be read as a piss-take of the Gernsbackian SFnal ubermensch. Hero lands alone and nearly naked on a strange planet. By wits, strength of arm, and most of all by Force Of Will, bends the numerous but inferior natives to his will, and eventually builds the necessary technological doodads to get home.

This trope is one of the very few so hoary and so hokey that has actually fallen out of circulation and gone to mulch in the collective SFnal underconsciousness. (For a rare still-in-print example, see _Spacehounds of IPC_ (1931), by, well, E.E. "Doc" Smith of the Lensman books. The protagonist and his girlfriend crash-land -- on Ganymede, IMS -- and he takes their lifeboat and assorted junk and builds a hydro-electric power plant, wireless energy transmission system, and "ultra-radio" in six months flat. IIRC he even subjugates some savage natives, too.)

Point being, Steve was... surprised. He hadn't thought of it that way, at all.

Wolfe: Relations between men and women are just one small piece of the creepiness. If you've read enough of an author's stuff, then "why does he feel the need to do this, again and again, with variations" becomes an increasingly pressing question. I don't say "because he's a misogynist" is necessarily the correct answer. It may not be. (Syd on the other thread has just given us an interesting example of getting an author wrong in something like this fashion.) I do say it seems a plausible one, though. More to the point, I think it's correct to say his /work/ has a strong, and disturbing, misogynistic streak. Just as, say, George R.R. Martin's stuff has a cruel streak.

I suspect Card puts children in danger because it's a cheap way to generate a lot of emotional energy in a hurry. The Enderverse has other reasons for Ender to be a child, but consider... ohh... _Wyrms_. The plot of that book would work just as well if the heroine were 25 instead of 15. So why is she 15?

My guess is that, consciously or not, Card did it only to up the emotional ante. When she's in danger, it's that much more alarming; when she has to submit to -- spoiler here, but if you haven't read _Wyrms_ by now, I really doubt you're going to -- being raped by a giant alien would-be world conqueror worm, in order to save the world and stuff, it's much more violative and alarming. I don't think this makes Card a pedophobe or child abuser; I think it makes him a hack.

Psychoanalyzing authors from their work would be another thread, sure. But just within the four corners of the text, there's plenty of grist there for your mill. Severian, while defending his realm against outlanders, encounters a red-headed woman. It's implied that he /may/ have raped her, or at least engaged in some roughish trade, but this scene is fuzzed. (Quite deliberately, I'm sure, but never mind that now.) The redhead is killed soon thereafter, IMS in the same sequence of events that elevates Severian to the throne.

As to universality: he's got the memories of several thousand people, male and female. Most of all, he carries the memories of his former lover Thecla... and sometimes walks like her and speaks with her voice, to the point that at least once (in the dark) he's mistaken for a woman. And then, lame and childless, he restores the world to fertility yadda yadda und so weiter.

I don't see how "it's Wolfe" takes him out of this analysis. Hyperdeliberation? Bujold, though not in the same "every word just so" league, is a lot more deliberate than she first appears. Hell, she's even got roses as a symbol of redemption after violence. I have trouble seeing Wolfe as /that/ different.

Doug M.


Hey Doug,

This thread is getting a little unwieldy; move on to the next? Anyway:

Drakon: structurally analyzing very derivative works leads to the problem of whether the structure comes from the original parts, or the guy who assembled them.

Case in point. Suppose you were comparing last stands in popular fiction. (Doesn't even have to be structurally, though I think that might be interesting.) And you come across a scene in one of S/t/i/r/ Steverino's books, you know the one, the point-for-point rip-off of the movie Zulu. Does the way the last stand develops give you insight into how Steverino thinks? Or does it simply show that Steverino is good at describing what he watches on TV, and searching-and-replacing names to fit?

I'd say it's about 20:80, myself. The major complaint on Amazon about Drakon seems to be that it's too generic an action movie plot. And these are Baen readers, whom one might expect to have minimal expectations in their reading material, not picky literary snobs like me.

Wolfe: actually, I think Severian the Lame would be a remarkable test case, except I know that Wolfe researched South American mythologies for those books, and I am over 90% certain that he read (and used) Levi-Strauss. Severian even encounters a French explorer in a South American jungle! Who sees Severian, and calls him and his female companion an archetype! (Death and the Maiden.) I mean, it's not the blind librarian in the ruins of Buenos Aires who befriends Severian, but it's close.

The variant folktales in the Book of Gold and in the storytelling contest are also very Levi-Straussian.

There, avoiding analyzing Wolfe's structures of "hyperdeliberation", as you put it, strikes me as simple caution, in the same way that using structuralism to analyze the Aldiss short story you mention would be a little silly. Especially in this case, it's hard to determine what Wolfe might have done consciously, and how much is the inner lupine coming forth.

The later novels, which are much more like slab of Wolfe (like later Dickens, like later Vance), seem better suited for it.

As for the "Wolfe is misogynistic"... it's a little unfalsifiable, the way you have it set up. How would you show that Wolfe simply doesn't have a favorite way of manipulating male and female characters, in the same way that Orson Scott Card apparently has a formula -- which I believe he has actually put into a writing manual -- of attempting to generate tension in a reader by putting children in extreme danger?

(If memory serves, the youngest Card has made his child victim was a superintelligent eighteen months, who hid from his assassins in a toilet tank.)

On the other hand, if Wolfe posted to Usenet, saying how it'd be great if women were strapped over the muzzles of cannon and the lanyard yanked -- as Stirling once did regarding a different group -- then I'd say you have a point.


Bernard Guerrero

"And these are Baen readers, whom one might expect to have minimal expectations in their reading material, not picky literary snobs like me."

Cold, man, cold.


One thing to consider in your deliberations on out-of-print status and its affect on readers of SF: Public Libraries, specifically, public libraries' children's book collections.

Our children's collections have always been reflexively deep, rather than broad. They're specially bound to be sturdy and long-lasting. In addition, older, O.P. titles are often sent back to binderies to be rebound as they grow worn. Once a book (such as Heinlein's juveniles) ends up in a collection guidebook (like H.W. Wilson's "Children's Catalog"), it's there forever.

And because free public libraries are *everywhere* in the U.S. (there are more of them than of McDonalds), if a book is commonly held by their children's departments, most American children will have ready access to it.

This is not, however, the case with adult popular fiction which tends to be considered ephemera and is usually discarded once it becomes worn.

The comments to this entry are closed.