The Official Newsletter of the Washington Science Fiction
Association -- ISSN 0894-5411
Edited by Joe Mayhew
WSFA Minutes March 1st at Gilliland's
Kids in Space!
Different Shades of Fantasy Part II
Edited by Joe Mayhew
Attending: Pres. Covert Beach, Treas. & 96 Chair Bob MacIntosh, Trust. David Grimm, Trust. John Pomeranz, 97 Chair Mike Nelson, Elspeth Burgess, Chris Callahan, Chuck Divine, Alexis Gilliland, Lee Gilliland, Dan Hoey, Chris Holte, Eric Jablow, Bill Jensen, Kitty Jensen, Judy Kindell, Nicki Lynch, Winton Matthews, Lance Oszko, Peggy Rae Pavlat, Rebecca Prather, Dick Roepke, Rachel Russell, John Sapienza, George R. Shaner, Steven Smith, Victoria Smith, Michael J. Walsh.
The meeting was called to order at 9:30 PM by President Covert Beach. At the request of Secretary Joe Mayhew (away at JohnCon) the minutes were taken by 97 Chair Mike Nelson. Minutes of the last business meeting ( January 19th ) were available in the WSFA JOURNAL for Feb 2nd (misdated Feb 5). A WSFA JOURNAL was produced for Feb 16, but as no quorum was present during either February meeting, Joe decided not to issue a new journal. He will be away at LunaCon for the March 15th meeting but is providing the WSFA JOURNAL in which these minutes are appearing.
Treasurer Bob MacIntosh reported a balance of $6,300.63.
DISCLAVE 96: Chair Bob MacIntosh, his Treasurer, Peggy Rae Pavlat, Program Director Joe Mayhew, Hotel Liaison Covert Beach, Hospitality Director David Grimm, Party Manager Kitty Jensen, Information Manager Dan Hoey and Night Security Manager Elspeth Burgess participated in a walk-through of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. Vice Chair Mike Nelson and Art Show Director Judy Kindell had seen the facilities on a previous occasion. The Flier "oragami party" postponed by the storms, was scheduled for after the meeting.
THERE WAS NO BUSINESS CONDUCTED
ANNOUNCEMENTS HANDED IN:
Rachel Russell has a Web page:
The meeting was adjourned at 9:49
by Eric Robert Jablow
Many science fiction stories are about children. I believe that this is a matter of wish-fulfillment. The SF stories of the Golden Age were usually stories of adventure, exploration, wonder, and escape; who better to introduce them than a child? Of course, the classic description of the Golden age of SF is fifteen. People start reading SF when they are young. Authors know this, and they pitch stories to the young, often, they make a child or adolescent the protagonist.
I do however find many of the children in SF stories jarring. I can accept the unusual, but I cannot accept the unreality of how they think. They seem to have no relation to anything we know. I am especially bothered by the child prodigies of SF; I have some experience with that mind-set, and the authors just get it wrong. The problem with making them seem alien is that no one can identify with them or understand them. Also, a child who is gifted in some area is no less a child for his or her gift. He or she will still have the same concerns, fears, wants, and desires as any other child.
Over the next few issues of the WSFA Journal, I will discuss the children of science fiction stories. How are they portrayed? How are they real? How are they unreal? When do authors get them right and when wrong?
I. Nine Months of Unskilled Labor
Macduff: Despair thy charm; And let the angel whom thou still hast served Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb Untimely ripp'd.
-MACBETH, Act 5, Scene 7
Sometimes the child becomes a character even before he or she is born. I do not remember any pregnancy stories from the 1940s, and very few from the fifties. Of course, popular culture didn't have very many such stories either. Lucy and Ricky couldn't even use the word *pregnant* on television. Pregnancy implied sex, and sex just wasn't allowed.
As time went by, SF began to cover pregnancy, babies, and parenthood. There was the overwrought story by Judith Merrill, THAT ONLY A MOTHER, about a pregnant woman whose unhorn child may have been exposed to radiation. In the story, the child is born with serious birth defects, the mother is oblivious to them, and the mother has descended into insanity. This was a cold war parable; in retrospect, it prefigured the thalidomide disaster. The point of the story was the familiar one that the men build the bombs, nuclear power plants, and run the armies, navies, air forces, and strategic weapons. They will destroy the world, or at least our small corner of it. Not even Motherhood is safe.
There was a more puckish view, though, in one book on the history of 40s and 50s SF, the author remembered a cynical and good story narrated by a fetus: the story seemed like a funny version of LOOK WHO'S TALKING. The historian described how shocked he was when he found out the story was written by L. Ron Hubbard.
I think that there have been two strains of childbirth stories in SF:
A. The Homesteading Story
This claims that man has not truly arrived in space until there are families there and women give birth there. Just as the American West evolved from the days of cowboys and gunfights (THE SEARCHERS, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, HONDO) to the days of civilized towns and villages THE MUSIC MAN), the human presence in space must evolve from one of military ships, brave explorers, and sterile business to one of homes, families, schools, and governments. Arthur C. Clarke has written this story a few times. in fact, they all seem like the same story under different titles. Noted hack Lee Correy [G. Harry Stine] did a bad imitation of this in his novel, SPACE DOCTOR.
There are some pure problem solving stories of childbirth. For example, James White's Sector General stories have included a few alien problem pregnancies that must be solved by the brave Dr. Kildare^W Conway and his crack staff.
In general, there are stories about the fact of pregnancy and the meaning of it to the outside culture. There are very few stories about its meaning to the mother, and very few stories where a woman becomes pregnant and has a baby as a natural part of her existence. Well, there is MAN OF STEEL, WOMAN OF KLEENEX, by Larry Niven. I think this proves my point.
B. The Cold War Parable
Here, the pregnancy is only a symbol. Consider ENEMY MINE by Barry Longyear. The plot comes straight from an old World War 2 movie about an American and Japanese soldier trapped on the same island. and only surviving with each other's help. In Longyear's story, the alien is pregnant, and dies in childbirth, and the human ends up responsible for the baby. The human teaches the alien baby how to be a better alien, just as the Americans tried to bring Japan into the world in the 1800s and after the second World War. I don't think this is really science fiction at all, at heart.
Sometimes, the analogy is more direct. In TOMORROW'S CHILDREN by Poul Anderson and F.N. Waldrop, World War 3 has come and gone. Much of humanity has died, and the rest contend with a radioactive Landscape. Remnants of the U.S. government and military are trying to take stock, and the highest-ranking surviving civilian official, a Senator, sends one of the last remaining pilots to tour North America. The pilot visits the few remaining communities, sees the large incidence of cinematic-quality birth defects, and advises the populace not to kill their defective children. When he returns, he advises the Senator that the birth defect rate is at least one-third. and the Senator goes wild, suggesting plans to segregate the "true humans" from the mutants, and to sterilize them so that they do no pass on their defects. Of course, this was ridiculous, but the Senator can be excused, his wife is pregnant and is about to give birth. In fact, the child is born with tentacles instead of arms, and the pilot advises him to love her anyway, that if she can control them, they will be useful indeed, and that they will all have to change their ideas of humanity. In the later fix-up book, Anderson put in psionic children; we've seen that cliche before.
There aren't many SF stories about the experience of pregnancy itself. The section of TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE where Lazarus and his grand-daughter have their child is no more than an exercise in perversity. There is David Brin's short novel, PIECEWORK. Here, pregnancy is a job; women sign up to give birth to genetically- engineered tissues, usually not fertilized from human sperm and ova. Women in this job have to take care of their bodies, although some do not. The protagonist decides to try to improve herself and her standing in society. She takes courses, eats well, and gets better and better assignments. This arouses the envy of her friends, and her best friend tries to sabotage her career and her. She avoids this fate, and eventually is rewarded with the most important job in society, being a mother. Sometimes when I look at modern U.S. society, I think that people should need parenting licenses before they are allowed to procreate.
Sometimes the fetus is the symbol, the MacGuffin. BARRAYAR, by Lois Bujold, starts with a marriage and pregnancy as a symbol of peace. Cordelia Naismith, ship captain, war hero, and POW, has come from her home planet Beta to marry her opponent, captor, Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar, who she has outwitted in the past, and whom she has fallen in love with. The child is a symbol of a possibility of peace between their planets, and her presence and activities on Barrayar is a symbol of peace between the sexes and hope for Barrayar's unliberated women.
However, reactionary politics causes hurt for the happy couple. They are attacked by poison gas and the only. possible treatment will kill the unborn child. instead, she undergoes a dangerous operation. The embryo is surgically removed, placed in an artificial womb, and treated there. His possible survival stands for a possibility of a new tolerance for the disabled and unwarlike, and a turning away from war for Barrayar. She has to protect her child against her father- in-law, and gains her husband's support. Then, a civil war erupts, she is forced to flee, and her child is stolen by the usurping Emperor, who treats it as a bargaining chip. The fetus is a symbol of hope and of war.
Of course, the fetus as a symbol is warred over throughout the world. Consider American politics, the Catholic Church, China and its one-child rule, and changes to the laws in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall. That's why I'm not surprised it is used as a symbol in science fiction. Part two, ZERO-GEE BOTTLE FEEDING AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF FUTURE LIFE will follow in a later issue of the WSFA Journal.
(Copyright (c) 1996 by Eric Robert Jablow. All Rights Reserved. Printed in the THE WSFA JOURNAL by permission.)
Themed Reviews by Samuel Lubell
Fantasy can take place in any time period and any setting. Upcoming reviews will cover non-traditional fantasy settings and present-day fantasy. However, even within the traditional pseudo-medieval fantasy world, good writing, characterization, and a plot beyond kill the evil wizard can produce a fantasy that can satisfy both the Jordan/Eddings quest devotee and those seeking more substance.
At first glance, Diane Duane's series THE TALE OF THE FIVE (aka the DOOR INTO series) seems a conventional fantasy. In the first book, DOOR INTO FIRE (Tor $OOP) there is a quasi-medieval setting, a king to restore to his throne, an outside evil unfortunately titled the Dark, invading the kingdom, and a hero who is the first man to have the flame (an inborn magic, different from illusion-sorcery) in centuries. Yet there are enough original touches to distinguish this book from others. One is the matter-of-fact treatment of homosexuality in all the characters; no political point is being made, the idea that a person's love could be of another gender is simply taken for granted in their society. This is extremely daring for a book first published in 1979. More importantly, the theme of the book is an inner exploration. Before the hero, Herewiss, can master his power, he must first discover his inner name and come to terms with his past. And so must Segnbora, who becomes the heroine of the second book THE DOOR INTO SHADOW (Tor).
"I was going to reach inside minds and really understand motivations-not just make do with the little blurred glimpses you get from underhearing, all content arrl no context. I was going to untwist the hurt places in people, and heal wounds with something better than herbs and waiting. To really *hear* what goes on in the world around, to talk to thunderstorms and soar in a bird's body and run down with some river to the Sea. I was going to move the forces of the world to command the elements and *be* them when I chose. To give life, to give Power back to the Mother. To sing the songs that the stars sing, and hear them sing back. And they told me I'd do all that, and I believed them. And it was all for nothing...
"If you had it, you know," he said, trying to find a crumb of comfort for her, "you'd probably just die early." He had tried to make a joke of it, an acknowledgement of shared pain. But she turned to him, and looked at him, and his heart sank. "Who cares if you die early," she said very quietly, "as long as you've lived."
Worth noting are the non-human characters. In DOOR INTO FIRE Herewiss is adopted by a powerful fire elemental who disguises itself as a horse. It knows nothing about human emotions or mortality:
"(Excuse me. "die?" cease to exist?) Hewiss said, and Sunspark jumped a little from the suddenness of the thought.
(That is an impossible concept.)
( ...pass on? Go through the Door into Starlight?)
(Oh, you mean leave your present form,) Sunspark said. (I see. Why the time limit, though? Is it a game?)
In the second book, DOOR INTO SHADOW Segnbora absorbs the memory and personality of a dying dragon.
To Dragons the past, present, and future all happen at once and what happens in the future can influence the past. When a dragon dies, its soul goes into another dragon, forming a chain going back generations although since each imprinting is weaker, the newest are the strongest. The second book is the story of Segnbora and her dragon coming to terms with each other and their own pasts including a tragedy that is all too real, even today.
The third book, DOOR INTO SUN set somewhat more conventional in plot, centers around Freelorn's taking back his kingdom and beginning to take the offensive. In this book Segnbora tries to win the support of the dragons, Hewiss becomes ambassador to Freelorn's kingdom's usurper, and Freelorn goes disguised in his own kingdom.
In all three books, there is a strong sense of religion/theology behind the conflict. There is a rich background and mythology behind the characters, motivating them and influencing their actions. Central to the character's belief are the three forms of the Goddess who created the world without noticing that she had accidently let death/evil enter it. The characters receive occasional guidance in the forms of dreams and, on one rare occasion, outright intervention.
The fourth book DOOR INTO STARLIGHT is not yet out, considering the ten year gap between books two and three it may be a while yet before it is available. Meanwhile, I recommend that anyone interested in a twist on the war against darkness theme seek these books out in used bookstores.
A new type of book showing up on more and more bookstore shelves is the licensed book. About a fifth of the sf/fan space at a typical bookstore is devoted to media tie-ins of various sorts from Star Trek and Wars to Bard's Tale, King's Quest, and Magic the Gathering. Most of course are little more than mass produced book-pulp, the authors so constrained by requirements and formulas that little can be done. After all the character of Captain Picard and Luke Skywalker are already defined and licensed; the author of a mere book is not allowed to change them. (And yes I know the Star Wars books have Leia and Han Solo married with two kids. But has that caused them to act or sound any different than they do in the movies?) Similarly, the need to follow the plot and characters of a movie or game, prevent the author from establishing a personal link to the characters. Logically, however, the looser restrictions involved in writing a book based on a game --where what is licensed is the setting rather than characters or plot-- produce a greater chance of turning out a real novel of character growth and development.
This certainly hold true for Hanovi Braddock's "Magic the Gathering" novel ASHES OF THE SUN (Harper: $5.50) which turns out to be a respectable fantasy novel, one that probably could have been published without any connections to a game. (And considering the fact that the game consists of overly expensive cards of art with a just paragraph of text, I suspect that the licensing did not go much beyond the cover and the author was given total freedom to invent whatever he needed. Certainly goblins and minotaurs in labyrinths are not unique to this game.)
The central character Ayesh (yes, a female protagonist) starts the book hating goblins because they destroyed her city Oneah (which the back cover copy left off the first letter) and is quite capable of killing large numbers singlehandedly. After being wounded she is healed by a collector of stories, only to lose her illusions that telling people stories about her homeland will keep the memory alive:
"But the history I was taught--"
"Is invention. Lord Cedric Camman and Silvermage are both the creation of fancy. Yet is it not a good story, to be told again and again as if it were truth?"
"So even written history is betrayed."
Alik smiled. "And how not? Look upon this brittle page. Breathe upon it and it turns to dust... No, true history passes. But people relieve the history that makes the better story. No story can be wrong, only more memorable or less..."
Believing that her tales were considered mere stories and losing her will to live, Ayesh goes out to kill as many goblins as she can, but instead is only to be captured by the mysterious minotaur. That's when the book shifts to less usual territory. Just as the humans regard the goblins as less than subhuman, the minotaur class humans as little more then semi-civilized versions of goblins, knowing a few minotaur customs from heretic minotaur she had visited. she is able to claim sanctuary and eventually becomes a pawn in the struggle between two minotaur factions. However "her side" which barely tolerates her. wants her to go against all her beliefs and teach the goblins the secrets of her own civilization.
Early in the book she quotes a saying "To know compassion, pity the goblin/To know prudence, fill the goblin with arrows", before the book is over she does both.
Ayesh is a fully realized, complex character as is one of the goblins and a couple of the minotaur. Especially convincing is an awkward teenager minotaur who wants to learn from a mere human in the hopes of gaining a sense of balance. Unfortunately, the enemy minotaur come across as single-minded fanatics. Still, this is a licensed novel with more to it than just the name.
This and other reviews of science fiction and fantasy books are available on the Internet's World-Wide Web at: http://www.serve.com/sfreview