Retrophobia

I read two posts recently that touched on the same topic, namely, the way writers handle female characters in historical fiction and heroic fantasy.

Both reinforced my opinion that Political Correctness is, at its root, undramatic and the enemy of the arts in the same way it is illogical and the enemy of science and reason, namely, because it is ahistorical and inhuman.

The first one reinforced my opinion by arguing in favor of the proposition that egalitarianism, here understood to be strong female characters whose strength was physical, not emotional or spiritual, was unrealistic as well as undramatic.

Alpha Game writes (http://alphagameplan.blogspot.ca/2012/12/its-not-historical-if-its-not-sexist.html)

The problem with what Wohl advocates is that by putting modern views on sexual roles and intersexual relations into the minds, mouths, and worse, structures of an imaginary historical society, it destroys the very structural foundations that make the society historical and the dramatic storylines credible – in some cases, even possible.

It’s problem similar to the one faced by secular writers, who wish to simultaneously eliminate religion from their fictional medieval societies, and yet retain the dramatic conflict created by the divine right of kings.

However, it is more severe because the sexual aspect touches upon the most concrete basis of every society: its ability to sustain itself through the propagation of its members.

[...]

Do you want massive battles between civilized cultures?  Then most women had better be at home raising large families capable of providing the men for the armies and the societal wealth to support them.

Do you want dynastic conflict?  Then you need mothers married to powerful men producing those dynasties.

Do you seek the dramatic tension of forbidden love?  Then someone had better possess the authority to credibly forbid it.

…if you contemplate the matter, it should rapidly become obvious that the insertion of modern equalitarianism into quasi-medieval fantasy is less credible and more dramatically devastating than giving the occasional knight an M16A4 assault rifle.  The assault rifle is merely ridiculous whereas the equalitarianism undermines the logical basis for the vast majority of most historical conflict.  And while there are ways to work around these issues, (the knight with the assault rifle is a time traveler, strong independent warrior women drop large litters of children by the roadside that are gathered by good-hearted monks and mature in six months), the point is that if they are not addressed in an intellectually competent matter – and they usually aren’t – the result is doomed to be an incoherent, illogical mess that will have to be very well-written to even pass for mediocre.

To which I merely say, Amen, and hear, hear.

As someone with much experience with women who show more courage and fortitude on a spiritual level than most men, and as a man who would be lost without the spiritual support of his wife, I am not only nonplussed, but bewildered at the vanity and folly of yearning to be physically stronger than men.

What is the point of feeling insulted if you see a King Arthur movie, and neither Guinevere nor Morgan le Fay picks up a sword? Guinevere had more power than Lancelot, who was far stronger than her physically. She could destroy a kingdom by smiling at Lancelot. And Morgan le Fay could destroy a king.

Envy does not have a logic to it; it is not content to be strong in one area only; it brooks no rivals, it allows no debate, no dissent. So the princess in a modern yarn has to be not only pretty as Helen and chaste as Penelope and bold as Clytemnestra, she must be as strong as Beowulf, Sampson, and Hercules.

Alpha Game is speaking to this. He is, in the passage quoted above, talking about the ‘woman warrior’ or ‘martial maiden’ trope, not about the idea of a queen or female captain leading warriors in combat, which has happened in real life in the real world, a la Joan of Arc or Semiramis.

To be sure, the ‘martial maid’ is an ancient trope in literature, and harkens back to Britomart in FAERIE QUEENE and Brandomart in ORLANDO FURIOSO (unless I have those two reversed) or Camilla in the AENEID, and even figures like Athena and Hyppolita the Amazon.

What we, who live in a day and age when women serve in the military, tend to forget is that for every previous generation the sight of a woman in armor was somewhere between cute and ridiculous, and that the Amazons were no more realistic that the Hydra, or Dame Brandomart than the hippogriff who flies to the moon. In no sense were these ancient and Renaissance models of ‘martial maidens’ images of genderless military egalitarianism.

Either they were monsters which delighted the imagination because of their exotic strangeness – Amazons were as peculiar as the pygmies which made war on cranes – or they were symbols. Athena represents, among other things, the virginal purity of a chaste reason, a mind that does not prostitute itself, combined with the beauty of philosophy, the warlike nature of reason that battles lies and errors, and holds the divine lightningbolt of sudden insight.

As for women warriors, I note with particular pleasure an anonymous comment attached to Alpha Game’s article:

I think these woman-warrior types should have to train with men for at least 5 classes in the contact martial art of their choice. If nothing else, they’d learn how to write better fight scenes, and they’d also learn a few inconvenient truths about male strength. I have been holding the square padded target and had a man’s blow to same turn me completely around. Now imagine that same guy, not your gentlemanly training partner, but filled up with adrenaline and intent on killing you.

My opinion is that, as with most things in storytelling, the execution matters more than the material.

Let me digress to explain that, because it sounds at first absurd. Storytelling is the art of casting a magical spell to enchant your audience so that the false story you are inventing will seem real, if not to the listener, at least to his imagination. Science fiction and fantasy (if I may boast for a moment of my dear readers) requires more imagination on the part of the audience because not only is the story an invented make believe, so is the whole world in which it takes place. Historical fiction requires imagination to a smaller degree, as does fiction set in exotic locations.

The magic spell is beautiful and brittle like glass. One wrong word can shatter it. I have been happily reading a ‘magical realism’ story set in the 1960′s upstate New York, and then the author gives a date not in A.D. but in A.C.E., a terminology no one used in the Sixties, and which was obnoxiously politically correct. Even though I was on the last chapter of a four book series it had taken the author decades to write, it was too late. The spell was broken. I realized I was not in the magical faraway hills of New York in the Summer of Love, but listening to crap propaganda from an enemy of Christ who was so bitter against Christendom that he could not even bring himself to refer to the Gregorian calendar honestly. I was yanked out of that mysterious fairyland back into the quotidian realm. Even though I had only a chapter to go, I put the book on the shelf, and have not been able to bring myself to open it again.

By way of contrast, THE WORM OUROBOROS by E.R. Edison employs the most overly rich orotund Elizabethian style imaginable, and sustains the tightrope walk of speaking in elevated language across hundreds of pages and thousands of words without a misstep. The only writer with a more perfect mastery of language is J.R.R. Tolkien, who can segue from the elevated language of kings and elves to the coarseness of orcs to the rustic simplicity of hobbits without faltering, and he does this so effortlessly that the reader may not notice it on his first reading. Of course, everyone I know who has read the LORD OF THE RINGS has reread it many times.

The magic spell works by lulling the dragons of disbelief. In science fiction this lulling is done by drawing on the prestige of science and the uncertainty of the future. The future is to us like Africa or Mars was to his audience in the day of Edgar Rice Burroughs: we know something of what is there, but mostly the map is blank.

By the prestige of science, I mean only that we as readers are willing (at least for the sake of the story) to believe in warp drives and time machines  on the grounds that, even though we all know time machines don’t exist, in our forefathers’ day, we all knew heavier than air flying machines did not exist, until the Wright Brothers proved otherwise. Jules Verne could extrapolate realistically from known technology to invent his clipper in the clouds, the Albatross. With considerably less realism, HG Wells could extrapolate unrealistically from the fact that a balloon allows man to cross the previously unreachable vertical dimension of space, a time machine would allow man to cross the previously unreachable fourth dimension of time. We allow our imaginations to believe in future things we don’t know, because they are related to present things we do know, some of which, such as the heavier-than-air flying machine, were imaginary in the recent past.

Fantasy has the opposite appeal. It is a genre of the past rather than the future, a past that never existed rather than a future which never will exist (no, Virginia, there will never be faster-than-light drive.) Fantasy casts the illusion of verisimilitude by drawing on the half-remembered and magical things of the former worlds in which our ancestors lived, or by rejecting the crass elements in the mundane world in which we live.

Anything which brushes the magic away, or which intrudes the clamor of the modern world into the echoing music of legend, breaks the spell.

Here, I do not mean any modern element, I mean any modern controversy. When Captain Cully mistakes the magician Schmendrik for Francis Child the collector of Robin Hood ballads,  he offers him a taco.

The scene is touching and funny and sad, and no reader notices that Cully was just sitting down to rat soup, because the anachronism is funny, and, more importantly, it does not break the mood. The butterfly who told the Last Unicorn of the Red Bull likewise quotes modern songs and jingles, but the effect is merely to make the world seem timeless and charming, deceptively lighthearted. I say deceptively, because other passages would drew tears from the iron cheek of Pluto. (If you don’t know what book I mean, go leave this blog immediately and read THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S Beagle, and never call yourself a fantasy fan until you have.)

Beagle does not have to describe a unicorn any more than Tolkien has to describe a dragon: we all know what they are. These things live in our imaginations and fantasy takes its verisimilitude from them.

Let me distinguish between old fantasy and new. Fantasy which I read in my youth was written mostly before I was born: Tolkien and Robert E Howard, or the various writers gathered by Lin Carter for the Adult Fantasy imprint of Ballantine Books. Call this Old Fantasy. It rests for the success of its illusion of verisimilitude on the racial memories of the world before science, the world we know from Reformation tales of witchcraft and Renaissance tales of alchemy, and romances of Arthur and epics of the ancient world.

You see, in the days of Old Fantasy, the average schoolboy knew enough to have already present in his imagination images of the noble savages and Indian braves bright with warpaint loping silently through greenwood, or of Arthur’s knights, or Robin Hood’s merry men or the barbaric reavers of Hrolf Kraki. He knew enough myth to recognize the dragons of Beowulf and the Cyclopes of Ulysses, and enough history to recognize the Turkish Harem or the Roman Circus, where Christians were slain by gladiators or vicious beasts, and he knew of the human sacrifices performed by Carthaginians to Baal.

Notice, please, that of all civilizations that have ever existed, no one but the Romans has ever had the institutions of gladiatorial arenas. But this was something that lived in the imagination of schoolboys of the day, so that nearly every fantasy hero is popped into a gladiatorial arena the moment he arrives on Barsoom, assuming he is not first adopted by the noble savages who value battle prowess above all else. The luxurious and over-civilized cities of Conan the Barbarian’s era are Rome or Babylon.

Of old, fantasy was tied much more closely to history. It was practically alternate history, namely, what would the world have been like had actually been true the gods and goblins in which our ancestors believed (or, at least, pretended to believe to patronize their poets) ?

Disgusted with the modern world, authors like Robert E Howard tried their hand at a Homeric epic, or like Tolkien at a medieval Romance in the fashion of Beowulf or the Song of Roland.

Both these authors, the father of Sword-And-Sorcery and the father of High Fantasy, set their mythic realms in periods somewhere in the forgotten past: “between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of.”

Modern schoolboys, for a variety of reasons, none of which bear too close an examination for anyone with a queasy stomach, are far more poorly educated than their fathers, and far more indoctrinated into a particularly parochial and past-hating view, which I hereby dub ‘retrophobia.’

The particular quality of retrophobia is that everything about the past is despised. This includes the  remote past, say, AD 50, as well as the near past, say, AD 1950.  Some things are despised in  a condescending but admiring way, as one might look upon a child, as they are looked upon as the larval forms of enlightenment which will burgeon into the glorious present day, such as the career of Julian the Apostate, and others are despised in a hostile way, as one would look upon an enemy, or a disease which, after long bouts of fever, one has finally thrown aside, such as the witchhunts of the Reformation Era. The sole exception to the first category is that if the advance toward enlightenment was done by Christians for explicitly Christian reasons, it is either to be ignored, such as the abolition of slavery in the Middle Ages, or is to be used as an example of villainy or absurdity, as the Crusades, in which case its fate is to be not only ignored but misrepresented.

Now, logically, one cannot write fantasy for an audience suffering retrophobia. The painted savages of the Sioux and Apache do not exist in the imagination of the retrophobes, only the kindly Indians, now miscalled Native Americans, such as are portrayed in DANCES WITH WOLVES and Disney’s POCAHONTAS. The modern schoolboy has never read a Norse saga, but he may have seen HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. He has certainly never read any story where a Christian is thrown to the lions by the Romans, but he knows about gladiatorial games from Russell Crowe. Gladiatorial fighting is like a Pokemon match, except with humans!

The second generation of fantasy was not based on history, it was based on Howard and Tolkien and Lovecraft and other authors of the first generation. Those were the images and tropes alive in the imaginations of the audience. Michael Moorcock and Fritz Lieber are still drawing, to some degree, from first generation sources, but Kane of Old Mars is John Carter, and Fafhrd the Barbarian is Conan. Roger Zelanzy inverts the tropes of fantasy in his Amber books by having his main character be a film noir antihero straight out of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, and having him thrust into a multiverse-wide Elizabethan revenge drama.

The third generation, I can say very little about, since it was about this time that I lost interest in fantasy, or it lost interest in me. There are occasional exceptions, like THE SORCERER’S HOUSE by Gene Wolfe, or the “Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher, but, for the most part, I cannot slog through something like the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordon or THE DEED OF PAKSENARRION by Elizabeth Moon, and not because there is anything wrong with the writing or even the world building  (heaven forbid I criticize authors more skilled than I at my chosen vocation!) but only because the cultural and social assumptions and axioms of their worlds are too close the modern axioms, where the assumption has no reason why it could exist. It breaks the spell of the suspension of disbelief.

I will in all fairness add the caveat that Wheel of Time takes place, like SWORD OF SHANNARA, in a post-apocalyptic world, one where our technology hence our cultural assumptions might have once existed. This means that the author could have, had he thought it necessary to pander to the crabby imagination of conservatives like me, offered some realistic explanation to explain the modernisms inside a pre-modern context. Maybe it was there and I missed it.

In the case of Jordan, the unrealistic detail that broke my suspension of disbelief was that Inns without a nearby cow served milk rather than ale. That did not seem realistic to me, without modern means of transport, refrigeration, or storage.

Again, if memory serves, Elizabeth Moon posits that contraceptive drugs are as readily available as table salt in her medieval co-ed brigade of spearwomen, which at least is a gesture toward explaining away what would otherwise be the insurmountable unrealism of having young mothers on campaigns, waddling pregnant into battle craving pickles and ice cream, or nursing their sucklings one-handed while reloading a crossbow.

While I can imagine societies without gunpowder and without Christianity treating women as equal to men, in the same way that I can imagine Superman’s cousin from the planet Kripton punching evil robots through a wall, nonetheless, I need some sort of explanation to help my imagination along. I at least need an acknowledgment, even if it is only a wink, to tell me the author knows there is a logical discontinuity here. (Yet I fear the modern authors are too poisoned with retrophobia, contempt for reality, or love of theory, to allow themselves to admit there is anything to be explained.)

The smallest figleaf will do, as far as I am concerned. If Xena the Warrior Princess is blessed by the gods to be like Jack Burton and do things no one else can do and see things no one else can see, fine by me. I can now believe she can obliterate a squadron of Spartans, linebackers, and roustabouts. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the ghosts of a thousand generations of dead Slayers living in her soul, that is good enough, too. She can break chains with her bare hands. If the Amazon is good with a bow because she had practiced with a bow, that is dandy also, because shooting a man with a bow and arrow is something any woman with a cool nerve, a practiced arm, and a good eye can do.

Myself, I would even believe the Daughter of d’Artagnan in a plumed hat and thigh-high boots could kill a man less skilled in fence than she, because the rapier, which uses the point, is more a matter of hand-eye coordination and speed and less a matter of brute strength than is the saber, which uses the edge. But I would not believe an entire squadron of swordswomen would be as cost-effective to train and maintain as an equal number of athletic young men.

But the Third Wave of Fantasy, as far as I can tell from a distance, do not have imaginations filled with images from real history, as I do, but instead are filled with an earlier generation of fantasy images, Eowyn dressed as Dernhelm riding to her doom, or Red Sonya dressed in a chainmail bikini.

And the imagination is further distorted by the political correctness which makes it a thoughtcrime even to discuss whether or not the word “equality” actually means that jills are just as aggressive, as macho and muscular as jacks, and that girls want to kill bad guys as badly as boys want to get married and give birth.

The question must here arise: It might be realistic to have women back at the camp, out of harm’s way, or reloading the musket rather than firing it, but if you are going to tell a story about elfs riding dragons to the moon, why not just unrealistically have girls built like cheerleaders able to punch out men built like linebackers?

For that matter, why are we talking about realism at all? This is fantasy!

Allow me to quote the father of our beloved genre:

It may sound fantastic to link the term “realism” with Conan; but as a matter of fact – his supernatural adventures aside – he is the most realistic character I ever evolved. He is simply a combination of a number of men I have known, and I think that’s why he seemed to step full-grown into my consciousness when I wrote the first yarn of the series. Some mechanism in my sub-consciousness took the dominant characteristics of various prize-fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I had come in contact with, and combining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian.

  • From a letter to Clark Ashton Smith from Robert E. Howard (23 July 1935)

In other words, fantasy is nothing more than the combination and sublimation of realistic elements, usually realistic elements of the past, into a form found in legends, myths, dreams, symbols, which is familiar to us, despite being unreal.

The question of “why are you talking about realism in a fantasy story?” mistakes the nature of the suspension of disbelief. For the sake of the story, I am willing to believe, for example, that the Force is a mysterious energy field that binds the galaxy together, and that when Obi-Wan Kinobi is chopped to smoking ham cutlets by a plasma-powered lightsaber, Luke the magic farmboy from space can still hear his voice telling him to shoot by faith rather than use his targeting computer. That makes sense to my imagination, poetical sense even if not strict logical sense. But if the sequel says that the Force is produced by microscopic organisms in my bloodstream, even though this makes MORE scientific sense than a mystical energy field, it makes LESS storytelling sense.

I can believe a dragon can fly to the moon with an elf on his back if that is established in the story, and if I am the kind of reader in whose imagination things like elfs and dragons and moons like Dante or Ariosto envisioned, hanging in a breathable aether above the upper clouds, are living things that do not need to be explained, merely invoked.

As far as I am concerned, you can even invoke Brandomart and Camilla and Hyppolita, because these things come from poetic traditions.

But the idea that supermodels built like Twiggy can punch out Joe Lewis and karate chop Bruce Lee and cross lances with Sir Lancelot and cross blades with Alexander the Great, whose whole body (tradition says) is a mass of scars from his many battles, there is nothing in my imagination which corresponds to that. The story teller would have to use at least a modicum of cunning to make the martial maiden come to life and convince me she can wrestle with Hercules.

But there is a second and more powerful objection. Where is the drama, if the princess is as strong or stronger than the prince sent to rescue her?

Which brings me to the second article I read on this topic of late. This was a review of the recent John Carter movie.

http://www.1000misspenthours.com/reviews/reviewsh-m/johncarter.htm

The author begins by making a very good point, one with which I entirely and utterly agree:

Mars is real. That’s been a conundrum for writers of science fiction and fantasy ever since astronomers began to get serious about developing better means of studying the heavens than squinting at them through pairs of little glass lenses. So long as nobody really knew what they’d see from the surface of the Red Planet, Mars offered vast scope for speculation, and what clues to conditions there could be discerned using old-school astronomical techniques certainly were enticing. Mars changes appearance over the course of its orbital cycle, as its axial tilt adjusts the relative angle and intensity of the sunlight striking it. Could those variations in color and topographical distinctness be caused by seasonal changes in vegetation? And what about those uncannily straight “channels” that Giovanni Schiaparelli thought he saw crisscrossing all over the Martian tropics? Mars has polar ice caps, and polar ice caps mean water. Could Schiaparelli’s channels be riverbeds? Or better yet, might they be artificial waterways— not merely channels, but canals? After all, how often does Mother Nature succeed in drawing a straight line? With such mysteries to ponder so close at hand, cosmically speaking, it’s no wonder that Mars would fire the imaginations of authors at every level of intellectual rigor, from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Ray Bradbury to H. G. Wells.

He ends by making a point with which I not only entirely and utterly disagree. Indeed, I find it abominable:

The biggest and most astute improvement, though, concerns the movie’s handling of Dejah Thoris. To be sure, Edgar Rice Burroughs always did better by his heroines than was typical in pulp fiction of his day. By the standards of the 1910’s, his Dejah Thoris is gritty and resourceful, and much more credibly appealing on that score than any mere damsel in distress. Even so, the 21st-century reader notices at once that her primary function is still always to be rescued from some sort of peril, for her laudable efforts to escape or to overcome on her own somehow never quite reach fruition. Andrew Stanton’s Dejah Thoris doesn’t have that problem. Indeed, she might be seen as the fulfillment of the original’s promise. The movie plays up her status as one of Barsoom’s foremost scientists by introducing the princess on the verge of discovering the very same electromagnetic phenomenon that underlies Matai Shang’s death ray. It makes her a fighter of great skill and courage, and drops altogether the stuffy concern for custom and propriety which figures rather too strongly in her personality as presented in the novels. When John Carter hauls out the old “save the heroine from having to marry the villain by busting in on them in mid-ceremony” routine, it earns the cliché by having Dejah Thoris agree to the wedding, if not exactly of her own free will, then at least with a stateswomanlike recognition of what she may gain for her people as a consequence. In short, the film updates Dejah Thoris to preserve, in a modern context, what was always the most radical aspect of Burroughs’s fiction, his notion that a woman becomes worthy of a hero’s affection not by being beautiful or virtuous or well-bred, but by being heroic herself. It’s a shame that John Carter looks poised to become a fiscal disappointment, because I would very much like to see what this team could do with the rest of the saga.

My comment: Dejah Thoris is one of my favorite characters, partly because I came across her at just the right age where that vision of womanhood was ready to appeal to my youthful longings, but partly because of the skill and craft and love used by Edgar Rice Burroughs to envision her.

And I rather doubt this reviewer read the book, or, if he did, he understood it.

For anyone to speak of Dejah Thoris having a “stuffy concern for custom and propriety” is to misunderstand the character, to say the least, or, rather, to come from a culture so degraded that he cannot appreciate what the character stands for. Like Conan the Barbarian, Dejah Thoris is, above all, a vicious and willful savage whose luxurious beauty is flaunted naked to all eyes, adorned with a barbaric wealth of gems, necklaces, ear-rings, finger-rings, anklets, armbands, and so on, and in one hand a jeweled knife. At that same time she is the product of a highly scientific and advanced culture older than Earthly mankind, so advanced that they have forgotten the niceties of compassion, a luxury her dying world cannot afford.

Stuffy? The whole point of the character is that she is not. She is nothing like the prim and proper Earthwomen John Carter left behind in Virginia.

What this reviewer is foolishly mistaking for ‘stuffiness’ is Dejah Thoris’ stern unwillingness to break with the ten-zillion-year-old traditions of her people. That stubbornness is a hallmark both of noble savages and of oriental decadence. It is also one of the plot contrivances which moves Burrough’s romantic plotline along.

In the movie, there were no taboos separating the starcrossed lovers and hence there was no reason for Dejah Thoris not to fornicate with John Carter upon first lust, but also no reason for the lust, since neither character was portrayed as needing, or being attractive to, the other, except as a matter of temporary expedience.

Let me tell you what the character is really like:

Dejah Thoris is the ultimate unattainable woman, not only a princess of a thousand-year-old race still in the first bloom of nubile youth, and naked as a jaybird, but a woman of a planet severed from her true love by impassible interplanetary gulfs. Only on dark Arizona nights can John Carter stare at the sky and see that fleck of ruby-red light, that wandering star of Mars, world of the war god, which holds his true love.

Dejah Thoris was a scientist, or, at least, scientifically trained from the beginning. That is not an invention of the film maker  but of the original book.  She is shot down and falls among the green Thark horde because she is on a scientific expedition examining the rate of loss of atmosphere that so soon will render Barsoom a dead world.

She was never “gritty” nor “resourceful” but she was brave, as brave as the wife of a Roman or the mother of a Spartan, brave as a Red Indian squaw who falls into the hands of a murderous enemy tribe, and knows that rape and torture await her.

Dejah Thoris gives an impassioned speech to the Thark chieftain, appealing to a better nature which she sees in him and he himself does not, and for a moment of painful hope he is almost swayed. Then she is struck on the face by a brute, but does not complain or show weakness.

This is grit in the sense that Mattie Ross of TRUE GRIT has grit, that is, stoic bravery. But it is stoic bravery from the old romances, from the Indians, from the Romans, from the Spartans. It has nothing to do with modern feminism and everything to do with the harshness and horror of a life of war in a warlike age, yes, even the life of a princess in a warlike age.

As for her need to be rescued, the first thing this reader noticed was that Dejah Thoris needed to be rescued from a political marriage to the prince of a rival city-state, a plot point which the book handled adroitly, with all the melodrama and anxiety the plot of star-crossed love requires, and with perfectly feasible political reality, whereas the movie handled it awkwardly, even stupidly.

The second thing I noticed was that John Carter in the book was a hero and a man and a gentleman and John Carter in the movie was a whiner, once who spends the whole first reel running away from the action, lusting for his gold like Gollum for his ring, or, to use a better example, like Daffy Duck in that cartoon where he and Bugs find Ali Baba’s cave.

In the book, the hero is from the living world of Earth, and remembers such traits and kindness and compassion, and so his advent onto the dying world of Mars, he finds not only his physical strength is greater, but he can both tame vicious Mars-dogs, and win the love and loyalty to Sola and Tars Tarkas, and this helps him escape the deadly peril of the Tharks as much as his astonishing skill with a blade.

If Dejah Thoris needed rescuing from the Green Martians, what of it? So did Kantos Kan. And in a more profound way, Sola, the only woman of the Green Martian race who knew her true parents, also needed rescuing from the Green Martians, or from their dehuminazing custom of communism of offspring. For that matter, John Carter needed rescuing not once but twice. (Once from a gladiatorial circus, see my comment above.)

And Carter rescues everyone on the globe from the danger of asphyxiation in the last chapter of the book.

There are stories where the female is a damsel in distress and nothing more. Miao Yin in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is kidnapped by the lords of death in the first reel, and spends the rest of the flick either tied up or hypnotized. I think she speaks one line, maybe only one word. She is the McGuffin.

So, no, I did not notice that Dejah Thoris had no more role in A PRINCESS OF MARS than that of a McGuffin, no character arc, no drama, and made no decisions. I did not notice because it is not true.

It is true that Dejah Thoris is locked in a tower to starve by the malice of the Therns of Mars, along with Thuvia and Phaidor, who perhaps has just stabbed her to death.  It is also true that John Carter is imprisoned himself during most of this time.

You can count, if you like, the number of times princesses get kidnapped. It is a world, after all, which practices marriage by abduction, and marrying Dejah Thoris is not only a matter of great political gain, she is also the most beautiful woman of two worlds.

But before your feminist calculator starts leaking smoke, count the times John Carter or one of his friends is kidnapped, enslaved, or imperiled. The numbers are fairly close.

You can also count the times a princess stabs or shoots her abductor, and you will not come away thinking these girls are helpless. It is a warlike world, and everyone goes armed.

Now, all that to one side, what is going on at the root of things is that A PRINCESS OF MARS, along with GODS OF MARS and WARLORD OF MARS forms a notable milestone in the history of fantastic romance and scientific fiction. The story is about an abducted princess and her champion who faces all foes, from rival suitors to implacable customs to vicious beasts to savage hoards to evil plants to sinister cults to buried empires to worldwide asphyxiation, to the abyss of space, to death itself, and he cuts and chops and shoot and slays his way through all opposition, literally from the south pole to the north, to win to the side of the woman he loves.

If you don’t get that, if you don’t sympathize with this, then political correctness has rotted your brain, and you will miss the most important thing there is to know about men and women. We are complimentary and we belong together. We are not like each other. If we were like each other, we would be alone.

I look at this picture and feel a thrill of love and admiration. This is what romance is really all about. The man is willing to die for his lady. To me it seems not only normal, but right.

A modern looks at that same picture and laughs in contempt, or puke in disgust, or rolls his eyes in dismissal. Why should women admire that a man would fight and die to save her? Why should she want to be saved? Why can’t she save herself, have a career, never marry, never have children, and die sterile and alone? Why can’t she be betrayed by one worthless cad after another, or drop any lover who bores her? Why can’t she sleep around and have the Catholic Church pay for her contraception, sterilizations and abortions? Why can’t A be made equal to not-A?

The answer to all this is that human nature is what it is. If sexual differences were a matter of arbitrary cultural conditioning, different cultures would have as many different sexual roles as we have writing systems, alphabets, hieroglyphs, cuneiform, and pictographs, and so on. Instead, in all cultures, the men fight and the women rear the young.

And the other answer is that economics is what it is. What men gain freely, they esteem lightly. If a man does not need to fight a rival, or climb a garden wall, or outwit a chaperon, or even buy a dozen roses, or take a vow to cleave to his bride forsaking all others  — if, in other words, dear ladies, you give yourself cheaply to a man and he sheds no blood, no sweat, and no tears, pens no poetry, fights no duels, and spends no sleepless nights, to win you — both he and eventually you will treat the relationship as casual, and you will both hold it, and eventually each other, in contempt.

All women are princesses. Don’t let the modern world tell you otherwise, dear ladies. All women are as remote, if she does not return her suitor’s love, as the distant world  which seems but a fugitive red spark in heaven. John Carter fought an entire world, and not just any puny world, but a world of war, and saved it, for his love. Should you ladies demand anything less from your champion?

And all women are lonely. They all need rescuing from that.

If you forget that, you have forgotten the poetry and the tragedy of human nature. The problem with political correctness is not just that it is false, stupid, and satanic, but that it drives all good things in life away, and makes fair things seem foul, and foul things fair.

Unfortunately, I am a fan of the books first and foremost, and I was disappointed and exasperated by this film, and my disappointment and exasperation turned into hatred right at the point where John Carter steps in front of Dejah Thoris with sword drawn to protect her, and, being a modern politically correct unfeminine female, that is to say,  dickless he-man with breasts, Dejah Thoris snorts in disbelief, shoves Carter aside, whips out her own sword, and kills a dozen never-to-be-scary-again Thark-shaped balloons.

It was not just stupid, it was an act of deliberate malice aimed at any fans of the original books. Her snort of contempt was the movie maker’s contempt for all fans of romantic adventure.

One would think even the modern writers would realize that in order for a man to be a hero, he has to rescue someone, and in order to be a romantic hero, he has to rescue the damsel, and in order for the damsel to be rescued, she has to be in some situation from which her own strength and wit is insufficient to rescue herself.

Now you may ask: by why should schoolboys dream of riding up on a white horse to rescue a damsel, and why should schoolgirls dream of being rescued by a prince on his charger? Why do bridegrooms carry the bride over the threshold instead of the other way around? Why does Tarzan throw Jane over his shoulder but not Jane throw Tarzan? Why is it normal, and rational and romantic, for a women to want to be swept off her feet?

A full answer would have to discuss such things as economics, and biology, and the Fall of Man, but the short answer is that a man wants to be strong, proud, domineering and masterful, whereas a woman wants to have such a strong man as her very own. Look at what is on the covers of men’s magazines and women’s magazines if you don’t believe me.

Sex by its very nature is complimentary: if men were sexually attracted to the same things women find attractive, it would not be a sexual attraction at all, merely a human friendship. Like it or not, human beings are bipartite creatures, soul and flesh, mind and body. In the same way biologically male and female bodies are attractive each to the other, masculine and feminine personalities are each attractive to the other. Social roles, stories, social signals, distinctive forms of dress and address, all emphasize their differences so that sex is sexier.

In our modern culture, the sexual differences are de-emphasized, woman are pushed to be masculine, men are pushed to be feminine, so among us, sex is trivialized, desecrated, dessicated, and becomes boring, ergo a matter of mutual pornography and mutual exploitation, or, in other words, a matter of mutual loathing rather than mutual joy.

To say any of this cuts against modern political programming, of course, which is based on the envious notion that women must be like men in all ways. Unfortunately, the modern political programming does not allow for romance, heroes, or romantic heroes.

Which is why when a man falls on in a subway track, no one helps him. When a ship runs aground, men shove aside women and children to get to the lifeboats.

Let me add a third link to the two given above, not directly on the topic of egalitarianism in fantasy, but on the topic of retrophobia.

I was reading books reviews on the blog of a man named Michal Wojcik, who, like me, is something of a fan of Lin Carter’s editorial work, a fan of Gene Wolfe, a general bibliophile, and so on.

In a review of several ‘Hollow Earth’ stories, including Bulwer-Lytton’s THE COMING RACE, without turning a hair, as if he does not notice how odd and out-of-place the comment is, the reviewer says this (http://onelastsketch.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/into-the-hollow-earth/):

Yet despite the large output of Hollow Earth-themed scientific romance for a good while, the idea soon dwindled from the book racks. The association with colonial adventure narratives certainly hurts the appeal in our postcolonial times. The close ties with the lost race motif, as well, raises unfortunate connotations.

Allow me to translate from Political Correctness into English. These books will strike the modern reader as racist.

It is not clear if the reviewer means this perception of racism is because modern readers have been programmed to see everything as racist; or whether the reviewer means the writers of times past, taking Darwin’s theory to apply to human beings, thought some races inferior to others, and that this was the cause of European Powers establishing colonies and empires, ergo anything which deals with exotic lands with strange natives and lost races savors of this imperial ambition that is ultimately racist.

I myself think it is stupid to attribute racism to multiracial empires. Imperial ambitions can be found in much more commonplace human motives than a concern for Darwinian race-supremacy, such as, for example, the more obvious motives of fear of rivals, love of honor, and greed for gain.

In any case, the reviewer is a historian, but either he has been cut off by Political Correctness from any sympathy for men of the past, either men who built empires or men who wrote books about Edens or Utopias or savage Wildernesses in unvisited Pellucidar beneath our feet; or our poor reviewer is not cut off from that sympathy, but feels toward it as the author of BEOWULF must have felt about his pagan ancestors. This is, I assume the author feels torn between respect for his ancestors and the knowledge that they were benighted and damned.

Let me hasten to add that I bear no ill will toward Mr Wojcik but instead a great deal of affection. To judge from his words, he and I read the same books and had the same reactions, and both will one day write a hollow earth yarn, so he may be a changeling raised by my true parents or a long lost twin or something. I am not accusing him of anything but being polite, an accusation unlikely (alas) to be leveled against yours truly.

I am accusing the society in which we both live of making such politically correct comments as to sniff with dismissal at a harmless fantasy as a lost race story or a story of vril-powered troglodyte utopia for being racist or colonialist or whatever the thoughtcrime de jour happens to be. Politically insensitive. Not pleasing to our Masters.

Political Correctness damns all past history as being nothing but prologue to the wonderfulness that is us. It also drains the drama and joy out of life, so that a history major cannot read and enjoy a good old fashioned Hollow Earth Lost Race novel without a twinge of conscience, and cannot discuss them without putting up a warning label.

In the final analysis, what is retrophobia? It is not that the moderns hate the past. They hate the truth.

The past, for all its flaws and faults (and let us not romanticize nor underestimate the drawback and even horrors of life in times past) still had cleaner and clearer truths found among them. In this case, the truth about men and women.

And it is to these truth that fantasy, which does indeed romanticize the past (even to an absurd degree), draws the nostalgic reader, the reader who seeks something hard to name, something the modern world does not provide, which, perhaps, no world provides: a haunting sense that truth is shining beyond this world, and we here only see reflections. We only hear the dim echoes of the horns of Elfland blowing, and see among the comets and falling stars some hint of warrior angels streaming behind their shining banners to the combat, fighting wars of which men known nothing.

 

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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90 Responses to Retrophobia

  1. SMM says:

    The maiden-warrior, as you portrayed, dropping her young by the roadside to be raised by monks, is alive and well, it seems to me, in the actresses (that’s non-PC for actors) that play these maiden-warriors. One can be bombarded by “news” on shows like ET about how little weight an actress gained while pregnant, how quickly she regained her virginly shape with the help of her trainer, and how quickly she is back at (her “real”) work with the nanny on the job of the nanny’s (real) work.

    I thank you for your referrals to E.R.B. Since having read Tarzan and John Carter, I can really feel the pain generated by seeing a movie with the basic form, but none of the wondrous essence that E.R.B. embued with his prose and beauty into his characters.

  2. wedge says:

    >have been happily reading a ‘magical realism’ story set in the 1960′s upstate New York, and then the author gives a date not in A.D. but in A.C.E., a terminology no one used in the Sixties, and which was obnoxiously politically correct.

    Would these be the Aegypt Books by Crowley? I found them tremendously disappointing, given all the praise, and my enjoyment of Little, Big, despite multiple attempts to re-read. Although this was more because of an utter inability to make myself care about any of the characters, rather than the author’s use of the (quite irritating) “A.C.E.” nonsense.

    On the topic of “the common era,” though, how insulting to the intelligence is the simple renaming of a dating system (and renaming in a rather arrogant fashion, after all, stating that the “common era” [for all mankind presumably] began with the birth of Christ strikes me as rather presumptuous, at least Christians are quite honest and upfront with the fact that we use a religious calendar) while retaining every other aspect of that system and acting as if it changed anything? I realize this is par for the course with this type of nonsense, but it’s just so obviously stupid.

    • I would hesitate to speak an ill word of Crowley’s AEGYPT, since there was so much in that long work which was pure brilliance, flawlessly executed. I took it to be a huge metaphor for the ‘Great Disappointment’ of the counterculture of the 1960′s. The flower children thought their generation would draw us back away from atomic holocaust or death by smog, and Peirce (the protagonist in AEGYPT) sees a similar golden age aborted at the end of the Renaissance, when all the magic died.

      I despise the C.E. and B.C.E. much less now as I did when I was an atheist, because as a Christian I expect the world to hate us, and fear even to whisper the name of Christ, except to blaspheme, but, yes, it does bother me so very much, and for the reasons you give, that I immediately stop reading any writer or blogger who uses the terminology.

      I could not appreciate the ending of AEGYPT for a reason very similar to what one of Gene Wolfe’s character says about the sacraments — if you are spending your life looking for magic charms and miracles, why not look in the one place where miracles happen? I don’t understand the point of a novel about looking for the supernatural truth behind all the illusions of matter, and then coming away with the message that the Gnostics think God is a bad guy, and there is no magic anyway. Even back when I was an atheist, I did not “get” the concept of looking for angels and archangels, and but then rejecting them when they point to Christ. I do not “get” the concept of this powerful overriding spiritual hunger which Crowley portrays better than any other writer I have yet read, but he does not feast on the one thing that will sate his hunger when it is freely offered him.

      I am reminded of the many stories where, for example, the crucifix will drive back a vampire, but there is no Christ. Whether you are an atheist or not, in your make believe world, once you establish that the rings formed by elfin blacksmiths in Atlantis are magic, there has to be elfs, and there has to be an Atlantis, sunken or no. Once you establish that there are angels and archangels which Edward Kelly can see in his crystal ball, there cannot not be a place where they come from, and a Lord that they serve.

      It was a story I very much wanted to enjoy and wanted to read.

      • wedge says:

        I would hesitate to speak an ill word of Crowley’s AEGYPT, since there was so much in that long work which was pure brilliance, flawlessly executed. I took it to be a huge metaphor for the ‘Great Disappointment’ of the counterculture of the 1960′s. The flower children thought their generation would draw us back away from atomic holocaust or death by smog, and Peirce (the protagonist in AEGYPT) sees a similar golden age aborted at the end of the Renaissance, when all the magic died.

        That’s a fascinating perspective, I noted the air of disappointment and, more, disenchantment that pervades the book, but never thought of this context. It all seemed rather baseless and self-indulgent to me, which is in part why I disliked the characters. If I hadn’t given the series away during the Great Bookshelf Purge of 2012, I would be tempted to give it another shot.

        I do not “get” the concept of this powerful overriding spiritual hunger which Crowley portrays better than any other writer I have yet read, but he does not feast on the one thing that will sate his hunger when it is freely offered him.

        Maybe this is the underlying cause of the fundamental emptiness I found at the heart of the book. Ultimately, I would have rather read something half as well written, with even a fraction of substance.

      • DGDDavidson says:

        I wish then to tease you by pointing out that it appears that, in your Everness books, Christian bells and crucifixes can drive back the fay-folk, but the book appears to have no Christ.

        • Foxfier says:

          Oooh! Oooh! I can do this one!

          If there are crucifixes, then by implication there must be a Christ on them, unless expressly stated otherwise.

        • Pierce O. says:

          From my reading, Christ exists in the Everness-verse, He just doesn’t make an appearance in the stories written so far. LAST GUARDIAN and MISTS are about a war chiefly between Elfland and Hell, not Heaven and Hell, though at least one Heavenly being (Uriel/Hyperion/Apollo) shows up to help out the good guys.

        • Tease to your heart’s content. The books were written by an atheist, who, nonetheless, had enough respect for fairytale not to rob the traditions of their scope, nor the angels of their prince. I had a warlock as one of my character; warlocks fear churchbells. If you ask me to justify the tradition, I will break into my Topol impersonation and sing that song from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.

          I had also planned for Dionysos, when he came on stage, to be a Christian convert, and to have been baptized. If Buddha can convert a dragon, the Christians can convert an Olympian.

          You see, being a fair-minded atheist, I was not prepared to exclude Christ merely because I did not believe in him. I did not believe in Zeus either, and he is the book.

          • PK says:

            The Everness books are still my favorite books of yours. I seem to recall that at some point you said there were no plans to finish the storyline — but I hope that I may still express my affection for it without causing offence.

            • I never said I had no plans to finish the storyline. The first three chapters and a (very rough) outline of the next volume GATES OF EVERNESS is sitting in my desk right this second. All I said was that I was not working on them right at this moment. It is not penciled in on my schedule when I might return to that world and that work. To be frank, at the risk of revealing my egotism, I was shocked by the lukewarm reception those books received. At the time they were written, there was nothing like them, except for a few books by Charles de Lint and one book by John Crowley. Nowadays the trope of having ancient myth critters meet modern men is its own subgenre: Urban Fantasy.

              • DGDDavidson says:

                I think the Golden Age books have to be my favorite thus far (I have not, alas, started your newest series yet), but I think the Everness books may rank higher in sheer entertainment value. The Golden Age filled my head with more strange ideas, but Last Guardian of Everness was pure pleasure to read, and the chapters describing the battle between the US Navy and R’lyeh, or I mean Acheron, is one of the most fun things I’ve ever read.

                It did, however, strike me as strange that Satan (yeah, I know, Morningstar, but whatever) was the chief villain, and that the man-eating shape-shifting seals (best monsters ever) talked their minions into stomping crucifixes, and that church bells could drive off the fay folk, but the opposite number to Satan in the story was not God nor Michael the Archangel, but Oberon, who had the key to Eden and the power to end this world and bring in the next.

                It did look to me like a world drawing on Christian stuff, but without Christ, like a vampire story in which crucifixes drive off vampires but not because of Jesus. I could never figure out, based on what was in the books, why Christian stuff worked.

                On reflection, it looks to me as if it was written by an atheist who had literally replaced the Christian God with a sky-fairy in order to poke a little fun at Christianity.

              • PK says:

                Ah, then I remembered incorrectly. My apologies.

          • Foxfier says:

            I had also planned for Dionysos, when he came on stage, to be a Christian convert, and to have been baptized.

            *jaw drop* That is an awesome idea!

          • DGDDavidson says:

            Would this have been the Christian Dionysos from The Chronicles of Narnia? I noticed some Lewis references in the Everness books.

            • No. The character I had planned would have been like my version of Vulcan (Mulcibur) or Venus (Cyprian), a person much more like a prince of Amber and much less like a personified force of nature. He would have probably dressed like Solomon Kane, Puritan Adventurer, and conducted himself with grave sobriety, wearing a hair shirt and repenting his youthful misdeeds. When provoked, however, a sense of wild euphoria would flow out from him, and vine starting up from nowhere would crowd the room and snake in through the windows.
              If you read TITANS OF CHAOS, you have seen his creatures, the Maenads, in action.

    • Foxfier says:

      I view the “ACE” and “BCE” thing about the same way I do folks who answer the phone “heave-oh!” and call “Thursday” “Fourth-day” or some such.

      Rather, the way I would respond to someone that silly, if I knew any, with a dollop of “Wow, you’re lazy.”

    • Jordan179 says:

      I personally don’t much care whether we today use “Anno Domini,” “Christian Era” or “Common Era.” I do find the use of “A.C.E.” in a historical novel set c. 1960 reprehensible, as practically nobody used that formulation. It would be worse if set in 1860.

      And yeah, the assumption that it’s the Common Era for all Mankind is utterly hilarious. At most, it’s the Common Era for Christendom — which is to say the most important part of the modern world, but still not all Mankind.

  3. Two minor typos with the unfortunate effect of changing the sex (and number in the first case) of the subject in each sentence:

    So the princes in a modern yarn has to be not only pretty as Helen

    She [Deja Thoris] is shot down and falls among the green Thark horde because he is on a scientific expedition

    A more serious error:

    barbaric reavers of Ogier the Dane

    Come now! Holger Danske, who sleeps beneath Kronborg and shall wake in the hour of Denmark’s need, does not lead barbaric reavers in dragon-prowed ships. He fights at the side of Charlemagne and Roland against the Saracen, wielding the sword Curtana, “of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durandal”.

    Please keep your Nordic characters straight. If it’s barbaric reavers and sea-kings you want, there’s certainly no shortage; Olaf Tryggvason, Harald Hardråde, and my namesakes Hrolf Kraki and Ganger-Rolf might all answer to that description. But Holger Danske is not of their number.

    • I accept all the corrections with humility. I looked up the name of the Dane from Ballad of the White Horse, and thought it was Ogier who fought King Alfred.

    • The OFloinn says:

      Well, you never know about old Ogier. The stories of Holger Danske are 15th cent. et seq., later than the chansons of Ogier, all of which are French: cf. Le Chanson Chevalerie Ogier de Danemarche, by Jean de Outremeuse, ca. 1192-1200.

      Ogier was imprisoned by Big Chuck for killing Charlemagne’s (because Charlie’s son killed Ogier’s son over a game a chess), but they were otherwise friends in that contrarian way that medieval legends of dark age adventures could be blood enemies and friends. Few indeed were the heroes of the chansons de geste who could ride with Charlemagne, quaff nectar with Arthur on Avalon, and wander into the palace of Hugh Capet talking old-fashioned and aping long gone court manners.

      More prosaic than the magic potion or the sword Curt’ana or the warhorse Beifror, there is mention in the annals of St. Martin’s that “Olgerus, dux Daniae” had repaired the monastery with the aid of Charlemagne after it had been devastated by the Saxons. These Saxon raids were the reason why Charlemagne left Spain in such a hurry that his rearguard was massacred by Basques.

  4. A superb post and one with which I can find little fault. Thanks so much for posting it!

  5. Tom Simon says:

    We only hear the dim echoes of the horns of Elfland blowing, and see among the comets and falling stars some hint of warrior angels streaming behind their shining banners to the combat, fighting wars of which men known nothing.

    Mr. Wright, of your courtesy, I shall vouchsafe to you a secret, because you have not asked for it and (so far as I know) do not care to know. I have never told anyone this before, so I shall bestow it here, in safety.

    In my recent opus, Lord Talon’s Revenge, the Horns of Elfland play a critical part in the plot at several points, though they are not referred to by name. (Nor are the elves.) Here is one of the points, after King Talvos has confessed to an ambassador out of Faërie that in his selfishness and folly, he has upset all their plans by giving a priceless heirloom, the sword Tanakrith, into the keeping of the hero, and then double-crossing him while he still held the sword — so dividing the kingdom against itself. The chapter ends with this:

    ‘Ilberion will be saved,’ said Charis, ‘from worm and ogre. But my task grows harder. Now I must find a way to save your kingdom from you.’

    Cold, imperious, unstoppable as an ocean wave, the emissary of the Deep King turned on her heel and strode out of King Talvos’s hall, and the echoes of her footsteps subsided into cavernous silence. Beyond the silence, beyond the walls of his mind, the King thought he heard rumours of glory. Horns, horns of the deep, wild and valiant, lifting hearts into courage, promising triumph and deliverance. But not to him. Riders in bright mail, joyous and terrible, took away their horns and their hope into the mists of the utmost North.

    The Sea People had abandoned him to his doom.

    The secret is this: We are that King. In so far as any of my characters is allegorical, King Talvos is; and in so far as he is an allegory, he represents our self-caressing, self-obsessed, odious little civilization — we who heard the Horns of Elfland blow in the voice of Tolkien and others, and turned not to bravery and redemption but to online games and elfy-welfy porn. King Talvos is all of us; and his despair is what I believe we shall awaken to, when reality shakes us out of our dreams of endless petty hedonism, and realize that our salvation has come and gone when we were too witless to know that we needed saving.

    As Walt Kelly said, ‘We has met the enemy, and he is us.’ He is Us, and he has conquered his people.

  6. Mary says:

    While I have great fun pointing out that strength and babies are why women did not habitually fight at SF cons, the problem is not limited to those who are suffering from retrophobia.

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Beta Colony, for instance, is the leftist culture of modern European welfare states. Yet you have to go through courses to have one child, pay to have two, and pay still more to have three. That is, a culture that is already facing demographic collapse makes it harder to have children. . . .

    Ah well, I rant about it here: reproducing society

    • Jordan179 says:

      But Beta Colony isn’t facing demographic collapse. Unlike modern Europe, it has uterine replicators.

      • Mary says:

        That and a nickel’ll buy you a cup of coffee. Uterine replicators and body births are just two means of getting at that first, second, or third child.

        Of course it isn’t facing demographic collapse. Socialist realism depicted working socialist societies. The principles is the same.

        • Jordan179 says:

          Body birth is a lot harder on the mother. I’m not saying that uterine replicators solve all the problem of birth dearth, but it does solve bottleneck and elasticity problems.

          Economically, I mean. Of course. :)

          • Mary says:

            Most people in modern welfare states do not forbear from children because of the pregnancy.

            • Jordan179 says:

              Since all people in modern welfare states do not forbear from children, what happens in the long run is that people who choose not to have children breed themselves out of the gene pool, and since children get their norms primarily from their parents, often argue themselves right out of the meme pool as well. Because these are “modern welfare states,” the ability to raise children to adulthood is little dependent upon competence: hence, the combination of contraception and welfare leads to a birth dearth amongst competent people who dislike having babies and a baby boom amongst those who are either incompetent, or love having babies. The long-term result is thus counterintuitive: it selects FOR having MORE babies!!!

              This is exactly what happened with the combination of silphium and the dole too in ancient Rome, until it utterly-eroded Roman military and political domination of the Classical world.

              • Mary says:

                except, of course, that Beta Colony doesn’t have the proles. Cordelia doesn’t think that anyone is really poor.

                Even though they are the fruit of generations of selecting for philoprogentiveness, they don’t act it — they act like modern day liberals. Cordelia is not a freak and a weirdo for reaching her age without having children.

                • Jordan179 says:

                  They live longer than do present-day humans, however, and are probably fertile during every year of that extended lifespan, given their means of reproduction. Therefore, if they were only as philoprogenitive as were we, they would be reproducing well above replacement rate.

                  The Betans are not the same as modern progressives because they have a stable society, which has existed in much its present form for over a century. They do not appear to be particularly neophilic.

              • valancycarter says:

                “The long-term result is thus counterintuitive: it selects FOR having MORE babies!!!”

                This reminds of my sister, who falls into the loves having babies category. When she took #5 in for his one month check-up the doctor said that she was good at having babies and should have more.

          • Tom Simon says:

            Uterine replicators do not solve all the problem of birth dearth, because they do not solve any of the problems of anything. That’s because they don’t exist.

            The more we learn about the uterine environment, and the complex biochemical interactions and feedback between mother and child, the more unlikely it seems that any system less complex than a human being could adequately perform all the functions required to gestate a child. It may well be that a fully working ‘uterine replicator’ is not possible.

            • Mary says:

              Well, at the moment they are not impossible as FTL — or perhaps, to avoid the odd corners of physics, achieving FTL just by accelerating. Still a useful piece of innovation for some stories.

              Not, however, I think, in preventing a birth dearth in a society described as one that would suffer demographical collapse in our world, with the added bonus of positive obstacles to reproduction that we’ve got, and no mass baby-craziness on part of the population

              • Jordan179 says:

                Not, however, I think, in preventing a birth dearth in a society described as one that would suffer demographical collapse in our world, with the added bonus of positive obstacles to reproduction that we’ve got, and no mass baby-craziness on part of the population.

                I think that biological and cultural evolution would take care of the problem just fine. Every person alive in Beta Colony two centuries after its foundation would be a descendant of eight generations of women who absolutely wanted to have babies, and probably at least two or more babies at that. All the non-baby-crazy lineages that began in the colony would long since have vanished.

                I direct you to Elaine Morgan, The Descent of Woman, on precisely this topic.

                • Mary says:

                  Then the Beta Colonists would be baby-crazy. They aren’t. They are a 20th-century welfare-state solely composed of prosperous liberals in every respect.

                  • We do not see much of Beta Colony society, but Cordelia does seem baby-crazy within the limits of Beta Colony law. Consider “she upped her imagined brood from three to four and felt deliciously guilty”; “[on Barrayar] there were no third-child licenses to be scrimped and saved for” – implying that she would so scrimp and save, and perhaps that others do as well.

                    She reaches the age of thirty-something without children, true, but note that Betans expect to live to 120 and have uterine replicators – forty is by no means a deadline for their reproduction. Moreover, in her backstory she seems to have rather a bad failed relationship; she tells Aral that there was a promise of children, which she had wanted and he hadn’t.

            • Jordan179 says:

              Of course uterine replicators are fictional. But they’re real in the fictional universe that contains Beta Colony.

              I doubt that they are impossible though, because human biology’s not magic. Given enough time and effort, science will duplicate the processes involved.

              Will it be every bit as good as carrying a baby to term in a human uterus attached to a sapient human mother? Maybe not, but it doesn’t have to be perfect to work: just “good enough.”

              • Tom Simon says:

                There is an appallingly huge variety of birth defects existing among human beings, not genetic in nature, but manifesting themselves when something small goes wrong and the intrauterine environment is merely ‘good enough’.

                • Jordan179 says:

                  My short answer to what you said is “yes.” You’re absolutely right about the problem of birth defects, you’re also right that (at least the early-model) uterine replicators won’t be as good as the ideal human womb, and yet the UR’s will still be “good enough,” for two reasons:

                  (1) Life has its risks, and one has to balance the risks against the rewards. The increased risk to the mother and child from reduced income may be more severe (under at least some circumstances) than the increased risk to the child from a uterine replicator as opposed to an ideal human womb.

                  (2) Human wombs are far from ideal. A mother may have all sorts of health problems, whether pre-existing or based on what she has to do for a living, which may make her womb less safe for the child than an artificial one. Right now, on this Earth today, many children are born with birth defects for exactly this reason.

                  Finally, once uterine replicators come in, they will be steadily improved. Eventually, they may be better environments for fetuses than natural human wombs. Heck, in time they may even lick the lack-of-contact-with-mother problem, by neurolinking the mother to the replicator (though even Bujold’s don’t do that).

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It is Mercedes Lackey who is notorious for having jars full of magic herbal contraceptives at the commissary tables of the young Heralds of Valdemar in school.

    I don’t think Elizabeth Moon ever brings contraception into her Paksworld stories. In her world, if you don’t want to end up pregnant, mostly you don’t sleep around. Possibly some contraception is going on, but I don’t remember it ever being mentioned. If you do sleep around, particularly as a woman in the military sleeping with comrades, it is shown that there are probably going to be consequences (at least emotional and esprit de corps ones) even if you don’t mean there to be. And Paksenarrion herself remains a virgin throughout the series.

    • My memory is that in a very early scene, it is casually mentioned that there is a contraceptive as common and easy to use as table salt, and it is distributed freely at mess to all the troops. I could be confusing this with a different book, but if I am, one of the compliments I paid Miss Moon’s book must be retracted, and I would prefer not to retract any compliment I pay her.

      Looking on the internet, I see at least one reviewer mentioning the 100% effective oral contraceptive in DEED. (http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Rec/rec.arts.sf.written/2010-07/msg00024.html)

      And here again (http://cloggie.org/books/sheepfarmers-daughter.html)

      and here (http://fantasydebut.blogspot.com/2008/07/sex-and-its-consequences-in-times-past.html)

      • Tom Simon says:

        All I have to say is what the Guide said to John in The Pilgrim’s Regress, by C. S. Lewis:

        The Guide laughed. ‘You are falling into their own error,’ he said, ‘the change is not radical, nor will it be permanent. That idea depends on a curious disease which they have all caught — an inability to dis-believe advertisements. To be sure, if the machines did what they promised, the change would be very deep indeed. Their next war, for example, would change the state of their country from disease to death. They are afraid of this themselves — though most of them are old enough to know by experience that a gun is no more likely than a toothpaste or a cosmetic to do the things its makers say it will do. It is the same with all their machines. Their labour-saving devices multiply drudgery; their aphrodisiacs make them impotent: their amusements bore them: their rapid production of food leaves half of them starving, and their devices for saving time have banished leisure from their country. There will be no radical change.’

        tl;dr: No human agency has ever invented a 100% effective anything. As soon as a writer postulates such a thing, my suspension of disbelief is irretrievably broken.

        • Mary says:

          One notes, unless this stuff is new, that evolution will be selecting for those for whom the stuff fails. Rapidly.

          • Jordan179 says:

            The likeliest “failure” being psychological.

            Imagine that there was a 100% safe and effective contraceptive that could be turned on and off with a thought and was as cheap as aspirin. In a society possessing this contraceptive, anyone who didn’t want to have children would never have any children, and hence the lineage starting with him or her would go extinct. Anyone who had two or more children (replacement rate and above) would do so because they wanted to do so. Not very many generations down the road, almost everyone would want to have children: the desire to be childless would become an atavism.

            There’s weak selection for this right now and always has been since Mankind realized that sex made babies. It’s just that our degree of control over this was limited because humans have desires and can be forced to have sex even if they don’t want to do so. Given a perfect contraceptive, sex would become irrelevant to the issue.

            (oh, and the perfect contraceptive technology would also probably imply the perfect conceptive technology, meaning that anyone who wanted to have babies could do so).

            • Tom Simon says:

              There you go with ‘100% effective’ again. I can’t imagine a 100% effective contraceptive, because I know too well that there are always ways for any technology to fail.

              • Jordan179 says:

                It’s a simplification for the purposes of thought experiment. For that matter, even complete abstinence probably isn’t 100% effective, as I suspect there is a tiny but non-zero chance of a natural parthenogenetic pregnancy (never proven in mammals, but probably not completely impossible in us either). What I mean is a hypothetical contraceptive so safe and reliable that if anyone got hurt by it or it failed it would be a freak occurrence, no more to be rationally feared than we normally worry about getting struck by lightning out of a cloudless sky. Which can happen, but is incredibly rare.

  8. gray mouser says:

    Bravo! What a fantastic post.

  9. Foxfier says:

    Hm, starting to wonder what I missed that brought this on– Ricochet.com has had an influx of discussions where the comments are mostly full of guys who are upset they can’t find their other half. (totally understandable thing to be upset about)
    About half are looking for a life-mate, and half are looking for…well, as best one can tell, either an animated servant crossed with a blowup doll or a guy in a woman’s body, depending on which extreme they’re at. It’s a little amusing, in a bitter-sweet way, to read guys talk about how women want to be treated like men and follow it up by complaining about expectations to have kids when one is married. (I figure it’s mostly pain talking, but some of these guys…no wonder they can’t find the always-available, sterile, 10-of-10 woman who has a career at least equal to his own and shares ALL his views. Since it’s right of center, we don’t have women looking for strong, sensitive, assertive, take-charge men who will read their minds, shower them with gifts, never step on their ever shifting boundries and let them make all the decisions unless they want him to make them this time, better get the decision right. WISH I was joking, with both of ‘em.)
    Much larger number, reassuringly, are married to a complementary soul with the expectation that they’d watch each other’s weak spots.

    • Tom Simon says:

      Well, I’m not on ricochet.com, but I can more or less sympathize with guys who can’t find their other half. I don’t have an ‘other half’ and have come to the conclusion that such a thing is intrinsically impossible, since I have nothing to offer in exchange for one.

      • Foxfier says:

        As I say, totally understandable to wish for your other half.

        I didn’t think I had anything someone would want– and my husband insists that the ability to “put up with him” is one of my unique qualities. Five years and three kids (two and a half?) later, I still think he’s great.

        I know you don’t think you can find her, but… don’t despair, please. I was busy trying to set my husband up with a nice girl when he finally got it through my skull that he liked me.

  10. Jordan179 says:

    The likeliest most important reason for the strong sexism of every known civilization before our own is that women face a serious risk of death or permanent impairment in pre-industrial childbirth, so that coupled with the close-to-subsistence nature of a pre-industrial economy it is wasteful to give most young women any form of specialized educations other than those directly useful to running a farm or household. Subsidiary reasons include the fact that in subsistence economies a single mother is unlikely to raise her child(ren) to adulthood (indeed, about 1/3 to 1/2 of children in pre-industrial societies normally die before attaining adulthood) and that in pre-industrial warfare physical strength is much more at a premium than is the case in modern warfare.

    This should show how hard it is to make “one little change” in a world to make pre-industrial sexual egalitarianism work. For instance, if we postulate sufficiently-cheap magical healing that women now face only the modern risk of death in childbirth, we have just made the change that in our world produced the great population increase of the 19th- to early-20th century Western world: this is going to change a lot of things in any culture which develops this magitech, and not just those having to do with “sexual politics.”

    Some of these changes may be very disruptive, and by “very disruptive” I mean “cause massive wars.” Not that this is necessarily a bad thing in fantasy, but it means that the world isn’t going to look anything like Medieval Stasis.

    As for what the world would look like after it adapted to the change, think 17th-18th century Farming revolutions, followed by 18th-19th-century Industrial Revolutions — if not, how is this massively increased population being FED? (and the Farming Revolution generates the surplus labor enabling the Industrial Revolution). That’s how it worked in our world, anyway.

    Reproductive strategies are about the most fundamental aspect of any society. Change them, and you change enverything.

    • Mary says:

      To be sure, everyone faced a constant threaten of death. At a near-by American colonial recreation, someone had analyzed the death rates, and concluded that if you divided your life into chunks consisting of your first year, and then every decade thereafter — your odds of dying in each one were about equal. Yes, you were as likely to die between one and eleven, between twenty-one and thirty, and between eighty-one and ninety-one.

      Part of this was that men did the more dangerous occupations, but I suspect that a larger driver was that women need occupations that were compatible with pregnancy and nursing — wetnurses could only be a small proportion of the population — and their physical strength.

      Remember, most men were not educated much either. As for apprenticeships and the likely, widows often ran their husband’s businesses, so they had to have learned as much as an apprentice.

      • The OFloinn says:

        Indeed, we know of organizations of copyists, not all in religious orders, known as “pen-women,” who made their living copying and preparing manuscripts (and occasionally making little self-comments on their sheets). So there was no shortage of educated, literate women in the medieval period. Regine Pernoud points out that they shared a sort of complementary-equality with men, unlike the modern equivalence-equality.

    • Stephen J. says:

      Technically, to get the population upsurge of the first half of the 20th century you need medically safe childbirth, childhood vaccinations, sufficient nutrition (for both quality and quantity), a philosophy of war which makes at least some effort to avoid targeting women and children where possible, and a wealth and energy infrastructure that make adequate shelter available, all at a sufficient degree of cheapness, reliability and availability that the majority of citizens can benefit. You also need one thing not to be available, which is cheap, safe, legal and effective contraception.

      But I see your point. :)

      • Jordan179 says:

        Oh, contraception’s a whole other issue, and one which fantasy writers who want to eliminate sexual “double standards” often throw into their cultural pots, neither grasping how disruptive are such technologies, nor how complex can be the effects. To put it simply: the immediate effect of contraception is to allow women greater sexual freedom, but the long-term effect is to give lineages with a predisposition to desire children an immense evolutionary advantage, both biological and cultural. In Europe, that means Muslims over Atheist and Christian Europeans; in America, Hispanics over Anglos. This effect is amplified by social-welfare programs, which greatly loosen financial restraints on reproduction.

        What this means in a pre-industrial economy is debatable, but in one sense the experiment was performed: Classical Antiquity used silphium as a contraceptive: it may not have been “cheap, safe and reliable” by our standards, but it helped to depress the birth rate sufficiently to lead to a tendency for the older families to eliminate themselves. In Rome herself, the widely available dole encouraged the production of an immense proletariat, whose weight helped sink the Empire.

        • Mary says:

          Eh don’t underestimate the effects of infanticide, particularly female infanticide, on the population.

          When those crazy Christians, already not killing their own daughters, started collecting abandoned girls and raising them, paganism was doomed.

          • Tom Simon says:

            ‘Yes,’ said Uncle Screwtape; ‘but we aren’t making the same mistake again. This time, when a girl-child is unwanted, we are making sure that the humans don’t leave it in big enough pieces for anybody to collect.’

            • Foxfier says:

              And when those nasty Christians refuse to kill their children, take the children away.

            • Mary says:

              I once witnessed an interesting comment thread on a feminist blog where one of them, who admitted that if the baby could be removed alive with no more fuss than an abortion, there would be no right to an abortion, trying to argue with another who insisted that since either operation would be performed on her body, she had to give permission and was entitled to demand that the baby be removed dead.

              The first one apparently had bought into the party line that it was about controlling her own body, and did not realize that was propaganda, and it was really about dead babies. It never sunk in that the other woman was arguing from the real beliefs.

  11. Jordan179 says:

    Oh, and yes: ERB’s heroines, most especially Dejah Thoris and Jane, are almost as badass as his heroes. This is even true of some of his sympathetic secondary female characters. If you’re the villain of the piece, don’t turn your back on them or let them get their hands on any weapon, even a club or dagger.

  12. Mary says:

    Hmm. Tracked back to the inspiration of that post and read this gem

    I’d say “that’s just how it was in the real historical setting this is based on” is not good enough either—and I don’t see much beyond that when it comes to most sexism in fantasy.

    You know, it’s a little obscure about what will befall the “not good enough” works.

  13. Jordan179 says:

    You know, it’s a little obscure about what will befall the “not good enough” works.

    I guess the people who feel that way won’t read those books, but will instead read those fantasies whose cultures are less bounded by real-world constraints?

    • I have not read the original post to which Alpha Game links. I assume it is the usual politically correct stuff. The important thing to realize about political correctness — and I mean this as no insult — is that it is a religion with a moral code and world view and metaphysical stance as complete as that of Christianity, and, like Christ, it demands the whole person, body and soul, and demands absolute loyalty.

      So imagine a faithful Christian living in a century when everyone likely to read his book was also a Christian coming across some appalling blasphemy or abomination performed by his ancestors, and writing this into the background of his potboiler. A Christian reviewer, appalled at seeing such things portrayed in a favorable light, would have had the same reaction and maybe even used the same words: just because our pagan and barbarian ancestors did such unspeakable abominations (infanticide, sodomy, whatever) does not mean you should portray them in a favorable light in your book. “Saying our ancestors did it is just not good enough.” You see?

      If you think of political correctness merely as an opinion, or a make-believe, or a political movement, their actions and words seem disproportionate and irrational. But if you think of PC as a formidable religion bend on destroying Western culture, their words and acts make sense.

      • Mary says:

        the thing is, the PC objection is to their being portrayed regardless of the light.

      • Stephen J. says:

        Part of all this is due to one of the axioms of P.C. thinking, of which I have always wondered how much actual objective truth there is: the assumption that sufficient repeated exposure to a concept or tenet, in and of itself (regardless of whether that concept is presented as desireable or undesireable, or the tenet is argued for or against however validly on a rational basis), will tend to influence the subject into accepting that concept or tenet personally as a “norm” and subsequently into defending it as an “ideal”.

        In other words, they view the subconscious as infinitely vulnerable to brainwashing in favour of whatever it’s most exposed to, regardless of whether that exposure is meant to brainwash at all or even if that exposure is intended to brainwash against. See enough women getting beaten up in media depictions, for example, and even if every instance depicts this explicitly as an unacceptable horror, the assumed accumulative subconscious effect of this exposure is to “normalize” the phenomenon of violence against women by desensitizing us to it, and cause society in general to start doing it more, not less. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if depictions of historical sexism are accurate, or shown for the purpose of evoking reader horror against it: it’s the fact that it is depicted at all in something we’re meant to enjoy that perpetuates the problem.

        If anyone here has any kind of actual education or training in psychiatry and can speak to how much truth there is in this assumption, I’d love to hear that.

        • Mary says:

          I suspect they can’t stand any exposure to actual diversity because their ideas can’t stand the contrast to a whole pile of other ones.

          • Stephen J. says:

            I would suggest it’s rather because they genuinely don’t believe enough in the power of the rational human mind to evaluate ideas on their own merits, at least en masse: whereas the ancient Greeks trusted that the stronger agon would eventually prove itself through argument, the P.C.ers constantly assume the agon which is far likelier to win the populace is the one most effectively sold through deceit, trickery, and simple volume and frequency of browbeating, regardless of its innate merit or lack thereof. (As our host has also pointed out, the premise of ideas and ideals being “better” or “weaker” in and of themselves is also difficult to grasp, once you have rejected the idea of accepting someone else’s standard of defining these evaluations.)

            There is a certain brutal logic to it: most of us would not accept any kind of offer of “trial by combat” or feel inclined to abide by the results, no matter how good the weapons we were given to use, if we (a) did not recognize the right of the referee to set and enforce the rules and (b) were convinced our opponents would cheat at every turn whatever those rules actually were.

            In such circumstances, most people, I think, would be far more likely to treat conflict the way progressivists actually do: Either stifle it altogether before it can happen, or make it an absolutely no-holds-barred bloodbath when it has to happen. If anything goes, then everything goes; otherwise nothing goes. Anything else would be “inconsistent”.

            • Tom Simon says:

              In fact, Modern Leftism rejects outright the concept of rationality, so that there can be nothing else but brainwashing and propaganda. This, of course, leaves the Modern Leftists entirely unable to explain the spread of ideas that are confirmed by reason; so they are obliged to invent the craziest conspiracy theories to try to account for it.

              • Stephen J. says:

                I don’t disagree that this is what it collectively amounts to, but I wonder, out of curiosity, if there are specific manifestos or texts that advance this thesis explicitly.

                The impression I’ve always gotten is not so much that P.C. rejects “rationality” per se: it simply rejects the thesis that the majority of people actually do think, learn or decide rationally in practice, especially when material self-interest is on the line, and thus there is no point in attempting to treat people or treat with people as if they did. “Brainwashing” is just what people call the education process when they don’t like what’s being taught, and even ideas that happen to be confirmed by reason don’t spread by reason, in this thinking; they spread because people benefit from them somehow, or because they’ve been trained into them. If they later happen to prove “true” in some viable practical way, so much the better; but as their truth is irrelevant to whether people can be persuaded to comply with them or not, they may as well be treated as true until then by those who do have the brainpower to decide on training up the rest of us.

                Ego, as our host notes.

                • Foxfier says:

                  “That’s just your opinion” or “your truth is one of many.” (Oddly, tends not to apply to their views.)

                  To explicitly spell it out would require recognizing that’s what they believe, wouldn’t it?

                  • Stephen J. says:

                    Exactly. Or as I have said in response to one of R. Scott Bakker’s primary philosophical theses, “Those who believe that most people’s beliefs are merely rationalizations of their weaknesses never ask themselves what weaknesses of their own they may be rationalizing with that belief.”

                    • Mary says:

                      And they certainly don’t apply Ockham’s Razor — is it more likely that billions of other people are rationalizing, or that one person is?

                • Tom Simon says:

                  I don’t disagree that this is what it collectively amounts to, but I wonder, out of curiosity, if there are specific manifestos or texts that advance this thesis explicitly.

                  There are indeed, though I only know them through tiresome quotation or allusion by Leftist writers. Postmodernism explicitly proclaims that there is no truth, only control of the parameters of discourse, which are assumed to be arbitrary; and that ‘reason’ is nothing but an attempt by the privileged classes to repress alternative modalities of narrative in order to maintain the oppression of the Other. Derrida and Lévi-Strauss seem to be the names most often invoked as authorities by proponents of this view.

                  In this ideological Hall of Mirrors, there is no room for such a thing as external reality. The idea that reason is what it is because it works in figuring out the real world — that idea does not enter the Postmodernist’s head, because there is no receptacle for it there. ‘The real world’ is a concept that Postmodernism does not even acknowledge.

                • “I don’t disagree that this is what it collectively amounts to, but I wonder, out of curiosity, if there are specific manifestos or texts that advance this thesis explicitly.”

                  You can start with Karl Marx, who does indeed explicitly condemn all economic thinking (save only his own) as the thinly-disguised set of self-interested rationalizations (he called it “ideological superstructure”) of the possessing classes, or of intellectuals of their class who has been suborned by them, or frightened into compliance.

                  With no sense of irony, much less logic, he also explicitly maintains that the ideologies of a given class and time period are determined by the form of the means of production of the technology of the time, to wit, that the factory created capitalism and the hand-mill created feudalism.

                  I have not read the seminal works of the postmodern school, who invented the concept of all philosophy being “narratives” – but you can see they have the same facial features as their grandfather Karl, who advanced the same argument for the same purpose.

          • Jordan179 says:

            Very well said. And any obnoxious or evil feature of another culture is excused-away as being either mythical, or the fault of Western influence on that culture.

  14. TheConductor says:

    Alternate history suffers from this problem more than most other fantasy genres, both in published writing and in the contributions I have read on message boards. This is partly because politics tend to be deeply involved, but also because alternate historians have a natural tendency to want to either “fix” the past, or to present dystopian stories that show what will happen if their side’s dire warnings are not heeded.

    I admit to the former in my case; I would much rather imagine a world that I would like to have come of age in than one that is full of darkness and dreariness that exceeds even what our dark and dreary world can produce. I’m sure any alternate historian would admit to one, or the other, or both.

    That said, I find that the Political Correctoids are invariably responsible for the most amusingly ludicrous unfoldings of events in their stories. That’s because the things they would like to have seen occur are contrary to our fallen nature. That being the case, they simply can’t come up with a reasonable point of departure, so instead they assume that events happen as if unicorns sprinkled the earth with fairy dust.

    All of western America is given to the Indians, in compensation for assumed past wrongdoings, with no objection at all from white settlers, just because. Racism (you know, that word) ceases to be, just because. Christianity fails, just because. The United States pulls out of Vietnam but the USSR falls within four years anyway, just because. (This last was a published story.)

    When you abandon reason, you can’t have a reasonable premise for anything that happens in a story.

    • Foxfier says:

      All of western America is given to the Indians, in compensation for assumed past wrongdoings, with no objection at all from white settlers, just because.

      …Which Indians?

      Oh, wait, that’s probably a racist question, too. They’re all the same, noble, peaceful folks, after all.

    • Tom Simon says:

      When you abandon reason, you can’t have a reasonable premise for anything that happens in a story.

      I feel one of my essais coming on. I should like very much to quote this, with your permission. If you do choose to permit it, under what name would you like to receive credit?

      • TheConductor says:

        I am honored by your request, and feel free to quote the comment, but I would prefer (for employment-related reasons) to keep as low a profile on the Internet as possible, so I would prefer to remain anonymous. If you use my screen name here, you can explain it by referring to me as a “ferroequinologist.”

  15. teripittman says:

    I loved the Mars books! I’m really glad that I didn’t see the movie. The actor playing John Carter wasn’t right at all.

    I thought of two books, when you mentioned women warriors. The first are the Tomoe Gozen books by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. The lead is a woman samurai and a believable character. The second book is Northern Girl by Elizabeth Lynn. I guess the way that she deals with women warriors is homosexuality, but she also has more traditional women characters in the story.

    It is one of the great problems caused by feminism. It started as a crusade to get women the vote. Then it was a crusade for equal pay. But it morphed into something else, where society is expected to ignore physical and psychological differences between the sexes. I fear we have lost touch with reality.

  16. Sean Michael says:

    Very interesting, many of these comments. But no one, NO one has mentioned the one SF writer who has managed to convincingly decpict women in large scale combat: S.M. Stirling. I mean his Draka books and non series works like THE CHOSEN. What made women soldiers in works like MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA, UNDER THE YOKE, and THE STONE DOGS plausible was Stirling having his female (and males, of course) Draka soldiers training, exercising, and practicing from age seven onwards in all the martial arts. Only by intensive training and practice would Draka and Chosen female soldiers equal or surpass the superior bodily strength of males.

    In addition, we see genetic manipulation being used in THE STONE DOGS and DRAKON to give male and female Drakas superior health and strength from tweaking their genes.

    Sean M. Brooks

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