Sexuality and gender in Science Fiction

Recently, a TOR blog by Liz Burke posed an interesting discussion on: Where are the SFF stories about pregnancy and childbirth?

I’m not a feminist, but I believe in the humane treatment of all individuals. What I object to is others dictating who I should like or associate with based on their criteria. Let me make the friends I want regardless of race, color, or creed. Let my fellow humans make their own. Let us all treat each other with respect.

I was criticized at a conference by an editor who read only a small sample of my work. He indicated that my female characters were too compliant. I wanted to tell him that I felt that we were getting too many stories of ass-kicking females with bad attitudes, and great bodies. We need to think about what role models we put up for our children, females and males alike. As in real life, I have an enormous range of female characters from the kickass Commander Elise Fujeint to the compliant females of a Sunglast harem… and every flavor in between.

Sex is pervasive in science fiction, but actual childbirth and parenting, I’ll have to admit the content is sparse. Lois Bujold is most mentioned in Burke’s blog with her Vorksigan series that deals with Mile’s birth, the Betan replicators that replace pregnancy, and the parenting of Mile’s own children briefly glimpsed in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.

The recently late and deeply missed Ursula LeGuinn explored sexuality and gender bending with her Left Hand of Darkness and child rearing is addressed in The Dispossessed.

Also mentioned that deals with pregnancy and child rearing is Octavia Butlers Lilith’s Brood. There are others, but the list is short.

Can you think of any other science fiction that focuses on or even mentions pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting?

Why did this topic catch my attention? Two reasons made it immediate.

The first is that once my character of Elise got pregnant, I had to deal with the consequences of her pregnancy, namely Tempest, her daughter. As once Commander of the Fleet, she was made to come to terms with her new role of wife and mother. It’s tricky to write about children, and yet, they can’t be ignored. After all the exciting sex, there’s diapers and bottles in the aftermath. But it’s the children that keep the species going.

The second reason this topic struck me was that I had just finished Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel. In this story was a secondary character who was very pregnant. As captain of a generation space ship with many children on board, the pregnancy highlighted a cultural difference between the Earth military culture and the PSI. In addition, Captain Guanyin Shiang agrees to take her ship into a battle to help save a dubious ally. The main male character, captain of an Earth military ship, needs her help in saving a sister ship under attack but is very much flummoxed by her condition and the vulnerability of her children when he asks her ship to help him save the ship under attack. In the Earth’s military rank and file, pregnancy is a reason for a female to be discharged. Medical and physical protection against pregnancy is mandatory. In military science fiction, rarely are pregnancy, childbirth or child rearing a focus of the story.

So with all the commotion about #Metoo, the topic was current. Not only was I dealing with the issue of pregnancy and child rearing in my writing, but the book I had just read also highlighted this aspect of the female struggle.

Since this is a current social issue, we may see an influx of books in the science fiction field address this issue that had long since been a topic in general literature.

Now you know that my book for this blog is Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel. This is the second book in the series. I blogged not long ago that I liked her first book, The Cold Between and recommended it.

Due to events in the first book, engineer Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster are court-marshaled. But instead of a dishonorable discharge or prison, they are sent back out on the Galileo to patrol supposedly empty space in the Third Sector. Not soon after, they receive a distress call from the Exeter, a sister ship, claiming they are under attack by raiders there. A PSI generation ship in the area agrees to help, and the two drive off the attackers but leave ninety-seven dead.

Investigation into the attack points to sabotage and, indeed, both the Galileo and the PSI generation ship, Orunmila, experience sabotage attempts on their ships. Someone wants them dead.

The Raiders are tracked to an Earth colony that has been ravaged by an environment gone rogue. In an attempt to terraform the planet, the machines have destroyed the planet’s environment, and the colony is left to suffer. Cover up activities and mistakes reach high up into the military’s brass and involve a prior mission from Elena’s past.

I enjoyed this book because of the rich characters and emotional interplay. Along with a battle, politics and mystery, Bonesteel brings to life the struggles of military life in space.

It’s a quality military science fiction read I would recommend.

6 Comments

Filed under Alien worlds, artificial nature, Discovering New Worlds, environmental issues in science fiction, military science fiction, Political Science Fiction, science fiction series

6 responses to “Sexuality and gender in Science Fiction

  1. Interesting topic, Sharon. I think about the books I read and there is often a fair amount of romance but no pregnancy. Children certainly change the dynamics in a story and the decisions about risk. Great thought-starter!

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  2. One could read that sci fi urtext, Frankenstein, into your question. One could argue that the whole story is about womb envy, a male (Victor) painfully aware that only the female body can give birth, create life. Obsessed with his “lack,” he “labors” long days (although I can’t remember if it’s about 9 months — that would be interesting 🙂 ) and finally gives birth to his child, a monster to outmatch any of Freud’s patients who suffered the proverbial (and monstrous) “return of the repressed.”

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  3. One could argue the point, but I would consider it a stretch.

    I’m talking about more obvious examples. They may be out there, but didn’t spring to mind after reading the TOR post. The post just collided with what I was reading and writing about, so I thought it would be worthwhile to mention it.

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  4. My heroine Sirki is a bisexual woman who gives birth during a battle at the end of my first novel, is that too much?

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