Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Alien Sexuality Part One - The Root Of All Conflict

You may want to review my September 21, 2010 post, "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA?"


One would think that "Happily Ever After" isn't a locus for stories. Living "happily" isn't exciting. The "story" happens where a conflict erupts and is subsequently resolved at some cost, some price, a trade-off. All conflict resolution is painful by nature, and "happy" can't co-exist with "painful."

That's true in Romance genre, I suspect. There can be dramatic Events during the "Happily Ever After" part of a couple's life, Events which then become backstory for the children of that couple who go on to live their own "story" and resolve conflicts based on what they learned by watching their parents "live happily ever after."

But in Science Fiction, and especially Science Fiction Romance, SFR or Paranormal Romance, PNR, you can depict a "happy" and "peaceful" "ever-after" portion of a Relationship that nevertheless is fraught with conflicts and their resolutions that generate "story-galore."

How can this be done? It's done with Alien Sexuality.

We, the readers, already know most all there is to know about human sexuality, so a "happily ever after" stretch of a lifetime isn't filled with surprises, shock, dismay, challenges, and above all CHANGE.

But add Alien Sexuality and the "happily" part of "ever after" can be peppered with "learning experiences" that can change, redirect, and mature a Relationship via conflict and resolution -- without ruining the "happily" at all.

A writer can explore Alien Sexuality in a Human/Non-human Relationship in such a way as to illuminate aspects of human sexuality that most readers could never think of on their own. You can surprise, dismay, amuse, and teach readers with stories they'll talk about for years.

Some of the first Science Fiction stories I read hinted at such situations, but didn't address them directly. I saw so many stories that needed telling that I was determined to write them myself and get them into print. I am delighted to say that I succeeded, but that's because I had great teachers.

One of my writing projects exploring some of these threads is the Sime~Gen Universe, which is currently being reprinted on paper and as all formats of e-book by the Borgo imprint of Wildside Press.  That's "in progress" and so far only House of Zeor has appeared and only as a paper reprint.  As they appear, you'll find them listed here and then you can find them at fictionwise.com and other online bookstores. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg on Amazon

Long before I started writing Science Fiction professionally, long before I wrote the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! where I talk about Spock Shock and Vulcan sexuality, I read up on how the writers I admired the most "came up with those crazy ideas."

I was a serious fan of "crazy ideas" and walked my world wrapped in a Sense of Wonder that I wanted to share with everyone (even those not interested).

I found out, by comments from other writers, reviewers and fans, that Poul Anderson set the standard for creating "aliens" that other writers then strove to emulate. Anderson inspired an entire swath of the SF genre peopled with characters who lived in fascinating conflicts which could not ethically or morally be resolved by application of the principles that apply to humans.

What's the reason human ethics and morals can not be applied by these aliens to resolve their own conflicts? Surely, humanity in all its various cultures has produced enough systems of ethics and morals that a solution to any problem can be found within one or another human cultural structure?

But no. Human solutions only work for humans. How can that be?

Sexuality. Alien sexuality, that is. Purely and truly alien sexuality.

Human sexuality is the same in all cultures throughout time, but we have developed myriads of ways of coping with the social dynamic it produces. One theory has it that all human culture is really just a mechanism for taming sexuality so that groups can live in cooperation. Even with only one biological necessity to tame, we've invented hundreds of ways of dealing with it.

But what if you changed the biology?

Gene Roddenberry learned the power of that fictional conundrum about Ethics, Morals, and Biology from the swath of the Science Fiction field which had been originated by Poul Anderson.

Roddenberry created Spock by combining two characters, the female first officer "Number One" who had no emotions, and the non-human Science Officer Mr. Spock who was emotional enough but looked at the universe from a non-human perspective.

You can see Spock's emotional character in the pilot The Cage. In all other episodes, he's a different character.

Roddenberry knew that the non-human perspective was the key signature of science fiction, and stubbornly refused to delete the Spock character when the networks objected that it wasn't commercial enough.

The network executives also nixed Number One - in the 1960's, one simply could not have a woman giving orders to men in a combat situation. So you couldn't have a female First Officer, or Captain (they decreed).

So Roddenberry pulled off his famous compromise and combined the two characters. At the time he sold the show, I don't think anyone in charge had the least idea how "alien sexuality" would captivate a generation of people, mostly female, formerly uninterested in science fiction or the "action" genre in general.

The Spock character evolved as science fiction authors contributed scripts to the show (also an unheard-of practice). Most of the established science fiction authors who wrote for Star Trek were from Poul Anderson's school of alien sexuality.

Theodore Sturgeon, noted for his strange sexual aliens, came up with the Vulcan mating drive, pon farr, and with Sturgeon's script Amok Time, Star Trek's popularity exploded, much to the dismay of the network executives at the time.

Anderson's secret sexual weapon - SCIENCE.

Yep. Poul Anderson studied how the various creatures on this Earth "did it" -- and projected what that species would have been like if it had developed intelligence and become the dominant species on Earth.

How would that change Earth and Earth's history (and pre-history)?

When Anderson had a grasp of how that species would create a civilization, then he'd create another world "out there" somewhere among the stars, as Gene Roddenberry created Vulcan. Gene Roddenberry postulated the half-breed alien, a staple of science fiction for generations before the 1960's, because that creates a character with a ripe internal and external conflict and an ambiguous point of view.

As I read novels, I would research references and learn pre-history and history. I became golly-gee-whiz-goshwow excited by variations on the established themes in science fiction novels and stories. At that time, these ideas had not been touched by writers in other fields, while science fiction's treatment of them was superficial at best. I just saw so many new stories that needed telling, and had to tell some of them.

Of course, to write about them in a way that would interest people who were not interested, you needed a grounding in classical human literature akin to the grounding the target readership had. Turns out, SF readers are very literate. More than very, actually. Roddenberry capitalized on that, too, by incorporating many Shakespearean elements in Star Trek's scripts.

Knowing that popular science fiction writers were experts in history, science, religion and literature, I set about acquiring both a grounding in classical literature and a scientific education (my degree is in Chemistry with minors in Physics and Math, but I'm self-educated in literature, though I've taken courses in archeology, linguistics, mythology, etc.).

I designed my education that way because all the best science fiction writers I knew were Chemists, and they talked about the classics but made their living in science. I so wanted to emulate that seamless blend of science, history, literature, and the wildest imagination in my own novels.

And apparently I have, at least according to the response of one fan who turned up on twitter and set me off thinking about exactly "how" a writer creates the sexuality of their aliens.

Here's part of an exchange between us on twitter. He's @booksbelow and I'm @jlichtenberg. The first name that appears is the originator of the comment, and the second name is the person who is being answered.


booksbelow: @JLichtenberg A few books/stories from youth I spent years looking for-yours were one. Another was Simulacron 3, breakthrough concept stuff.

jlichtenberg: @booksbelow It's that "breakthrough concept" stuff like Simulacron3 that I'm not seeing a lot of these days

booksbelow: @JLichtenberg I find myself rereading SF from the 60's and 70's a lot. SF writing has improved a lot, but lost some of sense of wonder.

jlichtenberg: @booksbelow Maybe it's not the writers or book that lost Sense Of Wonder, but the audience? Broader audience, lower common denominator?

booksbelow: @JLichtenberg I don't think can blame audience, there's always audience for innovative well written fiction. I Think New Wave derailed sf.

jlichtenberg: @booksbelow I agree "New Wave" swept the SF field into a new track -- see this month's LOCUS. Seems #STEAMPUNK is sweeping field aside again

The September issue of Locus Magazine (the newspaper of the science fiction field) http://www.locusmag.com/Magazine/2010/Issue09_Toc.html features Steampunk and its influence on the SF field ever since the 1980's.

According to the various articles and interviews in this Locus Magazine feature, Steampunk has morphed and changed, even the definitions of the words have changed.

Cyberpunk was the first coinage of an SF genre using the meme "punk" and in that usage, it meant a person who was far out of the mainstream of the culture. A punk, a dropout, a recalcitrant objector to the norms of adult culture.

Today, the meme punk seems to have morphed into a usage that is more akin to "mashup" -- or a combination of one thing with another, a hybridization. And you see "punk" added to almost any other word to indicate some kind of alternative. Steampunk is usually in an alternate-universe-historical setting, most usually Elizabethan steam-powered technology and the culture based on that. But now it's morphing into other historical periods and locations.

Punk. A crossbreed. Like Spock.

As Gene Roddenberry said many times, the dramatic purpose of Spock as a character was to provide that external point of view on humanity's foibles that only an "alien" can provide. A "punk" is an external viewer.

There are young writers on twitter who proudly proclaim that they write Steampunk -- and emphasize that to them the term implies a romance element in the plot, a strong romance!

So Steampunk is becoming the home of a kind of SF-Fantasy-Romance mashup or hybrid-genre.

Usually, Steampunk doesn't involve aliens from outer space or galactic wars (watch how fast that will change), but it does involve the individual's mastery of the technology of the time to the extent of being able to invent things, jury-rig and prototype new ways to do things with "steam powered" technology that will solve the plot problem and often leap-frog over development and achieve what only our modern technology can achieve.

In other words, it's Robert A. Heinlein's typical hero building a space ship in his garage alone or maybe with a couple of friends to help.

Steampunk explores variations on society and history that allow the writer to create characters who understand the technology of their day, and their understanding is not beyond the comprehension of the reader.

Steampunk seems to be evolving into a literature of individualism, and that may actually give rise to a "conceptual breakthrough" such as @booksbelow was talking about.

In the 1970's, right after and during Star Trek's blasting onto the scene with Alien Sexuality (explored mostly in fanzines, not on TV) we had the conceptual revolution that said that women are not perpetual children in adult bodies. That revolution gave rise to the kick-ass heroine and the female Starship Captain.

Today, I often hear TV news anchors make offhand references to "Beam Me Up, Scotty" -- as if Star Trek had invented the matter transmitter that was so familiar to all science fiction readers who watched the original Star Trek. "Steampunk" often rewrites history freehand just like that. The authors may know our mainstream history, but I often wonder if the readers do.

Poul Anderson subscribed to the widespread notion that human civilization is primarily shaped, outlined or bounded by human sexuality, and propagated that notion among science fiction writers.

Today many never question whether all human psychology and thus culture is rooted in our sexual requirements.

In the 1970's, other feminist writers such as Joanna Russ, explored how women would run a world or get along in a world without men (or where men were no more self-aware or intelligent than animals). Roddenberry tried that in other series pilots, but it didn't fly.

History, anthropology, sociology and all of Literature reflect how we have analyzed ourselves through the lens of human sexuality.

If every element of a society or civilization is rooted in sexual dynamics (or at the very least reproductive drives), then if you make even the tiniest change in that basic dynamic drive, you change everything, even ethics and morals -- especially morals.

Since we "must" reproduce, anything that tends to prevent, limit or redirect that drive is a source of dramatic conflict that can be exploited by a writer to tell a story.

Apparently (to date as far as I know) all sexual reproduction on Earth seems to follow the same pattern. Make a change in that pattern - and don't just take an animal from Earth and create a dominant species out of it, but create a totally new kind of animal, and you may create the next "Spock" character -- the icon or archetype that will ignite the creative thinking of a new generation.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com (for current novel availability)
http://www.simegen.com/jl/ (for complete biography & bibliography)
http://slantedconcept.com (for screenwriting projects)


  1. I found this article to be very interesting! Well written!

  2. Depends how broadly you define "same pattern." Those fish species in which the male latches onto the female's body, loses all his inessential organs, and devolves into a lump of sperm-producing tissue parasitizing on her are pretty far from the pattern of mammal reproduction!

    C. S. Lewis somewhere, in talking about hypothetical Christian missionaries in space, cautions that we might fall into the trap of mistaking for "sin" a behavior pattern that is natural and right for the alien species in question. Suppose we met a species in which the male degenerates into something like the male of those fish? To demand that males have equal rights with females on that world would make no sense. What if there were an intelligent species similar to some spiders, in which the newly hatched young get nourishment to begin their lives by devouring their mother's body? We would be foolish to try to impose our taboo against cannibalism on those aliens.

    There's an exciting plot premise -- a female in such a species decides she wants to have children and yet perform the "unnatural" act of surviving the birth process.