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Sex, love, and science fiction

I was drawn to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, first by the works of Andre Norton and then by Robert Heinlein's novels and later J.R.R. Tolkein's saga of Middle Earth. One thing that has always intrigued me about speculative fiction is the ability to tinker with the most basic building blocks of a culture, including marriage, and build something new and different.

In human history there have been various models for marriage. A very common one in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia was polygyny, with prosperous men having multiple wives. A tiny number had the opposite, polyandry, women with more than one husband. Some cultures allowed for a formal non-marriage, as when men took concubines; these women had less status and rights than wives but they were still "respectable."

Religion has often influenced marriage, as when the Koran specifically allow men to take up to four wives. In the other direction, the Shakers accepted married couples as converts, but forbade any sex, at all, ever (no surprise they aren't still around).

In science fiction, authors have posited new twists on marriage. One of the most famous is the line marriages in Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (one of his best books, in my opinion). In Heinlein's lunar civilization, there were many more men than women, and life was so uncertain that families formed in an unending line. Three women might be married to seven men; each woman counted each man as her husband and vice versa. When someone got old or died, he or she was replaced by a new spouse. This didn't stop the married protagonist from falling in love with a woman; it just meant he didn't have to get divorced to marry her.

Likewise some stories suggest marriage might be abolished (although in dystopias like Brave New World this is a clearly bad thing). But for the most part, marriage in some form seems to have staying power. It might be easier to do, harder to do, have a time limit, or not have the same legal implications, but it's still around in a lot of futuristic fiction. Possibly that's simply a case of authors keeping the story at a cultural comfort level. Or possibly, we see marriage in such a positive light that it's easy to think it will survive. The struggle to legalize same-sex marriage certainly supports the idea that marriage in and of itself has value, that is in fact, a basic human right.

All this is on my mind today because 29 years ago on this date I got married. I am still married to the same husband— who, by the way, married me not knowing I had a deep-seated need to write spec fic novels. It came as a shock to both of us, but he's still around, and he even goes to conventions with me. Our "anniversary trip" this year will be to the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose.

I might write fiction about other options, but in real life, monogamy works for me.

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 11th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
Ah, Columbus Day weekend weddings! 28 years ago today I was married, church service. (Civil service on the west coast on Oct 2nd)

Oct. 11th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
It is a great weekend to get married around here-- not humid anymore, still warm, and not much chance of a freak snowstorm.

Happy anniversary to you, too!
Oct. 11th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
I've always fantasized about having a harem of men totally devoted to me, willing to share if that's all they get, because I am just so damned awesome. :)

In reality, I've been married to the same man for 21 years. No wonder I write fantasy, eh?
Oct. 11th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
Hmm. For me, the harem idea never had much appeal. For one thing, it would be embarrassing if I couldn't keep their names straight.

My latest finished m.s., the one my agent is marketing, it set partly in a world where women outnumber men ten to one. There are "harems" in a sense, but it's the one guy that the ten women keep locked up. Not nearly as much fun for the guy.

I always thought it was interesting that Heinlein could envision line marriages but somehow in spite of having a lot of power, the women were still doing the housework. Perhaps we should reclassify that story as a male fantasy?
Oct. 11th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
There are "harems" in a sense, but it's the one guy that the ten women keep locked up.
Oct. 11th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
Dang, that sent before I was ready. I was going to go on to say, that's an interesting notion; and actually pretty logical. If ten women had access to one man, they would be wise to keep him to themselves. ;)
Oct. 12th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much how it works in the story. Of course, they do make it pleasant for him-- but limited.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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