Post by James Nicoll
Orbit 6 edited by Damon Knight
Ah, yes. The whole "Women as Convenient Wombs" subgenre.
There was, of course, one cinematic example of that sort of thing
done _right_: the three survivors are one white man, one black man,
and one (white) woman. The white and black man spend their time
fighting, and it is the woman who has agency and recognizes that
the changed situation demands the discarding of outmoded attitudes
While I realize there isn't enough space in what is primarily a review of
a specific anthology to do this... the whole subgenre does deserve an
Did the author of "The Cold Equations" hate little girls?
Of course not; he was making a point, and it was clear what point he
Starting from that, we can ask ourselves if, in general, the stories in
this subgenre were usuallty aimed at making some sort of point, rather
than merely serving as outlets for (possibly repressed) hostility towards
While sweeping generalizations will of necessity be wrong for some
specific cases, I would say that the typical story in this subgenre does
fit a general pattern.
The point is usually this: that Judaeo-Christian sexual morality (and
only incidentally female sexual autonomy) is a feeble artificial construct,
a luxury made possible by the comfort provided by our fragile technological
civilization... and the reader urgently needs to get back in touch with the
basics needed for survival in a primitive world where all that is... pardon
the expression... swept away.
Equal rights for women could indeed be seen as a manifestation of
unrealistic thinking, an indulgence possible by our prosperity, and a regression
to Victorian sentimentality.
So the response has to avoid at least one trap. The viewpoint behind
such stories is _not_ *objectively* wrong.
1) Modern technological civilization, which brings us comfort and prosperity,
could conceivably collapse.
2) In the event of such a collapse, our society would be less able to live up
to some of its ideals, as practicalities would become more urgent. Thus,
for example, such a day might not be a good time to have Down's Syndrome.
So, rather than simply saying that these stories are "bad", the attack
should shift to a different approach: are they *necessary*?
That is: in today's world, is the issue that people are too confident that a
material culture based on an advanced industrial civilization, being the current
condition, will be around forever... really more important than the issue of
raising awareness about the continued inequality of women in our society,
and trying to change that?
There is a counter-argument.
This is science-fiction! It's supposed to be the genre that asks the questions
no one else is asking; the one where the stories express independent thought,
questioning current social trends from the outside.
And the counter-argument is not utterly without validity.
But by now it should be obvious what is going on.
As it was in the days when Hugo Gernsback was alive, so it still was in
some corners of the science-fiction world even in the 1970s. A _mundus
discursus_ from which women were utterly absent.
But their absence was about as conspicuous... as water is to a fish.
Thus, I do think that misogyny is the wrong charge...