Saturday, March 28, 2009
Sex and fantasy worlds
While sexual practices in fantasy worlds can’t be too outre (readers can take only so much novelty in this respect), they shouldn’t be white-bread either. For a default race, one that’s physically or mentally very similar to humans, you could get away with heterosexuality or monogamy being the norm. But a more alien species should have equally alien sexual customs – and here are a few.
I don’t intend to portray these as alien forms of sex, but a very high degree of acceptance of homosexuality or bisexuality (or, for that matter, a requirement of these) can often make a society seem unusual.
In Suzy McKee Charnas’s Walk to the End of the World, men and women are all but different species, so for them, what’s normal is to mate with one’s own kind. In Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids, each Neanderthal has both a male and a female mate. Just make sure that if any one way is idealized or preferred, it’s the characters who are doing this rather than the writer, and it’s in their personalities or mindsets to do so.
In Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake, people and dreamsnakes alike mate in threes, and that was the premise of a Star Trek: Enterprise episode as well. The Tenctonese in Alien Nation also require a third person to prepare a female for reproduction. Additionally, depending on the world, successful reproduction may require genetic material from three donors, hence the threesome.
Another reason for triplex pairings would be if there’s a shortage of either gender. For instance, in a race which normally produces more male than female offspring, a male/male/female pairing might be normal. Better that than have half the males permanently denied the opportunity to marry and reproduce.
One caveat is that these shouldn’t be eternal triangles. If everyone in the society accepts that such a marriage is normal, there might occasionally be some light competition, but it shouldn’t be with the end goal of having a two-person-only situation.
This field has a lot of landmines in it. I was all right with the brother-sister scene(s) in A Song of Ice and Fire - that kind of arrangement worked for the ancient Egyptians as well. It was difficult to read about Craster’s polygamous family, though, since Craster turns his daughters into wives when they’re old enough. I’d probably find this even more difficult to read after that case in Austria.
But other cultures will have sexual attitudes and customs we don’t like, and vice versa. They might even have sexual arrangements we’ve never even considered. And that’s part of the challenge – and the fun - of writing them.