Sunday, March 20, 2011
Childbirth in speculative fiction
There’s an episode of The Outer Limits called “The Surrogate”, where a woman is implanted with an embryo that – unknown to her – belongs to an alien race living secretly among us. I was waiting for it to burst out of her belly like something from Aliens, but at the point of childbirth, the embryo took her body over completely, erasing any mental vestiges of the host.
“She” was quite calm and happy afterwards. That was the creepiest part.
Childbirth, the sometimes dangerous process that separates one life from another, has been a source of fascination and mystery for thousands of years. In Macbeth, the titular character is assured that “none of woman born” can harm him, but at the end of the play Macduff tells him that:
Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Probably hinting at a primitive Caesarian section – if the mother’s life couldn’t be saved, someone decided to see if the baby could be removed alive. That makes me wonder, though. Could any special powers attach to babies who are delivered in this way, either because of the method of the delivery or because (in a medieval world) mothers would almost certainly give up their lives for it, whether voluntarily or not?
In The Verdant Passage, human/dwarf hybrids also result in the death of the mother during childbirth – plus, the hybrids are sterile. Realistic touch.
Males of the alien Tectonese species, in the television show Alien Nation, accept the developing embryos from females and then carry them until parturition – the seahorse principle, in other words. While this helps cement a pair-bond, it also means that the presence of both parents is required for the production of young, which may not be ideal.
Speaking of marine organisms, other humanoid species could mate as fish do. Deposit eggs, fertilize them and leave. The lack of parental care means they’ll have to produce thousands of eggs to ensure that at least a few of them survive, but that has other consequences too. What if humans discovered such an egg cache?
Childrearing in speculative fiction is next.