Sunday, 31 July 2016

War, Sex And SF

Writers describe, among other things, war and sex. Science fiction writers describe, among other things, war, sex and landing on another planet. Do we have to have experienced something before we can describe it? If that were so, then science fiction would be impossible.

Poul Anderson and SM Stirling write convincingly about war without having experienced it. There are, after all, many written accounts that authors can draw on - starting with Homer.

We can know that, e.g., Anderson's Dominic Flandry is sexually active without necessarily reading any detailed accounts of his sexual activity. The Irish novelist, Maeve Binchey, said in an interview that she did not write about sex because, if she described sexual practices with which she was unfamiliar, then she would get it wrong whereas, if she wrote from her own experience, then she would feel that she was betraying a confidence. SM Stirling describes some sexual activities that he cannot possibly have experienced directly! However, as Terence wrote:

"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto"
-copied from here.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I completely agree with you on how convincingly Poul Anderson and S.M. Stirling wrote about war. But, aside from his two Lords of Creation books, we don't often see Stirling giving us his speculations about other planets. And, now that I've thought of it, I can't remember any depictions of non human races in any of Stirling's books. In that aspect of SF, Anderson remains superior to many other authors.

If I was asked for any single thing in Stirling's works I did not truly like, it would be the numerous lesbian sub plots. Mostly because I have my doubts there would be that MANY prominent lesbian characters in real life. But the lesbianism did make sense with the Draka, as part of their culture of sadism and depravity.


David Birr said...

Your remark that science fiction would be impossible if people could only describe what they've actually experienced reminds me of a long-time disagreement I had with one of Isaac Asimov's non-fictional statements. He referred to contemporaries of the explorer Pytheas dismissing his claims that he'd been to a place where the sun rose in the NORTH-east rather than the SOUTH-east. Dr. Asimov said Pytheas couldn't have imagined something like that, therefore he must have been telling the truth. Though I don't believe Pytheas lied, I always found the argument sloppy, since it "proves" that Isaac Asimov has visited a world-city (Trantor), been miniaturized (*Fantastic Voyage*), etc.

For the most part, I regard Dr. Asimov's non-fiction highly (and his *Black Widowers* mysteries), but if I could have MET him, I hope I'd have remembered to challenge him on his Pytheas reasoning.