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Effectiveness, popularity, and The Motherhood Statement. - Elf M. Sternberg
Effectiveness, popularity, and The Motherhood Statement.
The Motherhood Statement: SF story which posits some profoundly unsettling threat to the human condition, explores the implications briefly, then hastily retreats to affirm the conventional social and humanistic pieties, ie apple pie and motherhood. Greg Egan once stated that the secret of truly effective SF was to deliberately "burn the motherhood statement."
I was thinking about this the other day in the context of Caprice Starr, and realized that Egan may have meant "effective," but he surely didn't mean "popular." A quick look at the most popular SF on the market shows that embracing the Motherhood Statement is a far quicker route to popularity and high sales numbers than burning it.

I mean, think about it. What are the two best selling characters in the past decade? Miles Vorkosigan: great family backing him, one that would never think twice about helping him. Hell, Lois coined the aphorism that "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Honor Harrington's parents are rock solid supporters of her career despite her ongoing disabilities and tribulations, and like Miles' parents they're both major players in the sociopolitical fabric of Honor's existence.

Heck, The Iron Sunrise leaned toward the Motherhood Statement. The Kushiel series leaned on it. Even the Queng-Ho series succeeded by either refusing to threaten or otherwise supporting the Motherhood Statement.

Looking through my own work, I realized that I've done a terrible job of this. Caprice: orphan. Cheillène & Sarre: orphans, both of them. Aimee: orphan. Janae: orphan. Bloody Beth: orphan. Toby: mother alive, but separated by slavery. Kasserine: orphan. Kaede's parents are separated and driven further apart by her choice of spouse. Misuko's parents still love her dearly, but don't understand her lifestyle choice.

I'm starting to see a pattern here...

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music: Peter Gabriel, Waiting for the Big One

9 comments or Leave a comment
From: norikos_author Date: November 1st, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hell, Lois coined the aphorism that "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

She did? I thought that was Frost.
ideaphile From: ideaphile Date: November 1st, 2007 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)


From: (Anonymous) Date: November 1st, 2007 10:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Motherhood statment isn't literal

The Kushiel series very much "burns the Motherhood statement", simply by positing a world where free love is an overriding social virtue and the main character is a masochistic courtesan.

How does that affirm conventional social and humanistic pieties? Humanistic, maybe, for a wide enough definition, but definitely not conventional social pieties.

If you mean that in each book, the end reestablishes the status quo pro ante, then with all due respect, you've missed the point of Egan's statement.

elfs From: elfs Date: November 1st, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Motherhood statment isn't literal

The Kushiel series very much "burns the Motherhood statement."

I disagree. What's the final point of the books? After all these monstrous, threatening issues with respect to the City, then the Nation, then the World, what's the final, overriding lesson of the Kushiel series?

"The most significant thing a woman can do is find a mate and raise a child." That's it. After all that, Phedre' settles down with Joscelin and Imriel, gives up both her masochism and her courteseanship, and takes on the duty of nursing back to hale a small boy.

It is, as befits the books themselves, a bit perverse, but in the end it is absolutely an embrace of the motherhood statement.
zvi_likes_tv From: zvi_likes_tv Date: November 1st, 2007 11:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
What's the profoundly unsettling threat to the human condition in Vorkosigan or Harrington? Their themes seem to be, "Fanatics be trippin'." Perhaps also, "Superior technology will keep the fanatics from winning."
xengar From: xengar Date: November 3rd, 2007 01:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, I can see the uterine replicators being the threat in Vorkosigan, but I'm not sure what would qualify for Harrington. And I'm not possitive Vorkosigan qualifies because the only ones threataning "motherhood" with the replicators are a couple of backgroud characters in side plots. All the main stories that I can recall sand four-square for motherhood, however the trappings may change.
gromm From: gromm Date: November 2nd, 2007 12:10 am (UTC) (Link)

I took a brief inventory of my favourite Sci-Fi (most of which is unfortunately in movie form) and found this:

Serenity: Definitely supports the motherhood statement. Despite the fact that the Jesus figure is killed off (pretty predictable) along with practically everyone else Mal & Co. considers family. Apple pie: Thou shalt not experiment on free will.

The Matrix: Good question. At the end of the last movie, humanity is left irrevocably changed. Many, if not most people find happiness in slavery, but at least they have the choice to choose a life in the matrix or not. Compared to the Matrix, the Real World is a pretty nasty place, even if the Matrix is a gilded cage. Would you choose the matrix or "freedom?"

One short story that I recall was called something like "Cold, hard numbers", and it definitely took a flamethrower to the motherhood statement. It was the story of a lone man running a transport freighter to a colony on another planet. During the trip, he finds a stowaway. He's not happy about her presence, but what the heck is he supposed to do? She can't exactly get out and walk. But when his final approach to the planet is initiated by the computer, he suddenly has a problem. The extra weight of the stowaway has made it so that the trajectory the computer originally calculated is wrong. They have to dump weight to adjust the trajectory. The scour the ship for any dead weight to eject, (and there really isn't much, with the economics of space travel being what they are, the ship is pretty much at its bare minimum weight anyway), and find just enough stuff to toss to equal her weight, and toss it. The computer warns that there isn't enough fuel to make re-entry. The problem: they wasted too much time finding stuff to dump. They now have to dump *more* than her weight. Now it's a choice between the cargo (essential medical supplies) or her. It's a tough choice, but he eventually decides it has to be the supplies. They can always send another ship. More wasted time, and now it's either him or her.

The best part though, was how he was put on trial for not delivering the medical supplies, which would have immunized against a plague that killed thousands. Definitely flamethrower material, if you ask me.
memegarden From: memegarden Date: November 2nd, 2007 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)
The story is "The Cold Equations", and he does dump the stowaway. You're either remembering it wrong, or you've read someone else's story in response to the original story. There have been a few. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cold_Equations for description of the original story and one response. I've heard about another response with a very different solution--cutting off (with a laser, thus cauterized) and jettisoning all of both people's limbs, except for one arm to land with. Brutal, yet ultimately saves everyone's lives.
cadetstar From: cadetstar Date: November 2nd, 2007 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
And there was a made-for-tv movie where she forced him to dump her overboard even after he tried to go himself.

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