Where Sime and Gen Meet, Creativity Happens
Here we may create a New Genre
Workshop: Proposal for a New Genre
This article exists in several versions. The "sf/f version" was published in a magazine. The "New Age" version was published as the first two installments of my SF/F Review column "Recommended Books" in The Monthly Aspectarian and is available here through Rereadable Books. This version was done for a feminist magazine and never published there. The point is essentially the same. There exists a genre that crosses the lines Manhattan Publishers have created between genres. Because that is the case, the concept "genre" must be re-examined. The move of publishing into cyberspace creates an unusual opportunity for that examination to create change.
The Intimate Adventure Has Just Begun
The October, '93 issue of New Woman published a survey titled The Joy of Relationships revealing that relationships are the most crucial factor in happiness. Some years ago, TV Guide published an article revealing that the most popular TV shows were popular because they depicted an on-going relationship between the characters. The most popular episodes explored those relationships. The social revolution fueled by the women's movement has addressed issues of work, appearance, education and finances, all factors in the New Woman survey, but factors that were less important to happiness than relationships. I submit that the women's movement has in fact generated another force, a hidden force that is about to erupt into our society and transform our relationships. Radically. This hidden force has already attracted the attention of the press, but has not been officially identified.
There is a reason for that official failure to identify this force. The reason lies in the character of the sub-group of women who have generated this force. New Woman's survey of the source of Joy in Relationships put a finger on the reason for the failure to identify this force. Or, rather, New Woman's readers fingered the reason.
Put simply: educated women with high self-esteem are the source of this fundamental but unrecognized revolution.
The survey clearly revealed that women whose relationships are good tend to be satisfied with their lives. Solid relationships tend to be more attainable for highly educated women with jobs that fully employ their talents. The survey did not address the percentage of women who know that they need but do not have solid relationships.
I'm willing to bet that the majority among those who are not happy do know exactly what they are lacking and how to get it. More than that. They are solving the problem. Their efforts have been noticed but not yet recognized.
I'm basing that bet on my knowledge of the field of fiction writing, reviewing and publishing and how it has been changing since the women's movement exploded onto the scene.
I was in college in the early sixties and made my first professional fiction sale in the late sixties. In the seventies, my second novel, Unto Zeor, Forever, won an award for spirituality in science fiction, and in 1985 one of my novels, Dushau, won me the Romantic Times Award for best sf writer. The New York Times called me a writer of science fiction soap. To date, I have 16 novels and 11 short stories professionally published in addition to about a million words of amateur Star Trek fan fiction.
In the early seventies, I became (and still am) very active in Star Trek fandom, and was primary author of the 1975 Bantam paperback, Star Trek Lives! which is about why people love that show so much. The answer, derived from surveys very much like New Woman's is relationships. Star Trek had been cancelled many years before TV Guide wrote that article fingering relationship as the most important factor in a tv series' success. Star Trek is about relationships. The New York Times, on Nov. 16, 1986, published an article by Camille Bacon-Smith, titled "Spock Among the Women," which focused on the two long running amatuer magazine series created by myself and Professor Jean Lorrah of Murray State University. In 1993, Bacon-Smith was nominated for the highest award in Science Fiction, The Hugo, for her scholarly book, Enterprising Women, about not only Lorrah and I, but also all the women who write and read fiction based on all sorts of television shows. This fiction is published only in amateur magazines. It is never sold in stores, but only to friends and acquaintances. By law no one involved in the production of a media-based fanzine is allowed to make a single cent in profit. (And they don't. These presses operate at a loss.)
From my personal experience on both sides of the amateur/professional line, I conclude that there is something very important but as yet unrecognized going on at the foundation of our whole civilization. The origin of this ferment is educated women with high self-esteem.
The reason the prevailing society has not yet recognized this force unleashed by the women's movement is that its origin is dismissed as educated women with high self-esteem, a minority among minorities which can be safely ignored. Yet this group has generated a force that has been gathering like a tornado on the horizon and is about ready to touch down inside the city limits. The "tornado" is fiction. It started in the amateur press with Star Trek stories that ignore how warp drive works and focus on achieving the relationships an adventurer needs in order to achieve a balance between career and home. And now the "tornado" has become a force to be reconned with in the professional press.
If the theory that art foments change is true, then we are currently looking at the harbinger of change for the next century. The change is away from VIOLENCE as a problem solving tool and toward EMOTIONAL INTIMACY as a means for settling international or interstellar disputes.
Because this "tornado" started as Star Trek stories in the late sixties, it has touched down in the professional press as science fiction and fantasy, both genres Star Trek does well.
The sf/f genre had a small but persistent history of depicting heroic women that started in the fifties with a short story by Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of the best selling women authors in the sf/f field today. She is author of the magnificent novel about the heroic women surrounding King Arthur, titled Mists of Avalon, Knopf 1982. It is not about battle tactics but about the movers and shakers who really created the legendary peace Arthur is credited with. In the '70s Star Trek fandom sparked an enormous influx of women into science fiction and fantasy.
They are readers and writers in every sub-category of sf/f, from the outer reaches of the Horror genre, through the Vampire-as-Good-Guy, the Alien Invader as friend and/or lover, all the way into the fantasy quest novel. And lately, stories in this new category have been appearing in the romance genre, westerns, and even mysteries. This kind of story, the relationship-driven story focusing on emotional heroism, has actually become a new genre - a genre as yet unrecognized as such. This "tornado" is about to scour a path to your door. I call this new genre Intimate Adventure. Here are a few examples. Examine these books with me and discover what makes this genre different, and potentially important.
Delan The Mislaid by Laurie J. Marks, DAW 1989, $3.95
The Gate of Ivory by Doris Egan, DAW 1989, $3.95.
Two-Bit Heroes, DAW Jan. '92, and Guilt-Edged Ivory, DAW, Sept. '92.
Both Delan The Mislaid and The Gate of Ivory are fast paced action adventure with a very distant sf background and a fantasy flavor in the foreground. Delan is set in what might be a collection of large asteroids left from the breakup of a planet. The sentients are of four major types, all of whom seem to be genetically related though they do not appear similar. They all hatch from eggs, but apparently suckle the young.
At least two of the races produce individuals with magical talents, including the ability to open a dimension gate. Delan, the central character tells the story in first person, as he writes his memoirs.
He is of a race that sprouts wings during a delayed puberty. Since he was hatched from an egg cared for by another race, one much more human seeming to the reader, he didn't know this was going to happen to him. The adult of his race who Companions him through this crisis teaches him love and bonds emotionally with him, the first real friend Delan has ever had in his life. Delan's plight is complex because his race is hermaphroditic but he was raised as a deformed female of a different race.
The "human" magician who stole Delan's egg and put him in the wrong nest to hatch is plotting the destruction of Delan's race. The story revolves around Delan's contest with this magician. Delan is imprisoned, raped and tortured by the magician, but escapes because he, too, is coming into his magical talent.
The story becomes deeply personalized when Delan's Companion is also imprisoned and tortured and Delan is too devastated at that time to go to the rescue. The substance of the drama is Delan's struggle to find a personal and sexual identity as well as a meaningful relationship to define his existence. In the process, he helps bring about peace and meaningful relationships among the four races on his world.
The reader is free to imagine that these folks are not even remotely human, or to assume they are the leftover detritus of Earth's genetic experimentation parked some place to rot.
But Doris Egan is quite clear about the background of her universe in The Gate of Ivory. Here we are on a world inhabited by humans descended from Earth stock, planted there by nonhumans who came visiting Earth and sold Earth an interstellar drive.
Humans who colonized other worlds with ships built on Earth are rather ordinary, as is our viewpoint character, Theodora, who tells the story in first person. On this strange planet, a prince of the leading family in Sorcery, a Sorcerer who is under a curse, chooses her to read divination cards for him. His grandmother cursed him so he wouldn't be able to read cards for himself until and unless he learns how to treat women properly.
He becomes utterly dependent on the woman who reads for him, and can't replace her until she dies. His former reader was murdered by an enemy of his, but he doesn't know who.
It is his own magic that causes his card reader to be able to do divination, and when his enemy cuts off his magic, Theodora's ability to read evaporates. Only her personal heroism gets them both through that period alive. Again this is a story hung on an adventure framework, but actually centering on the search for a workable definition of the male/female relationship where dominance and domination are not allowed to figure into it at all. Intimacy is the solution, not dominance.
Both books present the theme that a true partnership between equals is the key to survival as well as to happiness, and both books are deep, rich, and entertaining.
I call this kind of fiction Intimate Adventure even though that makes it sound like a Romance Line, because the sf/f genre has been traditionally regarded as a subdivision of the Action/Adventure field, and most Intimate Adventure novels have adventure in them somewhere.
In the Action genre, the plot is driven by a physical problem which has a physical resolution. "Abe is the only entity that can save the universe, but the entire Klin empire has sworn to hunt him down and kill him." The stakes in Action stories are society, civilization, territory, or possession of things or power over people. The means of settling the dispute involve physical courage and combat.
In the Adventure genre, most often seen in children's and young adult novels, a person either chooses to leave the comfort and safety of home or is jarred out of a routine life by events. Leaving the known lifestyle behind, the person goes out into the world to meet new things, people, and challenges, to "go where no one has gone before."
Both Action and Adventure usually focus on a main character who is heroic or who becomes heroic through the experiences of the novel. And so Action/Adventure is a sub-category of Heroic fiction.
In Heroic fiction, the characters are painted larger than life. They are The Best or The Only one for the job, and they have the character traits we associate with competent adults - the courage to do what's right despite the personal cost, the ability to assess a problem, make and implement decisions, then get people to cooperate, the knack of beating the odds. (For you would-be writers, this is what Market Reports mean by "strong characters." Not characters with lots of muscles, but characters who don't whimper and whine and wring their hands in the face of adversity while waiting for someone to do something to help them. Characters who take their destiny into their own hands, and who refuse to accept the unacceptable.)
Mundane or general fiction sometimes deals with heros, and sometimes with combat, and sometimes with lifestyle changes so drastic as to constitute adventure, but these are usually incidental elements, decoration not theme. In Heroic Action/Adventure there is an implicit thematic statement that says The Pure In Heart always win, that justice, goodness and mercy carry the day, and that The Hero succeeds.
Heroic Action/Adventure doesn't always have a happy ending, but it does always show that the hero's efforts have made his world better somehow. The Hero's efforts count.
In the purest form of Intimate Adventure, we have Heroic Action/Adventure without the Action. The stakes are not the possession of things or power over people. The stakes are happiness, fulfillment and a worthwhile life. The means of settling the dispute involve two things: the courage to be emotionally honest, and the art of standing defenseless in the face of the most fearsome emotional pain. (New Woman's Joy of Relationship survey showed that keeping secrets erodes happiness and undermines relationships.)
By combat one attains dominance; by intimacy one attains freedom.
Intimate Adventure is Adventure because one or both of the contestants locked into the struggle for intimacy has left a known, safe existence behind, either physically, or emotionally. Thus, one popular form of Intimate Adventure is the First Contact novel where a human meets a nonhuman person and they must reach across the gulf between them to form a functioning partnership. The movie Enemy Mine is a good example.
STAR TREK: The Next Generation, Survivors by Jean Lorrah, Pocket Books, 1989. $3.95
Imago by Octavia E. Butler, Questar, 1989, $19.95
THE SONG OF NAGA TEOT, BOOK ONE; Teot's War by Heather Gladney, Ace, 1987, $2.95
THE SONG OF NAGA TEOT, BOOK TWO; Blood Storm by Heather Gladney, Ace, 1989, $3.95
Among the books in this mixed field are Jean Lorrah's STAR TREK: The Next Generation novel, Survivors. This focuses on Tasha Yar's development of intimacy with the android Commander Data. It's one of Jean Lorrah's best! Imago is the third and concluding book in Butler's saga of the alien Oankali. (Dawn and Adulthood Rites preceded it.) There is virtually no Action in this novel. It is about an alien protagonist's absolute biological need for total intimacy with humans. This alien is two-fifths human and of a "third sex." The Adventure happens when the alien suddenly discovers it is going to be of a different sex than it had grown up believing it would be. And the Heroic elements are in how the alien deals with the social rejection caused by its suddenly changed sexuality.
Throughout this trilogy, I've felt that the aliens are not the "good guys" they think they are. They believe that humanity destroyed Earth in a nuclear holocaust because humanity is genetically flawed, possessing a gene for "hierarchical behavior."
The Oankali, however, "had evolved from acquisitive life, collecting and combining with other life. To kill was not simply wasteful to the Oankali. It was as unacceptable as slicing off their own healthy limbs." However, the Oankali regenerate limbs easily, so killing isn't quite as unacceptable to them as to me.
The Oankali think their way is better than the human way. Even after three novels, I'm not convinced. I think they're different, but no better than equal. Imago is about intimacy. It raises and leaves unanswered a large number of knotty questions. It makes you think - and feel. It is Intimate Adventure. Teot's War was such a powerful book that I reread it when I finally laid hands on the sequel Blood Storm. It's labeled fantasy and is set in some made-up desert feudal society that could be anytime, anywhere.
Naga Teot is a swordsman (using two thin blades that can be thrown called Scaddas) who is also a Bard and a prince of a devastated people.
His mission is to save his race from extinction by convincing the local King, a sworn friend of Teot's deceased brother, that Teot's people are not raiding this Kingdom's borders.
At the end of the book, the King realizes who the real enemy is and war is declared. The book, however, is not about war - though there are some battle scenes, and Naga Teot gets to display his martial arts mastery - the book is about the contrast between deep emotional intimacy founded on psychological needs and the kind of emotional intimacy needed to support sexuality.
Blood Storm picks up as winter preparations for war are finished and continues the adventures in intimacy between two men. Soon, their behavior attracts accusations of homosexuality, but the reader has been in their shared bed all the way - and the reader knows there has been not a flicker of sexual arousal within either of them.
Naga Teot has suffered since earliest childhood from mental aberrations caused by his witnessing his whole clan being burned to death. The King has committed himself to curing Naga Teot of this trauma which manifests as psychic storms of prescience.
In the end of Blood Storm, Teot seems to be cured, but the war is lost. (In Intimate Adventure war and violence don't solve the problems - they are the problems.) Now, Naga Teot is sworn to put his King back on his rightful throne. Because of the support provided by intimacy, Naga Teot's motive has evolved from a thirst for revenge to a need to see justice done.
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin, Poseidon Press (an imprint of Pocket Books), 1982.
The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ballantine Books, Hardcover April 1979, paperback, August 1980.
Two more different books you won't find anywhere, but they are both ostensibly historicals, and they both have strong elements of Intimate Adventure. Fevre Dream is a vampire novel set in the days of the great Riverboats. The viewpoint character is a human riverboat captain hired to transport a non-killer vampire, a "good guy" down the Mississippi hunting killer vampires. Forever Knight, recently cancelled on CBS's Crime Time After Prime Time, is about a "good guy" non-killer vampire who is a cop. This is a very popular type of vampire novel.
Fevre Dream is typical of the Vampire as Good Guy. It is about the development of intimacy between a decent human being and a non-killer vampire. Together, they exterminate the killer vampires.
I studied this book when I wrote my own vampire novel, Those Of My Blood (St. Martin's Press, 1988) - which is also about the development of intimacy between a non-killer vampire and a decent human. But my human hero is female, and the vampire is male.
The Catch Trap is set in the 1940's and '50s in an "alternate universe" circus world. Because the two main characters are actually in a homosexual relationship, Bradley couldn't use any real people or circuses because the casual reader might assume she was revealing the true private lives of living people. She wasn't.
The Catch Trap is about the relationship between intimacy and artistic excellence. In a way, Heather Gladney's work is a continuation of the matters Bradley addresses, depicting the role that intimacy plays in achieving mental health even in the face of childhood trauma. The Catch Trap uses the art of circus flying while The Song Of Naga Teot uses martial arts. The Catch Trap deals directly with sexuality as an aspect of intimacy; The Song Of Naga Teot deals with nonsexual aspects of intimacy. But they share one theme. Intimacy is essential to mental health.
To complete my definition of Intimate Adventure, I'm going to list some titles. Find the common element among these books and you will have the element that distinguishes Intimate Adventure. Each one of these has other elements mixed in, most notably Action.
The oldest book in my stack here with the least Action evident is The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin, Ace, 1969. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and I thought then that the days of Action/sf were over. The Left Hand Of Darkness is about a human descendant of the colonists of the planet Winter who have evolved to where they have a definite gender only during kemmering, their mating phase. A male human visits the planet Winter and is forced by circumstances to develop a certain amount of intimacy with a native - but LeGuin does not explore that fully. Marion Zimmer Bradley did explore the problems in such intimacy in World Wreckers, one of the Darkover novels which has had many editions from DAW books. All the Darkover books should be considered when defining Intimate Adventure. Darkover is a planet where human survivors of a shipwreck interbred with natives to produce a genetic strain capable of mastering ESP. P. M. Griffin's Star Commandos series from Ace Books, Star Commandos, Star Commandos: Colony in Peril; Star Commandos: Mission Underground; Star Commandos: Death Planet; Star Commandos: Mind Slaver; Star Commandos: Return to War; Star Commandos: Fire Planet; Star Commandos: Jungle Assault, illustrate how a pure Action framework can still support Intimate Adventure.
The books are all slender volumes with lots of action, harrowing escapes and threatening scenery, leaving little room for the Intimate Adventure. Yet the relationship between the three telepaths who are trying to keep their telepathy secret drives these stories. Two of the commando-telepaths are married to each other, with the wife outranking the husband, and their marriage is frought with emotional conflicts despite their Intimacy.
Each book has two plots, one between the two principle characters, and the other involving their current mission. This is not "happily ever after" romance. In fact, it's not romance at all. It's about the roll of intimacy in a partnership between equals that happens to be a marriage.
P. M. Griffin has tackled another sort of Intimate Adventure in Andre Norton's Witch World hardcover, Witch World: The Turning, Storms of Victory, $19.95 from Tor, 1991, which contains two related novels, one by Andre Norton and one by P. M. Griffin. The story continues in the novel, Witch World: The Turning, Flight of Vengeance, by Andre Norton with P. M. Griffin and Mary Schaub, $21.95 from Tor, 1992.
Andre Norton must have over 150 titles, starting in the 1940's. Millions of us grew up reading her juveniles because they were intimate adventure hidden within action/adventure. With her adult series, especially Witch World, she is now able to explore these themes openly. The world has changed.
P. M. Griffin has brought intimate adventure to the foreground of the Witch World with her novel, Seakeep.
Seakeep deals with the relationship between a not-quite human Falconer mercenary Captain, and the woman who has inhereted the responsiblity for an entire Dale, a small community of farmers and fishers. In the end, she does the unthinkable - she proposes to him, to give him "hand and hold" - marriage and the land that comes with it - but I won't tell you what he says to that. If you know Falconers, you won't be able to resist reading this book, and if you don't - you have a treat in store for you.
Fire Dancer, Dancer's Luck, and Dancer's Illusion all by Ann Maxwell, from Signet, 1983, are about intimacy between a Fire Dancer - a woman who can raise vast amounts of raw psychic/magical power - and a Bre'n - a being who can control and direct that raised power. The Pride Of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, and Chanur's Homecoming all by C. J. Cherryh tell the story of a human lost in a vicious and warlike galaxy who makes a very bare (but realistic) beginning at intimacy with a nonhuman ship's captain. C. J. Cherryh did even better at Intimate Adventure in Cuckoo's Egg, the story of a human cloned and raised - and loved - by aliens.
Becoming Alien by Rebecca Ore, Tor, 1988, tells the story of a human absorbed into the family life of very alien beings. Intimacy is necessary to grasp even the peripherals of this alien culture which is why human diplomats can't quite make them out.
War For The Oaks by Emma Bull, Ace 1987, intimacy between a human and a Magical Being loose in contemporary America, an Urban Fantasy by category. It explores many questions of the use and abuse of magical power. I can't emphasize too strongly that sexuality is not always a component of intimacy in Intimate Adventure. Intimacy is the process of developing a relationship based on open, honest emotional responses, especially about needs and desires, a way of relating defenselessly by cultivating trust and the ability to ask for help with grace but without demeaning the Self.
Bright And Shining Tiger by Claudia J. Edwards, Questar, 1988, is also a fantasy using magic and magical beings, exploring the rules that magic must obey, but the intimacy here is between a man and a woman who have a land to save.
Shards Of Honor, The Warrior's Apprentice, and Ethan Of Athos all by Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen Books, 1986. This is about a martial arts expert (a prince among his people) whose bones break easily. He has assassins after him constantly. The woman in his life and the intimacy that comes with her sneak up on him.
Political power, martial arts ethics, and the absurdities of divine humor combine to create an uproarious discussion of the use of power in problem solving.
Firebird and Fusion Fire, (Kathy Tyers, Bantam 1987 &'88) are about the compelling and strange intimacy between a non-telepath and a telepath. The woman fighter pilot is definitely a hero, and there's enough action to prove that several times over. But the story is about how intimacy overcomes violence.
Blood Hunt and Bloodlinks by Lee Killough from Tor, 1987 and 1988, are vampire novels about a cop who becomes a vampire and hunts down the woman who bit him. This predated the tv show Forever Knight, and may be the first of the vampire-cop subgenre.
In the process of hunting the vampiress, Killough's hero-vampire discovers the true meaning of intimacy when he finally gets the humans who had been his friends to accept that he is now a vampire - but he won't kill them. Lee Killough has been working around the edges of Intimate Adventure, using vast amounts of action woven into the intimacy. Here are a few of her titles: from Del Rey, The Dopellganger Gambit, Deadly Silents, The Monitor, The Miners And The Shree. From DAW, Liberty's World.
From DAW books come three titles for the Intimate Adventure label, both by Kris Jensen, Free Master, in 1991, Mentor, and in October '93, Healer. The first is about a woman troubleshooter sent to a planet where the reproductive cycle of the nonhuman natives causes them to develope ESP in the last phase of their lives. The ESP is contageous. The second novel is about a married couple who get caught up in the natives' life-cycle problems and eventually are invited with their young son, to live among the natives.
The main problems in these books may be generated by violence, but they are solved by heroic courage evidenced on the field of intimacy. The women in these books - whether they are the main protagonists or not - are not heroines. There isn't a heroine in the bunch. They are heros. Female heros. They have "the right stuff," and they win respect in their relationships for showing it.
The "tornado" of change that is sweeping toward us is manifesting through this new genre written by and for educated women who see themselves as heros, not heroines - people who create their own solutions not people who need rescuing. This fiction cannot be dismissed as "wish-fulfillment-fantasy." It is creating and sustaining a role-model of the fully educated, fully employed woman whose education and courage are what is most admired by the men around her. But more than that - it is creating role-models of the men who are secure enough in themselves to be irresistibly attracted to a psychologically strong, emotionally fulfilled woman.
Because these books in which violence is the problem not the solution are scattered and hidden, most women who want them don't even know they exist. Once this new genre is recognized and labeled, bookstores will not be able to keep these books on the shelves. No tv executive will dare put football up against one of these shows. All the blockbuster boxoffice records will topple when one of these movies comes out.
There is an audience out there starving for this material, an audience of women who know what they need to create happiness in their lives. They will recognize in this new genre the kindred spirits who are struggling the same struggle. Men will learn that war doesn't require heros - but intimacy does. The world will change. Fundamentally. Forever.
Live Long and Prosper,
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