ALIENATION VS. INTIMACY IN THE SIME~GEN UNIVERSE
by M. Alexis Pakulak
In every culture, in each generation, there are certain preoccupying themes or defining issues. These form the stress fracture lines along which that culture, and the individuals within it, will threaten to break when pressure is applied.
It's easy to look back through time and identify the preoccupying themes of the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian era, even of WWII. It's harder to recognize the themes that define one's own culture and generation. Historians may analyze them; foreigners may recognize them. But they're often so much taken for granted from within a culture that they're effectively invisible to its members.
Nevertheless, those inside a culture are unconsciously steeped in its themes, and will respond powerfully to art, music, and literature, which addresses them.
The defining theme of North American culture for the past forty or fifty years is alienation. And its counterpart or remedy, intimacy.
Examples of alienation abound in our lives. Children feel alienated from their parents, women from men, citizens from their governments, workers from their assembly line jobs. Hospitals and funeral homes detach us from the fundamental processes of birth and death. The most critical moments of our emotional lives take place in registry offices, in airport departure lounges, or in the impersonal electronic sibilance of answering machines. We struggle to separate ourselves even from our own understanding of the world in this post-nuclear era because if we really thought about thermonuclear war, ecological disaster, terrorism, or the other dangers around us on a daily basis, we'd be too overwhelmed by despair to live our lives.
The antidote to alienation is intimacy. Singers croon of it, talk shows and self-help books discuss the search for it, and most of us spend sleepless nights over the struggle to achieve it.
Our spiritual lives are dominated by this same struggle. Alienation is us vs. them; the path towards spiritual maturity is a journey towards wholeness, an understanding of the world in which everything is part of us and there's no more them. On this journey towards wisdom, trust and intimacy become both the method and the goal.
Powerful fiction is built upon conflict; the most powerful fiction is that whose conflict is most relevant to our own inner struggles. Alienation vs. intimacy is the theme and conflict that drives the Sime~Gen fictional universe. And that's what keeps us coming back for more.
Alienation stands at the root of this universe: Sime vs. Gen, parent vs. immature child, and later also Tecton vs. Distect. The kill is the quintessential act of alienation.
Intimacy, the antidote, first appears in this alienated landscape through the Householdings. Channels are the intermediary between Gens and renSimes in the journey towards trust and intimacy. Channel/Companion transfer is the ultimate act of intimacy. The relationship between channel and Companion is at least as complex as any marriage, but demands an even higher standard of mutual vulnerability and trust.
It's those moments of trust and intimacy that we keep coming back to in our Simefic. When a Gen any Gen conquers fear with trust and says, Come here; take my selyn for your need, and when the Sime responds with equal vulnerability and trust to accept that gift from a Gen who could kill with a fingertip's pressure these are the scenes that we turn back to and reread until the pages are dog-eared. Two strong human beings daring to be vulnerable with one another, even if only for a moment before they go their separate ways it's enough to give a reader goosebumps.
As time passes in the Sime~Gen universe, there come to be two possible paths to the healing of the alienation between Gen and Sime: the Tecton and the Distect. The irony is that both of these groups are working towards the same goal of Unity, but they become the new alienated pair.
An even more bitter irony: the Tecton's highest goal is Unity, but its method is alienation: the depersonalizing of all transfer, especially that between channel and Companion or rather, Donor; even the title is revised to remove any suggestion of a human relationship.
Incidentally, but not coincidentally, the Tecton also depersonalizes sex, the other wellspring of human intimacy. I cried when I first read of Ercy's and Joeslee's first introduction to sex at Rialite.
While the Tecton is a vast improvement over the junct society that preceded it, it can never truly succeed in its ultimate goal. The harder it struggles towards Unity, the more it alienates Sime from Gen. It's not a question of whether the end justifies the means; it's a case of the means being incompatible with the end.
So what went wrong?
Klyd Farris is the key force in shaping the modern Tecton; his personal struggles and flaws are encoded in its structure.
In HoZ, Klyd looks forward to the day when channels will work themselves out of a job. But true intimacy requires a partnership of equals, a letting go of fear. To the extent that one party trusts only because it's superior to the other and can remain in control, there's no real intimacy.
Klyd and the other channels are still shaped by junct culture. Knowingly or not, they still see Gens as less than fully adult, and try to protect them from all risk and choice in transfer.
Klyd looked forward to true Unity and intimacy as long as he had the upper hand.
What happened between HoZ and ZD to change his attitude?
Hugh Valleroy happened a Gen who was truly Klyd's equal or superior, as no other had been. This frightened Klyd. He couldn't face a true partnership of equals. He rejected the Distect on the basis of his own fear, because he needed to maintain the illusion of Sime (or at least channel) superiority.
Surface explanations often have nothing to do with inner motivations. The Tecton claimed to reject the Distect as vehemently as they did because its mere existence frightened out-Territory Gens. But in fact, during the early years after the First Contract, out-Territory Gens feared all Simes anyway; that's why they had retainer laws. They had enough else to worry about; at this stage the out-Territory Gens likely would have believed whatever the Tecton told them about the Distect.
Within a few years, the battle lines hardened. The Distect, in its own quest for Unity, also adopted the methods of alienation: terrorism. In less than a generation, it had become too late.
Digen Farris matured farther, and grew beyond Klyd in this respect. He was able to acknowledge his fear of Gen superiority, and face it. He was capable of seeing the flaws in the Tecton, and the good in the Distect. But by this point it was far too late for one man to reshape the Tecton.
The Distect had similarly become rigid, and Ilyana couldn't mend it singlehanded. The Distect's internal error, in its quest for Unity, paralleled that of the Tecton.
The Tecton was flawed because it treated Gens as children, to be protected at all costs, never to be allowed to choose the risk of direct transfer with renSimes or, in the case of Companions, transfer with a channel who hadn't had anti-kill conditioning. The channels, as the only true adults, were expected to assume the entire burden of fatal risk. The Distect, on the other hand, was flawed because it treated Simes as less than responsible adults, claiming that the Gen, and only the Gen, was responsible for what happened in transfer. Raised to this attitude, when their Gens were gone, Roshi's Distect Simes did indeed act like irresponsible children, no better despite their age than the savage children in Lord of the Flies.
Neither the Tecton nor the Distect were open to true intimacy between Sime and Gen: the trusting, mutually vulnerable intimacy of equals. The path to true intimacy, and Unity, was lost in fear, beaureaucracy, and violence. Humankind must wait many centuries until the era of Yone and Klairon for another chance to find it.
I don't think the readers who prefer horse and buggy Simefic really prefer a low-tech world. They simply prefer the juicy personal struggles towards intimacy of the Householding era to the monolithic, alienating sterility of the Tecton-dominated world or the alienating violence of passionate Distect terrorism. When individuals manage to build trust and intimacy with one another despite the Tecton Digen and Joel, Digen and Imrahan, Frevven and Chaynek, Den and Rital, Jason and Vidal people still want to read about it.
An afterthought for another day: the central theme of all science fiction is alienation. Most of it, however, does not pursue the complementary theme of intimacy.