from a letter by Greer Watson dated 17/June/2005
sent to Margaret Carter

(slightly revised)

I'm not so sure that the population demographic problem is insoluble.   I think its apparent insolubility depends on what doesn't get said in the books and fan fiction.  If there is a sufficient underwater depth to the iceberg, then I think Sime~Gen demographics may well work.   But this does depend on there being a lot unspoken.   Unspoken by the characters, I mean.   Implicit.   But also unwritten by the writers.
        For example, if you look at the pre-Unity period, you have separate Sime and Gen territories.   One third of all the children in Gen territory turn Sime. Each needs twelve or thirteen kills a year.   Even if they kill only once before being shot, that means that a third of the adults die.   How can this work?
        Answer:   practically every pre-Sime child is killed in early changeover.   If they never complete changeover, they don't kill.   The death rate from berserkers is actually incredibly low—but the fear is incredibly high.   Berserkers are terrifying.   They are boogeymen.   However, the more organized and developed (and larger) the Gen territories get, the fewer children succeed in hiding, getting through changeover, and turning berserker.   For most Gens, Simes are the stuff of stories.   There are old family legends of someone's uncle who was killed; there's a lot of pulp fiction full of vicious Simes; the newspapers widely report every case that happens; and, of course, everyone knows of the existence out there of a Sime Territory, against which you have an army.   Everyone is naturally scared.   But the precautions make it statistically extremely unusual for anyone to encounter a Sime, except maybe for soldiers in the army, and then only when the Cold War between the Territories warms up with a skirmish.   And this is long before Unity.
        But this doesn't make a good story—or, at least, not a good foundation for the romantic “intimate adventure” story that is promoted in Sime~Gen fandom.   There are two big fan scenarios, aren't there?   I'm talking about the sort of scenario that, if you bother to write it down at all, you shove in your bottom drawer.   One of these embarrassing basic fan fics is the scenario in which the protagonist (i.e. you) is a kid living in a border town in Gen Territory, who suspects that they are Sime.   They have horrified dreams about it, which warn them to hide when they start to go through changeover.   Perhaps they are warned by a relative who is an escapee from Sime Territory.   Anyway, the kid kills someone, usually a sibling or grandparent, and then manages to get across the border.   Usually to a Householding, of course, where it turns out they are a channel.   Yippee!!!!
        If we look at the attraction of this story, it goes to adolescent alienation from the family.   The child feels like a dangerous alien in the previously comfortable family home.   The dead sibling or grandparent is a stand-in for killing the parent.   Oh, never mind old Freud:   I'm talking about adolescent fantasies of killing the parent who nags you about homework and won't let you have the independence you feel ready for.   Of course, this freedom-by-killing comes with serious guilt.   Having killed the parent/warden (with guilt), the child then escapes from the restrictive environment—achieving the goal of living in a wonderful place where they will be accepted for themselves, where they will have an adult role, and where they are wonderfully talented (the channel bit), and hence seen as important and significant in a way they certainly weren't at home.   Any Freudian-type symbolism you want to read into the tentacles you can do yourself.
          All these basic fan fics are soooooo easy to psychoanalyse.   Alas.
        Anyway, the point is that this story depends on the child living in a border town, or at least a town close enough to make the border reachable.   But the larger Gen Territory gets, the less total area qualifies as border.   The romantically satisfying story is one of escape; but it is also true that, as a general principle of writing, stories are about the exception, not the rule.   So escape should not be seen as the norm.
        Now the next point has to do with one third of the kids becoming Sime:   if they're all killed, that means that one third of all children die in their early teens.   I think the people who cavil at this one don't know much history.   There was a time when people had eight or twelve kids hoping that two or three would survive.   The horse-and-buggy era in Sime~Gen fiction needs to be compared with the mid nineteenth century.   The death rate was almost as high as it had been a century earlier; but, although family size was dropping, people still had large families.   They do in Third World countries today.
        So, at this period in Sime~Gen history (and even more so earlier in First Channel days), Gens had lots and lots of kids.   At least a third of these died before the age of ten.   So another third died after:   that just means that the Gens would avoid even the primitive birth control methods of the past (abstention mostly), and have the biggest families they could manage.
        Psychologically?   Remember, we're dealing with people who have large families expecting most of them to die.   In the midst of life we are in death, and all that.
        But they have to kill them themselves?   I agree that shooting your own kids is hard:   here I think one needs to take the books (and the fan fiction even more) as showing worst case scenarios.

NOTE:   At the time this letter was sent, I had not yet read bae's Scrapbook on Secret Pens; also this notion has been put in the latest RPG scenario, which has added a doctor who gives kids in changeover a “black pill” that sends them quietly to die in their sleep.

With so many kids turning Sime, people would quickly learn the symptoms.   It takes a few hours for even a channel to go through changeover; for most young Simes the process is longer.   There are distinct stages to changeover, during most of which the child is no danger since the tentacles have not broken out.
        So the kid feels ill.   Kids do sometimes:   no surprise.   The kid has had chicken pox, measles, and scarlet fever.   Lost a cousin to polio, and another to tetanus.   A friend died of snake bite, a neighbour of typhoid fever, and a couple of babies of croup.   Anyway babies die:   everyone knows that.   So you feel ill; you go to your mother; she feels your forehead.   She looks worried?   Uh-huh:   she's lost two babies, had an eight year old die from blood poisoning, and a five year old of whooping cough.   Of course, she's worried.   She tells you to go to bed, and brings you a drink of water because you're thirsty.   She sends another of your many siblings to fetch old granny.   They look you over carefully:   no spots, no coughing.   A couple of hours later, red streaks appear on your arms.   Old granny gives you some medicine, saying it'll make you sleep.
        Next day:   funeral.   Sad thing.   Poor Billy/Julie got sick and died.   No surprise to anyone—kids or adults.   Though, admittedly the lack of surprise is a bit different in the kids than it is in the adults.
        No guns.   No blood.   Just quietly the kid is “put to sleep”.   And it is done at a point where the diagnosis is definite, but the danger is minimal.
        Now, I've not seen this in the fan fiction or the canon; but, if you stop to really think about it, it's the logical thing.   The only kids who have to be shot are the ones who do not go to their mothers when they feel ill, but hide in the barn.   (Which, if you stop to think about it, is pretty unusual behaviour.)   But, obviously, there's no “intimate adventure” romantic excitement in the scenario I've just described.   It's a sadly mundane little tragedy.   I'm not saying that it would make a bad story:   in fact, properly written up, it would make either of two rather good ones—the mother's sad duty, or the child's innocent self-betrayal—depending on whose point of view you chose to write it from.   But that's not the usual sort of story that Sime~Gen fans write.   And it is certainly not the sort of story the JLs have written.
          Instead, writers go for the gun.   They write of the kid who knows the adult secret that kids can become Simes, who knows the danger, and who hides.   They write of the lynch mob.
        You say that, in fan fiction at least, children are told the truth about changeover?   Well, there have always been adults who believe that children should know the truth about “adult” topics.   There may well be rumours among the kids—whispering in the washrooms, so to speak.   And folk lore of the “brought by storks” and “found under a gooseberry bush” variety.   But I bet most parents don't tell kids about changeover, really.   I mean, would you if it meant scaring your kid into hiding out in the barn, so they'd turn berserker and you'd have to shoot them?   Of course not.
        But some changeover victims do hide.   And who are they?   The kids who will turn channel, who have dreams of turning Sime, and hence reason to be scared.  And the children of people who have escaped from Sime Territory, who know Simes to be people instead of demons:   if they've settled close enough to the border for a warning to allow the child to escape to safety, then they have strong motivation to instruct them about the symptoms of changeover.   (Actually, I think this accounts for most of the fan fiction cases.)
        To look at demographics, you have to look at how things would work in real life (if the Sime~Gen world were real).   You have to consider the psychology of real parents—who, throughout most of history, have had large families of children and loved them all dearly, even though they know that they will bury most of them.
        In such a society, changeover would be seen as a terminal illness.   Worse:   it is a terminal illness that allows ingress for demons that turn kids into manic murderous monsters with tentacles.   Parents would still love the child who is sick with Simedom:   they wouldn't wantonly shoot it:   they would only fall back on that as a last resort, when the danger is terribly apparent.   They would try to find a way to ease the child out of life—a mercy killing.   And, if this sounds horrible, you have to bear in mind that, through most of Gen Territory, there is no alternative for the child but death, since there can be no escape unless the border is near.   So the parents' only choice is between giving the kid a painless death in its sleep with its parents lovingly close, or hunting the kid down and shooting it, with all the terror and blood and pain that that entails.
        I notice that when people write of Gen Territory, they always seem to set this scenario post-Unity, so that this two-way choice can be identified as regressive, since the “right” choice is the new third choice:   to take the changeover victim to a Sime Centre.   That there were times when this choice didn't exist, and couldn't imaginably exist, is fairly well absent (though implied at least in the currently running RPG scenario).
        So the first thing to remember about Sime~Gen demographics is that, in Gen Territory, nearly all Simes die before changeover is completed.

Now the other basic fan fic scenario is the Sime Territory plot.   In this one, the protagonist establishes as a Gen, but is warned, and tries to escape across the border.   There is a hunt; and, most usually, the hero finishes up at a Householding.  (As a Companion, of course.)
        The demographics of Sime Territory life are more complicated; but I don't think they are insoluble.   They do depend on there being far more Gens in Sime Territory than people usually imagine.   I would say that there would have to be several hundred Gens to every Sime.   I started working out the numbers; but, actually, when you start doing the math, you quickly realize that the ratio varies with time.   Earlier (say at the time of First Channel, or before that) there would have been many more Gens per Sime than at the time of Zelerod's Doom, because of the increase in the Sime population. Which was Zelerod's point.
        Basically, most of Sime Territory consists of large Genfarms, which for most of pre-Unity history must have been run mostly by the Gens, since they vastly outnumber the Simes.   For this reason, their population was not stripped of adolescents to its full productive capacity.   Instead, only a relatively small proportion were killed.   From the perspective of the Gens living in the Genfarm villages, life was probably not radically unlike that in Gen Territory in the preindustrial era (think medieval), except that there was a slightly higher death rate among their children, i.e. many died in infancy of illness, in childhood of illness or accident, and in adolescence of changeover or culling.   That means that the kids who would turn Sime are killed in the farms by the Gens themselves, just as they would be in Gen Territory.   None of the Simes running the farms cares:   they aren't their own kids, just potential berserkers who would kill the stock.   Basically, the Simes would act as overlords:   the comparison would maybe best be with Norman overlords to Saxon villages.   The newly established kids taken as kills were probably taken on a principle of tithing a percentage of the adolescents to their Sime overlords.   You want feudal, Margaret, that's where the real feudal aspect of the Sime~Gen world comes in.
        The culled kids are drugged, on their way to and when they are kept in the pens.   Most Simes only ever meet them at that point.   Most Simes never deal with Gens actually living on a Genfarm:   they only see them at a distance.
        Actually, if they survived the cull of adolescents, Gens on large Genfarms could expect to live a normal life as a farmer, with a couple of their children surviving to succeed them on their land.   True, more boys would be culled than girls, so I wouldn't be surprised if, throughout most of their history, the Gens on the farms were polygynous, with men having two or three wives.

However, although most Gens who are killed come from Genfarms, there are other ways they are bred.   These are small-scale genbreeding establishments; and the people running these do keep their breeders drugged.   Why?   Because (a) they don't want them running loose, and maybe getting killed by someone; and (b) they, like most people, expect Gens to be drugged, and assume that's the right way to keep them.
        Who are these small-scale operators?   Well, there are Pen owners who breed their overstock.   (There's one in First Channel.)   And then there are small farmers who keep a female Gen or two as a cash crop.   (That's what the tax office thinks Rimon is.)   On a day to day basis, these are the genbreeders people are aware of:   after all your neighbour could be one.   It's like keeping a pig, and feeding it on table scraps.  Except that, in this case, you aren't fattening the pig to sell to the butcher for cash:   you're going to sell the piglets.
        Slina occasionally mates male pen Gens to her breeders, or tries to get an out-Territory captured Gen to breed with them.   But, since it's the females who are valuable as breeders, most farmers can't afford to keep a male Gen.   Not just to impregnate the females—not when they can do the job themselves, or (for female farmers) use it as a way to relieve the frustrations of their sons.   It's a perversion, of sorts; but it's silently overlooked because it's practical.   That's why no one arrests Rimon for impregnating Kadi when he openly admits what he's done at the tax office.   What really irritates them there is his attempted tax evasion.
        The small-time genbreeders drug not only the breeders but also the preadolescent kids.   They don't want one to change over during the night and kill a breeder.
        The effect of the drugs is probably to delay changeover (till morning).   The side effect of delaying changeover is to raise the probability of dying of attrition before the tentacles break out.
        So, since their familiarity with in-Territory Gens is limited only to the Pen Gens they kill each month and their neighbours' small-time operations, most Simes think all Gens are kept drugged all the time.   They aren't.   And most Simes assume correctly that the drugs cause most pre-Gen adolescents who turn Sime to die.   But they assume that this is the practice on the big Genfarms as well, which is probably not true (or at least not true at this point in Sime~Gen history).
        But no way are the big-time Genfarmers going to tell their practices, lest people (a) get upset about the deaths of the young Simes; and (b) get scared their undrugged Gens will rebel.   Of course, they won't rebel.   The more independent and badly behaved kids—the ones who might become rebels—are precisely the ones who are tithed to be killed by the Simes.   Let's face it:   the kind of people who pay tribute in their own children to avoid attacks by raiders, are the kind of Gens who won't want trouble that might get them killed themselves.   Effectively, the Genfarm Gens are self-selecting for docility, and have done so for centuries.   Of course, all personality types get culled, not just the rebels; and, drugged to the hilt as they are, nobody's personality is apparent once they're in the Pens.
        If you're wondering why the rebel types aren't sold as prime kills, you need to remember that, although their character may be known in the Genfarm village they come from, their Sime overlords think of the stock they own as being pretty anonymous:   think of a rancher with a cattle herd.   Furthermore, a large Genfarm is big business:   the newly established kids are taken off in large coffles to the pens, not selected individually.   (Who are the prime kills, then?   The canon and fan fiction tells us that:   they're either captured out-Territory in raids, or they're the children of Sime parents, raised as “people” until it turns out that they establish instead of changing over.)

And yes, of course the Gens in Sime Territory have language!   At least the ones on the big Genfarms do.   But, since they have little contact with their Sime overlords and none with Gen Territory, this is neither Genlan nor Simelan as we know them from the books.   Instead, on the Genfarms, English would have drifted into a completely separate group of dialects.   Probably (since we're talking centuries), by the time of House of Zeor or a few decades earlier, Genfarmlan would be pretty well unintelligible to out-Territory Gens.   In fact, the only Simes who would understand any of it would be the people actually involved in running the big Genfarms.
        Drugged up pen Gens taken in coffles to the pens from the big Genfarms would have the capacity for language, but would be mute from the drugs.   If rescued by a Householding and weaned off the drugs, they would quickly recover to their original condition.   Although they would not know Simelan, they could learn it reasonably quickly as a second language.   (And the Householders take the credit as if they were teaching them language itself, rather than just a new language.)
        Sadly, however, the Gens bred on small farms and in pens would never learn to speak properly.   Why?   Because there is a critical period for learning language, and by adolescence they've passed it.   Those from the small places would have been drugged for life, as were their mothers, and would be like feral children:   without any proper language.   That's a problem in rehabilitating feral children.   They learn a fair vocabulary; but it's individual words.   They have major trouble with even the most basic concepts of grammar.

That's the situation in Sime Territory throughout most of the history of organized Sime Territories, from centuries before First Channel up to almost the time of House of Zeor.
        At that point, though, things have started to change; and they've changed even more by Zelerod's Doom.   As the number of Simes rises exponentially, an ever greater number of adolescents would have to be tithed, including nearly all the boys.  Fertility drugs would be needed to ensure that the remaining adults (mostly women) would continue to breed enough babies.   The family structure would totally break down as an ever-higher percentage of the boys (rather than the girls) would be tithed, so as to maximize breeding output.
        With fewer and fewer adults, the number of children would quickly outnumber them to over ten to one.   Are you familiar with the term “baby-farming”?   In the decades pre-Unity, Genfarms turn into real baby farms.   A high proportion of the adults would be caring for the babies and toddlers.
        Some women and the few men could continue to farm, with the assistance of the children.   But, given the amount of food needed, actual food farming would increasingly have to be contracted out to Sime farmers.   One way to reduce the food needs, though, would be to rent out or sell a lot of the pre-adolescents as labour (as we see in Ambrov Keon), just to get them off the farms and out where someone else would take care of their needs.
        Also, the big Genfarms would have to adopt the practice of drugging pre-adolescents for the same reason as the small-scale operators:   so the unsupervised kids won't finish changeover at night, get out of the dorms, and kill one of the valuable breeders.   This means, of course, that they would get addicted to the drugs.   And that means that even the girls who survive the culls would be drug addicted.   With drugged breeders, the farms would start to produce babies who would be addicts at birth.
        Their drug addiction would, however, have a good side effect (from the perspective of the Simes running the Genfarms).   The acute and ever-increasing disruption of their lives—the culture shock—would probably otherwise stimulate rebellion even in the docile breed of Gens stocking the farms. The worm would turn, so to speak.   With such a large population of Gens, this would be a serious risk to the Sime population.   Drugging the breeders would be seen as doubly sensible.
        Of course, this would have serious consequences for the ability of the Gens to pass on their culture and language; but I doubt if a Genfarmer would care about that!

Post Zelerod's Doom, things change again, of course.   But it seems clear that the third-order channels would have been quite unable to fill the need of all the renSimes:   the Tecton would first have to find them, and then train them. There's a serious time-lag here that Zelerod's Doom slides right past with suspicious ease.
        However, we know—if only from information available outside the canonical stories—that continuing with the pens was seen as the sensible solution.   Not only did it keep the renSimes alive, it forestalled rebellion.   But it had another effect (and, I suspect, another motive).   It was the most efficient way to deal with the problem of the Genfarm Gens, who must have numbered a few hundred million at least.   The Tecton could try to find adoptive parents for the youngest children; but the older children and adults would have been impossible to resocialize, quite apart from the drug problem. (Remember what I said about the threshold age for learning language.)
        Killing their breeding stock would have been anathema to the Genfarm owners pre-Unity; hence the crisis in NorWest Territory in Zelerod's Doom as they tried to save their breeders from being taken as kills to feed the immediate need, leading to raids on the Genfarms and confiscation of their stock.   The big Genfarmers always had a practical understanding of the mechanics of Zelerod's Doom, even if they didn't see channel's transfer as a solution.   They knew perfectly well that, if the breeders were killed today, the crisis tomorrow would be even worse.   Even at the height of the famine in Zelerod's Doom, the Genfarms actually had a lot of Gens on them—well, mostly pre-Gen children, of course; but also the breeding stock.
        But to the Householders after Unity, these women (and a handful of men) simply represented an easy source of selyn for needy renSimes, with the added advantage that killing them off would mean that no more babies would be born from them.   The pre-adolescents would be killed as they established.   End of Genfarms. End of Genfarm Gens.
        I know this all came out some years past Unity, and was a terrible scandal and all; but I bet it was “spun” as a way to avert rebellion, not as a way to kill off hundreds of millions of people whom neither Sime nor Gen society could assimilate.  But, of course, it must have been recognized as such by the Householders who actually came up with the policy.
        One of whom was Klyd Farris.   But then one of whom was Risa Tigue, too.   She has that urchin appeal in Ambrov Keon, doesn't she?   Klyd is a far more difficult character; but then, in Ambrov Keon, she wasn't responsible for the survival of hundreds of people.   Let alone the deaths of hundreds of millions.

Or, when you talked about population, were you talking about genetics?   I still don't get how the one-third/two-thirds thing is supposed to work, unless there's a lethal genetic combination involved.   But no:   you said “demography”, didn't you?   I honestly do think the demographics can be made to work.

Excerpt from second letter

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