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