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05:47 pm: eugenics in SF
[personal profile] lightreads reread Children of Morrow and Treasures of Morrow by H.M. Hoover, and I commented
There was a time when eugenics was all over SF written by women. And I was reading SF during that time, but I was a kid, and didn't notice it.

I am curious about it now, and I wonder:

What time period was that, exactly? [I'm thinking of the seventies]
Is my sense that it was more common in books by women than by men correct? If so, why?
What were they thinking?
Why did it stop?

Would you say that these are books I should include if I make an investigation of the phenomenon?


Can you think of any books I should include if I want to take a broad look at eugenics in SF? When I say eugenics I mean an attempt to improve the human race through selective breeding, not genetic engineering. And for this I'm not interested in books about breeding for The Perfect Child that has been foretold unto us, who will save the world; that trope is also creepy, but different.

This entry was originally posted at http://boxofdelights.dreamwidth.org/283039.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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[User Picture]
From:lookfar
Date:January 19th, 2016 01:15 am (UTC)
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The Gate to Women's Country. It's the twist at the end.
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From:amaebi
Date:January 19th, 2016 01:28 am (UTC)
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Yes, just what I thought of.
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From:lcohen
Date:January 19th, 2016 02:12 am (UTC)
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me three. maybe it wasn't ubiquitous, maybe we just all read that one book ;-) .
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From:randomdreams
Date:January 19th, 2016 03:19 am (UTC)
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Me four.
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From:boxofdelights
Date:January 23rd, 2016 08:01 am (UTC)
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I have heard that Tepper got more obsessed with breeding people in later books!
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From:plasticsturgeon
Date:January 23rd, 2016 03:18 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, TGTWC is the mostest but also there's, I think it's the Family Tree? The one where plants take over the world and eat a baby because a family has too many kids, and she decides overpopulation is the fault of depressed people and we should all be sterilized.
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From:boxofdelights
Date:January 23rd, 2016 08:03 am (UTC)
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Yes, that one has to be right square in the middle of the field.
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From:bunnyjadwiga
Date:January 19th, 2016 10:40 pm (UTC)
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Tepper has a fascination with this that starts in the Mavin Manyshaped books.
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From:boxofdelights
Date:January 23rd, 2016 08:00 am (UTC)
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That is a prime example.
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From:randomdreams
Date:January 19th, 2016 03:36 am (UTC)
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I remember reading at least a couple of short SF stories during the early 80's that had some sense of eugenics, but I believe it was merely some variant on women figuring out how to reproduce parthenogenically and how that changed society.
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From:boxofdelights
Date:January 23rd, 2016 05:46 am (UTC)
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You made me think of Joanna Russ's When It Changed. Have you read it?
http://boblyman.net/englt392/texts/When%20It%20Changed.pdf

She seems to share the simplistic assumption that smart people will produce smart children, but is entirely opposed to treating that as a justification for controlling actual people:

"You can have cells enough to drown in,” I said. “Breed your own.”
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From:randomdreams
Date:January 23rd, 2016 06:55 am (UTC)
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I haven't read it but I will.
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From:bunnyjadwiga
Date:January 19th, 2016 10:41 pm (UTC)
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Hm. It comes up in C.J. Cherryh of course, but that may be the Perfect Child thing.

Bujold has it in the Vorksigan books.
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From:boxofdelights
Date:January 23rd, 2016 07:13 am (UTC)
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Thank you! I hadn't thought about Bujold in this context, though of course the Cetagandans do it.
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From:lookfar
Date:January 20th, 2016 03:05 am (UTC)
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Not eugenics, but something similar. I won't spoil it for you, but it was my favorite book of 2014 - Never Let Me Go, by Ishiguro
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From:boxofdelights
Date:January 23rd, 2016 07:40 am (UTC)
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I've heard it's terribly sad, though?
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From:lookfar
Date:January 24th, 2016 09:55 pm (UTC)
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That seems like a matter of taste. I found it poignant, not crushing. We are all scheduled to die; it's only more clear to some of us. I also liked the movie, which was panned, with Carey Mulligan. I didn't feel as if the movie, which I saw second, spoiled the book for me.
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From:plasticsturgeon
Date:January 23rd, 2016 03:26 pm (UTC)
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I don't have a good sense of whether this happened more in books by women because I read more books by women, but I would not be surprised because it tended to be a "solution" to the problem of men taking over everything and fucking up the world, which was not a theme that most men were interested in exploring (other than that guy who created Wonder Woman).

It started much earlier than the 70s. Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was published in 1915 and prominently features eugenics. Not only is there parthenogenesis and no male births, but the state controls the number of kids each individual woman is allowed to have. If a woman is deemed unfit, she's not allowed to have any, and if she defies the order and has one anyway, her kid is taken away from her. Of course everyone's mysteriously white even though they live in South (or is it Central?) America.

[User Picture]
From:plasticsturgeon
Date:January 23rd, 2016 04:03 pm (UTC)
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In the Mother's Land, by Elisabeth Vonarburg. Severely limited fertility and high infant mortality; very few men; heterosexuality is considered a perversion which more easily allows the state to control who breeds with who.

And I had another one but I got interrupted and forgot!
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From:plasticsturgeon
Date:January 23rd, 2016 06:26 pm (UTC)
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The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent has a lot of parallels to The Gate to Women's Country, but even though the all-female-run state controls fertility and there is probably eugenics going on it's not a prominent theme, although there is, just like in Gate to Women's Country, a small band of horrible retrogressive patriarchal people outside the wall who are slowly dying of inbreeding.
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