Communion Of Dreams

Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam.

A discussion over on UTI about a post I made there took a bit of an odd turn, engendering some interesting discussion about polygamy. This morning I made a comment that I thought I would share here, since it does relate directly to some of the things I do in Communion of Dreams. You’ll see what I mean.

Heinlein’s use . . . of non-standard family structures got me thinking about many of these issues when I was very young, and helped me form my opinions intellectually before getting into emotional commitments.

I tend to think that the serial monogamy that we see as a default in Western countries reflects the differences between societal conventions and evolutionary inclinations, with a big helping of “we live a whole lot longer now than early humans did” thrown in for good measure. It is rare to see a marriage last more than ten or fifteen years these days, and I think that makes a lot of sense – when most humans lived until 30 or so, it would make sense that pair-bonding would be a good strategy to raising and protecting children into early adulthood. That would mean a “marriage” of about the length I mention above.

But we live a lot longer now, and people grow and change throughout their lives. So it is unsurprising to me that divorce is common (something like half of all marriages end in divorce) as a way of dealing with these changes. Some people find a way to grow in tandem with their partner, and some find ways of allowing a certain freedom of definition for each partner within the structure of an ostensibly conventional marriage (some, of course, do both). Different cultures have found different strategies to accommodate these stresses – some allow for polygamy of the ‘conventional’ sort (think the Mormon or Islamic variety), some make divorce easy, some de-emphasize marriage itself, some ‘look the other way’ when one or the other partner in a marriage cheats or has a formal concubine system.

A fairly recent development in all of this has come to be known as polyamory – defining relationships as being more open and less “possessive”. There are some fairly well-known practices and practitioners, such as Penn Jillette. This attitude pretty well covers most of Heinlein’s alternative marriage structures and can work for some people, though it would understandably require a different sort of approach and mindset than what is commonly considered about marriage/love/relationships. In an homage to Heinlein I had originally used alternative family structures as the “norm” in my SF novel set about 50 years from now (a survival-strategy response to environmental conditions), but early readers of the book got too hung up on that so I changed it. Perhaps if/when I am an established author I can get away with it, as RAH did.

Children? I dunno – don’t have any, by choice. Not an issue for me, in several senses of the term.

[Mild spoilers ahead.]

To me, the novel actually does work better the way I had the family relationships defined before, with a group marriage built around a small number of adults who have just a couple of fertile people at the core.  This would allow for those precious few who are able to have children (remember, the fire-flu plague had not just killed vast numbers – it also left most people who survived it sterile) to do so with minimal stress, the rest of the family caring for them and the children born into the family.  Think how it would be otherwise: the few fertile couples trying to have and raise children in a society desperate for kids, maybe even willing to steal them or force child-baring couple to give their children to others.

But this change was just too hard for some people to wrap their heads around comfortably – they wanted to turn it into something about sex rather than about children.  Maybe they felt threatened by the idea, since the time-frame of the novel was so close to our own.  I dunno – my head doesn’t work that way.  So I made the change, and tried to work in enough explanation for the type of ‘family’ that exists in the book, while removing the polyamory element.  So far no one has commented on the current version as being a problem for them, and that is likely how it will stay.

Jim Downey

(Again, if you didn’t recognize the quote used in the title, shame on you.  It’s from this.)

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