Please discuss the themes of sexual attraction and love in BofD and
A.N., and how they relate to gender. Do you see gender as an issue in
Yeah, it's an issue to the extent that men and women are wired
differently. Part of the mechanics, part of the biology. Men see sex
differently; it's not as big a deal because there aren't as many risks
associated with it. It's the women that get pregnant, after all.
naturally there are differences and there are issues.
both BofD and A.N. I had societies that had some pretty definite rules
regarding women; on Delphos the women were largely voiceless and
powerless. On Allahu'akhbar there's a much more egalitarian structure,
which as much as anything else makes it pretty obvious that I'm dealing
with a post-reformation Islam.
another area where I feel like I'm walking some careful lines. I don't
want anyone getting the impression that I'm misogynistic, but I do have
to sometimes … all right, Delphos is a good example of this. It's a
slave planet, and the women are treated even more abominably than the
men. I think that's another example of correlation. A society that is
oppressive, suppressive, homophobic even, is likely to maltreat women.
I don't know why that is, but it sure as hell seems to be a more or
less constant theme in human history.
in order to have this really broken social system on Delphos, in order
to make the slavery believable, I had to have the women oppressed even
more. The extent they got it was disproportionate, but the reason for
that becomes clear in another title entirely (A Fire in Arcadia, volume I of
which is currently available; the second part will be out later this
year), wherein we get the history of Delphos as it existed long before
it was a slave world. What happened then, I think, makes the Delphos
presented in BofD considerably more sensible.
both Delphos and Allahu'akhbar the genders are pretty sharply
segregated in many ways. Most Delphan slaves live their entire lives
never seeing a woman; on Allahu'akhbar the kids, particularly, are kept
separated, and there's gender separation in the worship as well. For
Allahu'akhbar this is reasonable because there's a general belief that
men — and particularly pubescent boys — really don't have much sexual
self-control and are likely to try to get away with whatever they can.
Even the courtships are chaperoned.
Delphos the reasoning is much more practical; slaves wouldn't be as
productive if they burned off all their energies having sex all the
time, and there are breeding programs designed to control whose stock
gets passed along. There are mutt slaves, of course, but there are also
lines of superior merit, and the freemen wouldn't want some slave of
questionable breeding history to copulate with a woman whose womb has
produced only purebred offspring.
on both worlds there's a subtext, an assumption that mixed-gender
intercourse is the preferred mode, and that males are pretty much
incessantly on the prowl for it. Delphan male slaves, of course, turn
to one another for their affections; men on Allahu'akhbar are permitted
"the touch" with one another outside of marriage. So there is also
recognition that you can't simply cut off the sex drive. It has to
express and it has to do it in some way or other that both the
participants and society can accept.
freemen don't care about what their males get up to together any more
than it's illegal on Allahu'akhbar for men to marry men. (The same is
true for women, of course.) In some regards the system on Allahu'akhbar
is considerably more evolved than that in our own "free" society, even
though it's a theocracy. Of course we learn that there are some trades
that have to be made, and they're not very positive trades either.
for attraction, on Delphos we see that a well-made male form is prized,
and pretty much everyone is well-made. A lifetime of physical labor
will do that. Muscular carriage means a kind of honesty, almost a sense
of camaraderie. This is so because the freemen are generally indolent.
Fat, probably, lazy and surely much softer — most of them — than those
whom they possess. So a Delphan slave would feel more comfortable with
a male body that was toned, trim and so on.
happens at one point in the story, though, is one of the slaves has an
opportunity to discover the differences among genders. He likes being
with women, finds that there are contrasts but that the differences, as
foreign as they are to him at first, are compelling and interesting.
He's still much happier with male paramours, but he doesn't hate being
intimate with women either.
never really gets much of a chance to get to know women, but what
little contact he has sets him thinking in ways that prove to be very
dangerous — he becomes convinced that women have minds, that they can
think. That's as close to a Delphan heresy as any slave can come
without actually committing a physical act of resistance, a kind of
revolt of the mind.
Allahu'akhbar the tradition is that the first marriage or two a man or
woman undertakes will be to someone a little older and a little more
experienced, and it's not unusual for first-time husbands to marry
other men rather than women. This helps introduce them gently to sexual
intimacy; men and women, after all, are
built differently, and it's considered appropriate for a new husband to
be shown how to be a considerate mate by someone with whom he has more
in common physically.
absolutely a factor, but there are also marriages of convenience or
necessity — settling — just as today. The reason those kinds of
arrangements are much more tolerable on Allahu'akhbar is, of course,
that any marriage need last only one year. If the mates decide to split
ways afterward they are allowed to do so, and may even court other
prospects while still married in the weeks before the marriage festival.
is always a touchy spot because everyone has his or her own ideas about
what it is, but to me there's a distinction between the kind that draws
you initially to someone else and the kind that creates long-term
partnerships. Those first rushes of hormones and horniness tend to wear
off after a while and if there isn't a solid foundation of affection
and trust, your relationship will end, with varying degrees of shouting
and dish-throwing, depending on how many times words such as "forever"
and "always" wafted on the air in earlier months.
respond to this in different ways; there's no marriage, so they don't
have year-long or lifelong commitments. Some choose a bondsman — a kind of squire — who
is also an object of special, intense affection, while others sort of
float around and have a lot of sex with a lot of different partners.
Either mode is acceptable and it's really up to the individual to
choose the way he's comfortable with. And you don't have to stick with
one or the other forever; you can have a bondsman and allow others
intimacy as well, and there's some discovery with some of the
characters that a kind of group arrangement is not just satisfactory
but what they all want most.
both worlds there's an ethic (which is of course an echo of my own)
that a long-term type relationship, while it's an ideal, is not
necessarily going to be hit upon. And it's almost never going to happen
with your very first sex partner. So there's a kind of encouragement to
play the field, to get involved with various mates of both genders and once you've had
some experience, begin thinking about something more permanent.
Experience and age will let you make more clear-headed decisions and
you'll have very realistic expectations about what makes a good
really fouled up England and the US with the romantic twaddle he wrote
about star-cross'd lovers and such. There is simply no way that you'll
find a love of your life by eyes meeting across a room or something
equally foolish, and under no circumstances should high school
sweethearts be allowed to marry. This moronic notion that we have that
"fate" or anything else "conspires" to bring people together is just so
much prettified justification for a loin-centric drive.
all the flowers have withered, after the cake's in the freezer and the
birds have choked on the rice, you and your mate get to settle in to …
what, half a century of each other? That's when reality and clarity set
in, and it wouldn't be a problem if we weren't so asinine about
"lifetime" this or that, or especially about cudgeling couples into it
when they're barely out of their teens. (Or earlier.)
ideas come through very clearly in different ways in both BofD and A.N.
Characters articulate them (using their own idioms), and their lives
embody them. Obviously I believe that's a much more realistic view of
how human relationships should be seen, and what's funny about it is I
saw that even in my own early twenties, when I was supposed to be
falling into the very traps I deride.
guess I got lucky there.
On a personal level, I was left with the impression that these books
take a hostile attitude towards anal sex. How do you respond to this?
with some surprise. There's a scene in BofD which I know can be
troubling to some because it appears to cast anal sex in a negative
light in the mind of one of the characters, but I had other reasons for
doing what I did at that point which I'll go into a little later.
also a particularly disturbing event that happens — it's witnessed by
another one of the characters and it's pretty violent, pretty messy.
The reaction of the witness is to be horrified that something pleasant
(sex) could be so entirely abused.
two sequences might give the impression that I don't like anal sex,
particularly since I don't go into lengthy descriptions of lovemaking
that includes anal intercourse, but I simply hadn't thought it
necessary. Never crossed my mind to think of balancing anything,
because I didn't think there was anything to balance.
assault scene in BofD, for instance, is of the same order as what
happens in the prison in A.N., and that was another sequence I didn't
feel it necessary to balance, because it was a prison rape. I think
most readers would understand that I understand that prison rape is not
at all like anal sex any more than vaginal rape is like heterosexual
didn't attempt to offset that either; though in A.N. we do get a hint
that there's been anal sex — positive and pleasant — but it's not
it might be possible to interpret that as a negative slant, I believe
that's an extreme assessment to make. There's also a very vicious fight
sequence that happens in that prison that is not offset by extensive
explorations of the positive ways people can touch, after all (hug,
caress, etc.), and I think that's reasonable.
know that rape is not sex, and I wouldn't do any reader the disservice
of suggesting that the assault sequences are in any way normal or
desirable to the victims. (That's an obnoxious thing for any writer to
do, describing how a rape victim suddenly starts liking it — I believe if an author
thinks that's really plausible, he should go out and get raped a few
times to see just how realistic his notions are.)
of that I just was not writing those passages with the idea of anal-sex
defamation in mind; I wasn't thinking I should attempt to offset them
with other scenes that show loving penetrative contact for the same
kind of reason that I wouldn't offset a knife murder with a
demonstration of the many ways vegetables can be productively sliced in
the kitchen. Misuse of something doesn't require showing its positive
aspects; generally I think most people understand that in describing a
rape one is not denigrating sex, but rather showing that the rapist is
too, that I've got other books out there, and more in the works, which
do show anal sex as a positive and loving expression of affection, I'd
say that while perhaps I was a little inattentive of the concerns that
some might have, it's all right for me to respond by saying the
suggestion that I don't like anal sex is not fair. (And I've got
several old boyfriends who'd back me up on that too. Uh, so to speak.)
Due to the youthful nature of the majority of your characters, do you
think it possible that some readers might accuse you of crossing the
line in terms of pedophilic fantasy, and if so, how would you respond
something I've been aware of since, of course, I'm still very much the
product of my culture, and that happens to include a heightened
sensitivity to those kinds of concerns. To the extent that worries
about molestation are valid, I don't see anything wrong with being
troubled; for instance I think we can all feel a little ashamed that we
permitted priests to rape boys, for decades (actually centuries),
without doing anything substantial about it until comparatively
there's such a thing as being too
uptight, particularly where fiction is concerned.
prefer character driven plots, which means my characters really have to
be interesting. They have to be energetic, passionate, and willing and
able to change in the scope of a narrative. This essentially requires
using characters young enough to go through all that but old enough to
be accessible to adults. That doesn't usually happen with very old
characters and, when it does, it smacks of the impossible; witness
Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
Hence I tend to cast a lot of teens, and because I don't really believe
in self-Bowdlerization, that also means I have to explore everything
I find so compelling about teen characters is the extraordinary mix of
emotions and the amazing bravado they have. They feel everything so
richly, so intensely, and as far as they're concerned it's the first
time anyone in the universe has ever had any of those feelings. And
their comparative lack of life experience means they can't always sort
out or name all those emotions, and they're not sure how to handle them
— I think that's a very powerful, poignant and striking combination of
traits for a character, a way to have access to extraordinary beauty,
tremendous heartbreak and stunning tragedy. Most adults would be able
to read something like that and remember all of it from their own
lives, every moment, when all those things were brand new and larger
than the entire cosmos.
because I don't close many doors, and because we're dealing with
lust-laden hormone factories, yeah, there's going to be some sex. I try
to play it coy when I'm concerned about crossing too many lines,
because I do not want to write kiddie porn (though there's some
question whether sex between two teenagers would qualify as "kiddie"
anything). The sex that the characters have is a part of their lives,
and I suppose that if I were to write page after page of lush, explicit
descriptions of smooth this and small that I would either be relating a
man having sex with a woman or I would be delving into a pedophilic
exploration. That's not what happens in these stories though.
I do recognize that some might worry about the apparently promiscuous
and ready sex that goes on in these books, and there are a few places
where I've pulled back; one example would be the passage that gave you
trouble in BofD, where Barris is pretty clear that he's not interested
in sexual contact with a couple of underlings. The point of that
passage was not to cast aspersions on anal sex; it was to reassure the
reader that Barris, a mature young man, was not sexually drawn to the
boys attending him.
didn't want readers dreading a turn of the page and discovering Barris
— the hero, for Fred's sake —
involved in a threesome with a couple of prepubescent youths. So I had
to make it clear that he wasn't interested in them, and I also chose,
from time to time, to emphasize how exhausted he always was when he was
anywhere near those kids; the message was meant to be that even if he
had wanted to, he wouldn't have been able to.
a little off-center about such worries is that there are so many other
things that go wrong in these characters' lives. To obsess about a pair
of boys having fun rubbing a few bits together while completely
ignoring the massive injustice of the fact that they are slaves is to
me the height of perversity of perspective.
A.N. I took it in a slightly different direction. I really do think
that we're probably a little overzealous in prosecuting certain types
of actions. For some reason we have the magic number 18 stuck in our
heads, as though everything that happens before then is done in the
innocence of childhood, while everything after that is undertaken in
the clarity and wisdom of adulthood.
that notion would make sense but for a few minor quibbles, not the
least being that it's utter bullshit. Maturity is reached by fits and
starts, earned really, not
automatically awarded 6,574 days after your birth. We like 18 because
it's the age at which legal contracts can be entered, but the last time
I checked sex wasn't a business deal. (Events in certain parts of
many other nations and cultures don't have that kind of mindset; and in
many parts of this country it's acceptable — well, legal anyway — for
girls under 18 to marry and, presumably, consummate the marriage. And
then, of course, there's the fact that we'll often try kids under 18 as
adults, and we are known to occasionally condemn to death those whom we
apparently kids are innocent unless adults decide they're not, which is
disingenuous, or they aren't allowed to have sex unless adults marry
them, which is hypocritical.
also the subtext that any sex that happens before the age of 18 is
automatically damaging. That definitely is a cultural artifact; our
definitions of "harmful" are really what do the damage.
wanted to try to get past that a little. For a European mind this
wouldn't even be necessary, but in the US and UK, it's a must. I
deliberately kept things vague with A.N. regarding the age of
characters; I ballpark it but from two different timekeeping systems,
the Delphan season and the year on Allahu'akhbar, which is longer than
a season; and a season is longer than a terrestrial year.
there's no easy way to know how old anyone is terrestrially, and I
wanted to get away from that because to me the story was about the
value and legitimacy of the relationship in spite of those kinds of
concerns. That made it much more genuine to me, and it's important
because of the way that book wraps up. The relationship had to be about
the person, not about simple
actually did have one reader suggest that I was all but describing an
act of child molestation, which meant to me that I'd played it about
right. There are contextual cues to indicate that everyone's of age,
and the events in question take place after a legitimate marriage
ceremony, so everything is legal by the standards applied on that
world. It still makes some readers uneasy, I'm sure, but I'd ask them
to ask themselves why.
really my response to those who might suggest I'm writing some kind of
voyeuristic kiddie porn. Why would you think that? Where in the stories
do you get that impression? At what point do I go into lavish details
describing the rape of a child by an adult, and try to make it look
like a good thing?
think such fears betray an ambivalence about sex, sexuality and the
nature of youth; that is, they say little about the stories but quite a
lot about those asking the questions.
join us next month for our conclusion of Mr. Ockrassa’s interview.