The Big Idea: Lyda Morehouse

Nature is a strange and fascinating thing, and for the theologically and/or teleologically minded, it raises some interesting questions. It certainly did for Lyda Morehouse, who in writing up her latest novel Resurrection Code looked at some curious aspects of the animal world and wondered what God was thinking. Did she comes up with answers? Well, that’s what this Big Idea is here to tell you.

LYDA MOREHOUSE:

Did you know that, according to neatorama.com, when the dominant female clownfish dies, the toughest dude in school switches gender to take her place? Here are some more mind-twisters: female hyenas have balls as well as something called a “pseudo penis.” Certain male red-sided garter snakes pretend to be female in order to get a little action. That doesn’t even touch the sexual games our primate cousins the bonobos do for fun.

The natural world seems to be full of gender-bending queer sex[i].

As a writer who has written a number of science fiction/fantasy books where I presume to speak for God, I asked myself—does the sexual and gender flexibility of creation say anything about God’s intention with humanity?

I don’t know.

Yet, the first book of Genesis implies a dual-natured God, one who made man and woman in Their image[ii].

Those words from Genesis 1:26, quite frankly, have intrigued me since the first moment I heard about them, which was probably sometime in grade school. I suppose now is as good a time as ever to confess that I was not raised Christian. My family is Unitarian Universalist, some of whom are Christians, though we happened to be of the secular humanist variety. I did, however, by a strange fluke, attend a Catholic school from fourth to sixth grade. The town I grew up in, La Crosse, Wisconsin, is full of German and Irish immigrants. So almost everyone I knew, as well as all of my extended family, was/is staunchly Roman Catholic.

Thus I spent a lot of my formative years thinking about God. I also spent a lot of time wondering (and, frankly, worrying) what God thought of me, as an interloper.

One of the strangest moments of my stint at Cathedral School was getting report cards. The school was associated with the huge downtown cathedral, hence its name, and at the end of the school year it was required that we attend Mass in order to receive our final report card. Imagine my situation. I had to get in line with my fellow students, wave off the body of Christ, but ask for my report card from the head priest. I scurried back to the pew, mortified, and checked…. Yep, an “A” in religion.

What was I supposed to make of that?

An eleven-year-old me began to believe that maybe, just maybe, God was a bit more “liberal” than I was led to believe.

So what does that have to do with sexually divergent garter snakes which cross-dress for a hook-up?

Well, you might begin to see, the answer for me is: everything.

I’d written about God’s hidden liberalism before. I created a cyberpunk future world where angels took the Genesis 1:26 line so seriously that they referred to God as “He,” “She” and “Them” depending on what they were trying say. I even had an archangel who wore a dress in protest for the fact that God’s default template for all angels was male. All that was in the background before, however, due to the fact that that series had found a home with a big, New York publisher. I had a sense, though it was never an explicit order from my editor, that my ideas were already controversial enough.

Resurrection Code is coming out from small press, so I’ve let out all the stops. One of the main stories in the book is one archangel’s quest for the answer to God’s opinion on the transgender nature of the universe. Turns out the answer is in Heaven, as it is on earth, not as straight-forward as it might seem.

[i] There’s lots of science behind this. See the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals, or check out Bruce Bagemihl’s book BIOLOGICAL EXUBERANCE: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity: http://www.amazon.com/Biological-Exuberance-Homosexuality-Natural-Diversity/dp/0312192398

[ii] ‘Vayomer Elohim “Na’aseh adam b’tzalmenu kidmutenu’ — And God (plural) said “Let us make man (adam) in our image, and like us.” (Genesis 1:26) Transliterated and translated by Sean M. Murphy.

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Resurrection Code: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s LiveJournal.

22 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Lyda Morehouse

  1. “… when the dominant female clownfish dies, the toughest dude in school switches gender to take her place …”

    Annnnnnnnnnnnnd Finding Nemo became changed forevermore in my mind.

  2. It does seem a very interesting book, but I can’t find it for under £5, so the author has sold her work too expensively.

  3. The book is priced perfectly in line with other books of its format, crypticmirror, so I’m not sure why you felt the need to single it out on pricing.

    Likewise, this is not the thread to go off on the general pricing conventions of publishers, folks.

  4. This sounds awesome. I’ve always had a place in my heart for queer theory and how it relates to divinity.
    You don’t happen to know whether or not your publisher will eventually release this as an ebook, do you?

  5. Re: clownfish. A lot of wrasses do the reverse. Males keep harems of smaller females, and if the male is killed, the largest female switches sex. When I was a kid, I used to catch cuckoo wrasses. Males are big and blue. Females are small and red. Occasionally, I’d catch one halfway between.

  6. I’m very familiar with La Crosse, and actually attended the Catholic high school there in the eighties. I didn’t think until long after I’d graduated what it must have been like for the few students who weren’t Catholic. They were required to attend Mass with us, and watching it but not being able to receive communion must have been strange and off-putting. I now have friends who have been in those students’ shoes at times in their lives, and their descriptions of what it’s like genuinely surprised me at first, just because the Mass is so familiar to me, though I lapsed long ago, that I have a hard time imagining being on the outside and looking in.

    And, yes, if you pay less attention to the hypocritical patriarchy and more to the actual tenets of the Church, God, like reality, does indeed have a well-known liberal bias.

  7. Wow, this sounds like one I want to read. The excerpt brought to mind George Alec Effinger’s Marid Audran books—in a good way! I loved those books, so I’ll be looking for this one.

  8. Anyone looking for Morehouse’s earlier work would do well to check out her own site via the link above – she gives a link to Uncle Hugo’s who have a few copies at the original price.

  9. Tariq Kamal — I’m not exactly sure myself what the character is wearing. It seems to be a modified hijab, but the character actually wears a burqa that completely covers the face in the novel… and I can understand why the cover designer (who did an awesome job, IMHO!) chose to show eyes.

    speckofawesome — My agent and I are currently trying to talk my publisher into an e-book version, so fingers crossed.

    Nikp– cool about the wrasses, I didn’t know that. Was it easy to tell that the fish was between sex? Because of color? (I have fresh water fish at home that I couldn’t sex if my life depended on it.)

    RG — an Aquinas alum, I take it? :-) My cousin Laun went to Aquinas, but I shifted back to public school for high school and attended Logan.

    cat collector — I love George Alec Effinger’s Marid series, so thank you! Thank you!

  10. I’m surprised you didn’t also invoke Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” To me, that last clause has always read like an explicit clarification to answer a question. It’s as if the author/scribe/compiler of the text was saying, “I see there’s some debate here as to whether it’s just men, or both men and women who are in God’s image. Let me go ahead and clear that up right now.”

    I also recall that there’s been quite a lot of Rabbinic debate–both in the Talmud and since–as to the exact meaning of the Hebrew words we translate as “image” and “likeness.” Of course, that’s pretty much par for the course as far as Rabbinic debates go. I don’t recall the exact opinions expressed (I should really go look that up again), but I recall finding some fascinating ideas.

  11. Lyda @13

    Yes, color. It has been 25 years, but if I remember correctly, the occasional intermediates would be mid-way between the reddish females and the (absolutely beautiful) blue males.

    *google google*.

    Huh. Just found a New Scientist article from 1981 that claims blue males are usually “secondary males” (i.e. males that were once female) that are at least 7 years old. Rare “primary males” that are born male start out the same color as females and are smaller than secondary males. So, the big macho boys who get to mate the most are the ones who were once girls.

    There are two related species that I also used to catch while fishing for crab bait. One (the ballan wrasse) does not have primary males. All males were once females. The other (corkwing wrasse) has “normal” males that differ in appearance from females and also “transvestite” males that share all the secondary sex characteristics of females. Apparently the transvestites are able to sneak in and fertilize the eggs guarded by normal males.

    Nature is weird.

  12. Real cool idea, hitting the theological/cultural underpinnings. Leaves me thinking the book is cool too, with only a hint of story.

    On translation of biblical sentence. A better translation might be: “And Power said, let us make a man in our imprint, able as us.” Although adam can be singular or plural, this sentence is in context of one man’s creation. Whether Elohim is plural or not is controversial, and a theology/grammar discussion in its own right.

  13. And she doesn’t even mention my favorite character, Page/Strife, the AI who sometimes manifests as male, sometimes female, explaining, “after all, there are both zeroes and ones in my code.”

    Just finished the book. May have to go back and read it again before I let my wife have it…

  14. This book seems like just my cuppa. Off to Uncle Hugo’s to pick it up!

    I was extremely fortunate to have visited Uncle Hugo’s not long after Lyda signed a few sets of her original Archangel series. Even though I already owned them, I snapped them all up…

  15. For those who want to experience a catholic (note, small ‘c’) Eucharist and be able to receive the bread and wine freely, get thee to an Episcopal church. We offer communion to all baptized Christians of any denomination + no one is gonna ask you for your Christian ID card.

    And quite frankly, many Episcopal churches practice open communion, where we don’t fret about the “baptized Christian” part one bit. Feed ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out :)

  16. It’s so great to have a new Lyda Morehouse book out again. It’s been too long. I’m starting my copy tomorrow. Looking forward to the signing at Uncle Hugo’s this Saturday. Let’s hope the snow and ice and wind and floods have moved on a bit by then. Let’s hope God doesn’t play any more tricks with us. I’m starting to think God has a really warped sense of humor.

  17. Jason, I think Lyda was originally working with a very limited space for a piece of this text, which is why Genesis 1:26 is also only partially quoted. She and I discussed the appropriateness of 1:27, but given the space restrictions, we were able to accomplish a similar touchpoint with the piece from 1:26.

    Yossi, on the translation, I went with Elohim as plural for two reasons: first, for the p’shat of its linguistic structure, and second, following gezerah shavah, where Elohim in Sh’mot 20:3 is generally an uncontested plural. Agreed that in a number of locations it is a much contested and highly contextual word, but the plural in Breishit 1:26 is a widely accepted and defended translation, if, as you noted, it is also highly controversial. Problematic? Possibly. Depends on who is reading it and what their agenda is.

    I would suggest that the question of “adam” referring to a single man only in 1:26 should be clarified by the immediate comparative statement in 1:27 “male and female God(s) created them.” That seems like a valid use of Rav Ishmael’s 12th rule of textual interpretation.

    “Imprint” is good, where you have suggested it above; also “form, shape”, though my favorite is “shadow*” which suggests a flat, colorless outline, without light or life of its own–only the merest resemblance of the thing from which it inherits its shape. Good call!

    *Sefer Milim, Marcus Jastrow, 1996

  18. Missed that you came back to comment – thanks! I’m leaning toward you on adam=man vs a man. I liked imprint because Hebrew tzelem also has modern use of copy, l’tzalem, aside from imagery, copy leading me to print and imprint.

    I would love to see various names of God differentiated in translation, plural or not. Timeless for Y-H-V-H, Power for Elohim, Master for Adonai – along those lines.

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