The Big Idea: Deb Taber
Posted on March 15, 2013 Posted by John Scalzi 49 Comments
We all have ethical perspectives, but what happens when a writer tries to get inside the head of someone with a, shall we say, truly unique take on the ethical responsibilities of the human race? Deb Taber, author of Necessary Ill, may have an insight into this particular trick.
Survival is an instinct. Despite the complexity of the human brain, on a basic biological level our bodies, our genes, want to survive. Not just survival of the individual, but survival of the species as a whole. But what do you do about survival of the species if reproduction is out of the question? That’s the big idea—or rather, the big question—behind Necessary Ill.
The science fiction that has always fascinated me most is that which takes a scientific fact or premise and stretches it into a shape it was never meant to fit. For me the ideas began with a book titled Cats are Not Peas by Laura Gould.
Ms. Gould found herself the owner of a male calico cat. Sounds benign on the surface, right? But if you know much about cat genetics, then you know that in the XX-or-XY-only world we’re taught in science classes, male calico cats cannot exist. This is (in very simplified language) because the genes for black fur and orange fur in cats are both on the X chromosome, so to get both black and orange on the same cat, you need two X chromosomes. What Ms. Gould found out in the search to understand her pet genetic anomaly was that genetics are far, far more fascinating and complex than Mr. Mendel’s peas.
Humans are far from exempt from such genetic possibilities, and with a few simple changes to our basic sex chromosomes you get things that shouldn’t be possible, like our friend the male calico cat. Add a liberal dose of science fiction and you get humans who have a whole different perspective on the survival of the species; one not centered on reproduction.
In Necessary Ill, the neuts (naturally genderless humans) have many pursuits to satisfy this basic urge of mammals to ensure survival of their own species. Some go into medicine, others teach, others research and develop methods for helping the human race overcome its need to overconsume and create long-lasting waste. But what if, with the drive to reproduce removed and the aptitude toward science in place, all that you learned, all that you could see, told you the primary threat to human survival, and the solution was clear and logical: cull the population to more manageable levels?
That’s where the spreaders come in: neuts who spread carefully engineered plagues with the end goal of survival of the species over survival of individuals. And they must do so without promoting one type of human over the other, bypassing racial, socioeconomic, and all other bias they can quantify. The challenge here was to create the story’s main protagonist, Jin, a spreader who firmly believes in the rightness of mass murder for mass survival, yet make that character an engaging, even sympathetic, character.
For me, the key to Jin was understanding the background of the thought process Jin comes from: Jin’s own quest to understand the reason why the answers it sees so clearly are considered so wrong.
Necessary Ill: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Visit the book’s Web page.
Can’t remember where I heard/read it, but someone once said, “The biggest threat to human survival is humanity.” Sounds like this book is a really cool way to explore that idea.
“on a basic biological level our bodies, our genes, want to survive. Not just survival of the individual, but survival of the species as a whole.”
I’d say there are incompatible concepts in that sentence. From a “selfish gene” POV, the gene “wants” to survive (not really, but you get my meaning), and the survival of the species is just an epiphenomenon of selfish-gene selection (and kinship selection)… As soon as we talk of us wanting to promote survival of our species, we’re not talking of a *biological* imperative anymore, I think. Also, if we had a biological imperative for the survival of the species, we wouldn’t have invented war…
That said, seems like a very interesting premise for a novel. To the Amazon wishlist it goes…
Oh, great, I finally make it into a book… as a mass-murdering logic-machine with no sex drive.
Don’t want to pass judgement without having read the novel, but this summary seems to imply a linking of non-binary genders and what sounds a lot like sociopathy. This sounds — potentially problematic — to me.
The real world is absolutely full of people who some will describe, often with intent to offend, as “neuters.” There are others burdened by this label, but among the groups groups that disconcertingly resemble hypotheticals here are the unpartnered, the sexless, and the childless. Such people are not rare. The genetic record implies that over long spans of time something fewer than 50% of men have successfully reproduced, and only a moderately higher percentage of women. Even now in the US nearly one woman in five will never have children.
To speculate an alternative universe with a clear, single biological cause for this lack of reproduction is one thing, but this outline seems to link the hypothetical neutered state with a whole group of people of so lacking empathy that they routinely commit unthinkably vast mass murder (even while carefully avoiding genocide). That story premise would have to be VERY skillfully handled not to be deeply offensive to real-world people.
I’m reminded of the kind of ham-handed fantasy novel where the dark-skinned non-human or near-human characters *just happen* to also be inherently unintelligent, or violent, or subservient The world-building described here doesn’t seem to have the potential to to be as offensive as those novels, simply because the childless and the sexless in our world don’t have to put up with anything near the level of discrimination that racial minorities do. But it’s not free of the same taint: taking real-world prejudices and exaggerating them into speculative “truths” and premises for the story. It might be possible to handle this premise in a way that repudiates the stereotype and avoids reinforcing real attitudes about real people, and I hope the author managed to do so. But until I learn more about this novel I’ll remain skeptical.
I’d be more worried if the neuters are genuinely depicted as heroic in this novel. If you think “we haven’t killed enough people yet” is the problem, you’re doing something wrong.
Yeah, I’m neutrois-ish genderqueer and asexual*. I… don’t think I’ll be reading this book.
* which, to tie in with what Red said, *also* gets the stereotype of inhumanity and sociopathy.
they must do so without promoting one type of human over the other, bypassing racial, socioeconomic, and all other bias they can quantify.
I like your scifi premise, but this is curious and quite presentist. Why would your spreaders pass up the opportunity to genocide the people who are most problematic from their POV? History offers you no support on this point. The great genocides of the 20th century were all targeted against enemies of the state. Your spreaders evidently are not the state as such, but they still have every incentive to engage in eugenics. If they can target the most problematic breeders, then they can genocide fewer people.
Ms. Taber, thank you for telling us about Cats Are Not Peas. It sounds like a book I have to read.
To those who don’t like the sound of Ms Taber’s book, I think we need to read it before drawing any firm conclusions. Frankly, I don’t like the sound of it either, but there are several groups she could have in mind. Her “spreaders” could refer to Zero Population Growth enthusiasts. They could refer to Chinese or Indian politicians who have sought, sometimes through grossly unjust policies, to limit their countries’ populations. They could refer to early twentieth century eugenicists. As some of you have said, they could refer to genderqueer or trans folk. They could refer more broadly to anybody with intellectual ambitions who challenges the central role of reproduction in human life. They could refer to all of these, or none. It sounds like a big enough idea that we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about exactly what the idea is.
The challenge here was to create the story’s main protagonist, Jin, a spreader who firmly believes in the rightness of mass murder for mass survival, yet make that character an engaging, even sympathetic, character.
It’s a challenge because at no point does mass murder have moral standing. War might give moral standing for mass killing in self defense. But war and self defense require a malicious actor. Killing someone simply for existing is immoral. It might be true that a scenario exists where you have to kill someone innocent for someone else to survive, but that’s self-preservation, not self-defense.
The only way you could make Jin “sympathetic” would be if you avoid and minimize showing the people he murders. Real sympathy would see with equal detail all the lives affected and be drawn to an individual. There is no way anyone can present a mass murderer and portray them as sympathetic without drawing a cloak over the murdered, hiding the bodies, minimizing the damage. With the cost out of sight, many tend to weigh what is visible. It is eactly the reason the Pentagon embeds news reporters and photographers in exchange for complete control over what they publish, so that people don’t weigh the true cost of a war, and instead weigh what the pentagon tells them to consider.
The use of disease as the way of committing murder also puts some distance between the murderer and murdered, allowing more sympathy for the murderer. If the method of culling was random names were chosen by computer, and someone like Jin knocked on your door with a gun, and we watched Jin go through this day after day, the sympathy for him would be a LOT harder to sustain. By using disease as the killer, Jin is removed by several steps from the direct cause of death.
Also, I assume that the use of disease is chosen because these spreaders are doing what they’re doing in secret, without the approval of those they murder. It would be one thing if the majority of the population all decided publicly that there are too many people and the only solution is to cull the herd. But it would be a different thing altogether if some small group decided what was best for the rest of the world and forced their solution on everyone else.
What Greg said, and he said it well. On top of that, it’s just a silly way of decreasing the population: cut the birth rate by a factor of 10 or 100 and the population naturally decreases, quite rapidly and you don’t have to commit mass murder (wouldn’t make a good premise for a novel though, would it?). I really hope this book sells incredibly poorly. We actually need more incentive for sociopaths to commit mass murder (and to think well of themselves, hence the sociopathy, while doing so)?
The eponymous Dr. Ain from Tiptree’s “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” spreads a virus to kill all human beings, and it’s clear that the reader is expected to find him sympathetic. Also, I’m not really sure we’re suppossed to consider “Twelve Monkeys” two ecoterrorists (Goines, who we believe to be one, or Dr. Peters, the real one) as evil…
The more comments I read, the more I want to read the book. If the reactions are this strong from folks who haven’t actually read it, the author is probably onto something important.
A lot of how this book really reads is going to be in the execution.
At a summary level, I’m concerned that it seems to tie gender to emotions (and that lacking a gender means lacking human emotions), that genderless people are good at science (plays into the “scientists are stunted, emotionally challenged and Not Like Us” stereotype) and that, even if we accept those suppositions, that genderless, emotionally stunted people would also lack a normal human moral sense. That ignores the role of parenting and socialization in the development of a moral and ethical compass.
Maybe this book steers clear of dangerous stereotypes, maybe it doesn’t. I’d be interested in hearing from the author on these points myself. Much of the issue is how genderlessness is presented. We tend to think of this in terms of psychology and identity – someone is physiologically male or female but doesn’t have a strong sex drive, etc. The novel seems to present people who genetically neither male nor female. I’m not even sure that’s scientifically possible, but granting that, I suppose the issue is to what degree gender informs our humanity. That could be an interesting issue to explore.
I heard Deb read from this Monday in Seattle. It’s an intriguing premise, handled adeptly, and I’m looking forward to the read. People reacting to their mental construction of the book rather than reading it might want to actually investigate it before passing judgement. What I heard doesn’t resemble what some of you are talking about at all.
The only way you could make Jin “sympathetic” would be if you avoid and minimize showing the people he murders.
I knew someone was going to automatically call Jin male.
Also, I’m wondering about the Charnas quotation on the cover. Spock is pretty damn gendered, even if he does go into rut only every seven years, and his devotion to logic is entirely cultural and not related in the least to the biology of his libido. But blurbs are not known for being, er, logical :-)
Gerald Tarrant in the Coldfire Trilogy
Durzo Blint in the Night Angel Trilogy
Both mass murderers who are intended as sympathetic characters. Those are just the two I thought of off the top of my head, without bothering to get up and look at my bookshelves. Done right, that kind of character can be more compelling and memorable than any other in the book. It’s been at least 17 years since I read the Coldfire Trilogy, and Gerald Tarrant’s name (and general character sketch) are still embedded in my brain.
What sojournerstrange said. I finally make it to a book and I’m a mass murderer. Not even an original idea. Mule in Foundation by Asimov is the same.
As speakertoanimals said, reducing the birth rate is the sensible way to reduce population. Any ‘scientist’ deciding that a pandemic is a better way isn’t a very good scientist.
Presumably it’s discussed in the novel, but a disease that kills enough people to make a meaningful difference to global population is going to have massive social and economic repercussions that’ll probably make the survivors envy the dead.
Ethics matters less in fiction than it does in reality. If I met Fight Club’s Tyler Durden in real life, I would notify the police. But he is a fascinating character with some interesting points to make. I am very much glad to be entertained by that man without having to exist in the same universe as him. For that matter, I doubt that John Scalzi would endorse all of his protagonists’ motives and actions.
Of course I can’t condone the actions of Jyn. No matter how smart you are, you really don’t have the right to decide the fate of billions. Even if you really, really think involuntary population growth is the way to save the world, there are more humane ways of going about it. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-03-15/new-york-is-sterilizing-its-rats-dot-heres-how
HelenS: I knew someone was going to automatically call Jin male.
Oh jesus. From the original post:
(naturally genderless humans)
Yeah, I didn’t invent a new pronoun to reflect genderless humans. Shoot me.
M.A. If the reactions are this strong from folks who haven’t actually read it, the author is probably onto something important.
My reaction to George Bush Jr. was pretty strong too. Doesn’t mean he was onto anything important.
Shannon: Both mass murderers who are intended as sympathetic characters.
It’s got its own TV Trope entry:
According to that article, sympathetic murderers are written sometimes to amplify the drama. Also, in order to reduce the cost of the murderer’s actions, Expect the victim to have been an asshole. Dexter, for example, only kills very bad people.
why would anyone, author or otherwise, try to get other people to sympathize with a murderer?
As far as I can tell, it’s little more than a way to indulge the reader in a voyeuristic infatuation with ultimate power (murder) without having to feel badly about it.
At one end of the moral spectrum, this is done by making the protagonist a good guy and have a bad guy do something so the good guy can kill him in self defense. Or, the good guy is a “superhero” of some kind and has to use his powers to stop the supervillian.
It starts getting a bit grey when the protagonist “snaps” and goes on a vengeance streak. In “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, the main character commits revenge rape against Nils Bjurman. But she is put through so much shit leading up to that point, that we’re not supposed to see her actions as immoral or criminal, but rather justified and neccessary.
Dexter has a compulsion to kill, he can’t help himself. The people he kills don’t have to have attacked him or wronged him in any way. But we don’t have to feel revulsion watching him do it because he only kills “very bad people”. He’s a psychopath but we don’t have to feel “icky” watching him.
Another way to demonstrate ultimate power with sympathetic characters is to show evil characters only murder other evil characters. I’m a little fuzzy on “The Godfather”, but I seem to recall that pretty much all of the killing we see in that movie is fighting between the two mobs, they kept the number of innocent people murdered to a minimum.
All of this is nothing more than a medium through which the audience or reader can enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of exercising power, committing murder, and not feel guilty about it. But it is done through the form of a narrative chosen by the author to minimize the real damage done to the victims, and to maximize any harm done to the protagonist so we sympathize with them.
The victims are usually demonized and dehumanized so we don’t feel bad that they’re dead. The murderers are usually portrayed as white hats, or if they’re grey they were pushed into it by the bad people, or if they’re bad guys too, then the other side is at least just as bad. When someone writes this sort of narrative about real world events, we call it “propaganda”.
Someone said “fiction is a lie that tells the truth”. I’d say not always. Sometimes its just a lie that tells a bigger lie. Sometimes its just propaganda about fictional characters. Why any author would want to write a story that distorts reality to the point of propagandizing something is beyond me. If you want to use fiction to say something true, but say it indirectly, OK. Fine. But to propagandize murder, to distort it, to shape the narrative in order to intentionally create a sympathetic murderer, just boggles my mind.
Murder as entertainment?
Robert: If I met Fight Club’s Tyler Durden in real life, I would notify the police. But he is a fascinating character with some interesting points to make.
Number of innocent people Tyler Durden physically harms or kills?
He only fights with people who WANT to fight him, who WANT to join fight club. He and his crew blow up skyscrapers, and not a single innocent person was killed as a result. And his target to blow up the skyscrapers was to wipe out all the financial data held by credit card companies. One innocent person is killed by “project mayhem”, but it is a member of a fight club, not some innocent bystander. All of these outcomes happened that way because the writer wanted you to sympathize with Tyler.
In reality, if you started your own “fight club”, you’re little band of merry men would end up fighting people who weren’t in the club, i.e. they’d be committing assault and battery on innocent people. And in real life when a group blew up skyscrapers symbolizing economic power two years later, it killed 3,000 people.
The only reason Tyler Durden is “fascinating” is because he exercises power without restraint, something people fantasize about doing. But he’s a fictional character so the writer can guarantee that he exercises power without restraint and also without harming anyone. Because if he harmed innocent people, that ruins the fantasy.
A quote from the director: “We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping. There’s nothing to kill anymore, there’s nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to explore. In that societal emasculation this everyman [the narrator] is created.” — David Fincher
The main character, who is so emasculated that he doesn’t even have a name, “is confused and enraged, so he responds to his environment by creating Tyler Durden, a Nietzschean Übermensch, in his mind. A superman.
The will to power is perfectly summed up in a quote from the movie: Tyler Durden: Hey, you created me. I didn’t create some loser alter-ego to make myself feel better. Take some responsibility!
Of course Tyler Durden is fascinating. That’s the fucking point. The narrator is a loser with no name who hates his life and is afraid to live it (the “everyman” the audience identifies with). Tyler Durden is a crazy, don’t give a fuck, blowing up buildings with zero consequences, sexy Brad Pitt (the superman the audience wants to be)
@Greg: If 9/11 had the side effect of wiping out billions in personal debt, I’m pretty sure American feelings about the incident would be more nuanced. For instance, if my student load was somehow wiped out as a result of 9/11, I would feel far less animus towards al-Qaeda and probably hate myself for feeling that way.
*loan* not *load*. Edit? I don’t need no steekin’ edit!
Marc… you’d be fine with thousands dying if it cleared your personal debt? Really? Ladies and gentlemen, we have us a sociopath right here. No need to look further.
Cat – Misinterpretations are always a risk of discussing a book from a summary of that book. But read the piece above and, well, are any of our comments that off just knowing the book from that? The more I think about the book, though, the more I’m intrigued. I wonder if Deb’s doing other Seattle appearances (I live here). Off to check..
Rickg17′ Marc didn’t say he’d be “fine”; in fact, he said the opposite. Re-read his last sentence.
Staying out of the main controversy due to lack of data, but sticking my head in with a wholehearted recommendation of Cats Are Not Peas, which is a fascinating and extremely informative book. (I’m tickled to see that it’s back in print; it took some work for me to acquire my copy after discovering the book in my local library.)
Marc: if my student load was somehow wiped out as a result of 9/11, I would feel far less animus towards al-Qaeda and probably hate myself for feeling that way.
Well, then your “morality” is defined first and foremost by what’s in it for you. Your tally of right and wrong is defined primarily by what you gain and lose personally, and is defined “far less” by what other people suffer as a result of your gains.
If 9/11 had the side effect of wiping out billions in personal debt, I’m pretty sure American feelings about the incident would be more nuanced.
Oh, and the “everybody’s doing it” excuse doesn’t fly. “Fight Club” only works because no innocent people die during the entire movie. One person on “project mayhem” is shot and killed by a police officer while they’re doing some crazy “project mayhem” thing, but that removes his innocence.
I guarantee you that if “Fight Club” ended with a montage showing 3,000 people in the building going about their business, then showed the explosions ripping throught the building, and maybe some slow-motion footage of those 3,000 people being crushed in the collapse. And then cut to a shot of the Narrator and his girlfriend holding hands watching the buildings fall, a LOT of people in the audience would have been in an uproar about the evilness of what they just witnessed.
That’s exactly my point. Movies NEVER show something like that. They NEVER show the actual costs of the actions of a character they want you to be sympathetic with. They either make sure the camera never shows the costs or they contrive the fictional world so that the costs never exist. In “fight club”, it’s all contrived so that not a single innocent person is killed.
I personally like “fight club”, but that’s because the point of the movie isn’t to watch Tyler Durden commit mass murder and feel sympathetic towards him. The poitn of the movie was the narator realizing and coming to grips with his split personality.
@Greg- Yeah, I didn’t invent a new pronoun to reflect genderless humans. Shoot me.
Okay, really, this is something that is bugging me about both the book description and a good chunk of this conversation.
Genderless humans, and third gender humans, and humans who are genderfluid, bigender, genderqueer, or in other ways have a nonbinary gender? Exist. We fall under the transgender umbrella. A bunch of us do use invented pronouns (I tend to either “ze” or Spivak myself), a bunch of us use singular “they”, some use one of the binary pronouns. A handful use “it”, although it’s quite rare because that’s generally considered demeaning and insulting because of its object connotations. “It” is the way Jin is referred to in the post, so is most likely the correct pronoun for it. A few nonbinary people use no pronouns at all, but that’s very linguistically awkward.
Similarly, humans who are chromosomally/hormonally/anatomically/etc. more complicated on the sex front than ‘male/female’ exist. Intersex conditions are real, and intersex people have their own problems.
And, again, asexual humans, who do not experience sexual attraction and many of whom ignore the whole sex thing exist. Asexuality is a perfectly valid sexual orientation! On another level of “not interested in reproduction”, childfree humans also exist.
I can’t help but feel that quite a few people are treating these concepts as some kind of intellectual thought exercise and not realising that actually, these are real things affecting real people right now.
Greg, I think you’re making some good points. I want to make one specific response that is not intended to invalidate your other concerns.
Assuming that gender-neutral and male amount to the same thing is a basic kind of sexism. This is a point feminists have been making at least since the seventies. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with transsexuality, transgender, or other more recent ideas about gender. If your usage were nothing but a slip of the tongue, you’d be embarrassed about it. It’s sort of like a white person mistakenly calling a black man “boy”. You can imagine a scenario in which it would be an honest mistake, but the white person in that case would be very embarrassed when the mistake was pointed out.
I’m another who was around while Deb was writing the book, and who heard her read earlier this week. The Neuts aren’t genderqueer or intersex or any other non-binary thing a real person could actually identify with. They are physically sexless as well as genderless, and it is not implied that their emotionlessness is tied to their sex or gender identities.
Regarding all those who go “read the book before you pass the judgement!” and “this isn’t what’s meant, you didn’t READ RIGHT”…
From this blog post it sure sounds like the kind of stuff people use to justify horrible treatment of asexual and/or genderqueer people. And considering that this is how the AUTHOR chose to represent that book, hm, no. I won’t trust the author to handle that topic with with the necessary tact.
Even if it’s just “hey that’s a nifty idea”, it would reduce real people to thought experiments. And casts them as mass murderers. Not to forget that.
It would be something else if it were a random review, filtered through anothers readers perception – but this was the AUTHOR herself describing her own book. It doesn’t matter if the blog is just written badly or if the whole premise IS that not-gendernormative people always will be dangerous sociopaths – Eitherway it’s not inspiring a lot of trust in the skills of the author.
Liz@2:40 – Having read the whole 4-chapter preview at Amazon, I think I can say that I’ve given the book a fair shot at this point, and I found it even more horrifying and dehumanizing to real-life genderqueer/intersex people than the preview makes it sound.
Like Kaz said, these people are real, and even though the book presents a science-fiction variant, this does not obviate their resemblance to a real-world minority (genderqueer and asexual people) or all the ways in which they fulfill all the worst stereotypes of that minority. Not to mention the complete and utter absence of other gender-minority characters from the book, or even the slightest indication that such people exist.
The best thing I can compare it to … Imagine that you pick up a sci-fi book in which a small percentage of the population of Earth are naturally born blue-skinned. They are also hypersexual and prone to sudden, violently murderous rages (analogous to the asexual characters in the book being, essentially, emotionless, ultra-logical mass-murderers). All of the other characters that appear in our imaginary book are white; white and blue are presented as the default skin colors, and no one seems to have ever met anyone who isn’t white or blue. There’s no indication in the book that discrimination against someone because of their skin color is an actual thing, while in the meantime, the blue-skinned people literally embody some of the worst stereotypes that exist in real life about people with different skin colors.
… that’s what this book is, basically. It’s a book in which intersex, genderqueer, and asexual people (well, any sort of queer people or queer communities, as far as I can tell) are absent except in the form of a sci-fi version who embody a number of ugly stereotypes. These stereotypes are reinforced by the viewpoints of the non-neuter characters in the book; for example, the main female protagonist, upon seeing a naked neuter’s body, thinks of it as “inhuman”. The neuters appear to be largely incapable of forming families or deep emotional attachments (… because that’s all driven by the gonads, I guess?), and in four chapters we never see any indication that they make art, play games, cuddle, or do anything for fun other than design lethal plagues.
And I say again, I HAVE read all four chapters of the preview, I went in with a reasonably open mind (plus a lot of curiosity), and this is what I’m left with when the book speaks for itself.
I’d like to make it clear that none of this is meant in any way as a swipe against the author. Heck, it’s possible that the problems I noted are raised in the early chapters only to be explicitly addressed later in the book. But I’m never going to get there, because the first four chapters resulted in me making a horrified face and resolving never to read the rest of the book. And the main reason why I’m saying all of this here is because I would hate to think of a genderqueer or asexual reader picking this book up unwarned and seeing the way they are presented in its pages.
mass murder … or … use of a pronoun you dont approve of. Everyone gets to decide what they throw their spotlight on.
Oh, for pete’s sake. I was simply pointing out that people in our society tend to think of default humans as male. Anyone might have done it absentmindedly. I could easily have done it (especially as I kept reading “Jin” as “Jim”). If that’s not of any interest in the context of a book that has humans with no sex or gender, when is it of interest?
I’m just going to pop in here very quickly to note that now would be a really excellent time for people to take a deep breath, relax, and ask themselves if they are commenting and responding as politely and as much on point as they possibly can.
“They are physically sexless as well as genderless, and it is not implied that their emotionlessness is tied to their sex or gender identities.”
can you expand on this Liz? Because I think it’s a very convenient coincidence to say “Well, these people are physical sexless AND emotionless but hey, there’s no causation.” As I said above, too, The whole “emotionless people are good at science” feels like stereotyping to me. I might be completely misreading all of this but I can’t help but feel, as Carina does, that the author chose to make these connections in this piece so reacting to them isn’t entirely offbase. And, frankly, if Deb wants to correct any of us as to the accuracy of our impressions of the book, she can.
Dear genderqueer and asexual people: I am unambiguously a heterosexual female, and this is wigging me out too. While I’m sure you’re fine human beings, the protagonist here seems to deserve the pronoun “it” and the description “inhuman”. I don’t think any of you go around thinking it would be keen to put out a genocidal plague. Linking the neuter condition with sociopathy is just wrong.
I also disagree with the cover blurb. Spock was male, heterosexual (just not real often), and managed to have family and friends who he cared about, and also thought genocide was evil. Heck, he traveled to a whole different universe to help!
Greg: The only way you could make Jin “sympathetic” would be if you avoid and minimize showing the people he murders.
HelenS: I knew someone was going to automatically call Jin male.
Greg: Oh jesus
HelenS: I was simply pointing out that people in our society tend to think of default humans as male.
I think “simply” is rather subjective. Seemed to me there was quite a bit of “Ah HA! Gotcha!” in there.
. If that’s not of any interest in the context of a book that has humans with no sex or gender, when is it of interest?
Speaking of context, the context of the sentence you were upset about was about the novel minimizing the fact that the protagonist is comitting mass murder. It would be the same issue whether the protagonist was male, female, transgender, hermaphrodite, neutered, or gelding. So, as far as context goes, the pronoun was irrelevant to the fact that mass murder was being committed.
Regarding pronouns, one standard is that when writing about an unknown or hypothetical person, writers can use their own gender for the pronouns instead of the awkward “his/her”. Like when someone cuts me off in traffic and I don’t see the driver’s face, I might write in a blog post, “I don’t know what his problem was.” I could also write, “I don’t know what their problem was.” If I were to write, “I don’t know what her problem was,” people might infer that I assumed the bad driver was a woman.
Since there is no established pronouns to use for gender neutral humans in English, I propose that a man could acceptably refer to a gender neutral person as “he”, and a woman could refer to that same person as “she”. It just seems inappropriate to refer to a single person who has a name as “it” or “they”.
It seems equally inappropriate to refer to thee — a single person — as “you”, but somehow we manage.
Plenty of genderqueer, genderless, or otherwise non-binary gendered people have their own pronoun preferences; it would be as rude to force your own pronouns upon them as it would be to force your own name on someone just because you don’t like theirs.
“They” for the singular person of unknown gender (which is not the same thing as gender neutral) is far better established in English than any other alternative. The usage may be inappropriate in the most formal English, but most people aren’t very formal just after someone’s cut them off.
Now I’m wondering whether anyone cuts Jin off in traffic, and what it would say if so.
sojourner: plenty of genderqueer, genderless, or otherwise non-binary gendered people have their own pronoun preferences; it would be as rude to force your own pronouns upon them as it would be to force your own name on someone just because you don’t like theirs.
Oh please. The only genderless person on this thread I referred to by the wrong pronoun was the fictional character Jin. You want to fight that battle?
OK, Fine. Go read the sample chapter. Jin is portrayed as a genius and the people he runs into are thugs, hicks, and tribalistic morons. Jin is the one committing mass murder. But the characters we see who object to his mass murder are thugs themselves, thereby rendering their objections moot. Chapter 1 ends with Jin smiling at the idea of a new mass murdering virus, the pleasure of a new concept, a new challenge. This mother fucker is sick.
And you want to focus on how rude it is to refer to this mother fucking mass murdering sociopath as a “he”?
HelenS: “They” for the singular person of unknown gender
The sample chapters has Jin self-reference as an “it”. It is going through the door. The man looked at it and turned away. and so on.
Guys: Reel it in, please. The level of rudeness in here is getting close to Malletable levels.
And I wasn’t even talking to him… o_O
I was responding to Robert Enders’s discussion of how to refer to someone whose gender he doesn’t know, and differentiating that from how to refer to a person who is known to be without gender (as well as, I’ll add here, a person who prefers gender-neutral pronouns for whatever reason). So yeah, Jin is an “it,” per the book’s usage. The unidentified person who cut me off in traffic is a “they.” At least one person I know on LiveJournal is a “zie,” per zir own preference. And so on.
Ms. Tabor, you’re not the only one who wonders if there are too many humans on this planet; I look forward to reading your book.
Kenneth Chinran, in Michael Z. Williamson’s The Weapon was the first mass-murderer I thought of who fit the description — at least from Earth’s point of view.
The premise and its understanding of power dynamics calls to mind:
– Save The Pearls
– The Protocols of the Elders of Zion