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Science Fiction Without the “Mushy Stuff”

Updated on May 21, 2012


Romance and affection may not be dead, but they sure are on life support in most early science fiction (SF). Much has minimal, if any, female characters. Early SF tends to be more focused on hard science and ideas than on relationships, romance, and affection.

War of the Worlds’ only real female characters are Mrs. Elphinstone and her sister-in-law, who run into the narrator’s brother in London and travel with him to a boat. The wife of the narrator is mentioned, but never as a character in her own right. We get the impression that the narrator does love his wife, but otherwise we don’t see much of a relationship. Similarly, The Time Machine has Weena, but she is a minor character, and he seems to care more about her as a child-figure than as a woman. “The creature’s friendliness affected me exactly as a child’s might have done…She was exactly like a child” (Wells, 59). The affection that is given is that of protector to protected.

“Martian Odyssey,” “Twilight,” and “Who Goes There?” all contain no women, while Foundation, “Nightfall,” and “Microcosmic God” mention women (in families that need to be moved, or by mentioning reproduction), yet have no true characters that are female. “Helen O’Loy” can also be seen as having no female characters, as the only “woman” isn’t a woman, but a construct, a robot created by men. While the men feel affection (maybe even love) for her, and attribute a human personality to her, she seems more a parody of what women are supposed to be like than a real woman. She watches soap operas, cooks, cleans, and pines for her true love. In some ways, “Helen O’Loy” is a humorous story of science gone awry. The robot loves Dave, and even commits “suicide” at the end, a nice touch from the many soap operas she no doubt ingested early in her life.

Regardless of who wrote it, “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” is another example of one-dimensional female characters that exist only as backdrop. In this case, however, one of the two female characters can be easily explained -- she is a toddler -- but the wife, unfortunately, follows the pattern that has already been set. She’s a parody of a woman: weak, frail, and afraid. She defers to her husband and the doctor constantly. While her husband seems to feel affection for her, he does not appear to respect her or her opinions, which to me contradict any “love” in the story. She is there merely to fill a role, and that role doesn’t include love.

“The Weapon Shop” is a welcome change. In it, we see the first strong female characters and get a little better view of affection, but it is still tempered. While Fara’s wife, Creel, and his mother-in-law both seem to have important roles, love and affection are not secondary, but possibly tertiary, to the concept being presented.

Finally, Bradbury also shows a lack of real women, and therefore real love or affection. In Fahrenheit 451, the women are just foils for Guy; they’re opposites of each other, meant only to provide him with a way to gauge himself. There is the remnant of love and affection that he once felt for Millie, but there is none left now. The girl he meets on the street is the only other woman of import, and her job is to show what he is missing -- freedom of spirit and the ability to question. He feels protective of her more than he truly loves her. I suppose it could be considered affection he feels, but he never gets the chance to show it as she dies. In “Mars is Heaven,” the story is again male-driven, with no females working on the ship (what a bleak future for women Bradbury imagined!). The only “women” are the Martians who have taken the form of women, and their fake interaction with the men is definitely not based in love or affection.

These early science fiction stories seem to be missing the base necessity for any true love and affection -- women who can be loved and cared for. The few women that are present are not fleshed out characters, with the exception of the two in “The Weapon Shop,” and therefore any love and affection that seems to exist is constrained and tempered, which shows that while it may not be dead, it is certainly close.

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