Polyamory in science fiction & fantasy

Ravenscroft

Banned
I got dragged into BDSM by a lover. Okay, it's not that I was unwilling, but it's really not my "cup of tea": it's like a mashup of theatre (which I like doing) & sex (which I like doing), so occasionally amusing but nowhere near central to my life.

So I don't really see the supposed connection between Leather & polyamory, aside from the tenuous "sex positive" thread.

Meanwhile, my/our attempts at formulating "responsible nonmonogamy" had a strong parallel to involvement in the science-fiction fan community. Sf/f (a.k.a. "speculative fiction" is THE literature of "what if," of spinning out crazy visions & then making them seem reasonable. As I later said on a couple of panels, the future -- especially the far-flung stuff we read about -- holds nothing but change, & strict monogamy is NOT going to suit all situations, all cultures.

This doesn't work the way you might think. I was a Heinlein fanatic from an early age & have literally read ALL of his published works, yet as much as SiaSL fascinated me in 1973, the nonmonogamy depicted made absolutely no impression on me. I grew up in a sprawling family that was barely two generations off the farm & in "family" included plenty of folks not related to us by blood OR marriage. It's as if RAH took that & sprinkled in a sexual element... & even in my adolescent glee to find ANYTHING remotely sexual in books, that one got a rousing "eh" from me. (For a clear depiction of nonmonogamy, Friday is a much better example, as well as the Lazarus Long saga.)

When I found this undated blogpost, Five of the Best Science Fiction Stories Featuring Polyamory, I figured I had a pretty good idea what I was in for... but there's a couple of surprises. It's not a long piece, so ought to be read, but I'll put the list here.
  1. Stranger in a Strange Land
  2. Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy
  3. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
  4. Dawn, Octavia Butler
  5. The Fifth Season, N K Jemisin
(The post's title is a bit of a cheat, as I was hoping to find at least one story rather than all novels.)
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Another blogpost from 2010 -- this one actually at the site of Tor Books -- points up something interesting that I'd not considered. Namel, though there's been a rise of credible homosexual characters in fiction -- & I add on TV & in film -- there has been almost total silence on bisexuality & nonmonogamy. (Queering SF: Where's the Polyamory?, Brit Mandelo)
The original Twitter discussion was about love triangles in YA fiction (love ‘em or hate ‘em?), which spurred me to think about the trope as a whole: why does it have to be combative? So many books use the triangle to push plot but would never consider letting the three characters in question come together. YA is a genre that frequently explores the development and discovery of a lead character’s sexuality; I would expect a bit more relationship variety.
To the previous list, Mandelo would add Palimpsest (Catherynne Valente), the "Anita Blake" books by Laurell Hamilton, & unnamed works by Elizabeth Bear.

The post provoked a LOT of comments, so if you trawl through you'll see plenty of other "poly-themed" novels nominated.
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Over the years, I've seen attempts at "poly fiction," including unpublished short stories & novel proposals.

For the most part, it's well-intended suckage. :( They seem to fall into categories (which overlap somewhat).
  • tittilation -- basic exploitation fiction, meant to make a buck spinning out tales of wild orgies (explicit or implied) with an incidental plot grafted on, like porn films of the 1970s/1980s that actually hired writers & set dressers in order to have some "socially redeeming value" & become more like European erotica, thus avoiding outright censorship.
  • cashing in -- intended for hope-starved polyfolk & wannabees who'd leap at anything vaguely resembling their cherished ideals. At one point, Ryam Nearing was hitting up the PEPtalk (later Loving More) subscribers to raise $35,000 (not tax deductible) so that she could take a year off & write "a poly-friendly script" for ST:TNG. :rolleyes:
  • plot fodder -- take a list of characters, have them screwing each other at random, & have this as a handy deus ex machina to get out of any corners you happen to write yourself into, or at least distract the reader/viewer long enough to launch the next big spectacle. I've only seen a few episodes of Game of Thrones, so I might be wrong but that's kinda what I saw.
  • polemic -- if there's an opposite extreme, that would be the well-intentioned pro-poly writers -- often with very little experience with writing OR nonmonogamy -- who intend to Make A Difference In The World. It's usually a romp through a "perfect" world where everyone's free to do whatever with whoever, a massive slice of life with plot elements hung on it at random. They don't see where they're proposing to write propaganda.
I'm heartened to see that there are a few works by credible authors who at least have an empathy for nonmonogamy -- alternative sexuality in general, really -- & can weave these elements into a proper storyline. Now if we can only show up on the small screen... ;)
 
I've read Stranger in a Strange Land but not the others -- I will definitely check them out. Thanks for posting!
 

Al99

Active member
Interesting post - While I am less than a year into polyamory, I have been an avid reader of SF since I was a youngster - raised on the classic mid-twentieth century SF of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke. It would probably even be fair to say that the poly culture's ties to SF made the transition into poly somewhat smoother.

I've also read all of Heinlein's published works, and in addition to "Stranger", Heinlein also wrote about alternative marriage styles in "Time Enough for Love", "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", and "Friday" (as previously noted).

Has anyone read any or all of the novels mentioned in the article? I may want to add some of them to my reading queue - and would appreciate any personal recommendations. Al
 
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sunray

New member
Al -

Octavia Butler's Dawn is quite good, and I also very much enjoyed Diane Duane's 'Door Into...' series (the first one is Door Into Fire) and Starhawk's book The Fifth Sacred Thing, both of which have strong poly elements.
 

JaneQSmythe

Active member
... I was a Heinlein fanatic from an early age & have literally read ALL of his published works, yet as much as SiaSL fascinated me in 1973, the nonmonogamy depicted made absolutely no impression on me. I grew up in a sprawling family that was barely two generations off the farm & in "family" included plenty of folks not related to us by blood OR marriage. It's as if RAH took that & sprinkled in a sexual element... & even in my adolescent glee to find ANYTHING remotely sexual in books, that one got a rousing "eh" from me. (For a clear depiction of nonmonogamy, Friday is a much better example, as well as the Lazarus Long saga.)

My own views on sexuality, polyamory, and marriage were heavily influenced by my own "fanaticism" re: Heinlein from an early age as well. SIASL (published 13 years before I was born) is not my favorite example - the matter-of-fact, highly functional examples in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress are, by far, my favorite; and Maureen's evolution of her own views in To Sail Beyond the Sunset was a joy for me to read in my pre-teens.

My original link in my intro thread a few years ago is dead - but some folks may be interested in reading Serolynne's essay INFLUENCE OF THE SCIENCE FICTION WRITINGS OF ROBERT A. HEINLEIN ON POLYAMORY.

(Re-reading that essay now, I find it amusing that I, under a different name, must have been one of the earlier members of Jennifer Wesp's alt.polyamory newsgroup created in 1992 - the year I graduated from High School, gained access to the WorldWideWeb/Internet in college, AND met my now-husband, MrS, and told him he needed to read my Heinlein collection if he wanted to "understand" me.)
 

Al99

Active member
Octavia Butler's Dawn is quite good, and I also very much enjoyed Diane Duane's 'Door Into...' series (the first one is Door Into Fire) and Starhawk's book The Fifth Sacred Thing, both of which have strong poly elements.

Thanks for the suggestions, sunray - appreciated! Al
 

icesong

Member
I suspect the Elizabeth Bear might be referring to her Iskryne books, which are fascinating in their treatment of both poly and gender/sexual orientation, but a bit of a difficult read on consent issues. Recommended, though.
 
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