melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2011-04-07 08:59 pm

Love & Marriage

One thing I love in a good SF story is ways of doing love, marriage, and romance that don't buy in to our society's idea of love+romance+sex+monogamy all on one single person as the only way to do it.

I have a small collection of worlds that have come up with better ways, and I have a great deal of fun trying to fit the 'shipping debates from various fandoms into these other ways of looking at love. I especially love the way that many of them explicitly acknowledge the value of non-sexual, sometimes non-romantic, relationships that are of equal importance with the sexual ones.

Since I've been playing with Dresden files crossover fic in a couple of these fandoms lately, I thought it might be time to introduce you all to some of my favorites! Plus I really want people to do more AUs using these ideas, so I am selfishly posting this in order to increase the probability (even if only slightly.) So here are my five favorite alternate marriage/romance systems as displayed in SF, in order of increasing complexity.

Original Source: Many, but you should all read The Tale of the Five because Diane Duane writes it more joyously than anyone. And without the creepy bits that Heinlein puts in.
Fanworks: Many! Not many TotF fanworks though. Which is a travesty.
Someone else's explanation: Group Marriage @ wikipedia

Explanation: Presumably all of my readers have at least a passing familiarity with the concept of polyamory and it not being horrible, right? Group marriage is a subset of polyamory (though there's an argument to be made that actually modern Western polyamory was born out of group marriage as portrayed by Heinlein.) Group marriage involves a group of more than two people (usually of at least two genders) formalizing a relationship in which they share, usually, some form of household and parenting duties, commit to the relationships within the marriage as their most important relationships, and generally agree to some level of sexual or emotional fidelity to the marriage partners as well.

Most of the other relationships described below are really subsets of group marriage, and a lot of SF includes versions of it, but the 'simple' form (not really simple at all!) that is just a group of people deciding they all love each other enough to attempt perfect union is always going to be my favorite. Especially when it's built into a world where that is considered completely natural and normalized.

Tale of the Five (Also sometimes called the Middle Kingdoms series) by Diane Duane is the series that does it best. It's a fairly standard High Fantasy trilogy about dragons and lost swords and magic and kingship and evil sorcerers, but it's set in a world where bisexuality and polyamory are the norm - all relationships are open unless otherwise stated, and marriages can have as many people as you want. And she works this into the cloth of the world seamlessly, with all the ramifications worked out. When I'm writing an everybody's-bi-everybody's-poly story, I think of it as a Middle Kingdoms AU.

The most important thing with writing a group marriage and making it interesting is to acknowledge that every smaller combination of people within the group has their own relationship within the larger marriage, and those relationships are all different, with their own dynamics, and all worth their own exploration. You get a good group together, marry them, and then start exploring all the inner 'ships, and you can keep exploring forever. (One marriage in the Middle Kingdoms has seven people in it, which makes 128 total relationships. Someday I am going to write a drabble series that explores them all.)

Group marriage is the obvious solution to shipping wars in about 90% of fandoms.

Original Source: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Fanworks:Not as much as there should be of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress fanfic.
Someone else's explanation: Line Marriage @ the Heinlein concordance

My Explanation: Heinlein played around a lot with polyamory, but I think line marriage is my very favorite of all of his ideas about sex, if only because it's so functional.

Basically, a line marriage is a poly marriage where every few years, as the older members of the marriage die, they marry in young people to replace them. So the marriage always has (usually it seems like a dozen or so) members ranging in age from teenagers to elderly. As a result, the marriage itself never dies. Children of a line marriage marry into other lines, and don't inherit from their parents, all the assets remaining with the marriage. In a lot of ways, a line marriage is like a corporation, only less soulless and with more sex.

Anyone in a line marriage is free to have sex with anyone else in the line, but sex and romantic love are not really the important part. And there are often complicated sub-relationships within the line, with some pairings and participants far more sexual than others, and also things going on around seniority, with lots of room for cross-generational goodness. The oldest members lead the family, but it requires a unanimous vote to add a new member.

I love line marriage; I rather suspect it's the best idea Heinlein ever had about sex. Line marriage is a fun way to do a family-of-choice that's a bit more structured and might outlive its founders, especially if you like adding a bit of incestuous overtones and/or age difference for spice. Crane Poole & Schmidt is totally a line marriage. So is SG1. So is the Batfamily. (In fact, a better example of a line marriage than the Batfamily I cannot imagine. Except for the way the writers are uncomfortable with line marriage and keep trying to make the younger members into blood relations: sure.)

Original Source: Short stories in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea and The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. Le guin (A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Unchosen Love and Mountain Ways)
Fanworks: An Ever-Fixed Mark, the amazing Merlin AU of amazing.
Someone else's explanation: The Introduction to 'Mountain Ways'.

Explanation: On the planet O, there are Men and Women. There are also Morning people and Evening people. Your identity as Morning or Evening -- your moiety -- is just as inborn and immutable, and at least as important, as your gender. You are of the same moiety as your mother, and the only tabooed sexual relationships on O are between people of the same moiety.

A marriage on O has four participants: a Morning man, a Morning woman, an Evening man, and an Evening woman. The Morning Woman and the Evening man sleep together, and their children are Morning; the Evening Woman and the Morning man sleep together, and their children are Evening. The two women also sleep together, as do the two men. The Morning pair don't sleep together, nor do the Evening pair, but they are expected to have close nonsexual relationships.

This is complicated enough, especially since nobody is getting married until there is a complete foursome together, but Le Guin managed to queer it up even in canon: apparently, while it is not common, it is not entirely unknown for a sedoretu to have three men or three women in it, or for people to be genderqueer within the sedoretu. As long as the morning/evening ratios are right, and nobody's sleeping with anybody from their own moiety, the neighbors are generally willing to look the other way; moiety is more important than gender.

Sedoretu are amazing fun, and there need to be for fandom AUs that use them: I only know of the one that's linked above, in BBC Merlin fandom. But there are so many other fandoms that have central foursomes for whom a sedoretu would be perfect! To start with I really want to see some Stargate teams sent to O and assumed to be sedoretu. But there are plenty more possibilities. To bring up Harry Potter again: Harry and Hermione are both Evening people, obviously, and Ron and Ginny are both Morning since Molly obvs. is, so they can all get married in a sedoretu! And Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione can be awesome, and so can Ron/Harry and Ginny/Hermione, and meanwhile Ron and Ginny can be all sibling-y together and Harry and Hermione can be total best friends.

Really in any situation where people solve the problem of slash + canon het by pairing up the het love interests too becomes an amazing sedoretu. This happens especially a lot in RPS fandoms but there are lots of fandoms where sedoretu could fit seamlessly. (Hodgins and Bones are Evening, Booth and Angela are Morning: y/y/mfy? And Wilson needs to find a nice Evening girl who wants to stick around, so that he and Cuddy and House can get married already.)

Original Source: The Gameplayers of Zan by M. A. Foster + the rest of the Ler trilogy
Fanworks: None that I know of. ):
Someone else's explanation: Braid at the SF wikia

My Explanation: the Ler are a genetically engineered subspecies of humanity, intended to be 'supermen' but ending up more different than better. They live on a reservation on Earth and have worked very hard at building a separate cultural identity for themselves.

Ler have a complicated sexual cycle in which they go through long periods of sexuality and asexuality. They also have only two fertile periods in their lives, which means that the only way the population can grow is through very rare multiple births or third pregnancies. As a result, they have a marriage system design to maximize fertility and genetic mixing while still allowing a stable family structure.

The basic Ler social structure is a braid. The core of the braid are two insiblings, who were born and raised in the braid, but are not genetically related to each other. When the insiblings undergo their first fertile period, they have sex, and have a child together; that child is the elder outsibling. Before their second fertile period, each of the insiblings finds an outsibling from another braid who is about to reach their first period of fertility, and "weave" the new outsiblings into the braid. The children of the outsibling+insibling pairings become the insiblings of the next generation. Finally, the outsiblings have their second fertile period together, and their child becomes the braid's younger outsibling. The genes of the braid's founding insiblings are carried down through the generations without the insiblings ever being blood relations. (There is a science-ex-machina reason why the gender ratios almost always work out right.)

Relationships within the braid, and how those relationships change between sex allowed, sex required, and sex forbidden before & after the fertile periods, can get really chewy and complicated. (Also, while homosexuality is pretty much invisible in this canon, there are various ways that they get queered up anyway. My username comes from a character in this book & I am amused that even ten years ago I chose to identify with the minor character who is vaguely genderqueer and markedly, freakishly asexual by her society's standards.)

Braids are chock full of incesty fun. In fact, they are practically an excuse to do incest 'ships without making anyone be actually genetically related. One example of a story that would be *immeasurably* improved by giving them Ler braids is Wuthering Heights. It also works really well with fandoms where there's a core het partnership, and then canon brings in outside love interests for them instead. No need for tearful breakups or writing people out, just weave all four of 'em into the braid!

Original Source: Homestuck
Someone else's explanation: Troll Romance the short version

My Explanation: Oh, Homestuck trolls. I don't even read the blasted comic, and yet.

Homestuck's trolls acknowledge four types of romantic relationships: Matespritship, Kismesissitude, Moirallegiance, and Auspisticism. We are told that the main thing troll romance has in common with human romance is that it's incredibly confusing for everyone involved, and most of what we know about it in practice comes from the experiences of a group of very young trolls who have other things to think about - it's like trying to derive human romance by reading Twilight.

As a result there is a lot of debate in the fandom as to what the four 'quadrants' actually involve, complicated of course by individual fans' shipping preferences, so any attempt at explaining them is probably going to cause controversy. There have also been various attempts to systematize the relationships, but I happen to disagree strongly with fanon on that, so we're not going to get into it here.

Troll relationships are usually put on a grid, which each relationship in a quadrant. The left column is the "concupiscent" or sexual relationships; the right column are the "conciliatory" or nonsexual romances. The top row are the "red" or postive relationships; the bottom row are the "black" or negative relationships. A troll's goal for fulfillment is to have someone to fill each of their four quadrants, presumably in a stable or semi-stable way. The relationships are (ideally) mutual - if A is B's matesprit, then B is A's - but each of the four relationships is not necessarily linked to the others. Gender is irrelevant. Trolls also believe that each person has a destined partner for each of the four quadrants, who they will eventually find, hopefully in time.

There is a lot more symbolism and terminology and argument around troll relationships and biology, but I am not going into it all here.

Matespritship is Lust and Liking. It's the closest to what we think of as human romance and love. But trolls don't expect matespritship to be the be-all and end-all of romance, and don't expect a matespirit to give them everything they need, so matespiritship is both simpler and more complicated. I imagine that without the pressure to be everything to each other, the illusions of love and perfection get to last a lot longer.

Kismesissitude is lust plus hate. It is what fandom likes to call "Foe Yay" or hatesex - nemeses holding on to a rivalry fuelled by unwilling respect and sexual tension. Humans - or at least fannish humans - tend to have a good understanding of these relationships, there are certainly enough people who ship them in fandom, but among humans, generally a "happy ending" for such a pairing is supposed to include not being enemies any more. Trolls, on the other hand, consider the foeyay relationship to be the goal - kismeses becoming matesprits happens but is far from ideal. (Matesprits becoming kismeses happens a lot too. Sometimes a relationship oscillates wildly between the two down the concupiscent side.)

Moirallegiance is positive feelings without lust. This is probably close to how fandom feels about "partners". The duty of a moirail is to keep their partner sane and at least semi-functional, or at least stop them from snapping and killing other people, or themself. The first fandom example I can come up with is Mulder and Scully, due to it having the relevant risk of snapping and death all 'round. Holmes and Watson are moirails too. So are House and Wilson. This quadrant can be read as romantic friendship/platonic partnership, only drop the fluffy illusion endorphins part and have them see right into each other's weak points and dark places from the beginning. In some ways it's the deepest of the troll relationships, but keeping it non-sexual is important.

Auspisticeship is the relationship that probably has the most confusion about it. It is romance with neither lust nor liking. I propose that its closest analogues are relationships that humans think of as familial, like parents or siblings: you are auspistice for someone you don't necessarily always like, and don't want to sleep with -- heck no, that would be a trainwreck - but somehow you care about their welfare anyway, and your life would have an empty place without them. An auspistice apparently spends most of their time making sure their partner's other relationships are functional and at least quasi-stable, and it's implied that their most important role is to keep kismeses from killing each other. You can probably think of a fandom with characters like that, and if they aren't seen as familial, they're probably exes.

In practice, working with a network of troll relationships gets complicated fast - the fewest trolls you can have in a closed system and still mutually fill all quadrants is six, but in practice, there are these tangled webs where even trolls get quickly lost figuring out who is what to who ... kind of like human relationships, only trolls have names for more of them.

It is, however, still awesome to work out troll relationship quadrants for people. For example: Harry's matesprit is Ginny, his kismesis is Draco, and during the books Ron and Hermione fluctuate between being his moirail and his Auspistice, but I think by the last book Ron is moirail and Hermione is auspistice. Meanwhile, Hermione is matesprit with Ron and mutual auspistice with Harry, but I am less sure about her other two quadrants - I suspect the first person she played blackrom games with was Rita though, and she could probably pull off moiraillegiance with Viktor. Ron is matesprit with Hermione and moirail with Harry, and I suspect his auspistice is Ginny (I have decided incest is irrelevant in the conciliatory quadrants), but he has had no luck at all finding a proper kismesis. Ginny is matesprits with Harry, auspistices with Ron, and kismeses with Tom; I suspect she has a moirail too, we just didn't see enough of her to know who it is (but it ought to be Neville!)

See, doesn't that make a lot more sense than the 'shipping arguments people usually have? :D

Also, because I hate all the terms currently in circulation in the asexual community for the not-sexual-not-exactly-romantic-but-necessary-to-life partnerships, I am considering trying to sneak "moirail" into the discourse...

So what are your favorite fictional systems of romance and marriage? What do I need to add to this list?
brownbetty: (Default)

[personal profile] brownbetty 2011-04-10 06:37 pm (UTC)(link)
So, wait. There's got to be way more sime than gen, or at least, until the sime start dying off from lack of selyn because they can't find/kidnap whatsit a gen to feed off of, what with the oops-killing of gen, right?

Is killing gen by overfeeding a big deal/crime?
elf: Sime hands with tentacles (Tentacles-Sime)

[personal profile] elf 2011-04-10 10:23 pm (UTC)(link)
Heh. For a long time, in Sime Territory, gens were basically "food"--every adult sime was expected to use up one gen per month for their entire adult life.

Yes, a bit of math says "this will not end well." Even if you breed the gens like mad.

They discovered channels, a type of sime that can take selyn from gens without killing, and give it to other simes. (The average gen creates a lot more selyn in a month than the average sime needs. Channels have a much higher capacity, but a gen who can match them still leaves enough to give out more. And a channel can take selyn from gens other than in transfer; they have a sort of internal battery.)

Sime territory starts much, much smaller than gen territory. From what we can figure out, when the world split into larities, most of the simes were killed or died quickly. Killing your neighbors with tentacle-attacks was frowned upon in most communities, and even if they managed to survive that, a sime who doesn't get selyn in time, every month, dies from it. So: Sime territory, relatively small pockets in the midst of huge gen territories. Gen territory: huge open regions, where kids who change over into sime are murdered as soon as they're identified, whether that's before or after they kill someone in First Need. (Not killing someone is possible--if the gen doesn't fear. Which takes a lot more trust and usually a lot more information than most of them have.)

Sime territory, pre-channels, had pens in every town where the gens were raised & stored until they were killed one at a time. Pen gens are drugged from childhood; they're the reason many simes never believed gens were human. (Kids who established as gen were often killed by relatives, often accidentally--a spike of gen fear can trigger a sime attack.)

Eventually, channels managed to prove that, duh, every adult in the region cannot kill 12 other adults per year and have a stable population in the long run, even if you think one type of adult isn't really people. They set up rules whereby normal simes (rensimes) were required to go to channels for transfer instead of killing gens. (This had problems: the kill is physically addictive. Those who've been at it long enough--more than a year into adulthood--can't stop for more than a few months before their body starts to have really bad problems, which would lead to death, except that mostly, they lead to grabbing the first available gen and killing it. Him or her, rather, except most of sime territory thinks of gens as animals.)

There are way more gens than simes. The way the biology works, there will probably always be more gens than simes, because isolated simes *die* and isolated gens don't, but in the later books, the numbers get closer to equal.
brownbetty: (Default)

[personal profile] brownbetty 2011-04-10 10:39 pm (UTC)(link)
So, a Syme produces, lets say, 10s, per month, where 1s == the amount of s required to feed on Gen (G1) for one month.

If a G1 feeds on (or whatever the verb is) S1, is that Syme (assuming they survive) left with 9s, or do they need to recharge for a month anyway?

Because if the former, you'd think a good marriage would have a family and their Syme. I mean, it seems inefficient to maintain S2 and waste 18s every month.
elf: Sime hands with tentacles (Tentacles-Sime)

[personal profile] elf 2011-04-10 10:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Gens produce (generate) selyn. Simes need it, and can perceive it, something like an aura, and strip it with their lateral tentacles; the other tentacles are just like extra fingers (sort of) and are used to lock the arms into place so the laterals have the right kind of grip.

It's measured in "dynopters." I gather that several thousand dynopters are involved in the average transfer, but the details are very lightly touched on in canon.

Average gen produces, let's say, 10,000 d. per month.
Average sime needs, let's say, 2500 d. per month.

Except that if the gen gets scared during transfer, the sime is going to switch to a killmode attack and all the extra is wasted. Also, even if the gen is not scared, allowing three or four simes to use him for transfer (there's no correct verb for that) could kill him by draining him completely.

I don't know why there are no arrangements with one gen and two rensimes, except maybe that's iffy. Also, a gen registers as "low-field" after transfer, less interesting & attractive.

"Need" and "kill" are both technical terms used only for transfer. (Simes would say, "I require a hammer," not "I need a hammer." And taking someone's life is only called "killing" if it happened in transfer.)

All the canonical politics, except for the rebel crazies*, work hard to prevent direct transfer between rensime and gen, because gens get killed that way. A rensime *cannot* stop mid-transfer, and a gen who's scared during transfer is going to be a dead gen. This includes a gen who's scared because she just tripped on a rock and fell over.

*I like the rebel crazies. But there's reasons they remain rebel crazies for over a thousand years of canon.
brownbetty: (Default)

[personal profile] brownbetty 2011-04-10 11:04 pm (UTC)(link)

I got the Symes and Gens confused making my entire comment hella confusing. Sorry!
elf: Sime hands with tentacles (Tentacles-Sime)

[personal profile] elf 2011-04-11 12:02 am (UTC)(link)
Nah, is fine. The concept was understandable even though the types were mixed up.

It's a fascinating fandom; just the right amount of holes for lots of speculation about "why don't they do it this way?" And some of that has fanfic that says, "they *did* do it that way, in this other region!"