Jul 12, 2012

Slavery in Science Fiction

"On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends." --Oscar Wilde

In Rich Horton's review of Emphyrio he notes that this is one of Vance's "more melancholy books". How melancholy? After having loaned my copy, and not getting it back, I've never bothered to buy another copy of this book. In contrast, I have many other Vance novels that I have re-read until they fell apart.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, it is not unusual for the young protagonists in Vance's SciFi novels to find themselves dealing with the loss of family members; often they have been murdered. In Empyrio, Ghyl Tarvoke must struggle along through life after the death of his father. As I recall (I last read the story more than 20 years ago), we never learn much about Ghyl's mother. Lonely boys against the world dominate many of Vance's stories.

Star Wars - Leia
Slaves. When selecting dark themes for his stories, along with the frequent murders, Vance is not reluctant to include slavery.

Examples of overt, conventional slavery are found in Vance's Demon Princes novels. Gersen's family was destroyed by criminals who attacked the community of Mt. Pleasant, killing many and enslaving the other victims.
In The Palace of Love, Gersen visits the city of Sabra on the planet Murchison where slaves produce fine tapestries.

In Vance's Allastor Clustor novels there are space pirates who never hesitate to capture and enslave young women. I've never read Vance's Slaves of the Klau.

In The Palace of Love, Gersen encounters slavery at every turn. The climax of the plot comes when Gersen visits Viole Falushe's Palace of Love on the world Sogdian. The residents at the Palace of Love think of themselves as the Fortunate Folk, living their lives at the Palace where they think only of how to contrive romantic encounters.

When Gersen, playing the role of a journalist, finally manages to "interview" Falushe, he notes that the Fortunate Folk live without any of the normal concerns and responsibilities of life: they are slaves.

Viole Falushe agrees with Gersen's observations, but he chooses to emphasize the fact that the Fortunate Folk are not aware that they are slaves. Falushe adds, "All of us are slaves in some wise."

In Star King, a man (Rampold) had been the prisoner of the vile "beauty" Dasce for many years, held captive at a secret hiding place, and subjected to various forms of torture. With the help of Gersen, Rampold is suddenly given his freedom, but he has lost interest in civilization. Rather than return to a life of normalcy and comfort, he elects to remain alone on a distant planet, now holding Dasce as his prisoner.

Vance also often wrote about worlds where populations are subjected to tricky schemes of economic slavery. The planet Halma falls into this category. Ghyl discovers that his people are, unknowingly, economic slaves of the alien Damarans. Ghyl's father worked his whole life creating carved wooden screens, but the wealth from their sale went to the Damarans.
Star Trek - Vina
Star Trek - Drusilla

No human male can resist them. Slavery has been a feature of both Star Trek and Star Wars. I've always been amazed by the sheer amount of murder, slavery and violence in general within science fiction stories. SciFi is not some freakish bastion of horror. For example, the Bible has plenty of murder, slavery and violence. I can almost understand Gene Roddenberry constructing a story in which there is an effort made to tempt a starship captain with a green Orion slave girl. The effort fell flat, but it provided an opportunity to splash some (green) skin across millions of television screens.

What was Jaba's interest in Leia? Bait to lure Han to his death? I mentally stumble over idea that in a culture with amazing technologies such as starships and robots there might be people would still think that slavery is a good idea. Including slavery in stories about technologically advanced future cultures is as hard for me to swallow as the suggestion that in the year 2012 General Motors would put slaves into their factories rather than paid employees or robots. Is outer space so vast that there will always be a "fringe of society" where people behave like it were 1000 BC on Earth?

I suspect that in Hollywood they have data from the folks in marketing to show that profits rise 12.4% if a taught bare thigh finds its way into a story (or, more importantly, into the advertising art work). The commercial realities of SciFi probably are such that including just one slave girl in your story generates enough $$$ to justify building slavery in your fictional universe of the future. You can always generate "human interest" by making a story about revenge for murder or the struggle to escape from slavery.....or, if it floats your boat, the slave girl's discovery that she likes being a slave.

Disclaimer: I've never read any of the novels in the Chronicles of Gor. Almost everything I know about these books is from discussions of them (example). Could there be a human culture within which slavery was welcomed and enjoyed by slaves? John Lange seems to have made a tremendous effort to construct such an alternate reality.

Apparently a favorite theme in Gor novels is for a human from Earth to suddenly be removed from Earth and placed on Gor. For example, "the slave girl of Gor" is apparently an Earth woman (Judy Thornton) who suddenly finds herself transplanted to a culture where she is trained how to be a slave. Judy eventually decides that in the alien-constructed culture of Gor, the slaves actually have more freedom than non-slaves.

What interests me about the stories of John Lange is the backstory; there are obvious parallels to the Exodemic Fictional Universe. Humans on Earth are relatively primitive and there are technologically advanced aliens who have visited Earth and taken humans to live on another world: Gor. These aliens (apparently they have no better name than the Priest-Kings) limit the technology that is available to humans (and other similar species that have been brought there) and all this is done for some purpose, but I've not discovered a description or account of why the Priest-Kings collect creatures like humans and turn them into slaves. From my perspective, it is all done to allow Lange to play out his philosophical and sexual fantasies.

I guess the Priest-Kings are modeled after social insects, so slavery might seem "natural" to the Priest-Kings. Ed Wilson has often suggested that we try to imagine the ethics and morals of a sapient being that had evolved from a social insect such as an ant. The Priest-Kings prefer to live underground and they are oriented around olfaction rather than vision. They have technologies that are almost magical to us, such as being able to move their planet through the galaxy and, even when placing it in our Solar System, they can keep it concealed from primitive human technology.

I'm currently constructing a new novel (Exode) set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. In developing Exode, I've struggled to find a way to slip a murder into the plot.

What about slavery, is there a place for it in Exode? The story begins on the world Hemmal, one of many planets located towards the center of our galaxy. There are space aliens in Exode, but the story is centered on humans who were taken away from Earth by the Huaoshy and transplanted to places such as Hemmal.

Why do the Huaoshy bother? The motives of the Huaoshy are not really an issue in Exode. Just as a rancher might irrigate grass in a field, the Huaoshy like to nurture creatures such as we humans. The people of Hemmal live their lives never meeting the Huaoshy or having a chance to become aware of the fact that the Huaoshy are responsible for creating the human species and bringing some humans to Hemmal.

It is not easy for primitive creatures like we humans to understand the Huaoshy. The Huaoshy did have a biological origin that was quite conventional: evolving on an Earth-like planet over the course of billions of years. However, the Huaoshy established a technological civilization about a billion years ago on a planet in a distant galaxy. The Huaoshy long ago created their current physical form, that of an artificial lifeform. The Huaoshy are approximately as different from we humans as we are from a bacterium.

The backstory of Hemmal is that the Huaoshy have been spreading outward from their home galaxy for hundreds of millions of years. The Huaoshy reached our galaxy about 7 million years ago. The Huaoshy set in motion a process by which humanity was created from the primate stock originally available on Earth. The humans on planets like Hemmal are part of the on-going effort by the Huaoshy to domesticate and genetically improve the lifeforms in our galaxy.  I've previously suggested that the relationship between humanity and the Huaoshy is similar the relationship between grass in a pasture and a horse rancher.

pro-choice alien, Adam and three candidate Eves
Are the people of Hemmal nothing more than slaves? They are prevented from learning the truth about their origins and the Huaoshy, but they lead happy lives. Happy and restricted. They might resent their role as breeding stock if they were aware of it.

In addition to the human population of Hemmal there is a large population of humanoid robots. The robots are tools of the Huaoshy, but they provide the humans with all of their material needs. The Huaoshy have a very sophisticated nanotechnology that is deployed on worlds such as Hemmal in the form of the robots, medical nanites (that provide the residents of Hemmal with long, healthy lives) and a few high-tech devices such as food synthesizers and the genetically engineered plant-like organisms that are used to help terraform planets like Hemmal and provide the human residents with a convenient supply of electrical energy.

I'm Spartacus!
I'm Spartacus!
The robots create and maintain the shape of human culture on Hemmal. The robots raise the children, indoctrinating them with the conventions of an artificial civilization that serves the purposes of the Huaoshy and this assures that the humans never question their origins or their destiny. Is any human living under such conditions a slave?

What seems most important to me is this: do you, as an individual, feel like a slave and desire freedom? The main character in Exode is Parthney, a rare mutant among the human population of Hemmal. In general, the medical nanites of Hemmal constantly watch for deleterious mutations and correct them. However, there is one particular mutation that the Huaoshy plan for and make use of. Parthney suffers from this special mutation and ultimately it leads him to believe that the people of Hemmal are slaves, but not until after Parthney has already served as an Interventionist agent while visiting Earth.

A blade of grass cannot resent the rancher's choice to let horses graze on grass, but Parthney resents how he was used to further the plans of the Huaoshy. He can burn with resentment, but Parthney still finds himself to be completely helpless, still trapped in the vast, transgalactic web that has been spun over millions of years by the Huaoshy.

Give me liberty
I'm not Spartacus. The dominion of the Huaoshy is actually more extensive than just a "transgalactic web". The Huaoshy have been spreading their cultural influence from galaxy to galaxy for hundreds of millions of years. By the time that the Huaoshy reach Earth, their civilization spans tens of thousands of galaxies. During their exploration of space, the Huaoshy have found thousands of planets where life evolved and human-like civilizations first appeared, flourished, faltered and then finally sank into nonexistence. Only by rare luck did the Huaoshy come into existence as an artificial lifeform that can persist across vast periods of time.

Parthney learns the truth about human origins and struggles with this question: is it better for humanity to accept the patronage of the Huaoshy or would humans be better off if they revolted and went their own way? Are we humans so proud and independent that we would prefer to risk a miserable self-generated plunge into destruction rather than live safely under the guiding influence of the Huaoshy?

Parthney wants to shout, "Give me liberty or give me death!" but across 100,000 galaxies the evidence indicates that liberty, for human-like species, is what leads to death. An important part of the "Huaoshy system" is that anytime someone like Parthney learns too much and begins to feel that they are being deprived of self-determination then they are put into close contact with the social group that they perceive as depriving them of self-determination. In the end, Parthney wants to "go all the way" and "meet his maker" and his cry becomes, "Give me enlightenment!". This is not easy to accomplish since the Huaoshy are essentially a synthetic state of matter that exists beyond the three spatial dimensions known to we humans. It is Parthney's son who elects to adopt freedom and abandon the Huaoshy system. It is left to the reader to decide to what extent we here on Earth are slaves.

"Never before in history have slaves been so well fed, thoroughly medicated, lavishly entertained. But we are slaves nonetheless." -- Edward Abbey

Star Trek Continues. A 21st century perspective on slavery in science fiction (watch).

Is Ava in Ex Machina a sex slave?

Related reading: science fiction as a literary genre.

2015: Bringing back Ghyl Tarvoke for a second life. Also: Slaves of the Huaoshy

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