The Heart Hath its Reasons
by Chris Wayan, 2006
Time to rip my clothes off! My scientific lab coat, at least. Why do I really build imaginary worlds? And why these ones? My private motives and biases inevitably shape them--or distort them.
My readers have pointed out four obsessions...
There are several reasons exploitation and war are rare in these world-models. Some reasons are even logical...
So, yeah, I build planets full of nice simple low-tech people who rarely eat their neighbors. I don't find that dull, but if you do, cheer up--there are a million good video-game worlds teaching us how not to get along. Predation primers.
SEX... OR GENDER?
Most of the aliens you'll meet here are female; the bias is quite strong. Women's worlds! And it has to be obvious that the portraits are biased toward the young, slender, good-looking. Imaginary lovers, sex fantasies? Yes, definitely. I'm single these days, and imagine myself living on these worlds, meeting some very strange women.
But also... I've been watching TV lately, and it's a gender desert: guy heads spouting guy stuff in guy dialect. War, sports, war as sport, sport as war, sex as sport, sex as war! It's often 2:1 or even 3:1 males on TV where I live. Try your local shows and see!
So in these alternative worlds, I looked hard for evolutionary excuses to limit sexual dimorphism (flight-weight limits, for example) and visit mostly egalitarian or matriarchal cultures. There's some logic behind my justifications; but really, in my heart, I was just tired of guys representating... well, everything.
Babe menagerie, or gender-balance rebellion? Oh, both!
Sorry they're so cute. I know it puts off some readers. Robert Crumb's early job drawing greeting cards cutesified his art for years--he's written that he's still rooting it out of his cartoons. I have the same problem, but I can't blame Hallmark. All my aliens come out little, friendly, sexy and safe. Sorry! It's wish fulfillment--I'm imagining a homeland for my ethnic minority, femmes. See, I live in America, and America loves butch. Oh, they dress it up in words like assertive, realistic, competitive and so on, but they mean butch. Women may be making social gains (and even that, these days, is doubtful) but femininity--grace, sensitivity, beauty, empathy, community, love, seeking happiness not power and status... is second class.
My quiet, gentle, cooperative societies, making love not war, aren't really alien, of course--we're here among you, in the background. Always have been--ever seen The Glass Menagerie? This is my version--planetology as written by a glass unicorn in the land of the bulls... and bears.
I was influenced by Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person, a book on American cultural bias against sensitivity. She argues convincingly that evolution favors having a few sensitive girly types (whatever our gender or orientation) in a tribe. Canary in the butch mine!
My sexy, gentle fem-topians aren't really imaginary, though. They're the culture I grew up in, of California radicals and hippies and feminists and queers--just extrapolated to planetary scale! What the average human might be if we were a little calmer, a little kinder. Sigh!
So: yeah, these worlds use sex, and are largely about gender, but not quite the way it seems. If porn is about unrealistic wish-fulfillment (and it is), femme is the forbidden lust I'm indulging in. The lust to make peace sexy again. Who the hell declared a peaceful world dull and unrealistic? Isn't that a weird combination? How can something be so radical it's hushed up, and dead boring?
Wish I could draw a wider range of sexiness--more hunks, more bold and brave behavior--eye candy for you butchophiles too--but the passion I have is for the fragile, the small, the inoffensive, the sensitive and subtle: the femme. You'll have to build your own butch world.
Oh, wait, you did.
Working out these world-models has slowly convinced me that we can have Bonobo Eden, if we just drop that one little embarrassing thing. No, no, not the one the gurus say, not your ego, you can keep that. It's fun at parties. No, you have to drop that toughness thing.
This rant really belongs in the Utopia section, doesn't it? Oh well, Utopia seems to be my real sexual orientation! And if you all can confuse sex with dominance and violence, well, I can come out of the closet: I get hot from paradise.
"Fur" and "furry" are web-slang for creatures mixing human and animal characteristics. But they also mean humans who refuse to see themselves as human, who have part-animal self-images and/or whose sexual orientation is toward such mixed beings. I'm a fur. Mainstream culture, when it's noticed us at all, tends to simplify, sexualize and patronize our alienation. Bunny-suited conventioneers who hump stuffed toys. Immature perverts. Just like gays in all the psychological literature... until Stonewall.
But rather than pursue that analogy and go torch cop cars in the name of D'Joan (very inappropriate, as readers of Cordwainer Smith will know: we should love specists, not eat them), I'll switch to a better analogy: music. Work with me now! Think of familiar Earth creatures as classical music, okay? Now science fiction aliens are... dissonant jazz! Tentacles, claws, chitin, pebbled hide, bloodsuckers, mind-parasites... Out at the Coltrane and Cage end of the dissonance scale, we get gas-cloud entities or AIs with insubstantial bodies and nearly incomprehensible minds. Science fiction's an intellectual game, far more so than literary fiction; and experienced players/writers tend toward the outré--just as they did in jazz (and lost their public).
In my biospheres I'm trying for the visual equivalent of Beatles music--complex but accessible, more from the heart than all that tentacled jazz. A singable tune, to a jungle beat! Distinctly alien aliens, but no harder to identify with than your dog. So I use pinup conventions and cuteness and sex and human affection for certain large furry mammals, to lure you into identifying with nonhuman life. I don't want clinical fascination. Why should alien species always be bizarre, repulsive, a stretch to empathize with? I mean, I like you humans, across the species barrier.
No, really. I'm not human. I can't speak for other furries, but I have excellent reasons to think I'm not:
Not being human (biochemically, psychologically, sexually) helps me design other intelligent species: at least I have two models to work from! But just like humans, I have trouble picturing what I don't feel: say, creatures obsessed with pecking order, or highly dimorphic species with their duels and harems, or blissfully amoral parasites and predators. Oh, I can extrapolate such creatures intellectually, when logic compels me to; but they don't fit my interests. Biases.
So if you see these worlds of shy, unaggressive creatures as childish or unrealistic, just remember: I see similar gaps in your human imagination! At least as evidenced by the vast body of human imaginative literature that somehow fails to imagine the possibilities that spring first to my autistic brain. I'm not aiming for a balanced picture here--just trying to drop my human mask and work from my real self.
Or, as one columnist shortened it, "Eek!" The science of one damn crisis after another. Or so it's presented to the public! But any student of deep time knows that change is normal and systems flexible--or life wouldn't be here. To teach that, I paint biospheres deeply unlike Earth--different gravity, atmosphere, temperature, water content, etc--where life on the ground does just fine. My world-models look naively optimistic, yes. But have you been trained to be naively pessimistic? Human history will sure do that!
When I worry I'm wrong, one great fact consoles me: everyone else is wrong too. Lifewebs and climates are still too complex to predict logically. So I shamelessly let hunches guide me. So far, those hunches (like fluctuating but increased rain and snowpacks here in California) seem to be as accurate as any supercomputer program: that is, not very. Early science is crude science--and that's OK.
So I like making planets, and populate them with imaginary furry friends, it's that simple and childish. But isn't that my role as a good corporate serf? I feel powerless, these days. I live in the States, and for decades reactionaries have been carefully undoing democracy, step by step. Do I play God in my little nursery because because my real power's been robbed? Oh, sure.
But not only because my country's gone nuts. If I lived in Japan or Sweden or India, I'd still feel this need. I'm not the only person lost in petty fantasies like some kid in a sandbox. All humanity's myopic these days--eyes on each other, or on money, or on God. It's all just monkey games to me. We ignore a glowing universe full of the elements for life--a cathedral looming over our little sandbox. Our loss!
At root (not that I knew this when I started this rant!) this project grew from a hunger to shout that we're not alone, that life is more common out there than we think, and it matters. Because so is intelligence. Intelligence we can learn from.
Only... real intelligence may not be quite what we expect, dear tough-minded, high-tech readers. What matters may be social, political, spiritual intelligence. And after the last wretched century, I don't think anyone can dispute that we're socially, politically, spiritually stupid.
Planetocopia includes: Tilt!, Futures, the Biosphere Variations, and Caprices
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