Return of the Dapper Men

by John Holbo on February 13, 2011

I like it! The new Jim McCann authered/Janet Lee illustrated graphic … well, it’s too short to be a novel, Return of the Dapper Men [amazon]. Use ‘search inside’ to read the first pages, or view a slightly different selection at the publisher’s site. In the land of Anorev, time has stopped. Living below the surface are children, with no conception of adulthood. Above are machines, with no conception of why they function. (Which makes it sound like some Eloi/Morlock time-machine fable, but that isn’t it at all. Also, how are people doing things if time has ceased? Well, I don’t know. A sort of eternal present. There is only now, no tomorrow, no yesterdays.) Ayden, the boy who asks, and Zoe, the robot-girl who says nothing at all, are friends, and the key. Then time starts again, and 314 Dapper Men descend from the sky, like a Magritte painting. It is all very charming and surreal and doesn’t make any sense, except in an advantages and disadvantages of vermiculation for life, in a space-time worm sort of sense, sense.

As the introduction by Tim “Project Runway” Gunn makes clear, it’s in a fairytale line that includes Alice, The Wizard of Oz, Pinnochio. I would add: Hans Christian Andersen, E.T.A. Hoffman. This bit from Andersen’s “The Ice Queen”, for example, in which Gerda is uselessly interrogating the solipsistic and surreal-minded flowers about where Kay might be:

But every flower stood in the sunshine, and dreamed its own fairy tale or its own story: and they all told her very many things, but not one knew anything of Kay.

Well, what did the Tiger-Lily say?

“Hearest thou not the drum? Bum! Bum! Those are the only two tones. Always bum! Bum! Hark to the plaintive song of the old woman, to the call of the priests! The Hindoo woman in her long robe stands upon the funeral pile; the flames rise around her and her dead husband, but the Hindoo woman thinks on the living one in the surrounding circle; on him whose eyes burn hotter than the flames—on him, the fire of whose eyes pierces her heart more than the flames which soon will burn her body to ashes. Can the heart’s flame die in the flame of the funeral pile?”

“I don’t understand that at all,” said little Gerda.

“That is my story,” said the Lily.

What did the Convolvulus say?

“Projecting over a narrow mountain-path there hangs an old feudal castle. Thick evergreens grow on the dilapidated walls, and around the altar, where a lovely maiden is standing: she bends over the railing and looks out upon the rose. No fresher rose hangs on the branches than she; no appleblossom carried away by the wind is more buoyant! How her silken robe is rustling!

“‘Is he not yet come?'”

“Is it Kay that you mean?” asked little Gerda.

“I am speaking about my story—about my dream,” answered the Convolvulus.

What did the Snowdrops say?

“Between the trees a long board is hanging—it is a swing. Two little girls are sitting in it, and swing themselves backwards and forwards; their frocks are as white as snow, and long green silk ribands flutter from their bonnets. Their brother, who is older than they are, stands up in the swing; he twines his arms round the cords to hold himself fast, for in one hand he has a little cup, and in the other a clay-pipe. He is blowing soap-bubbles. The swing moves, and the bubbles float in charming changing colors: the last is still hanging to the end of the pipe, and rocks in the breeze. The swing moves. The little black dog, as light as a soap-bubble, jumps up on his hind legs to try to get into the swing. It moves, the dog falls down, barks, and is angry. They tease him; the bubble bursts! A swing, a bursting bubble—such is my song!”

“What you relate may be very pretty, but you tell it in so melancholy a manner, and do not mention Kay.”

What do the Hyacinths say?

“There were once upon a time three sisters, quite transparent, and very beautiful. The robe of the one was red, that of the second blue, and that of the third white. They danced hand in hand beside the calm lake in the clear moonshine. They were not elfin maidens, but mortal children. A sweet fragrance was smelt, and the maidens vanished in the wood; the fragrance grew stronger—three coffins, and in them three lovely maidens, glided out of the forest and across the lake: the shining glow-worms flew around like little floating lights. Do the dancing maidens sleep, or are they dead? The odour of the flowers says they are corpses; the evening bell tolls for the dead!”

“You make me quite sad,” said little Gerda. “I cannot help thinking of the dead maidens. Oh! is little Kay really dead? The Roses have been in the earth, and they say no.”

“Ding, dong!” sounded the Hyacinth bells. “We do not toll for little Kay; we do not know him. That is our way of singing, the only one we have.”

And Gerda went to the Ranunculuses, that looked forth from among the shining green leaves.

“You are a little bright sun!” said Gerda. “Tell me if you know where I can find my playfellow.”

And the Ranunculus shone brightly, and looked again at Gerda. What song could the Ranunculus sing? It was one that said nothing about Kay either.

“In a small court the bright sun was shining in the first days of spring. The beams glided down the white walls of a neighbor’s house, and close by the fresh yellow flowers were growing, shining like gold in the warm sun-rays. An old grandmother was sitting in the air; her grand-daughter, the poor and lovely servant just come for a short visit. She knows her grandmother. There was gold, pure virgin gold in that blessed kiss. There, that is my little story,” said the Ranunculus.

“My poor old grandmother!” sighed Gerda. “Yes, she is longing for me, no doubt: she is sorrowing for me, as she did for little Kay. But I will soon come home, and then I will bring Kay with me. It is of no use asking the flowers; they only know their own old rhymes, and can tell me nothing.” And she tucked up her frock, to enable her to run quicker; but the Narcissus gave her a knock on the leg, just as she was going to jump over it. So she stood still, looked at the long yellow flower, and asked, “You perhaps know something?” and she bent down to the Narcissus. And what did it say?

“I can see myself—I can see myself! Oh, how odorous I am! Up in the little garret there stands, half-dressed, a little Dancer. She stands now on one leg, now on both; she despises the whole world; yet she lives only in imagination. She pours water out of the teapot over a piece of stuff which she holds in her hand; it is the bodice; cleanliness is a fine thing. The white dress is hanging on the hook; it was washed in the teapot, and dried on the roof. She puts it on, ties a saffron-colored kerchief round her neck, and then the gown looks whiter. I can see myself—I can see myself!”

“That’s nothing to me,” said little Gerda. “That does not concern me.” And then off she ran to the further end of the garden.

When Hans Christian Andersen gets retold or adapted, this sort of material tends to get cut. Which is ok, but sort of a shame all the same. Return of the Dapper Men is pretty much the reverse procedure.

Final thought. It’s a ‘how can robots and humans live together in peace and harmony story’ which would seem to make it sf. But really there is no reason why fairy tales shouldn’t be about robots – machines, wind-up dolls. Which just goes to show that, although there is an intuitive sf-fantasy divide, there is no intuitive sf-fairy tale divide, even though fairy-tales seem like a sub-set of fantasy. Which is a sort of paradox. But the explanation might be this. There was a time in the 30’s when fantasy and sf were ideologically divided. You’ve got Tolkien and other inklings – C.S. Lewis – who really want to write ‘feudal’, pre-modern fantasy. This doesn’t seem such a departure because fairy tales are standardly about kings and princesses and castles and all nostalgic jazz. But it is in fact rather novel, at this stage, to insist that fantasy to steer clear of ‘science’, rather than thematizing it, along with everything else, in some dreamy way. On the other hand you’ve got the likes of Hugo Gernsback, advocating ‘scientifiction’ or ‘science fiction’, and emphasizing that it needs to be plausible and all that. Making a play for ‘seriousness’ in that way. Neither attitude is sound. On the one hand, refusing science (technology, modernity) is, in fact, a way of engaging with science. Turning your back on someone is a way of saying something to, about about, them. And obviously none of that Gernsback stuff was really scientific.

There are lots of points in artistic/literary history where allegedly unbridgeable divides open up that, in retrospect, look humorously easy to step across: if you like Brahms, you can’t like Wagner. If you like The Sex Pistols, you can’t like The Who. You get these eruptions of authenticity as sectarianism, sytlistic balkanization, or generation gaps – anxiety of influence – lots of ways it can happen. Mostly it just burns itself out after a while and a more pan-appreciative tolerance reasserts itself. I’m tempted to say that something of the sort happened with fantasy and science fiction, and that gradually the two have grown back together. There is the following difference: it’s not that fantasy fans and sf fans were at each others’ throats in the 30’s and 40’s and now they get along. It’s more that people got in the habit of reading both but still putting them in carefully separated boxes.

Also, one reason why the dispute burns out is that, due to other shifts, the basis for the original division becomes intuitively not just implausible but totally unrecoverable. Brahms and Wagner, for example. Brahms was the ‘conservative’ and Wagner was the ‘progressive’, so they just couldn’t get along, allegedly. But we just don’t hear that anymore. Hell, Brahms sounds more ‘modern’, whereas Wagner is more ‘conservative’, if someone held a gun to your head and forced you to pick. Likewise, in the whole fantasy-sf split, there was a time when – thanks to Tolkien and Gernsback and others – fantasy was definitely the ‘conservative’ option, and sf the more ‘modern’, ‘progressive’ line (to anyone who cared). But gradually that sense has been effaced or actually reversed. If anything, these Dapper Men of fantasy seem more ‘modern’ (to anyone who cares).



Ben JB 02.13.11 at 3:18 pm

I like the idea of the lost historical moment of separation (the Brahms/Wagner divide being lost to us in our historical moment), but I think everything you say about science fiction/fantasy needs some re-thinking–and I’ll just start with the most notable missing parts of your Lewis & Tolkien vs. Gernsback scheme: nationality and class/education. What a surprise that British uni folks would be interested in fantasy and an American immigrant working in radio technology and popular magazines would be interested in science fiction! In other words, I’ve got your ideological divide right here. (Which is why Lewis’s Space Trilogy is almost more allegorical than his Narnia books.) A more fitting comparison would probably have to be Lewis vis-a-vis Olaf Stapledon.

But there’s something even more elemental that I’m having trouble with, which is the fairy-tale/fantasy divide that you’re working with here, and which I don’t absolutely see, except as historical/industrial generic divide: Fairy-tales=oral; fantasy=printed. But that’s clearly not what you mean–you mean that there’s some generic difference here. What is it? Is it its relation towards explanation and coherence? Hoffmann is probably the limit case here (though that is complicated by his historical position), but the fact that his position is so mixed just goes to show how fluid the limit is here.


Jacob Hartog 02.13.11 at 3:29 pm

It seems silly to allege that “neither attitude is sound.” Both attitudes, of pro- or anti- scientism, were helpful points for creative departure for those who adopted them.

Science fiction and fairy tales seem so much more agreeable with one another these days in part because the science that surrounds us is fundamentally incomprehensible, invisibly microscopic, technomagical rather than technological.


John Holbo 02.13.11 at 3:46 pm

“It seems silly to allege that “neither attitude is sound.” Both attitudes, of pro- or anti- scientism, were helpful points for creative departure for those who adopted them.”

Well, who says that a helpful point of creative departure for one writer can’t be ‘unsound’, attitudinally, qua stable long-term platform for everyone else? I say it happens all the time.

I agree with Ben that the post’s claim need some rethinking. Honestly, I sort of banged it out. Fairy tales certainly doesn’t equal oral, since Hans Christian Andersen-y stuff is neither oral nor like oral material. (It’s quite hard to imagine the bit I quoted being characteristic of an oral literary tradition.)

The nationality thing doesn’t work, because I’ve got your H.G. Wells right here. But you are right about the class business. There was something working class about sf, Gernsback.

The things about fantasy is that we tend to use it as a genus term, with fairy tales as a species. But really fantasy, in the Tolkien mold, could be said to be more specific – elvesndwarvesnmedievalism. Then you need a new genus term, and I was whimsically trying out fairy tale. Which is probably not a good idea. Better to say ‘fantastic fiction’ – which is an old standby – and not try to get too original about it.


Jacob Hartog 02.13.11 at 3:57 pm

“The things about fantasy is that we tend to use it as a genus term, with fairy tales as a species. But really fantasy, in the Tolkien mold, could be said to be more specific – elvesndwarvesnmedievalism”
I would agree– fairy tales are pretty much the spring and source of much of European folklore and literature, while fantasy is a recent tributary. You could look at someone like Gogol and see what he’s doing as bringing an oral folklore tradition into consonance with 19th century urban and rural life.
I also think you might be right about “neither attitude is sound,” if you are distinguishing artists’ theoretical views of their work from the actual aesthetic qualities of those works. I mean, Brecht wrote a lot of crazy stuff about the Purposes of Drama that has relatively little to do with his very beautiful plays.


John Holbo 02.13.11 at 4:07 pm

“I also think you might be right about “neither attitude is sound,” if you are distinguishing artists’ theoretical views of their work from the actual aesthetic qualities of those works.”

I also shouldn’t have equated Tolkien and Gernsback. Gernsback put forward a lot of false advertising. He claimed that he was offering one kind of thing, when it just wasn’t plausible he was. Tolkien never said anything one quarter so silly about what he and others were up to as the stuff Gernsback said. Tolkien really just charmed people more than was perhaps good for them, because Tolkien himself had his narrownesses – just like everyone else – only his turned into ruts for everyone else.


Matt McIrvin 02.13.11 at 4:39 pm

Science fiction and fairy tales seem so much more agreeable with one another these days in part because the science that surrounds us is fundamentally incomprehensible, invisibly microscopic, technomagical rather than technological.

But this was really already true to some extent in the 1930s, at least with regard to physics. Quantum mechanics is from the 20s and 30s. Einstein’s general relativity, from the teens. Most of the weirdness present in the so-called New Physics is already visible there. Maybe popular nonfiction didn’t make as big a deal out of it until later.


bob mcmanus 02.13.11 at 7:29 pm

Well, as I have said before, one historical bridge between fantasy and sf might be found in Haggard, Verne, Burroughs, Weird Tales etc. Science as the exploration and discovery of exotic places and alien cultures was mythic at all levels of Western Culture at least through the 1930s, and Tibet and Tahiti were more what science meant to the National Geographic subscriber than quantum mechanics or cybernetics. That view of science as geographic or anthropological adventure may or may not be diminished (Avatar; “These are the voyages”).

The connections to fantasy and fairy tales (HC Andersen was also a popular travel writer) might be complicated, but one can easily see a entry for study. Alice and Allan Quatermain, Paul Atreides and John Carter, Frodo and Elwin Ransom. Lafcadio Hearn was selling Orientalism as anthropology from New Orleans and Japan.

Strange magics and alien wisdom all the way down.


Jacob Hartog 02.13.11 at 7:35 pm

I think if you want an explicitly fairy-tale take on science fiction themes, or just a great book in general, you can’t do better than Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad. Like Cosmicomics, but even more fun.


Ben JB 02.14.11 at 5:14 am

I want to start by affirming my support for all things banged out and printed without re-thinking. Re-thinking comes later.

That said, and my right to re-think later asserted, here’s some first thoughts:

For Wells, I hate to lean too much on class as explanatory, but… well, I’m not sure Lewis or Tolkien ever ran away from being apprenticed to a draper. Also, while he’s mostly famous as an SF author today, Wells has a bunch of fantasy stories (a lot of theological fantasies actually, now that I think of it) and a bunch of serio-comic realist novel–oh god, and his serious futurological work, which seems like a third-rail here. In other words, Wells is bound to screw up a lot of systems because of his multiplicity. (I’m perfectly fine with fuzzy sets and the occasional outlier once I get the system in place.)

Speaking of systems, Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy does an interesting line on speciation. (Although, to me, it’s most interesting to see how the rhetoric of the intrusion fantasy makes it sound like horror.) There’s not a lot of great criticism on fantasy (that I know of), but Mendlesohn’s book has gotten a lot of praise.

Also, as long as I’m pimping other works, Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future has a chapter called “The Great Schism,” which deals with the fantasy / sf divide. I’m sure I’m missing some threads of his thought, but one big part of that chapter has to do with the disenchantment of modern fantasy.

(Which, as a reader, I kind of noticed: the unionization of spirits in Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, the bureaucratization of magic in Harry Potter and the Triplicate Form, and the reduction of dragons to their instrumental value in the first of Novik’s Temeraire series–all seem to point towards the creep of capitalism into fantasy. Although, I’m sure there’s a joke here to be made about the constitutive role of fantasy in capitalism and capitalism now returning the favor.)

Actually, not only was I wrong about Hans Christian Anderson, but orality vs. print wasn’t even a good distinction in the Italian fairy tale tradition that I was thinking of (the fairy tale class I audited in grad school was taught by an Italian who heavily favored Straparola and Gozzi).

Also, I do like the idea of putting Tolkien head-to-head with Gernsback in terms of lifestyle they were selling. I mean, in the early pulps, there were ads about scientific cures that would help you or scientific courses that could lead to a solid career—and it’s rather hilarious to imagine what sort of ads there would be in a Tolkien-run magazine. (Well, to me it’s hilarious. Like: what would Tolkien be like as a money-hungry pulp editor?)


Myles 02.14.11 at 5:36 am

For Wells, I hate to lean too much on class as explanatory, but… well, I’m not sure Lewis or Tolkien ever ran away from being apprenticed to a draper.

H.G. Wells was that most classically Dickensian of cases, the mildly respectable lower-middle-class child cast into the real lower classes by accident. Psychologically it’s much worse than being born in the lower classes, because it makes you hyper-aware of how miserable your position is.


Peter Erwin 02.14.11 at 2:08 pm

It might be worth remembering that part of what we now consider “fantasy” (in the literary/publishing sense) came out of the American pulp tradition at roughly the same time as Tolkien and Lewis were working on their stories : Robert E. Howard was writing Conan stories only a few years before The Hobbit was published, and Fritz Leiber’s first “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” story appeared in 1939. Moreover, Leiber was apparently quite happy writing what we would now regard as both fantasy and science fiction, as were a number of other writers of the 30s and 40s (e.g., H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, L. Sprague de Camp).

So I’m not sure there was really a strong divide between fantasy and SF in the 30s and 40s.


roac 02.14.11 at 3:10 pm

While I am pondering the question raised in the last sentence of no. 9, I will just contribute the datum that Tolkien did read SF. He mentions Asimov by name in one of his letters.

The empirical question is: Are there really people, now or then, who like SF and reject fantasy, or the other way around? Not as a matter of theory, but as a matter of taste? And if there is such a divide, does it really coincide with any widely recognized political division?

(And by the way, “Pinocchio” is misspelled in the OP.)


Matt McIrvin 02.14.11 at 3:37 pm

There are definitely SF fans who reject fantasy, loathe it and use the word as a pejorative. It’s an ongoing subject of discussion in fan circles. Often, these are male fans who perceive fantasy as having something akin to, and possibly identical with, girl cooties.

SF author Gregory Benford, who complains frequently about fantasy novels getting Hugos, once wrote a ridiculous essay about how the Harry Potter-induced wave of interest in fantasy literature was a worrying symptom of Anglo-American scientific decline, and that we’d soon be overtaken by the hard-headed Chinese and Indians. Because I guess Chinese and Indian cultures aren’t that into fantasy.


roac 02.14.11 at 3:59 pm

Yes, I suppose I should have realized that such people must exist. There ought to be a convention distinguishing fans from Fans, in order to make it easier to avoid the latter.

If you think of SF as a medium for the transmission of science, then I guess you don’t approve of somebody like LeGuin because (setting aside that she (1) is a girl and (2) also writes fantasy), the science she is rreally interested in is anthropology, and you don’t consider that science at all.

(LeGuin of course mixed up SF and fantasy in one of her early novels, Rocannon’s World. I believe she came to think that was a mistake.)


Matt McIrvin 02.14.11 at 4:12 pm

And there’s the related phenomenon that the phrase “hard science fiction” is taken in principle to imply scientific rigor, but in practice it just means SF of a certain style, heavy on physics and engineering detail whether or not it makes much sense.


John Holbo 02.14.11 at 4:17 pm

One thing I should have mentioned is is that Tolkien (and Gernsback) give us basically sex-free fiction. One of the things that is highly distinctive of Hans Christian Andersen-style fairy tales, on the other hand, is that – being dream-like – they always seem to be at least faintly about sex. Fairy tales feel Freudian. Anyway, a side-effect of Tolkien laying down the template for fantasy is that it becomes de-sexualized (which is an odd thing for fantasy to be, for sure). Gernsback wrote and published fiction that had to be acceptable for boys (so there’s a kind of schizophrenia with the hotsy-totsy covers and the sex-free content, but that’s a different issue.) Now the fact that both fantasy and science fiction went through a phase of not being about sex hardly explains why people tended to separate them. But I do feel that getting over that phase has helped bring them together. I need to think about it more.


Peter Erwin 02.14.11 at 4:49 pm

… being dream-like – they always seem to be at least faintly about sex. Fairy tales feel Freudian.

Erm… I’m not sure I’d necessarily equate “being dream-like” with “being about sex”. It might be more apropos to consider their subject matter: fairy tales often deal in births and end in marriage, or deal with courtship of one kind or another,and so sex is at least on the periphery. On the other hand, there’s a long tradition of bowdlerizing fairy tales going back to the Brothers Grimm, if not earlier, so that what most people think of as “fairy tales” have, in fact, been rather de-sexualized.

Anyway, a side-effect of Tolkien laying down the template for fantasy is that it becomes de-sexualized (which is an odd thing for fantasy to be, for sure).

Except that the “sword & sorcery” template established by Howard, Leiber, and others was certainly not de-sexualized.


js 02.14.11 at 6:34 pm

I wonder what part of the pan-appreciative reconciliation reduces to a broader cultural appetite for hybrids and mashups–or at least it seems like that would be something to distinguish from actually effacing the generic division. One difference would be that mashup actually depends on some kind of stable compartmentalization to pull off its trick.


tomslee 02.14.11 at 9:56 pm

As the introduction by Tim “Project Runway” Gunn makes clear, …

As someone with a guilty enjoyment of Project Runway, that’s a phrase I never thought I’d see on CT.


JulesLt 02.16.11 at 9:38 am

Was talking about this with my wife last night – I’ve been reading a sequence by Justina Robson that really mixes up the lot – SF of your nanotech/quantum physics sort with elves, daemons, ‘faery’ (in a Gaiman-like sense of ancient and very powerful stories, like the Fates/Furies), and a fair amount of inter-species sex.

And there’s an interesting interview about how it’s the last one that’s had a lot of genre fans objecting.

I’ve also noted a guy at work, who pretty much only reads fantasy, doesn’t really like any of your ‘urban fantasy’ – for him, it’s pretty much got to be straight up elves and orcs and dragons.

On the other hand, I’m a snob the other way – I haven’t read any Terry Brooks to comment, but generally speaking what I like is a good political thriller or crime novel in a fantastic setting. There’s that whole sub-genre of SF books that are who-done-its where the answer is the narrators memory-erased self.

But getting back to the original issue – my guess is that the big era of the ‘split’ wasn’t actually until the 80s. I don’t think there was enough orcs and elves literature being published until then – there were lots of cheap slim paperback fantasy of the Conan / Elric type, but it was in the 80s that publishers discovered the market for the doorstop fantasy tome – Eddings, Brooks, Jordan, etc.

(A bit like ‘metal’ becoming a separate market to rock).


roac 02.16.11 at 3:26 pm

C.J. Cherryh has a thing about interspecies sex. It is probably silly to complain about improbability when discussing a genre which (99% of the time) relies on faster-than-light travel for its existence; but nothing seems to me more unbelievable than evolution in separate solar systems converging to that extent.


Zamfir 02.16.11 at 4:05 pm

@roac, the portrayals in books might be too convergent, but on the whole I would put sex between interstellar species on whole other level of probable than FTL travel. It might not involve sliding penises in vaginas, but some interstellar variation on hand jobs or oral sex seems possible with a wide range of organisms.

It is not too clear where to draw the line. Masturbating with trees doesn’t seem very sexual, in particular for the tree. But with animals it can be a somewhat two-way happening. Giving a blow job to your dog is clearly sex. Getting a blow job from an alien might count too, even if it was a hive-minded subterranean fungus.

If the mechanics are possible, lot would depend on the the perception of the alien. Arguably, the requirement is that they have something resembling sex themselves, in which they engage with a similar overriding physicality as humans. Even if mechanically their method of sex is incompatible to ours, there could be some mutual masturbation that feels like sex to all partners.


roac 02.16.11 at 5:34 pm

Well, a human can have “sex” with anything at all, and no doubt, assuming large numbers of extraterrestrial species, some percentage of them have reproductive mechanisms broadly similar to ours, so mutual gratification faute de mieux can’t be ruled out. What seems vanishingly unlikely to me is the possibility that one such species will find another sexually more attractive than its own. Especially given how much sexual attraction arises at the molecular level.


chris 02.16.11 at 8:24 pm

@22,23: You can do a lot with a general-purpose manipulative organ and a creative mind, and a technological species (whether or not absurdly convergent) almost by definition has both in some form. And that’s not even counting the creative repurposing of other organs (in humans, both ends of the digestive tract, for example).

I don’t claim an exhaustive knowledge of Cherryh’s works, but the only two examples I can think of are Bren Cameron and the human in the Chanur series, both of whom were the only human surrounded by aliens for extended periods (years in Cameron’s case). And while the latter displayed some courtship-like behaviors with a hani (which were reciprocated, IIRC, to the point that the captain took notice), I don’t remember if it’s established that they actually had sex. So “finding another species more attractive than its own” doesn’t really seem to apply.

But in any case, I think the point of those cases is that you don’t have sex with a species, you have sex with a person. Do you really find that implausible?

(Also, a small minority of humans seem to find other *not even sapient* species more attractive than our own, already. But I don’t think sex with sapient aliens (or elves, or vampires, or whatever) is generally intended to be understood in that light.)


John Holbo 02.17.11 at 6:22 am

“As someone with a guilty enjoyment of Project Runway, that’s a phrase I never thought I’d see on CT.”

We aim to please!


Zamfir 02.17.11 at 9:29 am

What seems vanishingly unlikely to me is the possibility that one such species will find another sexually more attractive than its own. Especially given how much sexual attraction arises at the molecular level..
That seems engineerable, if you want to. If you can travel between the stars, your mastery of biology must be superb. Any vaguely realistic scheme for that relies on breaking down people to some essential minimum (say DNA or brain patterns or embryos or whatever), then rebuilding on the other side from scratch.

Can’t be that much more work to add an hormone injection system that reacts to particularly attractively smelling green bulbs of ooze.

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