What you Can’t Expect when you’re Expecting

by Kieran Healy on February 27, 2013

**Note:** _This post was written by [L.A. Paul](http://lapaul.org) and Kieran Healy. The paper it draws on is [available here](http://lapaul.org/papers/choosing-child-draft.pdf) as a PDF._

You should think carefully about whether to have kids. It’s a distinctively modern decision. Until comparatively recently, producing an heir, supplying household labor, insuring against destitution, or being fruitful and multiplying was what having a child was about. Nowadays the decision to bear a child is freighted with a more personal significance—assuming you are physically able to do so, and lucky enough to be well-off and well-situated. Children are an enormous responsibility, we are told, and you should be sure you really want to have one before you go ahead and do it. In particular, you’re supposed to reflect carefully on _what it would be like_. You weigh the options and make a decision.

Crucially, this involves assessments of your future experiences. You imagine your life with and without kids, and think about what it would be like or feel like to have that experience. In the language of philosophers, you must think about the _phenomenology_ of the experience. When it comes to children, people argue endlessly about what you ought to do. Some claim motherhood is a supremely fulfilling vocation. Some wearily raise their hands (after wiping off spit-up milk) and beg to differ. Others see liberation in the decision to avoid parenthood. They complain about the presumptions of a culture that equates child-rearing with happiness or self-realization, or that looks with pity or suspicion on the indecently happy and child-free. Insofar as there is any detente in the Mommy Wars, though, it’s around the idea that you should personally reflect with great care on these issues and decide for yourself whether this … this—what? Grand adventure? Prison sentence?—this _experience_ is for you.

That sounds like a reasonable compromise, until you realize _no-one knows what it’s like_ to have a child, until they have one.

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Hugo nominations

by Henry Farrell on February 27, 2013

“John Scalzi”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/02/26/your-2013-sff-award-nomination-awareness-post-readers-and-fans/ reminds me that there are only 10 days left before Hugo nominations close. Three recommendations (one the subject of a recent CT seminar; another the subject of a forthcoming one), and more about other 2012 f/sf books that I liked below the fold. People should obviously feel free to add other recommendations in comments.

Karin Tidbeck, _Jagannath_ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/biblio/9780985790400, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985790407/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0985790407&linkCode=as2&tag=henryfarrell-20). A lovely and original collection of stories by a Swedish author, most published for the first time in English. It’s hard to pick an individual story, but “Brita’s Holiday Village” is as good as any and “available online”:http://weirdfictionreview.com/2012/11/britas-holiday-village. Tidbeck writes in the afterword about the profound influence of H.P. Lovecraft. However, the affect of her work is very different. Her stories are not motivated by self-loathing or disgust with the human race, but by a kind of wary affection. The monsters in her stories are our faintly embarrassing relations, and acknowledged as such.

Felix Gilman, _The Rise of Ransom City_ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/biblio/9780765329400?p_wgt, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0765329409/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0765329409&linkCode=as2&tag=henryfarrell-20). Up for discussion soon at _Crooked Timber_, along with its sort-of-prequel, _The Half-Made World._ Like its predecessor, it’s an oblique take on the American Dream, albeit a different version of it – one which perhaps owes less to the mythologies of the West than to Mark Twain, and perhaps O.Henry’s Jeff Peters stories. It’s funny and self-aware in a way that few f/sf books are (another excellent example is Robert Charles Wilson’s _Julian Comstock_).

Francis Spufford’s _Red Plenty_ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/biblio/9781555976040?p_wgt, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1555976042/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1555976042&linkCode=as2&tag=henryfarrell-20). All you could want to know here, and, arguably one of the best science fiction novels written in the last several decades. I say ‘arguably’ only because one might “claim”:http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1653581.html that it isn’t, and shouldn’t count as part of the genre. The underlying question is whether you think about science fiction as a genre consisting of books about the future, or as a particular method of fictional inquiry. If the former, it plausibly should not be included (although the fact that it is _haunted_ by science fiction, as both Gilman and Holbo suggested in their essays for our seminar, explains some of its power). If the latter, it should be, and should indeed be taken as a model for _how you do_ ambitious sociological science fiction, while retaining an interest in individual human beings.

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