Exogamy

Tagged: Theme

Exogamy in its dictionary sense, as the human practice of marrying only outside one's own group, occasionally features in sf tinged with a flavour of Anthropology. A well-known example is the exogamous phratry system of the Starship-dwelling Free Traders in Robert A Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy (September-December 1957 Astounding; 1957). The term is also technically applicable to the phenomenon of marriage between a visitor to a terrestrial Lost World and one of its inhabitants, as in Robert Paltock's The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (1928) and many others. More interestingly, though, exogamy in sf extends into a human urge – sometimes sublimated and sometimes not – to love, embrace and attempt Sex with more or less humanoid Aliens.

In older tales of off-Earth Fantastic Voyages, the biological problems of such unions (and of interfertility) were generally ignored, sometimes on the basis that God had naturally created similar or identical races on other worlds. Panspermia and convergent or parallel Evolution would occasionally be invoked as quasi-scientific explanations for the recurring Cliché whereby spacefaring heroes augment their Planetary Romance adventures with a little actual romance involving some enticing local woman. Thus Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom sequence, opening with A Princess of Mars (February-July 1912 All-Story as "Under the Moons of Mars" as by Norman Bean; 1917), pairs off John Carter with the delightfully humanoid albeit egg-laying princess Dejah Thoris of Mars; Ralph Milne Farley's Radio Man sequence, opening with The Radio Man (28 June-19 July 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1948; vt An Earthman on Venus 1950), similarly provides hero Miles Cabot with the "Cupian" princess Lilla of Venus. A surprisingly late example of pure interplanetary romance, here with a human female and alien male, is Jacqueline Susann's Yargo (1979).

Such innocence was not long-lived. The female Other proves to be a tentacle-haired psychic Vampire in C L Moore's "Shambleau" (November 1933 Weird Tales). H P Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936) recasts the theme in terms of Horror at miscegenation between humans and the ocean-dwelling Deep Ones (see also Race in SF). Philip José Farmer's famous treatment in The Lovers (August 1952 Startling; exp 1961; rev 1979) posits an alien of beetle-like ancestry who takes the form of a beautiful woman for an ultimately tragic relationship. The catlike alien female of Fritz Leiber's The Wanderer (1964) indulges an adoring Earthman but afterward makes it humiliatingly clear that her full passion would have destroyed his puny human genitalia.

That Aliens and nonhuman Monsters should desire and wish to breed with Earth's women (only occasionally its men) is one of the great Clichés of the Pulp tradition (see Women in SF). Nevertheless this premise has generated some thoughtful stories, such as "Second Game" (March 1958 Astounding) by Charles V de Vet and Katherine MacLean. In Cinema, Mars Needs Women (1967) is a famously tacky example of the trope, prefigured by the curious chemistry between the female leads and eponyms of King Kong (1933) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

Interspecies relationships are neutrally or positively treated in John Collier's consciously naughty Apes as Human comedy His Monkey Wife, or, Married to a Chimp (1930); Walter Moudy's No Man on Earth (1964); the original Star Trek (1966-1969), in which the "emotionless" Spock is half-Vulcan in origin – other crossbreeds followed; Judith Moffett's Pennterra (1987); John Connolly's The Chronicles of the Invaders sequence beginning with Conquest (2013); and Becky Chambers's The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014). Further dark views of exogamy, in which the coupling endangers one or both partners, include Gardner Dozois's Strangers (in New Dimensions IV, anth 1974, ed Robert Silverberg; exp 1978), whose human protagonist, eager for fatherhood, fails to understand that his bride's people invariably die during first childbirth; John Boyd's The Girl with the Jade Green Eyes (1978; rev 1979), again with bad results for human male genitalia; Leigh Kennedy's "Her Furry Face" (mid-December 1983 Asimov's), featuring another and more disturbing Apes as Human liaison; and Martin Sketchley's The Affinity Trap (2004), where the act leads to a troubling psychic dependency. Cinema is rich in storylines about the fatal attraction of Aliens, Mutants and hybrids, from Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) to Species (1995); though the eponymous heroine of Barbarella (1968) enjoys and benefits from intimacy with a winged male "angel". Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, opening with Dawn (1987), sees Post-Holocaust humanity forced to accept exogamous genetic mingling with their stern alien saviours, this being the sole permitted alternative to extinction. Perhaps the most hauntingly bleak vision of the downside of loving the other, in which humans exposed to aliens become trapped in a dead end of hopeless and fruitless desire, is James Tiptree Jr's "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side" (March 1972 F&SF).

In more sublimated thematic treatments, exogamy becomes a metaphor covering yearning for the new frontiers of space, as in Gordon R Dickson's evocative title The Far Call (August-October 1973 Analog; 1978), or of Cyberspace in various tales of Cyberpunk action and Upload; for First Contact and confirmation that we are not alone (see also Fermi Paradox), as in a great many stories including Harry Harrison's "Final Encounter" (April 1964 Galaxy), Greg Bear's Queen of Angels (1990) and Richard Garfinkle's Wayland's Principia (2009); and also very frequently a longing for Transcendence, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – though this too proves fatal in James Tiptree Jr's "A Momentary Taste of Being" (in The New Atlantis, anth 1975, ed Robert Silverberg). John Clute has also applied the term to sf itself, in the sense that literary hybrid vigour may arguably be achieved by marrying outside the genre. [DRL]

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