My Fascination with the Family in the Past, Present, and Future
It was one of my beta readers who asked if there was a family-focused science fiction sub-genre – ‘because that’s what you always write,’ she said. While I obviously was aware it was a major plot component, it was only then that I realized how much the family dynamic drives my work. So I decided to write about why it interests me so much…
It’s the oldest society structure within humanity, stretching right back to the dawn of our emergence as a species. Because childbirth is a protracted, disabling process involving a lot of blood and because babies and children are helpless for a very long time – we don’t have the option of reproducing in the middle of the field and then moving on after the birth like grazing animals do. So in order to survive, someone needs to devote significant time and energy to look after babies and young children while someone else provides the staples necessary to keep them alive, such as food and shelter.
I was mostly brought up by my grandparents and am also a daughter, a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and cousin, as well as being a wife, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law. Some of those roles haven’t affected my daily life all that much. Other roles in that list have impacted my existence with the force of a small grenade – pervading every aspect of my life, turning every routine I had inside out and upside down, while also filling my headspace so that at times caring for small children dominated my whole life.
As a historian, I have often wondered how mothers two or three hundred years ago felt about the process, given the high rate of deaths in children under five and the evident dangers of childbirth. We know that Queen Victoria very much resented falling pregnant and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one. Perhaps the custom of hiring a wetnurse by high-status women was an attempt to prevent them bonding too strongly with babies who statistically were highly likely to die.
Being a child was also very different – only children from a relatively wealthy family had the luxury of playing for extended periods beyond infancy. Youngsters aged four and above were expected to work in an average working-class home – that wasn’t quite as grim as it sounds before the Industrial Revolution as a family worked on average four days a week in order to feed themselves. One of the other days would be Sunday when they would be expected to attend church and the other two days would be spent growing food or tending animals on common land for themselves.
Until the series of acts, culminating in the Enclosures Act of 1773 that took away most common land and redistributed the medieval strips, most village families owned parcels of land and had access to common grazing land, enabling them to grow and/or rear at least some of their own food, giving them a wisp of independence. Once they lost this lifeline, displaced families were forced to make their way to the nearest large town, looking for work. It was this surplus labour that allowed the rapid growth of the heavy industry where children joined the slavery of their parents as factory fodder.
So what about the future? Will we go on herding our children into a state education system designed during the Industrial Revolution to ensure basic numeracy and literary and – just as importantly – provide cheap childcare so their parents can work? Or will we take the opportunity to educate our children interactively using networked computers and teachers within their own homes? How would that impact upon the family dynamic? What about using bot labour to monitor our children and their safety? How will we look after our elderly and infirm in the future? And will families be better supported in the future when the caregivers are unable to cope?
These are the questions that intrigue me and some of them are explored in the Sunblinded trilogy, while I plan to look into issues such as the care of the elderly in my crime novel Mindless set in the same world.
How has your experience of family impacted upon you? And how would you like to see it change in the future?
Dying for Space blog tour
I didn’t enjoy that run at the best of times, but the spiteful easterly blowing the rain sideways made David’s broke-bot pace utter misery. Yellow Group’s tail-ender was steadily catching up. And if she did overhaul us, then Red Group – our team – would slide from second spot down to third.
Which absolutely mustn’t happen.
David was wheezing as he slipped on the muddy path in front of me and staggered drunkenly into the water. By rights he should’ve been in sick bay, but he didn’t want to let Red Group down.
Romeo, running at David’s shoulder, grabbed his arm. “No worries, pal. One foot in front of the other. Nearly there.”
On his other side, Irena danced on the spot, looking as fresh as when we’d set off. “That’s it. Keep going.”
I’d stationed myself behind him so if David collapsed, I could scoop him up before he hit the water. I gritted my teeth as our dawdling pace gave the icy water plenty of opportunity to plaster my pants to my legs and seep into my boots. Left to myself, I’d have blasted through the river, giving me a run at the muddy incline on the other side. But David had more chance of flapping his arms and flying up the hill than taking it at any kind of speed.
I reckon Sarge should’ve let him off this one, but Sarge didn’t do reasonable. This run was his idea of a relaxing end to a day that had started before dawn.
Halfway across the stream David stopped, all but hacking up his lungs. Allowing Raquel from the Yellows to finally stumble past us.
Romeo looked around, flexed his shoulders before turning back to David—
“Cadet Dain! You hoist your team-mate over your shoulder, you’ll be up on a charge. After carrying him up and down the hill for the next hour!” Sarge bellowed through my eardrop, as Romeo winced.
“Yes, Sarge!” called Romeo.
We all straightened to attention. Except David, still bent double and coughing into his hands.
“Cadet Freeman, you better take yourself off to sickbay and get that tickle in your throat seen to. Seeing as you can’t be bothered to finish,” snapped Sergeant Gently. “Which will cost Red Group three demerits.”
Three! That’ll put the Reds back into the middle of the Leaderboard. And we’ve sweated blood to get ourselves in the running for the Shield.
“Yes S-Sarge…” David wheezed. He turned to us, trying to apologise, still coughing.
I gave him a gentle push towards the bank. “Go. Talk tomorrow.” Straightening to attention again, I hollered into the drenching wind, “Permission to speak, Sarge!”
“What is it, Cadet?” he sounded tetchy in my ear.
“If the rest of us run the course a second time, could we nix those demerits, Sarge?”
The pause dragged on a long light year before he finally responded, “Seems like a reasonable deal to me, Cadet.” He never called me Norman, I noticed. “Whether your team-mates are up for it is another matter. Maybe you should’ve consulted them, first.”
“If Cadet Norman hadn’t suggested it, I was gonna, Sarge,” called Romeo.
“And me, Sarge,” added Irena.
My heart swelled at their support. This was the life I’d wanted ever since listening to Mum’s tales as an officer with Norman’s mercs. Don’t even know where she is, these days. Or the boys. I swallowed, pushing away memories of my lost family. Just now, I had more pressing concerns. Like getting around this course before I turned into an icicle. Like trying to keep Red Group in second spot.
The Sarge sounded even sourer than usual. “Just don’t take all night about it. I’ve better things to do than nannying you losers.”
“Yessarge!” we chorused.
“You heard the man.” Irena started running on the spot, doing warm-ups.
The three of us stretched it out, running shoulder to shoulder. The hill – normally a looming misery when shepherding David – seemed almost flat as we charged up it at a steady jog. Back down the other side and instead of turning right, we swung round to the left and back into the woods to start the second lap. After crawling through the tunnel, I was properly warm despite being soaked to the skin and in no time flat we arrived at the scramble-nets. Gritting my teeth, I realised that coaxing David over normally took my mind off just how high I was climbing. Jumping back down, I landed awkwardly.
Judging by the spring in her step as she performed a textbook landing, Irena was still full of energy.
“Go on,” I gasped, as the planet seemed to gain a couple of gravity points. “Find out how fast you can go. I’ll be fine. No risk of not finishing. Just slower, is all.”
Still bouncing about like a combat avatar, Irena frowned. “For sure?”
“Go on.” I waved her away. “Watching you is making me dizzy.”
“See you, then,” she called over her shoulder, accelerating away into the gloom.
I gritted my teeth and put my head down. Then realised that Romeo was still squelching alongside in the growing darkness. “Not going ahead with Irena?”
“Nah. Figured maybe you might be up for a stop to get nekkid in the bushes.” Romeo winked at me.
I grinned in the gloom, aware that if I agreed, he’d be up for it, despite the rain and freezing temp. He was nicknamed Romeo for a solid reason. Not that I wanted to, as the man who’d revved my engines was dead and gone. Romeo’s steady pace beside me didn’t vary as we followed the narrower track snaking back down towards the river. From here, the going got really muddy.
“What about the Sarge?”
His head snapped around. “A threesome? That’s a peaking idea. But don’t reckon the Sarge—”
“No, you fuse-brain! He’d get a ringside seat – every inch of this ground is monitored.”
I shook my head.
“Ah, well. No harm in asking, again. As you’ve hit something of a dry spell…” Romeo’s persistence never wavered in the face of my many refusals.
“Thanks for the thought but I’ll cope.”
“If Mr Airhose can’t jack into your sweet little pac, maybe we should pick up the pace. Get warm and dry, eh?”
He’s outrageous! But I was too breathless to do more than roll my eyes at such a typical Romeo remark, before accelerating to catch him up.
Concentrating on crossing the river and slogging back up the hill, which had grown steeper since the last time around, I got to the top and looked across the rain-smudged landscape. From here was an uninterrupted view of the Peace and Prosperity HQ. Built by Soweto Services before General Norman got his hands on it, his famous base, Restormel, looked beautiful bathed in the Earth-blue floodlighting glowing through the rain. Not that I was wafting around admiring the view in this vile weather.
Once we’d completed the course, we had to wait for Sergeant Gently’s grumpy vocal clearance before the guards checked us through the first perimeter. Then it was the usual routine; hand print, voice-check, retina and spit scan before we trudged along the paths to our Corps entrance, wet and muddy. The guards weren’t paying attention, though, busy chattering on their coms and clearly buzzed about something. Come to think of it, everyone was rushing around…
“What’s going on?” I swiped my muddy hand across my drenched jogging pants before pressing the palm scanner.
One of the guards finally turned to us. “The General is back! Landed less than half an hour ago with some guests.”
He’d been gone for nearly a year, engaged in dislodging a rival mercenary band from the planet Ceres. Last time I’d heard from him, he was expecting to be there at least till mid-summer.
I pasted a smile across my face before someone noticed I was as happy as a butterfly in a black hole. “That’s stimming news!”
Romeo grinned at me. “I’m gonna catch me a shower. ’Less you want me to scrub you clean?”
“Nah. I’ll manage.” I couldn’t even summon up an eye roll, too busy struggling to absorb the news of Norman’s arrival.
Also in this series: