My previous post on House of Zeor (1974) by Jacqueline Lichtenberg is about Sime-Gen and Romance Novels.
If you will recall, in my last post I noted that though the author of House of Zeor explicitly excluded sexuality from the vampiric feeding relationship between Sime and Gen, her descriptive language for the act of feeding was often reminiscient of that used in contemporaneous romance novels. In this post, I want to look at how vigorously she avoided hints of male/male sexuality in her depictions of male/male feeding while, at the same time, creating intensely emotional relationships between two male characters. In today’s parlance we might say, “bromance.” I think part of the reason for this stems from the cultural context of the time in which the book was written; homosexuality was not as openly discussed as it is now.
For those not familiar with fannish jargon, slash fiction depicts a sexual (or romantic, with sex on the horizon or implied) relationship between two characters of the same sex, those characters being borrowed from a “canonical” source such as a television show, a movie, or a book. Though there is some argument about terms, in general fanfiction is not considered slash if the homosexual relationship depicted is canonical, for instance fanfic about character relationships from the tv show “Queer As Folk.” By definition, a “canonical” work cannot be slash. Slashy is something different. “Slashy” canon is likely to engender slash fanfiction (bromantic cop shows, for example, are often considered very slashy). So, while House of Zeor is considered slashy, it is not slash. It has simply been a starting place for a number of slash stories.
I’m not going to write about Sime-Gen slash, however, since I haven’t read any (yet). What interests me is the tangled way sexuality is presented in House of Zeor. “Slashy” is the very first descriptor I heard for the Sime-Gen novels. For me, sampling the novels after I was already familiar with slash fanfiction, this was obvious. I’m going to focus on why House of Zeor struck me as slashy. (Took me long enough, didn’t it?)
Just as in romance novels, romantic tension in slash is often heightened by the forbidden nature of the attraction (they come from different social classes, for example, or one character is immortal and one is not). In House of Zeor, the avoidance of attraction often feels as if it “doth protest too much.”
“You will, no doubt, be pleased to note that the suite has two large, separate bedrooms.”
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad [when they were forced to share a bed].” Valleroy blushed pink under his tan. He had lain stiff as a corpse the whole night, afraid Klyd would make some unthinkable advance.
…Valleroy pressed his lips against the Sime’s. Those sensitive, Farris lips were smooth, dry, and hotter than any Gen’s because the Sime body temperature is much higher. But there was absolutely no similarity with the kiss of a woman.
…Valleroy wondered about that. Every time he’d touched or been touched by a Sime, there had been not the slightest tinge of any sort of sexual overtone. Here was a totally separate body function. A complete new life process to add to the traditional biologist’s list. And, like the other vital life processes, it took priority over reproduction. In the case of selyn transfer, the libido was completely short-circuited–very much as adrenaline suspends digestion.
I suspect the reason for repeated removal of sex from the equation had to do with the story’s exploration of power relations as separate from gender relations–trying to see what life might be like if being male or female was not relevant. In science fiction of this period, and indeed today, thought experiments of this type are very common, the roles of oppressors and oppressed being reversed, shifted, or removed entirely. Given that science fiction is always really about the contemporary world, though, this never works perfectly. As you can see in the quotes above, taking sex out of the equation is more difficult than it looks. 1974 clearly leaves an imprint on the text.
When sex is deleted from the equation, the unequal power relationship depicted still has, to our eyes, sexual overtones; possibly more so for women readers. Women, like any oppressed minority, are more practiced at noticing nuances of power relations in their everyday lives, which might explain why the majority of slash fans are female. They have eyes for the slashy vibe. They gain power by turning that vibe to their own desires. That is a topic that I could explore for…far too long for a blog post, and I would probably deserve a PhD at the end of it all. Back to the novel.
Other scenes, to me, have a strong feeling of romance, or at least strong sexual bonding.
…the Sime’s rain-slicked hands gripped Valleroy’s wrists. Then hot tentacles twined around his forearms, pulled him forward until his lips met the hard-set Sime mouth. Valleroy felt himself being pulled inside out. His every nerve was afire with rushing sparks of pain that left blackness in their wake…as if his soul was being sucked from his body into a vast black void!
There are hints of other forms of sexuality, as well, other possibilities.
Something told Valleroy that [Klyd] was feeling an even more intense awareness of Aisha’s [Valleroy's girlfriend] feminity that he himself was. And from what he’d learned of the Householding custom, Valleroy knew that the channel’s gene was so valuable that he was allowed to take whatever woman he fancied…whenever he liked. Strangely enough, Valleroy wasn’t jealous even when Klyd put a hand on Aisha’s cheek. But if the Sime had any ideas regarding her, he forgot them immediately. She fainted.
One brief scene in the novel troubled me, and I have not yet parsed fully how it might fit into my theories. A male Sime character at an auction is presented as preferring to feed only on male Gens. It’s clear there is a sexual component, and other Simes join together to prevent his purchases (which are legal; the Gens are being sold to be killed by having their energy consumed).
Klyd explains, “It’s extremely rare among Simes. Narvoon is from out-Territory originally. I’m told he had a particularly hard time of it, and he was warped by the experience. Some say he hates himself for being Sime, and can’t stand the thought of having children. Others say this is his way of committing suicide, and it’s working. I don’t know, but he certainly isn’t well.”
It’s hard to reconcile this speech with the slashiness of the rest of the novel, though it does easily fit into the “evil leering gay villain” trope. It seems almost gratuitous, as that character never appears again.
I’m going to keep thinking about this book. It’s fascinating to me how a story can mirror so much of a society’s hopes, fears, and desires.
I leave you with one final example of slashiness that also works for romance:
Klyd reached out and took Valleroy’s hand. “How can you find the capacity to be angry with me… after what we’ve just done?”
Something of that deep rapport that had welded the two of them in transfer still lingered in that touch. Valleroy said, “I can’t be angry.”