Where Are the Families in Science Fiction?

lost in spaceNot long ago, I read a blog post by Caroline Furlong called Why Science Fiction Lacks Mothers and Fathers – and Why This Trend Needs to Change. At the time, I didn’t notice it was first published in July of 2018, but that doesn’t really matter.

Caroline lamented the abysmal lack of supportive parental characters, Moms in particular, in modern works of science fiction. She narrowed down the reason for this from her perspective here:

So why are there so few mothers, so few fathers, so few families of any size in modern science fiction stories? As I said above, the answer is that, in the so-called modern mindset, families (especially large ones) are considered pathologies. They are considered an abnormal “deviation giving rise to social ills.” When families are portrayed at all, they are made individually and collectively the butt of tasteless jokes; this provides the social reinforcement for the ideological notion that having a family is irresponsible. These insulting stereotypes encourage the absurd notion in our collective ultra-modern hubris that children, families, and parents are passé. This ideology is propagated as the “scientific” gospel and thereby that of science fiction as well. If that does not frighten you, readers and future writers, it should.

This is why there are so few mothers in science fiction, readers and future writers. This is also why the families, large and small, from the original Star Wars expanded universe were discarded when the new timeline was formed. It is, deliberately or not, a commonly stated reinforcement of the Malthusian Nihilism so currently in vogue today, which has been proven false in every case, every time.

I re-read the missive in more detail just now (as I write this) and started to wonder about my own reading and writing habits.

I’ve written before about Being Superversive in a Subversive World, and part of superversive writing is including family as a positive influence. But do I do that?

I keep a page on my blog with a running list of all of my published or soon to be published short stories, so I decided to take a look.

My short story “Homeward,” which will appear in the anthology DEEP SPACE 2: An Adventure into Science Fiction, is set aboard a shared American-Russian spacecraft decades in the future. The crew is investigating a Soviet era Soyuz capsule attached to a vast but damaged alien structure orbiting a moon of Uranus. My protagonist Cosmonaut Vladimir Goremykin has a secret motivation for having volunteered for the years long mission. It has to do with his Grandfather whose best friend was aboard the Soyuz when it disappeared (all characters and events are fictional) I included also the fact that both Vlad and his Grandpa are Christians.

That’s one for “family in a positive light.”

My time travel/steampunk short story “Wayback” which is available in Spring into SciFi 2021 includes my antagonist Amanda Westcott whose motivation is avenging the murder of her Dad in the mid-19th century by time travelers from the far future. Things turn out fine in the end, although we also discover that Amanda has a daughter by a very well-known real life author (read the story to find out who), plus one of my future time travelers (who didn’t commit murder) is married with three children, all again depicted positively.

That’s two.

“Saving the Apostle” in Saturn only prominently features two men, but one is an Israeli scientist whose reason for traveling back in time is to save, not only his wife and children, but his entire nation.

“That’s (sort of) three.

“The Tenth Second” in Tick Tock had to be only 500 words long, so I had to cut things down to bare bones. No family.

“The Haunted Detective” in The Trench Coat Chronicles has a police inspector and his wife, a librarian, who are Catholic and have several children, although only the detective has a prominent role.

That’s four.

The Pleiades Dilemma has a positively featured married couple but no kids and The Apollo Containment only briefly mentions families.

Probably the shining star of my tales published in the past five or six months is “Sorcery’s Preschool” featured in L. Jagi Lamplighter’s anthology Fantastic Schools, Volume 2.

The most prominent characters are a grandmother and her four-year-old granddaughter who are both witches. They have a strong bond and the little girl is (somewhat) modeled on my own granddaughter (who is now almost six). I also show the child’s parents who are conflicted about their daughter’s abilities but loving, caring, and protective.

Additionally, I wrote an award winning short story about a scientist motivated by grief at the loss of his beloved wife, and a small horror tale that at the conclusion, positively depicts a Mom, Dad, and their daughter.

“Buried in the Sands of Time,” published by Zombie Pirate Publishing the better part of a year ago in RAYGUN RETRO: A Science Fiction Anthology features an African-American astronaut and Naval Commander named Amanda Juliet Nichols. She’s also (depending on your perspective in the story) the first person to step foot on the planet Mars. Her entire choice of a career and everything she did to put herself on the Red Planet was motivated by her Great-Grandfather, who was in NASA astronaut training program in the 1960s, but not allowed to fly because of racism (the character is based on a real-life Air Force Captain named Ed Dwight. His character also makes a strong appearance in my tale (I named Amanda after actress Nichelle Nichols who played “Uhura” on the original “Star Trek” series in the 1960s and beyond).

I don’t remember consciously deciding to include positive depictions of marriage, parenthood, and children in these stories. They just worked out that way.

But why not?

sfr

Cover of the first issue of the Gold Key comic book “Space Family Robinson,” 1962

I tried to find an image that depicted a family in a science fiction setting, but only the old Lost in Space television show from the 1960s came to mind (see above). Of course, it is probably loosely based on the even older comic book series Space Family Robinson which was actually pretty good (I guess I shouldn’t discount the current Netflix series although I’ve never seen it).

I’ve got a collection of upcoming projects. Some don’t naturally lend themselves to including families, but I’ll try to make a greater effort to showing Moms, Dads, and kids as good and positive in the ones I can craft that way. Like Caroline, I can only make a suggestion to my writer friends and followers. It would be great if we could be “superversive” toward families together.

I’m curious. Of the science fiction and fantasy you read, have you seen any family life shows in a positive way, especially in more recent publications?

5 thoughts on “Where Are the Families in Science Fiction?

  1. I can think of a few more cases of sci-fi that doesn’t entirely ignore families, but I suspect that much of the reason they are unseen is that the dangerous activities associated with space travel or time travel or other adventurous stories are such that one would not wish to subject one’s family to them if it was at all avoidable. Primary cases to the contrary would be colonization missions, or refugee flight missions (think Battlestar Galactica). Even there, the action is concentrated on the “responsible adults” except where some one or more of the kiddies has special talents. Occasionally, young adults or adolescents are the focus of coming-of-age stories such as Ann Macaffery’s dragon stories set on a colony world. Otherwise, families are more like the peripheral characters of the protagonist’s wife and son in “Outland”, who are being sent back to earth ahead of the marshall who is risking his life to interdict criminal activity on a remote mining outpost. Scifi that exposes vulnerable family members to harm, especially infants and small children, is perhaps a horror genre rather than sci-fi per se. It’s not nice to blow up family members in space warfare, or shoot-em-up by gangsters, or kill them with faulty malfunctioning equipment. Isn’t that worse than ignoring them by leaving them implicitly somewhere safe and out of harm’s way? Stories about exploring the often uncharted territory of family relationships could be deemed a different sort of fiction, and rarely written about because it’s so “unfamiliar” (ironically, because if anything should be “familiar”, it should be family).

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    • It’s not just lack of family life, but family life seen as a positive influence. Not all stories lend themselves to seeing Mom, Dad and the fam, but they could still show that family had an influence on the protagonist. Of course dysfunctional families are more “fun,” but not all interesting people are totally “messed up.” Yes, families should be familiar because we all come from someone.

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  2. I can think of a bunch. The best known would be Lois M Bujold who has families in most of her fiction.
    Actually thinking about it, quite a lot of well-known Baen authors have mention of families and motherhood as strands in some of their fiction. David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe has a bunch (not the first two or three in the series, but later), It’s a big part of the motivations for many of the characters in Eric Flint’s 1632verse and on the urban fantasy side both Sarah A Hoyt and Larry Correia feature kickass mothers juggling family with saving the world – and their joint effort in Correia’s MHI universe is all about a mother saving her child and the world

    In the past RAH certainly covered families postively – though some of his marital relationships were non-standard to put it mildly.

    I read a bunch of Indie writers who do likewise (Pam Uphoff would be the prime example) but obviously not all writers do in all circumstances – Military SF for example is a tricky genre for this, although Peter Grant’s Maxwell Saga has family life as a component if not front and center in the later books

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    • Funny that you should mention military SciFi, because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” which I re-read and reviewed not long ago. The protagonist was heavily affected by his relationship with his parents and even managed a measure of reconciliation with his Dad toward the end. I have two short stories submitted (not yet approved or approved at all), and in the first, a woman’s primary motivation is the loss of her husband. Interestingly enough, a lot of her processing happens with her dog. In the second, a Viking is motivated by greed but also by his Dad, wife and sons. Ultimately, he has to give up everything in order to survive with a new people in a new land.

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