EN 4241  Utopias and Dystopias

2009-10, Semester 2

Rajeev S. Patke



David Brin: Glory Season (1993)


The basic idea
1. A planet Stratos with an annual cycle in which the planet passes close to the "tiny, fierce Waenglen's Star" (238). This triggers off bright seasonal auroras in the sky ("curtains of electricity tapped into magnetic coils streaming off the red sun's dwarf companion", 304).
2. Female "Founders" intent on eliminating what they regard as some of the problems of normal human reproduction patterns. Question: what are the patterns that are regarded as "problems"?
2. Sexual/reproductive desire is made seasonal (rather than a continual drive, as in "real life"): males are "programmed" to feel desire only when the auroras are visible in the sky over Stratos.
3. Propagation by two methods: self-cloning and "normal" bi-sexual reproduction ("two uneven periods of potential impregnation", 237).
4.  Social organization; attitude to others; attitude to the idea of a family, community or clan; the administration of society as a system of organized and interdependent systems are all affected by the method of propagation adopted in this alternate world.
5. A stratified society based on clone-clans leads to a very different outcome for the idea of power-struggle, domination, ideological apparatuses, etc. How people see themselves, how people see their role in society, what motivates them towards goal-directed behaviour, what goals individuals and groups propose for themselves all get shaped by this new basis for stratification.
6 The attempt to invent an alternate world based on the logic of "eliminating" problems associated with earth-type sexual patterns also leads to an "isolationist" mentality, and a good part of the latter end of the novel deals with how the arrival of Earth-representatives can upset that delicate and artificially sustained isolation. Question: was that isolation ever really tenable except contingently? Is there any larger, more general implication for isolationism in social and governance systems?
A few additional questions to consider
1. What do you think is accomplished by the plot-device of the twin sisters (Maia & Leie)?
2. How effective do you find the analogy between the "Game of Life" and life on Stratos, with specific reference to the author's acknowledgement that the Game "allowed discussion of talent" (769)?
3. In what sense does the novel work out a dialectical relation between change and constancy throughout the narrative?
4. What, in the novel, is "a pastoral solution to the human equation" (330)? And why does "returning to old ways" (771) fail to constitute a proper solution to social planning according to the novel/novelist?
5. What are the limitations of cloning as "a bold experiment in redirecting human destiny" (354)?
6. Why does the Perkinite faction want to "spark off clonal pregnancies entirely without sperm", and why is it important  "to get boys to spark the following generation" (367)?
7. Why, according to the novel, is a male component necessary to all forms of social- or bio-engineering?
8. Justify the claim that "Stratos society is as much a matter of social evolution as it is of bioengineering" (767)?
9. Comment on the implied polemics in the question: "Did anyone attack Margaret Atwood's right to extrapolate religious machismo in The Handmaid's Tale?" (768). In what sense is his own "thought experiment" different?
10. How do you react to the author's claim that the novel is "neither utopia nor dystopia" (768)?

Topics for seminar discussion
1. Parthogenesis:Free Dictionary: a form of reproduction in which the ovum develops into a new individual without fertilization.
   Link: Heterogony: a form of life cycle in which parthenogenetic and sexual reproduction alternate.
2. The auroras
3. Perkinitism: "sexual isolationism" taken to an extreme (as compared with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, 766). Link 1; Link 2.
4. Pastoralism: "virtues of a slower pace, emphasizing farm life over urban, predictability over chaos, intuition over science ... feminine wisdom over ... greedy knowledge" (770)
5. Feminism: "This novel depict a society that is conservative by design, not because of something intrinsic to a world led by women" (770).




Last Updated  1 February 2010