The idea of cloning has been explored widely in fiction, but always in terms of medical technology involving complex machinery, a dilettante obsession for the very rich. This may serve a pampered, self-obsessed class for a while, but it’s hardly a process any species could rely on over the long haul, through bad times as well as good. Not a way of life, machine-assisted cloning is the biosocial counterpart of a hobby.

What if, instead, self-cloning were just another of the many startling capabilities of the human womb? An interesting premise. But then, only female humans have wombs, so a contemplation of cloning became a novel about drastically altered relations between the sexes. Most aspects to the society of planet Stratos arose out of this one idea.

These days, nothing is politically neutral. The lizards I referred to earlier have recently been cited in a thought-provoking, if inflammatory, radical feminist tract posing the question “Who needs males, anyway?” Many times, over the ages, insurgent female philosophers have proposed independence through separation. Given the plight of countless women and children in the world, they can hardly be blamed. In fact, the name “Perkinite” was taken from Charlotte Perkins Oilman, whose novel Herland is one of the best and pithiest separationist Utopias ever penned. Her brand of sexual isolationism is far gentler than the extremist doctrine I depict, which shamefully misuses her name on planet Stratos.

Unfortunately for gender segregationists—though not, perhaps, for men—biology appears to thwart simplistic secession. Mammals seem to require a male component at a deeper level than do insects, fish, or reptiles. Recent studies indicate that “male-processed genes” initiate important fetal-development processes. So even if self-cloning without machines became possible, conception might still require at least cursory involvement by a man.

Anyway, stories excluding men altogether seem almost as bombastic as those that crudely turn the tables, in naive role-reversal fantasies. (Amazon warriors, dueling over harems of huge but meek bimbo-males? The sub-genre is a dandy source of giggles, but bears no relation to the way biology works in this universe.)

On the other hand, there are no scientific reasons not to show males relegated to the sidelines of history, a peripheral social class, as has all too often been the lot of women in our own civilization. Men are still men on Stratos, give or take some alterations. Their society isn’t designed purposely to oppress them, only to end the age-old domineering and strife that accompanied patriarchy. In consequence, the folk of Stratos miss some of the joys we seek (and sometimes find) in monogamous family life. They also avoid much familiar pain.

Would self-cloning lead kinship lineages to imitate the social life of ants or bees, dwelling in “hives” with like-gened sisters? This notion, too, has been explored before, often by cramming antlike behavior into bipedal bodies. On Stratos, the daughters of an ancient clan would exhibit solidarity and self-knowledge unimaginable to vars like ourselves, but that wouldn’t necessarily make them automatons, or stop them being human.

Try to look at it from their point of view. Our world of nearly infinite sexual-genetic variation might seem too chaotic to be civilized. A society of vars would be inherently incapable of planning beyond a single generation— which is exactly our problem today, according to many contemporary critics. Too much sameness may be stifling on fictional Stratos, but too little sense of continuity may be killing the real Earth of here and now.

* * *

Some may accuse me of preaching that genes are destiny. Far from it. Men and women are ingenious, marvelously self-trainable creatures. Stratoin society is as much a matter of social evolution as it is of bioengineering. One of the lessons of Maia’s adventure is that no plan, no system or stereotype, can suppress an individual who is boldly determined to be different.

At the opposite extreme, some early readers said, “Women are inherently cooperative. They would never compete the way you depict.” I reply by referring to the works of animal behavioralist Sarah Blaffer Hardy (author of The Woman That Never Evolved) and other researchers who show that competitiveness is just as common in the female as the male. Women have good reason to differ from men in style, but one would have to be blind to say their world is free of struggle. The intent of Stratos Colony was to craft a society in which natural feedback mechanisms temper inevitable outbursts of egotism. Its founders sought to maximize happiness and minimize violent disruption. Maia’s exploits are exceptions, occurring in a time of unusual stress, but they do illustrate that a culture based on pastoral changelessness has drawbacks all its own.

In other words, I penned Stratos Colony as neither Utopia nor dystopia. Many Westerners would find the place boring, but no more unjust than our world. While I hope my descendants live in a nicer place, few male-led cultures on Earth have done as well.

That sentiment notwithstanding, it is dangerous these days for a male to write even glancingly on feminist themes. Did anyone attack Margaret Atwood’s right to extrapolate religio-machismo in The Handmaid’s Tale? Women writers appear vouchsafed insight into the souls of men—credit that seldom flows the other way. It is a sexist and offensive assumption, which does not advance understanding.

This author claims only to present a gedankenexperiment—a thought experiment about one conceivable world of “What If.” I hope it provokes argument.

* * *

On a different track, the game of cellular automata, which its inventors named “Life,” is a fascinating topic which I chose to graft into Stratoin society for various reasons. I took liberties with the rules, as originally designed by Conway & co. back in the sixties, and described in the excellent books of Martin Gardner. (Plot and story take precedence over lectury accuracy.) Nevertheless, I am grateful for the advice of Dr. Rudy Rucker and others, in helping correct the worst errors.

Beyond obvious allegories to reproduction, creativity, and ecology, the game allowed discussion of talent, and the essential difference between individuals and averages. It is senseless to proclaim that it’s evil to make generalizations about groups. Generalization is a natural human mental process, and many generalizations are true—in average. What often does promote evil behavior is the lazy, nasty habit of believing that generalizations have anything at all to do with individuals. We have no right to pre-judge that a specific man can’t nurture, or a particular woman cannot fight. Or that a girl cannot master a game that for generations was the dominion of men.

* * *

While I have the floor, here’s a question that’s been bothering me for some time. Why do so few writers of heroic or epic fantasy ever deal with the fundamental quandary of their novels … that so many of them take place in cultures that are rigid, hierarchical, stratified, and in essence oppressive? What is so appealing about feudalism, that so many free citizens of an educated commonwealth like ours love reading about and picturing life under hereditary lords?

Why should the deposed prince or princess in every cliched tale be chosen to lead the quest against the Dark Lord? Why not elect a new leader by merit, instead of clinging to the inbred scions of a failed royal line? Why not ask the pompous, patronizing, “good” wizard for something useful, such as flush toilets, movable type, or electricity for every home in the kingdom? Given half a chance, the sons and daughters of peasants would rather not grow up to be servants. It seems bizarre for modern folk to pine for a way of life our ancestors rightfully fought desperately to escape.

Only Aldous Huxley ever wrote a scenario for social stratification that was completely, if chillingly, self- consistent and stable. You get no sense of oppression, or any chance of rebellion, in a society where people truly are born for their tasks, as in Brave New World.

It may be a possible result on Stratos, as well.

* * *

Finally, the issue of pastoralism deserves comment. Countless bad books—and a few very good ones—have extolled the virtues of a slower pace, emphasizing farming life over urban, predictability

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