Sep 4, 2012

Star Man's Son

Andre Norton lived for almost 100 years (1912-2005), and published over 100 science fiction novels, many with gay content.  I stumbled upon her Star Man's Son (1952) in 1978, during my freshman year in college:

 A new edition came out that made the post-Apocalyptic youth (named Fors) look like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and his telepathic mutant lynx as big as a tiger.  The 1952 and 1968 editions, with a different name, make him smaller but still buffed, and the cat a kitten.

Three hundred years after a nuclear holocaust destroyed civilization, the young hard-bodied Fors of the barbaric Eyrie tribe is exploring one of the dead cities. He observes a man from a strange tribe, with an appearance that is new and obviously pleasing: “His wide-shouldered, muscular bronze body was bare to the waist and at least five shades darker than the most deeply tanned of the Eyrie men.”

Arskane is singing, and his song “affected Fors queerly, sending an odd shiver up his backbone.”

The stranger is attacked by Beast Things (mutated rats), captured and dragged off, and although they have never met or spoken, Fors endures two days of hardship and incredible danger to rescue him. 

 He drags the unconscious and injured Arskane up from a pit lined with poisoned spikes (“his big body was flaccid,” Norton helpfully tells us), carries him to an abandoned building, and spends four days nursing him back to health. 

 Eventually, when Arskane is feeling better and his big body is no longer flaccid, Fors suggests that they return to his home in the Eyrie, for the time being anyway. Arskane jumps at the idea of the two of them staying together, but suggests that Fors’ suspicious tribal elders might have trouble accepting a dark-skinned stranger. They might have more luck among his tribe, the Dark People.

The journey is arduous, with many opportunities for one of the pair to be captured and the other to conduct a gallant rescue, and so many instances of touching, holding, and pulling each other close that I stopped counting. Arskane begins by calling Fors his “comrade,” then “friend,” and finally “brother.” When they arrive at the Dark People’s camp and meet with the chief, Arskane pleads the case that Fors should remain:

Arskane: [Fors] has saved my life in the City of the Beast Things, and I have named him brother.

Chief: He is not of our breed.

Arskane: He is my brother!

The chief finally relents, but Fors is surprised and not entirely pleased by Arskane’s ardor. He hadn’t planned on marrying Arskane!   Instead, he returns to the Eyrie to work on an alliance between the tribes.

Arskane accepts the rejection stoically, but with some deep unspoken hurt: he walks away “without looking back.”

In 1978, I was outraged by the ending.  When men and women meet in science fiction, they stick around.  Why do men meet men, then say goodbye and walk away?  Why do so many authors insist on telling us that same-sex relations are trivial, transitory, unrelated to the permanent social structures of kin and community?

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