Oct 27, 2012

Across a Billion Years: Girl Crazy Teens in Space

Robert Silverberg spent the 1950s and 1960s concentrating on three genres, juvenile science fiction (Revolt on Alpha C, Lost Race of Mars),  juvenile archaeology (The Mound Builders, The Realm of Prester John),and heterosexual porn (Campus Sex Club, The Bra Peddlers).

His juvenile science fiction virtually omits heterosexual practice, either because Silverberg was tired of coming up with interesting new ways to describe breasts, or because he presumed that his intended audience of American preteens boys had no heterosexual interests. Instead, there is ample buddy bonding.

 In Revolt on Alpha C (1955), Larry Stark bonds only with male star command colleagues.  In Starman’s Quest (1956), spaceship dweller Alan Donnell bonds only with his twin brother.  Time of Great Freeze (1964), set five hundred years after glaciers have mostly destroyed civilization, eliminates heterosexual desire by the simple tactic of eliminating women altogether: none are mentioned at all, anywhere; instead, a boy from a rigidly-controlled underground city falls in love with a barbarian from the surface world.

However, heteronormativity does intrude into Silverberg’s last juvenile, Across A Billion Years (1969), about an archaeological expedition to find the Old Ones who colonized the galaxy a billion years ago.  Teenager Tom Rice is in love with Jan (“a cute figure. . .but not very bright”), but she is more interested in the stamp-collecting Saul, who is oblivious.

Jan: Saul never touched me!  He’s terrified of girls. . .whenever I started getting the least bit biological, he hid behind a stamp album!

Tom: Poor Saul!

Though Silverberg deems heterosexual desire the natural condition of humanity, the very definition of the term “biological,” he oddly fills the book with beings lacking such desire for one lame reason or another.

Kelly Watchman, an extremely beautiful android, “didn’t want to, and didn’t even want to want to, and couldn’t even begin to understand” heterosexual practice

Sheen Sheen, a hermaphrodite, falls in love only with “his/herself”.

Tom’s handicapped sister Lori “cannot” date boys or fall in love.

The only “normal” one of the bunch is the girl crazy teenager.