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This is a drum I’ve been beating for some time, but it’s worth thumping it again here: now is a good time, if you want vigorous intellectual debate, to eschew highbrow literature and dive into popular fiction.

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Partners edited by Ross Fitzgerald and Anne Henderson

July 1999, no. 212

In Partners, the unstated question is how relationships can last if they are equal – that is if they are free as well as binding. There’s a suggestion that it was easier in the old hetero-patriarchal marriages where our parents accepted inequality and could turn to authority, within and outside the relationship, to see that it lasted. Not that most of the contributors address the question directly. But in the background, there’s the cheerful assumption that getting into partnership, not into marriage, we’re getting into equality as well – an assumption that’s not borne out by the stories we’re told in the book. Maybe we are freer (at least from outside interference) and more equal than we were; but almost every partnership here turns on, is said to turn on, unequal devotion, one partner devoted, the other devotee.

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Readers of science fiction tend to discover the genre during their early teens, which should make sf an ideal sub-genre of Young Adult fiction. But the mainstay of the Young Adults genre, as it has developed over the last thirty years, is the novel of family relationships. Science fiction writers are often uncomfortable with personal relationships. The stars are their destination, not the living room; transcendence is the game, not emotional sustenance.

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At Home in the World by Michael Jackson & The Survival Dreaming by Peter McCloy

October 1995, no. 175

Terry Southern once wrote a short story about a black jazz musician cultivated by a white jazz fan. After evaluating the fan’s motives the jazz man cuts him loose as someone with an unfocused but suspect desire for the exotic other.

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