Why Science Fiction Lacks Mothers and Fathers – and Why This Trend Needs to Change

Mara Jade Mayhem

There was (and may still be) a series of articles going around the WordPress blogosphere that points to a lack in science fiction I have been aware of for some time. These articles began after Mother’s Day of this year, and they came to this author’s attention a couple of weeks ago. Several people, authors and fans alike, wrote posts in the wake of Mother’s Day which lamented the shortage of mothers in science fiction. Though a few cited examples of maternal characters in sci-fi stories with which I am unfamiliar, the general consensus was that there are not enough mothers in current science fiction stories.

This is a good question to ask; not long ago, there was only one major science fiction franchise I know of which gladly included children, motherhood, fatherhood, and families of medium to large sizes. That was the original Star Wars expanded universe, which, for some reason, was discarded a few years after Disney bought the rights to the franchise.

Still, others ask, why aren’t there more mothers in science fiction stories? In fact, why aren’t there more fathers in science fiction, not to mention more children? I am afraid that the answer to these questions is as simple, readers and future writers, as this: in “modern” times, children have become a pathology. Therefore, this makes motherhood and fatherhood – particularly fatherhood – irrelevant in the present (post?) modern mindset as well.

Let us refer to the dictionary for a moment to learn what this word means, so we can see why it is appropriate to apply it to this problem. Pathology, according to Merriam-Webster, means: “the study of the essential nature of diseases and esp. of the structural and functional changes produced by them 2: something abnormal… 2: b: deviation from the propriety or from an assumed normal state of something nonliving or nonmaterial c: deviation giving rise to social ills.” (Bold is my emphasis.)

There are many examples which show how this definition applies to the modern view of families, but a brief look at Netflix’s Jessica Jones ought to make the matter plain. In the sixth episode of its first season Jones is shown trying to help a woman who was raped by her (Jones’) arch-nemesis. This rape resulted in the other woman becoming pregnant and making her, by definition, a mother.

In the course of this show this woman describes her child – who did not ask to be conceived in this manner and who has no protection besides its unwilling mother – as a “tumor” growing inside her body while she begs for an abortion. Rather than show that both mother and child are innocent victims of the villain’s evil, the writer(s) for this episode made the unborn child a “tumor,” a disease. In essence, these authors made the child – and by extension motherhood and true fatherhood – a pathology.

While this episode is one which states the argument that children constitute a pathology most clearly, the sad fact is that this attitude is rife in most of fiction and science fiction. Consciously or not, many current writers promote this idea through their fiction – especially so in sci-fi novels, films, etc.

So why are there so few mothers, so few fathers, so few families of any size in modern science fiction stories? As I said above, the answer is that, in the so-called modern mindset, families (especially large ones) are considered pathologies. They are considered an abnormal “deviation giving rise to social ills.” When families are portrayed at all, they are made individually and collectively the butt of tasteless jokes; this provides the social reinforcement for the ideological notion that having a family is irresponsible. These insulting stereotypes encourage the absurd notion in our collective ultra-modern hubris that children, families, and parents are passé. This ideology is propagated as the “scientific” gospel and thereby that of science fiction as well. If that does not frighten you, readers and future writers, it should.

This is why there are so few mothers in science fiction, readers and future writers. This is also why the families, large and small, from the original Star Wars expanded universe were discarded when the new timeline was formed. It is, deliberately or not, a commonly stated reinforcement of the Malthusian Nihilism so currently in vogue today, which has been proven false in every case, every time.

It is something that The Hunger Games touched on in a very vivid way. Those who find fault with the trilogy often ask why the Capitol enforces the Games on the Districts, since they already control everything else in the lives of “their” citizens. The reason is simple and cold-blooded: with their young culled every year for the entertainment of the sheltered Capitolites, there will always be too few citizens capable of fighting against the ruling tyranny to achieve freedom than there were before the Dark Days.

“Dark have been my dreams of late,” Theoden said in The Lord of the Rings. In many ways, mankind was plagued by “dark dreams” during the twentieth century. As those various posts on mothers in science fiction have shown, more people are finally waking up to the fact that these dreams have led us to our own Infinity War, our own War of the Ring. We can now either forsake the darkness and become “as one new-awakened,” or dive into the nightmare that is The Hunger Games.

But in order to find the former and leave the latter behind, we don’t just need more mothers in science fiction: we need more fathers, more children – more families.

I am not ordering you to do this, future writers, nor am I preaching but not practicing. From the time I could tell stories, something inside of me felt this driving desire to have my heroes and heroines settle down to a “happily ever after,” and I have never wavered in trying to answer that silent call. Those posts addressing the lack of mothers in sci-fic tales show that this interior siren song is right: we need more science fiction stories with families, large and small.

Yes, it is true that after “the end” of my stories the wife and husband will argue; the children will be noisy, and bills will have to be paid, etc., etc. But how, pray tell, does that make family life – in and out of fiction – less valuable? Where in “happily ever after” does it say “and they had no more problems for the rest of their lives”?

It does not say that at all; in fact, that was never the implication of such endings. This reading is a modern misinterpretation of the term “happily ever after”; it does not mean a life full of bliss, peace, and ease for the hero and heroine. What it means is a life spent with those they love, even when circumstances make life difficult or their loved ones drive them crazy. Yes, the princess would eventually lose her looks, the king would grow too old to ride to war, and the children will grow up. But that’s life; a life well-lived, with the hero and his bride savoring the rewards for their hard service to the Good throughout their years together.

Stories with “happily ever after” exist in the real world, future writers. More than a few of us are the product of such endings and, without those “happily ever afters,” we wouldn’t be here. Why should we deny our protagonists the rich life they have earned by their labors against evil?

The answer is that we should not betray our characters in this manner, which is why I urge you to go out and write stories with “happily ever after,” future writers. Give us science fiction novels/series with children, with mothers and fathers, with wives and husbands, with families. They can be facing evil together or living in the peace and prosperity which follows its downfall. As we have seen there is a real need – and a desperate hunger – for such tales in society today.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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18 thoughts on “Why Science Fiction Lacks Mothers and Fathers – and Why This Trend Needs to Change

  1. A standard trope in fantasy circles is the child ignorant of its heritage and seeking and finding his/her parents (or lineage). Communication between parent and child can come from beyond the grave, etc.
    I think you overstate the case regarding the societal reasons for the diminishment of family characters in sci-fi movies, for example. It may be the case that there is so much cgi in the budget, they want to save money on the numbers of characters. (I don’t really know, but if you are looking for reasons, guesses that involve money are more likely.)

    Now that people are publishing their own books, why would publishing trends be being enforced, now that their are fewer gatekeepers to getting published? I think it more likely that newish authors were less capable of carry a high load of characters along in a story.

    Not to sound negative, I do enjoy reading your posts and think they are all quite well thought out … but in this case I think you may be projecting a little.

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  2. Good points. It reminded me of the controversy about Spider-Man’s marriage that led to the dreadful One More Day story, and that raises a question: one of the ‘problems’ that the marriage caused was that Spider-Man was apparently less ‘relatable’ because of it. Given the disintegration of family structures over the past half-century, I have to wonder: is the absence because a lot of the people in charge (both the creatives and the business types who run the ‘franchise’ media) have no experience with solid family life and so don’t believe in it to begin with?

    Also, the franchise mentality raises another problem: You can’t have a “Happily ever after” if the story’s never allowed to end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While it IS possible that the writers and those who run a franchise business have little to no experience with solid family life and/or don’t believe in it, in the case of comic books there’s an extra complication. Comics are, generally, written for the seven to eighteen year old demographic, and the fact that their audience has expanded does not change this. Most children and teens are therefore going to relate better to a perpetually teenaged Peter Parker dealing with issues similar to theirs than they will to a Spider-Man who is living his “happily ever after.” For Marvel to “revert” Spider-Man to single status implies – whether the owners know it or not – an expectation of an increase in the nation/worldwide number of children, which is an encouraging implication.

      THAT SAID, the One More Day event was absolutely the wrong way to reset the original status quo. As far as I can tell, no major comic book company has managed yet to find a way to satisfactorily continue entertaining it’s target demographic while allowing for the heroes’ “happily ever after.” The closest either of the top two competitors came was in Marvel’s MC2 universe, which centered more or less on Spider-Man ‘s teenage daughter, and DC’s Young Justice television show, which is coming back for a third season in 2019. Both these series showed some of the original heroes (Spider-Man, The Flash) living happily ever after while appealing to the companies’ target audience (children and teens). How this could be applied to the main branches of both companies’ main universes is yet to be discovered. I think there must be a way to do it, but no one has found the formula yet – or they’re actively avoiding it.

      However, outside of these particular franchises, heroes receiving their “happily ever afters” have been successfully accomplished. Terry Brooks’ Shannara Chronicles and Tim Zahn’s Cobra series both follow the adventures of the generations which descend from the main characters in their series’ first book. Star Wars’ “Legends” timeline circa the Yuuzhan Vong War was on track to do the same, but during this ‘event’ it began to suffer from the, shall we say, One More Day effect.

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      • I believe Pre-Crisis Earth-2 for DC did a similar trick back in the 70s. And while the Yuuzhan Vong War had problems, I think the real damage was done by Legacy of the Force, which suffered from similar problems to the filmed Sequel Trilogy, IMO.

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  3. My science fiction (for some reason) always revolves around family. The short stories are basically “boy meets girl meets AI at a funeral” and the second story happens while “girl” is pregnant. They get married off screen between stories. Both stories are essentially mysteries hovering around family drama, or “Peter Whimsy in Space “….
    Another wip is about a family of tramp traders (older kids in military /high school, youngest is a babe in arms) in a flight /fight against a rogue government.
    I invented organic technology diapers that allow parents to go 14-24 hours without changing a diaper. Kinda important when dodging star fighters in asteroid belts… And the antigrav is on the fritz again.

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  5. The DVD for Return of the King includes a cast commentary, and I will always remember (albeit not quite verbatim) what John Rhys-Davies (who portrayed Gimli) said in that final moment, of the final scene, when Sam returns home to his family after seeing Frodo off on his voyage. It was something like…

    “And that’s the great victory for the normal, that, after these earth-shattering events, marriage, the family, babies, these are the proper destinies of men.”

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  6. Pingback: Children in Fiction, Part 1: What Happens When There Aren’t Enough? | A Song of Joy by Caroline Furlong

  7. I, personally, have published quite a few stories about mothers — and one about a father. But the thing is, you have to not only have a story where dealing with the kid is a plus to the plot, but also a story in which the reader is not left with the question of “Why is the parent of a small kid braving these dangers?” or worse, “Why is this parent endangering this kid’s life?” Obviously these can be handled, but not all stories can handle them.

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    • Agreed. Of course, as I believe I mentioned in the article, I don’t think the kids don’t actually have to be near the action. Gavin Darklighter’s young cousins only appear in a couple of scenes in one of the X-Wing novels. His own children (unlike Han and Leia’s) were never kidnapping targets, and so they didn’t have as many wild adventures as the Solo heirs did.

      If the story can’t handle having a child or children in the action, I don’t see why they can’t be mentioned at the very least. Some relaxed scenes, like the one where readers meet the Darklighter family, would be welcome as well. It was that sort of thing I was thinking of more than “saddle heroes with kids – their own or someone else’s – for the duration of the story” when I wrote this piece.

      Incidentally, which stories of yours include mothers (and that father)? Those sound interesting. 🙂

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      • The novel is Madeleine and the Mists. She’s the mother of a two-year-old when it starts.

        The short stories are “Witch-Prince Ways,” “Sword and Shadow,” “Never Comment On A Likeness,” “One Name”, and “The Firemaster and the Flames” where they start out mothers (though in “The Firemaster and the Flames” the baby’s adopted); “The Princess Seeks Her Fortune,” where she becomes one; and “Fever and Snow,” where he becomes a father (the baby is adopted).

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