The clever insight (#SFWApro)

“It’s said a man who’s lying to you will avoid your eyes—when a woman lies, she meets your gaze.”—Haruka, Beyond the Stream of Time (Not a verbatim quote, but it gets the gist).
I have my doubt that’s true, but it is easily the best moment in the rather bland Haruka anime series. That’s one of the perks of putting a witty little insight into a story—readers may remember it long after they’ve forgotten most of the other details.
The flip side, of course, is that what you think is a clever insight may not be so clever. And people remember it in the wrong way.
In Poul Anderson’s The Man Who Counts, the conniving trader Nicholas Van Rijn sends his alien allies into battle, then tells his two-fisted sidekick that of course he’s not going to fight himself: generals never fight because if they get killed, the army loses its brain.
That was thought-provoking when I read it in college, but as I grew older, I realized it was bull. Lots of generals go to the front lines—to inspire the troops, to see how the battle’s progressing. Generals who stay away from the fighting (as John Keegan points out in Mask of Command) can wind up making battle plans that have no basis in reality. And, of course, a good army has a replacement leader ready to promote.
None of that matters here because Van Rijn’s plan is good and he, on this planet, is indispensable. More to the point, he’s a lying manipulator who would have no problem saying something like that just to get out of fighting (and may, of course, believe it). So on the whole, it works fine.
Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road has quite a few supposedly clever insights, most of which I’ve forgotten (I don’t find Heinlein particularly clever). One that does stick in my mind was a comment that prostitution and marriage are both based on a myth, that there’s a limited supply of something women can provide in infinite quantities.
Given that the speaker comes from a libertine, polyamorous culture, I suppose that might just be her cultural perspective. However my definite impression (in fairness, I read the book a long time ago, so I can’t guarantee this) was that it was offered as an insight into relations and sex.
If so, it’s a daft one. As I said when reviewing Island of the Mighty, the assumption that if women are sexually uninhibited they’ll sleep with anyone doesn’t make much sense. The odds are that some people will end up without a partner, or without a partner they prefer, which is one reason for prostitution. And marriage, despite all the jokes over the years about just being a form of prostitution, is something different. So not so clever.
And then there was a scene in one of Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s Darkover novels in which an Earthman is shocked to discover his pregnant wife’s sister in law climbing into his bed. She’s just as shocked he objects: my god, what sort of sick, twisted world does he come from, where it’s wrong for a loving sister-in-law to relieve your urges when your wife is too pregnant to do it.
This one, actually, I could easily see as some Darkoveran cultural quirk. It’s a patriarchal society and the very arbitrariness of it (not “you can sleep with your sister-in-law” but “you can sleep with your sister-in-law provided your wife is very, very pregnant.”) makes it oddly real. But at the same time, the way Bradley wrote the scene it comes off very much as somewhere between a clever debating point and a polemic, as if she really thinks it’s a crushing argument.
Which given she was apparently very open sexually (in addition to the abuse mentioned at the link) may be the case. But as someone who isn’t polyamorous, it just falls flat as a pancake.
Which is the risk, of course, of trying to be clever.


Filed under Reading, Writing

2 responses to “The clever insight (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Is Our Writers Learning? Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Glory Road, Robert Heinlein and the Sexual Marketplace | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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