Sunday, May 13, 2012

13. The Political World of Pandora’s Genes

The other day I received the following question in an email from a friend who has been reading these posts:

What drove the politics of the story (the political intricacies – were they sourced on anything in particular)?

As it happens, the political setting in the Pandora’s World fascinates me. When I was a teenager, my father shared his interest in ancient warfare with me, and then in my twenties I read the Greek novels of Mary Renault. They all gripped me, particularly Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy, which were both about the education and military career of Alexander the Great. This rather unusual interest for a young woman led me to ponder:

  • What makes a good leader?
  • How do you deal with an excess of young men (and a dearth of women)  in a society?
  • What are possible solutions to the never-ending conflict between superstition and reason (or, put another way, religion and science)?
  • Can one man, one strong leader, make a difference in the tide of history?

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These questions were all put into the head of my leader, the Principal. I touched on each of them to greater or lesser degrees throughout the two books.

For example, Will, the Principal, models himself on Alexander the Great. He feels that a good leader must be strong and decisive; that hearing all sides of an argument is important, but that one person alone must make all final decisions. This view leads him to scorn the leaders of the Garden, the allied enclave that is run and inhabited by female scientists, whose leaders rule by consensus rather than fiat.

The question of how to deal with excess young men in a society has vexed many civilizations throughout history. In modern China, for example, leaders are only beginning to confront this issue as a result of their one-child-per-couple policy, which has led to a shortage of marriageable women.

In the Pandora’s world, Will takes large numbers of young men into his structured army/police force, which is how many societies have handled this problem in the past. Polyandry is an accepted form of marriage in his District.

In Zach’s travels, he encounters the Road Men, who form roving bands of “engineers” and “pullers,” who worship dead automobiles as they pillage the countryside, taking women as spoils. In the third book in the series, Zach will encounter another society that has found yet another way to handle the gender imbalance, this time based on modern US rituals.

The next issue,  the conflict between superstition and reason, is dramatized in the Pandora’s world by the clash between the Principal, who wants to try to restore as much as possible of the old vanished civilization, and the superstitious Traders, who have elevated fear of technology to a religion.

As to whether one man can make a difference to the tide of history, the Principal certainly believes the answer is yes, and that he himself will be featured prominently when history books are again written.

What none of the Principal’s views take into account are what used to be called Acts of God, which can blight the plans of even the most enlightened ruler. This is what my characters will face in the third book, the one I am writing now.

Tomorrow: BLOGATHON SWAP DAY, in which my blog will be written by fellow Blogathoner Anne Wainscott, and hers will be written by me.


  1. I read Mary Renault! I particularly remember The Persian Boy.

    The Principal may be a great leader, but I take issue with how he uses his power and wealth to accommodate his brutish desires. MUCH worse than driving to Canada with a dog atop the car.

  2. I have to agree with kate on this one, kl. I'm re-reading your Pandora books right now and I'm now re-experiencing the same feelings of unease and distaste for the Principal, from the beginning of the first book, before he actually appears. In an early scene, for example, Zach gives Evvy's father money in exchange for his daughter and rather nobly characterizes the transaction as one way in which CIVILIZATION is being restored -- by "value for value." But wait a minute -- this is simply human trafficking, and for the benefit of one person alone. How is that possibly "civilized?"

  3. Kate and Dr. Dave: you are right, it is not civilized, and he knows it. He spends a lot of psychic energy rationalizing his actions. I tried to convey that he gradually comes to see how wrong he has been and does try to make up for what he has done, ultimately actually changing. I have been taken to task for this by a reader who is also a social worker. She says that pedophiles never change. I don't really know what else to say. I inhabit his psyche, but since I've never been a male pedophile (or a female one, for that matter), I may be missing something.