Thursday, January 11, 2018

Happy New Year and an SFR trope

Pete and I decided to spend Christmas on Norfolk Island, a remote volcanic peak in the South Pacific between Noumea and New Zealand. The island is a fascinating place full of history and I've written a series of posts abut it on my own website. (You'll find them here) I'm a writer. History excites me. But I can't see myself writing another historical fiction novel in the near future.

Then again…

One of the most popular tropes in SFR is 'aliens need Earth women'. I don't write it, I don't read it – but on our recent visit to Norfolk Island I had to admit that the concept might be actually plausible. After all, most of what we write/read in SFR probably has its counterpart here on planet Earth.

Come with me to the European beginnings of that wonderful country I call home – Australia. In the 1780's Britain had a growing problem with convicts. As a result of its harsh penal system, and the even harsher conditions for the less well-off, who resorted to theft to survive, the jails were overflowing. Some prisoners were kept in the hulks of sailing ships that were past their use-by dates. The gentry wanted the riff-raff out of England. After the American war of independence ended in 1783 the Americans wouldn't accept any more English convicts.

What to do?

Answer: ship them off to the other side of the world. What about the Great South Land, mapped by Captain Cook in his great voyage of exploration in 1770? So it was decided. Eleven ships set sail from Portsmouth carrying around 1500 convicts, settlers, and marines. They settled on the shores of Port Jackson at a place they called Sydney Cove. Here's a potted history.

It wasn't an easy life. Europeans at that time didn't really understand that things were not going to be the same as at home. The seasons were different, the climate was different, crops failed, starvation loomed, illness threatened. And to top it all off, most of the settlers were men. Some women were transported on the First Fleet, but not enough to form a stable society. So the powers-that-be in England emptied the jails of women – especially those sentenced to death – and sent them off to the fledgling colony on the Lady Juliana as part of a second fleet. The ladies were lucky – unlike the crews of the other ships in the second fleet, the captain of the Lady Juliana was a reasonable man who looked after his passengers. To be sure, the 'ladies' were happy to look after the needs of the captain and his crew, and any gentlemen they might encounter when they were in port. Only one woman died on the journey to Australia, in stark contrast to the many men who died on the other ships.

One of the females on the Lady Juliana was 11-year-old Mary Wade, sentenced to death for highway robbery (stealing another child's clothes). After a good deal of adversity, Mary went on to be the mother of 21 children, one of Australia's founding mothers.

History isn't about dates and names. It's about real people living in times often not of their making. This article about the Lady Juliana provides so many plot bunnies to anybody writing stories. For fantasy or science fiction, just tweak your settings.

Here's another story to whet your appetite – the mutiny on the Bounty. Forget about the mutiny itself, let's get to the story of what happened to the mutineers. After he'd set Captain Bligh and eighteen loyal crew adrift in the Bounty's longboat, Fletcher Christian was left with a few loyal mutineers and a number of crew who would have gone with Bligh if there'd been room. Christian knew he'd have to disappear to avoid the noose – the Admiralty would come looking when the Bounty didn't show up. The Bounty had spent five happy months on Tahiti, so Christian eventually returned there to off-load the dissenters. He left again with eight loyal mutineers, six Polynesian men (three were stowaways) and twelve Polynesian women. Substitute 'alien' for Polynesian, and you have your SFR trope. Christian and his motley crew ended up on Pitcairn Island, safe from being found because Pitcairn's location was wrong on the Admiralty maps. The history is simply fascinating and you can read some of it here.

As 2018 begins, I'll make one promise to anybody interested – I'll write a sequel to For the Great Good. Puss will be going into space again, in the Dryden Universe. It should be fun.

Wishing everybody a wonderful 2018. And here are a few photos from Norfolk Island to widen your eyes.


  1. Pretty fascinating history! I knew how Australia got its start as a nation, but I never knew it was largely due to America refusing convicts. I learned something new! And yes, definitely a lot of muse fuel in those histories! Loved the photos, too.

    1. Yes indeed. You may have English convicts in your pedigree. After hiding the nasty family secret for decades, these days Australians are proud to claim convict heritage.

  2. I, too, didn't realize convicts were sent to Australia because America wouldn't take them. Wow. Thanks for sharing.

    1. The convicts things is not the whole story. The English were very anxious to prevent the French, who were nosing about the same area, from getting in first. That factoid had a LOT to do with the settlement of Australia, on the west coast, too.

  3. I can't say I'm a fan of the Mars needs women trope, mostly because it almost always puts women in the position of slavery or coerced (going willingly by their own free choice I can live with). I *DID* read one that did a good job of persuading me that they aren't all bad (one of the shorts in Tales from the SFR Brigade), but it's still not my fave trope, and even true life versions here on Earth don't change my mind. But I do remember a story from original Star Trek - Mudd's Women? - where the women and the men came to a mutually beneficial agreement which kind of soothed my hackles over it. I would love to see some kind of twist on the trope (but not a Venus needs men type thing).


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