WTF did I just read?

Wanna read some classic science fiction from 1958? No you don’t. You will decide that all men are evil; you won’t believe that this monstrosity got written at all, and that it was then actually published. It’s The Queen Bee, by Randall Garrett. The basic story: spaceship with a handful of men and women gets stranded on an earth-like, habitable planet. The men of the crew immediately announce that their destiny is to populate the world, with the assistance, willing or not, of the women. There’s a law, Brytell’s Law, that says they must. They need the women, because they’ll have no purpose in life if they can’t procreate. And they have rules about how to maximize genetic diversity that require pairing off in strict rotation.

You can tell this is some kind of perverse male fantasy.

But there’s a problem: one of the women refuses to be used this way! She’s also useless (she’s a clothing designer, and not useful clothes, but frilly flimsy women’s clothing), and violent in her resistance. So the men come up with a solution. I read it.

Damn. It’s a pdf. I can’t set it on fire, and I can’t afford to throw my computer in a dumpster with a bucket of napalm and set it on fire. Maybe it would make more sense to gather up all the men and throw them in that dumpster with the napalm, me included. Gah. Unclean.

Thanks, Gary Farber. You’ve destroyed the last trace of hope I have in humanity. Although I suppose Randall Garrett is more to blame.


  1. daved says

    Sounds awful. But I wish you could give Garrett a reprieve — he did write the hysterically funny parody short story ‘Backstage Lensman.’ Plus I liked the Lord Darcy stories.

  2. emergence says

    What, pray tell, was the “solution”? I don’t feel like slogging through the story to find out.

  3. lightning says

    Sounds ghastly. Was there some rule that otherwise good authors had to write something really horrible?

    I have no intention of reading it, but one on my “never read again and try not to think about it” list is George O. Smith’s “Hellflower”. Aliens are taking over the human race, and one of their weapons is a flower that looks exactly like a gardenia. It’s scent is a totally and instantly effective aphrodisiac, effective only on women. It’s worse than it sounds; it’s not even good porn.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    If you want good science fiction that will convince you of male evilness, look no further than Alice Sheldon (dba James Tiptree, Jr.)’s “The Screwfly Solution”.

  5. Ed Seedhouse says

    Yeah, there was a lot of misogyny in early science fiction. Having lived through those years I can say there was a lot of misogyny all over the place. One would have hoped that SF would rise above the general standard but it was mainly written by men of the time you know. I myself was pretty well drenched in misogyny in those days, as well as poisoned by testosterone to the extent that I’m amazed I managed to live through it all.

  6. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    I also liked the Lord Darcy stories….

    Garrett was ordained in The Old Catholic Church.

    He spent the last eight years of his life in a coma while his wife published a series of books about prehistoric gomers riding giant cats around North Africa under his name, so I guess you could say he paid his price.

  7. brett says

    @4 PZ Myers

    Now I’m wishing I hadn’t put that through the decrypter. Shades of “Stepford Wives” book ending there, except that in the Stepford Wives the men doing it were the villains.

    SF came from some pretty pulpy, exploitive roots. There’s lots of stuff there that deserves to disappear into the sands of time.

  8. indianajones says

    Sci Fi does not age well in general. But Holy Snapping Duck Shit Batman! That was arsenic laced 10 day dead cancerous Fugu corpses soaking in sewage awful.

  9. methuseus says

    I was intrigued to read until the end, even though I was pretty sure where it was going. I wouldn’t have read the story if it had been even a few pages longer. It wasn’t even written in a very interesting way.

    Unfortunately I can completely believe a story like that was written and published. Even in my younger days, I would have been asking myself “what the fuck is this?” I grant that, like others, I was more misogynistic when younger, but nowhere near the level of this story. Even if they included the doctor in their rotation (why can’t an 81 year old in the future father children? They do now.) there would be a good chance of inbreeding destroying the species in relatively short order (2-3 generations). I can’t imagine any society that would have a law stating they need to populate anywhere they crash land, though maybe early 1900’s USA would be one of those societies.

  10. The Mellow Monkey says

    It’s a vile, misogynistic story, but the thing that always disgusts me about stories like this is how people can easily envision a future where humans are spreading all across the universe and colonizing new worlds… but reproductive technology is medieval.

    You can fly to distant worlds and have all this glorious engineering at your fingertips, but artificial wombs, cloning, IVF, or even bloody artificial insemination which a person can currently do in their own home with a syringe are all out of the question?

    Because, of course, the point isn’t to explore what it might take to populate a planet logistically. The point is to fantasize about women as public, sexual resources.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    I’m still trying to figure out how a “handful of men and wome” can hope to perpetuate any species?

  12. devnll says

    I made the mistake of reading Arthur C Clarke’s “Tales from the White Hart” a few years back. The scars have not yet healed, so I think I’ll give this one a miss, despite fond-if-vague memories of reading Lord Darcy when I was a kid.

  13. snuffcurry says

    The point is to fantasize about women as public, sexual resources.

    Also to demonstrate how useless, wasteful, backwards, ignorant, spiteful, selfish, counterproductive, and divisive we are, unsuitable as colleagues, contributing nothing of value to society even as we eat up precious salaries and resources better allocated to men, and not worth interacting with, any worthwhile relationship cultivated with us being necessarily one-sided and based on subservience to men’s wills, ambitions, fancies, and needs.

    Plus there’s the obvious expectation that the darling girl created at the end of the story has only to look forward to a life of incest, rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy. But it’s a cheerful note for the rest of the colony, because she’s young enough to be successfully indoctrinated or, barring that, she’ll suffer her mother’s fate and the men won’t suffer at all.

  14. snuffcurry says

    And is it any wonder the eponymous woman longs for home and the men do not? Her home holds for her autonomy, a creative outlet, people who care for her, enough food to eat, and freedom from tyrannical, abusive men. Whereas the men are relishing their homosocial freedom here, where they settle arguments with one another through logic and cooperation and arguments with female people using their fists or their medical kits.

  15. Edward Bosnar says

    Hm, after reading that description of this story (which I have absolutely no interest in reading), I can’t escape the impression that Joanna Russ wrote her novel We Who Are About To… specifically as a response to it.

  16. daemonios says

    I recently read Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein, 1961). While it’s not as bad as what you describe, I kept giggling at the amount of misogynist tropes and wondering what reviewers would make of it if it were first published today.

  17. methuseus says

    @deamonios # 17 re Stranger in a Strange Land:
    I read that when I was 12 and it’s been well over 20 years since I read it last. I don’t remember the misogynist tropes, and, with how I think about those things now, am somewhat surprised that I remember that book with any fondness now.

  18. vole says

    “Expedition” by Fredric Brown (1956) is a short-short story in which the crew of the first expedition to Mars, selected at random, consists of one man and twenty-nine women. I suppose such a story could be written today, provided that the twenty-nine women were selected purely on merit.

  19. blf says

    I also liked the Lord Darcy stories….

    Garrett was ordained in The Old Catholic Church.

    Same here, I’ve re-read the Lord Darcey stories several times. I don’t recall ever reading any other of Randall Garrett’s work, not can I recall ever even hearing of the story mentioned in the OP.

    Garrett’s being an Old Catholic puts a new light on the religious / monarchical society in the Darcey stories. I’d always considered that a plot device which seemed not-implausible given the basic premise of how that society developed. “Background noise”, so to speak, and — as far as I can now recall — only the monarchy played any role of note of any of the stories.

  20. lotharloo says

    Actually I have a better solution:

    Yes, the men in the story, the need the women to perpetuate the human race but they cannot simply trust blind chance, the crude reproductive design of human species. What if a dumb sperm finds it way to the egg? No, they cannot take any chances. The only way to make sure is artificial insemination where they can check for diversity and quality on both sides. So that was decided upon. Unfortunately, this meant the old method of heterosexual reproduction needed to be outlawed, a small price to pay to ensure the survival of human species. Luckily, homosexual activity was fine and it was encouraged as a safe vent for the sexual frustration of the men and women stranded on this strange planet.

  21. Allison says


    I can’t escape the impression that Joanna Russ wrote her novel We Who Are About To… specifically as a response to it.

    I doubt it was specifically in response to this story. The “spaceship crashes on alien planet, survivors make lots of babies to populate it” trope was pretty common, though not always done with such blatant misogyny.

    Sexism, especially the attitude that women exist solely for men to (ab)use as they see fit, was pretty much universal in “classic” science fiction, not to mention in real life (cf. Asimov’s groping.) That this is no longer universally accepted in SF is the reason the Rabid Puppies are up in arms.

  22. chrislawson says

    According to Gary Farber’s post, Joanna Russ was writing in response to one of MZB’s Darkover novels, not this Randall Garrett short.

    And there were people writing relatively progressive novels in the 1950s. The Space Merchants is the most savage and incisive satire of corporate ideology I’ve read, More Than Human is about healing abused and broken people with group dynamics, and the grim suspense of I Am Legend hinges on lacerating the moral choices of a lone survivor (which is why none of the movie versions have ever had the guts to follow through on the original ending). Even the novel widely considered the ur-book of hard science fiction, Mission of Gravity, is predicated on the importance of learning to understand alien cultures and finding ways to help each other. I know these books are not on the same level as the overtly progressive sf novels that came out of the 1970s — but there were many godawful books written then…and now.

  23. =8)-DX says

    Like, she was driven to murder by repeated beatings and rape, but her victims were her fellow innocent victims… and then no follow up plan? She should have exed the lot of them when she had the gun…

  24. indianajones says

    Actually, and I don;t want to read it again to find out, but did this book with 3 named female characters even pass the Bechdel test?

  25. Becca Stareyes says

    I was also thinking of Russ’s story. Because in addition to looking at how a woman might feel about that, it also talks about the general survivability over multiple generations of a handful of humans with limited technology.

    In other words, read Joanna Russ, not this.

  26. Gregory Greenwood says

    The Mellow Monkey @ 11;

    It’s a vile, misogynistic story, but the thing that always disgusts me about stories like this is how people can easily envision a future where humans are spreading all across the universe and colonizing new worlds… but reproductive technology is medieval.
    You can fly to distant worlds and have all this glorious engineering at your fingertips, but artificial wombs, cloning, IVF, or even bloody artificial insemination which a person can currently do in their own home with a syringe are all out of the question?

    It gets even worse than that. I have dealt with other male sci fi fans and amateur authors on exactly this topic, asking why it is that, no matter how otherwise technologically advanced a setting may be, reproductive technology and healthcare is always so ludicrously primitive (everything from Star Wars to Dune; Messiah is guilty of it), and why such settings shouldn’t include artificial, external wombs or genetic technology and cybernetics bent toward making reproduction safe, painless and at the sole and express discretion of the woman involved.

    The answer was always some variant on the same, horribly misogynistic drivel. You see, according to these sexist idiots, ‘natural birth’ (that term of course remaining vague but basically being used to rule out anything that doesn’t involve a degree of suffering for the woman they deem sufficient to be suitable) forges some kind of profound, mystical bond between mother and child that can easily be interfered with by technology and is essentially entirely supernatural in nature and cannot be achieved by any other means (one can imagine how wonderfully enlightened their attitude toward adopted children must be). They explained, in condescending tones, that the suffering of a woman in child birth is a ‘noble’ suffering (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) and that no one who isn’t a parent themselves can ever comprehend how important that suffering is to a woman… they say, all being men without exception themselves. I’m not sure how a father can gain such incredible insight into the innermost thinking of women, and besides most of them were childless by their own admission in any case – I’m sure ladies everywhere must be so reassured to know that these pseudo-intellectual dude-bros are there to champion the woman’s right to suffer needlessly and quite possibly preventably die in agony, all in the name of this essentially womanly ‘nobility’, of course.

    They went on to claim that they are the ‘true’ feminists (always a good sign when men do that, amiright?), since writing a fictional future in which bearing children was ‘corrupted by technology’ (one assumes they aren’t fans of epidurals or other forms of technological pain management in childbirth) or, even worse, was performed by an external womb (horror of horrors) would be a future where women were ‘denied their essential womanhood’, and that would be sexist… somehow.

    Of course, propose a fictional future where birth sex habitually doesn’t determine one’s gender or physical sex throughout one’s lifetime in the manner of an author like Ian M. Banks, and the ugliness and bigotry of this kind of crowd becomes evident even faster.

    Because, of course, the point isn’t to explore what it might take to populate a planet logistically. The point is to fantasize about women as public, sexual resources.

    Absolutely spot on. That, and in pursuit of some lazy philosophy of the ‘proper and natural’ state of gender relations and some half-arsed notion of birth sex as immutable biological destiny, because why only be sexist when you can so easily be sexist and transphobic, all at once…

  27. indianajones says

    @30 Been a while since I read it but I would be interested in your thoughts about Brave New World with regard to this specific ‘Tech is better than natural’ thing feministically (spell check hates that, but you know what I mean). Like I say it’s been a while and I can’t even remember how it treats females and feminism otherwise, I am just wondering whether you think Aldous Huxley got it right with the reproductive tech depicted?

  28. Ronixis says

    For reproductive technology in SF, I’d recommend Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (Shards of Honor being the first book). It’s a significant part of the setting.

  29. monad says

    A handful stranded on a remote world, who need to be used for building up population whether they want to or not, except for a woman who fights against being impregnated…if you want that kind of story, well, I liked the way it ended in Alien.

  30. Gregory Greenwood says

    indianajones @ 32;

    Huxley warns against the use of such artificial birthing technology paired with various forms of social indoctrination and engineering campaigns and state sanctioned narcotic addiction to render the populous controllable (bread and circuses, the pharma-psychology edition). The ‘natural born’ being left as a socially marginalised and oppressed group. That is a nightmare scenario for sure, but the point is that the reproductive technology in Brave New World was used as a means of social control and dominance; it was never about empowering women or helping them avoid injury in pregnancy or birth.

    Leaving aside what can be read as Huxley’s attitude toward what we might think of as sexual liberation as socially corrosive hedonism in and of itself (this was written in the 1930s after all), the point of the story is not so much to juxtapose natural versus technologically assisted or enhanced birth as it is to craft a cautionary tale about a society controlled in a top down fashion to render the populous quiescent and biddable. Ironically enough, in Huxley’s vision sexual licentiousness and drug addiction perform the same kind of role conservative religion has so often played historically – it was just control enacted through distraction and manipulation rather than simple fear and religiously mandated violence in the name of ‘morality’.

    So long as technologically assisted pregnancy, birth and general procreation technology is focused on enhancing procreative choice for all (and for women especially) and preserving health and well being from the risks, both short and long term, of pregnancy and birth, then I consider it a moral good in much the same was as access to antibiotics and things like abortion and anti-natal services are.

    Could the technology be abused? Most assuredly, but then again that is true of any technology you care to name, and it is no reason to deny women the benefits of being offered the choice of using a technology that could readily save their lives. In a high technology setting such as that being discussed in Mellow Monkey’s original comment @ 11, where things like rapid interstellar travel are possible and even routine, it is downright perverse to assume that such mastery of technology wouldn’t be bent to trying to reduce or eliminate the biological trauma of pregnancy, and there is no argument I can think of against trying to develop such technology that doesn’t come back to a desire to control women through their biology – to treat them as ambulatory uteri awaiting impregnation and little more, all dressed up in pseudo-poetic appeals to the ‘miracle of child birth’, which I imagine doesn’t seem quite so wonderfully ‘miraculous’ when you are the one lying in a bed of blood and pain and trying to pass an object the size of a bowling ball through an orifice the size of a shirt cuff…

  31. Michael says

    I had a quick skim through the story. You kind of left out the part that she murdered the other two women so that the guys would (theoretically) have to do whatever she desired to get her cooperation. Instead they came up with another option.

    Personally the story reminded me of stories like ‘A Boy and his Dog’, and others where (a) the main characters are immediately set up as unlikeable (eg. the men in this story, and that woman), and (b) the extremes that people will go to to survive. I suspect that the author, rather than being misogynist, was making a comment on such views. A bit like when George Bernard Shaw heard a doctor discussing the idea of a shortage of a miracle cure would lead to them deciding who was worthy of receiving it, and saying “I smell drama!” and writing “The Doctor’s Dilemma”.

  32. says

    That story was just… awful. It’s just a long fantasy about belting up the women they’re imposing themselves on. Not just Elissa (the eventual lobotomy victim), but all of the women require constant beatings, apparently.

    Or, The Day of the Triffids, in which the first priority is not escaping from the terrifying monsters currently going about killing everyone while they’re blinded, but to make sure everyone agreed on the post-apocalyptic necessity of polygamy (in the one direction, of course). And also on finding a bunch of previously-blinded girls from a nearby workhouse, as they’d clearly be trained in domestic duties while blind as well as being suitable incubators.

  33. KG says

    I suspect that the author, rather than being misogynist, was making a comment on such views. – Michael@38

    I suspect that you’d come up with a similarly ludicrous excuse for any example of misogyny.

  34. emergence says

    First, PZ @4, wow, that’s fucking heinous.

    Second, Michael @38, you realize that the characterization of the woman as selfish, murderous, and wanting to use sex to control men is also a misogynistic trope, right? It also doesn’t make the starting premise about needing to constantly screw in a rotation to populate the planet any less of a twisted sex fantasy.

  35. whheydt says

    Garrett was an interesting person, but he certainly had rough spots. He lied about his age to enlist in the Marine Corps during WW2 (he was 15 at the time) and came home with a Japanese bullet in his leg for the rest of his life. He was absolutely *the* quickest witted person I have ever met. Have you ever walked away from any kind of exchange thinking “Damn! I should have said…”? Randall could say it on the spot. At one time in the late 1960s the first day of a SFWA con overlapped with an event that was–apparently–for Baptist little old ladies. Randall encountered one of them while strolling out of the hotel bar, lit cigarette in hand. She looked him up and down and sniffed, “And I suppose you drink, too?” Randall replied, “Yes, Ma’am, and I also fuck.”

    He was an avid fan of murder mysteries, which is why _Too Many Magicians_ is a locked room murder mystery. He disliked Agatha Christie’s solution in _Murder on the Orient Express_, which is why he gave *his* solution in _Murder on the Napoli Express_.

    He was inordinately fond of puns, had a wealth of bridge terms in his head, and used them. Read up on some of the spells names he used in the Lord D’Arcy stories, especially _The Ipswitch Phial_. A plot element he used in _Too Many Magicians_ is an elaborate joke, for which I will leave spoiler space….
    The ingenue, Tia Einsig, has an uncle, Neapeler Einsig who is living on the Isle of Man. Word that he is alive (Tia thought the Polish Secret Police had caught and killed him) is brought to her by a Manxman named Colin MacDaffyd. “Einsig” means “alone” or “solo”. “Neapeler” is a Germanic form of the name Napoleon”. So he is…Napoleon Solo, her Uncle from Man. Solo’s sidekick (in _The Man from UNCLE_ series) Ilya Kuriakin was played by David McCallum.

    On top of all that, Lord D’Arcy is a Sherlock Holmes archetype, complete with Master Sean O’Lochlainn his forensic magician assistant, and there is his relative, the Marquise de London, who is the image of Nero Wolfe, complete with a “leg man”, Lord Bontriomph in the role of Archie Goodwin (parse the language yourself).