In order to describe the dynamics that inspire the 'building' of imaginary social spaces within the specific genre of science and utopian fiction, it becomes necessary to examine the historical backdrop instrumental to the author in his or her creation of such mindscapes. The present article proposes to analyse dystopian representations of the future as constructed in works of speculative fiction1 by American women over a period of 30 years (1966-1996).
During this particular era of American historical reality, it can be noted that the collective conscience is marked by a deep-seated sentiment of failure and loss of faith in the system. The dominant images of the 60s and 70s are ones of political, military and social violence: the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X; the televised coverage of the Vietnam War, the scandal of the My Lai massacre; the bloody repression of anti-war demonstrations on various university campuses. Generally speaking, the pessimistic visions of a future American society that can be found in women's speculative fiction from the middle of the 60s to present reflect the conflicts and the fears of the period during which they were written, of which the following elements are the most pertinent to projecting and predicting the future:
This public awareness - and acceptance - of shifting political perspectives and more radical interpretations of national history had a devastating effect on basic ideological notions that constitute the backbone of the American republic. For example, the role of technology and man's conquest of the environment, central to the ideology of Manifest Destiny - the driving force behind westward expansion - had always been considered to be a sacred mission: WASP civilization was mandated by God to take possession of the dark wilderness inhabited by savages:
Central to the concept of Manifest Destiny was the belief in American superiority. Like the Founding Fathers, nineteenth-century expansionists lauded the uniqueness of republican governments and extolled the blessings of political liberty. By carrying these institutions across the continent, American expansion would broaden the foundations of liberty, extend the area of freedom, and elevate benighted peoples who still lived under inferior forms of government. This missionary impulse reinforced a strenuous commitment to the Protestant religion. By transporting the Protestant gospel into the unmapped regions of the West, American evangelicals would protect the virgin lands from the machinations of heathen devils and the serpentine wiles of Spanish Jesuits. Republican government and the Protestant religion thereby promised to preserve the purity of the continent. These ideological imperatives thrived on the spirit of technology.2Based on racial and religious superiority, such a vision was obviously called into question in the 60s and 70s, when the Civil Rights Movement, second-wave feminism and the Indian Renaissance (to name the most obvious) attacked the certainties of the hegemonic culture.
As much can be said for the war in Vietnam: in the first half of the 20th century, the American armed forces had benefited from an extremely favorable public and international image of military savior (World War I and World War II, the Korean War) and world policeman (notably during the Cold War). The U.S. military intervention in Vietnam was thus begun in the same ideological spirit, as another instance of America's destiny to be the shining light of democracy against the evil forces of oppression. Yet there was one vital difference between the Vietnam war and those that preceded it - live (and therefore uncensored) television coverage of actual combat. Battle scenes, the dropping of napalm bombs, raids on Vietnamese villages, became daily news items broadcast directly into American households. Fueling Americans' growing protest and anti-Establishment sentiment, this intensive media coverage contributed to the public's rejection of the war as a national priority, and eventually to the government's decision to pull American troops out of Vietnam before the defeat of the Vietcong could be proclaimed.
Although a discussion of how the Vietnam war affected the popular imagination may seem far-removed from an analysis of women's science fiction, it must be underlined here that the images mentioned previously constitute a central, and highly negative, representation of American society of the period. The events of the war embody what the press at the time termed "the dark underside"3 of the nation: racism, genocide, exploitation of ethnic minorities, ecological annihilation - all in the name of a "superior" civilization. It is important to recall the coexistance of American military presence in South-east Asia and various anti-war movements in the United States which called particular attention to the negative aspects of the war. That is why the study of dystopic social spaces imagined in the works analysed in this paper must be considered in the context of how cultural phenomena of a specific historical reality are appropriated by a given author, (in the present case women authors of speculative fiction) and integrated into the genre used, to attribute a historical and didactic dimension to the work. According to the American cultural historian Richard Slotkin, the mechanism by which the author assimilates contemporary facts and events, then places them in a network linking story and history, functions as follows:
The process of transforming history into myth requires a series of creative acts of transmutation and associative linkage. It begins with an initial selection and dramatic ordering of "breaking" events, which change seemingly intractable bits of factual data into the functioning parts of a fiction. This is true of the journalistic media [...] as it is of a novelist who works from invented or remembered events rather than from "breaking" news stories. As the "breaking" events occur they are processed through different sorts of interpretive grids. Some of these have to do with the author's (and audience's) sense of what makes a good -- that is, dramatic -- tale. [...] Other grids are ideological, and have to do with the attribution of meaning and significance to the events. The meanings to which the story is connected arise from a range of sources: the author's own life, the prevalent ideology of his culture, the language of current political controversy. [...] The process of making a story of the facts, and of attaching significance to the story, also involves the making of connections between the given story and the others in its contextual field. Such connections add drama and meaning by making the story appear to resonate throughout the historical moment in which it occurs, and even to make possible a meaningful interpretation of the whole field of facts and events.4Thus, the basic dynamics which inspire the negative visions found in American women's science fiction are those originating in the transmutation of the events in a period rife with social, political and ideological protest; the fictional result is one of the images of a society deteriorating from within, undermined by its own decadence and inherent evil -- or worse still, the total annihilation of a social space without any hope or dream of reconstruction.
For such negative visions, the utopian mode offers the perfect means of literary expression, since the essence of utopia resides in the process of departure from reality or the norm, and of demonstration by antithesis.5 In the framework of the utopian tradition, this departure or total disconnection from reality can result in the creation of a new social structure to be compared to the reader's world of reference; or on the contrary result in total destruction -- an attitude characteristic, according to A. Cioranescu, of the negative utopist who remains pessimistic because he (or she) does not see, or does not believe in, the possibility of re-establishing constructive situations.6 While it is a well-known fact that images of social breakdown and final apocalyptic destruction are not exclusively a feature of women's science fiction, but rather are typical of what Kingsley Amis called "the new maps of hell"7 of post-World War II science fiction, it can be pointed out that the theme of social implosion and destruction in 20th century women's science fiction is inspired by a perspective which is diametrically opposed to the one found in men's science fiction: whereas men use imaginary nuclear or ecological holocausts as a means of recreating well-known colonisation scenarios based on the conservative values of the hegemonic culture, women see the apocalypse as an unconditional and definitive departure from History. This does not mean, however, that women reject the mythopoeic dimension of the Frontier as the founding characteristic of the American literary imagination -- but women authors tend to turn away from space opera scenarios that reiterate the pioneering conquests of the West in order to question the values of mainstream America.
The questioning of mainstream ideology, values and institutions implies the reversal of recognizable social systems, reversal which can be considered as one of the trademarks of dystopian social spaces in women's science fiction. On the one hand, the utopian narrative supplies the fictional framework for the author-critic through a series of inversions or reversed cultural patterns with which the reading audience is familiar;8 on the other hand, the peculiar context of the period studied here, and which is marked by the emergence of the counterculture, gives the author ready-made examples of reversed-value, or "mirror," systems that can be used fictionally to criticize the real world both past and present. The colonizing experience in the United States, both historically and literarily speaking, inspires the dynamics that drive the writing of the 20th-century American utopian/dystopian novel ; it is thus interesting to analyse how women authors treat the notion of Manifest Destiny in their quest to denounce hegemonic ideology, and how their espousal of new radical historiographic interpretations of the national past serve the creation of dystopic social spaces.
Modern American speculative fiction reflects the amplitude of the fear, in the collective conscience, of the not-so-future ecological death of the planet; this particular theme dominates the dystopian visions of the genre since the 1970s. Women's science fiction is no exception: ecological holocaust constitutes a predominant theme in various negative representations of the future. In most cases, "ecocide" is used as a backdrop to the social structure in the narrative present, or serves to explain why humankind was forced to leave the planet Earth for other locations in the universe. The use of the theme of ecology by women authors of science fiction is of particular importance, since ecology is the major scientific aspect of such works ("soft" science, as opposed to the "hard" science of men's science fiction). The elaboration of an ecological disaster therefore offers a credible scientific dimension to the work on which the author can construct a social system deprived of the abundant natural resources favorable to the development of civilization in the New World. Last but not least, it will be noted that all forms of social disintegration found in modern women's science fiction revolve around the central image of primeval chaos, a world plunged into darkness without any hope of redemption. Far from the regenerating violence of the American frontier experience,9 the physical violence and moral degeneration described in the dystopian social spaces imagined by women authors result in the annihilation of national ideology and identity, and in the baring of the most negative aspects of American social progress.
The theme of violence implemented in the name of WASP social order is to be found in Suzy McKee Charnas's Walk to the End of the World (1974), novel which can be considered as a pioneering work of feminist science fiction of its time, and the best illustration of an antithetical version of the Frontier myth. In contrast to other novels of the same period,10 Walk to the End of the World provides a singular approach to the theme of the apocalypse, because the cataclysm described in the prologue destroys everything except what the author designates as the true founding principle of the American republic: white, patriarchal rule. The narration - which remains particularly violent both in the acts depicted and the words used to depict them - relates the story of the world known as The Holdfast, world which the reader immediately recognizes as that of American society stripped of its façade of equality and Christian morality, leaving only the bare bones of racism and sexism. The prologue11 of the novel, at once a description of annihilation and re-creation of Western cosmogonic myth, explains how and why the new race of men that make up The Holdfast's social structure came into being: after the collapse of civilization brought on by overpopulation, ecological disaster and "inevitable" wars, a few officials and their wives take refuge in a shelter (called The Refuge) to escape from the final destruction caused by the government; having fallen prey to unalleviated grief and guilt, these same men turn against their wives, and designate all women as enemies of humankind and the perpetrators of the world's destruction:
One night, as planned, they pulled all the women from sleep, herded them together, and harangued them, saying, remember that you caused the Wasting. It was a Black female's refusal to sit in the back of the bus that sparked the rebellion of the Blacks; female Gooks fought against our troops in the Eastern Wars; female terrorists made bombs side by side with our own rebel sons, whose mothers had brought them up to be half-men; female vermin of all kinds spewed out millions of young to steal our food-supplies and our living-space! Females themselves brought on the Wasting of the world!This accusation supplies the first openly racist references, that are more than imagined events, used didactically to criticize Western social structure; they are in fact direct references to historical events contemporary to the American reader's time and space - the Black uprisings in the South, the war in South-east Asia, anti-war protest and "draft-dodging" among the younger generations, and the fears of the "browning" of America due to the massive immigration of Hispanic and Asian populations. The following description then reiterates the myth of the Frontier:
And the men, armed with staves and straps, reminded them and saw to it that these things were not forgotten again. (page 4 ; my emphasis)
It is their male descendants who emerge from the Refuge to find the world scoured of animal life and beggared of resources. They continue the heroic, pioneering tradition of their kind: they kill the few wretched mutants who have persisted outside and clear the spiky brush from a strip of river-valley and seacoast where they establish a new civilization. (page 4 ; my emphasis)This short passage contains, in very sober terms, all the elements of the colonizing of the New World: the choice of the geographic location of the new-found colony (river-valley and seacoast), the extermination of the Other (kill the few wretched mutants), the conquest over the hostile wilderness (and clear the spiky brush), and finally the creation of a new world order (they establish a new civilization). At the same time, the "historic" memory of the survivors presented in the prologue repeats the binary vision of social order as defined by the original Puritan colonists:
What else do they remember? They remember the evil races whose red skins, brown skins, yellow skins, black skins, skins of all the colors of fresh-turned earth mark them as mere treacherous imitations of men, who are white; youths who repudiated their fathers' ways; animals that raided men's crops and waylaid and killed men in the wild places of the world; and most of all the men's own cunning, greedy females. Those were the rebels who caused the downfall of men's righteous rule: men call them 'unmen'. (page 4 ; my emphasis)Thus, the Other to be feared is defined in opposition to "men, who are white", and deprived of individuality, becomes a member of the "evil races" described in terms of their color or their acts (youths who repudiated/rebels who caused the downfall of men's righteous rule); and as in 18th-century America, the Other's extermination becomes the sine qua non condition to the re-establishment of sacred WASP civilization. It is therefore in a world reduced to the binary state of men/unmen that the story of Walk to the End of the World will unfold.
Yet the fragile balance of a structure founded exclusively on violence reaches a point of no return in the narrative, because such a society carries, within itself, the seeds of its own destruction. The storyline, which relates the quest of three different characters - Captain Kelmz, Servan d Layo and Eykar Bek - carries the reader from the beaches of Lammintown to 'Troi, city on the Western frontier of The Holdfast. 'Troi embodies both the last ramparts of the former civilization's technology and the gate to the wilderness (called The Wild); and this city will become the scene of the Fall when Eykar Bek sets off the ultimate battle for power by killing the leader Raff Maggomas, who is in fact his father. The taboo of parricide thus transgressed, nothing can hold back the blood-thirsty madness of the men of The Holdfast who sink into the chaos of self-annihilation:
At last in the deceptive twilight she saw d Layo. He swept by her, far on the right; she heard the hissing of the grass past his striding legs as he ran down the slope, gracefully zig-zagging to control his speed. [...]By destroying the last remnants of social structure, the men of The Holdfast revert to the primeval chaos which they fear so much; stripped of their humanity, they are reduced to bestiality and driven by the impulsive instincts of the id (amoral, instinctual creatures), incapable of feeling guilt (innocently ruthless) and condemned to hunt or be hunted by their fellow men (all hunters, all quarry). The ruins evoked in the closing sentence of the story refers to the image of the physical ruins of 'Troi, symbol of Western civilization, while at the same time referring to the men themselves, the ruins of Humanity. The title of the novel, then, assumes a double meaning: more than a journey ("Walk") to the end of the world as known to the characters, the story illustrates the end of History - a result of the author's refusal to accept the ideology according to which violence is the regenerating force of social progress.
It had been like the passage of some hungry beast, one of those amoral, instinctual creatures that had fascinated Captain Kelmz. So strong was her impression of a hunting predator that she pictured d Layo cutting down some less clever survivor and feeding on the flesh, rank or not; and so he would, if necessary, as innocently ruthless as any beast. The valley into which he had gone seemed very dark now; there was something primeval in the thought of the survivors stalking one another among the ruins -- all hunters, all quarry. (page 215 ; my emphasis)
Another worry of the present transposed into fear of the future concerns the negative descriptions of the city which call forth both the historical vision - i.e. the disastrous urbanization of the 19th century12 - and the contemporary vision of the urban jungle typical of the 1960s. This period was marked, we may recall, by rioting in major inner cities (Washington D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles) and represented, in the popular imagination, the battle of the classes as well as the "war" between American youths and the federal government. Written in 1970, Dance the Eagle to Sleep by Marge Piercy translates the hatred of young people, women, and minorities (such as Blacks and Native Americans) toward the city perceived as the representation of a depraved society based on free entreprise and technological progress:
Buildings where corporations live. Prettier, as the time and money defined pretty, than anything else built. [...] Nothing went on for miles that was humanly useful. Somewhere out in the empire people were mining tin and pumping oil and growing soybeans and making rubber. Here was the accounting and the administering, the finaglings of how to turn labor into profit, the edifice of words and lies and images created, the selling of what no one needed into what everyone must want, the high-level bribery, the stock-option plans and the media bamboozles.This passage offers the reader a three-fold interpretation of the interaction between opposing social entities, the description of social space and the enumeration of social activites in a dystopic American future - a dystopic social space undermined by a mutation which, instead of bringing the expected social progress, creates an inhumane and sterile world. In a series of oppositions between the social system that the author denounces (the realm of the "not me" embodied by The Establishment) and the perspective of the author through the voice of Corey (the realm of the "me" symbolized by The People), Marge Piercy underlines the dehumanization not only of the State but also of the populations victimized by the social situation the government imposes on them.
The Garden of Mammon, full of glass headstones glaring in the sun. The earth is my shit-heap, I shall not want, say the ruling class. They were gutting the earth as fast as they ever could, their vast factories pissing into it, scooping out the elements and the minerals and leaving only poisoned desert for the billions who would inherit the plundered craters from which everything profitable had been extracted and consumed. After them, around them, the big famine, the final hunger. (page 103)
This authorial commentary is obtained, in the text, through a description dominated by the notions of absence and negation: absence of human agents in the verb forms relating to "corporations" through the use of nominalisation (the accounting/the administering/the selling) which allows the effacing of the subject and focalisation on a static state of affairs; this specific linguistic effect is reinforced at the end of the text by the use of passive structures (had been extracted and consumed) and by the absence of verbs in the last sentence (After them, around them, the big famine, the final hunger). It is also possible to observe the absence of individualisation in the description of the institution, depicted as an inanimate entity in most cases (buildings where corporations live/the edifice/glass headstones/the ruling class); this loss of individuality is also used in the description of the members of the society who are treated as an unidentifiable mass (the people/the billions who...). The activity of the Establishment is illustrated by the negation of its existence (nothing ... humanly useful/the selling of what no one needed) and of its acts: the only dynamic verb forms relate to the destruction of the designated social space brought about by the politics of consumption (pissing into/scooping out/leaving only a poisoned desert), actions which prove the ruling class credo "the earth is my shit heap, I shall not want." This negative and angry vision is in contrast with the role of the working class, the only truly productive social group (mining tin/pumping oil/making rubber) which is still in direct contact with the dwindling resources of an impoverished environment (the plundered crater).
The overall dynamics of opposition are summed up in the following table:
the "Not Me"
|A. Social entity|
the ruling class
|B. Social space|
the Garden of Mammon
the earth is my shit heap
|somewhere out in the empire|
only a poisoned desert
the plundered craters
|C. Social activity|
|nothing humanly useful|
what no one needed
what everyone must want
the accounting/the administering
the finagling/the selling
the high-level bribery
the stock-option plans
the media bamboozles
gutting/pissing into/scooping out
Another salient feature of this text is its two-fold ideological discourse: on the one hand, the narrator's point of view (as the author's critical mouthpiece) expresses the radical historiographer's perspective, popular perspective of the period used to denounce liberalism as a system of control established by the political élite; on the other hand, and at the same time, the author recognizes the necessity of a sacred status for the institutions of the American social structure, while deriding it through the ironic commentary of the rebellious Corey ("the Garden of Mammon" and the parody of Psalms 23). In this way, the sacredness of the republic's very being is reduced to its basically reprehensible essence. Although this particular text is extreme and binary in its approach to social commentary, the novel Dance the Eagle to Sleep offers an imaginary cultural representation of the ideological fracture at the heart of political extremism and social violence which opposed generations at the end of the 1960s.13
Such mindscapes of social conflict situate the utopian/dystopian text in a no-man's-land between the dystopic evolution of the here-and-now and the utopian dream of the there-and-then. In particular, the dystopic 'reflection' of a mirror-world can be as negative and as horrifying as certain visions of the Apocalypse. The techniques of inversion inspired by the revisionist approach are used, in women's dystopian fiction, to underline the distance that separates the real world from the perfect society to which the author aspires. Through confrontation of reality and desire, the literary depiction of social breakdown allows the reader to take stock of the system's failings and to measure the promise of a possible dream-project. Last but not least, these fictitious transpositions of cultural phenomena, chosen by the author to illustrate the conflictual dynamics within the national fabric, serve to translate the fear of an unresolved social nightmare, while proposing, implicitly or explicitly, the hope of cultural transfer and creation of a better system for a future "in the making."
1 The expressions "speculative fiction" and "science and utopian fiction" will be used alternatively in this article and relate to the same genre.
2 Carroll and Noble, The Free and the Unfree, p. 168.
3 "On Evil, the Inescapable Fact", Time December 5 1969: "There is a dark underside to American history: the despoliation of the Indian, the subjection of the black, the unwise and probably unmoral insistence on the enemy's unconditional surrender that led to Hiroshima. [...] My Lai is a warning to America that it, like other nations, is capable of evil acts and that its idealistic goals do not always correspond to its deeds. [...] In the light of My Lai, Americans have little cause for feeling self-righteous, and much reason for self-reflection. The massacre may be only one betrayal of American ideals; but is it possible there have been other betrayals? My Lai is a token of the violence that trembles beneath the surface of American life: where else, and in what ways will it explode? How much injustice and corruption distort the reality of democracy that the U.S. offers to the world?"
4 Slotkin, The Fatal Environment, p. 435.
5 Dubois, Problèmes de l'utopie, p. 12. "The true common point of all the research done on the orientations of utopia is that all utopias are directed against something, against a state of intolerance. Depending on the case, the author uses antithesis to move toward a natural state, or towards a construction: the imaginary space of refuge can be the simplest form of nudity or the most elaborate artificial paradise. Depending on the case, the antithetical movement can be one of the return to an idyllic past, of an anticipation of the future, or of a space suspended out of real time and the real world." (my translation, original text in French)
6 Cioranescu, L'avenir du passé, p. 224.
7 Title of a work of non-fiction published in 1960 by this author of science fiction.
8 Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, p. 236: "Utopia is a formal inversion of significant and salient aspects of the author's world, an inversion which has as its ultimate purpose the recognition that the author (and the reader) truly live in an axiologically inverted world."
9 For a complete analysis of this phenomenon, see Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier 1600-1860.
10 We are refering here to The Word for World is Forest (1972) and The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula Le Guin or The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ. If these novels all describe negative utopias, they propose, at the same time, an alternative social project based on the existence or re-establishment of the fundamental principles of equality. Along the same lines, in other novels which use the theme of the apocalyse as the prelude to the creation of a feminist utopia (such as Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country or Pamela Sargent's The Shore of Women), the authors tend to push the male social structure to the edges of the female civilization, thus illustrating how women are capable of controlling - or keeping at bay - the violence and barbarism typical of men's culture.
11 see annex for full text of the prologue.
12 Slotkin, The Fatal Environment, p. 5-6: "The machines had made possible new forms of production; but they had also created a new and burgeoning class of factory workers, a 'proletariat' whose conditions of life and work did not at all conform to the canonical expectations of the American dream [...]. The problem was compounded by the fact that the new order had fostered the concentration of larger populations in cities and factory towns, an explosive and unplanned urbanization that produced appalling conditions of housing and public health."
13 Berman, A Tale of Two Utopias, p. 63.
1 - Editions of works cited:
Suzy McKee Charnas: Walk to the End of the World (London: The Women's Press, 1989), double edition Walk to the End of the World (1974) and Motherlines (1978).
Marge Piercy: Dance the Eagle to Sleep (New York: Fawcett Crest Books, 1991).
2 - Sources quoted:
Paul Berman: A Tale of Two Utopias (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996).
Peter Carroll and David Noble: The Free and the Unfree: A New History of the United States, 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1988).
Alexandre Cioranescu: L'avenir du passé: Utopie et littérature (Paris: Gallimard, 1972).
Claude Dubois: Problémes de l'utopie (Paris: Les Archives des Lettres Modernes no. 85, 1968).
Richard Slotkin: The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization 1800-1890 (New York: HarperPerennial, 1985).
Darko Suvin: Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979).
Prologue, Walk to the End of the World.
Edition double Walk to the End of the World/Motherlines, The Women's Press Ltd., London, 1989
The predicted cataclysm, the Wasting has come and -- it seems -- gone: pollution, exhaustion and inevitable wars among swollen, impoverished populations have devastated the world, leaving it to the wild weeds. Who has survived?
A handful of high officials had access to shelters established against enemy attack. Some of them thought to bring women with them. Women had not been part of the desperate government of the times; they had resigned or had been pushed out as idealists or hysterics. As the world outside withered and blackened, the men thought they saw reproach in the whitened faces of the women they had saved and thought they heard accusation in the women's voices. Many of these women had lost children in the holocaust.
The men did not notice their own shocked faces and raw voices. They had acted, they thought, responsibly, rightly -- and had lost everything. They did not realize they had lost their sanity, too.
They forbade all women to attend meetings and told them to keep their eyes lowered and their mouths shut and to mind their own business, which was reproduction.
Among themselves, most of the women thought as women were taught to think: it would be proper and a relief to think of nothing but babies any more, and while the men were crazy with grief, guilt and helplessness it was support they needed, not antagonism. These women said to one another, let's do what they say for now.
A few objected, saying, no, these men will enslave us if we let them; no one is left to be their slaves except us! They tried to convince the others.
The men heard, and they rejoiced to find an enemy they could conquer at last. One night, as planned, they pulled all the women from sleep, herded them together, and harangued them, saying, remember that you caused the Wasting. It was a Black female's refusal to sit in the back of the bus that sparked the rebellion of the Blacks; female Gooks fought against our troops in the Eastern Wars; female terrorists made bombs side by side with our own rebel sons, whose mothers had brought them up to be half-men; female vermin of all kinds spewed out millions of young to steal our food-supplies and our living-space! Females themselves brought on the Wasting of the world!
And the men, armed with staves and straps, reminded them and saw to it that these things were not forgotten again.
It is their male descendants who emerge from the Refuge to find the world scoured of animal life and beggared of resources. They continue the heroic, pioneering tradition of their kind: they kill the few wretched mutants who have persisted outside and clear the spiky brush from a strip of river-valley and seacoast where they establish a new civilization. They call their land the Holdfast, after the anchoring tendril by which seaweed clings to the rocks against the pull of the current.
Seaweed is an important source of nourishment to these new men; so is the hardy hemp plant, a noxious weed to the Ancients but now a staple crop that furnishes fiber, a vision-giving drug, and, because the new men are of necessity ingenious, food. Bricks are made from earth; machine graveyards are mined for metal; a vein of soft and greasy coal yields fuel; wood is brought from the low and thorny forests of the Wild beyond the Holdfast's borders. Nothing is abundant, but men live. They have not completely forgotten technology or culture, and they adapt what they can.
What else do they remember? They remember the evil races whose red skins, brown skins, yellow skins, black skins, skins of all the colors of fresh-turned earth mark them as mere treacherous imitations of men, who are white; youths who repudiated their fathers' ways; animals that raided men's crops and waylaid and killed men in the wild places of the world; and most of all the men's own cunning, greedy females. Those were the rebels who caused the downfall of men's righteous rule: men call them 'unmen'. Of all the unmen, only females and their young remain, still the enemies of men.