Faculty of Social and Human Sciences (UNL) Conference System, 1st Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference

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The Future Loves a Threesome: Polyamory and the Radical Potential of Science Fiction
Redfern Jon Barrett

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Date: 2015-09-27 04:30 PM – 06:00 PM
Last modified: 2015-08-08

Abstract


Of all literary genres it is arguably science fiction which has paid greatest focus to polyamory and consensually nonmonogamous relationships, with the setting of a world parallel to our own being used as a means of confronting monogamy as a dominant institution. Although polyamorous relationships are often used in the genre simply as a means of highlighting cultural difference (particularly within the ‘space operas’ subgenre), the fundamental rethinking of bonding norms has also formed a central role in fictional revolution: seeing polyamory as an aspect of utopia.

This paper will examine two works of twentieth-century literature which utilise polyamory as a political force: Marge Piercy’s 1976 Anarchist novel Woman on the Edge of Time, and Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 work Stranger in a Strange Land. These two texts, despite countering similar social norms, portray vastly different representations of polyamorous harmony, each with distinct political ideals. A literary comparison of the two raises a number of questions which need addressing: is polyamory inherently more closely related some political philosophies than others? Can ‘free love’ really exist alongside gender inequality? And how central can relationship radicalism be to wider political revolution?

Most importantly, the paper will explore the importance of the genre itself to alternative relationship patterns, looking at the ways in which both Piercy and Heilein suggest polyamory has the potential to inspire real-world social change—change which is slowly but certainly coming.