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Bujold: haut + quaddie = Abh?

A draft, for the Bujold list, contrast of the Abh and Bujold's haut.

I recently watched the anime Crest of the Stars, and liked it a lot. It's part space opera, part character romance, part worldbuilding regarding the Abh race by a wannabe science fictional Tolkien (we can has conlang). But I'm not out to specifically review it here; rather, I kept being reminded of Bujold as I watched, and I want to geek out about that.

(FWIW, the Crest of the Stars novels started in 1999, and Cetaganda came out in 1996.)
(Spoilers for backstory ahoy.)
(ETA: the Abh are allegedly all atheists. Cetagandan religious data is even scarcer than for other polities in Bujold's Nexus, but one guesses atheist.)
(ETA2: might be more accurate to say they're strongly non religious. "No belief in a Higher Power", "ridicule all organized religions", no belief in Heaven. I'd call the first one de facto atheist but people get nervous about labels.)

The Abh started out as as a genetically engineered slave race adapted to explore space (zero-gee adaptations, though not 4 arms; sensory cluster that interfaces with ships and helps 3D navigation) designed by a space colony of fascist Japanese. This may remind us of the quaddies. The Abh ran away, then came back and killed their progenitors out of fear, then felt guilty and supposedly decided to become a living memorial to that culture. They also decided that space was their niche, and humans were prone to war, so they seek to monopolize all space travel so as to prevent interstellar war, or at least that's their line.

At the time of the novels and anime, the Abh are an empire controlling half of human space, complete with an Empress, royal lines, and hereditary nobility. The throne is not directly inherited; scions of eight royal families compete via military service to earn the throne, and that's not a euphemism for "stage a coup", as far as I know. They're pretty collectivist and militaristic regarding ideals of Abh service. The Empress legally owns all ships, which are leased from her. The Abh are prettier than you (unless you don't like blue hair), live to be youthful over 200, all of their pregnancies pass through a lab for gene-checking, and most pregnancies happen in gestation machines, not female Abh. All of this may reminds us of the haut, though the "lab" isn't necessarily centralized as with the haut.

Differences: the Abh are their own military, with no equivalent to the ghem, and less blatantly effete or aesthetic than the haut. Though they have transhuman origins and supposedly keep on tweaking, being superhuman isn't their Big Thing as with the haut, nor do they Have It All -- I think Abh are weaker than humans, not that that matters when you live in machines and can control gravity. They don't have the biowarfare thing going. If they like your genes, haut tell you so and may incorporate you into the central planning; Abh sometimes raise humans to Abh noble ranks, and the subsequent children will be modified to be racially Abh.

Arguably, the two races do each other's ideal better then they do. The Abh are said to memorialize Japanese culture, but I haven't seen much of anything that screams "Japanese!" to me, relative to the little I saw of human culture in the series. Conversely, Cetagandan culture seems like a knockoff of Heian Japan, complete with poetry, perfume, and extreme sexism and gender roles. For their part, while the transhumanist haut do have some oddities to their reproduction, they also have those gender roles: haut-lords rule, Imperial haut ladies control genetics, other haut ladies do... I don't know what. Haut-ladies are kept veiled, at least from non-haut if not other haut males. Haut-ladies can be "given" as wives to favored ghem-lords. All sexist as hell, and without the traditional reproductive dynamics and doubts that led to familial control of female mobility and sexuality in human societies.

Whereas in standard Abh reproduction... an Abh asks another Abh for their genes. The child is mixed up, brought to term in a gestation machine, and raised by the initial Abh as a single parent. I avoid any hint of sex, because the sex doesn't matter: the whole process is the same for a male or female Abh. And the gene-donor Abh may be of any sex, or consanguinity with the parent. They can use sex to conceive, and a female Abh can put the scanned embryo back in to have a pregnancy herself, but those are optional. Functionally, the Abh have become single-parent hermaphrodites courtesy of technology, with a gender-egalitarian society to match. Issues of control, adultery, males not being sure if their children are their children, mate competition, and reproductive rape, simply don't come up. I think they outweird the haut.

One wonders about the haut; we don't know anything about their origins, or even how long they've been at it. The uterine replicator which caused innovations such as the quaddies, Betan herms, and male-only Athos is only 200 years old, not much longer than the lifespan of the late haut-empress. Is the haut project that young? Did they have their own secret replicators earlier? Or did they require forced breeding first of human surrogate mothers, then of the haut-ladies themselves as genetic divergence made alternate mothers infeasible? The latter might explain the current social structure of the haut: a (rather robust) legacy from a more dystopian time. (Perhaps haut-ladies are engineered to accept their gender role, though we know one wasn't thrilled at being dumped off as a ghem-wife.) There's also the ba, the sterile experimental caste; whoever was producing haut-babies before uterine replicators had to be pumping out sterile experiments as well as reproducing the haut population.

Late Edit: more general mapping! Both Beta and the United Mankind are ostentatiously democratic. Beta seems mostly a really nice place, with just mild intimations of a dark side, (less mild depending on reader). The UM is rather more alarming, with democracy re-education camps and smoking bans and propaganda.

Jinto is rare nobility (one of maybe 2000 of his rank or above) and Lafiel is royalty, one of the top couple dozen. Miles is high nobility and almost royalty, given bloodline and Aral's time as Regent. (I'm tempted to map Ivan to Jinto and Miles to Lafiel.)

We, alas, don't have gestation machines, and I wouldn't hold my breath for them. We do have a fair bit of fertility control -- planning, birth control, abortion -- which have had some social impacts already, and we might imagine might have more over evolutionary time. I've been thinking for the past day about the impact of widespread paternity testing, e.g. if such tests weren't used mostly only in cases of disputed child support but as a matter of course, even for married births, just to check for the father or as a side effect of genetic health screening. How does behavior change in the short term if fathers can be as certain as mothers of their children, and women (and men) know that reproductive cuckoldry just isn't possible? What are the long term selective pressures on human sexuality if such conditions (paternity testing and fertility control, and perhaps child support laws as well) are maintained for a long time?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
We, alas, don't have gestation machines, and I wouldn't hold my breath for them.

Between some of the work being done with helping premature infants and the desire of wealthy and infertile women to have children, I'm not betting that we won't have them in 30 years or less.
May. 20th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC)
Yay, someone read all th-- wait, that's outside the cut.

We might, but I wouldn't bet *on* them either. Development may well be Hard and dependent on interactions with the mother, who'll have to be faked, and we'd need some cycles of animal development before even starting on human research, which even then would probably raise lots of ethical hackles.
May. 31st, 2009 09:38 am (UTC)
Ahem, Lamhirh (and she isn't large by ANY standard) casually shrugging off ten gravities start and fully expecting Jinto (who's busy getting flattened in the co-pilot seat) to do the same == "Abh are weaker than humans"? :) They are generally small and wiry, true, but that's exactly so it would be easier to them to tolerate high accelerations, I suspect.
May. 31st, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)
Heh, good point. I thought I'd seen somewhere that Abh were weaker in the sense of strength they could put forth, and we see that their long distance stamina isn't top, and they live in half-gravity. But yeah, they're also built somehow to withstand high gravity well, and moving at all under those conditions would take a fair bit of strength.
Jun. 1st, 2009 04:21 am (UTC)
There's a good reason to it, and it is called Square-Cube Law. ;) When we increase the dimensions linearly, the strength of muscle and bone grows quadratically, as it is proportional to the cross-section, but their mass, and thus the force these muscles and bones must support, it proportionsl to the volume, and grows to the third power.

So, if we increase the gravity twofold, gravitational forces (which are linearly proportional to it) will also grow to twice their original values. So far so good. But then we want to make our person to be able to move as easy, as in normal gravity, so we try to increase his body dimensions in the square root of two times -- remember, strength grows quadratically.

Square root of two is approximately 1.4, so large, 190 cm tall man will become 263 cm and twice as strong. Unfortunately, if he weighed 110 kg before the increase, he will weigh 311 kg after -- an almost three-fold increase in mass for only two-fold increase in strength, as body weight has a roughly cubical dependence, and sqrt(2)^3 ~ 2.8.

So, it's actually quite funny to see heavyworlders in SF described as tall (which is quite popular, for some inexplicable reason) -- if any, higher gravities will favor short but extremely stocky people, with short limbs and thick, strong bones and muscles.

Or, we might to go other way and actually change the muscle and bone composition and metabolism, making them stronger and more efficient for the same cross-section -- then we can have our heavyworlders thin and wiry, but still the shorter they would be the better. It wasn't explained anywhere in the books, IIRC, but I suspect that Abh are the example of such a way.

Ans as for stamina -- well, humans are Terminators of the animal kingdoms. There are exactly two species whose long-term endurance could be compared to human's one, and they are among the first domesticated: dog (or wolf) and horse. Then there's also cattle, but its speed leaves much to be desired, despite its prodigious strength, so power-wise it's in another league.

If you try to change that finely tuned a mechanism, you evidently have to pay something. Abh pay for their better accomodations to the higher gravity and higher momentary strenght by decreased stamina, and there's nothing unusual here.
Jun. 29th, 2009 06:59 am (UTC)
Low stamina? Lafiel spent a few days walking--followed by a few frantic hours of nearly-constant running--under gravity _twice_ as strong as what she was used to. Sure, sheer strength of will and inability to admit weakness could explain a lot of that...
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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