top of page

C4P: Christina Lake-Barriers, boundaries and banners: the human costs of better breeding

Luna's fourth Call for Papers, Ties That Bind: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction will be released on Saturday the 1st of August. Here is a chance to discover the 11 brilliant papers you will find in the book.

Today, we would like to introduce you to Christina Lake (UK). PhD in Literature from University of Exeter. Librarian and Science Fiction Fan.

Presenting the paper: “Barriers, boundaries and banners: the human costs of better breeding

Christina says:

When I first acquired the lovely Handheld Press edition of Rose Macaulay’s lost classic, the mildly dystopian What Not, first published in 1918, I knew I wanted to write about it. It felt like the missing link between the optimism of the nineteenth century feminist utopias I’d been looking at for my PhD thesis on eugenics in utopian fiction, and the darker dystopias of the mid-twentieth century. What Not shows an England emerging from the First World War, weary, disillusioned, but determined to find a scientific answer to the stupidity of war. It reads like a last gasp of doomed utopianism before eugenics became a nationalist tool for governments to remodel whole populations. Which is why I describe What Not as only mildly dystopian. It’s a very British dystopia where the government comes up with a really bad idea, in the belief it will make the country better, everyone grumbles a lot, and only mild peril ensues (for one or two people). But that particular bad idea has not gone away. With the British Prime Minister’s Chief Special Adviser Dominic Cummings in thrall to the pursuit of a genetic basis for intelligence, What Not has never been more relevant. Macaulay’s dystopian satire features a government determined to raise the IQ of the nation the old-fashioned way through arranged marriages and quotas on who is allowed to have children. Needless to say this results in chaos and a slew of unintended consequences. It also reveals What Not as a clear precursor to Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) where genetic manipulation is used to create (not very) intelligent alphas and an underclass of semi-morons. Love as an ideal and as a messy reality, forms another link between the two dystopias, challenging the scientific logic of the authorities and their quest for new improved humans. I could easily have written my whole article about these two inter-war dystopias, but I wanted to show that even in this age of readily available contraception and options for artificial donor insemination, societal control of who is allowed to have children can be problematic. And that the issues around genetic manipulation remain disturbing even when based on personal choice rather than government dictate. Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless series proposes that in an environment of limited resources only those with the means to provide for a child should be allowed to have one. On the surface, this seems like a great idea, but the reality is more complex, and once again leads to restrictions and emotional complications. Anne Charnock’s Dreams Before the Start of Time revisits Brave New World to consider the consequences of artificial wombs for both parents and children, with the potential of genetic enhancements raising once again the spectre of eugenics. Despite the many changes of the last century, it feels as if we’re still grappling with some of the same questions as Macaulay and Huxley, and we’re still using fiction and concepts such as love to look at them from a human perspective.


What happens when love becomes subservient to state policy? Does control over reproductive freedom necessarily involve a negative impact on the right to love? And is there ever a sufficiently compelling reason to regulate who is allowed to have children? I explore these questions through a comparison of two satirical dystopian works written in the inter-war years, Rose Macaulay’s What Not and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, set against two recent works of science fiction that share some of the same concerns, Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless and Anne Charnock’s Dreams Before the Start of Time. Whereas the earlier works reflect and satirise the early twentieth century’s obsession with eugenics and measuring intelligence, the later works focus more on fears of overpopulation and the dehumanising effects of rapidly developing reproductive technologies. However, in all four works love becomes a way of assessing the emotional impact of the changes explored, and offers a focus for resistance to ideas of rational reproduction. There are also strong links between the works in terms of their ambivalence over the benefits of controlling reproduction, the importance of personal choice and fears of where rapid changes to technology might lead. I argue that in all of these, love is represented as a disruptive element, stronger than scientific hopes for a more sustainable way of planning for future generations. Christina Lake is a researcher, writer and science fiction fan based in Cornwall. She completed a PhD on eugenics in utopian fiction with Exeter University in 2017 whilst working as an academic librarian. Her SF short stories have been published in Interzone and various anthologies. She has also won awards for fan writing and was one of the guests at Follycon, the 2018 British Eastercon. She is now planning to pursue research interests in utopian fiction, SF, evolution, eugenics and genetics.

Ties That Bind: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction

is now in pre-order!



bottom of page