Science Fiction Studies

#70 = Volume 23, Part 3 = November 1996

Bernie Heidkamp

Responses to the Alien Mother in Post-Maternal Cultures: C.J. Cherryh and Orson Scott Card

Throughout the history of science fiction, alien cultures periodically have appeared in the form of hives. In C.J. Cherryh's Serpent's Reach and Orson Scott Card's Ender trilogy, both of which were conceived in the late 1970s, the authors center these hive cultures around the figure of a Queen or Mother. This Queen dominates the hive, controlling all its members as if they were mere extensions of her body. The adolescent human protagonists in each of these novels—both of whom have been separated from their families at an early age—develop affinities for this figure of the Queen. In Serpent's Reach, however, Cherryh leads a female protagonist into an affectionate relationship with the Queen, while, in Ender, Card creates a male protagonist who must destroy the Queen and her culture before he can recognize his love for her.

The hive Queen in these cases, I will suggest, is a literary manifestation of the pre-Oedipal Mother—at least, an infant's image of the pre-Oedipal Mother. The protagonists in these stories, moreover, react as infants to this Mother. Their reactions, however, are gendered. In order to understand this peculiar alien Mother and the distinct male and female reactions to it, I will employ feminist psychoanalytic theories of mothering which came into vogue in the United States in the mid to late 1970s just before Cherryh and Card conceived of their stories)—specifically, the theories which Nancy Chodorow originally outlined in Reproduction of Mothering and which Dorothy Dinnerstein outlined in The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise. Both of these authors ultimately argue for an end to the traditional Western heterosexual familial arrangement in which the women are the sole caretakers for the children. Only at that point, they argue, will Western culture begin to accord "selfhood" to mothers. This feminist psychoanalytic framework helps to reveal the forces which motivate the unique relationships in these novels between the protagonists and their alien mothers and between the authors and the alien mothers which they create.

Both Chodorow's and Dinnerstein's theories—and the object-relations school of psychoanalysis on which those theories are based—have been widely discussed over the past twenty years. In the last few years, they have been experiencing a sort of renaissance. Recently, Chodorow herself has revised her theories in her collection of essays entitled Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory, which I rely on significantly in this essay. Other prominent feminist critics such as Jacqueline Rose in her Why War?—Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein and Barbara Ann Schapiro in Literature and the Relational Sex also have emphasized the continuing value of Chodorow's original approach. Admittedly, Chodorow has been criticized for being Eurocentric and deterministic. Nevertheless, those criticisms (which Chodorow addresses extensively in her later essays) do not affect my analysis here. Although Chodorow might have been imagining a particularly Western nuclear family in her original analysis (and therefore her theory might not be universally applicable), both of the American authors I am analyzing—and most of science fiction in general, unfortunately—comes out of that tradition. Moreover, although Chodorow might be giving her concept of the mother too much weight in a child's development, the alien mothers in the texts I am looking at are, in fact, exaggerated and overdetermined figures themselves.

Besides placing my use of this particular type of feminist psychoanalysis in perspective, I also want to contextualize my discussion of hive cultures in science fiction.1 As early as H.G. Wells's First Men in the Moon, science-fiction authors have conceived of intelligent communities—both human and non-human—which possess the same type of rigid organizational principles as ants or bees. Contemporary examples include the aliens in the original Aliens and the Borg on Star Trek. A 3-D video game entitled "Hive," in fact, just came out this past March. (The advertisements invite gameplayers to "Infiltrate, Annihilate, Exterminate"). This game brings to mind the genre of cyberpunk literature which—beginning with William Gibson's Neuromancer—has always had an interesting relationship with hive cultures.

I am particularly interested in the proliferation of hive cultures at particular points in the history of American science fiction—for example, in the 1950s. In Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and the classic film Them!, the negative views of hive cultures reflect fears associated with the dangers of the burgeoning atomic age and the perceived threat of communism. In both these cases, a male-dominated military force successfully defeats the alien hive culture.

Despite these various appearances of hive cultures throughout the history of sf, however, I would claim that Cherryh and Card's use of hive cultures are unique in many respects. In some ways, in fact, we can read their use of hive cultures as a reaction against and a critique of earlier uses. (Card's Ender's Game, for example, can be considered a revision of Heinlein's Starship Troopers). The hive cultures in Card and Cherryh's fictions—while by no means utopian—have something positive to offer the human cultures which they encounter. They are intelligent and caring beings—motivated not simply by instinct. This intelligence and compassion, moreover, is centered on the figure of the Queen. Card and Cherryh—unlike most authors who portray hive cultures—spend a great deal of time detailing the physical and emotional complexity of the hive and the Queen. For other authors, the human protagonist's culture is foregrounded and the hive culture is a dark and evil contrast to it. The hive and the Queen are, at most, vaguely defined.

The uniqueness of Cherryh's and Card's portrayals of the hive cultures, I will claim, can be seen most clearly in the human protagonists' reactions to them, which, as I stated earlier, are gendered. The rest of this paper will, as a result, concern itself with a close feminist psychoanalysis of their texts.

Although sf criticism is now addressing issues of gender more frequently, it still rarely discusses the construction of gender roles—even though it often actively assesses the quality of an author's "world-building." The application of feminist psychoanalytic theories to science fiction is one way to spark that discussion.2 The growing volume of criticism so far on the ENDER trilogy deals almost exclusively with issues of militarism.3 And the majority of the criticism on Cherryh's novels ignores their gender politics.4 Both Serpent's Reach and the ENDER trilogy, however, foreground gender issues and, specifically, the construction of gender through their emphasis on reproduction and mothering. Both of the cultures in these novels are militaristic, capitalistic, and, to coin a phrase, post-maternal. As harbingers of the future or even as only bleaker alternative realities, these cultures directly challenge several traditional Western ideals. In particular, the presence of such an archetypal alien Mother within these cultures challenges the Western image of family.

In the Reach, the quarantined collection of planets which forms the setting for Serpent's Reach, mothering as we know it has disappeared. The only truly human presence in the Reach are the Kontrin, and, from the beginning, the reader learns that their population "was originally augmented by importation of human ova" (5). And, now, a Kontrin can only be born if another Kontrin dies. The governing Council of the Kontrin "makes ultimate decisions about population levels, and how many of us can be born, and where" (49). The Kontrin have also produced sprawling populations of two types of genetically-engineered lower classes—the "beta" and the "azi." Every Kontrin child receives an azi nurse who takes care of all the mothering functions. The most traditional mothers in the Reach are, in fact, the Queens of the Majat, the Mothers of the hive cultures which also live on these planets. By page 17, the female protagonist, a Kontrin named Raen, is already escaping, running for her life, toward the safety of this supposedly alien Mother.

Ender's Game begins in the near-future United States. The government by this time allows families only two children. Ender, the male protagonist, is an exception. He is a Third, an extra child whom the government has commissioned because the genes of his mother and father are promising. The label of a Third is a stigma for the child and the child's family, because the public (most probably influenced by government propaganda) thinks that having more than two children—for whatever reason—is irresponsible (23). Since the government—the military, to be more exact—commissioned the birth of Ender, an army colonel explains, "He has been ours from then, if he qualified" (20). The military claims Ender at the beginning of the novel when he is six years old and sends him to an orbiting battle school. The army colonel tells Ender (truthfully, in fact): "You won't miss your mother and father, not much, not for long. And they won't miss you long, either" (22). The still male-dominated military becomes the parenting force for the rest of the novel. Ender's first drill sergeant explicitly states: "I'm your mom for the next few months" (42). Even though Ender does not meet the alien Mother, the feared Queen of the enemy hive culture, until late in the trilogy, she is, essentially, all he could ever have dreamed of.

In these post-maternal cultures, the traditional mother is, literally, the Other—the alien. Both Chodorow and Dinnerstein conclude that patriarchal societies and their traditional family structures create a mother who, to children and the society as a whole, is the Other. Dinnerstein claims that since the mother is the "unbounded, shadowy presence toward which all our needs were originally directed," she and other women become "the alien and unknowable" throughout a person's life (164). Dinnerstein, who admittedly has more of a rhetorical flare than Chodorow, continually refers to the image of a mother in a patriarchal society as "quasi-human" or "quasi-person" (93, 110). Chodorow simply states: "Given that women are primary caretakers, the mother, who is a woman, becomes and remains for children of both genders the other, or object" (Feminism 108). In both of their theories, the roots of the mother's Otherness develop in the pre-Oedipal period. Before I can fully apply these theories, then, I must first look at how, in these science fiction texts, the relationships between the protagonists and their alien Mothers mirror the early mother-infant relationship and how these relationships are gendered—how they differ for Ender and Raen, for a boy and a girl.

Even without the presence of the protagonists, the hive cultures resemble the pre-Oedipal scene. Chodorow explains: "A child of either gender is born originally with what is called a 'narcissistic relation to reality': cognitively and libidinally it experiences itself as merged and continuous with the world in general, and with its mother or caretaker in particular" (Feminism 102). The most noticeable characteristic of the hives in these novels is their lack of individuality, their "merged" consciousness. The narrator in Serpent's Reach states: "The hive mind was one" (21). The hive Queen herself in Xenocide, the third novel in the Ender trilogy, says: "I almost always refer to myself as we" (394). Later in that novel, when the hive Queen is trying to explain this concept to Ender, she elaborates: "We're the hive queen. And all the workers. We come and make one person out of all.... We're the center. Each of us" (466). As I will show later, this lack of individuality is—to the humans (although not necessarily the protagonists)—the most frightening aspect of the hive culture and the most difficult to understand.

Chodorow further states that, in this pre-Oedipal situation, the infant's "demands and expectations (not expressed as conscious wants but unconscious and preverbal) flow from this feeling of merging. Analysts call this aspect of the earliest period of life primary identification.... The infant reaches a 'symbiotic' stage of 'mother-child' dual unity" (Reproduction 61; see also Dinnerstein 30). The communication between members of the hive is also "preverbal" or, more accurately, nonverbal. For example, when a member of the hive needed to send an urgent message to the Queen in Serpent's Reach, the narrator explains: "Worker was already in contact with Mother, after that subliminal fashion which pervaded the hive" (20). And the military commanders in Ender's Game, observing the hive's constantly changing battle formations, state: "They aren't having a mental conversation between people with different thought processes. All their thoughts are present, together, at once" (294).

In both stories, the hive has also learned how to communicate with humans, but this communication is often more similar to the preverbal mother-infant communication than to adult human language. When Valentine, Ender's sister, finally meets the hive Queen for the first time (along with the readers) late in the trilogy, she

tried to conceive how the hive queen was managing to speak [American English] into her mind. Then she realized that the hive queen was almost certainly doing nothing of the kind.... The hive queen wasn't sending language to them, she was sending thought, and their brains were making sense of it in whatever language lay deepest. When Valentine heard the word echoes followed by reverberations, it wasn't the hive queen struggling for the right word, it was Valentine's own mind grasping for words to fit the meaning. (Xenocide, 186-87)

Those "echoes" and "reverberations" are part of what Dinnerstein calls the "feelings of infancy, feelings for which we then had no words, no language-dominated thoughts, and which cannot be rediscovered in their original fullness except in touch, in taste and smell, in facial expression and gesture...and by mutual accommodation of body position" (31). When Raen first meets the Queen in Serpent's Reach, the narrator states: "Mother sat in a heaving mass of Drones and attendants. The smell was magnetic, delirious. Worker came to Her in ecstasy, opened its palps and offered taste and scent, receiving in turn." Later in that same scene, the Queen wants to communicate directly with Raen: "The auditory palps swept forward. Mother inclined Her great head and sought touch. The chelae drew her close. Mother tasted her tears with a brush of the palps" (27). Raen, at this point, is adopting the everyday mode of hive communication, and she is repeating, along with the other participants in the hive cultures, early mother-infant interaction.

In this hive communication and in all other aspects of the hive, the Queen, the Mother of the hive, is the predominant figure. Women, according to Chodorow, "get gratification from caring for an infant...because they experience either oneness with their infant or because they experience it as an extension of themselves" (Reproduction 85). As the previous examples have hinted at, these two experiences describe the precise role of the Queen in these hive cultures. Ender in Ender's Game states that the hive is "a single person," and each member of the hive is "like a hand or a foot" of the Queen (294). In these roles, Chodorow continues, "A mother looms large and powerful" (Reproduction 85). Dinnerstein uses the word "overwhelming" (111). Jacques Lacan, from a different perspective in "The Mirror Stage," asserts that the mother "appears to [the child] above all in a contrasting size" (2). At the end of Serpent's Reach, the Queen of a particular Majat hive is forced to move. This movement of the Queen does not happen often and Cherryh presents the event as momentous: "It was Mother, who moved. Who heaved Herself along the tunnel prepared for Her vast bulk. The walls echoed with Her breathing. About Her were small majat who glittered with jewels; and before Her moved a dark heaving flood of bodies" (266). The size of the Queen dominates the scene. And Cherryh's constant use of the proper name of "Mother" and proper pronoun "Her" in this scene and throughout the novel further reminds the reader of the Queen's physical and emotional power. Earlier, when the reader and Raen first meet the Queen in Serpent's Reach, Cherryh comments: "She filled the Chamber. Raen hung in the grip of the Workers, awed by the sight of Her, whose presence dominated the hive." A few sentences later, Cherryh relates the first time that the Queen speaks:

Air stirred audibly, intaken.

"You are so small," Mother said. Raen flinched, for the timbre of it made the very walls quiver, and vibrated in Raen's bones.

"You are beautiful," Raen answered, and felt it. Tears started from her yes ... awe, and pain at once.

It pleased Mother... (27).

In this scene, Raen is dumbfounded. Her reactions and the reactions of the other members of the hive to the Queen imitate both the physical and emotional nature of the mother-infant relationships. The queen is not simply large in stature; her ability to communicate instantaneously with other members of the hive and to command attention and reverence creates a large mental presence as well. The Queen's reactions to Raen and others, moreover, demonstrate that she is conscious of her motherly role. She understands that the hive is, in Chodorow's words, a mere "extension" of herself. A similar scene occurs in Card's Xenocide, when the reader, along with several characters, first meets the Queen:

There were workers all around, but now, in the light, in the presence of the queen, they all looked so small and fragile. Most of them were closer to one meter and a half in height, while the queen herself was surely three meters long. And height wasn't the half of it. Her wing-covers looked vast, heavy, almost metallic, with a rainbow of colors reflecting sunlight. Her abdomen was long and thick enough to contain the corpse of an entire human (183).

Freud, in a famous passage in "Female Sexuality," actually speaks of "the surprising, yet regular, fear of being killed (? devoured) by the mother" (21: 227). This underlying fear (even Freud left it within parentheses), exemplified in the last sentence of that last passage, permeates human society in both Card's and Cherryh's novels. Later, in my more extensive analysis of mother as alien, I will discuss this fear in more detail. At this point, I need only mention that the child protagonists in both of these novels experience both dreams and nightmares of the Queen (Cherryh 31; Card, Ender's Game 305, 312).

As Chodorow states, however, while "merging brings the threat of loss of self or of being devoured," it also brings "the benefit of omnipotence" (Reproduction 69). Raen asserts that "death is a minor thing" for the individual Majat in Serpent's Reach (126). And a military commander in Ender's Game states: "Murder's no big deal to them. Only queen-killing, really, is murder" (295). In both cases, the members of the hive feel that the Queen protects them or, at least, that they will live on in the Queen, even if their bodies die.

For all of the above reasons, the hives mirror the pre-Oedipal scene. Even more importantly, however, the child protagonists in these stories treat the Queen as Mother. Raen and eventually Ender accept and reenter the pre-Oedipal situation, even though their societies attempt to keep a safe distance from the alien hive communities. After escaping death, Raen wakes up inside a hive of the Majat. The first moments of this reawakening suggest that Raen is in a womb or is emerging from one. It is dark and Raen is injured and unable to move. The Majat "Workers" ensure that "an endless trickle of moisture and food was delivered from their mandibles to her mouth." The palps of several Workers, moreover, are constantly touching Raen, tending to her various wounds (24). Chodorow comments that the mother is a child's "'external ego,' serving to both mediate and provide its total environment.... Dependence, then, is central to infancy.... Most infantile psychological activity [is] a reaction to this feeling of helplessness" (Reproduction 58-59). Raen tries to move but almost faints from the effort. Even though she exists only on the edge of consciousness during these days, however, "She was aware of Mother" (24). Chodorow also comments: "Children preoccupied with attachment are concerned to keep near their mother and demand a large amount of body contact" (Reproduction 71). Once Raen is able to speak, she demands to see Mother. Once she sees Mother, she demands to taste and touch her, even though she does not know why she wants to, even though most humans—even Kontrin—would cringe at the thought of it. After her extended period within the hive, Raen refers to herself as part of the hive-family: "I'm blue-hive. That's what I have left" (126). Later, she calls the hive "home" (267).

Ender's entrance into hive culture, into an intimate relationship with the Queen, is not as immediate as Raen's. Nevertheless, when the Queen begins to speak with him at the end of Ender's Game and when he later meets her face-to-face, he also experiences an extraordinary connection with her. Several years after Ender destroys the hive culture (I will explain that process later), he discovers an egg which holds the fragile continuance of the hive culture. From that moment on, the Queen begins to communicate with Ender internally (Ender's Game 351-52). The Queen later claims that Ender had been "calling" and "searching" for her all along. By using a new type of physics, the Queen explains to Ender that—even before her first communication with him—the two of them had been literally connected across the light-years by invisible strands called "philotes" (Xenocide 463-68). Chodorow describes the process of a child's internalization of the mother in a similar way: "The 'thereness' of the primary parenting person grows into an internal sense of the presence of another who is caring and affirming. The self comes into being here first through feeling confidently alone in the presence of its mother, and then through this presence's becoming internalized" (Feminism 106). Ender, in fact, demands to be alone when he first senses his connection with the Queen (Ender's Game 350).

Ultimately, I cannot describe Ender's or Raen's connection with the hives and their need for a reconnection with a pre-Oedipal Mother without first addressing their problematic childhoods. In a broad summation of Freud, Chodorow states: "Adults unconsciously look to recreate, and are often unable to avoid recreating, aspects of their early relationships, especially to the extent that these relationships were unresolved, ambivalent, and repressed" (Reproduction 51). Dinnerstein corroborates this position: "The nature of these earliest ties colors all our later reactions to the environment.... It colors our stance toward nature, our response to the authority of social leaders and societal proscriptions.... And of course it colors our attitudes toward people: what attracts us to them, what we expect of them, what frightens or angers or delights us in them" (31). Both Raen and Ender's childhoods are, in Chodorow's words, "unresolved" and "ambivalent." Both of them, moreover, with their stern, unforgiving attitudes toward others, are prime candidates for repression. Their tumultuous childhoods, I argue, prepare each of them for their eventual communion with an alien Mother.

Raen in Serpent's Reach is fifteen years old when the rival sect of Kontrin kills her entire family at the beginning of the novel (7). But Kontrins, thanks to technology they have borrowed from the Majat hives, are practically immortal or, at least, immune from diseases. The eldest in their community is over 700 years old (44). The fifteen-year-old Raen, therefore, is still mocked as a child for her "precocious cleverness" (52). Since she is still essentially preadolescent, the assassinations of her mother and father possess an added significance. As I indicated earlier, the significance of the mother figure in this culture is undermined by the fact that azi nurses raise the children. But azi nurses, like all azi, die when they reach forty years-old. This fact, as a result, only reinforces Raen's "unresolved" and "ambivalent" attitudes toward mothering. Often the azi nurses die while the children are still young. Raen's "real" mother explains: "It's part of growing up.... We all love them when we're young. When one loses one's nurse, one begins to learn what we are, and what they are; and that's a valuable lesson, Raen. Learn to enjoy, and to say goodbye" (16). Raen's mother states explicitly in that explanation that the nurses, the mothers in this cultures, are "they," others, aliens. When Raen eventually meets her alien Mother, therefore, she is already longing for it and is already ready to accept it.

After Ender leaves his parents at the beginning of Ender's Game, he never sees them again. In fact, he never has a desire to see them (254). At one point, when two unnamed officials in the military are discussing Ender's training, one of them worries sarcastically about Ender's isolation: "You're right. That would be terrible, if he believed he had a friend." The other voice responds ominously: "He can have friends. It's parents he can't have" (40). Ender spends all of his preadolescent life in the battle school. Other than the battle training and his schoolwork, the only other edifying part of Ender's life is an animated computer game he plays on his portable desk. The computer continually creates new scenarios—puzzles and obstacles—through which the character that Ender controls must pass. In many ways, this world within a world is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. For example, Ender's character approaches a well with a sign saying "Drink, Traveler" (77). In any case, this game is explicitly regressive. Once Ender's character reaches a very advanced level, Ender discovers that "in the game he had become a child, though usually his figure in the games was adult" (76). Ender discovers at the very end of the trilogy that it was through this computer game that the hive Queen was able to first communicate with him, although he was not aware of it. As a result, the military, while separating Ender from his earthly family, unintentionally encourages and prepares him to meet his alien Mother.

Unlike Raen, however, Ender is distant—emotionally and physically—from this alien Mother for the duration of the first novel in the trilogy. Before Ender was born, the hive culture—which everyone on earth simply refers to as the "buggers"—had already "invaded" Earth twice. (I place "invaded" in quotation marks because the buggers would not have tried to kill the humans if they had thought that they were an intelligent species). The military grooms Ender to be the commander of a fleet of starships that are going to invade the bugger's homeworld. Ender, like everyone else on earth, treats the buggers as his ultimate enemy, even though he experiences a few moments of doubt. At the end of the first novel, Ender destroys the entire hive culture by daring to go straight for its heart—the Queen. He kills the Queen without ever seeing her face-to-face. The military leaders had told Ender that he was only running a simulation, a dry run of the invasion, but, in reality, the fate of the world was riding on his every command and maneuver. (Ender, in this sense, did not recognize the alien Mother. Lacan claims that the pre-Oedipal "mirror stage" is a méconnaissance, a misrecognition. The child assumes that the image of the Mother is part of her or him and not a separate entity (6). This méconnaissance helps to explain Ender's initial confusion and his eventual regret. And it points toward my later discussion of how the military and the government in Ender's Game create the alien Other). Ender realizes at this point that, although he is heralded as the savior of the world back on earth, he has really committed xenocide, the elimination of an entire species. Of course, Ender did not destroy the entire species. In his subsequent travels, he discovers an egg (which the last Queen has left for him to find) which contains the larvae needed to continue the hive culture. He writes a story in the voice of the Queen and anonymously signs it "Speaker for the Dead." The book is distributed around the world and everyone on earth mourns the loss of the hive culture. Ender eventually plants the egg at the end in the second book of the trilogy and, by the third book, it has flourished into a civilization. In the last book, he is finally able to establish a loving relationship with the Queen, the alien Mother.

In contrast, Raen in Serpent's Reach establishes her relationship with the alien Mother immediately. She joins forces with the Queen in order to exact revenge on the killers of her family. Each of these protagonists—in their initial encounters with the Queen of the hive—act out the "gender differentiation" which, according to Chodorow and Dinnerstein, occurs at the end of the pre-Oedipal scene. A boy realizes, at that point (with the help of the third figure, the father), that he is different from the mother. This difference, nevertheless, is difficult to reconcile with the innate feelings of connection during the pre-Oedipal period. Chodorow offers this explanation:

Because women mother, the sense of maleness in men differs from the sense of femaleness in women. Maleness is more conflictual and more problematic. Underlying, or built into, core male gender identity is an early, non-verbal, unconscious, almost somatic sense of primary oneness with the mother, an underlying sense of femaleness that continually, usually unnoticeably, but sometimes insistently, challenges and undermines the sense of maleness.... A boy must learn his gender identity as being not-female, or not-mother (Feminism 109).

Ender, a mere cog in the military machine at the beginning of the story, adopts the military's attitude toward the hive culture and its Queen. The military's attitude emphasizes the differences between the humans and hive cultures, instead of the potential connections between them. Ender, despite his allegiance to the military, eventually feels torn between this military mindset and his vague, but growing attachment to his alien Mother. Within Chodorow's psychoanalytic framework, Ender is caught between his need to assert his "maleness" and his innate feeling of connection with his mother. Looking back on these years, Ender comments: "We thought they wanted to kill us. We were wrong, but we had no way to know that.... Except that I knew better. I knew my enemy. That's how I beat her, the hive queen, I knew her so well that I loved her, or maybe I loved her so well that I knew her. I didn't want to fight her anymore. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. So I blew up her planet" (Speaker for the Dead 403). Dinnerstein comments that a boy's "main task is to find balance between two contrasting varieties of love, one that provides primitive emotional sustenance, and another that offer membership in the wider community where prowess is displayed.... His old tie to this mother starts at this point to be felt as an obstacle" (48). Dinnerstein (in her chapters on "The Dirty Goddess" and "The Ruling of the World") explicitly connects a boy's need for differentiation from the mother with men's later misogyny and abuse of the female body. Ender, by fulfilling his military assignment, unwittingly participates in his patriarchal society's systematic physical devaluing and ultimate disregard of women.

Although the military in Ender's Game misleads Ender and most civilians into dehumanizing the hive culture, the military hierarchy, as earlier examples have indicated, does possess a preliminary understanding of "merged" consciousness of the hive and the dominant maternal presence of the Queen. Despite this knowledge, however, the military leader still portrays the hive as "buggers," as a distant and irreconcilably different alien force. When the military invades the hive world (with Ender in command), they have not been provoked. In fact, by this time, the hive has realized that the humans are an intelligent species and do not want a war. Nevertheless, the military needs an alien.5 In contrast to this male need for difference, Chodorow contends, a girl "remains preoccupied for a long time with her mother alone. She experiences a continuation of the two-person relationship of infancy" (Reproduction 96— see also Dinnerstein 67-68). As my earlier analysis indicated, Raen aligns herself with the "blue-hive" immediately after the death of her family. She becomes another member of that hive and treats the Queen as Mother. "Core gender identity for a girl," Chodorow claims, "is not problematic in the sense that it is for boys. It is built upon, and does not contradict, her primary sense of oneness and identification with her mother .... They do not define themselves as 'not-men' or 'not-male' but as 'I, who am female'" (Feminism 110). Raen, I have yet to mention, is also a queen. Before her family dies, she was in line to become the next leader of the Kontrin in the Reach. The Queen of the blue-hive feels a continuity with her because of this fact. The hive Mother keeps repeating: "Queen.... Queen.... Feed Kethiuy's young queen. Heal her. She is not threat to me. She is important to the hive" (21-2). Unlike Ender, Raen is able to fall back easily into a pre-Oedipal attachment to Mother.

This residual pre-Oedipal attachment, however, still causes problems for women and Raen, in particular. Chodorow states: "The pre-Oedipal attachment of daughter to mother continues to be concerned with early mother-infant relational issues. It sustains the mother-infant exclusivity and the intensity, ambivalence, and boundary confusion of the child still preoccupied with issues of dependence and individuation" (Reproduction 97). Chodorow and Dinnerstein speak elsewhere of this "boundary confusion" in women; they explain it in terms of the inability of women to possess an independent identity in their relationships (Reproduction 110; Dinnerstein 68). When Raen is escaping from the rival Kontrin who are invading her home, she is not sure where to go at first. She realizes that no ordinary human place will offer her refuge from the wide arm of her enemies. As a result, she finds herself running up a hill toward the hive, even though a long-standing treaty prevents humans from entering into hive territory. Raen comments: "Here was the boundary, the point-past-which-not for any human" (18). When she eventually crosses that boundary, she loses control of herself: "She knew the meaning of the hedge, knew that here was the place she must stop, must. Her frightened body kept moving with its own logic, heedless of dangers; her mind observed from a distance, carried along helplessly, confused" (19). This boundary is the boundary between humans and the Other, the alien, and Raen does not know on which side of it she belongs. Once she experiences the Queen's presence, she is content, but throughout the rest of the novel, she continually moves at the liminal point between the human and alien cultures as an "Intermediary" (284). Her attachment to the Queen, the attachment of women to the pre-Oedipal figure of Mother, has its price.

This analysis of gender differentiation demonstrates the role of differentiation in the creation of the alien Mother. For both Chodorow and Dinnerstein, mothers become the Other because they are the primary caretakers in Western society, because they are the primary source of differentiation. Chodorow writes: "Differentiation, or separation-individuation, means coming to perceive a demarcation between the self and the object world, coming to perceive the object/self as distinct, or separate from, the object/other.... Differentiation happens in relation to the mother" (Feminism 102). As the earlier analysis has shown, Card and Cherryh take this theory literally by representing the alien in their novels as the quintessential pre-Oedipal Mother. The post-maternal cultures in these novels fear the mother's size, intelligence and influence. The authorities in these cultures (they are explicitly patriarchal in Ender's Game; they are, at the very least, hierarchical in Serpent's Reach) are either attempting to destroy or co-opt the Mother's power.

The protagonists, on the other hand, struggle to different degrees to understand the alien Mother, and both Raen and Ender eventually see her as an intelligent, independent, loving being. As Chodorow states, the protagonists, in this regard, are following a feminist praxis: "Since women, as mothers, are the primary caretakers of infants, if the child (or the psychoanalytic account) only takes the viewpoint of the infant as a (developing) self, then the mother will be perceived (or depicted) only as an object. But, from a feminist perspective, perceiving the particularity of the mother must involve according the mother her own selfhood" (Feminism 103).

In order to accord the mother "selfhood," however, the protagonists must overcome the prejudice, the xenophobia, of their respective cultures. Both cultures institutionalize their fear of the alien hive cultures. In this sense, they participate in the systematic denial of mother's (the Queen's) autonomy; they participate in a masculine need for differentiation from the mother. In her chapter "The Ruling of the World," Dinnerstein explains that children learn difference in terms of the mother, and, therefore, the mother, for society as a whole, represents difference. Maternal power, as a result, is a negative force. It is the overbearing force which inhibits individuality (163-65).

These cultures, therefore, portray the hive as a threat. In Serpent's Reach, Raen must continually help other people overcome an fear of the Majat. When Jim, her azi companion, first confronts a majat, he almost faints: "Jim left his corner and came, stopped at yet a little distance, as if suddenly paralyzed.... Jim had simply shut his eyes in panic.... Jim's face broke out in sweat" (87). And the betas (the slightly higher class created by the Kontrin) react similarly to the presence of a majat: "He looked toward the door with an inward shudder, thinking of the majat stalking the corridors at liberty" (93). While this fear is not always irrational (the Majat are supposedly dangerous in certain states), it, nevertheless, develops from a human's early education. Apparently, this education only stresses how to avoid the Majat and how not to provoke them. Only a select few Kontrin actually deal with the Majat personally and know them as more than simply dangerous aliens. Outside the Reach, in other parts of the galaxy, moreover, a Kontrin elder states: "They don't want the majat. They don't want hives in their space" (49). Raen simply claims euphemistically: "Not many folk care to be around them" (84).

In Ender's Game, children grow up learning to treat the hive as a threat. Ender's brother suggests: "Let's play buggers and astronauts" (10). This reference to a game like "cowboys and Indians" draws an explicit parallel to previous episodes in Western history when humans had attempted to commit genocide by portraying other humans as savage, as threats to a particular way of life. During his time at battle school, Ender still possesses his culture's propaganda, even though he has begun to appreciate the complexity and intelligence of the hive culture: "He felt ashamed and afraid of learning from them, since they were the most terrible enemy, ugly and murderous and loathsome" (206). Later in the trilogy, when the hive culture is reestablished, this cultural prejudice still persists. The hive sent some of its members to protect another species from a human mob: "They made no threatening gesture...but no gestures were needed. The sight of them was enough, stirring memories of ancient nightmares and horror stories" (Xenocide 356). In both Cherryh's and Card's novels, as I indicated earlier, the hives have entered into the culture's subconscious. Ender says once to the hive Queen: "Your children are the monsters of our nightmares now. If I awoke you, we would only kill you again" (Ender's Game 353).

The cultures in these novels also portray the "merged" consciousness of the hives as a frightful and menacing quality—a quality which contradicts a coherent sense of self. Chodorow explains further: "An essential early task of infantile development, it involves the demarcation of ego boundaries (a sense of personal psychological division from the rest of the world) and of a body ego (a sense of the permanence of one's physical separateness and the predictable boundaries of one's own body, of a distinction between inside and outside)" (Feminism 102, emphasis mine). The hive structure breaks down these boundaries between "inside and outside." They are one person and many simultaneously. Therefore, hive cultures have difficulty assimilating into human worlds, where the emphasis on "separation-individuation" pervades. Only the protagonists, through their pre-Oedipal fantasies, are able to overcome (regress from?) their need for individuality. The Queen enters inside Ender's brain, but others cannot handle any sense of intimacy with the hive. And, although Raen identifies herself as part of the hive, the other humans do not care to know the basics of hive culture. At one point, Raen is listening to the Warrior-song of the hives: "'Hear it?' Raen asked, looking at Jim. 'The hives are full of such sound. Humans rarely hear it'" (95).

Raen and Ender's ability to fight their culture's prejudice and communicate with the hives represents the hope within Cherryh and Card's stories and also within Chodorow and Dinnerstein's psychoanalytic framework. Chodorow writes:

No one has a separateness consisting only of "me"-"not-me" distinctions. Part of myself is always that which I have taken in—we are all to some degree incorporations and extensions of others.... Differentiation is not distinctness and separateness, but a particular way of being connected to others. This connection to others, based on early incorporations, in turn enables us to feel that empathy and confidence that are basic to the recognition of the other as a self" (Feminism 107).

By recognizing the Queen or Mother as part of themselves, Raen and Ender recognize her as a self, she is no longer Other. Ender, in particular, must first struggle with his culture's identification of the Queen and the "buggers" as "not-me," as alien. He must first realize the destructive force of that dichotomy before he finally establishes an enduring connection with his alien Mother.

Thus far, this analysis of Raen and Ender and their alien Mothers has appeared ahistorical. I have been working, in fact, in the tradition of both sf criticism and psychoanalytic criticism—both of which have often ignored the historical contexts of their subjects. These forms of criticism tend to concentrate on individual stories and their internal implications. While science fiction criticism certainly deals with the social and political differences between the novel and author's culture, it rarely attempts to understand how the author's culture has helped produce this alternative vision of reality. It frequently assesses the quality of an author's "world-building," but it rarely addresses the historical motivations behind the author's construction. In the same manner, psychoanalytic criticism must do more than provide a formula in which a critic can plug in certain elements from a text. As Chodorow states, "Psychoanalysis was developed not only to explain our early psychic formation but to show us how to overcome its limitations" (216). In the spirit of a more relevant criticism, then, I wish to conclude my analysis by briefly suggesting how the cultural climate of the United States in the late 1970s helped shape both Card and Cherryh's choice of an alien Mother and how both novels demonstrate the need to change the traditional Western familial arrangement.

Although Card published the Ender trilogy in the late 1980s, he published the initial version of the story as a novella in 1977 (Ross 82). That earlier date places it in closer proximity to both Chodorow and Dinnerstein's theories and the publication of Serpent's Reach. As both Chodorow and Dinnerstein assert in their introductions, the feminist movement at this time had begun to wonder "what it meant that women parented women" (Reproduction vii). Both theorists mention that they had been working through their theories with other women throughout the early seventies (Reproduction vii; Dinnerstein xii). Card and Cherryh, whether consciously or not, expressed this growing dissatisfaction with familial arrangements in their stories. The alien hive Mother is the perfect, exaggerated representation of the effects of an exclusive child-care arrangement through which mothers (and women in general) simultaneously become the object of their culture's scorn and the symbol of its salvation. As I explained earlier, Chodorow and Dinnerstein both accuse patriarchal society of denying mothers "selfhood," of categorizing them as the "object/other." "Men," Chodorow writes, "have the means to institutionalize their unconscious defense against repressed yet strong experienced developmental conflicts. [Their] interpretation of difference is imposed on earlier developmental processes" (Feminism 111). The alien hive Mother, then, represents the return of the repressed.

Card's 1977 novella was, in fact, a modified version of his very first science-fiction story, which he wrote when he was sixteen years old. In that story, he concentrated solely on "war games" and did not yet conceive of the redemptive figure of Ender Wiggin. As Card's vision grew, just as Ender's grows beyond the "war games" of the military, he began to critique his own inspiration. His novel, as other science fiction critics have suggested, is a "critique of the late twentieth-century military paradigm" (Blackmore 124). That paradigm, however, is founded on difference, difference between men and women and children and their mothers. The Ender trilogy, therefore, is also a critique of the Western familial ideal.

Cherryh's science fiction, which she began writing in the late 1970s, addresses gender politics more directly. Her commitment to female protagonists and the probing of (often feminine) alien psychology in such earlier works as The Books of Morgaine, Hunter of Worlds, and The Faded Sun trilogy enabled her to offer a more consistent critique of this Western ideal in Serpent's Reach. Unlike Card, Cherryh can foreground the struggle of women and mothers without first passing through the male psyche. From the beginning of Serpent's Reach, through the daring actions of Raen, she is able present a more complete view of the alien Mother. Since issues of reproduction and mothering are at the center of her culture's consciousness, the Majat and their Queen are the center of her story.

Cherryh and eventually Card (Raen and eventually Ender) confront their own culture's traditional view of the mother as "alien and unknowable." By presenting protagonists which interact with this mother as an individual, both authors demonstrate the method by which their culture must accord "selfhood" to the mother.


1. This discussion of hive cultures is only a brief, suggestive overview, but I feel it begins to demonstrate the rather dramatic differences between traditional representations of hives and Card and Cherryh's representations. I am not contending that Card and Cherryh's representations are the only positive ones in the history of science fiction, but their focus on the alien mother and the human cultures' xenophobia toward it appears to be unique revision of the tradition.

For a more complete (although by no means definitive) list of hive cultures in science fiction, see Brian Stableford's entry on "Hive-Minds" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

2. Although the female alien in general has been somewhat theorized (most notably in Jenny Wolmark's Aliens and Others, Marleen Barr's Alien to Femininity, and Robin Roberts' The New Species), the more specific case of the alien mother has not. An exception is Jane Donawerth's recent essay (which includes a discussion of Serpent's Reach). Theorizing on the alien mother, as my essay demonstrates, leads to an analysis of the construction of gender.

3. Tim Blackmore's essay is the most complete analysis of militarism in the Ender trilogy.

4. Most of the criticism so far on Cherryh's work has concentrated on her revisions of Arthurian legend in The Books of Morgaine. Other than the essay by Donawerth, the only direct analyses of gender roles in Cherryh's fiction are two brief articles by Mary T. Brizzi and Lynn F. Williams.

5. I have not mentioned that the military station from which Ender leads the invasion against the buggers is on a planet which the humans call, ironically, Eros, which, in psychoanalytic terminology, is the libidinal force that Freud originally contrasted with the death-instinct. Freud does mention, however, at one point, how Eros can collude with the death-instinct: "[A] portion of the [death-]Instinct is diverted towards the external world and comes to light as an instinct of aggressiveness and destructiveness. In this way the instinct itself could be pressed into the service of Eros, in that the organism was destroying some other thing, whether animate or inanimate, instead of destroying its own self' (21:119; see also 18:59). The military in Ender's Game continually uses the rationale of self-preservation as the defense against the anticipated accusations of xenocide. In this sense, they are Eros, working in tandem with the death-instinct, to destroy the "other thing."


Barr, Marleen S. Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory. NY: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Blackmore, Tim. "Ender's Beginning: Battling the Military in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game." Extrapolation 32:124-42, Summer 1991.

Brizzi, Mary T. "C.J. Cherryh and Tomorrow's New Sex Roles." The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It. Ed. Tom Staicar. NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1982.

Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game. NY: Tor, 1985.

-----. Speaker for the Dead. NY: Tor, 1986.

-----. Xenocide. NY: Tor, 1991

Cherryh, C.J. Serpent's Reach. NY: DAW Books, 1980

Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: U California P, 1978.

-----. Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989.

Dinnerstein, Dorothy. The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise. NY: Harper and Row, 1977.

Donawerth, Jane. "Mothers Are Animals." Graven Images: A Journal of Law, Culture and the Sacred 2:237-47, Fall 1995.

Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and tr. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1961. 24 vols.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books, 1984.

Heinlein, Robert A. Starship Troopers. NY: Berkley, 1959.


Lacan, Jacques. écrits: A Selection. NY: W.W. Norton, 1977.

Rose, Jacqueline. Why War? Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993.

Ross, Jean W., and Diane Telgen. "Orson Scott Card." Contempory Authors: New Revision Series. Ed. Linda Metzer. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1985. 27:316-19.

Schapiro, Barbara Ann. Literature and the Relational Self. NY: New Yotk UP, 1994.

Stableford, Brian. "Hive-Mind." The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Ed. John Clute and Peter Nicholls. NY: St. Martin's, 1995.

Them! Dir. Gordon Douglass. Warner Brothers, 1954.

Williams, Lynn F. "Women and Power in C.J. Cherryh's Novels." Extrapolation 27:85-90, Summer 1986.

Wiloch,Thomas. "Carolyn Janice Cherry." Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series. Ed. Linda Metzer. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1985. 10:316—19.

Wolmark, Jenny. Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism. Iowa City: U Iowa P, 1994.

Wells, H.G. The First Men in the Moon. 1901. NY: Airmont, 1965.


ABSTRACT- Throughout the history of science fiction, alien cultures have appeared in the form of hives. In C.J. Cherryh's Serpent's Reach and Orson Scott Card's Ender trilogy, both of which were conceived in the late 1970s, the authors center hive cultures on the figure of a queen or mother, who dominates the hive, controlling all its members as if they are mere extensions of her body. The adolescent human protagonists in the novels—both of whom have been separated from their families at an early age—develop affinities with this figure. Feminist psychoanalytic theories of mothering came into vogue in the United States in the mid to late 1970s (just before Cherryh and Card conceived of their stories)—most significantly, the theories of Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein. This feminist psychoanalytic framework helps to reveal the forces which motivate the unique relationships in Cherryh and Card's novels between the protagonists and their alien mothers and between the authors and the alien mothers which they create. The human cultures in these novels are militaristic, capitalistic, and, to coin a phrase, post-maternal (reproduction and caretaking of children is automated or controlled to such an extent as to eliminate the need for a traditional "mother"). The protagonists' relationships with their alien mothers, as a result, provide an external context through which to expose and critique the ideologies of their own cultures. (BH)

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