Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Small children in SFF

This post by Liz Bourke at tor.com caught my eye: Sleeps With Monsters: Where Are the SFF Stories About Pregnancy and Child-rearing?

Liz says at the end of her post: “I don’t particularly want to read an entire novel about the economics of child-rearing. But I’d like to see more books, more SFF stories, that consider its place in the world and how that affects people in their societies.”

I prefer a story to a philosophical treatise, but sure, this is something that’s great to see in fantasy and science fiction. Pregnancy is in general pretty rare in SFF, isn’t it? And small children even rarer. Except perhaps in epilogues right at the end of stories.

Given that rarity, a handful of SFF stories do rather spring to mind when I try to think of stories involving pregnancy and small children. The first three I think of are all by Lois McMaster Bujold.

1. Barrayar, which is the cover Liz Bourke uses for her post, is an obvious story where pregnancy and alternatives to ordinary pregnancy are front and central. In the Vorkosigan universe, we do indeed get to see how Barrayaran society is affected by changing modes of reproduction. Child rearing is also important; remember how startled Cordelia is when male aristocrats don’t seem to realize that having her involved in Gregor’s care when he’s little is going to have big effects on the man Gregor grows into.

2. Ethan of Athos, obviously, which again is mentioned in the post. Once more reproduction is absolutely central.

3. The Sharing Knife series. Pregnancy and customs revolving around pregnancy get the whole story started; and then of course the series winds up with Fawn pregnant through the last book and taking care of her infant daughter in the last scenes.

And then once you look away from Bujold, what else? How about these:

4. CJC’s Cuckoo’s Egg, which is *all about* child-rearing — and about what it means to be human. Wonderful story, one of my favorites.

5. Oh, hey, while we’re on CJC, how about Cyteen? Again *all about* childrearing, though certainly in a profoundly disturbing way. Young Ari is such a wonderful child protagonist, one of the very best, and we really get to focus on her while she grows up; and on all her young friends.

6. Come to think of it, Cajeiri in the Foreigner series gives us a really good view into childrearing among the atevi. At least among the aristocratic atevi.

7. The Raven’s Shadow / Raven’s Strike duology by Patricia Briggs. The children are pretty young in that story, so it might count as bringing childrearing to the forefront.

8. Dogland by Will Shetterly, which masterfully handles childrearing in Florida in the what, fifties — from the point of view of a quite young child. The reader is going to understand so much more than the child protagonist. Really brilliant book.

9. Eric Flint’s Mother of Demons is one of perhaps a recognizable subgenre — where a lot of children and just a few adults are stranded on an alien world. We don’t see much of the children when they’re little, so perhaps this story doesn’t count. Let me try again:

9b) The stories of the People by Zenna Henderson sometimes involve quite young children. I think they definitely count.

10. Bloodchild by Octavia Butler. One of the few shorter works which has really stuck in my head for decades. What a powerful story. Obviously something of a departure … all right, a complete departure … from ordinary human reproduction.

11. And speaking of Butler, the entire Oankali series, what is that called, oh right the Xenogenesis trilogy. Lots of emphasis on reproduction and young children there, plus the place of reproduction in society and, whoa, it sure gets complicated.

12 … … …

Okay! It is actually quite difficult to come up with a twelfth title, so I must concede that Liz Bourke is right: there don’t seem to be many SFF stories that focus on pregnant women or small children. Possibly more where pregnancy and childrearing are important, but mostly off-stage. What’s an SFF book I’ve missed that centrally features a pregnant woman and/or young children?

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12 Comments Small children in SFF

  1. Elaine T

    There’s an early Patricia C. Wrede wherein the main character goes adventuring with children in tow. But I don’t remember the title. I’m sure it’s downstairs, though.

    Jay Lake had one that I started and didn’t finish with the main character dragging around a couple toddlers, IIRC. They were important to the story, but that’s all I remember.

    Did the OP mention Ender’s Game? I mean there are all those kids being raised for a goal….There are other OSC’s that probably fit, too.

    The Teen reminds me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

  2. mona

    Several of Marillier’s have young children not-so-centrally, but there’s Son of Shadows with the protag pregnant and then totting a small child.

    Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent is mostly off stage pregnancy and child rearing, but she takes her son along in the second (or third?) book.

    Glamour in Glass by Kowal has a pregnant protagonist.

    Andrea Host’s Pyramids of London— preteen and teenagers.

  3. SarahZ

    The last Kate Daniels book will include her being a new mom.

    And, the Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger have a pregnant and then new-mom main character in later books.

    The third installment of the Touchstone trilogy has Cass taking in 3 young orphans and being their guardian.

    In the Daine Tortall books, Alanna is portrayed as a working mother of young children.

  4. Louise

    The Missing Magician, by Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, has Kate stuck at home through the entire book wrangling all the small children while the other three are out Doing Things–and even with two nurses having A Time of it. It’s one of the most realistic and stressful portrayals of raising young kids I’ve ever read in fantasy; I couldn’t read it when my own kids were toddlers because I felt so resentful on her (and, in retrospect, mine) behalf that she was missing out on all the fun. She did get a bit of an adventure by the end, but it was still wrapped around the children.

  5. Mary

    Madeleine and the Mists by Mary Catelli.

    Not only do I start out the heroine with a small child, she and another woman both give birth during the course of the novel.

  6. Megan

    The Eve of Redemption series by Joe Jackson has a main character who starts single, but over the course of the books gets pregnant and has children (and more than once). Most of book 4 is her trying to deal with the plot while being increasingly pregnant (and it’s causing her to need to deputize her friends to deal with problems instead of doing it herself). Her kids tend to get stuck at home when she’s doing the really dangerous things, but they’re acknowledged.

  7. Rachel

    Lots of suggestions to expand this list — thanks!

    The one I most should have thought of is The Touchstone Trilogy, because hello, obviously child-rearing is very important in the later part of the trilogy. Plus of course Cassandra is pregnant and has a daughter right at the end.

    I could have sworn I read The Missing Magician but that is actually not ringing a bell at all. I need to read the later Lady Trent books; they’re on my shelf right now. I was just looking at them last night thinking about TBR shelves and OMG so many books.

  8. Katy K.

    What I’ve read of Kate Elliott is quite good at including pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing. The Crossroads Trilogy, which starts with Spirit Gate, has a truly magical birth scene. In her more recent Court of Fives trilogy (which is YA and therefore shorter and less grim) the main character’s mother and later, her older sister and stepmother are pregnant, so the treatment of pregnant women in two different cultures and the way babies are taken care of is part of the story.

  9. Matthew

    It’s been ages, but what about The Ugly Little Boy by Isaac Asimov? It got expanded to a novel… But wasn’t that about a Neanderthal child brought to the future and the woman who is hired to raise him?

  10. Rachel

    Katy, those happen to be series I haven’t read (yet). I’ll look forward to them (eventually). Which did you like better, if you had to choose?

    Matthew, you’re right, I have dim memories of that Asimov story. I wouldn’t mind seeing a modern treatment of that idea, perhaps with little children of all the different hominid species mingling.

  11. Tessa

    In some of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books pregnancy (and avoiding it!) and childrearing are important points. I’m thinking particularly of Thendara House, in which Magda trains as a Renunciate after taking the oath of sisterhood under duress in The Shattered Chain. A good deal of that book talks about raising children in various environments within Darkovan society.

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