Second of three posts describing life on the colony-planet of Guerra (in the same setting as my earlier posts about life on Venus). The first part can be found here.
Men, their Wives, and their Mistresses
Middle-class men and their wives do not typically live together on Guerra. Men live in cities – that’s where the work is, where other men are, where business occurs. Wives live in the countryside – that’s where the men aren’t. Guerran men are protective of their wives, and the thought of them living in the city appals them – there are just so many dangers. Crime; boredom; unsavoury friends; the temptations of adultery. Men have to save their wives from these things, and in truth most wives are reasonably happy with this arrangement. Marriage is mostly for love on Guerra (though of course family connections and economics are important considerations too!), but everyone knows that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Young Whitelock’s wife, Whitelock’s Darkness, has no intention of being trapped with her husband seven days of the week, least of all of being surrounded with the thoughts of Whitelock’s work life. Besides, her apartment on their farm may be small, but it’s still bigger than Whitelock’s apartment in town, and more comfortable – and on the farm, she’s surrounded by the other women of the farm, her friends, and spends much of her time in the main buildings with whichever family is occupying them presently. Surely that’s better than the soulless city where nobody knows anyone’s name? She does miss some of the excitements of the city, it’s true, but she’s not exactly in the wilderness. She can spend some time in the village of Twilight-beyond-Rataq, and she regularly comes into town for the day to visit her husband and go sailing or diving or to take in some cultural event. Whitelock, for his part, spends his weekends in the country, although he doesn’t like to intrude on his wife – like most men, he instead takes rooms in the nearby village (where she visits him most nights when he’s present).
So Darkness is comfortable and unbothered, and provides Whitelock with an escape from his city life. Whitelock for his part is glad that Darkness isn’t being pestered by men (not that he doesn’t trust her, of course, but everybody gives in to temptation now and then, don’t they?). Sure, there is the worry about his farm co-owners, who do have quite a lot of access to his wife, but their contacts are always scrutinised by the other women of the farm to prevent impropriety. And besides, his co-owners are friends, almost family, and if his wife is going to make a mistake Whitelock would prefer she did it with someone he’s on good terms with, where the argument might be settled quickly with some manly words and a few punches to the face, rather than with some anonymous stranger in town.
Not all women are content with such an arrangement, needless to say. Some women, particularly young women, seem to act almost like men, and take real jobs in the city. There’s surely something wrong with that, but most give it up as they get older, and the remainder probably have something wrong with them genetically, so they can hardly be blamed. Other women, good wives in theory, are addicted to the city, and constantly about and getting in the way of their husbands – this really can be an addiction, a hyperactivity that may need professional psychological or spiritual help in extreme cases. And of course some men just can’t afford a share of a farm, or can’t afford to keep their wives and need them to earn their keep. This is humiliating for all concerned. Whitelock is proud to be able to keep his wife idle and safe, and Darkness would feel neglected if he did not wish to do so. If Darkness ever had some strange mental aberration and wanted to drastically change the terms of their lifestyle, it would be a big problem for Whitelock – but that will never happen, and in all lesser issues he is happy to accede to his wife’s requests. Wives need to be treated like children: a firm hand and a calming tone of voice, but never harsh, nor restrictive beyond need, lest that breed rebellion. Whitelock is certainly aware of other ways of life – forced by a woman’s weaknesses or oddities, or by poverty, or in some cases by cultural and religious dictates – but he has little experience with them… those sorts of things are all much more common in the big cities. There are all sorts of people in Maquinna!
So Whitelock and his wife, most of the year, live apart. They see each other most weekends, and maybe once a week or once a fortnight when Darkness comes into town, and for about a month a year when they run the farm together, and of course for Harvest although that time is so communal and busy that there is little time for intimacy. Yet Whitelock is a man, so this schedule is unable to meet his inevitable biological requirements. Therefore Whitelock keeps a mistress, Roe Hunter Badknee.
Badknee’s position is entirely honourable. Nobody would ever dream of accusing her of being a prostitute, and she certainly doesn’t see herself that way. Nonetheless, her relationship with Whitelock, while not without some genuine affection, is essentially an informal contract. She provides Whitelock with regular and sophisticated sex, and she is also in charge of maintaining his apartment (the mistresses of wealthier men will hire cleaning staff, but Badknee just has herself and the domestic robots). In exchange, Badknee gets generous room and board, gifts, and a connection with a higher class than her own – Badknee and Whitelock are both middle-class, but Whitelock’s family is wealthier and older. This is normally the way – mistresses are younger, prettier and poorer than their masters. The arrangement is temporary – Whitelock will replace Badknee in a few years – and Badknee will likely go on to life as a respectable wife in her own right. Even now she’s not entirely dependent – she has her own job, as a part-time waitress, and this time living without rent is a good opportunity for her to build up funds for the future. Some men abandon their mistresses entirely when they are done with them, but Whitelock is a decent, ordinary man, and remains on good terms with most of his prior mistresses.
As for the relationship between Darkness and Badknee, it is complicated. Darkness recognises that Whitelock obviously requires a mistress – even if the man were a monk, he needs some woman around him for social reasons, and Badknee’s presence also keeps Whitelock from the wiles of predatory husband-stealing women, and from bad city habits. Badknee is well aware that she will not be Whitelock’s wife. The two women rather like each other, and have gotten on well when they have met. But each feels awkward around the other, and they largely try to live unrelated lives – when Darkness visits the city, Badknee takes the opportunity to visit friends or family. The situation is more precarious for Badknee, however: if Darkness ever takes exception to Badknee, Whitelock will be forced – from social pressures, pride, and from his own love of his wife – to replace her.
As for Whitelock’s daughter, Young Darkness, her parents probably hope she won’t be a mistress herself – they hope she will go to university (which women attend largely to attract men), and some rich man will swoop upon her and propose to her (and not require a large dowry!). Failing that, some quiet love-match will do. But if Young Darkness does decide to spend some years as a kept women, her parents will not be ashamed of her. It’s a decent and honourable position in life, so long as she does nothing to interfere in the man’s marriage, and it does have some advantages for a woman. Female adultery in Aktoon is a serious crime, but fornication, across Guerra, is treated merely with suspicion, not with outright condemnation. Most women will have sex with men before marriage – why not do so in a financially and socially profitable way?
As can be seen, Guerra is a conservative – or perhaps more accurately neo-conservative – planet. Guerrans believe in strong families and strong communities, and that a woman’s work is raising her children. Urban communities are large enough and established enough that those deviating from this pattern, either individually or due to ethnic culture, are mostly able to find acceptance and security, but they are very much counter-cultural. As a result, many who might be thought to strain against this pattern of life in fact embrace it, rather than be labelled deviant and forced to the margins of urban society… in particular, there is a well-established tradition of arranging marriages between men and women who each prefer, as the terminology goes, ‘quiet’ marriages, with each partner preferring the company of friends of their own gender. Provided the nature of the marriage is understood by both parties from the beginning, Guerrans see no reason why these partnerships cannot be just as loving as any other – indeed, they have something of a reputation for stability. Passion, after all, can be a wonderful thing in its place, but it does tend to be disruptive.
Work and Leisure
As is true almost everywhere in the 26th century, opportunities for employment have been deeply eroded through mechanisation. Humans continue to find employment chiefly in the service sector and in overseer roles. Unemployment is combatted by removing half the population (women) almost entirely from the labour market; the young also take a long time to enter the market (university studies are the norm, followed by apprenticeships). Those who have jobs typically only work part-time (by 21st century standards), allowing the same number of jobs to be shared between a larger number of people. Much of their free time is taken up with forms of voluntary work.
Young Whitelock, for example, is a legal infomatics overseer. Legal disputes on Guerra are settled by computers – the only fair way – via complex algorithms to apply laws and precedence to quantised probabilistic evidence. Solicitors propose ways to encode the relevant data, barristers go through the calculations line-by-line to find any debateable or erroneous decisions, and judges hear the arguments of barristers and sign off on each case. Legal infomatics officers like Whitelock, meanwhile, likewise sort through the operations of the computers, but rather than seeking ways in which a particular calculation has failed to accurately model a specific case they instead look for any errors or ambiguities or inconsistencies at all. It’s exceptionally boring work, as there are few errors to find, but somebody has to do it. The law may be better applied by machines, but humans believe that humans should ultimately be responsible for overseeing it. After many years in the sector, Whitelock is now in a senior position in the Rataq legal infomatics office – he oversees the men who check the code and the calculations, and he writes reports about how the various programs and machines are functioning, making recommendations on new purchasing decisions to his superiors.
Much of his ‘free time’, however, is taken up either by farming business or by his third job as a volunteer with the Rataq Flower Association, helping to organise the regular Flower Festivals the city puts on. What is left is largely spent with Darkness, with his children, or with Badknee.
Entertainment on Guerra mostly centres on either activities or performances. Activities include sailing, diving, swimming, walking, climbing, ploughing, flower-arranging, topiary, knitting, and so forth. Guerrans believe in getting out in the open air as much as possible. Performances are put on by volunteers, and include sport (particularly team sports – Rugby is the most popular), music concerts (particularly choral and orchestral – the togetherness of the music group is as much the object for the performers as the music itself), and live theatre.
More modern forms of entertainment do, of course, exist. But Guerra is not a rich world, and it is often sceptical of technology. Game arcades exist in the cities, but they are luxury, special-occasion destinations, rather than daily forms of entertainment. Films (immersive, of course) are popular to some extent, but there is little cultural imperative to watch the latest or greatest, and for the most part Guerrans prefer the authenticity and communal connection of theatre. Little technological entertainment originates on Guerra – its games, and films, are largely imported from more technology-friendly planets, and as a result there is a degree of cultural scepticism toward these. Guerrans do not believe that the Guerran way of life is the only good way of life, in theory, but in practice they do tend to find most other human cultures rather louche and decadent. In any case, societies function best without external disruptive influences. There is a domestic entertainment industry, but it is relatively small – and it exports little. Humans on other planets unaccountably seem to find Guerran films – which are generally long, slow-paced, and devote a great deal of time to extolling the value and techniques of rural farming – oddly dull.
Guerrans are typically disdainful of elaborate or mass-marketed fashions. They tend to favour mass-produced, plain and simple clothes, subtly personalised through embroidery by the women of the family.
The typical Guerran costume derives from the clothing of Earth a little over a century ago. At that time, Earth fashion was for a cheap, sweat-absorbing knee-length hygeine undershirt, an ankle-length outer undershirt, an elaborately slashed ankle-length sleeveless coat, and a more practical ankle-length overcoat – with, below it all, thigh-high leggings on each leg, held by garters. On Guerra, poverty led rapidly to the elimination of the ornamental coat in all but the most formal of circumstances, while the overcoat and undershirt were shortened to the knee for greater practicality – boots now reach to the knee, and leggings have been eliminated except for in erotic contexts (or in the depths of winter). The overcoat, which is worn indoors and outdoors, but may be discarded in intimate contexts, is cut with straight lines, but is often gathered at the waist by a belt; likewise, the undershirt may be gathered by a sash. All these items are typically of a white, cream, beige or brown colour in general, sometimes with more vibrant red, orange, chocolate, black, yellow, or even green highlighting elements, and they bear personal embroidery, which often reflects inherited designs.
By the time of the settlement of Guerra, most wealthy people bore shaved heads and heavy wigs, but the wigs have almost entirely been abandoned now. Wealthy landowners and public officials continue to shave their heads; for others, the norm is for short, uniform hairstyles for men, and shoulder-length braids for women. Hats are worn outdoors by men – typically leather or tweed, with wide brims and cylindrical bodies.
The most distinctive article of Guerran clothing, however, is the scarf. Scarves are knitted by the womenfolk, and each scarf is distinctive to that individual and that family, and often brightly coloured. Scarves worn by men are typically thin, and are wrapped once or twice about the neck, with the ends left to hang over the chest or back; scarves worn by women, on the other hand, have grown into large shawl-like garments, typically covering the whole of the shoulders, chest and upper arms.
Guerrans disapprove of body art, whether temporary or permanent. Those few who bear genetic tattoos or other marks do their best to conceal them.