Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 06

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 06

Chapter 6

“We haven’t done that in a while,” said Yuri Radamacher. His voice was barely louder than a murmur, with complex undertones that conveyed satiety, exhaustion, smug self-satisfaction, bemused wonder at capabilities thought lost forever, and, most of all — the saving grace that would keep him from ridicule or possible bodily harm — full of affection for the person lying next to him.

Who, for her part, slapped him playfully on his bare midriff. That produced a meaty sound. Yuri was not exactly fat, but he was in no danger of being blown away by a gust of wind, either.

“Don’t sound so pleased with yourself,” she said. “Of course we haven’t done that in a while. We haven’t seen each other in… what’s it been, now? More than a T-year.”

“Three hundred and ninety-six standard days. God, I’ve missed you.”

Sharon Justice rolled onto her side and propped her head up on one hand. “I missed you too. But look at the bright side — for the first time in years, it looks like we’ll be able to see each other regularly and for… oh, hell, it could be a long time.”

Yuri hesitated, tempted to raise the subject of marriage. Even the Republic of Haven’s stringent rules concerning assignments for its officials were subject to relaxation and modification when married couples were involved. But after a moment, he decided to let it slide.

He knew that Sharon was twitchy on the subject. That was not unusual, of course. The whole subject of marriage had gotten very complicated and thorny since the development of prolong. That was especially true for a society like Haven’s, which tended to be conservative on social issues despite the often radical character of its politics.

The traditional concept of marriage was that of a union between two people which was expected to last a lifetime. Many did not, of course. Still, even people who got divorced generally viewed the divorce as a failure; an unfortunate and in some sense unnatural outcome.

But the same institution now had to be stretched across lifetimes that were measured in centuries, not decades. And to make things still more complicated, that greatly extended lifespan was characterized through at least eighty percent of its duration as the lifespan of a young person. Only toward the very end of the life of someone on prolong did the aging process and eventual decrepitude start manifesting itself. That stood in stark contrast to the ancient realities of human life, in which the period of vigorous youth was a fairly brief interlude between childhood and middle age.

The traditional institution of marriage was simply not well-suited for these new conditions. Much of its stability had been provided by the “natural” aging process. As a couple grew old together, they came to rely on each other for succor and support as much as intimacy. Prosaic as it might be, sharing aches and pains did a great deal to solidify a marriage; and, on the flip side, worked against any tendencies toward infidelity.

None of that was true any longer. Even the needs and demands of child-raising, traditionally the strongest bond in a marriage, was far less important. People on prolong could bear children throughout most of their now-very-long lives, but very few did so. Most couples would devote a few decades to having and nurturing children, but no more than that. Depending on the specific star nation and its customs, they might do their child-raising early in life or they might — this was the normal practice in Manticore, Beowulf and the Andermanni Empire — postpone having children until they were well-established in their careers and in a more solid financial position. But whatever stretch in their long lifespans they chose to devote to child-raising, once that was done they did not usually repeat the process. And in the doing they had only devoted ten percent or less of their lives — as opposed to the one-third or even one-half of a lifetime that child-bearing and rearing had traditionally occupied.

Under that pressure — it might be more accurate to say, sudden removal of pressure — the institution of marriage was undergoing profound and manifold transformations throughout the human-inhabited portions of the galaxy. Those changes had already been underway as a result of medical and technological advances, and prolong drove them even faster. In some adventurous societies — Beowulf being a prime example — a dizzying number of variations on marriage had emerged and were being experimented with. But in other, more staid societies, the reaction tended the other way. The lifelong nature of marriage was insisted upon even more firmly — with the inevitable consequence that fewer and fewer people entered into marriage. Instead, serial cohabitation without formal marriage was becoming the norm; or, at least, the most common pattern.

Even child-bearing and raising was adapting. As had always been the case in matrilineal societies, prolong society had effectively done away with the concept of bastardy. The reasons were different, but the end result was much the same: people in advanced societies who would live for centuries usually had such a deep and widespread safety net — some of it public, some of it private — that a single parent or a couple simply didn’t require marriage as a practical economic matter. The laws of most star nations did require an official recognition of parenthood, but that was separate from the legal requirements for marriage. That was to protect the children. You might not be formally married to the mother or father of your child, but you were still legally responsible for the children themselves.

All of which was well and good, and Yuri understood the dynamic on an intellectual level. The fact remained that he was a Havenite, not a Beowulfer, and like most people from Haven his basic emotional attitudes were conservative and old-fashioned. The years he’d spent as a State Security officer during the Pierre-Saint Just period compounded the problem. Early on, he’d developed sharp differences with their policies. Given the nature of their regime, he’d had to hide his real opinions and keep an emotional distance from everybody. The end result had been a man who was innately friendly and sociable transformed into a lonely soul.

Dammit, he wanted to get married.

But he was almost certain that Sharon would refuse and he’d learned long ago that if you thought the answer to a question was going to be “no,” it was better not to ask the question at all. Once stated openly, “no” tended to get locked in place.

So, partly out of frustration and partly out of a sense of duty, he rose from the bed, put on some clothes and headed for the kitchen. “Want some coffee?”

“Akh!” Sharon rose hurriedly from the bed and grabbed a robe. “Yes — but I’ll make it, thank you very much. You’ll break the coffeemaker.”

“Don’t be silly.”

She brushed past him, putting on the robe and moving quickly. “Fine. You’ll break the coffee.”

“That’s ridiculous. You can’t — ”

You can.” Sharon started working at the controls of a machine that, to Radamacher’s way of thinking, bore a closer resemblance to a computer terminal than a simple device to brew a drink that the human race had been enjoying for millennia. “I love you dearly, Yuri, but you make the worst coffee this side of a Navy mess hall.”

“That’s where I learned to make coffee in the first place.”

“I know.” She pushed buttons that did mysterious things. “For years, I had a secret belief that the reason we had such a hard time fighting the Manticorans was because of the Navy’s coffee. The deterioration that crap must have produced in the brains of our officers and ratings didn’t bear thinking about.”

The button-pushing ended with a triumphant glissando of flying fingers. Yuri had no idea what she was doing. Programming the heat death of the universe? It was a coffee maker, for God’s sake. What was wrong with letting the gadget’s own computer handle the business?

“And since I got here,” she continued, “my suspicion has been confirmed. I’ve talked to any number of Erewhonese who’ve had Manticoran Navy coffee, and they all swear it’s terrific.”

Her ritual apparently done, Sharon finished tying up her robe and sat down at the kitchen table. “Oh, stop pouting — and have a seat, will you? The coffee will take a few minutes.”

Yuri was tempted to respond my coffee gets done in no time at all but wisely restrained himself. As a friend who shared his own insouciant attitude toward making coffee had once said, “Gourmets are subtle and quick to anger.”

He pulled up a chair and changed the subject. “Speaking of the Erewhonese, I suppose you should bring me up to date. Seeing as how I’m Haven’s ambassador to Torch and — hold your breath, this takes a while — ‘high commissioner and envoy extraordinary’ to Erewhon. In the moments I can spare from being your sex toy.”

Sharon smiled. “‘Sex toy, is it? I’ll remember that.” The smile was replaced by a slight frown. “I assume the reason you didn’t replace Guthrie as the ambassador to Erewhon also is because the Erewhonese made it clear they were not too happy with us.”


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27 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 06

  1. John Roth says:

    Hm. Now this is an unexpected plot twist. Good to get out of the prolog. Even if he put in an (apparently) unnecessary infodump in the middle about marriage in prolong societies. Even though it’s good background.

    • Mike says:

      If Weber didn’t have so many infodumps, his stories would become hard to follow. I’ve gotten into the habit of skipping and skimming through them. If he didn’t have all the filler, then I would be skipping over actual plot points.

      • Randomiser says:

        I actually like the info dumps; they create a much richer fictional world. I’m pretty sure they are also a deliberate device to regulate the pace and flow of the book so skimming them somewhat defeats the author’s intended effect.

        • marcel says:

          No, I remember reading an interview where he said: “Just skip that boring stuff.” Don’t remember where though.

  2. Edward Truss says:

    I’m just glad to run into Yuri Radamacher and Sharon Justice again. I liked the pair in “Fanatic”.

  3. Dave R says:

    FWIW, although I’d expect prolong to have profound social implications in the long run, there’s the rather important issue that it’s not much over a century old in the Honorverse. I doubt the implications of living two or three centuries would percolate through society until a non-trivial number of people had not just spent more time biologically young and healthy than was possible pre-prolong, but actually lived longer than was possible pre-prolong.

    • Mike says:

      In many professions, I expect that it would be a mixed blessing. Those who were best at what they did could keep doing it and (in theory) keep getting better and better. But it might be a serious impediment to the younger folks, who would find most of their career options stalled for decades or centuries by the older generation. What if you had to wait 100 years for your chance to run the company, be the editor in chief, or whatever?

      I would guess a lot of companies might implement “up or out” rules and time limits for all positions in the hierarchies.

      Or maybe people would have one career that would last 30 years or so, get enough money to temporarily “retire” for a decade of relaxation and travel, then start another career for another few decades, take another break, etc.

      • John Roth says:

        One of the basic problems here is hierarchies. A society that stresses egalitarianism would try to flatten or eliminate hierarchies as much as possible – something that DW doesn’t seem to understand when he created Haven and Beowulf.

        To give an example of the gating effect: in the 1940s publications in archeology were controlled by the “old guard,” who were blocking results that questioned the work they’d done in the field 30 years previously. The result: Velikovsky! They died off, the young turks got access to the journals and a fair number of the issues with the archeology of the Near East just vanished. Unfortunately, Mr. V. didn’t.

        In an advanced society, you simply go around the gatekeepers. See arXiv in physics, for example. Whether anyone pays attention to you in physics today depends mostly on your reputation, not on whether you can get sexy results published in Nature or Science.

        • Mike says:

          Well, another name for those gatekeepers is “the peer-review process.” All in all it has worked pretty well, and I’m not sure how to replace it. The downside of something’s or Facebook’s review process is that “likes” can come from anybody, for any reason.

          What seems to have worked lately in science is the idea of tracking citations. If lots of other papers cite your paper, that is a good indicator that it was useful and accepted. (It’s possible that some of those cites are from people refuting your paper, though.)

          Generally speaking, while I do think that while there remains an archival and filtering role for the traditional journals, it also seems like some kind of a peer-recommendation system would provide more flexibility.

          • John Roth says:

            Snort! You’re apparently not reading the same comments on the system I’m seeing! As far as a “recommendation” system, there’s a very prestigious journal in the U.S. that does that partly, and it’s allowed several very bad papers to be published.

            As far as I can tell, the system that’s slowly evolving is doing a far better job, without the publication delays inherent in the peer review process.

            • jimhacker says:

              I have to ask whether you have a scienctific (especially medical) background at all?

              • John Roth says:

                If you go up a few comments, you’ll note that I did mention the arXiv for physics preprints. This isn’t that well known to the scientifically illiterate. As far as medicine is concerned, no, but before you think the peer review system works, you might want to think about the claims that something like 2/3ds of all negative results for new drugs are suppressed for one reason or another.

              • jimhacker says:

                Yep, I should have noticed that. (and by the way, that wasn’t meant to be a subtle dig at you, it was a genuine query as to whether your view was formed going through that process yourself).

                And yes, 50% of all trial results are not published, but that is not due to the journals. That is a mixture of deliberate publication bias on the part of corporations and the file drawer effect.

    • marcel says:

      Until the ships start exploding, it is a big problem in the RMS. Expansion creates some opportunities, but everyone is complaining that the old guard doesn’t move on. Edward Janacek is a point in case. The man is older than Roger III, he had been second Space Lord by 1844, left the navy in 1900 to enter politics, and committed suicide in 1919 as First Lord of the Admiralty. A century in the navy!

  4. Momreads says:

    I was glad to see the comments on the effects of prolong on society. It isn’t going to be trivial and society will change. What happens to a steadholders son when dear old dad is going to live for another 200 years? What do you do in the meantime while waiting to take over? For that matter, what will Roger Winton for the next sometime since Elizabeth is still young and very capable. What is he doing? In RT he gets married, but he isn’t in the navy. He’s certainly old enough to be seriously doing something? What is it?

    • Terranovan says:

      I think that that’s exactly what his RMN career is for. This much is explicitly stated to be the case for Sean & Harriet McIntyre – children of the Emperor for the Fifth Imperium – in Heirs of Empire.

  5. Cobbler says:

    For a different treatment of the impact of extended life/youth on a star-fairing culture, check out the Serrano Legacy series by Elizabeth Moon.

  6. John Roth says:

    One of the reasons I flagged this infodump is that I think he’s missed the point. Marriage is a legal status that gives the participants certain rights, including some that are obvious, like inheritance, and some that aren’t quite so obvious, like the right to get hospital status when a spouse is injured. It’s obviously a very thorny issue, but I have a hard time understanding a society where the marriage rate is going down because of social condemnation of divorce, there are significant benefits to marriage that have nothing to do with children and the issue isn’t at least being vigorously debated. Something simply doesn’t make sense here.

    • Robert Krawitz says:

      In *our* legal system, it comes with those benefits. In a different legal and cultural system, the benefits might be different or associated with different kinds of relationships.

      • John Roth says:

        Quite true, however, Yuri spells out that there are benefits. Exactly what they are, other than that postings would keep them together, isn’t spelled out.

  7. dave o says:

    About the infodump: I think it’s useful to mention one way prolong is changing society. Considering that in the US, most heterosexual marriages now end in divorce and the status and stability of homosexual ones is yet to be determined, maybe that’s Weber’s reason for writing this.

    I didn’t recall Yuri until halfway through the snippet. Glad to see he’s back.

    • Mike says:

      Do you have a source for your data? It’s very difficult to find accurate statistics on the percentage of first marriages that end in divorce. But the data I have seen does not agree with “most” (ie. more than 50%).

      • Richard H says:

        There’s this weird thing going on in the US where statistics both say that there’s 1 divorce in the US for every two marriages and, clearly, there are long-lasting marriages. Personally, I suspect that some of this is the result of a lot of churn among a certain type of person who believes that marriage is important and gets married only to discover that the relationship was not as functional or lasting as hoped.

      • AG says:

        Statistics can say almost anything you want them to say.

        There’s a difference between “first marriages” and “most marriages”.

        Some people get married and divorced more than once. Some people only marries once and divorces once. And some people marries once and never divorces.

        When statistics say that “most heterosexual marriages now end in divorce” they include both the married once and the married five times people.

      • marcel says:

        A short google search will tell you:
        40-50% of first marriages fail;
        60+% of second marriages fail;
        70+% of third marriages gail.
        All with reference to peer-reviewed publications.

    • John Roth says:

      I did a quick check on the net. CDC (Centers for Disease Control) statistics show the marriage rate as significantly higher than twice the divorce rate, which pretty conclusively shows that less than half of all marriages end in divorce.

      Exactly why this statistic has to come from the CDC is something I don’t know. I’d expect it to come from the census bureau! However, the difficulty of getting it is because there isn’t a central registry of marriages, divorces, births and deaths in the U.S. All this data is kept at the county level, and since each of these events can occur in different counties, pulling it together to from a coherent statistic isn’t the easiest job in the world.

      • marcel says:

        You might consider that population growth makes every generation larger than the previous. At 2% population growth per year, an average of 25 years of marriage would lead to 64% more marriages over that time and 50% failure rate over time would show a divorce to marriage rate of about 0.30. A full Monte Carlo simulation is too much work at midnight for this forum.

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