The future of wives

I’m not such a movie person, I’m a book person. That being said, I understand a lot of movies reach a lot more people. The 1983 movie Bladerunner is based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?

Someone suggested this book as an easy read, and I picked it up. Two things I notice: it is set in 2021—a year ago. That’s disturbing. Sci fi classics are becoming set in the real life past. This is as unnerving as Disneyland’s Tomorrowland being vintage and quaint.

But even more disturbing is the novel itself. The earth landscape is poison and horrifying. So common for science fiction to be dystopian and pessimistic. Yes, it is often wonderful writing. I just like a large base of hope with my art?

The book introduces the main character Rick Deckart waking up in the morning and exchanging conversation with his wife. To be frank, having a fight with his wife. It was her fault—she picked a fight because of the despair of living in a horrible world.

Philip Dick is from the era of classic sci fi, and he published this book in 1968. The 60s were a landmark time for American marriage.

This makes me think about sci fi wives. Society and worlds are being recreated, torn down and reimagined in the sci fi universes. How are the wives shown?

I am pretty sure Deckart’s wife was a 60’s stay at home wife, but he was a murdering bounty hunter. The wife played a minor role, being mostly another thing, the hero had to take care of.

Robert Heinlein, another 60s classic sci fi author, famously reimagined how marriages could work in Stanger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Both of these break apart the monogamy and imagine a group partnering situation. The wives were far more independent and didn’t seem to be a burden on the male hero.

Orwell’s 1984 had a very wife that was so light of a burden she came loose and floated away. The love interest was a woman that was very central to the plot and formed a critical emotional connection. In the end his devotion to her led to his permanent downfall.

Wives are not looking very good. But these are novels written by men. Do female authors have something to share about wives of the future?

In 1818 Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Frankenstein’s monster is a character not soon forgotten. The chemical and industrial discoveries of the time fed the imagination of Mary Shelley who created the story of a man of science creating a new proto-human from that science.

Victor Frankenstein himself was not married, although he had a fiancée. The story of the monster end with him demanding a wife. Just life the first human in Genesis, the monster could not stand to be alone.

But the scientist could not stand the idea of giving his monster a way to pro-create. In this female created sci fi world, the wife was the whole point for the new line of human.

Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale has the woman as a central point for society. She gets the basics: in a poisoned world, the ability to produce a baby is determined to be critical and the women who are capable of this become commoditized and farmed out for this purpose. When an important man is assigned a fertile “handmaid” the wife plays a very creepy sexual role, but not a very powerful or self-actualized role. The protagonist handmaid frees herself and does not appear to have any interest in being a wife.

There is a style of romantic sci fi that emphasized the power of love in the world. I enjoyed reading Audrey Neffenger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife where the hero was caught in a time traveling power that he could not control. The world was realistic contemporary, not particularly dystopian. No more dystopian than pre-covid life in America. But he found meaning and purpose in his out-of-control life by arranging to come back to the woman he loved across the time he was given

Like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, it was enough for the time traveler to find his love and make a family.

Then again, there is Pamela Zoline’s story published in 1970 Heat Death of the Universe where the stay-at-home wife finds her safe suffocating suburban world even more minute-by-minute dystopian than Deckart’s poisoned planet earth. That wife’s world has significantly changed.

A wife requires another person to be a wife with. Those mutual expectations seem to have changed a lot over time. It’s interesting to track how wives have been shown in sci fi and how they’ve changed. Novels are a good place to imagine and re-imagine what could be.