Bradshaw, John. Bradshaw on -- the Family: a Revolutionary Way of Self-Discovery. Pompano Beach, Fla. : Health Communications, 1988

Leach, Penelope. Children First: What Our Society Must Do -- And Is not Doing -- For our Children Today. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Farrell, Warren. The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex. New York :Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: BasicBooks, 1992.

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Review copyright 1993, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This review originally appeared in Science Fiction & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter # 160, January 1995.

All four of these books were actually written to address various social ills in our here-and-now society. However the way in which each of them deal with the roots of those ills can also be useful for the writer who wants to take a closer look at how societies function. This is especially good for a writer who wants to create a fictional society that is genuinely different from present-day society, but fits together and works as a real society would.

Bradshaw's book examines various kinds of families that have gone wrong and how those family dysfunctions produce dysfunctional adults who then perpetuate the cycles of abuse. Although written to help people identify their own problems and get help, it is useful for exploring the foundations of one's characters' personalities.

Leach's book is about problems in childraising, but she also discusses ideas for how we could make things better, including some revolutionary ones which could be incorporated into a fictional society. For instance, one might explore a society which puts into practice her idea of graduated rights (as opposed to giving them all at once on one's eighteenth birthday, as though it magically transformed child into adult). Or one could explore a society in which groups of young couples in their childbearing years live together in co-operative housing and share childcare and housekeeping duties.

Farrell's book explores the issues of gender inequality, but from a male perspective, and comes up with some startling conclusions. The system exploits men just as much as women, only in different ways. If women struggle against a "glass ceiling," men are trapped in a "glass cellar" of jobs in which they place life and limb at risk in order to provide their families with the various things which society tells them they must. He also argues that the behaviors which Bradshaw identifies as being "dysfunctional" were actually functional in an earlier stage of human history when physical survival was the primary consideration of life. Many of the things he talks about are good to consider in constructing societies and creating characters of both genders who aren't two-dimensional.

Finally, Coontz's book examines how we look at the past and reveals that it wasn't like our images at all. The Fifties weren't a time of family values and togetherness as certain conservatives would have us believe. Nor were the settlers quite the rugged individualists that our textbooks said they were. Since many writers turn to historical models in creating our fictional societies, we should think about whether we are looking at a history that really existed or someone's prettified version that supports their particular ideological slant.

All four of these books are useful in the process of creating societies and the characters who live in them.

Copyright 1993, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

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