Orphan of Creation
and The Color Purple

an example of how speculative fiction can reflect society in ways mainstream fiction can't

by David E Romm

Roger McBride Allen's Orphan of Creation (Baen Books, 1988; ISBN: 0-671-65356-3) is about the ethics of slavery. The book it most closely resembles is The Color Purple.

Alice Walker's novel is a very good book that tells the personal story of a black woman's road to freedom and independence. The point is weakened by the ending, but most people tend to forgive the author, who grew too attached to her character to leave her in ruins.

Orphan of Creation takes the same story, but tells it from a present day point of view. The 'science' part of the science fiction is Cultural Anthropology; a field not well represented in the annals of sf. (The only other book I can think of offhand in the same field is Samuel R. Delany's The Ballad of Beta-2.) Dr. Barbara Marchando is also black and female, but three generations removed from slavery in the US and well educated. As our paleoanthropologist digs deeper (literally) into the mysteries of the slaves on the plantation where her great-great-grandparents were slaves, their story emerges.

And their story is a powerful one. The story is more than the ethics of slavery and other forms of third-class citizenship, and is as powerful as in The Color Purple. Orphan of Creation is not a personal narrative, but is also a personal story. The novel cross-cuts from the pre-Civil War era and the emerging discoveries therein with the story of today's woman. It is only peripherally science fiction, that label hanging on one important element. But it needs that speculative twist to further shed light on our current values.

As with most good fiction dealing with ethics, it tells a specific story and leaves the broader issues open. Orphan of Creation cuts a wider swath through ethical issues than The Color Purple, and tells the story in ways only a work of science fiction could do.

David E Romm produces Shockwave, a science fiction radio program with no format.