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June 14, 2014

My Real Children Spoiler and Speculation Thread
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:31 AM * 107 comments

By popular request, a thread where you do not have to ROT-13 your speculations about why the book ended the way it did…and what happened next.

I will copy and rotate the thread of the discussion as best I can into comments here. Don’t be too surprised to see comments added to your (view all by) as part of the process; they’ll be linked, labeled, and backed up, but since they’re you’re words, you get to own ‘em.

Needless to say, this thread is full of spoilers.

Comments on My Real Children Spoiler and Speculation Thread:
#1 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:40 AM:

You can consider this thread as the universe where I started a spoiler thread before everyone had to ROT-13 the discussion, if you will.

Please don't post here until I have everything ported over. I'll post a message when I've done so.

#2 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:47 AM:

My Real Children is an extraordinary novel. A real gift. I am so grateful that you recommended it on ML — I might have picked it up eventually anyway, but certainly not right away. To say nothing of very grateful to Our Gracious Host for editing it, and to Ms. Walton for writing it.

I do have one nit to pick — editorial, not authorial (a few of those, perhaps, another time, when I am feeling more like taking critical distance: right now I just want to bask in its brilliance) — and one question to ask.

(All spoilers are ROT13'd).

The nit: Le Guin's blurb — on the top of the book and reproduced above — contains a horrendous spoiler in the words "and ending in a sort of super Sophie’s Choice". If you simply understand the "Sophie’s Choice" bit, then that plus the basic set-up of the novel (what one gets from the blurb, say, or the first chapter, or at the latest a few chapters in) gives away far too much about the (very) end of the book. Of course I understand why you'd want a Le Guin quote on the book. But couldn't it be truncated, in the interest of not spoiling the readers? You could replace the ROT13'd words with an ellipsis and be none the worse for it.

Too late for the hardcover, obviously, but what about the paperback? Foreign editions? Online promotional material? I mean, sure, the book is so rich & wonderful that the spoiler didn't do much damage. But why put it in?

And the question, the entire thing ROT13'd for spoilers.

Is it supposed to be obvious which choice Patricia makes at the very end of the book? The final sentence makes it sound like it's supposed to be; but it didn't seem obvious to me. Did I just miss something? Or is the final sentence supposed to be ironic (saying it's obvious when it's not)? Does Walton want different readers to draw different obvious conclusions? Or is there an answer, like Number Five's real name in The Fifth Head of Cerberus?

Any thoughts?

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#3 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:50 AM:

Stephen Frug:

Because Patricia really wept when she thought about the state of the world, the nuclear exchanges and the turn to the right, I think she decided to sacrifice her rich personal loves and happiness so that the world as a whole would be better off. She's always been super-responsible, taking care of Bee or Mark for example, and that's just built into her ethos, her character, in both timelines.

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#4 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:51 AM:

But to answer your deeper question, I think we the readers don't get a clear unambiguous answer, and each reader sort of gets to decide what his or her Patricia does.

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#5 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:53 AM:

Sumana Harihareswara:

Thanks very much for replying.

Yeah, that's sort of the way I was leaning; certainly it was my first instinct. I think you're *probably* right. But on the other hand, if sacrifice for others was a consistent principle with her, then sacrifice for love was, too. So I can sort of seeing it going the other way. Maybe.

How definite do you think your answer is? Do you think it's *clearly* the intention, or that it's your interpretation but you're not sure, etc. Do you have a sense of how open Walton wants — or, to get academic for a second, how open the text wants — the ending to be?

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#6 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:56 AM:

Interesting! I hadn't thought of it as which did Patricia choose? I just read it as she said both -- Yes in one world, and No in the other. It was a fluke that she could see both pasts as dementia set in. Or maybe in Walton's imagination, any dementia patient is seeing their multiple pasts and that is part of their confusion?

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#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:59 AM:

Obviously I'm not going to comment about what is or isn't obvious, or what any given reader should or shouldn't find obvious, about the ending of My Real Children.

I will note, though, that Stephen Frug's heartfelt #2 is literally the first time I've seen anyone protest the Le Guin quote as a "horrendous spoiler." And I know for a fact that lots of early readers of the published book were people who are known, by me, to be extremely spoiler-averse. But I do see his point, and I'll keep it in mind when we do subsequent editions.

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#8 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:01 AM:

I think the reader gets to figure out the choice and that there are possibly more than two. As Pat/Trish wonders:
How many worlds were there? One? Two? An infinite number?
If the choice is really between now and never, it seems like each reader has to make the choice based on their internalizing of Trish/Pat's life.

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#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:03 AM:

I think she does get to choose, but because she knows the consequences of her choice, she doesn't get the same world that she got when she made the worse choice for herself in ignorance. And I think the world she gets by choosing the worse life for herself is ours.

There is no basis for this in the text. But it's why I said what I did in comment 20 [of the other thread].

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#10 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:05 AM:

Thanks to everyone for replies.

I'm going to take the divergence of views from intelligent commentators as implying that at least it's not some *very* obvious thing I've missed: which is to say, that there might be *an* answer, but if so it's more of a Gene-Wolfe-we'll-need-Robert-Borski-or-John-Clute-to-work-it-out-over-time, then a Frug-you-dunderhead-how-could-you-not-have-seen sorta thing. And I'm leaning towards a looser interpretation.

That said, please, keep the comments coming!

#7 PNH: I apologize if I put the point too strongly. But it did signal the end more than I'd like. (And I don't think of myself as *particularly* spoiler adverse...). Thanks for considering the matter.

Incidentally, it wasn't the worst back-of-the-book spoiler I've ever seen: the blurb on my copy of Heinlein's Double Star literally spoiled all the way up to the penultimate page of the novel. Now *that* was annoying.

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#11 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:07 AM:

I have seen a copy of The Moonstone which named the murderer on the back cover. (I guess the problem arose from it being seen as Classics rather than Detection.)

Abi: Thanks for your interpretation; it has the advantage of resolving a rather obvious problem that was worrying me. Does that make Patricia an Incanter?

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#12 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:09 AM:

You might think that, but I couldn't possibly comment.

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#13 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:11 AM:

Well, I just finished and it left me in tears last night and again this morning, as I've come to expect from Jo's work. Very good tears.

My answer is with abi's, and I'd add one other thought: Loving her children as she does, and all of them being her real children, how could she wholeheartedly choose any answer but "both"? And that gives her our world, teetering along on the edge of disaster, but slowly inching towards more kindness, more tolerance, more love.

Patricia's struggle with her memory has a particularly personal resonance for me owing to my mother's dementia and memory problems over the last decade before her death. It has raised a real question for me of whether I will want to live with that, if mine goes down the same road, though I hope it won't come to that.

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#14 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:14 AM:

More end talk.

I saw it as more of a The Lady or The Tiger? choice the first time I read it. I read a review that thought it would be obvious she would go with World Bee (tee hee). But that review needed to go to the next level.

Also, maybe the answer feels obvious depending on your interpretation of quantum mechanics. The story could be a permanent bifurcation, or a superposition/observation/collapse. Many worlds or the Copenhagen interpretation?

Does anyone else think Patricia's mom suffered from the same condition? She lived in a world where her husband and son died, but the Nazis were defeated... Maybe the women of this line keep wanting to have it all.

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#15 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:15 AM:

OK, I admit, I borrowed Lenore's copy (and her Nook). I haven't replaced the shoes, either, but...well. I couldn't wait any longer to read it.

I loved it. It was heartbreaking, and I was completely engaged in the lives of this woman and her spouses and children.

As for the ending, I didn't get the impression she was choosing for anyone but herself, or even that which life she preferred would actually change her experiences or determine which set of children continued to exist. I took it as just the anguish of having to decide what was real when both choices have aspects you love and aspects you abhor.

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#16 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:18 AM:

Xopher #15: At least on its surface — what Jews call the "pshat", the plan meaning of the text — she does choose for more than just herself. It says so in the preantepenultimate paragraph: "Mark or Bee. No choice, except that she wasn't choosing only for herself." (Other lines in the last few pages also suggest it, I think, but the other lines are a bit arguable; that seems straightforward.) Maybe that's supposed to be delusion on her part or something. But, again, it seems to me that the pshat is that she does choose for more than herself.

Dan Lewis #14:

Regarding your final point — "Does anyone else think Patricia's mom suffered from the same condition?" — it's a nice thought. Certainly the evidence is merely suggestive. But I do like the idea.

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#17 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:19 AM:

The reason I like Abi's theory is that it answers a question that would otherwise be puzzling; what has happened to our timeline? Patricia makes only one crucial choice, and it's a straightforward yes/no choice, so it looks as if there are only two ways forward from there; yet both lead away from our world. How can this be? Abi's interpretation answers this: our world was not available until Patricia had seen the two original timelines and was able to chose in the light of this.

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#18 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:22 AM:

Andrew, I have to say I like that a lot. But what then becomes of Patricia's life in our timeline? Also, it remains unexplained why Patricia (or anyone) should have such power. She doesn't show any reality-bending ability at any point in either timeline.

Which is the whole problem I have with the "she's choosing for the whole world" interpretation. There's nothing in either timeline to support it or set it up. There's no connection from her choice to marry Mark or not to any of the world events in the timelines...well, not at the split point anyway. Her kids do accelerate the moon colony program in one timeline, but that's much later (there already IS a moon colony program, for one thing).

I guess the answer to that is her reference to the Butterfly Effect. It's possible that her wedding caused ripples that kept someone from going to America at the right time to prevent Kennedy's assassination etc. I just think if JW had intended that she would have set it up more.

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#19 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:25 AM:

Xopher: I feel it's possible to write about this particular question without spoilers or ROT13, since it's present from the very inception of the book.

I see the influence of Patricia's choice as more than simply the "Butterfly Effect", and interpret the power of Patricia's decision in the influence of a religious light.

If I may jump (within genre) to Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, which has a profoundly serious moral underpinning, one of the tenets expressed there is that every victory for good and every expression of good, however minute, is a victory for good throughout all space and time and influencing all space and time. This is also an essential idea in Mahayana Buddhism; I was both startled and unsurprised to find an epigram from Dogen Zenji's 'Moon in a Dewdrop' heading one of Diane Duane's later books in the series.

In reality, every choice we make, each word we speak, each action we take, truly does affect our entire world and the entire universe. We simply are not privileged to know in what ways they will do so. Faith is the trust that our intent for good and our choices for good will ultimately have good effects even if they aren't visible or appear as a failure to us. I see the change in the world she lives in with Mark as the spreading ramifications of the generosity of that one choice, independent of how it works for her.

In both her lives, Patricia is herself profoundly and simply religious - I was deeply moved by her expressions of gratitude to God for Bee's presence in her life. Perhaps one way to understand her recall of both lives is as a kind of grace, a gift.

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#20 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:31 AM:

Clifton 19: I didn't see her decision to marry Mark as generous so much as foolish. He hated her for agreeing to marry him and treated her accordingly. The only good that came of their marriage was the children, and well, flowers grow from dungheaps. And not all of them were flowers; some of them were their father's offspring in more than just the physical sense.

I really didn't like Tricia at the beginning. I felt pity for her, but kept going "no, no, don't do that, that's stupid!" ...while at the same time realizing that she didn't have the choices, or knowledge of choices, to be able to avoid those mistakes.

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#21 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:33 AM:

Xopher: I disagree on a couple points of your interpretation, particularly "foolish" - mistaken and foolish are not the same thing. She was won over by the loving thoughts he expressed in his letters to her and didn't realize that he would never allow himself to be that way with her. Regardless, I thought her "now" was because she felt at that moment that he desperately needed her.

I also don't think he hated her for agreeing to marry him. Given what we finally learn about him, it seemed to me that Mark hated himself all along, hated pretending to be heterosexual and "normal", probably hated being gay, and was taking all that out on her as a scapegoat. Utterly horrible behavior, but sadly believable for the times.

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#22 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:35 AM:

#20 ::: Xopher Halftongue

Strongly agree, this is what I got.

Also, at the beginning, weren't we to understand there were more than two world views? I'm thinking of the details of her care facility.

It's also possible she was legitimately confused as well as caught in the shifting lines.

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#23 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:37 AM:

P.S. It also struck me later, a while after reading, that when Trish realizes near the end of the book that the world where she says "Yes" to Mark ends up being one where she could have married Bee, although she doesn't think of it, that also means it is one where Mark could eventually have been who he really was. If they had grown up in that world as it evolved, he would not have needed to propose to her as a pretense to be straight.

I'm not sure where that fits into anything or if it does, it just occurred to me as belonging somewhere.

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#24 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:39 AM:

Clifton 21: I said foolish because "marry in haste, repent at leisure" is a well-known rule, and even so sheltered a person as she was should have known better. Yes, he fooled her with his letters (and I thought it was going to turn out that someone else wrote them, Cyrano-style). But she didn't have to accept his false dichotomy; she could have said "don't be silly, we can take some time to think about this." Or maybe she couldn't, but that doesn't make it wise not to.

My thought is that Mark gave her that ultimatum because he was being pressured by that other couple (the ones who decided that she should be Trisha from then on; I don't have the book here) to marry, and that he was really hoping she'd turn him down, and then, at least for a period of years, he'd have the excuse of "I had my heart broken by the only woman I could ever love" and not have to marry.

Then she said yes, and ruined his life. Granted that it was really entirely his fault (not being gay, obviously, but his way of dealing with it); has that ever stopped a man from blaming a woman for his troubles? Especially his wife?

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#25 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:40 AM:

Carol 22: I had the feeling that the details of her care facility fell into two configurations, the one with the lift and the one without. Which one belonged to Trish and which to Pat I have no idea.

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#26 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:43 AM:

Xopher @ 24: I said foolish because "marry in haste, repent at leisure" is a well-known rule

True enough. One of the things I've had to relearn and remind myself of recently is that really there are never just two alternatives in a situation, however much it might feel temporarily that there are.

"I love you, but don't be silly, take a deep breath, and let's talk this over fully" might have yielded yet another very different life.

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#27 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:45 AM:

Clifton @26:

"I love you, but don't be silly, take a deep breath, and let's talk this over fully" might have yielded yet another very different life.


And that rejection of the dichotomy may indeed be a way in which Abi's interpretation in #9 could be realized.

It's not supported by the text, as she notes, and it wouldn't have occurred to me. It is, perhaps, supported by "Against Entropy" - especially the last line.

"Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate."

If you start from the two extremes of lives presented in the text, and iterate between them a few times, you may well wind up with something like our world.

(For that matter, the entire book could be read as a response not just to the sonnet, but to the "do not believe you'll get the chance to choose" line - what would it mean if you could choose what about your life you lose?)

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#28 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:48 AM:

The idea that our world came out of a combination of the two worlds shown doesn't really work for me. The point of there being two worlds, neither ours, is to create uncertainty about the final choice: if one of the timelines WERE ours, then we'd KNOW which way she chose, which would entirely destroy the "Lady-or-Tiger" aspect of the ending.

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#29 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:50 AM:

I like Xopher's idea that Mark actually wanted to be turned down and his hatred grew out of the acceptance. I think Clifton is also right that Mark probably hated himself and the situation he was in. Basically, he was totally messed up.

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#30 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 10:56 AM:

Wow, great discussion. Although while I'm not getting a headache, due to Rot13, I *am* loosing track of whose saying what in between all the cutting & pasting.

But great theories.

I do have one question, Xopher, if you still believe that she doesn't get to choose, then how do you interpret the line I quoted in my above comment ("Mark or Bee. No choice, except that she wasn't choosing only for herself.")?

And on the question of whether or not she was foolish to choose Mark: This is actually my major literary *critique* of the novel: chapters two-five, which show her pre-divided life, are two one-sided. Which is to say, that by the end it seemed really clear which was the right choice: I know I was yelling at the page "Say no! Say no!".

So what I would have suggested (had I read it in draft) would be that Walton actually *quote* one of those letters. It wouldn't have made choosing Mark the right choice (aside from better-world results), obviously, but it would have given us a more gut-level understanding of her choice (that part of her that chose it), to say nothing of why they'd fallen in love at all. I don't think it's supposed to be that she misread the letters entirely, i.e. that they weren't anything special: after all, when she reread them even knowing who and what he was, she still saw the good in them (if not in him). So why not give us *some* sense of the other side and show what she loved about him, and not just refer to it (obviously much weaker)? She wouldn't have to change a word of the later text — it could still be precisely what it was, and *he* could be precisely what she so-quickly found him to be — but I'd like to see a bit of the one thing that made her think differently.

Obviously I have no idea why Walton didn't choose to do this. But I'd speculate that it's hard: it's like having a character who's a great poet or philosopher: it's always more convincing if you describe them thus without quoting them. (Unless you're Nabokov, I guess.) On the other hand, it *is* weaker: in a "show not tell" sense, we're only told. Maybe it would have been impossible to write letters that would justify Patricia's faith in Mark. (Or perhaps every reader would have needed a different letter, and that's why it's better to tell not show.) Still, I think that if such a letter — or at least one chunky quote from one — could have been worked in, it would have been a stronger book.

(Don't get me wrong: it's an amazing novel. I've already pushed it on a lot of friends. I'm looking forward to rereading it. But I do think that it, like anything under heaven, is not quite perfect, even if it's very very very very good: and I think this is one of its flaws.)

I'm curious what everyone else thinks of the suggestion in those last few paragraphs. I rather guess people will disagree, but maybe not...

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#31 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:00 AM:

Like Steve Halter @ 29, I also agree with Xopher's analysis of Mark's proposal and subsequent behavior @ 24.

This reminds me of something in Alison's Bechdel's most excellent Fun Home, which is a memoir about her parents. Her father wooed her mother from afar with brilliant letters. He was gay, but determined to pass as straight. He was an English major, and liked the idea of them being F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda (if my memory serves correctly). Then she actually arrived on a plane to marry him.

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#32 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:03 AM:

Stephen Frug@30:Why Jo (who is well aware of telling vs showing) made the choice to go all in with telling might be an interesting avenue to think about both in relation to the literary choice and the overall discussion of choice.

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#33 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:05 AM:

Steve Halter #32: I'm not sure I see where you're going with that. Care to elaborate?

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#34 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:07 AM:

On the ending: I incline toward abi's view in #9, though I'm not sure the text supports that interpretation more strongly than the others; it seemed to me a very "Lady or the Tiger?" ending.

On Tricia's relationship with Mark:

I can see how Xopher's interpretation is plausible, at least in retrospect -- that is, it's plausible that Mark might later on come to blame Trish for marrying him. But I don't think he wanted her to turn him down at the time he asked her. When I read the line:

"He addressed her as his 'second self' and said that she would redeem him."

-- I said to myself, "OK, he has some problem or perceived problem and he thinks marriage, particularly to Patty, will be a magic bullet to fix it. Maybe he's gay (most likely, given the number of gay characters in Jo Walton's other books, and the Marjorie & Grace incident a few pages earlier), or maybe he's transgendered, or has a pornography addiction or a predilection for frequenting prostitites -- something he thinks that marrying Patty will fix. And it's not going to work, of course." Probably he blamed Tricia when his magic bullet didn't work, but I don't think he wanted her to turn him down when he asked her.

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#35 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:09 AM:

Stephen: I think your observation is a good and interesting one. Especially given that we are talking about the nature of choices and their effects. It occurred to me that there could be a deeply interwoven relationship between the choices that are made and the nature of the telling of the story itself. As you mention, the first chapters are telling us the predivided story and then we see a choice presented and the outcomes for a bifurcated universe. Then, at the end we merge and give the reader a choice. So, many choices to think about and there are probably reasons underlying each of them that are worth talking about.

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#36 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:11 AM:

I agree with Xopher -- it doesn't seem as though Patricia's choices could possibly be causative of the changes in the greater world, beyond the effect on her own circle (which would obviously increase the differences between the two worlds over the generations, but wouldn't, as I see it, immediately extend to things like whether the Kennedys were shot). I saw the choosing that was not only for herself as meaning primarily that she would have to decide which of her children existed.

But I am starting to think that maybe Jo did intend Patricia's choice to be causative, which I am not sure I like. I will have to read the book again and see (both whether that reading makes sense, and whether I like it).

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Previously rot-13'd comments now bold
Original comment here
—Idumea Arbacoochee, Thread Gardener

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:12 AM:

I'm sorry I didn't think of a spoiler thread sooner. Do we want one now, or is it too late? Or should I turn this into a spoiler thread (post warnings) and rotate the comments the rest of the way? Tell me what I should do, for I am short of sleep and not at all decisive.

Also, I don't think it's a case of actual causation. I think that in a book like this one, the universe is allowed to work by the rules of poetry. I think that in it, association and symbolism, and yes, even rhythm, rhyme, and music, affect the course of history as much as agency and power, which follow the rules of prose.

And I think writing a book that works both ways, as poetry and as prose, is a pretty damn neat achievement.

But I am drastically underslept, and everything is like a dream to me right now. I could well have parted company with objective reality in this.

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Nothing here was ROT-13'd, but I think this comment needed to be ported over along with the others.
Original comment here
—Idumea Arbacoochee, Thread Gardener

#38 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:13 AM:

OK, I've ported everything over. The discussion can now continue here in plaintext.

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:23 AM:

David Goldfarb @28:
The point of there being two worlds, neither ours, is to create uncertainty about the final choice: if one of the timelines WERE ours, then we'd KNOW which way she chose, which would entirely destroy the "Lady-or-Tiger" aspect of the ending.

My point was that, much like Heraklitus' traveler, she can't make the same choice as either of the first two universes. Because she made those choices in ignorance. But now she knows what the consequences of each are, so whether she says yes or no, it's not going to be the same.

Which leaves open the possibility that not-the-same is our universe.

I'm perfectly happy to admit this is as more "wouldn't it be interesting if" than "this is what Jo meant." But the gifts of the book for me include weird, off the wall notions as well as the pleasure of reading it and discussing it.

#40 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:36 AM:

Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads @38: Thank you for the work of porting everything.

#41 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 11:36 AM:

abi@37:Yes, poetry in prose form is a very good way to put it. And @39 I agree that each revisitation brings forth different ideas--iteration in action.

#42 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 12:27 PM:

Thank you, abi, for all the work this represents. I can Rot13 on the laptop but not on my phone, so this makes it a lot easier for me.

#43 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 12:37 PM:

Thank you so much for your loving care, dear Idumea.

#44 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 01:11 PM:

Let me preface this by saying that sometimes I miss the obvious in reading, or think something is obvious when it isn't (or isn't meant to be)*.

I didn't read the ending as (necessarily) meaning that Patricia did come to a conclusion about which world to choose, or that even if she did decide it would actually collapse things back down to that world (or to ours/some other, as abi notes). I was puzzled in retrospect by the Sophie's Choice comment, because I *didn't* see Patricia making the choice. Lady or the Tiger time, I suppose, except that that story supposes that the prisoner does make a decision after the story ends, and I'm not convinced that Patricia does.

*For example, I've always been a bit puzzled by the canonical "unreliable narrator" reading of The Turn of the Screw. I read it as a straightforward ghost story, end of discussion. (I did have the sense not to admit this in the college literature class for which I read the book.)

#45 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 01:31 PM:

Abi@37:
Treating the poetic truth as reality is also one of the hallmarks of magical realism. Your thought suggests that another way to look at My Real Children might be as two parallel realistic narratives connected by an implied magical realist narrative frame, rather than in a science fictional framework. (Do I get to use "interstitial" here?)

I love having Making Light as a place where we can have this sort of discussion. Honestly it makes me feel as though Jo wrote the book as a special gift to us.

#46 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 01:45 PM:

Emotional intensity:
The parts which made me cry (and are doing so right now, damnit) were just before the ending as Patricia tries to reconcile her two lives, and also the part when Pat wishes to Bee that she will forget that she won't be able to return to Florence, and when her suicide attempt fails after Bee's death. Trish had an awful life in many ways, but it didn't grab me by the heartstrings the way Pat's loss did.

#47 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 05:27 PM:

Thanks to Clifton I was able to catch up last night, and now thanks to abi I won't get behind again.

Xopher @25(this thread) - It looks pretty clear to me on page 12 that the lift is in Pat's world.

The split between the worlds does make more poetic than logical sense, though Trish's peace advocacy and general political involvement is earlier and deeper than Pat's. It doesn't seem like enough to cause that much difference by the 1960's.

I agree with those who think that at the end Patricia chooses Trish's world, because she does value the peace of the world over her own happiness. I am left longing for Pat and Bee to be able to have their lives together in Trish's world. And there is no way to resolve the dilemma of the choice of children.

And in this real world we share, we will never know where the choices we didn't make would have led. All we can do is the best we can with the world we have. If Jo has led us to reflect on our own choices, past and future, may we do as well as Patricia did in both of her lives.

#48 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 05:34 PM:

Thanks very much to Abi for porting all this over. And for the thread.

On the issue of the ending, I like all the ideas floating around, although it just further convinces me that the ending is deliberately open. Does anyone disagree with that? (I'd love to hear a counter-case.) Or do we have consensus that the ambiguity of the ending is (as far as we can tell) deliberate and purposeful?

Not strictly about the ending, but about the arc of the story: one thing that I liked about the novel is how Trish's life wasn't total misery. Which is to say, her marriage to Mark was horrific. But in the latter half of the story she managed to make a real life for herself, and got to a place where it seemed she had a good life. Not as good as she'd had with Bee, sure. But I liked the fact that both lives felt complex, with good & bad parts, and (hence) very real.

#49 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 06:11 PM:

In my own reading, I was immediately convinced that Patricia chooses Trish's world. Trish, the antiwar activist, would choose it. Pat, the woman who loved the world and the people in it, would choose it. I think even Bee, given the choice between a loving family and a better, safer world for herself, would choose it. A better world for everyone is more important, given the way Pat and Trish and Bee live their lives, than a better world for Patricia alone.

The other half of what I've been thinking is that it's not at all clear that Pat's life is a better life than Trish's. Certainly Trish is miserable in her marriage, and in the early chapters after the split, I was hating Mark hard and waiting for Tricia's chapters to end so I could see the awesome things Pat was doing. But Pat's intense joys, in her work, in her love for Florence, in her love for Bee and Michael and their family, are countered later in life by equally intense sufferings. Pat first takes care of Bee after her injury from a terrorist bomb, and then sees both Michael and Bee through their deaths from post-nuclear cancers that would not have happened / do not happen in Trish's world.

Pat arrives at the nursing home suicidal with grief; her children have saved her life, but she's lost her caretaker and her love. Trish arrives at the nursing home reluctantly -- she's been able to take care of herself up to this point with the help of found family, grandchildren and Internet access.

So in the last years of their separate lives, Pat suffers and Trish finds fulfillment, in a neat reversal of Pat's earlier fulfillment and Trish's earlier suffering.

One life isn't better than the other -- except in the effects of war. I'm sure, in my own heart, that Patricia chooses Trish. What happens then, as Patricia's life story iterates again? I don't think I quite need to know. The choice is all.

#50 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 06:49 PM:

Yes, I'm sure the ending is left deliberately open. In fact I'm not sure Patricia makes a single choice at all: it's possible Trish would've chosen Pat and Pat, Trish.

The fact that both worlds were different from our world suggested to me that maybe everyone has their own sets of alternate timelines. Maybe Patricia's mother lived in bifurcated histories as well.

Heck, maybe everyone does. It's a venerable science fiction idea -- I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone of that amazing montage sequence at the end of "River's Choice", the season 6 finale of Firefly, where Simon has been dead and not dead for the whole episode, and after River figures out how to resolve it, we see all the flashes of the crew's different lives and different ships and the war both won and lost. Damn, I still get chills just thinking about that.

#51 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 06:57 PM:

Evan, I have two questions. The first one is, "But how did River solve it?" The second one is, "What choice do I have to make to get the media from your timeline?"

#52 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 09:52 PM:

Rymenhild #49: I find your argument about what Patricia would choose very convincing. And I find your argument about the relative qualities of their lives quite interesting, and pretty convincing. But what's interesting is that it's not how things are portrayed in the final chapter of My Real Chilren: she portrays things as a pretty stark choice, better life or better world. You capture well (better than I did above, though I was trying at the same thing) the complexities of it.

So why doesn't the final chapter reflect this? Here I'm not sure. Maybe the text doesn't understand (so to speak) its own complexity: that the final chapter, so to speak, misunderstands the novel as written. Or maybe it does, but we're supposed to take it as a realistic take on how a person would look back on their own life: the love stands out, and the rest fades, in evaluation. (I'd prefer the latter to the former, since it's better to read texts as totally flawless and self-understanding: but, of course, they aren't always. Authors misinterpret their own text, and the texts reflect it.) Or maybe I myself am just misreading the final chapter. (Always very possible.)

Evan #50: "...that amazing montage sequence at the end of "River's Choice", the season 6 finale of Firefly..." Swoon. And sigh.

#53 ::: Jody Cahn ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 02:23 AM:

Thanks so much for this thread. Especially thanks for Abi's suggestion … because otherwise, I didn't see any Lady or Tiger choice it all: it seemed really obvious to me that both Trish and Pat would choose Trish's world, for the world. and so I found the ending disappointing, after loving the rest. so now I feel a lot better about the ending (not so thrilled about the state of my imagination/interpretive skills these days, but that's life). Relatedly, I was extremely disappointed that Pat's children were so selfish and/or thoughtless as to save her. I had thought better of them. Suicide was clearly a rational — the rational ?? — choice for her at that point. None of Trish's children had ever done anything quite so awful, imo. obviously, of course, though, that would have made a mess of the novel.

#54 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 03:57 AM:

Well, think of it from the childrens' point of view: they just lost one of their mothers -- and they should step back and let the other one go too? Not save her if they possibly could? Saving her doesn't make them selfish or thoughtless, imo, it makes them flesh and blood human beings, rather than marble statues. (Really, if anyone's being awful there, it's Pat.)

I tend to agree with those who resolve the ending choice in favor of Trish's world: Patricia is portrayed as someone who takes responsibility, and who would choose the better world. (And I think that's something women in general are socialized to do, both in our culture and hers: sacrifice themselves for others.) But how can you not feel the dilemma? Give up Florence, give up the Renaissance, give up a lifetime of love...and consign three children to nonexistence. To me that ending cuts harder than any since the end of Farthing.

#55 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 07:01 AM:

There is, btw, both a Chrome extension and a Firefox add-on that'll auto-Rot13 text for you (and de-Rot13 it, more to the point), once you highlight it. It's awfully handy.

(I'm using LeetKey as my Firefox add-on, but there's at least one other one around.)

Which is not to say spoiler threads aren't nifty, since they are. Just, you know. More info.

#56 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 08:10 AM:

Unrelated to the ending:

Rereading the first chapter, after finishing the whole book, I saw Patricia's conversation with the orderlies in a new light.

If you like reading wish-fulfillment alt-fiction where Alan Turing lived, try "The Day Alan Turing Came Out".

Jo Walton's webpage about the book, including the FAQ:


Q. What did Patricia do that changed the world?

A. Little things.

#57 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 01:30 PM:

Rymenhild, I really appreciate your comments on the counterpoint, if I can call it that, between the later course of Pat and Trish's lives. I had missed a lot of the complexity to it which you bring out.

Don't most of us feel in the end that "It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all"?

Sumana: Thanks for the mention of the orderlies, which I will read more closely next time, and also the FAQ link, which led me to: Jo's report on Florence. I just read large chunks of the latter out loud to my family.

I'm letting other people's observations sink in a bit before I reread; the next time through, I want to go slower and get more of the depth, and try to see more of what other readers got as well as my own initial perspective, rather than gulping the book ravenously.

#58 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 02:47 PM:

It looked to me like Patricia was choosing for herself, not for the world as a whole. (Perhaps I only saw it that way because of rereading "Woman on the Edge of Time" so recently, which seems to work in the other direction.) There are different timelines, and Patricia's choices make her live in one or another. Most people can only look back and see one timeline, the result of all their choices to that point, but Patricia's dementia means she can see several. (She still can't see the one where she died in childbirth at 30, or any of those with extensive nuclear bombing.) But a world can exist when she's not in it, not remembering it.

#59 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 03:57 PM:

Sumana Harihareswara@56:In Chapter 11 Real: Pat 1957-1964, page 105 of the hardcover, Pat and Bee are discussing artificial insemination and have the following exchange:
"How could we possibly ask somebody?" Pat asked, then saw the answer at once. "One of our homosexual friends?"

"Precisely," Bee said. "Alan would do it, or Piers. But from what I can find out we'd need somebody who knows the procedure, and they're only doing it for infertile couples."

I harbor hopes that the Alan is Alan Turing and that he survived in that timeline.

#60 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 07:14 PM:

Steve Halter @59 - He does survive in that timeline. There's a reference in chapter 15 to Pat and Bee's friend, Alan Turing, discussing a chess-playing computer on the BBC. That doesn't prove that he was the Alan of chapter 11 but makes it possible.

#61 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 08:26 PM:

Anne Sheller@60:Thanks! That sentence wasn't in my version and I'm quite glad it made it in. Now I'm going to have to read through my hardcover tonight and look for other differences. (Not a bad thing at all.)

#62 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 08:29 PM:

Steve Halter #61: Can't say I envy you. Amongst all the possible versions of Patricia's life to have different versions of the text floating around in one's head too would seem to be to be too much. But maybe you feel differently. (Maybe only in some worlds you do.)

#63 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 10:47 PM:

Stephen Frug@62:The texts are fairly close from what I see so far with an occasional diamond of difference.

#64 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2014, 02:20 AM:

After reading the first dozen or so posts of this thread I've decided it's too spoilery for me to stick around, but I do want to express how much I enjoyed Idumea's post#1 :-)

#65 ::: jenphalian ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2014, 09:57 AM:

This thread was lovely; it was exactly the panel discussion I've been yearning to listen to since I wept over the book.

abi@9: I love your idea of how our world may relate to the worlds of the book. Yes.

For myself, I think the ambiguity is deliberate, between her choices. I think she would choose the better world and worse life but ending the story at that moment of choice is what makes the book so great (to borrow a phrase), allowing so much discussion and reflection. I also wondered, what if Patricia has gotten up to the point of making the choice many times before, and forgotten or become VC? Or that perhaps her choice can really only be made as she's dying.

Whatever her choices are, I found Patricia so deeply satisfying as a protagonist I can barely stand it.

#66 ::: john, who is incognito and definitely not at work ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2014, 12:54 PM:

I finished this book this morning and loved it. This weekend I also rewatched the horror film Gur Pnova va gur Jbbqf (rot13'd because even mentioning the title in this context is a spoiler) and am finding lots of food for thought in comparing the two.

For the book, I feel that choosing Tricia's timeline is the right thing to do, even if it doesn't result in exactly the same timeline we saw earlier; in the film I am--completely selfishly--leaning more towards a resentful defiance. I recognize that this makes no sense given the context and given that defiance's results.

So many philosophical questions spring up, not least about the greater good, the social contract, how far one's obligations extend to strangers the world over.... It reminds me of that thought experiment about whether to throw the switch to kill one person but save a group: what if you found that you were actually in that situation and not by happenstance, but that someone had set up the experiment and had chosen you to be subjected to it? Should that have any effect at all on the choice made?

If nothing else, it's good to realize that set of inconsistent beliefs, rather than carry on with the cognitive dissonance. ^__^

At any rate, thanks, Jo. I loved the novel.

#67 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2014, 02:33 PM:

It strikes me that this is the same kind of power that Mor has in Among Others, that when it has been invoked, causality and history has changed too to make the world consistent. This fits with Abi's theory that this results in our world, or a close relation of it.

More broadly it calls out the confabulations that we all live within, where our past is perpetually recreated by our imperfect remembering of it, renarrating each point to tell our story better for ourselves.

#68 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2014, 02:36 PM:

It strikes me that this is the same kind of power that Mor has in Among Others, that when it has been invoked, causality and history has changed too to make the world consistent. This fits with Abi's theory that this results in our world, or a close relation of it.

More broadly it calls out the confabulations that we all live within, where our past is perpetually recreated by our imperfect remembering of it, renarrating each point to tell our story better for ourselves.

#69 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2014, 04:05 PM:

For me, one of the important things about Among Others is that it indicates that it is not only great events and important people that can change the world.

#70 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2014, 01:51 PM:

Jody Cahn @53 - It's not Pat's children being "selfish and/or thoughtless". It's Jinny coming upon an emergency situation right after losing Bee. Philip argues later that she should have let Pat go, and as far as I know Flora never states her opinion on the matter.

#71 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2014, 06:48 PM:

This seemed relevant:


https://medium.com/the-nib/know-your-double-7f7b029ae71e

#72 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2014, 08:00 PM:

Well, in addition to My Real Children, a few days ago BBC America broadcast the ST:TNG episode where Picard gets to see what his live would have been like had he not gotten into a lethal (mod Star Trek medical technology) bar brawl in his youth (and continued to be the person who made low-risk choices). He winds up being pretty much a loser; still in Starfleet, but a lowly lieutenant reporting to LaForge.

I've come to realize that I'm that guy. Instead of writing stories and submitting them and writing more stories and submitting them, I more or less gave up writing fiction and have only ever submitted two stories. (The notes on at least one of them should have encouraged me to write more, but did not.) Instead, I spent 20-30 years putting all that creative energy into scenarios for roleplaying games. My geopolitical Celtic fantasy world was quite well developed, but didn't lead to anything publishable.

But there are earlier points of divergence. The earliest, and the most like the My Real Children case, is when I was six (or so), and my mother, seeing me dance around the living room to classical music, asked if I wanted dance lessons. I said no, and was never given another chance.

I wonder if, in the world where I said yes, I turned out to be a significant balletic talent. Did I go off to New York to the School of American Ballet, and ultimately join the NYCB? Did I become friends with the few-months-younger Robert LaFosse, or did we hate each other? Did I retire years ago like he did, or did I die of AIDS in 1985 (which would certainly explain why I don't remember that lifetime!).

Actually if I'd begun dancing on a daily basis at age six, there are plenty of scenarios where I died of AIDS, since being fat and out of shape kept me out of the sexual whirl of the 1970s (well, that and being weird and fannish...even by the mid-80s, gays were more welcome in fandom than geeks were in the gay community). Most of my gay friends from that time are dead. Chances go up dramatically if I went to New York, but lots of my friends who died stayed in East Lansing, and Robert LaFosse, though gay and by no means chaste, never got sick.

If I'd taken a Computer Science course my freshman year, instead of waiting to my senior year, I might have changed my major, and had a much more lucrative career than I did with this lifetime's major of Linguistics.

At any rate, this is the bad timeline. In the good one, Al Gore was elected President in 2000, and 9/11 never happened. We may have attacked Afghanistan (after tracing the failed attack), but not Iraq. Saddam Hussein remained in power until the Arab Spring, when he was toppled.

Actually, in the good timeline Jimmy Carter was re-elected in 1980, and succeeded by Walter Mondale in 1984. Both of them ensured that plenty of funding went to AIDS research right away, and the equivalent of Truvada was developed by 1990, and a protective vaccine by 2000.

Would I choose a life where I died young to bring that one about? You bet.

#73 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 08:49 AM:

One of the things that the book was about, I think, is the choices that women face throughout their lives, choices that they make over and over again, sometimes one way, and sometimes another. We are always choosing between ourselves and someone else. Our own life, or the life of our spouse, our children, or even other people. Always the choice between one's own destiny and someone else's. And there isn't a good choice, there, usually, there is only choice. And _My Real Children_ highlights and teases out some of the complexities of those choices. We are trained to choose other people's destinies over our own, and when we choose our own destiny, sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn't. And the choices are complicated, and sometimes choosing someone else is choosing ourselves. And sometimes it isn't.

#74 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 11:24 AM:

Xopher Halftongue @72: ST:TNG episode where Picard gets to see what his live would have been like had he not gotten into a lethal (mod Star Trek medical technology) bar brawl in his youth

???

Episode title, anyone? I recently did a rewatch, and I seem to have missed that one.

#75 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 11:32 AM:

And then there are the choices of the people around us. Had my mother actually encouraged and supported my artistic ambitions (or had I been more bullheaded about them), I could be doing this kind of stuff now. (Todd was a high school classmate of mine.)

Lydy: Actually, men face those choices, too. That we don't think in those terms, and that their choices focus on their own lives by default and we take that as a given—well.

#76 ::: john, who is incognito and definitely not at work ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 11:53 AM:

Jacque: that's Tapestry, Season 6 episode 15.

#77 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 11:55 AM:

@Jacque 74:

The episode is Tapestry.

#78 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 02:07 PM:

Xopher@72:Trying to think of turning points in your life is an interesting exercise. Of course, many of the points might be unobserved by you yourself. For example, by not crossing a street, you didn't get hit by a bus--that sort of thing.

Then, there are the set of things that could have radically changed things but were never really there as choices. For example, I could have embraced the Dark Side and forced myself to become an investment banker. That would have been a radically different life but was not really ever even a considered option.
As in MRC, it seems like it is those choices that are balanced on the edge of a knife that are the ones most likely to make a noticeable (to the chooser) difference.

#79 ::: Ranting Nerd ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2014, 10:55 PM:

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned "Greater Than Gods", the C.L. Moore story from 1939. It took me a few hours to find it the day after I finished My Real Children. The "choice of two paths" is similar, but forward-facing (protagonist chooses between two futures, not pasts), but the main character breaks out of the binary choice at the very end.

I guess I was hoping for a similar "I only get two choices? screw that, I'm doing something different" kind of resolution. I loved the rest of the book so much, I was frustrated by the very ending -- not because of the lack of resolution so much as the corner that Pat/Trish seemed to be forced into.

#80 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 11:11 AM:

Xopher -- it's not to late to make a difference and change the world. I gave up writing for years and then started again. You can too. Also, ephemeral art like cooking and ice sculpture and RPGs are art too, and worthwhile in their own right.

#81 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 11:39 AM:

Jo's right, Xopher.

And in that vein, I just emailed a cello teacher about lessons in the fall. It's too late for me to be Yo-Yo Ma, or even Stephen Maturin, but if I enjoy it, it could be a turning point in its own way. If not, then I am broader for the experience.

#82 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 12:03 PM:

@#75 Jacque:

I think that men do, indeed, make choices that affect their own lives and the lives of others, but in part because of the way they are trained to think about things, and in part because usually they are the more economically powerful, the choices they make tend to be of a different nature. There is usually a less sacrificial element. Generally, they are giving less up, and the choices are not as geared towards someone else. They also have a greater tendency/capacity to choose for other people, to make choices for their wives and children in ways that their wives do not. This is changing, but for the time frame in which Patricia is making many of these choices, it is very much a part of a woman's fate, always to be weighing her own desires against the needs of others, in ways that men rarely did. I like this book, in part, because it brings out how very important and transformative these choices are. We tend to notice the men who make the "big" decisions, and fail to notice all the work that goes into making it possible for them to make these "big" decisions.

#83 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2014, 11:52 PM:

My father decided when he was in prison camp during WWII that if he got out, one of the things he would do was take piano lessons. He did. He didn't get very far, but he gave it a try. I don't believe he regretted the effort.

#84 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2014, 01:27 AM:

Jo 80: I read this, after taking a day's break from this thread after writing mine, and was at a loss for what to say at first (and second). I've finally figured it out.

Thank you. Many times.

abi 81: Thank you too.

#85 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2014, 11:28 AM:

My response to Xopher's sunny "good timelines" is to say yes, and also, if only Obama had been elected in 2008, we would have shut down Guantanamo, we wouldn't be spying on the entire world's phone calls and emails, and we wouldn't be sending lethal flying robots to murder overseas wedding parties.

#86 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2014, 06:01 PM:

No guarantees of anything, Patrick. We certainly would have had a better chance at the outcomes I projected from the events I changed. And, in fact, I'd contend that we had a better shot at the outcomes you project with Obama than with McCain. A better dieroll can still lose. Plus we'd probably be fighting a couple more wars, because as someone told me at the time, his foreign policy was basically "permanent war with everybody."

#87 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2014, 06:03 PM:

I dream of a better world.

When I dream of a better world in the future, it's to work toward bringing it about.

When I dream of a better world in the past, it's to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

And to assign blame. That's important too (in politics, especially in an election year).

#88 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2014, 08:40 PM:

I think of Lifelode, Among Others, and My Real Children as a thematic trilogy. The magic gets less and less outwardly dramatic from book to book, and the challenges the protagonists face are more and more solidly examples of what we ourselves face in our daily lives. But in each book someone has the power to save the world. Even if she is old, dying, and very confused in a nursing home.

We have that power too, these books say to me. Each of us can save the world, in our ordinary lives, by our ordinary actions.

My heart believes it. Not so much my head, which shows me the absurdly small effect any action of mine can possibly have. But still: if all I can save is a tiny part, for a little time, better that than nothing.

#89 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2014, 01:11 AM:

Something I thought about today: moonbases. Both Pat's world and Trish's world have a moonbase. One is military, bristling with nuclear death, and one is peaceful and scientific...but our world has none, nor will have for the foreseeable future. That makes it hard for me to think of our timeline as any sort of combination of theirs.

(Incidentally, did anyone notice that Doug dies of AIDS in Trish's timeline, years after Pat's has a cure? I wonder how that one came about.)

#90 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2014, 04:12 AM:

Yarrow @88: If I can ease one life the aching. What we do matters to the starfish we throw back into the sea. When I have a hard time believing that my actions can make a difference (which is often), I try to remember the times when a kind word or an unexpected show of generosity meant the world to me.

This is such a graceful book. I'm hard-pressed to think of others that have lingered in my mind in this way.

#91 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2014, 11:10 AM:

David Goldfarb @89:

In the Trish timeline it's mentioned in about 1956 that (IIRC) Europe and Russia are both in space, so the divergence in space technology is earlier than just the moonbases.

For both timelines to be significantly further ahead in that way, something has to have diverged at least as early as the end of WWII. It's presumably something common to both timelines before the split (e.g. Patricia's existence from the beginning makes a difference from our world). However, Patricia is so little interested in current events in her student days that -- being constrained by her point of view -- it's very hard to work out what it might be, or how early there was any public divergence.

#92 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2014, 12:03 PM:

abi at 81, congratulations.

The pastor at a church I visit speaks often about how we can be the best version of ourselves. My life was broadened and enriched when I decided to study ceramics/pottery/sculpture, and I am truly glad for having done it. I learned a lot and for a while was part of an awesome community. It is pretty much irrelevant that I am not an especially talented ceramacist.

#93 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2014, 01:51 AM:

Thanks for the link, Pendrift. I hadn't seen that poem before.

Yes, the book does stay in the mind!

#94 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2014, 02:28 AM:

David Goldfarb @89 I noticed that AIDS had a cure in the 'wrong' timeline. There are a lot of bits in the timelines where due to circumstances, both the good and the bad from the other timeline would be eliminated. Each has their own good, and their own bad, but they're not mixable.

#95 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 02:57 AM:

I’m still pretty early in the book, but I’ve been wondering about where the timelines diverge from our own. The earliest I’ve been able to find so far:

  • Tricia, Chapter 10: In 1956, the BBC is reporting the first photographs of the dark side of the moon. In real history, this was the Soviet Luna 3 mission in 1959. I don’t know what Patricia could have done to move that up three years.
  • Pat, Chapter 11: In 1962, Pat and Bee are discussion artificial insemination. or having a male friend impregnate them. Bee suggests ”Alan would do it, or Piers.” If that’s Alan Turning (who Pat met earlier in the book), he’s still alive eight years after he died in our history. That could easily be due to Pat’s friendship.
Anyone find anything earlier?

#96 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 10:33 AM:

eric, are you calling the timeline where Pat has a happy life and doesn't marry an abusive loser the "wrong" timeline? I know bad things happen in that timeline, but bad things happen in both.

I think it would be clearer to call them the Pat timeline and the Trish timeline. I had to think hard and remember that Trish had a son who died of AIDS to figure out which timeline was the "wrong" one.

#97 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 01:23 PM:

Xopher: I think eric means the "wrong" timeline in terms of how the personal events in Pat/Trish's timeline would have been affected by those changes in the world's events. For instance, the AIDS cure in Pat's timeline could have saved Doug had it been in Trish's timeline, and the marriage equality in Trish's timeline couldn't help Pat and Bee.

#98 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 01:29 PM:

P.S. Avram @ #95: You mean Alan Turing. (Sorry about the correction, it feels a bit compulsive.)

It occurred to me previously that it's weird for Turing living longer to have the consequence that either computers end up much less advanced in Pat's world or that Pat is much less interested in using them compared to Trish (considering that her friend is an eminent theorist of computers.)

#99 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 03:00 PM:

Wait, there’s a Pat-timeline divergence earlier than the mention of Turing: Chapter 9 (Pat 1952–1957) mentions Britain signing the Treay of Rome in 1957, which didn’t happen in our timeline. The UK didn’t join the EEC (which became the EU) till 1973.

That’s still later than Turing’s real-world death in 1954, but mentioned earlier in the book.

#100 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 04:08 PM:

Xopher, It's the local, relative wrong timeline in terms of the intersection between personal needs and developments in the other one.

#101 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 05:19 PM:

Ah, I get it. Sorry.

#102 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 10:07 PM:

Answering one question that was left hanging: to me, not including a sample letter from Mark is a much better choice, because such a letter would get results from the readers as variable as the assessments of Patricia/Pat/Trish's character and choice in this thread. In theory such a letter could tell us a lot about Patricia because it means so much to her; in practice, I don't think even English, with its huge vocabulary, has words that would make enough readers see what she saw in him. (There are words great enough to inspire multitudes -- but those are different from words that will open one specific person's heart.) The counter to "show, don't tell" is that some things are better off not shown; the offstage horror can be filled in by the reader's imagination, instead of "why's he scared of that?!? in response to a description.

I read this just after rereading Haldeman's "Counterpoint" (which I hadn't realized first appeared in Orbit), which is clockwork rather than the dual tapestry of MRC but gave an interesting color.

Does anyone else remember Sliding Doors (film starring Gwyneth Paltrow)? Also more mechanical (and very short-term), but something else that gave interesting reflections as I read MRC.

A plea to Idumea et al: did the database leak (or get emended) between my first two summonings of this thread, or was I just hallucinating Jo saying she wished Mike could have read MRC? I've searched up and down repeatedly, refreshing and re-summoning in a different browser, and can't find "Mike" anywhere.

postscript on the unincluded letters: I'm reminded of Ricardo Montalban's appearance on the Smothers Brothers; he translated "You Are My Sunshine" into the language a Spaniard would have used, leaving Tommy bawling at the hyperemotionality of the new text. That was played for laughs, but it has a slug of truth (as good comedy must): the new language wasn't better or worse than the original lyrics, it just wouldn't go to the hearts of the same people.

#103 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 10:13 PM:

PPS: Idumea et al, Never Mind; I was flipping between spoiler and non-spoiler threads and lost track of which one I was in.

#104 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2014, 10:16 PM:

Rats, and I just went and found it for you. Oh well.

#105 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2014, 04:03 AM:

Clifton @23, Patricia says that marriage equality was established in the 1980s in the Trish timeline. Mark proposes to her in 1949, and would have had no reason to believe that homosexuality was going to become more socially acceptable.

Xopher @24, I assumed that he gave her that ultimatum because he met a cute guy (maybe even more than just met), then panicked and decided to commit to marriage to (ahem) set himself straight.

Eric @94, not only did AIDS have a cure in the Pat timeline, but the conversation she and Bee have about it takes place in 1980! (In our history, AIDS — or ”GRID” — wouldn’t even be identified as an epidemic until ’82.)

#106 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2014, 05:47 PM:

I'm late to the party - I just got My Real Children from the library yesterday, and devoured it in a few hours - but I had some thoughts from the perspective of someone just started out on life's journey and faced with upcoming obviously-trajectory-changing choices.

Very good book; it gave me that distinct emotional hangover that reading about real people often does. Thank you, Jo Walton, for writing it, and everyone here, for discussing it in ML's usual fascinating way.

#107 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2014, 07:54 PM:

estelendur, #106: Off-topic -- I sent you a private message on DW. If you haven't seen it, you might want to check your messages.

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