Fatherhood is the Engine that Drives Dust

***MINOR STORY SPOILERS AHEAD***

I’ve written a bit on the technological backbone of Dust and the evolution of technology that enables the story, but I haven’t yet written much on what Dust is really about. The story for Dust came to me when I asked myself one question:

What would society be like if you were only allowed to have one child?

Growing up, I never really envisioned myself as much of a family man.  I had no dreams or aspirations of having kids and having a family.  I never thought about it.  I thought a helluva lot more about getting a chance to walk on alien worlds and travelling through the stars then I ever did about family.  My own experiences with my parents were different  with a biological father who abandoned my mother and I when I was 2 years old and an adoptive father with his own struggles.

When my wife and I first discussed having kids, I didn’t really have an answer to how many children I wanted.  My wife, seeing me as the responsible-yet-calculating engineer that I was, figured I would be a solid provider for the family, but I would probably be fairly distant with the kids.  I was awkward around other people’s kids, not really able to interact with them in a way that suggested I would be any good with my own kids.

When my firstborn arrived, my change in perspective was profound. Yes, I felt naturally protective which is no surprise.  Not only did I fulfill my obligation to take care and provide for my girls, but I also played with them.  I became involved.  I help with their development.  I read them stories every night, take them to movies and sporting events, and try to teach them about the world around them.  I love them.

There is a 1988 apocalyptic movie, The Seventh Sign, that ultimately asks a young mother if she will die to save the soul of her newborn baby and in so doing she saves the world.  That willingness to give your life for your child is a cliched statement, but the roots of that cliche come from absolute truth.

Now back to the question I asked myself, what would society be like if you could only have one child?  How protective would you be of that child?  What would you think of someone who clearly didn’t love their child?  What would you do if you lost your child?

This brings us to the two main characters – Nick and Max – and their respective relationships.

Nick is a young man whose relationship with his father is broken.  Nick has been raised a good Catholic boy; he is well versed on what is right and what is wrong in the eyes of the Church and the government of the Republic.  He understands that families are limited to one child because of rampant poverty because humanity cannot support the size of the current population.  He understands that everyone has a moral and legal obligation to conserve so that everyone may have at least a small piece of the pie.

In reality, it’s not quite that easy to draw the lines between right and wrong.  A year before the events of the novel, Nick stumbled on some information about his father’s job that opened his eyes and set him down a path that would ultimately lead to Nick leaving home in the middle of the night, setting out to making a life of his own.

Admittedly, Nick’s father is a one-dimensional, bit character; he is the boogeyman who haunts Nick’s dreams.  He is the aloof, distant father who puts career and wealth above family.  His pursuit of the brass ring leads him down a path that Nick finds utterly repugnant.  In the months following Nick’s initial discovery, his relationship with his father sours quickly.  Arguments between the two of them are frequent and Nick’s father withdraws from his son as he learns that their values are in conflict.  While his father is on a business trip, Nick tries to run away for the first time, but his mother talks him out of it.  She holds the family together with every ounce of her strength.  She knows what is at stake and she fights to keep them together.  Ultimately, she cannot stop her son from setting off on his own path.

When Nick’s vindictive father learns that Nick has run off, he strips away all of Nick’s money.  This is what brings Nick to Max and sets into motion a series of events that will dramatically alter both of their lives.  Max lost his only child ten years prior  to meeting Nick.  His days and nights are haunted by the memories of the accident that took her life.  Max knows what he lost and that makes him a little more receptive to taking on a young man who has no real experience and no real place to turn.  It makes him a little more patient with a rebellious kid whose only direction has been provided by the loathing he feels for his father.

It is this connection that propels Nick and Max through the events of the story.  On the backwater colony of Dust, both men will face the consequences of their failed relationships.  Both men will be pushed to the brink of their capabilities until they are forced to come face-to-face with their troubled pasts.

Lego Friends Will Not Force Your Daughter into a Life of Domestic Servitude

Lego Friends is a new line of Lego toys introduced this year aimed at girls.  Google it  and on the first page of search results is a link to an article about a petition decries the creation of these toys because of how they are marketed and targeted at little girls.  The article starts with a great quote from a little girl on how she and her friends like to play:

“Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses, some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?” she asked.

What they say next, really caught my eye:

“But, after Sarah heard about LEGO Friends — shapely mini-figures that lock into pink, purple and pastel green settings, such as a dream house, a splash pool and a beauty shop — she posted the video on Facebook fan pages for Princess Free Zone and Pigtail Pals, companies that sell only gender-neutral products and stand up for girl’s rights.” (emphasis mine)

I read this statement and the desire for “gender neutral products” and can’t help but wonder if we’re trying to win a cultural battle against gender stereotypes by losing the war.  I am the father of three little girls and I’ve written before about how I don’t want my girls to be forced into society’s niche for girls and they should have the freedom to play with whatever they want.  That doesn’t mean that there’s something inherently wrong with buying something that is “made for girls” or that it’s bad for a product to be “designed for girls.”  Gender equality  does not equal gender neutrality.

I don’t want my girls to ignore that they are in fact girls.  I want them to  have the same opportunities as any other kid, boy or girl, but that doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with things designed specifically for their preferences.  Let me put it another way: I’m left-handed and I love it when I find products made for left-handed people.  There are times when I have to hand the scissors to my right-handed wife so that she could cut something.  I’ve learned to hate spiral notebooks because of having to rest my wrist on the spiral.  If I could shop in a Leftorium, I would.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from my wife while I was at work.  My oldest daughter was home after school and playing with a little boy in her class.  They were playing Star Wars.  My daughter wanted Yoda to make tea;  the other little boy yelled at her, “Yoda doesn’t make tea!”  He wanted Yoda to fight.  I told my wife to tell them that Yoda makes stew.  The point is, even though they wanted to play with the same things, they wanted to play differently.  Girls and boys have differences.  It’s okay for some things to be made for girls and some things to be made for boys.   Just because something is designed for girls, doesn’t automatically make it a bad product.  It may even be a very good product.

When I’m picking out a toy for them, I’m generally concerned about three things:

  1. Is it overly sexual?
  2. Is it demeaning or degrading?
  3. Is it fun?
Let’s look at those.
1. Is it overly sexual?

The skirt's a little short there, missy...

In a word, no.

Yes, the tiny little plastic figure is a bit more anatomically accurate than the regular, traditional, blocky, mini-figure.  But this is not a scintillating, suggestive, inappropriate hunk of plastic that will encourage my girls to don leopard print, skin tight pants in the next year.

2. Is it demeaning or degrading?

One of the criticisms in the linked article is that the Lego Friends sets promote some stereotypical girls interests.

“I have no problem with them making pink LEGOs, but I really hate the message they send. [Riley] doesn’t need to be building a hot tub and serving drinks. I want her to build whatever she wants. We want her to be herself.”

The parents quoted cite the fact that there’s a hot tub set and a beauty salon set.  Yes, that’s true, but let’s look at the full gamut of sets.  This is what’s currently available:

  • City Park Cafe
  • Olivia’s Tree House
  • Stephanie’s Cool Convertible
  • Butterfly Beauty Shop
  • Heartlake Vet
  • Olivia’s House
  • Stephanie’s Outdoor Bakery
  • Emma’s Splash Pool
  • Andrea’s Stage
  • Olivia’s Invention Workshop
  • Mia’s Puppy House
  • Stephanie’s Pet Patrol
  • Emma’s Fashion Design Studio
  • Heartlake Dog Show

Again, yes, there’s a Beauty Shop and a “Splash Pool.”  Am I supposed to be upset that there’s a set with a veterinarian or an invention studio with a little robot?  I’m also not going to mind that there’s a music themed set or several sets centered around animals.  Is the Fashion Design Studio a negative?  Is that not a respectable profession for a man or  woman?  Sure, instead of the Beauty Shop, they could have developed an architect’s studio or computer lab.  Give it time.  The line just came out  and I’m sure those sets are in work.  Frankly, I think this is a pretty diverse set of offerings for a new toy line launch.

In my opinion, if you want to complain  to Lego, complain about the diversity of offerings in the Lego City line.  Last time I checked, there’s a heckuva lot more in a city than cops, robbers, and firemen.  Those items seem to dominate the City line every year.

I have a giant tub full of Lego, which also includes a healthy amount of space Lego, and the color pallet is definitely dominated by  grays, whites, dark blues, reds, and yellows.  Those colors are okay and my girls have liked some of those sets, but they are far from their favorite colors.  My oldest daughter’s room is painted turquoise at her request.  My middle daughter’s room is painted pink at her request.  Before Lego Friends was released, I could hold all the turquoise and pink Lego bricks we owned in the palm of one hand.  Now, not so much…

Hey look - colors!

Is this demeaning or degrading?  I’m not seeing it.  Does it give my girls a choice of what set they want to buy?  Absolutely and that’s not a bad thing.

3. Is it fun?

My girls love animals, specifically dogs.  My oldest has already made us promise that she gets a dog at the next opportunity.  Guess what?  We bought both the Vet and Dog Show sets.  Below is a picture of the dog included in these sets compared to the dog included in the Lego City sets.

Which one of these toys would be pictured next to "personality" in the dictionary?

Which one of these would you rather play with?  It’s not just the animals that are a bit more fun.  The sets themselves come with quite a few play features.  The Vet set includes an X-ray stand, examination table, horse stable, cart for the animals and several other fun play features.

In addition to the play value, the sets are just as complicated and intricate as other Lego sets.  These aren’t dumbed-down because they’re for designed for girls.  They’re fun and my girls like to play with them just as much, if not more than, other Lego sets.

The bottom-line for me is that these are good toys and they are not going to give my girls negative ideals to live up to or limit what they strive to be.  They’re toys, bright and colorful toys.  The next time I go to the toy aisle of my local megamart, we’ll look at all the Lego sets – Lego City, Lego Friends, Lego Star Wars, Lego Harry Potter – and I’ll let them pick out what they want.  Though I won’t be surprised if they pick a Friends set because it was actually made for girls.

More importantly, or even most importantly, we’ll take it home and play with it together… even if it is pink and turquoise.