Sometimes, distinguishing Pink Science Fiction from Blue can be difficult, so I thought a simple comparison of two very similarly themed science fiction tales might help.
There is some required reading involved, but it will only take you a few minutes:
The first is Rachel Swirsky’s Hugo-nominated short story “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”
The second is Gene Wolfe’s “Build-A-Bear”
Have you read them? Good.
Now let us take a look at the two stories through the now-standard rubric to determine a story’s status as Pink or Blue.
“Dinosaur” is published in a science fiction magazine, was nominated for an award that features a rocket ship, and yet contains only a meta-speculation as its science fiction element. There is no science behind the transformation of the man into a microtyrannosaur. The entire story is merely the conscious and unfulfilled wish of a dissatisfied woman. Look no further than: “all those people who—deceived by the helix-and-fossil trappings of cloned dinosaurs– believed that they lived in a science fictional world when really they lived in a world of magic where anything was possible.” Pink.
“Build-A-Bear” does not explain the science, or even the purpose behind a cruise ship being equipped to generate customized living creatures. Yet this is very much within the classic canon: AI, genetic engineering, the unusual consequences of high tech wish fulfillment in a quotidian environment all harken to such classic stories as “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” or Astro Boy. Furthermore, the name of the entertainer who guides the construction of Viola’s bear is Bellatrix, a fairly obvious allusion to both the star and the original Latin meaning: “female warrior.” Unlike the stereotypical modern application of the term, this is an early indication that the feminine war arts in the story will in no way resemble masculine combat techniques. The story is about the nature of feminine social status, conflict and self-defense. Blue.
Dinosaur – the villains quite literally employ nearly every politically incorrect slur in the arsenal. Pink.
Build-A-Bear – The sociosexual hierarchy is represented without qualification, the male (bear) hero’s maleness is an intrinsic element of his heroism. Blue.
Dinosaur – The propaganda is not simply critical to the plot. Not only is the story about how bigotry is so horrible in society that it should be eliminated proactively by violence, but that is both its theme and its content. The theme and plot don’t simply harmonize, nor do they echo one another. They are one and the same. The personal political response of the woman is the core personal response, and the one with which the reader is invited to identify. Pink.
Build-A-Bear – This story meanders through the personal insecurities, hopes and actions of the protagonist. Despite a mention of her traditional views, her politics are a very slight facet of her larger problem: that she is aging faster than anyone ever realizes, and that she is precariously alone. She also is very weary of her own habits and flaws, but is on a personal quest to rise above those. None of this is spelled out in the narrative, and none of it is determinative of the story’s outcome. Blue.
This is where both stories get very interesting. Both wrestle with violent offense and justice, unsuspecting and otherwise innocent victims, and situations of morality. Weapons, in the hands of both villain and hero, are central elements of both stories.
Dinosaur – In this story, the slight moral dilemma is whether the narrator would feel guilty about laughing for extended periods following the fantasized vengeful acts of her dying fiancee. The other dilemma – about how she wasn’t good enough to marry his more powerful, fantasized version, and how her best bet would be to find him a mate of equal strength to him, is not a moral one, but it is a very interesting commentary on the inherent flaw in equalitarian thinking: if marriage is by definition a union between two equals, does that mean both parties should be able to bench press the same amount, adjusted for body weight? Pink.
Build-A-Bear – The protagonist’s values are traditional – she is looking specifically for an eligible bachelor and is bothered by the number of divorced men and married men who are merely looking for sex. Viola is naturally hypergamous, but finds herself in the initial steps of happily settling for a potential long-term husband candidate. But the crucial aspect of the story hinges on the question of self-defense. Remember that the bear is an extension of herself – her creation of a male-oriented consciousness that enables her to begin to seek out a meaningful relationship with a man. She’s a systems analyst, for pity’s sake, yet has an awfully difficult time navigating the system structured around her own life. Blake’s attack on her is disjointed: why would a handsome, strong and charming man resort to hiding in the shadows, stalking–with a gun, no less–a (by her own admission) somewhat dumpy woman past the prime of her youth? The final scene is, in all ways, a decidedly and traditionally Western drama. In fact, much of the action would make no sense outside of traditional Western morality. Blue.
Dinosaur – Equality is expressly critical to the marital relationship – both the fantasized one and the potential real-life one. The T-Rex himself is a symbol of equalizing: it is reduced in size to make the attack on the five villains seem “fair.” Pink.
Build-A-Bear – Viola is no match for her attacker, and she values the men she meets differently despite all of them failing her standard. They fall short at various distances. She needs her bear. Tim can’t compete on certain social levels with the other men, but at the personal, he has the edge in boldness. Viola has a range of choices, and they ultimately display themselves as intrinsically unequal. Blue.
Dinosaur – overtly acknowledges the social importance of the inclusion of gays, transgenders, Muslims, Latinos, and apparently gamma males, although the characters themselves are inclusively indistinct, though, without physical or other qualifiers, it can be very difficult for the reader to separate a first person narrators from her author. Pink.
Build-A-Bear – This one could be accused of being monocultural by critics who care for such things, but only via the seemingly British-origin names of the male suitors. The ethnicity of characters and the importance of ethnicity simply is not present. In fact, reading too much ethnicity into the story would hamper the reading: look at the names again – they are symbolic. Bellatrix symbolizes supernatural, heavenly or diabolical guidance. Don symbolizes ruthless mastery of the social order. Blake means dark/bright. Tim refers to his timidity, but also his quasi-biblical humility. Viola, of course, deftly refers to all its classic references: the flower, the somewhat oversized violin-like instrument that is nonetheless capable of making beautiful music, the character from the comedy The Twelfth Night, and so on. Playing multicultural bingo on this one would be a very bad idea. Blue.
Dinosaur is structured as a list of checkboxes. Pink.
Build-A-Bear – This one has no reference to race, which means it leaves itself open to the spurious accusation of being “default white,” but there really isn’t any reason why anyone of any race, descended from an English-language legacy, couldn’t view one or many of the characters as members of the reader’s race. That is, if grown up readers actually had a need for such a gauche and selfish brand of literacy. More importantly, the sexuality in the story is up front about its traditional standards and offenses. Blue.
Dinosaur – Equality, fear, victimization and revenge. Uh…Pink.
Build-A-Bear notes that the main character is a little out of touch with the times, but principled, and that is as close as the story gets to politics, which is to say, it certainly doesn’t lean, even slightly, to the Left. Blue.
Dinosaur tips the cap to gays and transgenders during the course of the fantasy, and I guess it attempts to normalize lizard-human relations, but this is not the story’s strength. However, even in its weakest category, Dinosaur is decidedly Pink.
Build-A-Bear is the more surprising and interesting work because of its approach to sexual deviancy: it is portrayed in its traditional light, as deviant and ultimately hostile and dangerous – an offense worthy of self-defense. This not only provides the climactic conflict, but the reference to the offensive nature of “mere” adultery earlier in the story foreshadows the gravity of Blake’s attack. Now, it seems to me that Viola’s response is a bit too understated, but it seems to be either an authorial error, or (more likely) a disassociation indicating a deeper science fiction element (that I’m not going to get into here), rather than a political statement. Blue.
To put it simply, the romance is structured “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.” Keep in mind that the girl may be, and in fact likely is, the protagonist acted upon in such a story. The “getting” part doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy outcome. One of the parties may be disappointed in getting or having gotten got. Or one or both of the parties may be a corpse for all the trouble.
Dinosaur is a romance: the girl is met by the would-be dinosaur, she bravely (in her fantasy) gives him up to find the match that his lizard-self is worthy of, and by the end of the story “gets back with him,” rather sad that he’s in a permanent coma from the beating. More interesting than the structure is that the story attempts to be as unromantic and violent as possible to distance itself from its obvious traditional structure as a romance. Pink.
In contrast, Build-A-Bear appears to be nothing more than a romance story, but if you look at its structure, you will see very quickly that Viola’s quest for romance is merely the motivational vehicle for the story to pursue interesting ideas like AI, virtual relationships, self-defense, traditional values, and the nature of divine gifts. In Dinosaur, conflict and revenge are platforms for the broken romance. In Build-A-Bear, imperfect romance is a vehicle for conflict and ideas. Blue.
So, although the story inspired by stuffed animals (pink ones, no less!) might suggest pink thematic material, and the one about the Tyrannusaurus Rex would inspire red-toothed Blue, the results are quite the opposite. This demonstrates that the best way to determine whether an author tends toward Pink themes or Blue is to read a little of his work first. The cover art or subject matter is more likely to deceive than illuminate.
One last thing: the Pink and Blue divide is rarely so tidy as this little exercise indicates. Generally speaking, it is about a work having a preponderance of these qualities to qualify as Pink. There is certainly Blue SF that caters to a few Pink fantasies here and there, and Pink that crosses over for the Blue dollar. But I can’t think of many stories that are perfect centrists: the gulf at that point is still too wide.