Science fiction about eusocial humans?
February 4, 2016 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Since a woman produces about half a million eggs, it's possible to envision a scenario where modern reproductive technology leads to a eusocial society like that of ants. One dominant woman would force all of her relatives to carry her fertilized eggs to term. Then she'd force the resulting daughters to do the same thing once they had matured. With egg freezing, she could keep doing this for decades, eventually resulting in thousands of human children of one biological mother. Has any science fiction been written along these lines?
posted by clawsoon to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Coalescent by Stephen Baxter has a eusocial human society as it's central plot point - I'm not sure it goes as far as having only one woman breeding - it's more of a caste thing.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:47 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

the xenos from Ender?
posted by j_curiouser at 12:55 PM on February 4, 2016

Kiln People by David Brin had one human woman with dozens of clay replicas running her personality.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2016

IIRC, Coalescent gets placed into the Xeelee universe and eusocial human groups pop up few more times, but as background details?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:05 PM on February 4, 2016

IIRC, Coalescent gets placed into the Xeelee universe and eusocial human groups pop up few more times, but as background details?

I seem to recall that's the case, although they are mainly there as targets of the rest of humanity who are horrified by something human that is so alien and, worst of all perhaps, stable.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:08 PM on February 4, 2016

Not exactly what you're talking about, but Seveneves involves a related idea.
posted by adamrice at 1:12 PM on February 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry I wasn't clearer, adamrice: I'm specifically talking about a female dictator - or just a really rich woman? - getting many other women to be surrogate mothers for her eggs. High reproductive skew would be the result, and it would be very close to a eusocial situation. Kin selection theory suggests that it'd be easier for the dictator to coerce/convince other women to go along with it if they were daughters, which is why I suggested that as an addendum.
posted by clawsoon at 1:32 PM on February 4, 2016

There's a weird variant in the super pulpy Hellstrom's Hive.
posted by rr at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Durona Group in Mirror Dance by Bujold is somewhat close to this. There are functioning uterine replicators, so the founder doesn't have other women carrying her children, but every single person in the group is a clone of the founder. I think that they are technically her property, although it's been a while since I read it and it's a bit fuzzy.
posted by Hactar at 2:01 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bujold's Ethan of Athos is a further (earlier?) exploration of the same theme in that uterine replicators and ovarian cultures from only a few women are used to populate an entire planet exclusively with males.

The action begins as the ovarian cultures all start to play out at once.
posted by jamjam at 2:10 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think an episode of the SyFy show Killjoys fits the bill, sorta. The show is set in a system with 4 planets and cheap space travel (in-system, at least). The nicest planet is run by the hyperwealthy who wield all the power because the entire system is controlled by a corporation.

In the 4th episode "Vessel" (of the one season so far aired), the main trio, who are nominally bounty hunters, are hired by one of the more powerful of the hyperwealthy women to move some precious cargo, a surrogate mother who is based at a hidden temple full of surrogates. The surrogates are isolated to keep them clean and pure in a toxic world in order to birth the elite whose heredity, both genetic and legal, must be protected from outside control.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:33 PM on February 4, 2016

Obviously this is a little pedantic, but while women do indeed have 400,000-500,000 follicles, only a few hundred of those (roughly one per month between menarche & menopause) mature into eggs. The rest all die off (roughly 1,000 per cycle). So unless your society has some additional technology/species evolution involved, adjust your calculations by an order of magnitude.
posted by judith at 2:39 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Good point, judith. They're working on it, though.
posted by clawsoon at 2:45 PM on February 4, 2016

There’s a John Wyndham story from 1956 called “Consider Her Ways” that is somewhat like this, a woman-only society inspired by ants with strict caste divisions, but i don’t think all the eggs were coming from a “queen”.
posted by D.C. at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

David Brin also wrote Glory Season which has something like that. It's about an engineered society made up mostly of female clones. Well,there's more than that going on but that's the basis for the society in the book.
posted by fiercekitten at 6:43 PM on February 4, 2016

Charles Stross' "Neptune's Brood" features not an entire society but a family organisation of clones of one woman.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:57 PM on February 4, 2016

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the lower castes are populated by identical twins created by the mass fertilization of all the eggs from one ovary at a time, which can (in the book) yield over 15,000 children.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:49 PM on February 4, 2016

The award-winning Imperial Radch series by Anne Leckie has the premise that the ruler of a rather big chunk of space is composed of many bodies that are grown for it to expand into.

One of the flavours/conceits is a sexless personal pronoun that defaults to she/her so the sex(es?) of everyone, especially the distributed kind-of-eusocial-ruler, is ambiguous. Not to spoil, but I think other aspects fit well with the spirit of your inquiry.

The first novel is a great read and there're some important new ideas in speculative fiction/scifi. I enjoyed the sequels somewhat less.

Edit: Yes! "Neptune's Brood" is great!
posted by porpoise at 9:05 PM on February 4, 2016

Weeelll...Terry Pratchet's Wee Free Men are all sons of the Kelda, apart from the few (or one?) that are her brothers. She only has one daughter, who will be the next Kelda, so not quite what you're looking for, but kind of based on ants nevertheless. An Ant/Scots medley. And the Kelda's huge enough that all she does is lie around and have babies and be attended to.
posted by glasseyes at 12:22 PM on February 7, 2016

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