By Judith Proctor (originally published in Altazine#2)

Comments in square brackets and the afterward are by Altazine editor Neil Faulkner

(This is a repeat of an e-mail posting, but I think it's worth a wider circulation. [It is also an amalgam of two lengthy pieces that I've tried to mesh together as unclumsily as possible])

'Power' is frequently cited as a pet hate episode and with some good reason. However, it occasionally strikes me that the Hommik and Seska culture was not all that it appeared to be on the surface.

The scene that comes to my mind is when GunnSar is sitting down with his embroidery and talking with Nina. She tells him that Pella has escaped and that she has alerted security. GunnSar accepts that without question. Interesting, because Nina was once a leader of the Seska and he might reasonably have expected that she would help them.

GunnSar is extremely rude to Nina in public (calls her a snivelling sack of offal at one point and is obviously going to hit her), but in private he seems to show her a lot of respect. I take this private relationship as the reason why Nina chose to remain with GunnSar when she could have escaped. Nina is middle-aged, at least forty, maybe more (she was a Seska leader twenty years ago). As Hommik leader, GunnSar could have had a younger, prettier woman if he wanted to. He doesn't. Again, this suggests more to their relationship than him pushing her around in public.

It's worth noting that GunnSar's insult/attack on Nina is in response to Avon's remark expressing surprise that GunnSar doesn't know anything about computers. In essence GunnSar is embarrassed, and both changes the subjects and vents his feelings in one move. It may not have been typical behaviour for him, as I doubt many people were going to irritate him in the way that Avon did. (I'm not justifying gunnsar's behaviour, merely pointing it out in the context of his relationship with Nina that it may not reflect their everyday relationship.) Most of the Hommiks would have shared Gunnsar's blind spot on computers. He was probably aware that some aspects of their culture were technically forbidden, but also aware that they made life more comfortable. [Cato's remarks to Avon suggest otherwise.]

Nina calls GunnSar her husband. Not master, husband. We're dealing with a male-dominated culture, but not one that reduces women to total slavery. She weeps when he dies.

I see their private relationship as that of a long married couple. They probably had several children, and I think they loved one another. That's why Nina said twice that she was now a woman, not a Seska. It wasn't a case of being raped instantly converts you into a pliant, willing sex slave. I think it was a case of a relationship building up over time (its origins might have been nasty, but we have no evidence one way or the other to show how Hommiks treated newly captured Seska after they removed the Dynamon crystals). There's more to sex than being 'a woman' [But not more to being 'a woman' than sex?]. A large proportion of the human race find themselves trapped in a long term relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Is it so surprising that Nina should? Nina was there when Pella was born and she remembers Kate as a child. At the time of the video-clip that Tarrant looks at, the Seska procreation vaults were attacked and the seminal stocks contaminated. There were 52 children at that time, and that was 20 years ago.

From that time onwards, there were presumably no more children born to the Seska, and indeed the three Seska we see are all adults. It seems reasonable to assume that Kate and Pella were among the last children born to the Seska. Kate can't be much over twenty.

GunnSar looked stupid, but I wonder if her used Nina's advice to help him rule the Hommiks. After all, they seemed to be doing all right for themselves. Let's take another look at her. She swore over gunnsar's body that the tribe would leave this accursed place. I don't think she was a woman who made statements lightly. Remember that she had been a Seska leader in the war. She must have felt that she had a chance of doing what she did. Did she feel that she could lead the Hommiks? I think perhaps she did. Even in male- dominated cultures it is not unknown for the widow of a powerful man to rise to power after his death. I'm sure you can all think of real world examples. Where did Nina intend to take them? There seem to be two basic options: the Seska lifestyle of technology, or the lifestyle that the original Hommik leaders had intended which rejected technology and required them to start again from scratch. My feeling, which I have admittedly very little evidence for, is that she intended the Hommik way.

Did she succeed? Perhaps she did. The only evidence we have available is that from 'Headhunter'. The hydro-electric power station that Tarrant and Dayna visited was abandoned but still functional. We know that the Hommiks were still using electric power. Where did it come from? An HEP station is easier to maintain than most when civilisation collapses. You don't run out of fuel. Maybe that's where Cato got the power to keep the computers functioning. I can imagine that he knew enough to keep the station working. [Cato did in fact make an explicit reference to solar power.] If Nina did move the Hommiks to another place, that would explain why the power station was now abandoned. Of course, there is always the possibility that it was a Seska installation, although in their weakened state it is a moot point as to whether they could have defended it. It seems more likely that in their later years they were dependant on Dorian for fuel as well as nutrients.

Pella claimed to Avon that daughters born to captured Seska were left to die on the hillsides and that when the Seska found them they took them in. This sounds impressive, and is a strong point against the Hommiks, but is it true? I believe there are several points to suggest that Pella was in fact lying or at least exaggerating the truth.

  1. Female infanticide has existed historically, and in China in the present day. It usually occurs when a society has very limited resources (such as desert nomads) or when the law restricts parents to one child. In short, when people can only have a very small number of children, they are likely to opt for a son. This does not mean that 100% of girl babies are abandoned. (Incidentally, how many people knew that Mohammed expressly forbade the killing of girl babies among Muslims, and when writing the Koran gave women a fixed right to inherit at a time when married European women couldn't even own property in their own right. People often think of Islam as a culture that suppressed women, but you can make a surprising case for calling Mohammed an early feminist! (No I'm not a Muslim, but I have studied the historical culture a little.))
  2. Nina didn't escape when she could have. If I were a woman who had forcibly had her female children killed and watched others go through the same for half the children they had given birth to, I could not have stayed and I don't think Nina would have either. Even supposing that I was so madly in love with GunnSar as to have stayed, I would not have let the others be captured.
  3. Men have feelings too. Not all fathers would be willing to abandon a child, regardless of rules/culture.
  4. Common sense. Without women there is no next generation. Once the Seska stopped reproducing (and before that if the Hommiks didn't capture enough to keep their own numbers up) they would realise the need for women of their own.
  5. This is the killer... there were no young Seska. I've already shown that Pella and Kate had to be among the last of the Seska born from the procreation vaults. If the Seska had been collecting abandoned babies since this time, where were they? If this were true there had to be younger Seska than Kate.

So in summation, I think it possible that the Hommiks occasionally practised female infanticide, especially at times of famine or resource shortage. I do not think that they ever practised it universally. Pella exaggerated to try and gain Avon's sympathy.

The Seska were a totally female culture, but the Hommiks were a *male- dominated* culture. There is more evidence to suggest that the Hommiks were not 100% male chauvinist. Dayna challenged GunnSar to a fight for the leadership. He laughed at her, but he also accepted the challenge and it was treated seriously enough by the rest of the tribe to be fought on the challenge ground. The implications are two-fold. Firstly women didn't have zero status or he wouldn't have accepted the challenge. I can't see GunnSar claiming her on his kill list if it brought him no status at all. If she was viewed as no threat at all, he would have been laughed at for accepting the challenge.

Dayna won, and the others encouraged her to get the hell out of there. Quite possibly a very sensible act on their part, but it means we don't know how the Hommiks would have reacted. They might have killed her in fury over GunnSar's death, but there is the outside chance that they would have accepted her as leader in his stead. If they rejected her, would it have been rejection because she was a woman, or because she wasn't a member of the tribe?

I think I actually prefer GunnSar to Avon in this particular episode (who's going to shoot me down in flames for that? <grin>

Avon tries to establish his 'nice to women' credentials early in the episode by stopping GunnSar when he is about to hit Nina. From then on, GunnSar never tries to justify himself with claptrap about the man's strength being superior. GunnSar is a product of his culture and not a particularly bad specimen (I still love the fact that he does his own sewing <grin>). It is possible that Pella was more bigoted than any of the Hommiks. I always remember the scene where she makes Avon's crossbow go off and kill a Hommik. Power is a naff episode, and will always be a naff episode, but it could have been even worse than it was. My own interpretation is that it was not so much a war of the sexes (that was Avon's interpretation), but war between a group of women who chose to lead a highly technological life and the rest of society (both men and women) who chose to return to a more primitive lifestyle.

One thing that this episode explains perfectly is why Avon was nuts for most of the 4th season. It come from being knocked over the head three times!


By Neil Faulkner

It just so happened that I received this LOC just a few days after reading Joanna Russ' essay *Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction* (reprinted in *To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction*, Indiana University Press 1995). My thanks to Jan, who might not be a B7 fan but has the most interesting bookshelves of any friend I've had. In this essay Russ discusses six examples of sex war in SF, all but one of them (that written by a woman, 'James Tiptree Jr') echoing *Power* very strongly. The parallels are quite strong:

These stories, like *Power*, are nothing more than a reactionary affirmation of traditional patriarchal values which simultaneously idolise and repress women. Your discussion above lists a lot of the give-aways, but I would say you've drastically misinterpreted them:

What *Power* is really about is a fear of women. The Seska are arrogant, independent women. Their long, flowing skirts wrap them in a mystique of untamed sexuality. The fact that they live without any need of men suggests that they might be Lesbians - the ultimate repudiation of male dominance. They have mysterious, supernatural powers of the *mind* (translated into telekinesis for the sake of science fiction). Rather than usurp the trappings of male power (for which they are anatomically unequipped), they have assumed their own, which must be forcibly removed from them (the equivalent of castration). They then cease to be Seska, instead becoming Women - submissive wives who can be trusted and respected because they have been robbed of any independence.

Basically, the Seskas are the evil forces of Feminism. They are led by Pella, who cynically and secretly manipulates the others, disposing of them (shooting Kate) when her sinister plots are uncovered. The manipulated Seska are thus poor, innocent, deluded souls ripe for enlightenment by the Hommiks.

The independence of the Seska is illusionary - they depend on the Hommiks to supply them with new recruits and on a man - Dorian - to keep their hydroponic dome functioning. They have no real right to their trappings of power.

We see no younger Seska because they would carry a politically emotional charge, and that is something that you simply don't lay on children. The Seska we see must be young but adult. They must also be good looking, and of a sexually active age (i.e. fertile) - desirable breeding property, in other words. An older Seska would not be sexually desirable, and her age would give some validity to Seskahood. Older women in a patriarchal society function as advisors and councillors, but their subordination to their men makes them a resource to be tapped, not a power to be respected.

And what about the Hommiks? Their culture is tribal (and the uppity Seska are not a tribe, oh gracious me no). Dominance within the tribe is achieved by combat (because all Real Men love a scrap). Might makes right. The Seska, on the other hand, use their *minds* to function co-operatively. Dayna would not have defeated GunnSar on her own, the episode makes that quite clear. Pella and Kate had to intervene. A fairly obvious moral there, I think: don't let women get together. Turn them into Wives and keep them apart.

As to why we never saw how the Hommiks would have reacted to Dayna's victory, or where Nina led the survivors (if indeed she did come to lead) - there are good external reasons for that. Hommiks and Seska alike had to be removed to make the episode self-contained (and make Chris Boucher's life easier). The practicalities of series production meant that Dayna could not become leader of the Hommiks, even if Ben Steed was prepared to countenance the possibility (which I suspect he might not have been).

*Power* IS about a war of the sexes, not a conflict between high-tech and primitive lifestyles. These, again, are *symbolic* - Hommik culture is essentially not primitive, but traditional. Their technology is an ancient ('god- given') legacy. Seskas are technological because they are modern, new, counter-traditional, and have seized the reins of technological power to which they have no right (they lost the war, after all). *Power* is the open manifesto of the reactionary anti-intellectual attitudes Ben Steed implies in his earlier episodes (Jarvik's domination of Servalan - notice how he has to die so as not to usurp her position, since that would bugger up series continuity - or the way the women of Sardos are reduced to being sexual consumables). To say it's a naff episode is something of an understatement.

Still, jolly readers, that's just *my* interpretation. Maybe you agree more with Judith. Maybe you think we've both got it all wrong. Maybe you're wishing we'd both just shut up and talk about something more interesting. Either way, why not let us know.

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Last changed on 30th of May 1998