Aliens of Trek Lit: Chapter 7: Orions

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Deranged Nasat, Mar 1, 2014.

  1. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    It's not easy being green.

    Previous entries in this unofficial series:







    The chosen race for this "chapter" was selected due to an interesting comment from Stoek in the No Time Like The Past review thread. I hope he won't mind if I reproduce it here:

    This touches on a very interesting issue, one that I think has been central to the novels' portrayal of Orions: Can they ever be more than a walking stereotype (or two walking stereotypes, given the great sexual dimorphism they display)? The Orions are defined by their physiology like few other races. As is emphasised in The Children of Kings (which gives us a good look at the species) Orions are prisoners of their biology to a greater extent than most species. Their sexual characteristics are exaggerated, in overdrive. We see many instances of sophistication in Orions - they can clearly be cunning, thoughtful, surprising beings - yet are they ever able to be more than what biology drives them to be? Can an Orion female ever truly be more than a seductive sex object, either eye candy or a manipulator, depending on how much status she has? Can an Orion male ever be more than a brute, either a simple thug or a dangerous gangster, again depending on his status level? Given Stoek's comments, another question might be: have the novels truly explored what it's like to be an Orion? Is Stoek's complaint one that the novels should spend more time exploring from the Orions' own, in-universe perspective?

    This sense of being trapped and powerless is strong with Orion characters. In Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, Devna, one of the more sympathetic Orions, reflects on this. She's engaged in the manipulation of a Tellarite politician, and the scene serves as a wonderful exploration of the contrasts between Tellarite cultural norms and Orion ones - bluster hiding insecurity contrasted with a life defined by using others and being used in equal measure. Devna is trapped by who and what she is, though here it's less biology (though that's not ignored) and more culture. All Orions are slaves in their way, to biology and to one another. All are controlled, all answer to someone else. That low-status dancing girl is owned by a man who is himself owned by a woman who leads a branch of a syndicate, who in turn owes allegiance to a merchant prince, who in turn is submissive to a woman of the elite lineages who runs the empire from behind the throne. Even the very highest aren't immune; A Choice of Futures makes it clear that the Three Sisters are, in their own way, equally trapped - unable to build true, equitable relationships and alliances with anyone. Their pheromones drive off other females and make males docile - all they have is each other. Again: prisoners of biology.

    In fascinating contrast to this, Orion society is almost obsessive about the concept of personal freedom. They're a loose-knit, flexible culture whose members wouldn't be seen dead following any sort of rule or living within the moral restraints of other races. They turn their backs on cohesion in favour of self-interest. Our visit to Orion Homeworld in Cold Equations: Silent Weapons showed them to be aggressively libertarian to the point of dysfunction; a refusal to take interest in others or in communal support. It paints an interesting picture of a people who are searching, perhaps, for a freedom they'll never truly know, a people whose culture is a response to their overpowering biology.

    What do you think?
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2014
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Mar 15, 2001
    I think there's an inherent gender bias in that question. It's framed from the perspective of the male gaze in which a woman is defined as an object of desire. And it's rooted in the preconception that any woman in any sexual context is automatically a subordinate or victim. I think that's a cultural myth created by males in an attempt to de-legitimize and regulate the considerable social and interpersonal power that women's sexuality has always given them.

    Our society defines a man who uses sexuality, such as James Bond or Captain Kirk, not as a sexual "object" but as a sexual agent, someone in complete control of himself and using seduction as a means of achieving his goals. We define this (or at least have in the past) as a normative behavior that does not diminish the man's worth or dignity and if anything underlines the perception of his strength and influence. And yet when a woman does the same thing, our culture reflexively slut-shames her and sees her as demeaned and weakened. It's an irrational double standard.

    I came across this in some of the reviews I read of Only Superhuman. I wrote the novel's heroine Emerald Blair as a character in the Kirk/Bond mold, a tough action hero with strong sexual appetites, but just happening to be female. There's a scene early in the novel where she's fighting a man who's been genetically modified with bull-like attributes, and she tries flirting with him as a distraction, likening him to a slab of beef and saying she'd like to ride him in a private rodeo. So she's likening him to an animal or a peace of meat... and yet I read one online review that accused that scene of objectifying her. Which just goes to show how deeply that sexist double standard is ingrained in our society, that kneejerk assumption that the woman is always the inferior party in any and every sexual interaction. Which was exactly the double standard I was trying to refute by portraying a female lead who was the aggressor in her sexual interactions just as much as traditional male leads like Captain Kirk.

    Granted, Orion women tend to play the more traditional eye-candy role, keeping their real dominance sub rosa, and that is a bit of a paradox. There have been plenty of women in history who have wielded real political power from behind a facade of sexual subordination, notably Hurrem in the Ottoman Empire, but that's been in societies where men have monopolized overt political power and thus women had to find more informal means to wield influence. It is hard to explain why that would be the case in Orion society if their females are so naturally dominant.

    Although we may be misreading what we're seeing, filtering it through our own expectations. After all, Orion females' dominance is based on pheromones, so it stands to reason that if they want to maximize their pheromonal emissions, they'd want to maximize the exposure of the scent glands in their skin. Thus, going scantily clad would be a way of optimizing their scent release, rather than simply "eye candy" for those looking at them. (Although pheromones may be a factor in human attraction and seduction as well. Our own scent glands are heavily concentrated around places such as the mouth, the chest, and the genitalia.) In that context, less clothing would equate to greater power, in contrast to the usual assumption in our own society.

    And of course, Orions have to deal with other humanoid civilizations that often are male-dominated. It's likely that they've lacked the open political or military power of those civilizations and have thus had to compete through deception and guile, as evidenced by their fondness for piracy and crime. So their females adopting a public "sex object" persona, modulating their pheromonal influence from an overt exercise of social domination to a more subtle and seemingly submissive form of seduction, could be protective camouflage, a way of getting others off their guard.
  3. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    ^ Fascinating overview (and an important one, given that you're one of the authors handling the Orions, building our sense of who they are as a people). That's exactly the sort of conversation I'd hoped we could generate from the point Stoek raised. :)

    Knowing that the Orions will continue to play a role in Rise of the Federation, I'm looking forward to seeing what else you do with them. I think the Devna/Noar scene I referenced above was my favourite in A Choice of Futures. Orion and Tellarite - not a combination that we've seen too often, but here it was used to offer some insight into both races, in a manner that highlights the flaws in each while treating them sympathetically. I'm always fond of scenes that play the different races off against each other - Trek, Trek lit in particular, has built up quite a collection of interesting species; the ways in which they interact and reflect on each other deserve more exploration, I think. Tellarites and Orions aren't at Vulcan-Klingon-Andorian levels of complexity yet, but they're among the races who are climbing the ladder.

    Speaking of Orions and Tellarites, I'm assuming that the Alien Spotlight issue you mentioned as informing aspects of Tower of Babel is the Orion one?

    Your post also draws attention to the alternative means of empire-building and influence that the Orions (or some of them) employ. Given that (among Humanoids anyway), militaristic races would probably be expected to present a male-driven face to the galaxy (Klingons, Cardassians, Talarians - all male-dominated cultures with a strong patriarchal structure), it does make sense that Orions would try subverting them through feminine sexuality among other indirect means (their economic influence, etc).

    An Orion woman out to influence others is an interesting "soldier" of her people, and it compares easily with the role played by members of other races. A male Cardassian in the Union military, for example, is in a complicated position. On the one hand, he's in a position of some strength, influence and power. He has a gun, the authority to use it in many situations, and a secure livelihood for himself and his family (the Cardassian state rewards service). To a member of a subject race, there's no doubt that he's powerful and threatening. On the other hand, he is required by law to obey instructions from his superiors, he has reduced freedoms - maybe he was actually required by law to enlist, or at least his social status depended on his willingness to do so. He's often placed in dangerous situations, too. But he risks - or is expected to risk - in order to further the fortunes of the Cardassian state and secure its infrastructure and supply base.

    A female Orion is doing much the same thing. She is often in control, guiding events and manipulating others to her own ends. However, this could easily backfire and leave her vulnerable (I believe it was The Children of Kings which confirmed, logically, that for every story of powerful Orion women wrapping alien men around their little finger, there's a story of an Orion woman reduced to beggary or genuinely enslaved because her efforts failed). Again, she's taking the risk - or is required to take the risk - to ensure that the mercantile, criminal or political influence of the Orions is extended. It's a different, complementary sort of expansion to that employed by races like Cardassians, and it's a nice change from the legions of empire-builders we've seen in the past.

    That, perhaps, is another defining theme for Novel 'Verse Orions, then, alongside the struggle for freedom from biology: the attempt to keep pace with others, out-manoeuvre others or sometimes dominate others, through means other than overt force. Which, as you've mentioned only recently, Christopher, is a common theme in your books anyway.
  4. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Rear Admiral

    Jan 25, 2003
    New York, NY
    Interesting that this thread should come up at this time. In the upcoming Star Trek: Seekers series, one of the field scouts on the scout ship Sagittarius is Ensign Taryl (established in Star Trek Vanguard: Declassified), a young Orion woman who is described thusly in the Seekers series bible:

    We might change some of this as we go along, and admittedly we won't see much of her in books one and two of Seekers, but I'm planning on making her and the other field scouts the focus of the story in book three.
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Mar 15, 2001
    Actually, yes, but not in the way you're suggesting. Keep in mind that most of that issue takes place on Babel, and it begins on Rigel II.

    Well, one thing that I think some of us have tried to do in the books -- certainly that I've tried to do in ROTF -- is to show that it isn't just Orion females who are used for sexual ends. The basic hierarchy I've established in ROTF is the elite females on top, then the males, then the less pheromonally potent females. But there's no doubt a hierarchy of ownership among the men as well, and some of the lower-ranked men are in sexual service -- and some of the higher-ranked ones probably use sex to seduce female marks in the same way that people like Navaar and her sisters seduce men. I'm trying not to settle for the simplistic "Men = tough guys, women = sex objects" dichotomy of "Bound." (Kinda like Roddenberry's quote from the Inside Star Trek record album: "This does not mean that in future pictures I will ever stop using women as sex objects, as I will not, but to be fair we have always used and will be continuing to use males as sex objects, too.")

    Makes sense. I established in ROTF that some Orions have more pheromonal potency than others (to reconcile the sisters' overwhelming power in "Bound" with the differing portrayals of Orion women in other works), so it stands to reason that some would be effectively pheromone-free. They might have had little status beyond low-level servitude in Orion society itself (at least when the slave culture still existed, something that's evidently no longer the case in the 24th century according to Silent Weapons), but in the broader galaxy, particularly the Federation, they'd be able to find greater opportunities, and their lack of pheromonal power might actually prove more an asset there than a liability. (Gaila in the alternate reality might be like this as well.)
  6. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

    Mar 2, 2002
    Montgomery County, State of Maryland
    To me, it almost makes more sense to presume that the majority of Orions don't have the levels of pheromonal power we see in the sisters from "Bound," if any. One of the things that interested me about Orion in Silent Weapons is that no one seemed to have any noticeable pheromonal capacity -- not the "wretched of Orion" who lived in the slums, not the working-class Orions seen in the dive bars, not the middle-class multitudes in the shopping centers, not the elites running the Bank.

    I'm inclined to speculate that maybe the pheromonal control and its varying levels was only ever possessed by a minority of Orions, and that perhaps the hierarchy Christopher talks about in his books developed within, but separate from, the larger society, without enough numbers or power to characterize the majority of it. Maybe those "pheromonal elites" ended up as sort of feudal lords (and ladies), using their abilities to accrue servants and wealth, with the wealth used to dominate the masses far removed from the physical presence/physical effects of the pheromones themselves, before eventually the feudal lord/slave lord system was overthrown?

    Deranged Nasat brings up an intriguing point when he notes that the Orions of Silent Weapon are obsessed with civil liberties, in contrast with the Orion slave culture of the pre-TNG era. I would take it one step further and contrast that civil libertarian bent with their larger embrace of the corporate state -- and, indeed, the contrast between the corporate state and the extreme sexualization of the pre-TNG Orions is interesting, too.

    But of course, it seems to have been a longstanding piece of Trek lore that the Orions have an extremely long history, full of many different dominant cultural periods (Spock's World, Forgotten History). This leaves plenty of room for different Orion cultures and sub-cultures and diasporas to develop over time.
  7. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Interesting. Economic influence used as an extension of a social control system that has its roots in biology and physical proximity; makes sense to me. The origins of the 'merchant prince' system, where economically powerful Orions are treated as a form of royalty; originally those males favoured/chosen as mates by a pheromone-potent caste of females who were then able to extend their influence over the masses?

    I wonder if this is also partly why the Orions are such a far-travelling, commonly seen species - besides being one of the oldest of the modern space-faring cultures (who controlled several interstellar empires, apparently, which rose and fell over the centuries), they also have good cause to leave home and set up elsewhere, because it's the only way for those not gifted with pheromonal power to compete. They'll need to gain economic influence elsewhere, hence the history of trade, piracy and criminal enterprises across such a huge swath of known space.

    By the way, everyone, great conversation here. The Orions have become increasingly important to Trek lit, I feel, and it's good to have a sense of how they work, who they are as a people.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  8. DS9Continuing

    DS9Continuing Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Jun 29, 2001
    I haven't read the novels being discussed here, sorry to say, so I can't really contribute to the intricacies of the discussion. But I'll just mention a couple of Orion supporting characters that spring to mind.

    I recall two Orion males who are members of Starfleet in the 24th century - Lt Dennisar of the Titan's security detail, and Lt Jenek, also on security at the Ananke Alpha prison facility in Olympus Descending. The fact that both of these work in security would seem to come from the image of Orion males as huge and muscular, their hulking physiques making them suitable for security/bodyguard purposes. A stereotype to a certain extent, but it does happen in real life. We didn't get to know either of them very well as people, but they didn't seem to have much in the way of a pheromonal effect on the others around them.

    The other most prominent Orion character (that I'm familiar with at least) is Treir, the dabo girl. We know that she was an apparent slave of an Orion Merchant Prince, but did not act especially submissive. She didn't like being a slave, but she was determined to make the most of it, and had acquired a certain amount of power by being the 'best' and 'most effective' slave she could be. Upon beginning to work for Quark, she immediately demanded respect and equality (even despite working for someone of a race who is just as sexist as Orions), and challenged Quark constantly on several fronts.

    Over the years, it appears that she has earned Quark's trust as he has happily left her to manage the Bajor-based branch of his empire alone, without his direct supervision, while he manages the branch back on the new DS9. She's not above using an Orion female's sexual wiles to get her way from time to time, but more importantly she's shown her skills as a businesswoman, something that Quark eventually respects even despite her gender. Perhaps that skill is another part of Orion culture as Nasat suggests - a commercial ability that is not so much what the race is known for but is definitely a part of them.

    In my own stories I have also set her up with something of a relationship. In spoilers so the pro authors can not look if they so choose:

    She begins a relationship with Vic Fontaine, precisely because as a hologram he is not affected by her pheromones. She is quite used to men hitting on her constantly, but she doesn't really consider them because she knows that they are just victims of biology as Nasat says - they can't help themselves from wanting her. With Vic, he is still clearly impressed, but it must be real because it can't possibly be the pheromones. So she specifically hits on him, despite that he had been too much of a gentleman to hit on her up to then.

    There is also at least one man who doesn't react to her pheromones - Hetik the dabo boy. In Twilight she seems as helpless towards him as other men usually are to her. She flirts with him as hard as she can, and he seems totally unaware and unresponsive. I've taken that to mean that Hetik is gay. Conversely one would assume that lesbians react to Orion females the same way straight males do.

  9. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

    Mar 2, 2002
    Montgomery County, State of Maryland
    Actually, my thought was that maybe as Orions in general started to evolve out of feudalism and into capitalism (or, at least, the most recent time Orions began to grow out of feudalism and into capitalism; for an older species with several cultures rising and falling, one might imagine these transitions have happened multiple times over the course of thousands of years), perhaps the pheromonal-slaver Orions started emigrating off-world to establish smaller, more easily-controlled bases of power based on starships, starbases, and off-world outposts, especially if they discovered non-Orions to be vulnerable to their abilities and ignorant of Orion biology (and of the cultural evolution Orion was undergoing).
  10. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    I can't believe I forgot to mention Treir! She was the first real attempt at fleshing out the Orions in the modern novel 'verse, as I recall, and I've always been fond of her. As a subordinate/partner (she clearly sees it as the latter, Quark's perspective be damned ;)) and nemesis/friend to Quark, she's had some rather memorable scenes. Holding your own as a female in a business run by a traditionalist Ferengi is no easy feat, of course, and there's been some minor, if interesting, exploration of how the Orion approach to commerce and hospitality can influence and even improve upon the Ferengi approach. Hetik, for example; Quark, like most traditionalist Ferengi, probably never even considered that female customers would be drawn by attractive men just as men are to attractive women; it wouldn't be a part of his cultural mindset. For all their boasting about how quick and effective they are at seizing opportunities for profit, the Ferengi are often held back by their cultural prejudices. Orions, not so much. You'd never see an Orion following something like the Rules of Acquisition, one imagines - there are no rules, there's only doing what you can to succeed and gain wealth.
  11. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Good point. :) Yes, I see what you mean.

    That might explain the Borderland - a base of operations for those emigrant clans who established the tradition of slave markets seeded with pheromone-potent female slaves who would (if all goes to plan) gain enough influence over their masters to steer them toward that which benefits the Orions. Leaving the masses who lack the pheromone power to any significant degree back on the homeworld and core colonies (as we see in Silent Weapons).