Envisioning a society in which nudity is accepted and common is an exercise much like the envisioning of future or alternative societies that is often done in science fiction. So it isn't too surprising that nudity has figured as a theme in science fiction. (For present purposes, let's consider the fantasy genre to be included, without further mention.)
Why have a guide to nudity in science fiction? Most people, who have little or no experience with being naked, will find that by reading some of the stories mentioned here and entering into their diverse worlds through imagination and vicarious experience, it is possible to learn something of what nudity is "really" about, that it's not just some kind of sexual thrill, yet is something a lot more interesting than simply not wearing clothes. It appears in a number of different ways on a more conceptual plane. On the other hand, people who already like being naked may be surprised to find that there are many places in science fiction which help explain and support their preference.
Anyhow, if this prospect arouses your curiosity, look through this guide for stories that appeal to you, and dive in.
Some stories are set in extraterrestrial locales, some on Earth. Some involve aliens, and others only humans. It might seem paradoxical to expect to learn much about "commonplace" nudity from imagined experience in such exotic times and settings. Yet it works, because in reading science fiction one relaxes ordinary expectations, expands ones horizons, prepares oneself to at least consider unusual possibilities, and cooperates in visualizing and apprehending unfamiliar modes of life and thought, other ways of being.
And happily, in case one finds here and there something of interest, nudity is one "science fictional" idea that can actually be incorporated in everyday life.
Here are some of the authors who have occasionally (or often) included nudity in their work:
Anderson's The Merman's Children is a bittersweet tale of the conquest and subjugation of an indigenous people by the forces of Christianity. In this case, the victims are people of Faerie, merfolk of the kingdom of Liri, which lay beneath the seas near the coast of Denmark. The time is the fourteenth century.
This is an extremely important story, and one of Anderson's best works. It's theme, like that of Bradley's Mists of Avalon, concerns the suppression of mankind's older, inborn relation to the natural world by an intolerant, otherworldly monotheism in the form of Christianity. Nudity is a hallmark of the earlier world view.
Vanimen, the king of Liri, had seven children by a human Christian wife, Agnete, who then deserted him to return, unhappily, to her own kind. The merfolk are little different in form from humans:
Save that they have broad, webbed feet and big, slanting eyes, and the men among them are beardless, and some have green or blue hair - on the whole they look like beautiful humans.
Most of the story concerns the fates of these children after their undersea home is destroyed. All except the young man Tauno, the oldest, either die or succumb to the Christian myth of transcendence. The fact that they are children of both an earth-centered pagan tradition and the upstart Christian tradition is symbolic of what Tiptree calls "the double heart of man".
Water and clothing go together poorly, so not surprisingly
The merman's children were unclad, as was usual undersea except at festival time.Their nudity, even above the water in the world of men, is frequently noted, for instance:
The siblings took off their clothes, save for the headbands and dagger belts. ... They stood for a moment at the rail, their sea ablaze behind them, tall Tauno, lithe Kennin, Eyjan of the white skin and the comely breasts.
The girl, Eyjan, and her other siblings abandon their nudity, of course, when they capitulate to Christianity.
The plot focuses on the love of Tauno for two females. One is the human Ingeborg, who was orphaned at birth, a barren, widowed wife, later a practitioner of the oldest profession, and nominally Christian. (Ingeborg is the name of a minor love goddess of Scandinavian mythology.) She is, unsurprisingly, an outcast in the human world, so joins up with the merchildren. Symbolicly of this alliance, she also embraces nudity:
Tauno and Eyjan sprawled their big fair bodies naked on the planks. Ingeborg was likewise unclad.Tauno's second love is a ghost, Nada, the young daughter who committed suicide (by drowning) of the priest Tomislav in Dalmatia, where the wanderings of the merchildren have taken them. The local Christians refer to this ghost as a vilja, while Vanimen uses the older more pagan term, rousalka. As a kin of the fairy folk, Nada likewise is always naked:
Vanimen saw the form dance over the glittery grass, the form of a naked maiden, lovely to behold but colorless, seeming almost transparent.(And how could a ghost have clothes, anyhow?)
At the conclusion of this melancholy tale, there are few remnants of the world of Faerie remaining in Europe. But Anderson ends by leaving some hope for the natural, earth-facing half of man's "double heart": Ingeborg invites Nada into herself to become a new, compound being and Tauno's consort. Now at home in the sea, she is strikingly transformed:
Drops gleamed downward off her nakedness. They say there that the body of Ingeborg had become more fully rounded than erstwhile, for its muscles gave it the motion of a cat. Sunlight had laved it everywhere. ... The very countenance of Ingeborg had subtly changed, become somehow fluid, both shy and bold, heedless and wise, looking forth upon the world as a lioness might, yet with something of otter, seal, and wide-ranging tern in that gaze.Tauno and the new Ingeborg set off across the ocean
Westward, maybe to Vinland or beyond. Whole vast realms of nature, Faerie, and man must be there, untouched by Christendom, open for our adventuring.And, Ingeborg adds,
To know as much wonder as we can reach in whatever our spans may be.
This is extremely like the ending of Anderson's later Boat of a Million Years, which concludes with a very similar couple, Hanno and Svoboda, outward bound in a starship, to adventure among the suns of the galaxy.
These individuals are two of a quite small number of humans who seem to have been given the genetic gift of very long life. Hanno is first seen as a Phoenician captain some centuries BCE. Svoboda first appears as a strong young peasant woman in Russia of the eleventh century.
There is very little nudity in this novel, but Svoboda, whose name means "freedom", is allowed to enjoy what little there is:
She pulled off her clothes, layer by layer. A breeze nuzzled her nakedness. Having left the garments bundled, she pushed through the reeds till she waded in the stream.
There is considerably more nakedness than this in a rather shorter earlier book of Anderson's: The Dancer from Atlantis. This is a time travel/adventure novel which is set in the historical civilization of bronze age Crete and the mythical nearby Atlantis - like Liri, a great kingdom lost beneath the water.
A time travel expedition from our future that is investigating the eruption of Thera which (in myth) destroyed Atlantis and (probably, in fact) caused the fall of the Minoan civilization goes awry. Four individuals - an American of the 20th century, a Russian of the 11th, a Hun of the 4th, and a Cretan of the era in question are dragged back into the time just preceding the eruption. The Cretan woman, in fact, travels just 24 years into her own past to encounter her younger self, who was Erissa, a bull dancer of Atlantis. From this, and the involvement of both of her selves with the American, Duncan Reid, follow most of the complications of the plot.
The nudity in this story is mostly simple, innocent, and unfreighted with deep philosophical meaning. The Cretan civilization, at least in the conventional view, seems to have been one of the sunniest and pleasant in the ancient world - or of any time, for that matter. And part of the general felicity of this civilization is the fact that, while total nudity wasn't the norm, there were enough circumstances where it was not inappropriate, and even formally dressed women might be bare from the waist upward. Bull dancers, both male and female, wore little more than a belt and short kilt.
Thus, very soon after finding herself with three complete strangers, all male and from other times, Erissa removes her few clothes to bathe in the sea, without the slightest concern for "modesty" in their presence. But to do likewise is a source of embarrassment to the men.
Much later, near the climax of the action, while Thera is in eruption and Erissa is fleeing with Duncan towards Crete, she joins him at the helm of their threatened vessel, in a way that suggests even seemingly functional clothing is not only unnecessary but unwanted in such a time of crisis:
She had lost her skirt, shed her sandals, was nude except for the hair and dust plastered to her skin.One last novel, The Corridors of Time, recapitulates several of the themes we have observed so far:
The basic plot is that an American, Malcolm Lockridge, of the late 20th century, is conscripted into an ongoing time war - by an avatar of the Goddess named Storm. Though Storm's "native" time period lies in our future, she is a key figure in the ongoing time wars, and her activities in directing her side of this war have inspired the Labrys goddess mythology of bronze age Crete. Storm, of course, is quite comfortable with nudity.
She endeavors to return with Lockridge to the Cretan time/locale, but they must pass through Denmark of that time, since that is where the only available time gate is located. The inhabitants of Denmark of this period are a goddess-worshipping people, but they are directly threatened by the encroaching Indo-European Battle Axe people, who worship a sky god. This opposition reflects, roughly, the two sides which are contending in the time wars. Storm attempts to characterize the opposing philosophies more generally as
Life as it is imagined to be against life as it is. ... Plan against organic development. Control against freedom. Overriding rationalism against animal wholeness.
We can view each of these pairs as aspects of the two opposed "hearts" of man: the yearning for transcendence vs. the pull of nature.
Anyhow, in bronze age Denmark, summer clothing was functional and limited:
Female dress was no more than sandals, headband, necklace of raw amber, a foxskin purse slung from the shoulder, and a brief skirt decorated with feathers.
Nudity, too, is neither particularly remarkable nor uncommon. Storm and Lockridge must fall back on what means of transportation are available for their passage to Crete - which means waiting in Denmark for some time before they may find a trading ship bound south. Though Lockridge's main amorous interest is in Storm, he is befriended by a young girl, Auri, of the local tribe. Weather permitting, clothing for her is nothing more than ornamentation, like a necklace or headband.
On this morning she had gone out in a marsh..., clad in no more than her waist-long cornsilk hair.
The balance of the story consists of Lockridge's discovery that the issues of the time wars are not as clear-cut as Storm had presented them, and that Storm herself is not the paragon she seemed at first. His affections, likewise, gravitate from Storm to Auri.
At the futureward limits of Lockridge's adventure, some 6000 years after the bronze age, the protagonist winds up in the care of two medics:
The man and woman stepped close. They were both tall, somewhat past their youths but still with backs erect and muscles hard. Their hair was bobbed below the ears and held by intricately ornamented bands. Otherwise they wore nothing except a pocketed band on the left wrist.In this time, almost as far in our own future as the bronze age is in our past, clothing is again dispensable. The time wars have long since played themselves out, and the medics help Lockridge gain a new perspective, though his adventure isn't quite yet over.
Lockridge first returns a thousand years to Storm's own time (still in our future), to learn more about her true nature (not especially admirable), and eventually returns to bronze age Denmark. He is not any longer her partisan, and when she understands this, she offers him the ultimate bargain:
"Malcolm," she said, her breath quick upon him, "I can make you young again, immortal, with me."It's the same choice as Tiptree's old man in "On the Last Afternoon" faces, and Lockridge likewise rejects the alluring (but illusionary?) option of transcendence. As Tauno did also.
Anderson is a very prolific author, with about 50 novels to his credit. The ones discussed here are, perhaps, atypical in their emphasis on real human history and mythology. There are many others which are more traditional space opera style, human-alien wars and the like.
We will find more treatment of some of the themes we've seen here - Faerie mythology, paganism, Goddess religion, and their conflict with Christianity - in Bradley's Mists of Avalon.
Unlike almost all of the other works described here, Anthony's cannot be taken very seriously as good writing or even good science fiction. He writes, primarily, only to entertain, and for a teenage male audience at that.
Nevertheless, the books of his "Adept" series deserve passing mention, since they are among the few in which we have a society where complete nudity is the rule - in fact, a requirement - at least for one class of people. The volumes in this series include:
In the society where the series begins
Only citizens wore clothing, in the normal course, and it was uncouth for any serf to wear anything not strictly functional.Moreover, the protagonist Stile
like many serfs, found a certain illicit lure in clothing, especially clothing on the distaff sex; it represented so much that serfs could only dream of.Not only is there a taboo on the wearing of clothes, but it is clothing, rather than nudity, which is erotically stimulating. So we have more or less a complete reversal of the roles of clothing and nudity in most contemporary cultures. (Nudists do often claim that certain carefully chosen and deployed articles of clothing can be sexier than total nudity. But this claim is a little disingenuous, since it doesn't take into account whatever effect the wearer, or non-wearer, of the clothing is attempting to create. Clothing certainly can be used for erotic effect, but so can nudity, or nudity with a little jewelry or other accessories that conceal little.)
On the face of things, nudity isn't presented in a particularly favorable light, since it is a mark of low social status - serfdom - in this society. However, it seems that this is simply a matter of convention - nudity per se is not degrading:
Clothing distinguished the Citizen, but was not the basis of Citizenship; a Citizen could go naked if he chose, and sacrifice none of his dignity or power.(A genuinely nudity-positive story, which offers a stark contrast to most societies we know, would present the wearing of clothes as degrading, with nudity being a token of high caste or status.)
In the end, although nudity is pervasive in the society portrayed in this series, rather little comes of it, and it seems to be just a part of the background. It doesn't play any particular role in the plot. Nor, since everyone is naked, does it contribute to the the characterization of anyone. At most it affords the opportunity to make a few passing observations, not pursued to any depth, on what a society with pervasive nudity would be like. So the opportunity is largely wasted.
The title of Asimov's The Gods Themselves is an allusion to the Schiller's lament: "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." A lunar base in the near future is a setting for the last third of the book. The base is depicted as a younger, fresher kind of society than that of tired old Earth. A significant part of this portrayal amounts to a spirited advocacy by Asimov of nudity.
Selene Lindstrom is a PR officer for the base, charged with guiding base tours for visitors from earth. Her professional attire reflects the more relaxed standards of lunar society, since her "blouse was semi-transparent when it caught the light at a particular angle and there was no garment beneath it."
Somewhat later, when conducting a private tour for a VIP, she defends nudity much as if she were the owner of a nudist club addressing an outsider:
"Well, for one thing, we exercise in the nude or near nude. Why not?" She sounded aggrieved, as though weary of repeating a defensive position. "The temperature is controlled; the environment is clean. It's just that where people from Earth are expected to be, nudity becomes unsettling. Some Earthies are shocked; some are titillated; and some are both. Well, we're not going to dress in the gynmasium for their sake, and we're not going to cope with them either; so we keep them out."As Selene and her guest go about their tour, the guest is startled to notice offices that look much like those on Earth, except that office workers are bare-chested. Further along, it's even more relaxed:
"They have to get used to it. In the end, they'll discard clothes, too"
She led him to a circular railing around which a number of individuals were leaning and talking. All were more or less in the nude. Sandals were common and usually a hip-purse was slung over one shoulder.Somewhat later:
Denison tried to beat down his self-consciousness. Time and again, he made a groping motion as though to hitch upward the pants he wasn't wearing. He wore only sandals and the barest of briefs, which were uncomfortably tight. And, of course, he carried the blanket.Although a defense of nudism wasn't the theme of the book, or even the last third, I've presented these passages for their accurate portrayal of how comfortable even people in a technologically advanced society can become with nudity or near nudity. And how the transition to this state can be awkward - but possible.
Selene, who was similarly accoutered, laughed. "Now, Ben, there's nothing wrong with your bare body, barring a certain flabbiness. It's perfectly in fashion here. In fact, take your briefs off it they're binding you."
"No!" muttered Denison. He shifted the blanket so that it draped over his abdomen and she snatched it from him.
She said, "Now give me that thing. What kind of Lunarite will you make if you bring your Earth puritanism here? You know that prudery is only the other side of prurience. The words are even on the same page in the dictionary."
"I have to get used to it, Selene."
"You might start by looking at me once in awhile, without having your glance slide off me as if I were coated with oil. You look at other women quite efficiently, I notice."
"If I look at you --"
"Then you'll seem too interested and you'll be embarrassed. But if you look hard, you'll get used to it, and you'll stop noticing. Look, I'll stand still and you stare. I'll take off my briefs."
The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the Arthurian legends from the female point of view. The chief characters in this version are Igraine (Arthur's mother), her sister Viviane (high priestess of Avalon - the Lady of the Lake), and most important, Morgaine (Arthur's sister).
The story is told in Morgaine's voice. It is, in most general terms, about the relation between the world of humankind and the world of faery. As Morgaine says in the prologue,
The gates between the worlds drifted within the mists, and were open, one to another, as the traveller thought and willed. For this is the great secret, which was known to all educated men in our day: that by what men think, we create the world around us, daily new.
Nakedness appears only very briefly in this long tale, but at a very central event - Morgaine's participation in the ancient ritual of the hierosgamos, the sacred marriage between humankind and the faery world of nature. An elder priestess prepared the young Morgaine:
She stripped her naked, and painted the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands with blue dye, and renewed the crescent moon on her brow; on her breast and belly she outlined the full moon, and just above the dark patch of Morgaine's body hair she painted the dark moon.
Morgaine is naked again for the culmination of the ritual:
A little girl, painted blue from head to foot and bearing a broad dish, ran across the plowed fields, scattering dark drops as she ran. ... And for an instant, some small part of Morgaine, dizzy and drunk and only half in her body at all, remarked coldly that she certainly must be mad; she, a civilized and educated woman, princess and priestess and kin to the royal line of Avalon, Druid-taught, here painted like a savage and smelling of freshly shed blood, enduring this barbarian mummery... then it was all gone again, as the full moon, serene and proud, rose over the clouds that had barriered it from sight. Bathed naked in the moonlight, Morgaine felt the light of the Goddess streaming over, through her ... she was Morgaine no more, she was nameless, priestess and maiden and mother ... they strung a garland of crimson berries about her loins.
But Christianity is rapidly encroaching on the older Druid traditions, and by the end of the story has nearly sundered all contact between the worlds of humankind and faery. Morgaine, almost alone, knows how to pass between:
She turned her back on the convent and walked down to the Lake, along the old path by the shore. Here was a place where the veil lying between the worlds was thin. She needed no longer summon the barge - she need only step through the mists here, and be in Avalon.
See Anderson'sThe Merman's Children for another story of the suppression of the world of Faery by Christianity.
Burroughs is far better known as the author of the Tarzan stories than as an pioneering author of science fiction. But in his day (roughly the second decade of this century) he wrote a number of popular, if somewhat juvenile, stories of Martian adventure. Nudity often played a part in both of these series, though many people now would rather forget that Tarzan, as portrayed by Burroughs, was usually naked when in the jungle. (And of course the numerous Tarzan movies didn't dare remain faithful to the "facts".)
It isn't so far-fetched, either, to consider the Tarzan stories themselves as science fiction, though the genre was scarcely recognized in its own time. We discuss a very similar story by Judith Moffett elsewhere here.
In any case, Burroughs is quite forthright about how Tarzan, a grown-up feral child, felt about clothes:
Many moons ago, when he had been much smaller, he had desired the skin of Sabor, the lioness, or Numa, the lion, or Sheeta, the leopard to cover his hairless body that he might no longer resemble hideous Histah, the snake; but now he was proud of his sleek skin for it betokened his descent from a mighty race, and the conflicting desires to go naked in prideful proof of his ancestry, or to conform to the customs of his own kind and wear hideous and uncomfortable apparel around first one and then the other in the ascendency.Though he was "rescued" and returned to "civilization", Tarzan relished any opportunity to return to a more "primitive" style of life:
This was life! Ah, how he loved it! Civilization held nothing like this in its narrow and circumscribed sphere, hemmed in by restrictions and conventionalities. Even clothes were a hindrance and a nuisance. At last he was free. He had not realized what a prisoner he had been.The original Tarzan story was Tarzan of the Apes. In one sequel, The Son of Tarzan (the original "son of" story), Burroughs wrote of Tarzan's son Jack and his courtship of Meriem, yet another feral child. Both youngsters preferred minimal clothing, as well.
For a time Jack was angry; but when he had been without the jacket for a short while he began to realize that being half-clothed is infinitely more uncomfortable than being entirely naked. Soon he did not miss his clothing in the least, and from that he came to revel in the freedom of his unhampered state. Occasionally a smile would cross his face as he tried to imagine the surprise of his schoolmates could they but see him now. They would envy him. Yes, how they would envy him.And as for Meriem, after her return to civilization:
Quickly she loosened her riding skirt and tossed it aside -- it was a heavy handicap to successful travel in the trees. Her boots and stockings followed the skirt, for the bare sole of the human foot does not slip upon dry or even wet bark as does the hard leather of a boot. She would have liked to discard her riding breeches also, but the motherly admonitions of My Dear had convinced Meriem that it was not good form to go naked through the world.While nudity makes sense in the African jungle, it is somewhat unexpected in the harsher Martian environment. That didn't stop Burroughts from portraying his hero John Carter pursuing adventure on Mars as naked as Tarzan in the jungle:
It was midday, the sun was shining full upon me and the heat of it was rather intense upon my naked body, yet no greater than would have been true under similar conditions on an Arizona desert.Carter's exploits often involved females as naked as himself, particularly Deejah Thoris in A Princess of Mars:
She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.Robert Heinlein was obviously a Burroughs fan. His character Deety in The Number of the Beast is named after Deejah, and has a similar disdain for clothing. Heinlein's book, in fact, alludes frequently to Burroughs'.
Jo Claton's Diadem series comprises 9 volumes, beginning with Diadem From the Stars. The plot which threads through these books has little to do with nudity: the "Diadem" is a work of alien technology that is capable of holding captive the souls of its victims and integrating them into the consciousness of whoever wears it. Stolen from its makers, the Diadem finds its way onto the head of Aleytys, the heroine of the series. She is pursued throughout by the makers of the Diadem, and herself is seeking across the stars for the mother who abandoned her in infancy.
Although the plot doesn't really deal with nudity, Aleytys herself is often out of her clothes, and usually for reasons other than sex. She experiences many feelings that people who like to be naked can identify with:
Struggling with the wet ties, she finally managed to wriggle out of the abba. ... Then she stood up and stretched, feeling gloriously free as the feeble breeze played about her naked body.
The covers of early paperback editions of some of the books feature some beguiling fantasy art of Aleytys naked.
The author ceases to mention nudity in the latter half of the series, but one does not suppose Aleytys changes much in her acceptance of it. Here's a very brief synopsis of each volume.
She formed an image in her head and the glimmering gold bubbles danced to the calling of her tune. She willed the tiny horses back and laughed with delight as they galloped over the plains and hills of her naked body.
She got to her feet and stood letting the rain chill the heat out of her. Naked and shivering, she began to wonder if she would get out of the Wildlands or leave her bones and flesh to mingle with the bones of the ancient dead.
Farmer's first Riverworld novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, begins promisingly enough, from a nudist point of view: Most of the approximately 35 billion people who ever lived on Earth are mysteriously resurrected along the banks of a 10-million mile river on a distant planet, and no one has any clothes.
General nudity prevails through the almost first half of the book, at which point Farmer seems to lose interest in really pursuing the idea, as at that point, for no particular reason, he provides everyone with simple clothes to wear. Thereafter, most everyone wears a little something or other, if only a kilt and (for the females) a semitransparent scarf around the chest. Farmer often points out that people on the Riverworld are comfortable in far less clothing than they usually required on Earth - but, disappointingly, not quite nothing at all. This general tone holds through the rest of the first volume and the subsequent four in the series.
The lingering need for "modesty" and incomplete body acceptance marks Farmer as being intrigued with the idea of nudity, yet not quite really grasping the concept. The Riverworld series is worth reading, as far as an interest in nudity is concerned, if you want to contemplate the attitude of someone who almost "gets it".
Farmer is known as one of the authors who introduced sex to science fiction in the '60's. But, demonstrating how different the theme of sex is from that of nudity, he falls far short of Heinlein, or even Asimov, in his handling of the latter theme.
Aside from various related stories, there are five main volumes in the Riverworld series:
Alice said, "I don't like it, but why should I be embarrassed? Where all are nude, none are nude. It's the thing to do, in fact, the only thing that can be done. If some angel were to give me a complete outfit, I wouldn't wear it. I'd be out of style. And my figure is good. If it weren't I might be suffering more.Although the series has many protagonists, Richard Francis Burton (explorer, linguist, translator of the Kama Sutra) is perhaps the principal one, and he has a decided interest in Alice. Watching her, he reflects:
She crawled out, stood up, walked over to the bamboo bucket, bent down, scooped up water, and splashed it over her face. Then she squatted down by the fire, warming her hands over a small flame. If everybody is naked, how quickly even the most modest lose their modesty, he thought.Alice vacillates about clothes for awhile. She tries out a skirt and top made of grass, but finds these too itchy. Farmer suggests that the other women around have little concern about "modesty" and seem interested mainly in going whichever way as regards clothes the majority decides.
No clothing is practical for swimming, however, and Burton observes (from the perspective of the customs of his time)
These were the same people who had accepted the bathing machines, the suits that covered them from ankle to neck, and all the other modest devices, as absolutely moral and vital to the continuation of the proper society - theirs. Yet, after only one day of finding themselves here, they were swimming in the nude. And enjoying it.The temptation was too much even for Alice, who shed her new clothes to go in the water. And afterward
Alice came out of the river and ran her hands over her body. The sun and the breeze dried her off quickly. She picked up her grass clothes but did not put them back on. Wilfreda asked her about them. Alice replied that they made her itch too much, but she would keep them to wear at night if it got too cold.
Soon after that everyone gets some simple clothing, and the subject of nudity is mostly dropped, as Farmer apparently can't figure out what to do with it.
It reappears briefly in The Dark Design, with its heroine Jill Gulbirra. As her name suggests, Jill is part Australian Aborigine. For some reason, Farmer chooses to portray her briefly naked in a couple of passages, though he scarcely alludes to nudity otherwise, and even though tolerance for and casualness about exposure of skin remains a part of Riverworld life. Perhaps he's making a point that nudity isn't an incompatible attribute of a strong woman who plays a leadership role in the story.
Or perhaps it's connected in his mind with Jill's blackfella heritage. Of course, this isn't unreasonable, given the much greater closeness to nature of Aborigine culture as compared to that of Europeans.
Howard Fast is a prolific "mainstream" author who has written some stories that, based on content, easily qualify as science fiction. There is one in particular called "The Trap", which can be found in Time and the Riddle: 31 Zen Stories. (You can read it online under the name The First Men.)
As in Judith Moffett's story "Surviving", the tale begins with a feral child, this time in India and raised by wolves. There is the same urgent need to be naked:
Did I mention that she must be naked? She tears off any clothes they dress her in, and there are times she will attack her leather belt with a kind of senseless ferocity.However, this story takes another direction. Some psychologists have an interest in feral children because they speculate that such children bear the same relation to the creatures that raise them as children of a hypothetical race of more evolved humans called "man-plus" (if there were any) would if they chanced to be raised in an ordinary human family:
The people who constitute this new race of men are not of recent arrival; they have been cropping up among men - Homo sapiens, that is - for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years. But they are trapped in the human environment.The fledgling "man-plus" children have gone unrecognized, since they are limited by those who raise them just as surely as a wolf-child. But what if such limitations could be overcome?
The psychologists succeed in collecting a number of suspected "man-plus" children and withdraw from society with them to a remote part of California for twenty years, with results noteworthy enough to draw the attention of the U. S. military.
Not only do these children turn out to have exceptionally high IQs and to develop psychic powers, but they also share a disdain for clothing:
Much about them would shock you just as it would shock most of the population of the outside world. Most of the time they wear no clothes.Although the final outcome is left unspoken, this story is very reminiscent of Arthur Clarke's masterpiece, Childhood's End, in which ordinary human children are swiftly evolved away from their parents by a benevolent but much advanced alien race.
Likewise, the basic premise has a lot in common with Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human, in which psychic uberkinder also appear.
Another story in the same volume, "The Sight of Eden" offers a poignantly sad appraisal of the human state of mind. Seven astronauts have just made the first journey to an extrasolar planet. They find a beautiful Eden, with gardens, rivers, fountains - but apparently no inhabitants. Yet there are also beautiful buildings, some of whose corridors are "lined with colorful and masterful murals of naked children at play".
On their third day, they are finally greeted by a man, human seemingly just like them. Though he has no name in the usual sense, he goes by "Smith" for convenience. He reveals that many worlds througout the universe are inhabited by "humans" just like themselves, and that this whole planet has been set aside and developed as a park.
Smith also reveals, with much sadness, that he is familiar with the history of Earth, its wars, violence, and destruction. Worse, it seems that only on Earth have humans exhibited such pathological behavior. The astronauts from Earth, therefore, are not welcome. They must be confined to their own planet and not allowed to join the rest of galactic society.
Naturally, one of the astronauts objects that the past history of Earth is old and now irrelevant. So Smith demonstrates, simply and elegantly, that this is not the case:
Smith opened his robe, let it slip off his body to the ground, and stood before them naked. The women instinctively turned their heads away. The men reacted in shocked disbelief. Smith picked up his robe and clothed himself again.The astronauts comprehend the absurdity and self-loathing implicit in a race of beings which cannot bear even the sight of itself.
"You see," he said.
The five men and women stared at him, their eyes full of realization now.
"In all the universe," Smith said, "there is only one race of man that holds its bodies in shame and contempt. All others walk naked in pride and unashamed. Only Earth has made the image of man into a curse and a shame. What else must I say?"
Heinlein has used nudity in his work more that any other major SF author. It's sometimes an essential part of the narrative, rather than just incidental. He is one of a relatively few authors who actually adopts a stance of advocacy, often in no uncertain terms.
Heinlein used to live in the town of Bonny Doon, California, in the mountains just a few miles from the nude beaches north of Santa Cruz. No doubt he knew the beaches well.
The homesteading episode from the larger story is charming, and with dialog you'd never find in Little House on the Prarie. E. g., "Hon, you look cute in just a sunbonnet." "Not just a sunbonnet, I'm wearing boots, too." It's not clearly stated, but one supposes that Lazarus Long and his family wear clothes only when necessary throughout their pioneering days. There's a lot of nudity in other episodes of the book, too. Many characters here, as in a number of other Heinlein books, seem to do casually without clothes at almost any opportunity.
This is similar to Time Enough for Love in that it's a rambling series of episodes with little plot, but a great deal of implied nudity. Starting with Deety, one of the principal narrators: "I like to be naked and usually am at Snug Harbor, weather permitting." Deety's name, incidentally, is an allusion to Dejah Thoris, heroine of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. Burroughs (author of the Tarzan stories) wrote a series of Martian stories, which tended to include characters like Dejah who had little use for clothes.
This book probably had more than a
little to do with a distinctly greater acceptance of nudity among
young people in the late 60's and early 70's as compared to now.
Friday, the heroine, is an "artificial person" (a genetically modified human), and one theme of the book is a plea against discrimination aimed at APs. It's also an action story with more of a plot line than other later Heinline works. The nudity is more incidental here, but Friday and various other characters are quite at ease without clothes.
This is a story from the 50's, so the plot is a bit quaint: alien slugs arrive in flying saucers and enslave humans by attaching to their backs or elsewhere on the body. This turns the victim into a zombie puppet of the slugs. The government eventually requires everyone to go naked (except perhaps for g string or bra), so that no zombie can go undetected. Thus, rather implausibly, the entire population of the U. S. (except for the zombies) give up the wearing of clothes, with hardly a whimper of protest. This was recently made into a movie, which I haven't seen, since (I hear) the plot was drastically changed and most of the nudity omitted. Very cowardly.
Farnham is the archetypal survivalist (having a lot in common with Heinlein, I suppose). He has built and stocked a sophisticated bomb shelter, which is fortunate, since he's at ground zero when the Bomb falls. The story follows the post-bomb life of Farnham, his family, and house guests. Although clothing is available to them, it doesn't seem to be much used or a high priority in the whole scheme of things.
Boy meets girl on a French nude beach, and they go off to slay dragons and share other sundry adventures, occasionally in the buff.
Not much nudity, except when the time-travelling protagonist pops out of the future and lands on the grounds of the Denver Sunshine Club. He makes the transition easily.
In the novel Pennterra a far-away Earth is dying. Two colony ships have been sent to Epsilon Eridani in search of a new home. The first ship has arrived six years ahead of the other. The planet where they make landfall is inhabited by intelligent aliens, whose low-tech, pacifistic outlook has been adopted by the newly-arrived humans. Accordingly, the colonists have named the planet Pennterra, after William Penn, and they call themselves Quakers.
When the follwing ship lands, its leaders are dismayed to find how their bretheren have adapted to the new environment, for they are determined to carry out the original purpose of transporting Earth civilization and technology to their new home. The scene is set for the main theme of the novel which, crudely stated, is the conflict between technology and nature. (Nature ultimately wins.)
In spite of this opposition, neither the older colonists nor those newly arrived (called Sixers, for the length of time before their arrival) are prudish about the wearing of clothes. Nudity is accepted, though not habitual.
Early on, Maggie, one of the Sixer leaders, awakens in the lodging provided her by the Quakers. The morning is cool and rainy, but she goes to open a window.
She shoved; the window stuck, then swung wide open, and the sudden leaping odors of wet earth and rain, the flow of the damp fresh air over her bare skin, abruptly swamped her senses.Soon thereafter Maggie is joined by four other female leaders of the Sixers in the bath house/sauna, which they comfortably enjoy in the nude. When she needs to cool off, Maggie goes outside and dives into a little adjacent pool. She is not particularly concerned at being seen naked by a young Quaker boy:
A needle-filled gust reminded Maggie that she was bare and freezing. Sending him one last wave, she ducked back inside.Somewhat later, two of the Quakers (George and Katy) form a delegation with two of the Sixers (Maggie and Byron) to go meet some of the indigenes. The village of the latter is on an island in the middle of a lake, and the party is expected to swim naked to the meeting place - so that all four humans are unclothed for the meeting. This presents no real problem:
While she was speaking, Katy had loosened the belt over her own tunic and with total un-selfconsciousness now pulled it over her head and kicked off her sandals. George shucked his as well and dropped it in the sand. Neither of them were wearing anything underneath.People who are accustomed to nudity are familiar with this reaction in others trying it for the first time - even when they aren't inhibited by "modesty" or prudery (shame of the body for what it is), there is still resistance to getting naked on account of vanity (shame of the body for how it looks). But this is a relatively trivial matter which can be overcome.
Recalling her trepidations about the Quaker views on nakedness, Maggie smiled ironically to herself. They might be fanatics, but prudes they were not; nor was it possible for her and Byron to go through the laborious process of removing their own eight or nine garments each with a fraction of their grace and ease. The fact was that Maggie felt inhibited not by modesty but by vanity. The last time George Quinlan had viewed her naked body it had been rather better able to stand exposure to daylight.
In fact, as befits people who have adopted a cooperative attitude towards their natural environment, the Quakers are at ease without clothes, and are not unaccustomed to nudity:
Katy had come out of the lake and stood frowning and squinting at the sun. She said something to George, who held up his arm to look at his wrist, then let the arm fall back to the sand as he replied. Both were spangled all over with bright droplets of sweat or water. They looked like what they were: people who carried out some of their ordinary activities dressed only in a tanned skin. They looked connected to their world, and at ease there.Although both Sixers and Quakers are tolerant of nudity (and I think the author implies this is natural for humans), it is much more consistent with the outlook of the Quakers. Nudity is integrated into their world view, while it highlights a dissonance within the Sixers. It is this tension between attitudes towards nature that drives the plot of the book.
Moffett has a short story, "Surviving", in which nudity also plays an important symbolic role. (The story was nominated for a Nebula award in 1986 in the novelette category.)
In the story, Sally Barnes was lost at the age of four in the African jungle after a plane crash that killed her parents. She was raised by chimps and only found nine years later. Initially she was a classical "wild child" and could not speak human language, but unlink all other feral children on record, Sally returned successfully to human society - apparently.
In fact, she went on to take a PhD in biology and then to a tenure-track university appointment. The story is narrated by a woman (Janet) who did her own dissertaion (in psychology) on Sally, and now teaches at the same university. Despite Sally's initial coolness, she becomes close to Janet.
But still, Sally is a little "odd":
I came carefully and painfully through a tangle of briars to be thunderstruck by the sight of young Professor Barnes where she seemed at once least and most likely to be: ten meters up in one of the old beeches. She was perfectly naked. She sat poised on a little branch, one shoulder set against the smooth gray bole of the bare tree, one foot dangling, the opposite knee cocked on the branch, the whole posture graced by a naturalness that smote me with envy in the surreal second or two before she caught sight of me.Out of friendship, Janet emulates Sally:
From the first day of training, I had determined never to let Sally force a contrast between us; I would adapt to her own source of fitness out here. If she climbed naked, so would I, tender skin or not.It is apparent that Sally's rapprochement with civilization is incomplete. While her urgent need to be naked isn't entirely at odds with society (it does not alienate her friend), it is symbolic of deeper drives. Ultimately Sally disappears back into the jungle she was raised in.
People who like nakedness can relate to this. There is a compelling impulse to be naked which has nothing to do with sexuality or exhibitionism. It is part of a more general wired-in urge to get out of our current domesticated state in order to know a mode of living that is wilder and more feral. Something we may have known a little in childhood. If only occasionally.
More than 80 years ago Edgar Rice Burroughs treated exactly the same theme in the first of his Tarzan stories (and sequels), though many people today would be flustered to admit the role of nudity in the popularity of this series.
See also Howard Fast for another story that has involves feral children.
Sturgeon's novel More Than Human concerns children with psychic powers and (in some cases) a predisposition to lose their clothes.
Alicia is a precursor, who later becomes, for a time, a protector of others. Remembering the trauma of her sister's death and her father's suicide, she needs desperately a way out of herself, which path leads out of her clothes:
She took a deep breath and held it. She shut her eyes so tight there was red in the blackness of it. Her hands flickered over the buttons of her dress. It fell away. She slid out of underwear and stockings with a single movement. The air stirred and its touch on her body was indescribable; it seemed to blow through her. She stepped forward into the sun and with tears of terror pressing through her closed lids, she danced naked, for Evelyn, and begged and begged her dead father's pardon.Two of the "Homo Gestalt" children are twins, Bonnie and Beanie, whose specialty is teleportation. Their powers do not extend to bringing their clothes along when they teleport:
All of a sudden Beanie was in there, naked like she always was when she traveled like that.So nudity is a motif of this story of how certain "exceptional" children learn to use their powers. A similar theme appears in Howard Fast's story "The Trap".
James Tiptree, Jr. was the pen name of Alice Sheldon. She actively produced science fiction for only a relatively brief time, from 1968 to her death in 1987 at age 72, and most of her 50+ short stories appeared in the first half of that period. During that first 10 years, she kept her real identity a closely guarded secret.
Tiptree published only 2 novels. She achieved much better results in shorter forms. Her short stories are often acknowledged as some of the best in the genre, and most were nominated for one award or another.
Nevertheless, her work is not for everyone. It is often philosophical and demanding and laden with symbolism. It is also dark and brooding and much concerned with sex, love, death, and the evanescence of human life (or even the human species).
Tiptree is generally regarded as a feminist author, with good reason. However, her stories often deal with sexual themes and use imagery that would be considered sexist if written by a man. Her protagonists are much more often female than male (or otherwise - one story, "Your Haploid Heart" posits a third asexual gender which is essentially a different species).
Nudity is never a central theme, yet it is a motif in a number of stories, which may seem to be introduced almost gratuitously. However, in Tiptree, nudity is neither celebrated for itself, as in Heinlein, or simply a state enjoyed casually by a character like Clayton's Aleytys. Instead, it usually has symbolic overtones.
Further, nudity is usually associated with female characters. If Tiptree were a man, this could be dismissed as sexist. Since she is not, though, when nudity is used it seems more like an attribute of femaleness that the author identifies with, the mystique of Eve - the second nudist. For instance, "The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew" begins:
We see her first as a solitary child with the habit of taking off her clothes in the woods. The woods belonged to her family, and from her first summer P. understood that the forest was magical, which is to say, real. ... What counted were her months of wandering alone through the extravagantly senile forest, of lying bare on mulm, roots, rocks and mosses in silent rapport with a deep Presence which she identified unquestioningly as male.One wonders if there is something autobiographical in this.
Here are a few key stories. (Numbers after the titles refer to collections in which the story appears.)
A poignant tale of the eternal tension between human longing for transcendence and the equally strong desire to abide with what is essentially human, including death. This dualism is referred to in the story as "the double heart of man". It is one of Tiptree's dominant themes.
A colony of starfaring humans have been stranded for 30 years on an inhospitable beach of an alien world. Shipwrecked, literally. Finally the colony is facing the imminent destruction of what remains of its advanced civilization embodied in its computer stores. The old man of the colony is himself mortally ill, but he possesses the means to escape death, in spirit, through his connection to a nearly disembodied alien consciousness. His dilemma is that to do so would be to abandon his fellow humans to their probable destruction.
As he is pleading with the alien for help
A leathery little woman toiled up the rocks toward him, followed by a naked goddess. His wife and youngest daughter, bringing food.The old man tries, and fails, to explain the nature of the alien, and the conflict he faces, to his wife and daughter. But they are preoccupied with their own fate, and they leave.
He watched them going down the hill, the girl's peachbloom buttocks gliding against each other.This little glimpse of nudity does a number of things:
A time travel story, with ironic reflections on human relationships, and plenty of the usual time travel paradoxes. The two main characters, husband and wife, are first seen naked, in old age. Then it flashes back:
Just fifty-five years earlier the members of St. Andrews Junior College senior class file into a curious tunnel-like structure and begin taking off their clothes.It is some future era, and senior class trips involve time travel. But the future is not pleasant, and this is not a happy story. Time travel technology can transport an individual and his/her body only, at least
"It seems to be the custom to change naked. Maybe there's something about getting the atoms of the clothes mixed up with your skin or something."One can't bring anything back either, even memories: "you can't bring back anything but your bare body."
The point, as people who enjoy doing without clothes often point out, is that an individual's self and the body's clothes don't really have very much to do with each other. And perhaps, getting naked (at least metaphorically) is somehow essential before a significant change or journey.
In view of the somber tone of the story, one recall Shakespeare's "poor, bare, forked animal as thou art."
Another time-travel story, with its own set of paradoxes, including (perhaps) an infinite loop, and cheerful nudity. An old woman travels back in time to re-enact her meeting with her husband-to-be.
She was stumbling like crazy, up to her crotch in the snow in the fading light. Just as Dov reached her she went down on all fours and all he could see was her little stark-bare pink ass sticking up with a glittery-green thing on one cheek. And about a yard of silver hair.
After a nuclear holocaust, some humans have reverted to barbarism but are genetically sound, while others have maintained some civilization despite genetic defects. A young woman of the latter group, who has no arms, must capture a male of the former group for mating, to improve the damaged gene pool. It's a more difficult problem that it sounds - procreation is the object, but it won't do if the girl dies afterward at the hands of the savages. She must lure a male away from the others of his kind, back to her own more civlized enclave.
The girl, attended by a wolf, makes herself the lure. She seems to draw courage from becoming naked:
Beneath the jacket she was bare. She stood patiently while he nosed the jacket back across her shoulders like a cape. Her shoulders were smooth scarless knobs above her small breasts. The cold air puckered her pink nipples, stirred the little beards of silk in what should have been her armpits. ... Satisfied, he jerked his big head and then began to tug at the flexible waistband of her breeches, drawing them down deftly to expose her body and upper thighs. As he worked she began to smile, moved. He growled faintly. The wind blew on her bareness.... The girl took an awkward pace forward, putting her naked body in full sunlight.
Steel Beach is Varley's most recent major novel. Nudity is a frequent motif in the story, though never a real point of focus.
The tale is set on Earth's moon, a few hundred years in the future. Early in the 21st century humankind was exiled to the Moon and the other planets by alien invaders who coveted Terran real estate but otherwise have paid the dispossessed race no further attention. The title suggests that the new home of humans is like a beach upon which unwilling creatures of a totally different habitat were cast long ago as a prelude to a phase of rapid evolution.
The direction which such evolution might take in our case isn't really suggested in this story. All we actually see is the urgent need for something new, as the protagonist, many members of the society, and even the central computer that operates everything in the background are slowly going crazy from boredom. Unfortunately, books about boredom often succeed too well in conveying that experience to the reader. Steel Beach is too long. It would be much more effective at half the length. The main plot is too often submerged in episodes which seem to be included only for the entertainment value. One is frequently wishing the author would simply get to the point which, when it comes, isn't all that surprising.
Nevertheless, the society which the novel depicts is still very similar to our own, with various familiar defects emphasized and parodied. Consequently, it is believable, and so one is encouraged to find that, while nudity isn't the norm, it is an always acceptable option rather than a shunned taboo.
For instance, Callie, the mother of the protagonist Hildy, is noted to be a naturist who simply hates clothes:
Nudity was not a sometime thing for Callie. I'd known her all my life, and in that time had never seen her wear so much as a pinky ring. There was no big philosophy behind her lifelong naturism. Callie went bare simply because she liked it, and hated picking out clothes in the morning.
On various other occasions we are shown nudity as just another option for attire. With one exception, it is merely incidental to the story.
Rather late in the novel we encounter a band of individuals living outside of normal society, clearly depicted by the author as the people who will lead the next advance in evolution. They are survivalists who have taken over a crater used as a refuse disposal site. The site surrounds the remains of a failed effort at a starship, abandoned decades before. Unsubtly, the starship was named the Robert A. Heinlein, so the survivalists are known, of course, as Heinleiners. Their philosophy is straight out of the pages of their namesake.
The Heinleiners have managed to develop a variety of new technologies, including a kind of force field which can be worn as an air-tight insulating suit against the vacuum of space. One must be naked inside the field, but to the outside world it appears as a perfect mirror, rendering the person largely invisible on the lunar surface.
Hildy's first encounter with any of the Heinleiners occurs during a sojourn on the surface. She first notices a butterfly that has been genetically engineered to survive in the vacuum, and even to fly by means of a miniature jet propulsion system. But then there is yet a greater wonder:
I'd about dismissed it as a drunken whimsy when a naked girl materialized out of very thin air and ran seven steps - I can see them now in my mind's eye, clear as anything, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and then gone again back to where ghosts go, and she'd come close enough to me to almost touch her.This girl is a child of about ten, but for a time her ghostly and seemingly impossible feat of dashing through the lunar vacuum in her birthday suit instead of a space suit is the lure that draws Hildy into the world of the Heinleiners.
It turns out that the child Gretel is engaged in the very dangerous, yet playful, adventure of temporarily disabling the marvelous force field to be entirely naked in the inhospitable environment of the hard vacuum. It's the ultimate expression of direct contact between living flesh and the indifferent or hostile universe. As the child's father, who is the leader of the Heinleiners, explains,
She hopes she'll eventually adapt herself to living in vacuum without any artificial aids.
It may be a quixotic hope, but it reminds us of other children in science fiction, such as Howard Fast's or Theodore Sturgeon's who happen to shed their clothing in the process of leading their species toward a new stage of evolution.
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