I thought I should discuss a little bit about the birth scene in Nation of Blaze. Not that any reader has (as yet) written about it or commented to me on it... but, well, it is perhaps a stranger part of the book. If you'd rather leave it as one of the peculiar mysteries of The Fireblade Array, then it's probably best not to read on...
I've already mentioned that I like to tweak human biology in my writings, and look at how society is affected by those changes. I should emphasise that this is my opinion, but one of the things about humans that just seems to be damned-well unfair is the whole process of pregnancy and childbirth. It's almost universally described as painful, exhausting and injurious. There are increasingly-reported accounts of orgasmic childbirth, but I am pretty certain that these remain in the minority and there has been little in the way of peer-reviewed studies on the subject.
Experiences differ, of course, on the level of pain... but it's usually described in a negative way. It's just one of the payoffs for having big brains and two feet and, generally speaking, pain doesn't kill you. But pain is a horrible thing! So, how does society deal with this problem? Religions sometimes come up with an answer that is easier for our minds to rationalise. In both Judaism and Christianity, women are punished with childbirth because of Eve's disobedience. In Buddhism, suffering is seen as a part of life - but your own actions (i.e. actively releasing attachment to desire) can somehow circumvent this suffering. In Hinduism it's seen as a moment where pleasure and pain converge into a unique, miraculous event, but I've yet to find any explanation for the pain. Again, (as far as I can tell) the Islamic faith doesn't seek to explain the reasons behind labour pain, either.
Pain management in childbirth is something that has been tackled across history, not least in the nineteenth century and the introduction of chloroform for labour by James Simpson. And now there's a whole raft of pain-killing options available. But, against this, there is still a sort of social encouragement of suffering in the UK and USA. The promotion of 'natural' and 'drug-free' labours as somehow more worthy than those using medical intervention confuses me. Frequently I hear of women describing themselves as failures because they have required an epidural or caesarian, but that should not be the case. It should not be mandatory for a woman to suffer in order to be a worthy mother.
True enough, suffering (and its defeat) makes for an interesting novel... and Schopenhauer once said that pain was necessary in order to give life meaning. Across the centuries, people have sought to find ways to avoid pain or suffering, explain it and accept it. But for me, pain ought not to make a person more worthy when it's inextricably linked to their gender and the roles they are expected to play. In other words, no woman in my book should have to suffer because she's the one to make the babies, nor should her partner be independent of it.
So that's why the women in The Fireblade Array experience pleasure during birth; I wanted to give them the break that neither our biology nor our society seems to want to!