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Theory of Bastards
By Audrey Schulman

Discussed October 2018

Buy Theory of Bastards from


  • Dr. Francine (Frankie) Burk
  • David Stotts (her assistant)
  • Tess (David’s daughter)
  • JayJay (waiter Frankie dated in college)
  • Human (a college professor)


  • Mama (alpha female)
  • Tooch (2-year-old male)
  • Houdina (a female)
  • Id (1-year-old daughter of Houdina)
  • Marge & Adele (“the Terrible Two”)
  • Goliath (tool-maker wannabe; jealous)
  • Stella (a female)
  • Sweetie (smaller male; “secret sex”)


  1. Like Station Eleven, this novel is described as “literary science-fiction”.  What makes this science-fiction “literary”?  Is Theory of Bastards a successful mix of “literature” and “science-fiction”?  Does its “literary” nature detract from the “science-fiction”?
  2. The story sometimes jumps from Frankie’s “current experiences at the Foundation” to her backstory.  Did this affect your enjoyment of the book?
  3. I’m assuming you figured out pretty early on that this novel has a “near future” setting.  Do you think Schulman handled the “near future gadgetry” effectively?  (Lenses, avatars, BodyWare, Bindi, etc.)
  4. How did you feel when the “sci-fi” aspects really started kicking in and affecting the story in a BIG way?  (ecological disaster, technological disaster)  Do you feel Schulman did a good job of incorporating them into the story?
  5. I’m pretty sure Schulman didn’t “invent” all the details of the ecological disaster, even though there’s no citation in her Research Appendix.  How effective and realistic did you find her descriptions of climate change and the ecological disaster?
  6. What are your feelings about how Schulman depicts Frankie (her life, her story, her health issues)?  Does she strike you as a “believable” or “authentic” character?  Does she come across as female (rather than simply “a guy in a dress”)?
  7. What do you think about the relationships in Frankie’s life: Frankie and David; Frankie and JayJay; Frankie and Hyman; Frankie and Mama; Frankie and Goliath?
  8. Is there any “queer” content?
  9. Now let’s look at the apes.  Were you surprised to see Schulman’s depictions of gorillas and chimpanzees and bonobos?  Are the bonobos (or any of the other apes) “important” characters for the story?  Got any favorites?  Did Schulman make you care about them?  Are you interested in any of the publications listed in her Research Appendix?
  10. Have you figured out Frankie’s “Theory of Bastards”?
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