On the topic of space leathers

NOTEThis is not a call to seek out the review cited below and castigate the reviewer, who is, after all, entitled to her opinion.  Indeed, I’m grateful to her for presenting a viewpoint that would have never occurred to me, and for presenting me with an opportunity to explain the origin of an important part of the Liaden Universe®

This is a riff off of a reader review of Carousel Sun.  I do read reviews, and sometimes I riff off of them.  Consider yourselves warned.  This particular review took exception to the appearance of the word “leathers” in Carousel Sun, when, if I understand the argument correctly, “leathers” had already been co-opted by the Liaden Universe® and ought never appear in any other work written by me or by Steve.

Even, apparently, when it is the correct word (i.e. the protective clothing worn by motorcyclists are referred to as “motorcycle leathers,” or “leathers.”  Here’s an example of cycling leathers.) used in the correct world, by the correct people.

Which is, IMHO, a. . .really interesting viewpoint.*

But!  It got me to thinking about the origin of “space leathers” in the Liaden Universe®.

Steve and I grew up in the 1960s, when the Great Public Mind was in the process of mythologizing World War II.  That meant that we saw a lot of war shows on television, including:  Combat!, McHale’s Navy, Twelve O’Clock High, The Rat Patrol, Hogan’s Heroes. . .among others, and a whole stack of movies:  The Longest Day, Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, Bridge on the River Kwai, von Ryan’s Express, &c, &c

My dad used to make it a point to take me to see war movies, as a father-daughter bonding thing.  Most, if not all, of these movies, featured pilots.  And the pilots were. . .heroic. They wore their leather jackets with pride and with attitude.  The other characters might have reservations, but even those who did honored the pilots for their courage, derring-do, and amazing ability to pull things out of hats.

When it came time to write the Liaden Universe®, and fill in Clan Korval’s pilots-by-intention lineage, with a birthright of attitude, courage, and over-the-topness — we dressed them as they deserved — in space leather:  protective gear that was instantly recognizable, even by those who were not pilots (or Scouts), which not only protected them, but illuminated and increased their mystique.


*Leather has, of course, been used throughout history as protective clothing; after all, it’s tough.  Conquistadors wore leather; American Indians wore leather; Vikings wore leather.  I speak here only of the leathers that influenced us.

16 thoughts on “On the topic of space leathers”

  1. I always tied it to the fighter-pilot image, as well as the Lensmen leathers of “Doc” Smith.

    I did not think the motorcyclists in “Carousel Sun” were impersonating pilots, nor did I image them as particularly Liaden.

    And I like the knowledge we got in the Cantra book that pilots had not always worn leathers, as well as the reasons that tradition had to change. It might seem improbable that the tradition then continued for hundreds or thousands of years since then (how long HAS it been? I am obviously unclear), but then, the Liadens hold strongly to tradition, as exemplified by the Code of Proper Conduct and the role of House Korval in general.

  2. I always tied it to the fighter-pilot image, as well as the Lensmen leathers of “Doc” Smith.

    I didn’t even think of Doc Smith, having only managed to read one Lensmen book in my life. Steve, however, inhaled the Lensmen.


  3. I have occasionally wondered what *kind* of leather pilots’ jackets are made of (in your stories, that is.) Every leather has its own qualities, its own literal weight, innate from its animal origin (and affected, of course, by the processing it’s gone through.) Some are, for instance, easier to make supple; some are thicker and heavier. (My fencing doublet is quite thick and stiff; a friend’s elkskin one is far more supple.) It almost (almost!) seems that an infinite supply of fresh black leather pilots’ jackets exists so that there’s one to fit whoever next qualifies as a pilot, even in the most remote places…like Surebleak. (Where did Pat Rin’s jacket come from? Do port officials have a stock of them at every port? And no, I don’t expect an answer to that…but the thought did occur.)

    I’m most familiar with cowhide, goatskin, and deerskin, but in a wide, wide universe there may be many more interesting critters whose skins would make the perfect pilot’s spaceleather jacket.

  4. Didn’t Pat Rin’s jacket come from the Portmaster’s Closet? I’m thinking it was an “older” design, so it had been hanging around awhile. I’d have to go back and check, but it would make a certain amount of sense, there being no Pilots Guild office on Surebleak at that time…

  5. Regarding the texture and feel…Er Thom’s jacket is described as soft and smooth. I’m thinking that, at this point in the Liaden Universe(R), Space Leather is actually a manufactured item, and is no longer derived from the Wild Space Leatherings whose herds still roam the starlines, though much reduced since Ancient Times…

  6. So they’ve gone from wearing the hides of Space Leatherings to wearing the hides of Space Naugas?

  7. So you are saying that Pilot Leathers, may not actually be… leather? 🙁

    That somehow saddens me a little. I felt that all the little tidbits or descriptions of leathers reflected actual leather – the way they take wear and tear, the more worn they are the better and more comfortable, etc.

    I’m sure by the time we are traveling between stars there will be an appropriate synthetic leather, but I shudder at the idea of Pilot Pleathers.

    But as always, it’s your universe, I just like to visit, so as long as you keep writing, I’ll try to keep the complaints to a minimum.

  8. Very interesting… I grew up in MT, wore leather chaps, pants, jackets, vests, shirts, gloves, etc. And have ridden motorcycles for over 50 years where I wore “leathers” frequently. However, the entire time I’ve been reading books about the Laiden Universe, my assumption of the word leathers was that it was a synthetic fabric that was properly suitable for the rigors of space and the harsh existence presented in alien environments… e.g. environments alien to the wearer of the garment where unexpected events could cause severe harm… Thanks for the discussion.

  9. Remember, there was Nauga Hide….
    I didn;t even really notice “leather” reading Carousel Sun. Bikers in leather are high non-extraordinary.
    Pilots in leather… I saw hundreds of pilots in flight suits, and those flight suits were made of Nomex. I forget what any jackets they had been wearing were made of–probably Nomex also. Nomex has the useful property of being flame-retardant.
    The Liaden Universe is fictional, what pilots wear in it, and what contemporary pilots wear generally does not match. I have a long-unused Private Pilot’s license, I never wore a leather jacket when actively flying. For someone to get hung up on leather wearing as allowable or not allowable in different story settings by authors, boggles me.

  10. As a pilot, a biker, and a former rancher, I have worn leathers extensively since the age of 10. I have a USCG issue G-1 leather Jacket from my time in the CG which is goatskin. It is as supple and soft as silk and wears like iron. There are scars and scuffs from at least one cycle wreck that should have been the road rash from the infernal regions. The leathers I wore racing bikes were heaver but just as vital because the knees were often dragging in the turns. The idea of Leathers being for only one venue is strange to me. People use what works when we colonize the stars we will take horses, cows, sheep, and other domestic animals for their meat, transportation, wool and other useful products. Energy will always be an issue so we will use what is proven technology. Also we would become much less human without our critters.

  11. The original A-2 USAAF flight jacket was make of horsehide leather for its toughness. The A-2 is still issued to USAF pilots. The Navy has a similar version with minor differences.

    I was a pilot (no longer due to physical constraints) but not a military pilot. I have a leather jacket but I made sure it could not be mistaken for the issued A-2 jacket.

    Once seen, the A-2 leather jacket cannot be mistaken for any other jacket.

  12. It is always interesting to me when I come to a dead stop when reading and think “wait a minute!” I can sympathize with the reader’s “wait a minute” moment although this particular leather in more than one place and in one way doesn’t bother me the slightest. Wonder when my next “wait a minute” moment will come? And what will trigger it?

  13. I also assumed that pilot jacket leather was manufactured with qualities no planet-bound creature would have or need, and that the term “leather” was a reference to a particular style of jacket whose long-ago ancestor was made from tanned hide.

  14. Just because it’s not made from the hides of actual slaughtered beasties doesn’t mean it’s necessarily not “real” leather. It could be vat-grown or something.

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