FF: Pigs, Priests, and Pegasi

July 31, 2015

If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d have had trouble getting my “book fix” this week…

A lovely summer read

A lovely summer read

The Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include either short fiction or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Three excellent stories.  The “frame” in which they were presented also worked well.

The Sky Chariots Saga Book 1: Restless Earth by Emily Mah.  Part one of a serial, so this was mostly set-up and presentation of characters.  Setting is an alternate southwestern U.S.  May be an alternate future, despite the fantasy elements.  Includes pegasi, but a very different take.

The Father Brown Mysteries.  Audio.  Radio dramas based on the stories by G.K. Chesterton.

In Progress:

Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Mustache Mary by Wendelin Van Draanen.  Missing treasure and family feuds provide the backdrop for more serious questions of friendship and peer pressure.  More mature concerns like boys and substance abuse enter for the first time in the series.  A very large pig provides humor.

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  This one seems to be a prequel to the “Miles” stories.  Focuses on the genetically engineered “quaddies.”  (I’m guessing at the spelling since this is an audiobook!  Just started getting tense.

Also:

Almost done proofing Curiosities, my forthcoming short story collection.

TT: Arthur C. Clarke — More Than “Hard SF”

July 30, 2015

JANE: Last time I asked you which authors gave you the “sense of wonder” feeling.

ALAN: Arthur C. Clarke can do it to me every time. I think the best examples from his body of work are Childhood’s End and The City and the Stars. The latter in particular still has the power to move me almost to tears, despite the fact that I must have read it at least a dozen times.

Wonders of Outer Space

Wonders of Outer Space

JANE: Can you go into a little more detail?  Some of our readers on are on the younger side and may not be familiar with Clarke’s work.  I think we owe them an idea of what is “wondrous” in his work.

ALAN: Certainly. Childhood’s End starts very conventionally with an invasion of the Earth by aliens who quickly become known as the Overlords. They initiate a utopian golden age, but there is a time limit on it. Initially, it isn’t clear just what this means, but eventually we learn that the Overlords are, if you like, nursemaids here to guide and supervise as humanity evolves into a new order of being.

Ironically (slight spoiler here) the Overlords themselves are not capable of achieving this new state and remain relentlessly curious about what is involved; hence their appearance as nursemaids to those species about to achieve it. It’s this thinking about what might be the next stage of evolution that gives the novel its impact (though it’s not short of spectacle either!). There’s a spiritual depth to it combined with a sense of poignant yearning, particularly on the part the Overlords who are forever denied access to what might possibly be the gates of heaven, however you care to define that particular can of worms. Clarke was a thoroughgoing atheist, but his novels are full of religious speculation.

JANE: I hadn’t read this one…  I may need to add it to my ever-growing list.  Funny thing, these days when Clarke is mentioned, it’s almost always in the context of “hard” SF.  I think more stress should be put on this element of religious, philosophical speculation.  I certainly would have read more of his work!

ALAN: Clarke himself had a degree in physics and was always interested in exploring the limits of technology.  (In one novel he defined the ideal machine as something that contained no moving parts; that way there was nothing to wear out!). But he had a spiritual side as well, and an almost Buddhist appreciation of the sanctity (and beauty) of life. This manifests again and again in his better novels.

JANE: You also mentioned The City and the Stars.  Again, I’ll be honest and admit my ignorance.  Can you tell me a bit about it?

ALAN: The City and the Stars explores similar concerns to those of Childhood’s End. The story takes place in the city of Diaspar, one billion years in the future. The Earth is so old that the oceans have long ago evaporated and humanity has all but died out. As far as the people of Diaspar know, they are the only city left on the planet. Diaspar is completely enclosed. Nobody leaves. Nobody enters.

All the citizens have lived many lives – when their time comes they are reabsorbed into the central computer’s memory banks, only to be re-born later. But Alvin is unique, he has had no prior existence, and he is insatiably curious…

What Alvin finds outside Diaspar forms the bulk of the novel. The novel dates from the 1950s, but Clarke’s speculations haven’t dated at all.  Again, he is really talking about spirituality rather than technology and those concerns are timeless. When Arthur C. Clarke died, this was the novel that I chose to re-read, the novel that I wanted to remember him by.

JANE: Now that I think about it, I realize I actually haven’t read much Clarke.  I read Rendezvous with Rama and was very excited – until I wasn’t.  The ending left me decidedly flat.  It turned me off to Clarke in a big way.

Yet that was a very popular book.  How did you feel about it?

ALAN: It started out well, but really it didn’t go anywhere. It was just a travelogue. The giant artefact arrived in the solar system, a group of people went and explored it, they left, and it went away again. Clarke had lots of clever ideas about the way that Rama was put together, but really, nothing much happened at all in the story. And the final punch line, clever though it was, cheapened the book by turning it into a shaggy dog story. So it remains one of my least favourite of Clarke’s books. I think he was looking hard for significance, but that this time he didn’t quite manage to pull it off.

JANE:  I’m sorry that this was the Clarke novel I read first.  I can see now that I need to go try other of his works.

ALAN: There are several really good ones that I think you might like. The Songs of Distant Earth is particularly good in terms of the sense of wonder feeling we’ve been talking about (it’s also Clarke’s own favourite of all his novels). It is set in the far future, on Thalassa, a colony world that was populated from Earth many centuries before the opening of the book. Now, in the timeline of the novel, the Earth’s sun has gone nova, destroying the solar system. Some starships managed to escape before the catastrophe, and one of them visits Thalassa – a brief stop on its way to its final destination.

The themes of the novel are both apocalyptic and utopian (by any definition, Thalassa is a utopia), together with an examination of the effects of long-term interstellar space travel and the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life.

I suspect that one reason why Clarke likes this novel so much is because he also used it to explore the passions of homosexual love. Clarke himself was homosexual, and there are hints of homosexual relationships in some of his other work, but in this novel he allowed himself to deal with the topic explicitly. Clarke has often been criticised for his cardboard characters (a criticism I disagree with strongly), but you certainly can’t say that about this novel. The passions are very real and the book is all the stronger for it.

The novel was much admired by Mike Oldfield (of Tubular Bells fame) and in 1994 he produced an album of music inspired by the story.

JANE: Okay…  I’m adding it to my list.  Any others?

ALAN: I’m also very fond of Imperial Earth which follows one Duncan Makenzie on a trip to Earth from his home on Titan, ostensibly for a diplomatic visit to the U.S. for its 500th birthday, but really in order to have a clone of himself produced. Thematically, the novel has a lot to say about the nature of change and transition. It also examines ideas of sexuality and attitudes towards race (again, there are hints of bisexuality as a way of life and, quite a long way into the novel, we learn that the protagonist is black. Not that anyone cares…)

And The Ghost from the Grand Banks is a wonderful bit of fluff about raising the wreck of the Titanic in time to celebrate the centenary of the sinking in 2012. There’s nothing very deep (pun not intended) about this book – but it’s marvellous fun.

JANE: Fun sounds good…  And you’ve reminded me of something I want to bring up later on.  (Scribble…  scribble.)

ALAN: But that’s enough from me. What about you? What stories inspire that “sense of wonder” in you?

JANE: Ooh…  The answer to that is actually much more complicated than naming an author.  Perhaps we can get to it next time.

Wandering Down a Wide Variety of Roads

July 29, 2015

After two weeks of focusing hard on a single topic (the complexities involved in writing realistic female characters), this week I’m going to Wander to my heart’s content.

Terrell in Color

Terrell by Cale Mims

Once again, I’ve taken up the challenge and answered several questions for Marshal Zeringue’s  Campaign for the American Reader blog network.  He did a lovely job of chasing down illustrations for Writers Read: Jane Lindskold.  Next, I took on the challenge offered by the The Page 69 Test: Artemis Invaded.

Finally, for the first time ever, I answered the question “My Book, The Movie.”  I think you’ll find the answer interesting – if not, at least for those of you who have been wandering along with me for a while, completely surprising.

Winding down the lane toward a not completely unrelated topic…  I’ve been asking to see fan art related to the “Artemis Awakening” series.  Just the other day, Cale Mims sent a dramatic picture of Terrell leaning on his lance, contemplating spiders to slay.  Last week, Tori Hansen contributed a wonderfully whimsical portrait of Sand Shadow during some downtime on the shores of Spirit Bay.

Sand Shadow by Tori Hansen

Sand Shadow by Tori Hansen

Artistically inclined?  Know someone who is?  Since I can’t draw anything more complicated than petroglyphs, I’m always eager to see how artists might depict my characters or scenes from my books.  If you’re on Facebook, we’re going to have a gallery there.  Even if you’re not, you can send me files.   You’ll retain all rights.  I’ll just delight in helping you show off your work.

Please include your name (or artist pen name), title of the piece, permission for me to post it to Facebook, blogs, website, and Twitter.  Short anecdotes as to what inspired your piece are very welcome, too.  Jpeg files are most convenient for my Facebook person.

Turning down another side road…   Last week, we finalized my late summer touring plans.  The first event is Bubonicon, right here in Albuquerque, August 28-30.  The following weekend, I’m off to Washington D.C. for the National Book Festival on September 5, hosted by the Library of Congress.

The weekend after that, I’m off to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for a September 12th signing at Barnes and Noble along with Victor Milan (Dinosaur Lords) and Melinda Snodgrass (The Edge of Dawn).  Then, on Tuesday, September 22nd, the three of us will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, at SIP Coffee and Beer House for a book chat and signing.

After that, I think I’m going to come home and crawl under my tomato plants and sleep…  For further details of any or all of these events, check the Appearances page of my website.

Speaking of tomato plants…  Some of you may recall how back in April (WW 4-15-15) I told you how Jim and I had decided to start our tomato plants from seed this year.  We planted twenty-one seeds, with the goal of having twelve plants bearing by the end of summer.  I told you I’d be happy if we ended up with six plants.

Well, the first surprise was that all twenty-one seeds germinated.  Not only that, all twenty-one survived transplants.  We put fifteen into the ground, the remainder into larger containers.

We lost one tomato plant either to wind or cutworm grub.  Given the nature of the injury, it was hard to tell which.  We lost a second plant to a wind-broken stem.  We lost a third to a virus called “curly top” that’s common in our area, although not so much east of the Mississippi.  In each case, we replaced with a seedling from one of the containers.

About a month ago, we realized the seedlings in the containers were beginning to struggle.  Yes, yes, I know.  Many people grow tomato plants in containers.  However, when the temperature reaches 110 in the shade, as we were back in June, the soil gets too hot and roots start cooking.  We scrabbled around for room in our already full garden beds and finally decided to plant them behind some very tall (as in 5’ high in some cases) Oriental lilies.  They are behind the others in growth, but are definitely shooting up.

So, as of this date, we have eighteen tomato plants, lots of green tomatoes, and expect to have ripe cherry tomatoes, possibly before this time next week.  We also have four varieties of summer squash, string beans (including liana beans), cucumbers, Swiss chard, peppers (ripening, not yet ripe, although we have thinned the bell peppers), radishes, ichiban eggplant, and a fair variety of herbs.

Dinner is now dictated by what the garden is producing the most of…

When I’m not messing with the garden, I’ve been reading the proofs for my forthcoming short story collection, Curiosities.  My hope is to have it ready in time for Bubonicon, at the end of August.  If I want to make that goal, I’d better transplant myself from in front of my computer and onto the sofa with red pens, coffee, and, doubtless, Kel the cat, who is my constant editorial assistant.

FF: Wildly Mixed

July 24, 2015

As far as I can tell, my reading this week has nothing in common.  Wait!  Two of the SF could be said to be “military,” but both are so much more.

Kel Relaxes with a Good Book

Kel Relaxes with a Good Book

The Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include either short fiction or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Lupus Rex by John Carter Cash.  A beast fable.

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber. Book one of his “Safehold” series.  I read it when it first came out and decided to dip in again.

In Progress:

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  In the last story…  Very good collection.

The Sky Chariots Saga Book 1: Restless Earth by Emily Mah.  Just started.

Also:

Proofing Curiosities, my forthcoming short story collection.

TT: Wondering About Sense of Wonder

July 23, 2015

News Flash!  Peter Donald is this week’s winner of the Make Artemis This Summer’s Hot Destination contest.  You can still enter. Details here.

And now to our regularly scheduled Tangent…

ALAN: Last time we both used the term “sense of wonder” when we were talking about what made us like Jack McDevitt’s stories. We agreed that, for both of us, it is this sense of wonder that attracted us to SF in the first place and it is something that we always look for when we are reading SF books.

Chariot of the Gods?

Leaping Sky Sheep of Wonder

But what exactly is this sense of wonder? And why is it so important to us?

JANE: For me, sense of wonder has to do with books that get me excited, make me believe that there are things bigger, grander, more exciting out there.  And “in here,” too.  SF introduced me to the idea that “we” still don’t know what a large portion of the brain does.  So I was open to the idea that psionic powers might work, despite the fact that numerous “scientific” tests seem to disprove them.

I could go on, but let me give you a chance to get a word in edgewise.

ALAN: For me, it’s a definition of my place in the universe. The fact that the universe even exists at all is something that’s so hard to get my head around that I’m just lost in awe whenever I contemplate it. I want to ask just how the human race fits in to the grand scheme and whether or not people (or things, I’m not biased) elsewhere in the universe have ever asked themselves that same question. And, if so, what answers did they come up with?

JANE: Interesting…  Many years ago, on a moonless night, I was lying on my back staring up at the sky.  I just kept looking and somewhere along the way the sky “flipped” and I was seeing not black dotted with white, but white sparkles and colored sparkles and they were going on and on.

For that brief moment, I came as close to seeing infinity as I ever have…  Wonder, indeed.

ALAN: That’s it exactly! The best SF can induce exactly that same feeling. I’m not trying to turn SF into some kind of deep philosophical speculation (though it can be) – if I really wanted that, I could read books of philosophy. But I don’t read books of philosophy, because by and large they are dull and often incomprehensible.

But I do ask SF to give me stories that convey some sense of scale, some hint of place and time, some appreciation of mystery in the might-have-been or the maybe-it-will-be. The story doesn’t have to be explicit – metaphors often work better when you are dealing with such large ideas. It doesn’t even have to be serious – the very best comedy can often achieve transcendence.

In 1989, Alexei and Cory Panshin wrote a very large history of science fiction, examining the literature from just this point of view. It’s called The World Beyond the Hill and it is sub-titled Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. My autographed copy is number 76 of a limited edition of 500. The book was later re-printed in much larger numbers and it won a Hugo award in 1990.

If that sense of wonder, or transcendence if you like, is not present in a story, then it often fails to hold my attention.

JANE: I agree.  Lately, I can’t help but feel a lot of SF is “shutting down,” focusing on plagues, ecological disaster, failed space missions…  Who would want that future?

Now, I’m not saying that the stories need to be all happy and all…   Characters who become involved, who care about finding what will open up possibility, these can make the most dystopian of futures interesting – because a willingness to combat whatever is dystopic creates the sense of wonder.

ALAN: Quite right. There’s nothing nice about George Orwell’s 1984. But it’s a powerful and moving work nonetheless.

JANE: Have you read any of James S.A. Corey’s “Expanse,” novels?  The first one is Leviathan Wakes.

ALAN: No, I’m sorry but I’ve never heard of James S.A. Corey. You’ll have to tell me more.

JANE: Well, first, James S.A. Corey is really two people: Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham.  They got to be friends as part of the rambling vine of social interactions that exists here in New Mexico.  Ty had created an elaborate future history of our solar system for a role-playing game he had run when he lived elsewhere.  He tried the same setting on a new audience here in New Mexico.  This game – as I understand it – didn’t take but Daniel was impressed by the detail Ty had put into the setting.

In the best tradition of creativity, he said to Ty: “Let’s put on a show!”

They did.  I read Leviathan Wakes out of curiosity regarding what these two had come up with.  I read the next one, Caliban’s War, because I’d liked the first book.  Ditto the third, Abbadon’s Gate.  I’m behind.  And now “The Expanse” is being made into a TV series on SyFy.

ALAN: SyFy will probably be the kiss of death as far as creativity goes – but I was with you all the way until then!

JANE: Ah, but they already had at least four novels written before the TV project came up, so they had a nice lead.

Anyhow, the Expanse novels are a good example of what I mean by characters helping create the sense of wonder element.  Otherwise, what with spit-zombies, world-eating bio weapons, and all the rest, I wouldn’t have read more than a couple of chapters.  However, the two main characters – idealistic Captain Jim Holden and cynical yet oddly determined cop Detective Josephus Miller – carried me along.

I’m haven’t read the fourth book but, at least at the end of the third, rather than degenerating into military action, doors into a larger universe have opened up.  I’m curious as to what they characters will discover next.

Who gives you that sense of wonder?

ALAN: That’s a very big question with very big answers – perhaps we could go into more detail next time?

Real Women As Main Characters

July 22, 2015

As I mentioned last week, in “Not Just Crossplay,” lately I keep coming across discussions complaining that there aren’t enough female main characters in adult SF/F – and this sweeping complaint often includes comics and movies.  Frankly, I don’t agree that this situation even exists.  I’ve written more than my share and so have a lot of other writers, male and female alike.   So we’re not going to beat this dead horse.

SF/F With Female Main Characters

SF/F With Female Main Characters

What bothers me is the underlying implication that the way to right this implied misbalance is as easy as swapping pronouns and a few descriptive elements, that female characters and male characters can and should be interchangeable.

I don’t agree.

Last week, I took a look at how even with minor “walk-on” characters, gender isn’t interchangeable, that in many cases the social matrix dictates that some jobs are more likely to be done by “guys” and others by “gals.”

This week, I want to take a look at some of the complexities involved in creating female main characters.

Gals aren’t guys.   Even if writers want to create an egalitarian society where males and females are indeed equals on all levels, this takes considering differences on all levels and dealing with them.  If writers are working in a context that is not egalitarian – for example, any historical society up to and including the present day – then these differences need to be part of the female character.

Before I start, let me lay down some ground rules.  When I talk about “women” and “men,” I’m talking about the groups in general.  Obviously, there are individual men and women – even entire groups of men and women – that will violate some or all of these elements.  Okay?

Let’s start with the most basic, which is also the most complex.

Women are not men who wear their hair long and have interesting chest bumps.  Women are physically different.  That’s why they’re women, not men.

Women are not as strong as men, especially in the upper body, but also overall.  Women tend to have higher pain tolerance than men.  There is some evidence women may have quicker reflexes than men.

And here’s the biggie.  Women can get pregnant.  From sexual maturity on, aspects of how the female body is set up to carry a baby will dictate the woman’s life.  Many of these will also influence her social role in a wide variety of ways.

The difference in strength is among the easiest to deal with.  You can simply take the easy way and say that Conanna is stronger than most women.  If you do this, though, please give her a realistic build!  She’s not going to be slim, lithe, with a pinched waist, and big breasts.  She’s going to look more like a standard peasant woman: stocky, with thick arms, legs, and torso.

She’s not going to have six-pack abs.  (As Batgirl did in a recent depiction I came across on-line.)  Women do not form six-packs without extreme diets, steroids, and body sculpting – none of which fall into the “easy” category of “Well, she’s just strong for a woman.”

(Aside: Men don’t always get six-packs either.  My husband, Jim, is very strong, as one would expect an archeologist who has done field work for over forty years to be.  However, even when he was a young man and lifted weights, he never got that “sculpted” look.)

Keladry, the main character in Tamora Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series, is the only girl in a training class for potential knights.  She does very well in many of her classes, but using a lance is frustrating for her because she doesn’t have the upper body strength that comes naturally to her male classmates.  When she learns that someone has tampered with her lance to make it even heavier, does she whine?  No!  She requests permission to continue to use the heavier lance in training because she knows she needs to compensate, so that in the field, when she needs to use a lance effectively against larger opponents (like ogres and dragons), she won’t be hampered.

Want your slender beauty who can pick up a car?  Fine.  Come up with a reason for her being that way.  After all, we’re writing SF/F here.  Here are a couple examples.

David Weber’s Honor Harrington and her ancestress, Stephanie, about whom I’ve written in Fire Season and Treecat Wars, are both very strong compared to the average woman in the Star Kingdom of Manticore.  Yet no one would guess it from their appearance.  Why?  Both come from a genetically modified heritage that give them greater strength.  Weber goes to great trouble to explain how and why this works, and to point out that there are problems associated with the benefits.  Add to this that Sphinx, their homeworld, has a gravity roughly 1.3 Earth standard and their environment provides additional training in using all that strength.

Adara the Huntress, one of the main characters in my novels Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded, is also strong without being bulky.  Again, the reason is genetic engineering.  Although apparently human, the people of Artemis are all, to a greater or lesser extent, the result of genetic engineering.

By contrast, Firekeeper, in my “wolf books” (Through Wolf’s Eyes and others) is fairly strong because of her childhood among wolves.  However, she’s not superhumanly strong.  She’s just in good training.  If she doesn’t continue to live a life that includes the equivalent of a heavy daily work-out, she’ll lose her edge.

But strength is really peripheral to the question.  I only bring it up because so many “strong, female main characters” also seem to be physically fit warrior women.

Let’s look at that squishy subject: Women are designed to be baby makers.

And, before I go any further, let me clarify.  I am not one of those writers who think that every trip to the toilet (or outhouse or head or whatever) needs to be mentioned for the sake of “realism.”  But if you write with a female point-of-view character, whether in first or third person, you absolutely can’t skirt around all the biological elements that go into being a woman.  You should consider these differences and incorporate where they would impact your story.

Let’s start with the menstrual cycle.

Every twenty-eight days or so, there’s pain. This is probably one of the reasons women have higher pain thresholds than men; long term experience in learning to function while having cramps is great training.  There are also mood swings, and a considerable amount of unpredictable mess.  And this doesn’t last just a day.  The average menstrual cycle is about five days of active bleeding out of the twenty-eight.

Before a woman has her period, she’s likely to be irritable, bloated, and uncomfortable.  During and after, she’s likely to be tired and anemic.  Oh!  And when a group of women live in close proximity, cycles synchronize, so the members of your band of women warriors are likely to be all having their periods at the same time.

Many factors – such as poor nutrition, physical and extreme emotional stress, and/or a high level of physical training –  can interrupt regular cycles.   So, it’s possible that your women warriors might have interrupted, light, or erratic periods, but that isn’t necessarily good or a sign of health and well-being.

What other things come into women being designed to be baby makers?

Women have breasts.  Even small breasts are vulnerable points, not only as soft tissue but because they are very sensitive.  The huge breasts popular in illustration are an encumbrance.  Even if properly supported, large breasts can contribute to back pain, poor posture, and a host of other problems.

Women can get pregnant.  Now that “the Pill” has been available for decades, I think writers tend to forget that accidental pregnancies did happen.  A lot.  So many things can throw off even a careful calculation of when a woman is fertile.  And without modern, easy pregnancy tests, a woman might not even be sure she was pregnant for several months, because (as mentioned above) lots of things can throw a woman’s cycle off.

If you want your heroine to be sexually active and not constantly watching the calendar, then deal with this.  In a Fantasy setting, you can use magical birth control.  In a high-tech setting, medicine should provide various options.  Whatever you pick, make a passing mention that your female protagonist has taken precautions and what those precautions are.   Do they also eliminate the menstrual cycle?  Are they available to every woman?  All of this will shape your culture in myriad ways.

Don’t have magical or high-tech birth control – perhaps because you’re writing in an alternate historical setting?  Then Conanna better either keep her knees together or be willing to take time off from sword swinging when she gets pregnant.

The complexities of being female don’t end with the conclusion of the childbearing years, but since few people actually write about menopausal and post-menopausal women except as minor characters, I’ll skip that for now.

To this point, I’ve stayed tightly focused on the physical aspects that make women different from men.  However, before I close, I want to at least touch on the social consequences of putting female characters into roles – such as warrior – that were traditionally male.

The risk of rape cannot be ignored.  Although men can and do rape other men, men more commonly – even traditionally – rape women.  This is not even necessarily a sexual act.  It’s a “marking territory” act.  It’s an act of dominance.  It’s an act of violence and intimidation.

The terms raping and pillaging are lightly joined together, as if the brutalization of women and the stealing of property are one and the same.  And, indeed, in many cultures they were.  But if you have a novel where women warriors are common, we’re not dealing with cultures as they were.  We’re dealing with cultures where the dynamic has been skewed.

How do you deal with raping and pillaging when you have women on the battlefield?  Does Brunhilda smile, wave at the guys, and say “Have fun raping the women?”  while she focuses on getting the best jewelry and horses?  Is she aware of the risk that the violence turned on stranger women might be turned on her?

Then there’s the issue – already manifest in twenty-first century warfare – that a woman solider faces sexual abuse not only from her enemies, but from her ostensible allies as well.  If she chooses to have a relationship with one man in her company, others may feel slighted and resentful.  This happens all the time – but remember, this time you’re not writing about rock stars or office workers, you’re writing about people accustomed to using violence to get what they want.

When I wrote When the Gods Are Silent, my warrior woman, Rabble, and her male companion, Bryax, belong to a culture that deals with at least part of this through “Ferman’s Oath,” where they swear to be comrades, nothing more.  Since the rest of the story does not include rape and pillage as set pieces, it’s enough.  But I didn’t dodge the issue.  I acknowledged it.

When I was writing Artemis Invaded I realized that there was a point where if Adara was present for a certain event she would – not might, would – be raped.  I spent a lot of time working the plot so she had a reason not to be there.  In the novel In Enemy Hands, when Honor Harrington is captured, she is saved from being raped only because she needs to be more or less unmarred for the show trial her enemies intend, and she promises that if anyone comes at her, there will be marks.  Otherwise…

I could continue, but I’ve already written more than I usually do.

I hope this makes clear that including more women characters in major roles is not a simple matter of flipping pronouns as so many pundits seem to think.  I’m very much in favor of putting women on center stage, but let’s make sure they’re really women not men in drag.

FF: Space, Stairs, and More

July 17, 2015

My options for audio book downloads from the library have just been cut in half due to something to do with Microsoft and DRM encrypting.  I am VERY unhappy.

Silver in Contemplation

Silver in Contemplation Mode

The Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include either short fiction or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. Audiobook.  The setting is the star in this one.  The plot is solid and satisfying, except for toward the end when our smart protagonist seemed unable to figure out things I’d figured out long before.  Still, enjoyable.

Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf by Wendelin Van Draanen.  Sammy is blackmailed to find a missing dog.  She not only finds the dog, but learns some valuable things about how bitterness is beginning to sculpt her inner landscape.

A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt.  Alan and my discussion of McDevitt’s work led me to re-read this, the first of his Alex Benedict novels.  It held up very well to fond memories.

In Progress:

Bridges of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Just started.

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber. Book one of his “Safehold” series.  I read it when it first came out and decided to dip in again.

Also:

Here’s a link to an interview with Gerry Hausman, whose poetry collection, Island Dreams, was part of my reading these last several weeks.

TT: Jack McDevitt: Guide to Cosmic Wonder

July 16, 2015

ALAN: Recently I came across Cryptic, a collection of short stories by Jack McDevitt. It was a bit of a surprise – I think of him more as a novelist rather than as a short story writer, and I’m not sure I’ve even seen any of his short stories before. He’s a friend of yours, isn’t he?

A sampling of McDevitt's Wonders

A sampling of McDevitt’s Wonders

JANE: I’d like to think so.  We met Jack when he was GOH at Bubonicon back in, I think, 1999.  He had such a good time, he came back a year or so later.  Then we spent time together when I was GOH at Oasis in Florida back in 2005.  I think those may be the only time we’ve met in person, but we stay in touch.

But then, as you and I know, physical proximity is no longer a requirement for friendship!

ALAN: Oh, indeed. In my opinion, physical proximity is over-rated. You have to take far too many showers.

JANE: Ick!

As you may remember, I interviewed Jack for my Wednesday Wandering back in December of 2014.   I think a lot of his enthusiasm for what he does, as well as his sense of humor, comes nicely across there.

What did you think of his short stories?

ALAN: Reading the stories as a whole, one after the other, I felt quite strongly that McDevitt shares with Arthur C. Clarke an almost mystical appreciation of the awe and wonder of the universe. Even in the slightest pieces (and some of them are very slight), there is always the feeling that lying just out of sight behind the words is something numinous, something wonderful. At times the feeling is elegiac. To me, this is the true purpose of science fiction, this is the whole of the law. The stories reinforced my conviction that Jack McDevitt is a writer who deserves to be better known that I suspect he is.

JANE: Well, certainly I’d like Jack’s books to be on every SF reader’s shelf, but although he is not a household name, his works have frequently been nominated for various awards, including the Nebula and Hugo.  He’s won some major awards, too.

Seeker won the Nebula Award.  Omega won the Campbell Award (not the award for best new writer; the one for best SF novel in a given year).  He was also the 2015 winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award.  This last is given to science fiction and technical writings which inspire the human exploration of space.

ALAN: I think the awards prove that his talents are well recognised by his peers, but his name seldom if ever comes up in conversation among SF fans and his books don’t seem to sell particularly well. I think that’s a pity. After I finished the short story collection, I went and re-read The Hercules Text. It was his first novel and I remember buying it simply because it was the book that Terry Carr chose to open his new “Ace Science Fiction Specials” series. I’d never heard of McDevitt at the time, but Terry Carr’s recommendation was enough for me.

JANE: I can’t speak to Jack’s sales, but I agree that his stories are worth re-reading.  Did you find this was the case with The Hercules Text?

 ALAN: Oh indeed, it’s a wonderful book. The basic premise is that the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence has succeeded and we have a message from the stars. We will never be able to communicate with the aliens – the message has come from more than a million light years away and presumably the senders of it are long since dead. But we have proof positive now that we are not alone.

The novel goes on to explore the implications of that knowledge, partly by means of the scientific advances that are made possible by our understanding of the content of the message, but mostly by examining the psychological impact of the knowledge on the protagonists. It’s a deeply thoughtful novel, very concerned with trying to define our place in the universe. I loved it.

JANE: I haven’t read The Hercules Text and now I see I need to find a copy.  I can’t precisely recall which of Jack’s novels I read first.  I do know it was in anticipation of his appearing at Bubonicon.  Whenever possible, I try to read at least one work by a Guest of Honor.  It makes doing panels with them so much more interesting.

Anyhow, I think it was Eternity Road, which at that point was a stand-alone.  It’s atypical McDevitt in some sense in that it’s post-apocalyptic, rather than set in a future of our world that has managed to happen without major disaster.  However, it shares McDevitt’s recurring interest in searching for knowledge, and the belief that the search will also help the seekers learn about themselves.

ALAN: I tend to prefer stand-alone novels rather than series novels, and I think my favourite novel of Jack’s is Ancient Shores in which a farmer and his son discover a boat buried on their North Dakota farm. It seems that this boat may have been used to sail on a pre-historic lake that existed in the area more than 10,000 years ago…

JANE: I like Ancient Shores, too!

These days, most of Jack’s novels feature either Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchinson or the team of Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath.  Do you have a preference for one or the other?

ALAN: I actually like both of those series, which sort of contradicts what I just said about preferring stand-alone novels over books that are part of a series. However, in my defense, the first books of each series (Engines of God and A Talent for War respectively) did once exist as stand-alone novels, and that’s when I read them. It’s just that Jack found more things to say about the characters and the themes and so, like Topsy, the stories just grew.

On balance, I think I prefer the  Priscilla Hutchinson books because they concern a universe that once teemed with intelligent life. However by the time humans arrive on the scene the aliens are long gone. All that remain are their abandoned artefacts.

The exploration of that theme somehow just gives me the spine-shivers. The awe, the wonder and the mystery are brilliantly evoked. And there’s a sense of great loss underlying the whole thing. Wonderful stuff!

JANE:  And yet they’re solidly grounded, too.  Jack gives glimpses of an entire future history through small news items included in each chapter.

Like you, I enjoy the “Hutch” books but, if I had to pick, I’d slightly favor the Alex Benedict books.  They include a mystery element that appeals to me, usually centered around something that Alex has come across in his work as a dealer in antiquities.

Often the search is not simply for an item, but for the truth behind a historical event or person.  I’m a sucker for these.  Jack has said that he’s not interested in stories motivated by fighting a villain, he’s interested in problems – and sometimes these problems are very big indeed.

ALAN; I agree with Jack. Villain fighting doesn’t do much for me. All too often the authentic sense of wonder vanishes into the dull minutiae of combat.

JANE: Since you mentioned A Talent for War, let me go into it with a little more detail.  In this novel, Alex’s uncle is lost when the spaceship he’s travelling on simply vanishes.  Alex inherits not only a fortune, but a mystery.  His uncle (an avocational archeologist) had been researching Christopher Sim, a war hero from 200 years before.

When his uncle’s house is broken into and his files searched, Alex realizes that someone does not want the research to continue.  What can be important about a 200 year old secret?

Yum!

ALAN: Yum, indeed!

JANE: I grabbed another Alex Benedict at random off my shelf, because I wanted to show how these quests don’t become boring.

In The Devil’s Eye, Alex receives a message from a celebrated writer, Vicki Greene, asking for help.  When they follow up, they discover that Greene’s memory has been wiped – at her request.  She doesn’t even remember why she’d contacted Alex.

But before her memory wipe, she arranged for Alex to be sent a large sum of money.  Alex doesn’t need it, but the challenge is too much for him to pass up.

Sheesh!  I have a reading list a mile long and now I’m going to have to re-read at least A Talent for War.  See what you get me into?

ALAN: Guilty as charged. But don’t expect me to be repentant…

JANE: Don’t!  I started re-reading this weekend and have been very much enjoying.

 But going back to what you said earlier, whether he’s writing a series novel or a stand-alone, Jack’s characters always are awake to the marvels around them.  Although his novels are very solidly grounded in believable events, to me, they are a great illustration of what “sense of wonder” is all about.

ALAN: We’ve both just used that same “sense of wonder” phrase. I wonder if we can come to grips with exactly what we mean when we say it? Next time, maybe?

JANE: Absolutely!  “Wonder” what we’ll come up with?

Not Just Crossplay: Female Characters

July 15, 2015

Over the last several weeks, the issue of female main characters – especially the lack thereof in all but YA Science Fiction and Fantasy (and even complaints about how female characters are handled in much YA SF/F) – has come up in several different contexts, including fiction, comic books, and movies.

Crossplay Across the Genres

Crossplay Across the Genres

Needless to say, I rather disagree that they’re missing, since I’ve written a lot of novels with female main characters, younger, older, and in between. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I’ve become frustrated by the underlying implication in these discussions that including female main characters is easy.  Even when writing in an imaginary world setting, putting a female character on center stage isn’t simple.  When writing a story set within the “real world,” the issues become more complex.

Writing female main characters involves more than what cosplayers call “crossplay.”  It involves a lot more than just transforming Aragorn into “Aragorna.”  Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a look, starting with minor characters and working our way to center stage.

Sometimes, when I’m running a game, my players will do something that requires me to quickly invent a character – a shopkeeper or innkeeper, for example.  Since the world in which I’ve set the game is largely gender equal, I toss a six-sided die.  “Odd,” the character is male; “even,” she’s female.

(No, I’m not saying guys are “odd.”  It’s just a convenience!)

Next, I’ll toss a couple more dice to get an age range.  After that, I take into account various social conventions, add in how people tend to react to certain characters, and I’m good to go.

You can do something similar when writing.  However, for this to work, you must keep the realities of your world in mind.  Is the society truly gender equal or do certain jobs fall more commonly to one gender or another?  For example, in a story set in the twenty-first century U.S., a female garage mechanic would be a matter for comment.  A male selling cosmetics would also raise an eyebrow or two.

Often, subconsciously, the writer tries to “course correct” to gender norms.  The female garage mechanic become hearty and butch, with a bunch of tattoos.  The male cosmetic seller becomes stereotypically swishy.  I’d much prefer that the female garage mechanic have learned the trade because her older brothers were really into cars and she learned a lot from them.  Or maybe she’s a widow who always helped her husband.  The male cosmetics seller might be an actor with a side interest in special effects makeup  or someone who put himself through college doing Mary Kay parties with his girlfriend.

And these are just “walk on” parts…  See how complicated it can get?

Now let’s move to secondary characters…  The best friend, the secretary, the boss… Or, in a more Fantasy setting, the patron, the healer, the bodyguard…  Or in Science Fiction, the ship pilot, the scientist, the commander, the doctor…

The toss-the-dice technique works to a limited extent here.  But when a character is going to be more than a walk-on, the question of gender will become an issue.  Best friends are usually same gender…  When they are not, the issue of romantic interest immediately comes up.  Let me grab two quick examples from my recent reading…

Kit and Nita from Diane Duane’s “So You Want to Be a Wizard” and sequels are around twelve when the series starts.  Nita, who is the point-of-view character, thinks of Kit (who is a year younger) as a buddy.  However, her parents wonder (after all, Kit and Nita are in junior high and everyone knows that hormones kick in about then) if they’re “experimenting” a bit.  Nita’s little sister openly teases Nita about “liking” Kit…  And, while the reader is in Nita’s head and knows she doesn’t have any romantic feelings about Kit, still, the question “But will that last into the future?” is present in a way it wouldn’t be if the pairing was Nita and Maria, or Kit and Bob.

In Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs, Shara Thivani, the main point-of-view character, is accompanied from the start by Sigurd.  She introduces him as her “secretary,” but big, hulking brute that he is, he clearly does more than push paper.  Is he also her boyfriend?  Apparently not, but when, in the last portion of the novel, cataclysmic events lead to the two being separated, their mutual level of concern for each other is high enough that this reader, at least, found herself wondering if each cared more for the other than they were admitting.

Again, this wouldn’t have even crossed my mind if I were reading about Spenser and Hawk (Robert Parker’s PI and his frequent sidekick).  Gender makes a difference.

Now let’s expand this question into the sort of world you’re working in.  Is it one where the relationship “default” is heterosexual?  Is it one where, as in ancient Greece, same sex relationships between men were an accepted part of the landscape?  Or how about one where who you can court depends on your birth order?

How about one modeled on the Navajo, where clan affiliation mattered more than actual blood relationship?  Tony Hillerman did an excellent job of including this in one of his “Jim Chee” novels, where Jim is falling for a young woman of Navajo heritage but raised in the “Anglo” world and apparently unaware of her clan.  Before he can actually propose, Jim has to find out if Janet is as “off-limits” to him as she would be if she were his sister…

Gender plays into the picture in ways that have nothing to do with relationships.  One of my favorites is how perception of age and aging shifts according to gender.  These days, a man is considered in his prime in his fifties or even sixties.  By contrast, a woman is considered distinctly middle-aged, if not verging on elderly!

Think about all the ways this colors character portrayal.  It’s considered “impolite” to ask a woman’s age.  Why?  Because that’s asking her to admit she’s over the hill.  A man, by contrast, unless he is particularly insecure for some reason – out of a job or otherwise severely underperforming – would not feel the need to say he’s “39.”  And, in fact, he would seem a bit stupid and shallow if he does.

Another great example is that if a man is in a relationship with a much younger woman, this is considered a sign of his virility and desirability.  By contrast, a woman in her fifties who dates a man in his twenties is tagged a “cougar,” and is considered a bit “off” or, at the very least, busy fooling herself that the man could actually be interested in her.

So, except when writing a very minor character – one who might not even be the equivalent of a “walk-on” role – merely flipping the pronouns isn’t enough.

Next time, I’ll get into some of the complexities that arise when writing a Conanna or an Aragorna!

Help Make Artemis This Summer’s Hot Destintation

July 14, 2015

Want to be part of making the planet Artemis this summer’s hot destination?  Here’s how you can do it!

Summer on Artemis...  Ah...

Summer on Artemis… Ah…

Post a review of Artemis Invaded or Artemis Awakening to Amazon.com, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble.com, your blog or Facebook page.  Then submit the URL at the link below to be entered to win your choice of a signed, personalized, first edition, hard cover of either Artemis Awakening or Artemis Invaded.

Wait!  There’s more!

Already have both of these books?  Other prize options are available, up to and including: audiobook downloads, ARCS, copies of other of Jane Lindskold’s novels, or even something weird, wild, and wonderful. (The choice of this last is up to me.)

Multiple entries will be accepted but, to avoid confusion, a separate URL must be provided for each entry.  Open only to U.S. residents, unless the entrant agrees to accept an audiobook download as a prize.

You may enter by posting the same review to different sites.  However, you must submit separate URLs for each entry to qualify.

The initial period to enter will be from July 8 to July 21th.  However, entries will continue to be accepted through midnight Mountain Standard Time on August 10th.  Beginning on July 22nd, one winner a week will be announced on July 22th, July 29, August 5, and August 12.

If response is overwhelming, a special Final Week extra drawing may be included for those who posted two or more reviews.

Help make Artemis everyone’s “go-to” summer destination!  Words have power!  Use them!

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