Thursday, August 31, 2006


This is the title of a book I just read. By Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Wood, it's a practical handbook on writing about people of different sexes, orientations, races, cultures, etc., from your own, with exercises from the workshop on this topic the authors designed. Most of the discussion focuses on writing about people of different races or cultures, something I admit I'm very timid about. Like the hypothetical writer mentioned in one of the chapters, I'd be afraid of getting it horribly wrong and offending somebody. Creating characters who are vampires, werewolves, dragons, or visitors from a distant planet doesn't pose that threat. After all, as far as we know, there are none of these creatures around to read my characterizations of them and get upset with me. :) The only viewpoint character of a different race/culture I've produced is Kenji, the half-kitsune hero of my shapeshifter erotic romance, "Foxfire," in the Ellora's Cave ( anthology TRANSFORMATIONS. He's only half Japanese and was born in the United States, so he was pretty safe to write about.

One thought sparked in me by WRITING THE OTHER, however, was speculation about writing from the viewpoint of a person of the opposite sex. Now that romance publishers readily accept scenes from the hero's viewpoint (which wasn't always the case), all of us have probably used POV characters of the other gender -- true aliens! :) The popular self-help manual claims men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Dorothy Sayers, one of my favorite mystery authors, asked in the title of one of her essays, "Are Women Human?" -- from the viewpoint of male-dominated culture, that is. Sayers, not surprisingly, advocates the position that women, like men, are primarily human beings, and on many topics it makes no sense to speak of a "woman's viewpoint." She remarks that on some issues she has more in common with her charwoman than with any man, but on other issues she has more in common with George Bernard Shaw than with the charwoman. In contrast, a female character in Robert Heinlein's NUMBER OF THE BEAST speculates that men and women are so different they can't belong to the same species; they must, instead, be symbiotes. James Tiptree's unforgettable classic "The Women Men Don't See" features two American women in a South American jungle (if I remember the setting correctly) who seize at the opportunity to hitch a ride on an extraterrestrial spaceship and leave Earth forever. The male viewpoint character asks the older of the women how she can stand to think of spending the rest of her life among aliens. She matter-of-factly replies, "I'm used to it." Recent neurological and psychological research has discovered that typical male and female brains really do have objectively verifiable differences. Gender identity is nowhere nearly so dependent on cultural conditioning as it was fashionable to believe in the mid-20th century. Remember the feminist picture book about Baby X? X was brought up completely unisex, with his/her gender revealed to no one outside the family. The point of the story was how happy and well-adjusted X was, and how the other children in her/his class joyfully adopted his/her "free to be you and me" outlook on life.

(Read Steven Pinker's fascinating book THE BLANK SLATE for a history and deconstructive analysis of the position almost universally held in this period that no fixed “human nature” exists and that any claim of innate differences among people must imply superiority and inferiority. We see evidence of the cultural assumption that people are infinitely malleable in texts as different as BRAVE NEW WORLD, 1984, and C. S. Lewis's ABOLITION OF MAN.)

WRITING THE OTHER discusses the concept of the "unmarked state," or as I often think of it, the default setting. In North American culture, the implicit default is a white, middle-class, heterosexual man. This used to be true in many professions; a lawyer or doctor was assumed to be male unless one specified "woman doctor" or "woman lawyer," as illustrated by the old logic problem that wouldn't fool many people nowadays: "The patient is the doctor's son, but the doctor is not the patient's father." On the other hand, in a few occupations the unmarked or default state is feminine; people still tend to say "male nurse" if the nurse isn't a woman. I know that in my own reading, if a story has a first-person narrator, I assume the character has the same gender as the author, unless the text makes the opposite clear up front. If neither the text nor the author's name gives a clear indication, I often assume the narrator is male. When I first started writing fiction at age thirteen, almost all my protagonists were male, because that was the model I found in the classic horror stories I read. I think I also leaned toward male characters because of a not fully conscious assumption that girls and women were less interesting than men. Now I follow just the opposite pattern. Except for a very occasional short story, all my protagonists are female. In romances I create scenes from the hero's POV, but the majority of the text stays inside the heroine's mind. I've become aware of the differences between typical masculine and feminine thought processes, so writing a credible male viewpoint character at any great length would pose a more difficult challenge. (In my teens, I shared all my stories with my future husband, who commented about one of them that I had no idea how boys' minds worked.)

The classic exploration of gender differences that leaps to mind is, of course, Ursula LeGuin's LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. The inhabitants of the planet on which this novel takes place are sexually neutral most of the time. For a short period every month, each person enters a state called "kemmer," in which the individual transforms into either male or female. The result is completely random except in close proximity to a person who has already assumed a particular sex, in which case the other person becomes the opposite sex. LeGuin uses this alien biology to speculate on what a human society without our culture's sex-related baggage would be like. She presents this society through the eyes of a "normal" human male, an ambassador from another world. Because she doesn't invent a gender-neutral pronoun, the visitor thinks of all the local inhabitants as "he," a choice that can't help but bias the reader's perceptions. Unless one keeps the aliens' "neutral" state in the forefront of one's mind, a reader may tend to drift into thinking of this world as inhabited entirely by men who sometimes take on female traits. I had a similar difficulty with the STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION episode in which Riker falls in love with a person from a planet of hermaphrodites. Unlike a novel, a TV program has to SHOW the characters, and they didn't have a pool of sex-neutral actors to draw upon. So I couldn't help seeing all the aliens in this episode as women with short hair and unisex clothes. Which illustrates how deeply the importance of sex in determining identity is embedded in our minds.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Creating Chasidah...

First of all--and a bit off topic--I've been asked how I pronounce my character's name: Chasidah. To me, it's cha-SEE-dah. Or chaz-SEE-dah. Hence, Chaz...

How you want to pronounce it is up to you.

Anyway, now that we have that settled, I want to talk more about the character of Chaz Bergren--Captain Chasidah Bergren--than just her name.

I don't use archetypes when I create characters. I've been asked that, too, but honestly, my characters show up in my head and on my computer screen generally far too fleshed out for me to go back and wrestle them into an archetype. I know a lot of authors use them and that's great. If it works for you, super. I don't use archetypes.

But I can't really tell you exactly what I use other than this nebulous thing call "gut feeling".

Essentially--like an actor--I put on my character's skin. I become that character when I write.

So let's talk about Chaz because she's one of my characters to date that gets the most mixed reviews. People either love her or shrug at her with distinterest.

The negatives I've seen are that people can't empathize with her because she's too military, too strong. I understand that. But she is military. And she is a strong person. You don't get command of a patrol ship, you don't work the big wide darkness as she does and not be strong.

But having strength doesn't mean she doesn't experience hurt. She's just the kind of person that when something hurts her, she doesn't fold. She punches back.

She's also overly analytical. Deliberately. It's part of her military upbringing--she's not only in the military but came from a military family--and it's also her defense mechanism. As long as I'm analyzing the issue, I don't yet have to commit to a solution. That's how she thinks. If she can't punch, she analyzes.

That's how she handles the stuff Sully throws at her, chapter by chapter, in Gabriel's Ghost. Gather, redact, then react.

Oddly, the positive fan mail I get about Chaz comments on the same things the negative ones do: her strength, her analysis, her persistence. But the positive fan mails like this about her.

I liked it about her, too.

Does she over-analyze? Oh, definitely. But she' s not perfect. She has flaws--huge ones. I wouldn't like Chaz as much as I do if she didn't have these flaws.

So how did all these elements come together to create Chaz Bergren, outlaw patrol ship captain fighting for her life on the fringes of civilized space?

From a song. I note it in the opening acknowledgment pages of the book, but in case you missed it and have loaned out your copy, here it is: "Put Your Lights On" by Everlast, from Santana's Supernatural album (1999 Arista Records). If you get a chance, go find the MP3 and listen to it while you read, or reread, a chapter or three of Gabriel's Ghost:

Hey now, all you children
Leave your lights on
You better leave your lights on
'Cause there's a monster
Livin' under my bed
Whisperin' in my ear
And there's an angel
With her hand on my head
She say I got nothing to fear
There's a darkness
Livin' deep in my soul
Still got a purpose to serve
So let your light shine
Deep into my hole

And God don't let me loose my nerve...

It's really Sully's song to her. But when you hear it, when you really feel it, maybe you'll understand her a little bit better. I know it spoke volumes to me and defined not only Chaz, not only Sully, but the essence of the entire book, Gabriel's Ghost. Which--as many of you know--isn't a ghost story at all. But something quite different.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Men With Knives

Men with knives... will they always be necessary?

I'm not thinking about alien assassins, aliens with table manners, or futuristic barbaric warriors. I'm thinking surgery.

Assuming for a moment that wars are not fought by champions playing chess, or out-singing each other, or displaying their terrifyingly impressive tails (or other body parts). Someone is going to get hurt.

I do "buy" romantic alien heroines, and also human heroines, who can "do" pyschic healing.

In fact, the 2006 Romantic Times Conference, Pyschic Sunday was a real mind-opener. Two psychic healers --one hands-on, the other hands-off-- helped an unfortunate person with a visibly swollen face and abcessed tooth, and also on a number of others.

The psychic healing was very responsible, the point was made that all methods are complementary and the sufferers were also told to see a conventional doctor. However, whatever they did seemed to work.

I like medicine based on plants and other natural substances, too.

However, I have trouble suspending disbelief when a mortally injured party is put into a futuristic light box (like a seed propagator? like a tanning bed?) and they recover "just like that" --to quote the memorable, Fez-wearing magician, Tommy Cooper.

Maybe I accept it for some ailments. Immersion in the sea is supposed to be restorative. It certainly does great things for my feet... unless I step on a weaver fish, of course. So, I can believe that being bathed in some sort of light might be as good for me as being bathed in some sort of liquid.

Should I infer that the light box is akin to teleportation as medicine. I should re-read The Physics of Star Trek (which is on my keeper shelf). "Beam Me Up, Scotty," is fine. "Beam Me Well" ...?

Sometimes, just taking my rotating head electric fan apart and putting it back together again the way it was does work for a time, but it wouldn't if something was broken or rusted.

Lasers, I suppose, could replace knives. My problem is, when I think of lasers, I think of a couple of James Bond films... Goldfinger, Die Another Day... and I shudder at the thought of laser eye surgery. I know I shouldn't.

Do I think that a machine with a laser could replace a man --or a woman-- with a surgical knife? Yes, but I don't want to write about it, any more than I --personally-- want to write about an android with a libido.

(I don't mind reading about one, Margaret.)

Terminator with a tool? Great for action adventure, and I daresay he would have been very competent in the Operating Room. But for a fictional frisson, give me a masked man with a very sharp knife, every time.

Best wishes,


INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL begins with the hero smashed up after a duel, in the OR, hoping that the enemy surgeons won't take a surgical interest in his tattooed penis.

I wrote and posted this blog before reading Colby's blog from yesterday. No insensitivity was intended.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Colby Hodge the missing blogger

Yes, I've been missing my post days. But I have a good excuse. I've been trying to turn back time. Or at least wishing I could. We moved into a new house in July and while the house is wonderful the move was a complete diaster. It included an amputation. Yes our son lost part of his toe in a bizarre truck lift accident. But life goes on.

But after it happened the husband and I looked at each other and said. I wish we hadn't done it. I wish we had decided to stay put. One decision put into effect our son being scarred for life.

So wouldn't it be cool if we could turn back time? And it just so happens I'm working on a story with just that plot. It has a time twister in it. You can go forward, you can go back, but be careful what you do when you're out of your place in time. The title is TWIST and its full of little twists of fate.

What would you do if you could turn back time? Beyond that fact that you'd be the cool one in high school. And buy lots of stock in Microsoft.


Friday, August 25, 2006

What Inpires Me?

“Where do you get your ideas?”
Writers hear that a lot. It’s not something that’s easy to answer. Actually, my favorite response to that question came from Steven Brust when he was asked about it at a science fiction convention panel. His immediate answer was, “Drugs.” I have to admit that I’ve used that flippant answer a few times myself.

The truth is, ideas come from sources to numerous to count. I will give you examples from two different stories of mine. One of them is a science fiction romance novella, IN THE DARK that I’m waiting to see published, and one is a paranormal erotica piece, (LIKE A) VIRGIN OF THE SPRING that I’m currently working on.

IN THE DARK came about because of a toddler named Zoe, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s asking me to contribute a story about a heroic vampire to an anthology. I realized that I wanted to write a science fiction story for the anthology, a vampires in space thing. Next door to me lived an adorable two year old named Zoe. I’d given her the nickname “Zoe the Fearless”, because she was an adventurous child. The whole neighborhood had to watch out for her when her parents let her outside the house, because we never knew what Zoe would get into next. I decided I wanted the heroine of my sf vampire story to be named Zoe. So, why would someone be named Zoe? I wondered. From that question about a name came the idea for the Byzant Empire, an Earth based future space empire based on the Greek Byzantine Empire. Zoe remained adventurous, and became the heir to the Byzant Empire’s throne. She became a diplomat trying to find a peaceful solution to a war with several alien groups. My vampire hero became a marine general. And the two of them ended up as prisoners of war in an underground pow camp. I love the world and characters so much that someday I intend to turn this novella into not one, but two novels. All because of a kid named Zoe.

(LIKE A) VIRGIN OF THE SPRING is a work in progress. It’s an idea I’ve had for a couple of years, but hadn’t necessarily meant to write as an erotic piece. But it always had the potential to be hot, because it starts during a fertility festival in post-Roman Britain. The idea came about because back in 2004 a couple of friends and I took a trip to England and spent a week running around the southern part of the country. We visited a lot of ancient sites, many of them with Roman and Arthurian connections, and also saw a whole lot of sacred springs such as the ones at Bath and Glastonbury and St. Winifred’s shrine in Wales. Now, I’ve never been interested in writing a story about King Arthur, although I love reading (and being highly critical of most) Arthurian literature. Then I visited Chedworth, which is the site of a Roman villa. Chedworth is also the site of a spring, and while I was there the idea for a time travel story popped into my head. And this time travel story had an Arthurian theme. I was half-horrified at the audacity of me writing on The Matter of Britain and really didn’t think I’d ever get around to writing it. But, here I am working on it two years later.

And I better get back to it now, because it’s due at the end of the month.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Communicating with Aliens

One problem we have to deal with when our characters travel to other worlds or meet people from other cultures or species is language. J. R. R. Tolkien created his Elvish tongues first, then constructed a geography and history to contain them, and finally wrote the stories that became THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS. His friend C. S. Lewis, in the Narnia series, has everyone speaking the same language, as far as I can tell, probably because his avowed model for the Narnia stories was the fairy tale, and nobody ever has trouble with foreign languages in traditional fairy tales. However, in Lewis' OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, the hero, Dr. Ransom, is a university professor specializing in language, making him highly qualified to learn the Martian tongue, which he does believably and gradually. Many STAR TREK fans speak and read Klingon, just as a large subset of Tolkien fans has mastered the Elvish languages. In Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah's Sime~Gen series (see Simelan includes specialized words for facets of Sime biology and psychology that have no parallel among either Gens or Ancients (us).

What happens when characters with mutually unintelligible languages meet? Inability to communicate can generate drama in itself. Tanith Lee's short story "Fleur de Feu" tells of a naive maiden abducted by a winged vampire of a conspicuously inhuman species. If he even has a language at all, he can't speak hers. They live together until death in a mountain cave, unable to communicate verbally. It would be difficult to sustain the reader's interest in such a relationship for an entire novel, though. To me, lively dialogue is often the best part of a novel.

Some time travel authors ignore the problem of mutual comprehension. Anytime much earlier than Shakespeare's period, English would be very hard for a visitor from our era to understand. Before the Norman Conquest, English was effectively a different language, as foreign to us (today) as German. And what if the character lands in a foreign country? Unless the heroine handily happens to have studied the language of that place/time, she shouldn't be able to understand the local speech. I get annoyed if a time travel novel doesn't address this issue, even if only by postulating linguistic magic included in the spell that causes the time jump. Even in more recent centuries, differences in dialect (between, say, the 1700s and the present) could produce entertaining misunderstandings that many authors don't exploit enough.

Older SF sometimes ignores language barriers. For instance, when Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter appears on Barsoom (Mars), he apparently understands and speaks the language (uniform all over the planet and across species) through the same unexplained magic that transported him there. On the other hand, in Burroughs' TARZAN OF THE APES, the young hero grows up speaking the ape tongue, a rudimentary language of which Burroughs gives us quite a few words. Tarzan teaches himself to read English from the alphabet books and primers he finds in his dead parents' cabin. (Tarzan is obviously a linguistic genius, given the dozen or more languages he learns to speak fluently over the course of the series, a far cry from the inarticulate "me Tarzan, you Jane" ape man of the classic movies.) Burroughs makes a blatant error in the note Tarzan leaves for the stranded explorers who land in his territory near the end of the book. He signs his name, Tarzan, in the Roman alphabet, but at that time he has no way of knowing what sounds the letters represent. Is his self-taught literacy believable? Well, he does have experience with language, since his adopted ape "kin" possess one. And when his father died, he may have been as old as a year, so he could have picked up some understanding of English that stuck around in his unconscious mind. Ayla in CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR is in a similar position, a Cro-Magnon (i.e., anatomically modern human) child adopted by Neanderthals. The author postulates that Neanderthal communication, in contrast to Ayla's parents' tongue, depends heavily on sign language.

In some SF, the human and extraterrestrial characters unrealistically progress from "this Earth, me human" and mathematical symbols to fluent conversation in a few hours or days. More plausibly, the ET might arrive already knowing English, having been monitoring our TV broadcasts for decades (Heaven help us – another potential source of very funny cross-cultural misapprehensions). Or there's always the familiar universal translator, which tends to make professional linguists' stomachs hurt. In STAR TREK we have to accept some of the technology, such as the universal translator, warp drive, and the transporter, as the high-tech equivalent of magic, a necessary simplification to further the story. A portable electronic device programmed to translate between previously known languages is more plausible; the U.S. military is already developing one. So far, from what I've read, it handles only a finite list of standard sentences.

What about aliens without the proper organs to produce human speech? Venusian dragons in one of Robert Heinlein's novels wear "voders," into which they key sentences that the machine translates into English via synthesized speech. Terran visitors to distant planets might have to use a similar device if the inhabitants communicate, for example, by colored lights.

And then there's telepathy. If the characters don't share a language, could they communicate mind-to-mind? That depends on whether you conceive telepathy as simply silent "talking" or you believe in a pure "essence" of thought that each participant mentally translates into his/her own language. The real fun starts, whether with telepathy or a universal translator, when one person tries to convey a concept that simply has no equivalent in the recipient's culture.

Suzette Haden Elgin (, professional linguist and science fiction writer, author of the "Native Tongue" series, produces a bimonthly newsletter on Linguistics and SF. In the Native Tongue novels, she created a language called Laadan, for which a complete grammar and dictionary are available. There's a cool website on alien languages at It covers linguistic cliches in SF, how an alien language might differ from ours, the universal translator problem, and many related topics. You can find a complete free e-book on this subject at "Me Human, You Alien" (, with references to many fictional examples.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Holy _______!

Go ahead. Fill in the blank in the title above. Or here: Holy _____!

What you choose tells you (and me) a lot about what you--personally and culturally--value and what you don't. It also tells you one of the things I use when creating aliens and alien societies in my novels.

Profanity is just one more way of experiencing another galactic species. After all, it's pretty dang common here on this planet. And it appears in frikkin' so many ways. And so many--if you've already caught on--styles.

How we swear and what we choose as an insult would tell an interplanetary visitor quite a lot about us Terrans. The same is true in reverse--we Terrans (sorry, but I have an allergy to the word "earthling") can learn a lot about our galactic heroes and heroines.

I first really noticed this concept in CJ Cherryh's CHANUR series, where her felinoid Hani had less concern for paternal lineage than for ear condition. To the Hani--like to my cats--ears were revered. So calling another Hani an "earless bastard" was a terrific insult--less for the bastardy. "Earless" alone was guaranteed to provoke a fight.

I like that.

In my Gabriel's Ghost, the human element denigrates a furred sentient species, the Taka, by demeaningly referring them as "furries". Not coincidentally, getting drunk is referred to as "getting furred." Takas are not looked highly upon, you see... and that bigotry has translated itself into the slang of the culture.

Consider our own culture. What do we use to insult, to denigrate? Excrement, fornication (odd, that, when you
really think about it), lack of parentage and genitalia are the most common in English epithets. But an insult in Jacksonville might not be one in Rio de Janeiro. Take the ubiquitous "OK" sign in the USA: thumb and forefinger making a circle. In Rio, they could get your lights punched out. It refers to a lower body orifice...

So it's not just words but gestures that become part of alien culture experiences. As my intrepid heroine, Commander Jorie Mikkalah, finds out in my upcoming Bantam release, The Down Home Zombie Blues

Jorie and her team have arrived on our planet and, after stealing a car, are not too successfully negotiating traffic on a busy Florida street...

[snip ]

“Another religious custom,” Jorie told Herryck, who sank down in her seat and planted her boots against the front console. “Their vehicles play music as they pass. And they’re blessing us.”

“Blessing us?”

Jorie nodded as she negotiated her vehicle between two others that seemed to want to travel at an unreasonably slow rate of speed. “They put one hand out the window, middle finger pointing upward. Wain’s reports stated many natives worship a god they believe lives in the sky. So I think that raised finger is a gesture of blessing.”

“How kind of them. We need to go that way again, sir.” [end snip]

A gesture of blessing to otherworlder Jorie. But a clear insult to us here in Florida. Sometimes it's not only fun to visit another galaxy but to have someone from that other galaxy visit here...

Hugs all, ~Linnea

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Alien romance – Coitus interruptus

“Rowena, do you like writing sex scenes?” I was asked recently.

It’s the sort of question that makes one want to straddle the fence.

Well, I do. And I don’t.... and I'd rather call them love scenes.

Whether you see it or not, Sex usually happens in a romance. It’s part of the most important story of a person’s life… not necessarily sex with an alien, though if that happened and especially if the alien happened to be a little bit anatomically different, you can imagine that a blow by blow account would be quite fascinating.

Correction: could be.

On the other hand, one can write a first rate romance without a graphic description of what might happen once the bedroom door is closed behind two relatively normal people. Georgette Heyer’s Georgian and Regency romances spring to mind.

I do like to write the sort of love scene (or sex scene) where something goes dramatically wrong --I have a rotten sense of humor-- or at least not according to the hero’s expectations.

I usually pick on the hero for reasons that are probably perfectly obvious.

He’s more likely to be … less philosophical … not to mention sore, if he can’t get the heroine’s chastity belt off, or if the heroine’s beloved pet cat mistakes his equipment for a funny looking mouse, or if the film crew falls out of the air duct, or if the lubricant contains a dye that won’t come off.

What—apart from its effect on character, and its potential to annoy the protagonists and shift the plot into a higher gear—is the point of a love scene in SFR or in a Futuristic?

Comic relief?

Oh, yeah. But in my opinion, lovemaking that is good for both of them isn’t proof of a happy ever after, and it isn’t the high point on which I like to end my books.


Another thing I like about alien romance love scenes (or sex scenes) is that if the hero and heroine are from different planets, and do not have infallible translators implanted in their ears, one can have such fun with grammar.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alien Romance on TV

Mention of Superman and BEWITCHED started me thinking about "aliens" of various kinds in TV series. The witches and warlocks in BEWITCHED are clearly intended as a separate subspecies of humanity, so that show counts as "alien romance." A little later, there was I DREAM OF JEANNIE -- of course, not at all like the alien djinn romances by Rowena Cherry ( Jeannie, from what I remember of the few episodes I watched, was a nonhuman version of a stereotypical pre-women's-lib wife/girlfriend, even more retro than Samantha. All that "yes, master" routine. The first TV series I recall that attempted to create a radically alien extraterrestrial, although humorously, was MORK AND MINDY. That show definitely involved SF romance, since the couple got married and had a son. Mork's species displayed reproductive oddities such as male pregnancy and children being born adult-size and growing down instead of up. All these elements were played for laughs, though.

Vincent on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST qualifies as alien, at least in appearance. We never learned his origin. For all we know, he could have been abandoned on Earth by extraterrestrials. In personality, however, he comes across as more human than human, more generous and noble than the average man. He displays "beast" traits toward the end of the series, when "Dark Vincent" bursts forth. Perhaps his kindness and nobility masked a deeply repressed dark side all along? When he and Catherine produced a child, I was disappointed that the baby, when we finally saw him, turned out completely human in appearance. I wanted to see a furry miniature Vincent!

ALIEN NATION, of all the SF network series set on Earth, tried the most seriously to explore genuinely alien biology and culture. In the category of reproduction, the aliens had three sexes and male pregnancy. These elements were treated in some detail and quite convincingly, such as the episode in which the unborn baby is transferred into George's pouch from his wife's body. Matt, the human detective, had a love affair with an alien woman. Early in their relationship, she confronted him on his speciesest attitudes, his expectations that she ought to be more like an Earth woman. "You think I should have hair," as she said in one memorable line. Later, they took a class on human-alien sexuality together.

The genetically engineered characters in DARK ANGEL might be considered aliens in a sense, not being entirely human. They were bred by combining human and animal DNA. Max, the heroine, had cat DNA. Later in the series we met "cousins" of hers who more visibly displayed the traits of the animals whose genes they carried, such as her part-dog friend. About the time Max and her regular-human guy friend finally admitted their mutual attraction, a villain infected her with a virus specific to him, so that if they touched, he would die.

Did anyone here watch the series STARMAN'S SON, a spinoff from the movie STARMAN? The TV show didn't last long, and I never got around to watching it. Any potential for alien-human romance there? In my opinion, the movie was fun, even though it used a trope that has become something of a cliche, government agents pursuing the alien visitor to lock him up for their devious purposes or simply out of paranoid fear. At the time I saw it, I thought of it as "ET with sex."

What about THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN? I didn't watch it often enough to know whether it involved much human-alien romance? One interesting facet, as I recall, was that the aliens chose their sexes arbitrarily when they assumed human form for their undercover mission, a detail that implies they didn't have the same gender divisions we do. Did the show ever address the issue of their "natural" sexuality in their true forms?

And of course, branching out to SF programs not set on Earth, the various STAR TREK series often involved romances between human characters and extraterrestrials. We've already discussed Odo the amorphous blob, but there are many other examples, such as human-Klingon and human-Vulcan relationships.

Have I missed any TV series with alien romance elements? I didn't follow BABYLON 5, and I have never got around to watching any of the original programming on the Sci-Fi channel.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Star Trek, WorldCon, & Alien Romance


First I want to say that I won't be posting next week, so someone else can snatch the Tuesday slot in this blog. And then I want to answer, in my usual roundabout way, a question Rowena asked yesterday -- a good question with a long answer.

I will be at the World Science Fiction convention. In 4 days of the 5 day con, I have 15 panels and a 3 hour Writing Workshop, so any of you who are there can find me easily.

On Friday night (you don't need a badge to come to this one) the Sime~Gen fans are throwing their annual Sime~Gen party at WorldCon, and featuring this year (40th anniversary of Star Trek) a tribute to Shirley Maiewski, long-time Chair of the Star Trek Welcommittee.

We've touched on the Alien Romance connection seething beneath the surface of Star Trek's various versions, but if you need a refresher just visit any Trek fanfic site! Whew! I'm scheduled for several Trek panels at Worldcon, no doubt much discussion of such relationships will ensue.

Having been involved in Star Trek fanzine fandom from the beginning (article in Spockanalia called Mr. Spock On Logic) (see my own Trek fanfic at ) I watched the evolution of a field with great attention.

Star Trek fanzines arose out of Science Fiction fandom where "fanzines" never carried FICTION -- they were articles, and personal ramblings and letters of comment on novels, and reviews, and Q&A's with authors, and science and criticism and (best of all!) CON REPORTS!

Star Trek fanzines were started by people steeped in that tradition, but whose writers and readers wrote FICTION -- Star Trek fiction with ST characters from the aired shows, plus original characters. And that's what they published. At first many fanzines carried scripts in script format - stories that could have been filmed for TV. They had poetry, artwork, and most of all LETTERS OF COMMENT (LoCs).

At first all kinds of stories glumped together in any 'zine -- the distinguishing characteristic was the quality of the editing and demanding standards of the editors. They might be amateurs in publishing, but many were librarians or English Teachers -- people who knew story-structure and quality and were as qualified to edit fiction as any professional hired in Manhattan publishing. So the stories started good and got better and better -- surpassing in many cases stuff you could buy in Mass Market paperback.

Then a strange thing happened. With print runs topping 1,000 copies, fanzines began to differentiate on the basis of content. Paying $20 for as many words as $5 would buy in Mass Market made readers discriminating -- they wanted to be sure they would enjoy the stories before buying the 'zine. So they looked for subjects they loved -- characters featured, settings.

And fanzine publishers who footed the upfront costs and had to make them back began to invent GENRE -- one step at a time, right before my eyes, I saw market forces creating genre-rules, and I came to understand why genre exists, what it is and where it comes from.

It isn't a marketing tool some businessman invented to impose his taste on the market. It isn't a censorship tool. It arises from the READERS search for what they are willing to pay for.

If the readers searching for something to read can't recognize in the package the signs and signals that they will enjoy the contents, the publisher will lose money and not do any more things like that. If the reader thinks they'll like it, and then finds it's a dud, the reader won't buy anything that looks like that again, and a couple more tries later the publisher stops doing that.

The flaw in this system of developing genre is the lack of feedback from the end-user, the reader, to the publisher via the editor. In ST fanzine fandom, the feedback was immediate and detailed because every fiction 'zine carried LoCs that made it very clear what readers were looking for -- and often spurred writers to writing the next story.

In the commercial world, there was never any such feedback mechanism until the Internet. Even now, though, the feedback isn't making the message clear.

However, foment is churning up the fiction field and redefining genre. The leading edge of this chaotic change is in the e-book field where genres are being mixed, matched, melded and morphed into some totally new things. Alien Romance as a genre is an example -- SF AR takes it further.

The e-book field spawns these new definitions and leaders like Roweena and Linnea blast their way into the Mass Market arena.

[Rowena Asked]
Why should an industry professional who is judging my alien romances become confused and upset if my non-human, interstellar starjet pilot can levitate through the sheer force of his personality and will?

I have touched on the shape of publishing -- and the changes that morphed publishing in the 1980's and 1990's from an industry that served readers to an industry that serves corporate profit motives.

Way back when, editors bought books because they liked the book, because it seemed like a good book to them, because they knew other readers would want that book, or because they saw the book as a contribution of worth and value to the sum total of human creativity.

Today, that kind of editor has been drummed out of the business -- or retrained to think a different way. Today editors don't buy books -- they aren't the people who make the decisions on what gets published. Committees make those decisions, and the most powerful person on that committee is the MARKETER who makes the decision to buy or not buy on the basis of the one-sentence or one-paragraph description of the book -- "what can I sell this as?"

Movies and TV shows are bought or not bought on the basis of the same question. Not "what does this add to the sum total of human wisdom" -- but "what can I sell this as?"

So it's all about the marketer's perception of market (not the truth, the perception) -- and the reader's main tool these days is the internet, blogs, reviews, Lists, Boards, etc. There are websites where you can vote for books you like. There's amazon where you have half a dozen tools to make your opinions of a book or type of book known -- where you can TELL marketers what books are like other books by shaping your Wish Lists.

Some publishers' websites also allow comments and discussions.

As more of us use these tools to give publishers feedback on what we like, but more importantly WHY we like it, we will use the profit motive to supply us with more of what we really want.

Star Trek is a good example. When I started writing the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES! publishing was solemnly convinced that only adolescent boys watched STAR TREK and it was therefore trash. (that's the truth) The only value seen in that show was either silly, childish adventure wish-fulfillment or the techie yearning for a life without complex relationships (neck-up SF).

STAR TREK LIVES! exposed the content of Star Trek fanfiction which explained exactly why people really loved that show so much they wouldn't let it die.

That exposure ignited a fire by bringing together many more creative people -- people in what Spockanalia dubbed "Spock Shock" -- and what we today call Alien Romance -- that stunning realization of the pure sexiness of a non-human.

Today, TV Guide has admitted it in print, various books of criticism have admitted it in print, at least one TV Producer who worked on Star Trek, Ronald D. Moore, has admitted it, -- it's the RELATIONSHIPS driving the plot that make the action interesting.

At the time we wrote Star Trek Lives! that was a patently absurd notion when applied to science fiction. Today it's accepted.

The real question Roweena should be asking is not why should an industry professional become upset when she mixes levitation with sf -- (the answer is above: because they don't know how to pitch that to marketing) -- the question is how do we create an open feedback channel between reader and "industry professional" such that the "industry professional" and his/her marketer are hearing the same thing the writer is hearing from readers?

This blog is actually a BIG STEP in that direction -- but like the CB radio, blogging produces so much noise, chatter, and nonsense, that the message gets lost.

How can we sift our message out of the background noise and "beam it" directly into the brains of the marketers? How can we be effective at guiding marketers to serve us?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, August 14, 2006

Beauty and the (Alien) Beast

I recently was pointed to a rather demeaning article about the romance genre as seen from the viewpoint of a visitor to a recent Romantic Times convention. Trashing the romance genre is nothing new; in fact, it seems to be the sport du jour of certain male types who are--strictly arm-chair psychoanalysis here--less than secure in their masculinity. Real men don't cry, fall in love or eat quiche.

But I'm not posting today to talk about crying or quiche. I'm talking about something in the article that caught my eye: the erroneous belief that all heroines in romance (and SF romance) novels are beautiful and unrealistically so.

That may have been true twenty years ago. I can't say for sure because although I was reading romances twenty years ago, I can't quote them chapter and verse and I don't own any of that era. But I vaguely remember that yes, the heroines were always portrayed to be head-turners--if not at the beginning of the book (in the case of those Regencies I loved to inhale where the heroine was often in disguise as a servant or stable boy), then at least by the half way mark.

But I've noticed less and less this devotion by authors to the perfectly beautiful heroine and am rather seeing the simple notation that the hero finds the female in question to be beautiful. That doesn't mean she's a head-turner. That doesn't mean that when she walks into a room all conversation ceases. It just means what I wrote: the hero finds the heroine beautiful. His best friends view her as plain as white bread. But when she's around, his heart beats a tad faster.

I'd like to take that concept into the genre of SFR because we like to talk about characterization here, and we like to talk about falling in love with an alien (and I don't want to get into the technical aspects of breeding--Margaret did that wonderfully in her blog. Suffice it to say, in my books, my main characters never start a nursery so it's not an issue).

Granted, most of our alien heroes and heroines are humanoid, human-like. Two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose and a mouth. (We won't get into genitalia, either.) But I suspect that's because we are still very aware that our audience is human (at least, as far as we know). But writing SFR permits us to explore the -oid part of humanoid a bit more. And makes us think of how we define--if not beauty--then physical attraction between two characters.

In Gabriel’s Ghost I have a secondary character (who may yet get his own book) named Ren, who is distinctly alien, a Stolorth. His skin is a pale silvery blue, he has gill slits on the side of his neck and there's webbing between his fingers and toes.

Ren gets a lot of fan mail. Women love him. They adore him. And he's a blue-skinned alien.

I don't believe any where in the book do I define Ren as drop-dead gorgeous. I don't think anywhere in the book do I state that women fall in a swoon when he walks in a room. What I do let the reader experience in the book is Ren's personality, his compassion, his gentleness, his strength, his loyalty.

These are the same qualities that make other characters in the book (most notably, Dorcie, the ship's cook) find Ren very attractive. Okay, he's tall and buffed out. But he's not cover model handsome and nowhere do I typecast him as such. But I do typecast him as noted above: strong, gentle, loyal.

This type of characterization--whether with human male/female characters or alien male/female characters--is what I think is being misread by certain people as indidcative of characters possessing unrealistic beauty. That tells me they're skimming the book(s), not reading.

Yes, Dorcie thinks Ren is hot. But Berri Solaria finds him hideous (in fact, I do believe she refers to him exactly that way: "Hideous Stolorth!").

Whether or not Ren is attractive to a human female depends on the beholder. And that's how I like to craft my characters. Not unattainably perfect in face or form, but perhaps inexplicably but undeniably attractive, alienness and all. A contradiction in terms, for sure.

But--especially when crafting SFR--it makes for a better read.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Got Magic?

Ah! Is that a hot button for you? It is for me.

How many of us have read, or been told, that if it's Science Fiction there cannot be magic? If there's magic, it must be Fantasy.

I'd like a straw poll. If you've believe that there's no place for magic in SF --or if you've heard it, and wondered Why not?-- please comment.

It's easy. Click the crayon symbol to the right of the author's signature. You can be Anonymous. You just have to recognize the distorted alphabet soup. Sometimes, you have to do that part again because maybe a Z is really a z, but how could you tell?

Back to Magic... nor not... as a topic.
My position is that I don't appreciate being told what I can and cannot write.

That said, I was grateful for Guidelines when I was starting out. It's good to know the ten greatest "turn-offs" that might cause an editor, an agent, or a contest judge to read no further (metaphorically speaking).

Yet the rebel in me wonders: If it is scientificially OK, even desirable, for aliens from other worlds to have religions and spiritual beliefs, why shouldn't they have magic?

Is there a difference --as far as a third party observer can tell-- between a miracle and magic?

As we get older and wiser, do we "grow out of" magic?

Do we assume that a technogically advanced civilization capable of interstellar travel will be too sophisticated for magic? Will they have explained it all away?

We know the difference between a conjurer's act and something that truly cannot be explained.... don't we? Still we are fascinated when the pea under the shell is not where our senses tell us it should be, or when the magician catches the bullet between his not-even-chipped teeth.

When you think of jobs with legs, the entertainment industry must be one of the most durable... not counting the illegal occupations and the hereditary positions... there's singing and otherwise making music; news-and-story-telling; conjuring, juggling and magic-doing.

There's also cooking, farming and fighting.

There must be a reason why we need magic in our lives, whether it is Swords and Sorcery; dangerous, bottled-up, bald genies (why are they always bald?), wands and winged dragons; portals to parallel worlds; or the possibility of amorous and lonely hunks --pretty much like us, perhaps with two penises, or pointy ears, or fangs, or silver-bullet-semen-- travelling through the icy blackness of space in search of love and understanding.

Why should an industry professional who is judging my alien romances become confused and upset if my non-human, interstellar starjet pilot can levitate through the sheer force of his personality and will?

Suppose he glares intently at the heroine and sweeps her off her feet, literally, without recourse to magnets, nano-power packs, or other scientifically possible explanations?

Disclaimer: I don't mean to say that any industry professional that I know HAS become confused and upset by such seductive delights (on the other hand, my alien djinn heroes haven't --yet-- performed inexplicable magic, either). I'm simply reflecting the warnings I've heard from How-To enthusiasts.

I might also be contemplating a little genre rule-breaking, some time in the future. Is there anything else that we've heard is "Off Limits" in science fiction romance?

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, August 11, 2006

It's Not the Aliens in Your Life...

It’s the life in your aliens. Thinking back on my long history of alien love, I have to say that Mr. Spock was not my first alien. As a kid I was a huge fan of Superboy comics. I’ve never been a huge fan of the adult version of this super hero, but I loved the teenage Kal-el. Maybe because he had a dog. I guess Superboy was my version of the “safe crush” that most girls tend to get on pop stars.

Then along came Uncle Martin from My Favorite Martian. Not that I actually had a crush on the character played by Ray Walston, but I was totally addicted to the show.

Then came Mr. Spock. One of the great loves of my life. How well I recall sitting in study hall in high school writing my first romance novels – about Mr. Spock. What a career he got me started on.

I’m still in love with Mork from Ork. I don’t suppose Han Solo technically counts as an alien, but he is from long ago and a galaxy far far away. Aragorn probably doesn’t count as an alien, either, but he has that mysterious stranger thing going that is part of the appeal of the alien love object.

Mind you, all these folk are not really aliens. Sorry, Mr. Spock, but even you are a human with a lot of appealing neuroses despite the pointed ears and green blood. I don’t know if we could love real, extraterrestrial aliens (with the exception of E.T. himself maybe…but what he represents is a lost little boy, so I guess he’s not an alien, either). Any real alien would be completely other. I’d like to think that we could love what we cannot understand, but I don’t know if we could lust after the unknowable.

What we alien lovers are drawn to is the outsider, the rebel, the lure of the exotic. The stranger in town draws our attention. Maybe he’s dangerous. He’s certainly exciting. He’s different, and we crave different. Besides, we believe that we can tame him, help him, understand him, love him. And he’ll appreciate us for the unique and wonderful beings we are. We alien lovers are incredibly romantic. We do not settle for the merely normal. In many ways we are aliens in our mundane environment as well.
alien romances

Susan Sizemore

Thursday, August 10, 2006


If you haven't read Larry Niven's essay "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," check it out:

It analyzes the difficulties involved in a hypothetical mating between Superman and a terrestrial female, matters naturally glossed over in one of my favorite TV shows, LOIS AND CLARK. Niven deals at length with the problems posed by the probable bullet-like qualities of Superman's sperm, as well as his super-strength. Unless Kryptonians have self-control unknown to the men of Earth, he would crush Lois in his embrace "while simultaneously ripping her open from crotch to sternum, gutting her like a trout." Niven proposes an ingenious plan to get around these difficulties, using artificial insemination. He mentions but passes over more fundamental potential problems: Would Superman even find Lois sexually attractive, considering they belong to different species? What if Kryptonian women secrete sexual pheromones that human females lack? And wouldn't mating between them amount to bestiality (as Niven puts it, "sodomy")?

I maintain, in common with the guidelines of most erotic romance publishers, that if two individuals are sapient, they are "people" rather than "animals" to each other, so no bestiality is involved. As for the first question, Superman grew up in an Earth-human family. Like a duckling imprinting on a mother figure, he would identify with his foster-parents' species and would therefore find females of that species appealing. The really critical question about interplanetary interbreeding, however, involves genetic compatibility. What are the chances that an extraterrestrial would be fertile with a Terran? Niven suggests that Lois "could more easily breed with an ear of corn than with Kal-El."

Various authors present different solutions for this problem. It's not a factor in straight fantasy, of course (magic does the trick), but science fiction romance often has to deal with it. Some writers simply ignore it, as was common in older fiction. In Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp classic A PRINCESS OF MARS, John Carter of Virginia manages to beget a son with Dejah Thoris of Barsoom, even though she lays eggs like a platypus. In my favorite H. P. Lovecraft story, "The Dunwich Horror," the hapless Lavinia is impregnated by the dark deity Yog-Sothoth, who is not only nonhumanoid but from an alien space-time continuum. Sometimes genetic engineering provides the mechanism for conception. It might be assumed that Sarek and Amanda had their half-Vulcan son Spock by this method, although Jean Lorrah's fiction (THE VULCAN ACADEMY MURDERS, THE IDIC EFFECT, and her "Night of the Twin Moons" fanfic series) postulates that the pregnancy occurred naturally. Another possible solution is a universe in which all human races throughout the galaxy were "seeded" by an ancient super-species and therefore have the same DNA. Susan Grant uses this device in her new novel YOUR PLANET OR MINE?, and the Star Trek canon contains hints of it. Although I don't say so explicitly, I assume in the background of my own vampire universe that organic compounds have been carried between planets and stars on comets and meteors, so DNA might be compatible among creatures evolved in different solar systems. In my current work in progress, I use the chimera concept (in the biological sense, not the mythological) -- the heroine's child has two fathers, one of them a monster from another dimension.

How would you handle the question of fertility between a hero and heroine from different planets or dimensions?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Soul Mate


Many Alien Romance stories show us how a human and an alien could nevertheless be soul mates, and after various harrowing difficulties convincing each other or themselves of the inescapable truth of that mating -- they give in to the inevitable.

OK, actually, I do have a well defined internal referent for "soul mate" -- and actually, as I see reality, there's no reason that souls might not incarnate as different species on different worlds.

See my post about worldbuilding on Linnea's post previous to this one where I touch on religion and spiritual philosophy as the ultimate result of worldbuilding.

Given an intelligent alien species that evolves under different conditions than we have on Earth, I can't see any way that they would NOT have souls equivalent to ours. And given that, no reason that some of our departed souls might not do a stint among some non-human species somewhere.

Given space travel, then there's no reason two individuals who are in fact soul-mates might not encounter one another. OK, the probability is vanishingly small, but that's what LOVE is all about -- the realization of the highly improbable. That's why it's called a "marriage made in heaven" -- only the Creator of the Universe who can manipulate probability could bring some marriages together.

Now, the kind of Alien Romance novel I'd like to see is one that focuses on the inevitable disparity of spiritual philosophies among soul-mates of differing species.

That would take a writer who has a deep and far-ranging grasp of some human spiritual philosophy or mystical view or religion, plus the imagination to be able to replicate the worldbuilding exercise I sketched in my reply to Linnea.

Has anyone read a novel like that? Cross-religion marriages are fairly common today -- I'd expect there would be a wide audience that wouldn't need detailed explanations about why religion in marriage is a problem, nor about the strategies and costs of dealing with that problem, especially when raising children.

What novel have I missed reading here?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's Not Just Ships That Shoot...

I had a joyous email yesterday from a friend and sister author who's decided to start writing SFR. She already writes action-adventure romances--hot ones, actually. I think she'd be a great addition to the genre and Lord knows, we need more good SFR authors. And no, I don't consider other authors in competition with me. Readers read 'em faster than we can write 'em.

But that's an aside and not the real topic for Monday. The topic grew out of my writer-friend's query to me about writing SFR. What kinds of things do I consider when I write a story, where does the tech talk come from, how do I invent worlds? Those were a few of the things she asked.

Her email got me thinking. No one's ever asked me anything that quite in depth before. It forced me to give some serious thought about how I do what I do. And that generated a response from me that said, in essence, it's not just about ships that shoot.

The warp and weft of SFR--because it is a melding of two genres--is so much more than a riveting action scene in deep space. It's so much more than a technological puzzle on a space station or moon colony. It IS all that, yes. But it's also the characters, their reactions, their fears, their failings, their hopes, their dreams. Their challenges.

It's also the worlds, the settings: unique, unlikely, exotic, spartan, gadget-laden, surreal. It's about placing characters into these worlds, at the moment of conflict. Or as the venerated Jacqueline Lichtenberg quotes on her site (and I'm paraphrasing), it's when "I must" slams hard up against "You cannot."

Granted, some of these elements also exist in other genres. But in SF and SFR, things just seem so much more intense.

An Accidental Goddess grew out of an idea of a pressure cooker. I wanted a setting that was confining. I wanted pressure and problems to build without giving the characters a means of escape. So I plopped Gillie and Mack on a space station. I dismantled Gillie's ship so she couldn't run from her problems--she had to face them. I gave Mack a near impossible time deadline so he couldn't hop the next shuttle and take a vacation. Yeah, eventually they face ships that shoot. But the real crux of the story was forcing two people do deal head on with their emotions and their problems.

My upcoming Games of Command has a lot of shooting ships, one near crash and one major crash. It also has a half-human, half-cyborg main character, which certainly brings in the tech issues. But it's the characters reactions to these tech issues--not the tech itself--that drives the plot.

So SFR isn't just about ships that shoot. It's also about characters who strive and triumph. It's a good light show and an HEA.

I may have to design a seminar on the subject, either for an on-line class or one of the upcoming writer conferences. Would you take such a class, or attend one at at conference? If so, what kinds of things would you want to learn? What do you want to know about writing SFR?

I'm yours to command...

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I should have posted this....

A step too far

Maybe I'm weird, but when I read a novel -- whether it is an alien romance, or totally terrestrial -- I expect to come across the scene on the cover, and I feel vaguely cheated if it is not there.

Does anyone else?

I'm not so bothered if the cover is an artistic grouping of artifacts, although... if there's a bejewelled dagger and a dragon feather, I suppose that I do expect them to be used to good effect in the novel.

Please do not misunderstand me. I'm not criticizing anyone's cover or art department. I am simply sharing my inner thoughts about covers in general, and my gut reaction to the gorgeous cover of my next book... and the hazards of hasty research.

The colors are fabulous, and the artwork is sexy. The alien sky is wonderfully ... alien. I couldn't ask for a better looking cover (unless I was absolutely out of my mind). It's just that the scene depicted on the cover of INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL is a little more "romancy" than I had in mind.

An author friend who is a bit of an expert on cover psychology says that I should tell readers, especially male readers, to ignore the cover. But should I?

My gut instinct is that if the sex-in-an-alien-sea scene is suggested on the cover but is not in the book, then I have to --somehow-- write the scene and beg my editor to fit it in.

Is that extreme? Am I being too anal about this?

If only they'd given me a bare-chested hunk staring out to sea (face not visible, so his features could not be wrong) or up to his waist in the ocean... I should have suggested that! I'm not blaming the Art Department at all. I was warned that I could not have a god-like alien hunk in underpants out of respect for buyers' fine sensibilities.

Anyway, how many cover models would want INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL displayed boldly across their groins?

Verisimilitude is important, and there are times when you just cannot ask your more exhibitionist friends to commit an illegal act and tell you how it felt.

Illegal? Well I think you can be pinched for doing the deed on a public beach, and I don't have access to any secluded ones in outer space.

In case any members of this planet's law enforcement community are reading this with professional interest, I must disclose at this point that the sea was too cold for my husband. (Mostly).

Suffice it to say that my scrupulous --and ingenious-- attempts at research took longer than expected. Either the tide was wrong (too far in or out), or the waves were too mighty, or too placid, or the sand was too gritty, or the light was wrong....

On the last day of my time by the sea, when my bags were packed and it really wasn't convenient to get my costume wet again, my dear husband and our child decided that despite the low tide, and a stiff onshore breeze, it might be fun to experience the surge of surf against parts south of their chests and north of their knees.

My mother went to get towels from the car, and we splashed into the North Sea (English Channel) to join dozens of screaming bathers and people surfing on one sort of board or another.
August. Low tide, but only a seven foot drop, not like the nine foot range one gets at the full moon or with the spring tides. For a month I'd watched the shallows at low tide for signs of sinister movement. That day... I forgot.

I did get to refresh my memory of whether there is any difference between the feel of sun-warmed, masculine, muscled skin in cold seawater (as opposed to in a fresh water bath, shower, or chlorinated swimming pool) but it's not useable. I mean, even in an alien romance, the hero's skin cannot be said to feel slightly slimy, can it?

Copping a feel was definitely not worth the risk.

If anyone in my immediate family had to step on a weaver fish, I'm glad it was me. I have very high arches, and go barefoot a lot. Thanks to that, only one spine got me, and it broke off before it could deliver much of the excruciating neurotoxin.

Knowing what had stung me, I flicked off the spine, got out of the water, got home as quickly as possible (luckily it was not far), and immersed my throbbing foot in the washing up bowl filled with water as hot as I could bear. And epsom salts. And more water.

That's what you do to draw out the poison, if you are unfortunate enough to step on a weaver fish or lesser weaver fish. They are spined, venomous little predators (they eat prawns, I believe) who like to bury themselves all but the spines in sand when the water is relatively warm.

Keeping the water as hot as possible until the pain was gone meant regular top ups. My dear husband was especially enthusiastic about this, and had no compunction about tipping very hot water onto my toes (the arch area was what needed it). I noticed an odd thing. Near boiling water feels almost cold for the first second or two as it is added to hot water. Then the brain resets, and registers that the water is very hot.

I didn't even limp the next day, as I lugged (schlepped) my little family's three heavy suitcases from Guernsey, to Gatwick, to Detroit. I was lucky.

I'm glad to have my feet under my desk again.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

King Kong

Last week I saw the most recent remake of KING KONG. I liked it better than I'd expected, except that I agree it's too long. The first hour of the three-hour film shouldn't have been required just to get the human stars to the island. I found Ann's gradual shift from fear of Kong to sympathy for him believable. The motif of communication between two "people" of different species without a common language is humorously illustrated by Ann's diverting Kong with her vaudeville act.

KING KONG is quite explicitly presented, of course, as a re-imagining of "Beauty and the Beast." In this version of the fairy tale, there is no possibility of a physical relationship between the human heroine and the Beast. In fact, on the romantic level, Ann has a human lover. The affection between her and Kong remains purely a friendship bridging differences, not an erotic love. Yet this film is already closer to science fiction romance than the original classic, in which the Ann character remains mostly terrified of Kong.

Could this love story be transmuted into a romance? Or do their differences render it too close to bestiality? If you were retelling the story, could you find a way to give Kong and Ann a happy ending? Aside from the question of eroticizing their relationship, what happy ending would be possible for Kong, other than returning him to his island? Once having experienced the sympathy of a human friend, would he be content in his former bestial existence, viewed only as an object of horror?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

World Science Fiction Convention


Congratulations Linnea -- Gabriel's Ghost is an absolute favorite of mine!

At LAConIV, ( ) the World Science Fiction convention for 2006 in Anaheim California, there will be a significant presence of the EPIC organization (professional e-book writers), and Sime~Gen will probably be sharing party space with EPIC and perhaps some other groups. That's a Friday night party.

The convention's focus is on Hollywood, TV and film, as SF. Although not blatantly mentioned, I think you all can discern the AR slant beneath my panel assignments (15 - 90min panels in 4 work-days; plus the usual extra appointments for a Worldcon).

The opportunities to talk about Intimate Adventure, especially as AR, abound among these subjects -- Buffy is AR with a Vampire (or two), Fandom today writes AR online, Y.A. was the first to explore AR, Tarot archetypes are ABOUT AR (bondings with the "other"), Revising is where you add the Romance layer into plots from other genres, the three programs about alien invasion really fell short for lack of Relationship (nevermind romance - they didn't have any good aliens!), Adapting for the Stage you have to focus on the Relationship dynamic because you can't do huge vistas and dogfights in space, Books That Should Be Filmed (well, Gabriel's Ghost tops my list), FANTASY is really not so military, even when it's all battles, it's usually more Relationship focused (i.e. Intimate Adventure), and of course the query letter can NOW reveal the AR at the core of the work!

Here are the panels they put me on (tentative first schedule). I also have jigsawed in there somewhere a 2-3 hour Writing Workshop session and other appointments as noted in previous blog posts here.

A total of 15 program items.
----------------------------------------Panel 1: Wed 8/23 2:30 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: BUFFY THE MASTERS THESIS Participants: Lorien Gray James P. Hogan Nancy Holder(M) Jacqueline Lichtenberg
----------------------------------------Panel 2: Wed 8/23 4:00 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: STAR TREK FANDOM TODAY Participants: Jacqueline Lichtenberg Marah Searle-Kovacevic(M) Lee Whiteside
----------------------------------------Panel 3: Wed 8/23 5:30 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: ISN'T Y.A. A GOOD THING? Participants: Hilari Bell James Frenkel Jacqueline Lichtenberg Catherine S. McMullen Sherwood Smith(M)
----------------------------------------Panel 4: Thu 8/24 10:00 AM, 60-90 minutes. Title: THE TAROT & WRITING Participants: Steve Englehart(M) ElizaBeth Gilligan Jacqueline Lichtenberg Kevin Andrew Murphy
----------------------------------------Panel 5: Thu 8/24 11:30 AM, 60-90 minutes. Title: REVISE, REVISE, REVISE! Participants: Peter S. Beagle James Patrick Kelly(M) Kay Kenyon Jacqueline Lichtenberg Louise Marley
----------------------------------------Panel 6: Thu 8/24 2:30 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: THE "SURFACE" OF AN "INVASION" IS AT THE "THRESHOLD" Participants: Michael Cassutt Scott Edelman(M) Jacqueline Lichtenberg
----------------------------------------Panel 7: Thu 8/24 4:00 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: BRITISH SF TELEVISION TODAY Participants: Paul Cornell(M) Simon R Green Jacqueline Lichtenberg Scott Alan Woodard
----------------------------------------Panel 8: Thu 8/24 5:30 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: ADAPTING SF AND FANTASY FOR THE STAGE . Participants: Janet Wilson Anderson Brian Coghill Steve Collins Jacqueline Lichtenberg William Shunn(M)
----------------------------------------Panel 9: Fri 8/25 10:00 AM, 60-90 minutes. Title: HOW STAR TREK AFFECTED OUR LIVES Participants: Jane Espenson Jacqueline Lichtenberg Wendy Pini
----------------------------------------Panel 10: Fri 8/25 11:30 AM, 60-90 minutes. Title: BOOKS THAT SHOULD BE FILMED Participants: Michael Cassutt Jacqueline Lichtenberg Fiona Patton(M) Mary A. Turzillo Frank Wu
----------------------------------------Panel 11: Fri 8/25 4:00 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: KEEPING STAR TREK ALIVE Participants: Linda Deneroff Devra Langsam Jacqueline Lichtenberg Marah Searle-Kovacevic(M)
----------------------------------------Panel 12: Fri 8/25 5:30 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: A PROUD AND LONELY THING Participants: Linda Deneroff(M) Devra Langsam Jacqueline Lichtenberg
----------------------------------------Panel 13: Sun 8/27 10:00 AM, 60-90 minutes. Title: WHAT IS IT ABOUT BUFFY? Participants: Peter S. Beagle Jane Espenson Jacqueline Lichtenberg Lee Martindale(M)
----------------------------------------Panel 14: Sun 8/27 1:00 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: WHY ISN'T IT MILITARY FANTASY? Participants: David Friedman James Hay(M) John G. Hemry Jacqueline Lichtenberg
----------------------------------------Panel 15: Sun 8/27 2:30 PM, 60-90 minutes. Title: THE QUERY LETTER Participants: Jean-Noel Bassior(M) Hilari Bell Jacqueline Lichtenberg Mary A. Turzillo

-----------------end program ---------------------
Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Creator of the Sime~Gen Universe
where a mutation makes the evolutionary
division into male and female pale by comparison.