Thursday, May 31, 2007
Excerpt from "Tentacles of Love," copyright 2007 by Margaret L. Carter:
“What? Who? Since when?” Hitching up the straps of her sundress, Lauren glared at Blake. “All this time, you somehow forgot to mention you had a brother?”
He flinched at her accusing tone. “We’re twins but he looks more like our father than I do.” He hardly ever talked about his parents. His mom, who’d died before Lauren had met him, had been a single mother. Other than mentioning that the pregnancy had resulted from a brief fling, he’d said nothing about his father. “Wilbur lives here. He never goes out.”
“Wilbur?” She couldn’t help associating the name with a pig in a children’s book.
“Named after one of my mom’s relatives a couple of generations back.” He stepped behind her to zip up the dress.
She dug a comb out of her purse and hastily whipped her hair into shape. “You’re saying he’s in the house now? Good grief, why did you let me scream?”
“Don’t worry, the walls are thick.”
“Why doesn’t he go out?”
“He’s—not like other people,” Blake said with a nervous clearing of his throat. “One thing I love about you is how open-minded and compassionate you are. Nothing seems to faze you.”
“Such as the fact that your family’s a little strange? No biggie. My aunt collects velvet Elvis paintings. I’ve had plenty of practice in open-mindedness.”
“Seriously, you rescued me from terminal geekhood. Miskatonic University alumni aren’t noted for our social graces.”
“Hey, before you, I’d never met a guy who could quote Plato in the original Greek and Olaus Wormius in medieval Latin. Major turn-on.” Although she still didn’t know Olaus Wormius’ claim to fame, the quotations had sounded impressively ominous.
“See, you have a talent for taking weirdness in stride. That’s why I thought you might be able to accept us. Even Wilbur. But I was still scared enough to put off introducing you.”
She folded her arms. “So this is the big secret you’ve been hiding? You thought I might break our engagement because you have a brother who’s a little different? God, do you really think I’m that shallow?”
“No way!” He strode over to her and clasped her shoulders. “It’s not that simple. You’ll see. But I have faith in you.”
Retreating from him, she said, “Okay, let’s get this over with.” She still simmered with indignation that he had hidden such vital information.
“Guess I can’t blame you for getting angry. Just bear with me ‘til you know all the facts, okay?”
She responded with a grudging nod.
“We have to go upstairs.” He led her to a door where the hall dead-ended and opened it to show a narrow flight of steps. He flipped on a light switch.
“Your family makes him live in the attic?”
“He likes it up there. It’s arranged to suit his special needs.”
Still barefoot, she followed Blake to the top of the stairs, where a bare bulb on the ceiling showed a long, well-swept room lined with stacks of boxes, miscellaneous furniture and the gable windows she’d noticed from outside. At the far end a wall with a closed door blocked off part of the space. “Hold on, does that lead to the window that’s boarded up?”
“So you don’t keep a wife locked in the attic, just a brother?”
“Before you go all ballistic about how we’re mistreating him, wait until you’ve seen the whole picture. His room is customized for him and part of that involves covering the window.” Knocking on the door, he said, “Wilbur? I’ve brought Lauren to meet you, the way I promised.”
A whistling noise, like wind howling through a cavern, emanated from the other side. “Well, here goes.” He clasped her hand and opened the door.
Splinters of rainbow light, like the inside of a kaleidoscope, struck her eyes. After blinking a couple of times, she realized she was seeing the colors through a shimmering curtain of mist. Blake stepped across the threshold, pulling her with him. A chill shuddered through her at the moment she entered the room. The floor tilted, then straightened. She clutched Blake’s arm and waited for the vertigo to fade.
Why did the room seem to stretch twenty feet or more ahead of them? “There can’t be this much space up here. Is it some kind of optical illusion?”
“This room isn’t exactly all here. All in this world, I mean. That’s one reason we covered the window. People got too curious about the weird lights.”
She stared at the—object or creature?—that occupied the other end of the chamber. A floor-to-ceiling translucent mound of rainbow-colored bubbles filled the space, emitting blue and violet sparks whenever its surface rippled. A pseudopod oozed outward for a second, then withdrew into the mass, leaving a glittery trail on the floorboards.
“What is that? Is it alive?” The thing struck her as beautiful in an alien, mind-wrenching way. Maybe the family secret was that the mysterious Wilbur performed mad-scientist illicit DNA experiments.
Blake put his arm around her waist. “That’s my brother.”
“What?” she yelped. “Where?”
The mammoth rainbow-bubble cluster extended six tentacles like the tendrils of a jellyfish, and four eye-stalks popped up at random spots on its surface. “Welcome, Lauren.” The voice vibrated through the floor and resonated in the pit of her stomach like organ music. “I’m so happy to meet my new sister.”
Gray spots clumped in front of her eyes. Her head reeled, her knees wobbled and the floor lurched up to meet her.
When her vision cleared, she found herself leaning on Blake with only his snug embrace holding her upright. The conglomeration of bubbles and tentacles hadn’t disappeared.
She screamed and hid her face on Blake’s chest.
He patted her on the back. “Calm down, love. He’d never hurt you. You see why I tried to prepare you for a little shock?”
“Shock?” she shrieked. “Little? You’ve just told me your brother is a giant, glowing blob.”
-end of excerpt-
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
My computer fan burned out and I have another fan on order (a feat
that took 2 whole work days from writing -- because of course the fan
went on Memorial Day weekend).
My computer is a Dell Precision 350 -- only 4 years old but you can
only get refurbished parts for it from Dell -- it's off warranty and
barely supported at Dell -- but not supported at all at normal stores
like Best Buy and Frys Electronics.
It took two geek friends two days to get me this far -- really, in a
normal world I could just buy a fan, stick it in, and the computer
would work again. Dells aren't designed for that -- or maybe they are
now but weren't 4 years ago.
At any rate my "whole life" is backed up on an external harddrive that
is unplugged most of the time.
It is unlikely that any of the data on my computer's internal hard
drives (2 huge ones) is affected in any way because the software
caught the problem and refused to boot the machine normally. I don't
have an overheat or catastrophic thermal event (i.e. dead CPU to deal
with) -- I hope. If I'm wrong, then I've lost a couple months worth
of data since my last massive incremental backup.
I SHOULD have done the all-night job of another backup to the external
hard drive when I first heard the fan making an odd noise. I didn't
because I was working hard on a story (which is backed up on an
external floppy disk -- but in software that my husband's machine
doesn't have). I worked too late to have the time to start the backup
running then check all night to see if it crashed.
Meanwhile, though I'm using my husband's much smaller machine that
can't run all the software I normally use in my daily grind.
So although at this moment I don't think I have a data disaster on my
hands, I am crippled for lack of that hefty machine I work on.
But this lesson is worth learning and re-learning and somehow creative
people just have to be force-trained into the backup habit perhaps by
the age of 6 or the habit just won't "take."
Really, backup runs counter to everything in an artist's personality
-- you don't make COPIES, you make unique ORIGINAL stuff, one of a
kind. It gets "copied" only when you've finally got it right.
Well, this world is different. There are whole businesses (several of
them in my phone book) that advertise "data recovery" for just exactly
The computer world isn't yet configured for human habitation.
-- Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Monday, May 28, 2007
Last monday, Linnea posted a blog -- Love Beyond Boundaries -- and continued on the topic of barriers that challenge the development of romantic relationships between individuals -- a ready source of the very conflict that makes a story work. I found this particularly relevant to my own fictional work-in-progress. Linnea cited several examples of society's traditional taboos, and in my story, set a century and a half into our future, these still hold stubbornly true in one form or another.
Take my main character and his love interest, for example. Daie Fahr is a commoner with ambiguous religious beliefs. He was born and raised on an agricultrual colony planet in another solar system. His accent, his idiomatic expressions and slang, all mark him as an outsider. Anya, the apple of his eye, comes from a well-to-do family on Earth. She's well educated, dresses in the current fashions, and adheres to a fairly rigid belief system. Anya has never left Earth. She's also never met an alien in person, while Daie spent a couple of years on a commercial hub space station -- he ran into them all the time. Daie's immediate environments have always been fairly remote as well. Anya lives on a planet teeming with people. Even aside from these obvious things, Daie's lack of inherent bias against those different from himself, particularly aliens, makes him a potential outcast even among his own kind.
At great odds with these two is the nearly symbiotic relationship between two of my alien species. The one is indigenous to their now-shared home-world while the other is a long-ago transplant -- in essence, an invader. If ever there was a barrier, that ought to be one. Moreover, the indigenous race is corporeal while the other, in its adult stage of life, is ethereal. Nevertheless, over time the two have crossed the boundaries that separated them and learned to coexist so well together that neither would now dream of an existence without the other. Moreover, this hybridization of their cultures has allowed them to advance their knowledge and expand their reach to the point that they have long since become the dominant species in this particular universe. Ironically, that in itself is enough to cause resentment on behalf of other species, humans included.
As you may have surmised, I like to tinker with things. I think Linnea calls it what-if-ing. It's like playing with a chemistry set made of characters and settings. Mix, stir, BOOM! Stuff happens. Whether reading or writing, this is the appeal for me of SFR as a sub-genre -- the maximum potential for situational diversity, by way of a science fictional universe, combined with the exploration of personal relationships, by way of romance. And, of course there's the HEA factor. Yes, guys like HEAs, too. Given such widely variable perspectives amongst the characters, is it any wonder why SFR/RSF is so exciting to read? Every one of these people is embarking on their own Intimate Adventure, about to be afforded an opportunity to walk a mile in another's shoes and maybe see if they should re-examine what they believe and why. They might just get a whole new slant on what unconditional love really is.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Insufficient Mating Material has just been launched in the UK as of May 25th 2007. I'm told that it can be found in Tesco, WHSmith, Waterstone's, and Blackwell
"Be good..." they say. "And if you can't be good, be careful!"
It must be almost impossible to be careful when all the worlds are watching all the time, and not always sympathetically.
Princesses and celebrities have everywoman's problems, but their problems are magnified a hundredfold by the telephoto lens of public scrutiny. Everyone wants to know who they are seeing, what they are drinking, what they did in bed and with whom, whether or not they are pregnant...
A single alien princess might precipitate a constitutional crisis if an unflattering camera caught her just as a breeze was bellying out her bathing costume... especially if it was common knowledge that she'd slept with a foreign terrorist for kicks.
Princess Martia-Djulia has all the problems of a youngest child (the third child) but more so. It seems pointless to compete with her brilliant older brother and sister. Until senility overtakes them, they will always be older, wiser, better-read, more experienced, more athletic, more powerful.
In a world of feudal primogeniture, the older she gets, the lower her status. She is only interesting if she is scandalous.
Insufficient Mating Material's heroine was introduced in FORCED MATE, where she got a great deal more than she bargained for when she flirted with a handsome --and most unsuitable-- commoner.
She also went through her brother's private "stuff" and got caught, did the gustatory equivalent of spiking the drinks at her brother's wedding banquet, made a compromising video of herself in bed with a tattooed stranger, and fell hopelessly in love with a hunk who was honor-bound to marry someone else.
She makes her dramatic appearance in Insufficient Mating Material as the Royal bride at an Imperial shotgun wedding. As she surveys the throngs who have come to see her married to the mate of her dreams (who has miraculously been relieved of the fiancee he intended to marry and brought back to her) her happiness seems complete...
Never in all Great Djinn history has any Imperial Princess had such a Mating Ceremony on such short notice, and to a mate freely chosen by the Princess!
Princess Martia-Djulia savored her unique happiness. The second best part was that she was going to get away with it. By taking an alien and a commoner like Commander Jason to mate, she poked a defiant finger in the eye of Imperial tradition.
“You’re glowing,” her tall, grimly magnificent brother commented as he joined her on the raised throne-stage and offered her the support of his bent arm for the slow, gyring descent of the stage into the Throne Room below the Imperial suite.
“I’ve a lot to glow about,” Martia-Djulia retorted. She could have made a barbed remark about how Tarrant-Arragon had tricked his own cold, pale bride into saying the irrevocable Imperial Mating Vows, but she didn’t.
After all, Tarrant-Arragon had hunted down Commander Jason, and brought him back to her.
Her thoughts returned to her Jason who shared her taste for subversion and mischief-making. He was the Mate who would change her sad, lonely life; her boring, bottled-up life. He was her rescuer, her lover, her private hero, the warrior who made her feel young and beautiful, and who awed the Fewmet out of her insolent, uncontrollable sons.
He was the only male in all the forty-two gestates of her life who had ever given her an orgasm.
Martia-Djulia took a deep, happy breath as the last notes of the Fanfare Royal drifted up from the balconies of the Throne Room, and the Crown Prince’s throne stage —its stark, craggy contours pleasingly draped for the occasion in her favorite colors of dusk-sky mauve and midnight-purple— descended silently, like one of her brother’s deliberately placed chess pieces, only fortress-sized.
“I can hardly believe it,” she whispered to herself as she nodded graciously to the crowd below. “I’m about to be Mated to the only male who has the physical strength to pick me up and sweep me off my feet, and the desire to do so.”
Tarrant-Arragon lifted an eyebrow at her.
“Oh, when I think of Jason’s passion--” she said, "When I think of how violently he knocked the ceremonial headmask off an interfering Saurian Ambassador, and of the wicked, sexual insults he threw….”
“You liked that, didn’t you?” Tarrant-Arragon teased. “But, I hope you don’t expect your new Mate to pick you up, attack Saurian Ambassadors, and hurl sexual insults in front of our distinguished guests.”
Martia-Djulia took in the carefully orchestrated tableau where she stood on the stepped stage, waiting for Jason to make an entrance through one of the Throne Room’s soaring central portals.
What would he be thinking? Would he remember how they met at a Virgins’ Ball in this very Throne Room? Would he mentally undress her with his strange, dark-nebula eyes and notice that she looked better than he remembered?
Surely, even a fashion hawk like Jason would approve of her sense of style. For her second Mating, she could hardly usurp the pallor of a Royal Virgin bride. She had chosen the subtle, shifting colors of a fast-frozen sea, glittering with the palest, most precious gemstones aligned in all the right places for the most flattering effect.
“They all came back!” Martia-Djulia breathed, gazing out at the heads of state, ambassadors, military leaders, and subject royalty who had been hastily recalled, some before they had returned home after her brother’s nuptials.
“Of course,” Tarrant-Arragon murmured. “On occasions like this, no matter how lofty the ceiling, it is never high enough, is it?”
The pentagonal Throne Room shimmered with the warmth rising from the thronged guests. Massed body heat made the vast room a battleground of assorted perfumes and less intentional odors that only Djinn nostrils might identify.
Suddenly, Martia-Djulia was conscious of emerging mature notes from her own signature perfume.
“Tarrant-Arragon,” she whispered anxiously. “Did I overdo the Queen of the Night?”
“You seem to have put it absolutely everywhere,” he drawled, and grinned, confirming that his Djinn-sharp olfactory senses were as embarrassingly acute as those of a sea-predator.
“I’ll let Jason lick it off,” Martia-Djulia quipped brazening out her secret embarrassment.
“If he’s got any Djinn in him, he might find that joy a little overpowering,” Tarrant-Arragon said.
Martia-Djulia felt a vague, fleeting apprehension. Was it a certain enigmatic tone in her brother’s voice? Something wasn’t right. Tarrant-Arragon had once threatened to kill Commander Jason if her lover turned out to be of rogue Djinn lineage.
Why was Jason late?
Her anxious gaze searched the double avenues of ground-lighted, living trees which flanked the four grand entrances.
“Ah. The so delightful Henquist and Thor-quentin.” Tarrant-Arragon jerked his head to indicate the upper level balcony where her two tall sons leaned negligently on the elaborately carved stone balustrade. “They look pleased.”
Martia-Djulia smiled hopefully at her usually sullen, sulky sons, until she realized that Tarrant-Arragon was being ironic.
“Nervous?” Tarrant-Arragon asked mockingly.
Before she could retort, a loud fanfare made further conversation impossible. The pentagonal room vibrated with the thunder of massed war-drums. Colored plumes of scented smoke surged up and tumbled from the Imperial throne-space, reminiscent of an ultraviolet tinted, pyroclastic cloud. The Emperor’s throne-stage thrust up through the smoke like a coldly gleaming, ice-volcano rising out of a swirling fog.
Her father, The Emperor Djerrold Vulcan V, appeared to stroll on the pinkish-purple vapor trails, high above his guests. Martia-Djulia tried to imprint on her memory every detail of this splendid, dramatic illusion.
“Dear friends, welcome back,” the Emperor began with his customary, affable menace. “You are now here to witness the exchange of vows between my younger daughter and her new mate. Since The Princess Martia-Djulia is a widow, and a mother, and since this is her second marriage, there will —obviously— be no display of proofs of virginity.”
He pointed his Fire-Stone-Ringed forefinger around the room, his guests shrank in their seats, and he smiled tigrishly.
“There will come a point when my dear daughter will ask anyone who objects to her choice of mate to speak out. Anyone who dares to do so will be incinerated.”
Star-blue lightning sizzled and flashed from the Emperor’s finger. Regrettably, her father had flatly refused to even try to color-coordinate his laser ring’s fire for this one occasion.
“Out of consideration for your fellow guests’ nostrils,” Djerrold Vulcan V continued pleasantly, “I advise against any interference. Proceed!”
High above, another fanfare blared from long, deep-noted instruments. The massive central doors at the far end of the Imperial throne room opened.
“I kept my promise,” Tarrant-Arragon said quietly, “…to bring back Jason, if he agreed to come, or to find you a mate like your Commander Jason.”
She wasn’t paying attention, though it was an odd thing to say. Unseen, a massed male voice choir roared out the Mating Anthem... usually heard only once in a generation at the Mating of an Emperor or the Emperor's male heir.
This, too, was her due. She’d been promised that her Mating would be as splendid as the one she had organized for her big brother. And so it was. Only prettier.
“Here he comes!” Martia-Djulia whispered, trembling.
A tall, broad-shouldered silhouette limped from the darkness beyond the doorway.
His beloved, scarred face was a shadowed, distant blur… but something wasn’t right. Had Tarrant-Arragon tortured and starved Commander Jason into agreeing to Mate with her?
“What is wrong with him?” she hissed accusingly. Time stretched out. A sense of creeping horror chilled her vitals. “You promised not to force him.”
Her thoughts raced back to three Imperatrix cycles ago.
She vividly remembered what they’d agreed, just before Tarrant-Arragon left to exact terrible revenge on the unknown villains who’d tried to assassinate him on his honeymoon.
I want him to be happy, she’d protested when Tarrant-Arragon caught her trying to erase compromising footage of Jason on top of her. Jason’s happiness hadn’t been on her mind when she triggered the surveillance systems.
Do you think he’d be happy with me if I force him to be my mate? she’d asked her brother, who had no scruples when it came to mate appropriation.
No, Tarrant-Arragon had bluntly told her, dashing any lingering hope that she could blackmail Jason into returning to her bed permanently.
At the Virgins’ Ball, Commander Jason had made it clear that he’d rather be searching the rim worlds for his errant mate-to-be, but he was on duty. Since he had to be at the Ball, he’d been in the mood for a revenge dock in any bay that would accommodate him.
Martia-Djulia had only wanted illicit excitement — until Jason gave her so much, she wanted him to do it for the rest of her life.
“Did you force him? Did you torture him?” Martia-Djulia demanded urgently.
“Not really,” her appalling brother replied.
Something was wrong. Martia-Djulia's heart thumped. She clasped nervous hands to her glittering breast, and glared in an effort to get a better look at her promised Mate. At this distance, across the Throne Room, it was hard to tell…. Closer he came. Closer.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Martia-Djulia.
Read her story in Insufficient Mating Material
Saturday, May 26, 2007
I have to gush about this movie because we saw it last night and unfortunately it's filled my brain so much that I can't think about anything else. And why the picture of Orlando and not Johnny Depp? Hey I wrote the book Obsessing Orlando under the name Kassy Tayler. That should pretty much explain it all.
Great special effects. Great battle scenes! Depp was hilarious. Rush thoroughly enjoyed his turn as Barbossa. Keira got to be a kick ass heroine. And Orloando got to be heroic and romantic and give us more of those great movie kiss scenes.
The ending kind of made me sad. But it left the potential for more movies. But I have to say my favorite scene (and this does not give away any plot points) was where the ship was sailing on a sea of stars. It was one of the most visually stunning things I've ever seen. Almost as if they were in deep space just drifting along. So see it even relates!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Last week's issue of NEWSWEEK had a cover story on gender identity. I was a little disappointed in it, because it dealt almost entirely with people who choose to transform from their physical sex at birth to the opposite sex (the transsexual or transgender phenomenon). The article made only one brief reference to individuals who possess external genitalia different from their chromosomal sex. I'd hoped the magazine would discuss the many varieties of ambiguous sexuality, more common than most people realize. The Wikipedia article "Intersex" goes into considerable detail and makes a good place to start on this topic.
In science fiction, sexual varieties other than the binary male and female can be normal and typical of a species, rather than a rare anomaly as in human beings. I just bought a DVD of the first season of the excellent TV series ALIEN NATION, whose Newcomer species has, in effect, three sexes. In addition to the male and female as we know them, Newcomers include another type of male called "binnaum" (if I have the spelling correct). These men don't fertilize female ova, but their intervention is necessary to prepare the female for conception. This act of preparation is a solemn and joyous ritual, and the husband feels no jealousy over the binnaum's coupling with his wife. Moreover, among Newcomers husband and wife share the process of gestation. Part-way through pregnancy, the pod containing the fetus is transferred from the female's body into the male's pouch. The Newcomer detective in the series, George Francisco, becomes a father, and his human partner has to deal with the mind-boggling situation of working with a pregnant man.
Because the Newcomers' culture has been crippled by slavery, and now they are trying to fit into our society, this show doesn't give the full impact of the potential effects upon society of the sharing of pregnancy by men. What if human males, like Newcomers and seahorses, bore the babies? Throughout the world, the biological fact that women bear and nurse babies has shaped women's position in society. There's a famous essay (I think it appeared in an early issue of MS) about what would happen if men menstruated and women didn't. The essay, building on the premise that anything men do (including having periods) would be glorified, envisions men bragging about their periods, barring women from the priesthood because only someone with monthly bleeding can reenact Christ's sacrifice, etc. I'm not so sure about these conclusions, though. Isn't it possible that the very fact of monthly bleeding is one of the phenomena that historically contributed to women's marginalization in the first place? For a contrary view, however, I once read a feminist utopia (or dystopia) framed as another voyage by Gulliver, who ends up in a country where women dominate, in a satirical reversal of the middle-class family structure of the 1950s. Whereas in our real-world society, women's biological functions of pregnancy and lactation result in their being assigned the child-care role, it works just the opposite in this novel. Because women bear the burden of pregnancy, birth, and nursing, men stay home and do all the other child care as well as the housework. (I kind of like this idea!)
Octavia Butler wrote that her story "Bloodchild," in which young human males allow centipede-like aliens to lay eggs within their bodies, was her "pregnant man" story. In this tale she explores the emotional complexity of the young protagonist's both loving and fearing the alien female whose reproductive process might kill him if the grubs growing inside him aren't removed in time.
Ursula LeGuin's classic novel THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS attacks the problem from a different angle. The natives of her alien planet are sexless (not hermaphroditic) most of the time. Only during the periodic heat period called "kimmer" do they feel sexual desire and develop external sexual characteristics and the ability to reproduce. Whether a person becomes male or female during any particular kimmer period is purely random, except that if exposed to an individual expressing one sex, the second individual automatically responds by becoming the opposite sex. So anyone can become pregnant. In fact, the novel begins with the unforgettable line, "The King was pregnant." Whatever caste and class distinctions exist on this world, they have no relation to sex roles, because there aren't any.
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series includes an alien, elf-like species called the Chieri who are hermaphrodites. Enchanting, androgynous figures, they express either male or female traits depending on the partner they're with. In THE WORLD WRECKERS, a man from Earth falls in love with a Chieri whom he first meets in female form. When her hermaphroditic nature becomes obvious, he realizes he loves her regardless of her (by Earth standards) ambiguous sexuality. This plotline was very daring for its time and would stand out as a provocative exploration of inter-species romance even today.
I'd like to see more spec-fic romance exploring such themes as multiple sexes and male pregnancy. Earlier posts have talked about the concept of "soul mates." How much of falling in love is purely emotional and spiritual, and how much depends upon physical compatibility? How far can love go to overcome what might seem insurmountable differences in biology and family structures?
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
You'll find my view at
Linnea Sinclaire wrote MAY 21 2007:
What does it take to push beyond those boundaries? What does it take to tell your parents, your village, your society to take a hike, get lost, leave me alone and let me love? What does it take to risk it all, to throw away everything that has heretofore defined you as a person? What does it take to open your heart, fully expecting rejection?
What kind of person is that?
That is a hero on the road to Intimate Adventure, that's what kind of person that is.
It takes more courage to be emotionally honest (especially with yourself about WHO and maybe WHAT you are) than it does to be physically honest -- to admit mistakes, wrong-doing, or bad judgement, or to impose your idea of right upon others by your mighty sword.
Kimber An commented on Linnea's blog entry of Monday May 21, 2007:
I wondered what would drive a girl to do something she knows will get her killed if she's caught? My thought is that her home life must be so devoid of love and joy that when she finds it somewhere else, she grabs it for all she's worth. All human beings need love.
I wondered why would it be the death penalty for a girl to fall in love with someone? My thought on that is that a girl represents an unused sexual object. Men are terrified of being rejected by those they want to have sex with. Most men develop the courage to cope. In some societies and individuals, they don't. Rather than risk rejection, the girl's basic human right to choose her own sexual partner is taken from her. Like a non-sentient animal, she's not allowed control over her own body. To say nothing of her heart. This is rape, but some people dress it up in a religion or whatever.
Kimber An has the makings of a field-changing author! (not just writer; AUTHOR).
This is the kind of thinking we all need to be doing on so many levels.
Deep inside what Kimber An has said here lies the key to World Peace.
And that really has nothing whatever to do with sexuality or choosing a mate. It has to do with taking an idea (such as Linnea tossed out for discussion) and turning it over, inside out, analyzing Linnea's idea and synthesizing it with other bits acquired elsewhere, to create another idea.
Science Fiction is the Literature of Ideas.
Science is nothing more than the organization of knowledge that's been verified by cross-checking (peer review journals being an example). Ideas can't just sit there. They get organized, rearranged, strangely juxtaposed, and turned upside down.
Fiction is all about finding the invisible shape of things that lies within the interlaced and overlapping fog of tiny ideas and facts. We swim in a sea of trivia, bits and pieces and shards and pebbles of nothing much all clumped around and thus hiding nuggets of Infinite Joy.
The writer's job is to pare away the dross and expose that underlying, intrinsic, meaningful pattern of true joy. That is, generally speaking, what art is for, what artists do.
The universe is such that the bits of dull matter and negative energies (which includes most acts people tag as evil) we swim in are attracted to the bright Joy, clump around Joy, cling to it and disguise it -- not destroy, disguise. As a result, it's very easy to live your life convinced the world is nothing but angst, boredom, overbearing men, and pointless toil because that's what you see on the surface.
It takes the penetrating gaze of the mystic to spot the hidden Joys. And then it takes the Artist to portray that Hidden Joy emerging from hiding in such a way that ordinary people can go out and about their lives and actually SEE Joy they never knew was there.
From there, it's possible for the oridinary person to internalize and experience that Joy for themselves.
That's why we read Romance Novels -- in any sub-genre. We know that our lives can be changed if we can SEE what's really there rather than the husks of dullness and negativity accreted around our joys.
Finding the right mate is only one of those many Joys in life, but let's look a little closer at what Kimber An has said.
Now why would a girl (woman even, maybe) be willing to risk her very life for something different than she has right now? How terrible does it have to be for you to prefer death to continuing?
That might be the wrong question.
It isn't how bad conditions are here and now that drives people to risk death. It's how GOOD they think it MIGHT (fantasy-romance?) be elsewhere.
Look at the Mexican and Hispanic illegal immigrants -- they come seeking a BETTER life, not fleeing the life they have. If the USA weren't their northern neighbor, dangling all that forbidden fruit before them on TV signals, would they be flooding north?
But look at Iraq - it's bleeding population to every surrounding country, people walking out with what they can carry, desperate for a place to live that isn't exploding all the time.
But though they are refugees, they aren't moving because conditions are horrid where they are.
They are moving because they believe conditions are better WHERE THEY ARE GOING.
If the other countries were in the same or worse shape, they wouldn't move.
They are trying to "get away from" horrid conditions -- and that means being able to imagine that conditions are better where they are going. Look at all those still sitting in the mud. They're the ones who can't imagine conditions are better elsewhere.
Look at those who are sticking it out in Iraq, (likewise the Balkans, Northern Ireland, various African countries, Darfur comes to mind). Horrid conditions don't make them move. Why? Things will get better here by and by, and then things will be horrid "there" (wherever there might be) eventually. Home is always better. For some people.
Some people can imagine the Joy hidden within the layers of angst in their current position. Sometimes that Joy isn't really there -- but people are more motivated by imagination than by facts.
People are more sensitive to LURES than to GOADS.
It's a psychological principle. You get people to alter behavior faster by offering rewards, not punishments. Even works with dogs.
Confidence Operators use that principle.
So women denied the right to choose their own mate won't leave, won't murder the power-mad whip-wielder, won't murder the unwanted husband or legally licensed rapist, and won't strike against the system.
Why? Because conditions are horrid in the marriage system? No. Because they can't see that it's BETTER anywhere else, or how any other system might work better. "All men are the same."
However, because of TV, photos, the internet, tourist travel, telephone etc. etc., women the world over are being exposed to other ways of looking at the problem, other solutions, places where things work better, where they can imagine it's better, where they can imagine Joy exposed to their sight.
And so the world is changing. That change is causing a backlash against "Western Civilization." There are those who are striking out hard against freedom to choose, even to choose wrongly.
But make no mistake. In the animal -- birds, squirrels, dogs even -- it's always the female who gets to choose the mate.
Just watch in your yard or in the park at this time of year and you'll see female birds rejecting randy males, just flittering away before they can mount. And the poor male has to sit there and watch her fly away. (saw this the other day and felt so sorry for that piteously drooping male bird -- then he went after a different female.)
Human civilization will swing back to accomodate this pattern because it's inherent.
So as SF writers, we should be wondering what would happen if some Alien Species landed on the UN Plaza and offered women something BETTER. What if so many women left Earth that it put the species in danger?
Monday, May 21, 2007
Love beyond boundaries. A romantic relationship, a deep romantic committment that pushes past the edges of the ordinary envelope. The grist of many science fiction romances (and futuristics and RSFs, to be sure) but is it really all that foreign?
Centuries ago, on our planet, a romance between a high-born person and a commoner, a peasant and a landowner, was scandalous in many socieities. Unthinkable. For even longer, different religions didn't mingle, let alone marry. To marry outside your village, sect, caste, religion or region was cause for banishment.
We've come farther--but not vastly so. In my grandparents' and even my parents' worlds (1900s-1940s), it was still expected that a nice National Catholic Polish boy marry an nice National Catholic Polish girl. My mother is part Swedish, part German, part Polish and Roman Catholic. My Polish grandmother never fully accepted her.
There are still countries today where marrying outside your religion--or marrying someone not chosen by your parents--is tantamount to a death penalty. Interracial marriage has gained some acceptance but still has a way to go. Same sex marriage is a hot-button topic.
And some people look oddly at me when I say I write science fiction romance. And then wonder where I get my ideas.
How and why we--or a society--define love, and how and why we--or a society--permit love tells me a tremendous amount about us and about that society. Love is just the other side of the prejudice coin, and in many instances, is woven into the prejudice coin. Loving, liking, having sex with, working with, admiring, supporting this person is acceptable. That person is not and must be shunned.
Gabriel's Ghost is the novel where I address that situation most directly, both through the characters of Ren--an empathic Stolorth whose telepathic, pacificistic culture is viewed with suspicion by the human-controlled Empire; and through the Takan characters, who are forced into an almost child-like state and belittled by a religious system that purports to 'care' for them. It also forms the basis of the relationship between Sully and Chaz: can Chaz love someone she was taught to hate?
Because I do write romance, the theme of who and what and why and how we love someone is constant in my books. One of the male protagonists in Games of Command is a cybernetic human, stripped of the ability to love--or so his creators believe. Or so everyone who encounters him believes. So Branden Kel-Paten has to struggle to overcome not only his internal anti-love programming (and how many of us feel we're unworthy of love because of our own "internal" programming?) but also chance disbelief and ridicule from those around him when he finally admits that, yes, he has feelings.
What does it take to push beyond those boundaries? What does it take to tell your parents, your village, your society to take a hike, get lost, leave me alone and let me love? What does it take to risk it all, to throw away everything that has heretofore defined you as a person? What does it take to open your heart, fully expecting rejection?
What kind of person is that?
I write about those kinds of persons. Chances are, you read about them (since you've found this blog). And if you read about them, then you know that emotional heroism can be the most gripping, terrifying, most poignant and most rewarding experience on the page. Moreso than laser pistol battles. Moreso than cars hurtling over cliffs. Moreso than the secret spy trapped in a locked room. The severed arm will heal (and more quickly in SF). The lost secret formula will at some point be recovered (or recreated). Political scenarios shift with the wind.
But the instinct to love--and I do believe in humans and in many other species, it is instinct--cuts deeper than any light-sabre. A broken heart may never heal and a lost love may never be recovered. When you add the cultural or societal pressures on top of that--can a human love a shape-shifter? A cybernetic half-man, half-machine?--you, as writer or reader, venture into a vastly more dangerous landscape.
It's the landscape from which my books sprout.
And I hope this answers one recent question posed to me, and also a general comment I read recently on a blog.
The question was whether I'd ever write science fiction without a romance element. The answer is no. I can't conceive of a world without emotions as one of the driving forces in the story.
The blog comment--in a thread about Linnea Sinclair's books but addressing science fiction romance in general--was that SFR was "the kind of crap" the blogger "could write in my sleep." My comment back is go ahead, do it. Pen a really good, gripping SFR novel. Explore the depths of love beyond boundaries in a fully invented world, an unfamiliar landscape. Put your characters--and yourself--through the paces. Then submit it to my agent. She constantly gets queries from publishing houses looking for "more books like Linnea Sinclair's."
Sunday, May 20, 2007
When one's husband is a car guy, one's daughter is multi-allergic, Elm pollen is in the air, and juvenile coughing wakes the family so it is necessary to get out the nebulizer, then the pre-dawn conversations sometimes sink to a rather low --but terminologically precocious-- level.
I venture to say that being a mother is a brutalizing influence. Pre-motherhood, I doubt that I'd have laughed with malevolent glee at the thought of a burly dustman fainting over the whiff of someone else's thoroughly-used diaper (nappy) in the trash.
Snot. Allergies. Aliens.
There's a long literary tradition of aliens succumbing to Earthly ills. It's not surprising. In the olden days, missionaries and colonists unintentionally killed off isolated, "primitive" communities by exposing them to "civilization's" diseases.
If this happens on our own planet, imagine how an alien would suffer if he visited us and encountered airborne irritants and allergens which were new to his immune system.
I've read that allergies may be worse in the modern western world because we keep our homes too clean, and our toddlers no longer hunt, gather and consume worms fresh from the soil.
Contact suits would protect the alien from the dreadful spores, fibres, chemicals, dander, powders, and other bits and bobs that fill the air we breathe, but how many hunky aliens wear them?
How many hunks walk about sporting a surgical mask? In Japan, out of courtesy, people who have a cold wear surgical masks in public to help keep their germs to themselves. That would make Japan a very good beach-head for a stealthy alien invasion, wouldn't it?
Sneezing and coughing isn't romantic, so we alien romance authors are encouraged to gloss over it, just as Regency Romance authors are not pressed to talk about the logistics of chamber pots, the driveway hazards of collapsing cess pits, and the summer stench of the Thames.
I was looking at someone's wonderfully romantic MySpace site the other day. It showed image after image of tall (usually hirsute and unkempt) knights in armor, clutching swooning and flimsily clad females to their steel-breastplates... and (apparently) persisting in an attempt to inflict a french kiss --do you think the French call it that?-- on the insensible lady. I couldn't help wondering whether the ladies were fainting because the Knightly breath was devastating.
My own olfactory senses are quite acute, so are those of my aliens. The notion --mentioned on television last night-- of "smellyvision" appalls me. Life is quite enough of an intrusion without adding compulsory smells to the entertainment media! But, I'm giving further serious thought to a hayfevered alien heroine.
Insufficient Mating Material (release in the UK 5/25/2007)
Heroine with rash, alien berries.
Heroine with smoke sensitivity, nicotine allergy
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I just read a book called The Silver Spoon for a quote. It's kind of a Starman, V type story with a really sweet hero name Caelen and a feisty heroine named Zara.
Here's my quote. "A fantastic story that captures you from page one. I loved it." Colby Hodge
You can get it here at echelon press http://www.echelonpress.com/
Aliens Among Us
Zara Mitchell's nightmares began when the Observers landed. These strangely vivid visions still haunt her nightly and leave her terrified of the silver-eyed visitors and their true intentions. When one of the eerily beautiful beings shows up at her diner with the local sheriff, her world changes forever. The Observer insists that she come with him. He claims her life is in danger. But can he be trusted?
A Prophecy Fulfilled
After two years, Caelan's search is finally over. He's found her, the human female from the prophecy. She is the one thing he recognizes from his life before Earth. His only link to the truth. Now all he has to do is keep her alive long enough to find the clues to a past he can't remember and a future she fears.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
One of the faithful visitors to this blog recently posted a comment that referred to the "suburban housewife on Mars" motif. The phrase reminds me of the old TV series THE JETSONS. Aside from the robot maid and gadgetry such as personal space shuttles instead of cars, the Jetson household looked like a stereotypical middle-class American family of the 1950s, as seen on dozens of mundane sitcoms. It effect, it simply projected that family structure forward in history just as THE FLINTSTONES projected it backward. In earlier decades, classic SF writers didn't always use any more imagination in this area. The original STAR TREK fell short of its potential in this regard. Except for the occasional standout character such as the Vulcan matriarch in “Amok Time,” many of the adult alien females encountered by the Enterprise seemed to exist mainly for Captain Kirk to seduce. In Robert Heinlein's HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL, Earth has a permanent settlement on the moon, but the teenage protagonist's mother appears to be a fifties-style housewife. In Heinlein's PODKAYNE OF MARS, Podkayne's mother is a career woman, but female spaceship officers seem to be relegated to supporting rather than commanding roles. His later work allows more scope for experimentation in family structures, however; in the former penal colony of THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS and the distant future of TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, all careers are open to both sexes, and various forms of marriage in addition to traditional monogamy are common.
I have no doubt that as long as our species remains recognizably human, we'll have marriage and family in some form, for the mutual emotional and financial support of adults and the care of offspring. The evolution of the Israeli kibbutz system has shown that, given a choice, most people do want to bring up their children in family units rather than a communal arrangement. The biblical book of Genesis contains stories of love and marriage that we have no trouble identifying with. If those social institutions haven't become unrecognizable or extinct over the past three or four thousand years, they aren't likely to vanish in the next century or two as a result of technological changes that are trivial compared to the shift from an economy of desert nomads to the global computer culture of our time. Still, it seems unlikely that marriage and reproductive patterns of future eras will look exactly like those practiced by our parents or grandparents, or even ourselves. In today's Baltimore SUN there's a story about a court decision allowing a birth certificate to be issued with the mother's name left blank (analogous to the way it has been possible to leave a father unidentified all along). A single man had hired an egg donor to conceive and a surrogate gestational mother to bear his baby, and both he and the surrogate wanted to ensure that she would have no legal obligation to the baby. So part of the BRAVE NEW WORLD reproductive future has already arrived. In the imagined future of PODKAYNE OF MARS, it's not uncommon for young parents to conceive and gestate babies as close together as the mother's health allows, then have them frozen (placed in cryogenetic suspended animation) until the parents' career patterns allow them to provide the children with optimal amount of attention as well as material resources; as Heinlein's narrator puts it, this plan resolves the conflict between the best biological stage to bear offspring and the best social and economic stage to rear them. I doubt that any such technological innovations will become the norm for the majority. Compared to the old-fashioned way of pregnancy and birth, they're too much trouble and, for the foreseeable future, will probably remain too expensive for many working parents.
What about alternate marriage patterns? In pre-industrial centuries, "family" comprised all the inhabitants of a household, including apprentices and slaves. We tend to define "family" as the nuclear household unit of parents and children, so we invented the phrase "extended family" to talk about grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. Polygamy has been legal throughout history over much of the world, usually polygyny (one man with several wives), although a few cultures practice polyandry (a woman with two or more husbands, typically a pair of brothers). In an earlier post I mentioned the potential economic and reproductive advantages of legalizing polyandry in our own culture (not likely to happen outside an SF novel!). Wyo Knott in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS was formerly married to a pair of brothers. Heinlein's futures include a variety of line marriage and group marriage patterns. Suppose your hero or heroine becomes involved with a lover who belongs to an even more complicated type of household? In the Sime-Gen series of Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, anyone who falls in love with a Companion knows that the Channel whose need the Companion serves has priority. The Channel-Companion transfer relationship doesn't necessarily involve sex (indeed, it seems that more often than not each partner in the transfer relationship has a separate love interest), yet in a way it can be more intimate than a marriage. Octavia Butler's short story "Bloodchild" takes place on a world where human colonists, to survive, have accepted a symbiotic relationship with the natives of the planet, who look something like giant centipedes. Typically, a human household gets adopted by an alien female, who lays her eggs within the bodies of the young men of the family, to be removed (if all goes well) before the newly-hatched grubs can devour their host.
Other aliens might look humanoid but have three or more sexes instead of our standard two. Or they might change sex over a lifetime, as Heinlein's Martians in RED PLANET and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (and some Earth species of fish) do. How would a human hero or heroine in a romance handle falling in love with one of these people? The difficulties in loving a member of the symbiotic species in the STAR TREK universe, where the symbiont switches between male and female bodies several times over its very long lifespan, look simple in comparison.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
This past weekend I did a couple of panels at LepreCon which was held at a Marriott hotel in Tempe, AZ.
I didn't stay over at the hotel (it's just up the road from me about half an hour) -- but drove in for Sunday. I did a 10AM Sunday panel -- (notorious for sleepy people) -- and a 3PM close of the day panel. I ended up moderating both panels.
The 10AM panel was billed thusly:
Sunday Ballroom C 10:00 AM I have Seen the Digital Future and It is Full of Fans
Once we were the proud and lonely few. But here in 2007, SF tropes are everywhere, and the interactions of the internet -- blogs, livejournals and so on -- feel like fanzines reinvented for the digital age. Except these days, everyone seems to be doing it. Are we no longer special?
Judith Herman, Emily Hogan, Ernest Hogan, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Michael R. Mennenga, Ken St Andre
And the 3PM like so:
Sunday Ballroom C 3:00 PM Spirituality and Writing
How much spirituality do you need to write with depth? Can you prevent too much from seeping through? Does your religion affect your writing?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Will Shetterly, David Lee Summers, Karen Traviss
After the first panel, I had an hour-long discussion on the craft of novel writing in the hallway, then went to the Green Room and talked some more -- could barely pull myself away from a fascinating conversation about everything in order to go to a Dr. Who panel.
They were showing the trailer for the 3rd season of the New Doctor -- I can't wait! And we discussed where Dr. Who fits into the SF reader's world. Then I had to run to my 3PM panel.
You'd think there'd be no connection, but it all fell together with the main topic of this blog - Alien Romance.
In the morning we talked about the vision of the paperless future that Margaret posted about on this blog a few days ago. Today the new generation is not going to cons because they get all the "intelligent conversation" they need online. "fanzine" fandom now posts online.
So the panel concluded that we won -- fandom of old has won. We have become the general public. If fans aren't a majority -- we are at least a respectable minority.
But that "fandom" was always about associations, about communication, about forming relationships.
In between I talked about the blog post I made here a couple months ago I think -- about fat fantasy novels that wildly invent everything-and-the-kitchen sink worlds which aren't thematically focused. And I concluded that these novels too are "art" in that they depict the kind of information-overload confusion that real people experience in the real world.
The digital information age presents the world as chaotic.
This led into the discussion of spirituality -- and we only scratched the surface of that, never getting into how a writer's religion might affect a novel ostensibly not about religion.
We talked about James Blish's A CASE OF CONSCIENCE and other famous novels that investigate relgion. I think I touched on C. J. Cherryh but can't recall in which conversation.
Religion is part of worldbuilding -- the anthropological part, the xenology part -- and so we discussed the human impulse or need to "worship" -- and that if there isn't a God concept handy, people will worship science, or technology, or something, because humans somehow just do that.
We just barely touched on questions about how humans could explain our religions or spiritual concept of the world to aliens. But I did mention this blog.
So this convention was a full day of non-stop talking and talking -- which is generally what cons are all about. But again, it was sparsely attended compared to say 15 years ago.
Hotels are expensive, travel is expensive, time is just not available, and so people are getting their convention experiences via the internet.
During this weekend, a news item surfaced about the advent of the virtual office -- where the entire office environment can be simulated at home via internet connection and a vast majority of office jobs could be done without the gasoline burning commute.
Someone in the audience commented that SF writers like Isaac Asimov were only off a little in predicting a future where we all sit in our sterile little cubicals of a home and never actually touch another person.
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I think touching, even eyeball to eyeball conversation, can't be replaced.
What will we do when we have a free CHOICE about whether to go out "in public?"
Monday, May 14, 2007
MAIN LIFT, I.H.S. VAXXAR
Sass heard Kel-Paten’s hard bootsteps come up behind her just as the lift doors opened.
"You’re off duty until I tell you otherwise, Sebastian," he said as they stepped inside.
"Ah. And who died and made you C.M.O.?"
"If I see you on the Bridge any time today I will forcibly carry you back to your quarters."
Could be interesting, Sass noted. Then: Naah.
"You don’t have to keep looking at me," she told him after the lift doors closed. "I’m not going to keel over on you again."
"I should have realized you weren’t well yesterday."
"You shouldn’t have realized anything. You can’t keep track of all four hundred fifty of us on board. That’s Eden’s job. If anything, I should’ve checked in with her earlier when I didn’t feel well." Those letters. Those damn letters and the way he’d looked at her when he’d walked into Sickbay. It made her stomach tense and she knew it was guilt knocking at her conscience’s back door. He’d thought she was dying. Cal Monterro had hinted how miserable Kel-Paten had looked.
"All the more reason you are not to be on active duty today."
"There’s been... a lot of stress accompanying this transtion, with the new Alliance," he said, ignoring the daggers she visually flung at him. "We’ve only this Serafino situation to wrap up right now and when that’s finished, well I think you might want to take some time off."
Oh no. Oh no. This wasn’t heading where she thought it was heading. Not now. Not so soon! "I really don’t think---"
"Perhaps just a couple of days. Some light R & R ." He wasn’t looking at her, but watching the digital deck numbers flash on the wall of the lift.
No. No, Sass pleaded. Please don’t mention T’Garis. Please. I can’t handle this right now!
"Have you ever been to T’Garis?" he asked just as the lift doors pinged.
She stepped out onto the Deck 2 Corridor. "No, I’ve never been to T’Garis," she said through clenched teeth. "You wouldn’t let me, remember? Something about a little inconvenient war going on. Damn tough to bust through the neutral zone with the Vax on my tail all the time."
She lay her hand against the door scanner. "But," she continued brightly as the door slid into the wall, "I’ll probably get there sometime. I know A.T. wants to go. I’ll mention it next time I talk to her." She nodded at him. "I’ll be in my office after lunch. Not on the bridge, Admiral. In my office." And she hit the manual override on the inside of the door frame, closing the door in his face.
From his position on the back of her couch, Tank perked up his fluffy ears and murrupped several times.
"Don’t ask, fidget, you don’t want to know," she told him, then stripped off her jacket and fell promptly asleep on her bed.
then same chapter, a few pages later...
BRIDGE, I.H.S. VAXXAR
Brynar Kel-Paten sat in the command chair, one elbow on the armrest, his chin in his hand and watched, without watching, the movement of his senior officers at their stations. No one spoke to him, which was just as well. His mind was on other things.
She thought he still doubted her allegiance to the Alliance, because she’d known Serafino years ago, when she was a card dealer at a nighthouse of questionable repute. Queenies. He’d never been there, but he’d been to the higher-priced versions the Empire had to offer. That Sass knew more about a darker side, a very much less legal side, of life, he had no doubt.
That that was also what created an ease between Sass and Serafino was also a logical conclusion. They’d spent their formative years in similar circumstances.
But Kel-Paten was afraid there might be more than just that. Everything about Jace Serafino when he was around Sass-- the way he moved with a controlled grace; the way he talked as if every word were intimate; the way he looked at her with anticipation-- everything said something more was going on.
But what it was he couldn’t prove, yet. Other than the one thing he did know was that Serafino would, given the chance, strip Kel-Paten of whatever he valued, whatever he held dear.
Because he’d been the one who had found out about Serafino’s sister. And he’d been the one who had relayed that same information to the Defense Minister, all the while uncomfortably knowing that the young woman and her son were innocent bystanders.
He wanted very much to believe that they had been taken into protective custody and were safely relocated.
But he’d never been able to prove that.
And Serafino had never mentioned that. But he knew; he knew Serafino knew he had been the one to find his sister.
And he also knew Serafino would stop at nothing to get revenge.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
I don't have any Mothers' Day thoughts for alien romances. Of course, aliens ought to have high days and holidays that they celebrate. Whether they have special days to honor various family members would depend on their social structure.
Would a society that is organized like a group of Bonobo, or like Emperor Penguins, or like a pride of lions --or a harem of hens-- celebrate Mothers' Day?
So, I think I'll default to the other burningly topical issue this weekend. Smoking!
In FORCED MATE, the alien hero --Crown Prince Tarrant-Arragon-- has his first reflective moment alone with the disreputable human mercenary who has been hired to be his driver and tour guide.
Grievous is a smoker. Tarrant-Arragon is not. You wouldn't expect someone who lives in a closed environment like a spaceship to indulge in the recreational slow burning of plant matter.
However, Tarrant-Arragon has seen movies. He knows what a cigarette is. He also understands machismo and one-upmanship. When a subordinate and a lesser being offers him a cigarette along with a critique of his romantic prowess, he is not going to wimp out.
"I'd say we've frightened her, Sir."
"I cannot imagine how, or why. I told her I wanted to mate."
"Yup. That might have done it." The Earthling tapped two cigarettes out of a battered paper packet. "Want one, Sir?"
Tarrant-Arragon accepted it, and watched Grievous to see whether it mattered which end of the cigarette went into his mouth.
(advice about Tarrant-Arragon's vocabulary and use of English follows)
"Ah, well, I dare say you've had more young ladies than I've had cups of tea, Sir. But does this one know your ways, Sir? Eh? Or does she think like one of us Earthlings?"
Tarrant-Arragon didn't reply. He blew a perfect smoke ring, and watched its wavering ascent.
"Oh, splendid, Sir! Where did you learn to do that?" Apparently, Grievous thought flattery was expected.
Tarrant-Arragon grinned. "I've watched Earthling movies off your satellites, mostly for pointers on your courting customs. I find this smoking somewhat intoxicating. Will it adversely affect my breath for kissing?"
"It might, Sir. I shouldn't let that worry you. A girl will put up with all sorts of ill treatment if she knows she's going to marry a prince."
"No doubt," Tarrant-Arragon said, savaging the cigarette under his heel.
"Oh, that's right!" Grievous slapped his forehead. "You don't intend to inform her of her great good fortune, do you, Sir? It's going to be romantic, like Beauty And The Beast. Next thing we know, you'll be wanting her to love you for your sweet nature and kind heart."
If blowing smoke rings is a measure of a smoker's excellence, Tarrant-Arragon manages to prove himself superior to Grievous, before he finds a plausible and macho reason to extinguish the cigarette.
I think this is my only "smoking" scene in my books. Just as movie actors of a certain generation liked to smoke because smoking provided a compact activity, so authors need some kind of "business" for their characters to engage in while they are delivering dialogue.
It's not always easy. Characters cannot constantly be drinking, or having sex (though those are favorite activities when something really important needs to be said). Eating presents logistical problems in a romance, alien or otherwise. You don't want people talking with their mouths full. Having a bath works within reason, but other bathroom activities may be frowned upon. Exercising is a good one, or sewing, card-playing, or staring into space (through a Bridge window).
What do you like your alien romance characters to be doing while they have a heart-to-heart?
Happy Mothers' Day!
Thursday, May 10, 2007
At my day job, copyediting in the Department of Legislative Services for the General Assembly of Maryland, we're struggling to adjust to the (latest) "new" system for processing bills, the House and Senate journals, etc. This go-round it's Microsoft Word, which displays serious limitations when forced to perform as a publishing system. When I started in this job, veterans from the earliest days of legislative proofreading told me that upon the introduction of computers it was predicted that soon proofreaders wouldn't be needed. You probably won't be surprised to learn that every legislative session we hire new staff, and horizontal surfaces throughout the office constantly sprout veritable mountain ranges of paper. The vision of the "paperless office" is still a long way from fulfillment in reality.
Personally, I have no ambition to eliminate paper from my life. I don't trust electronic storage that much. One little electrical surge could obliterate it. Whenever I want to keep a piece of information, I always print a hard copy. Likewise, I can't see the attraction of reading the newspaper online. To look up specific articles, sure. But not as a substitute for sitting at the breakfast table while browsing the whole paper and reading the comics. Online access works better for some functions, but not all. If I had to read the paper by clicking on links instead of flipping pages, I'd surely miss a lot of articles that might otherwise catch my eye. What about books? As an e-book author, I'm naturally in favor of the widespread adoption of electronic texts. Given a cheap, durable, user-friendly e-reader, electronic books will eventually become as common as cell phones and iPods. That reader doesn't exist yet, unfortunately, but some form of PDA or iPod-like device will probably evolve to fill the niche. I've noticed that among avid readers of e-books, the Palm Pilot-type product seems to be the favored reading medium. Already, many people who haven't yet discovered e-books keep their calendars, address books, and memos on handheld devices. (Another trend that leaves me unenthused, personally. Why would I prefer to switch on an electronic gadget when it's much easier to open a paper calendar and jot a note in pen? And the old-fashioned pocket calendar has no risk of batteries dying or memory crashing.)
However, I don't expect e-texts to drive paper books into extinction. Each form has its advantages. E-books, for example, take up less space, are cheaper (if the publisher is marketing them properly instead of expecting consumers to pay near-hardcover prices—and then using the resulting low sales as "proof" that nobody wants e-books in the first place), and can be read in the dark. They're clearly the wave of the future for textbook publishing—inexpensive, easily updated, and virtually weightless. Yet for some purposes, e.g. flipping through pages at random to browse the contents, they imperfectly mimic what bound books do well. (There's a good reason why the codex replaced the scroll back in the Dark Ages.) Even in future worlds such as the Star Trek universe and J. D. Robb's "In Death" series, where e-texts have become the norm, true bibliophiles still collect bound volumes, too.
TV, videos, and DVDs haven't abolished theatrical movies. Earlier, TV didn't drive radio out of existence. Thousands (if not millions) of devotees still play dice-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons despite the allure of World of Warcraft. Even vinyl records, I've heard, are making a comeback. Old media don't necessarily die; they simply adapt to new technological and marketing environments. In my ideal future, new media would become readily and cheaply available to everyone without loss of the old.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
This is a blog about Alien Romance, but a while ago someone asked about the writing technique known as Worldbuilding -- and for most of my posts since, I've been developing a long instructional piece on how to do the kind of thinking native to SF while still telling a whopping romance story.
Most people think of worldbuilding as having to do with science -- and sometimes they dare to include sociology or psychology. But the real point of all the science (how big is the world you're building, what's its gravity, what kind of sun does it have, moons?, cycles and seasons, evolutionary pressures, contact with other worlds in this galaxy or another etc. etc) the real point is to start with the physics of the star's makeup, project what kind of worlds would circle that star, start with a raw dead hunk of rock and develope an environment conducive to life.
Then you have to populate that environment with plants and animals (or some bizarre equivalent) from single protein molecules on up -- then figure what pressures that environment would put on life to force the development of intelligence -- THEN decide what sort of Divine intervention actually happened to produce people, or what sort of Divine intervention those people postulate and/or believe solemnly.
And the point of all this -- ROMANCE!
The point of thinking through each step from raw sun to rock to life to intelligence is to postulate how physiology and environment combine to generate cultures.
Yes, Alien Romance is inherently about intercultural communication -- which may often include conflict. And where there's conflict, there's STORY.
But what good is all that hard work if the people who read your story don't understand it or care to try to understand it?
Your story has to say something about today, humanity, life on earth, our cultures and their conflicts. A story has to be relevant to its times (no matter if set in the future like Star Trek or set in the past like a time-travel romance).
The whole point of writing a story at all is to arouse the reader and provide an emotional experience they couldn't get from "real" life. But they must return to "real" life with some new point of view, some new idea, (this is SF Romance or Romantic SF -- any way you slice it Alien Romance is primarily SF and thus the Literature of Ideas - so readers must return to reality with an IDEA to think about and explore.)
You want to get famous as a writer? Produce ideas your readers will TALK about to their friends, thus inducing people to read your books.
So where do writers get those kinds of ideas? SF ideas?
Just watch the evening news!
We just saw an election in France that promises to change the political course there -- toward building a more capitalistic economy and edging away from the kind of economy that failed in Japan where laws made it hard or impossible for corporations to fire people. Strangely, the inability to fire people means that unemployment goes up and up and UP and the government crashes down in revolution -- or as in Japan, things get changed on the government level.
Now the USA faces a truly important Presidential Election. No matter which side you're already on, you know that the choice we make in 2008 will change things in the whole world.
Nearly a year before the first primary we have a field of 18 candidates - 10 of them Republican.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are going into this presidential campaign. It's a spectacle to rival the Roman Circus!
What's an SF writer looking for an Alien Romance story to do if the source of ideas is the evening news? And all that's on is Presidential Debates?
Sit back, put on your alien ears, and just listen to what these people are saying. Oh, yeah, they're all politicians. Like preachers, they have learned a certain "cant" -- a chant, a tune, a manner of speaking and a set of phrases, jargon, and so on, mostly incomprehensible to someone who's not American or maybe British (though I have to admit I don't understand British politics at all.)
Well, I did this exercise the other night and I've been watching the sound-bytes and reading some articles online -- and one thing leaps out at me more starkly even than in prior campaigns.
These characters all try to distinguish themselves from each other by WHAT they will FIGHT FOR -- not about their attitude toward fighting in general.
"Elect me and I'll fight for your right to X, Y, Z."
They'll fight global warming; they'll pledge to fight whatever people don't like at the moment.
How would that sound to someone from that planet we invented above, the planet upon which a species evolved to produce a major Hunk our Earthling can fall in love with while hating or rescuing him?
How we choose the SUN around which this bare rock forms -- (yes, worldbuilding goes that far back -- how you choose the sun) -- will determine whether politicians from those civilizations FIGHT or whether they PROBLEM SOLVE instead.
Do they argue instead of negotiate? Do they keep arguing until they convince everyone -- are their elections about finding out what is right instead of who is right?
If so, then our elections and our Presidential Politics will look pretty ridiculous or incomprehensible -- "How can you settle a war by fighting? It makes no sense."
Thus our glorious Hunk looks upon the Love of His Life who is running for President of the USA on the pledge to FIGHT FOR GALACTIC PEACE, and runs for the hills!
Ooops. Back to choosing the right sun to build our world around.
Monday, May 07, 2007
BRIDGE, THS VAXXAR
“All I know, admiral, is that Doctors Fynn and Monterro still have tests to perform on Serafino. They don’t want anything to occur that could cause him to relapse.”
Kel-Paten glanced down at the small woman standing next to him on the bridge. Her face was in profile to him. She watched the starfield flowing by the large forward viewport as the Vaxxar traveled at sub-light speed towards the nearest Fleet Base on Panperra Station.
He hated when he couldn’t see her eyes when she spoke. He was learning, sometimes the hard way, to read her expressions, the nuances between her words and thoughts. True, he’d been trained-- he liked that word better than programmed-- to correctly interpret over one hundred and forty human facial expressions and another sixty-seven non-human ones. But these classifications were useless when it came to Tasha Sebastian.
He needed to know more than the fact that her facial expression designated, for example, mild amusement. He needed to know if that amusement was directed at him or against him; if it were an amusement she felt he’d understand and wanted to share with him; if something he said or did was the source of that delightful and often pixie-ish smile. He needed to know if he made her feel something.
And nothing in his progr-- his training allowed for that.
Right now, the little he could see of her face told him she’d adopted her “professional expression”-- a noncommittal, almost bland mien. She simply reported the facts as she knew them, and had no opinions of same.
Or else she had deep opinions and was not about to share them with him. He’d known her long enough, studied her long enough, to see that also as a viable option. It was at those times he felt the most left out. She didn’t trust him enough to share her concerns with him. Or, like most of his crew, she believed he wasn’t capable of caring.
He was. She’d taught him that, too.
So he probed, asked a few more questions about Serafino’s condition and got nowhere. Except that now she thought he didn’t have any faith in Fynn’s medical abilities.
“I assure you, Sebastian, I have a great respect for the doctor’s assessment here. However, her focus is different from ours.” He liked that as soon as he said it. It aligned Sass with himself under the heading of “Command”, breaking from her usual allegiance with the CMO.
“As I understand it, we’ll have nothing to focus on if Serafino is comatose again. Or dead.” She looked at him briefly, a slight raising of one eyebrow as if to say, ‘Are you following me on this, fly-boy?’
She hadn’t called him “fly-boy” since the peace talks. Before that, it had been one of the names she’d taunted him with from the bridge of the Regalia. Fly-boy. An ancient aviator term for heavy-air fighter pilots. The first time she’d leveled it at him he’d taken offense but she’d used it so often after that that it became almost a term of endearment. At least, he liked to think of it that way.
Now, all he rated was the raised eyebrow.
“I only intend to question the man, not torture him,” he told her.
“At least not yet, eh, Kel-Paten?” she replied, her voice lowered a bit and with a hint of a smile.
“Sebastian.” He paused.
“Kel-Paten,” she replied and then paused.
It was the ‘name game’, one of their few rituals that had continued after the peace talks. He would say her name, followed by the appropriate warning-filled pause whenever something she said or did warranted his supposed disapproval. And she would reply with his name, either matching his warning tone or, more often, mocking it.
This time it was the latter.
“When we reach Panperra he’ll be turned over to Adjutant Kel-Farquin,” he said, watching her carefully for her reaction. “That should be torture enough.”
She choked back a laugh at his comment, which told him she remembered what he did. Homer Kel-Farquin’s whining, nasal voice and supercilious manner had been one of the low-points in the peace talks. Kel-Paten would steeple his hands in front of his face every time the Adjutant would launch into one of his obnoxious diatribes. After one such painful session, Sass had sarcastically complimented Kel-Paten on his ability to appear so focused on Kel-Farquin’s every word.
“I am not focused,” he’d told her without expression. “I am sleeping.”
He’d been rewarded then with one of her-- heart stopping-- smiles. Not dissimilar to the one now teasing across her lips.
“Why Admiral Kel-Paten,” she drawled. “I heard you were so impressed with Kel-Farquin’s oratory talents that you ordered copies of every one of his speeches.”
“I believe,” he countered dryly, “that would be grounds for a Section Forty-Six.”
“Unless one had a justifiable reason for ordering them. You know,” she said, continuing their verbal game, “those tapes may contain the very thing we need to defeat the Illithians.”
He thought for a moment. “A subliminal transmission of their contents into Illithian space could be very effective,” he posited, matching her feigned concern.
“Or considered cruel and inhumane methods.”
A slight shrug. “Who would be left to complain?”
“There might be a few. After all, I found copious amounts of gin to be an workable antidote.”
He glanced down at her. “I slept.”
“And well I remember your ingenious defense. Better than mine. No hangover.”
“It’s a methodology I developed after a long association with Triad politicians. Let my experience be your guide.”
She clasped her hands behind her back and rocked on her heels. “I’ll keep that in mind for your next staff meeting.”
Had he misread her? Was she aligning him in her mind with the likes of Homer Kel-Farquin? He wasn’t sure until she grinned up at him. “Gotcha!” she said softly.
He couldn’t help it. He felt a small smile form on his lips but she was turning away from him, her attention on a nav-tech on the lower tier of the bridge. There was a problem with some incoming data. She stepped quickly down the stairs.
Some of her warmth, however, lingered behind.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
One specimen on display was the size of my little toe!
I don't know whether I can make much of astronautical (should that be a word?) kidney stones in my "Forking" books (the sequels to my alien romances in the Gods of Tigron trilogy). With Forced Mate, the carefully (but not personally) researched military uses for urine were left on the cutting room floor. However, I don't think my hero is going to want to be weightless for any long period of time. I'll have to upgrade his mothership.
That means that there wouldn't be a lot of point in tying him into one of those cool, grey, astronaut sleeping bags, which had seemed to me to have some vaguely sexy possibilities... While alluding to bondage, I'd never, previously, given much thought to the fact that astronauts in a zero gravity environment have to be tied down in order to exercise.
As for floaters, did you know that astronaut toilets have a rear view mirror, so astronauts can check before leaving the throne that they are not about to be pursued around the spacecraft?
If you ever thought that an airliner's toilet made efficient use of space, with every surface a repository for some compactly-stowed item, imagine the space shuttle as an airline toilet... without gravity, and without the running water.
Every pull-out drawer had a net inside it, to stop the drawer's contents escaping whenever the drawer was opened. The different space suits were interesting. One which had chilled water pumped through it reminded me powerfully of the costumes worn in "Dune". Another made the astronaut look like a human lobster.
I've thought of "contact suits" for visiting aliens, but never before had I realised that a stiff and bulky (and sealed) headmask would mean that one could not contemplate ones own navel ... or chest. Astronauts have small mirrors on the insides of their wrists, so that they can read the dials in the control packs on their chests and other places. That means, any instructions have to be in "mirror writing".
Of course, this would not be an issue if an alien language was in symbols like our H or O or X which read the same whether upside down or backwards. Then, they'd have to have a Yoda-like concept of grammar, where word order did not matter.
Much as I love Tolkein, I don't think I'll take world-building to the extent he did, and actually invent (and use) a complete language for my alien worlds. Until every book is an e-book --and there will come a day when it is illegal to cut down trees-- pulp fiction allows a writer ever fewer pages to tell a story.
Insufficient Mating Material
While I was in Houston for the Romantic Times booklovers convention, and inspired by all the good and positive things I heard about group blogging, I started a cross-genre blog for authors who love to write animal characters into their books. (Males-And-Other-Animals).
This morning, having noticed that my "new" co-bloggers hadn't put up their own websites and other urls of interest, I went stabbing around in the virtual dark, taking my responsibilities as site owner seriously, you see.
Before long, I realized that I didn't have to "do" HTML. This was inconvenient, because I couldn't copy and paste half a column of hrefs. However, there were compensations.
Book videos/book trailers, for instance, can be permanently lodged in the footer. What you do, having uploaded yours simply by title, is doubleclick on it, and then scroll to the top of the blogpage to watch it.
"I'm done watching this" will appear above the video. For a few moments, I was taken aback until I realized that this is not someone else's snark about my Insufficient Mating Material book trailer, but a handy link to stop the video.
Seductive!!! Linnea and Susan, take note. I think there may be links for podcasts and tv shows, too.
I tried to be responsible. I experimented on another blog that I control. The upgrade warning warned me that I'd lose any changes I'd made to colors and fonts. It also promised to save my original indefinitely. (Of course, I can't now find the original).
Too late, I find that I seem to have "lost" our silver heart logo. (Jacqueline, it is still on the old, unimproved, Survival-Romances site, so all is not lost)
I apologize for the inconvenience.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
How to build a Universe.
Keep is simple. You do not want to spend the entire book explaining things.
Stargazer: page 181\
He slid the canvas away and ducked as a squeal and the slapping of skin came toward his head.
“Worrats,” he spat out in disgust. “They always stay away from the lighted areas.”
Without describing the “Worrats” you know what they are. Just add a few words here and there, enough to make it “sound” futuristic.
Shooting Star: page 132
Everything was so primitive. There wasn’t a piece of pexi or tunstun in sight.
Where does your story take place? On a planet? On a ship? Set the scene
Stargazer: the planet Oasis: page 56
They soon came out of the darkness of space and into the clear blue skies of Oaisis. Shaun found a set of eye shields; the air was so clean that it made the color more intense, and his eyes were still not accustomed to the brightness. They were soon flying over fields that were abundant with crops. The landscape was a myriad of bright color as the greens and golds of grains contrasted sharply with the pinks, purples, and reds of fields of flowers. In the distance glittered what looked like a huge diamond. It turned out to be a city of pure white granite that rose up from the landscape as if it had been carved from a mountain. It was surrounded by lush gardens full of flowers of every possible color, which stood out in sharp contrast against the pure whiteness of the walls of the city.
“We use every part of our planet; nothing goes to waste,” Lilly said, proud of her homeland.
Shooting Star: the planet Lavign: page 120
His door was one of three that led off the big room. There was a door in the middle of one wall that led outside. All he saw beyond it was green.
“This way,” Boone said and turned Ruben toward the back of the house. They made their way into another room where Tess was standing over a stove that had to be older than time. He saw flames shimmering beneath a pot that she stirred.
“Where am I?” he said again as he hobbled through with Boone and Ky’s help towards another door. “What is this place?”
They walked out onto a covered porch and he saw a garden, a large tower with metal blades slapping around in the breeze and some other buildings that he did not have the time or inclination to figure out at the moment.
Boone pointed to a narrow shack at the end of a trail of smooth stones.
“The necessary,” he announced.
Ruben quirked an eyebrow as they hobbled down the path. As he opened the door his nostrils were assaulted with a horrible smell and he realized that there was nothing there beyond a hole in the ground and a wooden seat. The bright sunlight that streamed though two cuts in the exterior wall did nothing to cheer up the interior.
“When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go,” he told himself as he stood before the hole.
It wasn’t until he saw that the fluid coming out of him was bright blue that he realized he was in trouble.
What do your cars look like? Your ships? Firefly used space ships and horses. Once again there is no need for indepth description unless you character is just arriving to your invented world
Grown normally? In space on giant asteroids? Manufactured in a factory?
Royalty? Slavery? Just a regular guy? Outlaw? What are the crimes and the penalties?
I created The Murlacca…A gladiator type battle fought with hooked blades. The champions are treated like the athletes of today but it also used as execution for political prisoners. If you feel the need to explain the rules of the game have one of your viewers be witnessing it for the first time while the companion explains it.
That’s where you can really have fun. My teenagers in Star Shadows use Gank for Nerd, Geek, Jerk. Just make something up and slip it into the conversation as you would a current word. The readers will figure it out.
This is where it can get complicated. All worlds have some sort of political structure. This is where notes come in handy. If you’re writing a series then maintain continuity. My Star series has three political factions struggling for control.