Thursday, May 29, 2008

Action Scenes

One of my e-mail lists had a recent thread on writing action scenes. That’s one of the most difficult parts of fiction writing for me, partly (I’m sure) because I don’t especially like reading or watching them. It takes a highly skilled author to compose an action scene that won’t confuse me, so I tend to skim such passages to find out who won the fight and let the details drift past unheeded. While watching a TV show, I use the action scenes as an opportunity to read a few pages of a book. Yet it’s clear that a suspenseful narrative almost has to include one or more chase or fight sequences, so I can’t avoid writing them sometimes. One suggestion from the person conducting the workshop on the e-mail list struck me as particularly useful: Write out the whole sequence of actions in painstaking detail first, then trim the passage to a fast-moving narrative that will sweep the reader along; that way, you can be sure you haven’t missed any important points. Another often-recommended technique is to act out the movements physically to get a feel for them and catch any awkwardness or downright impossibility.

In my own fiction, human characters often have to fight against paranormal creatures with superhuman physical strength as well as unusual powers. If the story requires the human hero to overcome or at least escape alive from the vampire or werewolf, how can he or she plausibly accomplish this goal? It helps if the nonhuman character has well-defined weaknesses, and the hero or heroine needs a reasonable way of knowing these weaknesses and being able to take advantage of them.

My first vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING, featured a vampire-human hybrid protagonist, a human female he’s in love with, and a fullblooded vampire antagonist. Relatively early in the story, the hero, Roger, clashes face to face with the villain for the first time. It’s far too early for a decisive combat. The scene has the goal of making the renegade vampire’s villainy and powers clear, while pushing the relationship between Roger and the heroine, Britt, to the next level. Roger’s knowledge of his own kind, to this point, is largely theoretical. Britt has never seen a vampire before, yet she needs to escape largely unscathed from the creature’s clutches. Luckily, being quick-witted, she realizes that although Roger is a vampire, too, he has her welfare at heart. Here’s how the confrontation concludes in the published novel. (Volnar is the elder who taught Roger what little he knows about their species; Sylvia is the only other vampire he’s met.)

His right hand still lingering on her neck, Sandor said, "Now that we're more comfortable, we can have a little refreshment and talk over our differences."
Britt's face lit up with amazement that momentarily canceled her fear. If they ever got out of this, Roger didn't know how he could possibly deal with her. "Look, Sandor, I don't want --"
"Don't give me that, Darvell. I can sense your thirst the same way you sense mine."
What Roger felt emanating from the murderer, though, was not simple appetite like his own, but a violent lust that revolted him. He said wearily to Britt, "Now are you convinced? You won't get immortality from this sociopath; you'll get yourself killed."
"I'm convinced of that," she said, her voice steady, "but not that he's typical of the breed."
"Quiet!" Sandor tightened his grip on her wrists, not forgetting to watch Roger. He favored Britt with a caricature of a smile. "So you want the vampire's kiss? I haven't had one like you in a long time. It'll be my pleasure to grant your desire -- and you'll sure as hell get more from me than from the fangless freak, here." In fact, Sandor didn't have fangs, either, except in his transformed shape, but the insult registered loud and clear.
Beyond caring what the renegade said to or about him, Roger interrupted, "Will you stop wasting time? I came here to negotiate, not --" He couldn't say it, not about Britt.
"Right. What kind of deal are you offering?"
"The only deal I'll make with you is that you get out of my territory -- right now. If you leave this county -- no, better make that the state of Maryland and the D.C. suburbs -- I won't pursue."
Sanders barked a laugh. "Don't you think I can see when you're lying? The only way I can be safe from you is to make sure you're in as deep as I am. Now, you listen to my terms. We're going to become partners. And you'll start by sharing this one with me."
The image of Britt writhing in the outlaw's clutches, blood spurting from her torn throat, hit Roger like a blow to the pit of the stomach. He struggled to mask his reaction from the enemy.
"You want it, Darvell -- why don't you admit that?" Sandor's fiery eyes flicked repeatedly from Roger to Britt and back again. "You've been wanting this one for a long time. Well, you can just wait your turn." He drew a curved fingernail down the side of her neck. She winced as a thread of blood, luminous with life-energy, bloomed on her fair skin.
A pang of yearning pierced through Roger's outrage. Britt's eyes met his for an instant, and he thanked God that he saw no fear of himself there.
"You can work up an appetite watching," Sandor continued. "I could make her want it, too -- make her beg me for it. But I'm not going to cloud her mind. She'll feel everything when I bite into her. If you've never taken one fighting and screaming, you haven't lived. Believe me, after you've watched that, you'll be ready."
Roger's long-denied desire to possess Britt, not in terror but in mutual passion, surged up, to be swamped by the fear and anger that washed over him in frigid waves. Britt, thoroughly frightened now, leaped to her feet. Sandor shoved her down with casual roughness.
Roger was amazed at the intensity of his own rage. The worst, he thought, was the subtext of that emotion -- not a chivalrous, "Unhand that damsel, you cad," but a predator's roar of, "Hands off -- she's mine!" Forgetting diplomacy, he lunged at Sandor.
The vampire jerked Britt to his chest, facing him, and placed his bared teeth against the side of her neck. Roger saw her cringe, her face twisting with disgust. "Not another inch, Darvell."
Roger stepped back. Britt tamed her revulsion and said quietly, "You don't have to go through all that -- what's your name?"
"Call me Neil." His hand still encircled her throat, but not so tightly.
"You were right, Neil, I do want intercourse with a vampire. A real one." Sandor shot Roger a triumphant glance. Did his egoism blind him so thoroughly he couldn't penetrate Britt's insincerity? Good -- but Roger doubted her fake submission could disarm Sandor enough to tip the balance their way. "Give me a chance to experience it to the fullest," she purred. "I'm ready to cooperate here and now."
With another gloating look at Roger, Sandor said, "Don't even think of interfering. How long I let her live is entirely up to you."
Roger could scarcely keep himself from rushing the killer, against all reason.
"One thing I'd really like, if you don't mind," Britt said, leaning pliantly against Sandor. "Change back into that -- whatever it was. Giving you my blood would be so much more thrilling that way."
The breathy appeal was so foreign to the real Britt that Roger wondered how Sandor could be deceived by it. Volnar must have been right about the renegade's defective empathic power. What was she up to? Under her fascinated gaze, the vampire did begin to flow out of human shape. Roger suddenly thought of the ogre in "Puss in Boots," devoured when he let himself be flattered into becoming a mouse. But Sandor's alternate form had no such weakness.
Wait -- didn't it? Seeing the silver-gray wings overshadow Britt, Roger recalled what Sylvia had told him the first time he'd seen her transform. When the molecules were in flux, a vampire was abnormally vulnerable. The wings, in particular, were hypersensitive.
How could he use the knowledge, though? Sandor was still watching Roger out of the corner of his eye, while mouthing Britt's throat. Apparently intent on prolonging the suspense, he hadn't yet bitten her. He did, however, relax enough to let go of her arms, instead grasping her around the waist.
"Beautiful," Britt murmured. "I never dreamed of anything like you." Her slender hands crept up over his shoulders, caressingly skimmed over his temples and cheeks. A low growl rumbled in Sandor's chest. Nauseated, Roger ordered himself not to look away. Britt was fighting to give him an opening.
Her body molded itself to Sandor's. Then her thumbs dug into his eye sockets. At the same instant, she rammed a knee into his groin.
Roger could have told her that wouldn't disable Sandor. With undescended testicles, a vampire wasn't sensitive in that spot like a human male. However, the shock of the double attack broke the outlaw's hold on Britt. Roger charged at Sandor, at the same time as Britt fell to her knees and rolled out of the way.
Sandor's claws slashed at Roger's right arm. Springing backward, Roger suddenly thought of the rosary in his shirt pocket. He pulled it out and thrust it toward the other vampire.
To his surprise, the enemy actually retreated. "Halfbreed scum -- using human weapons!"
"Your crimes give all of us a bad name." Roger heard the rasp of his own breathing as well as Sandor's. A crimson haze blurred his vision.
"`Crime' to you and the rest of Volnar's tame dogs! You think he holds himself to those rules?" Reaching behind him, Sandor ripped a branch off the nearest tree. He swiped at Roger, knocking the rosary to the ground.
Roger attacked Sandor empty-handed. Slipping on the pine needles underfoot, they grappled, Roger struggling to keep his antagonist's claws and teeth away from his neck. Though Sandor's wings quivered with the strain, Roger saw at once that the other vampire was stronger than he. A purely defensive strategy stood no chance.
His peripheral vision glimpsed Britt on her knees, groping on the ground. Damn -- if only her eyes could handle the dark like his. Roger focused on Sandor, well aware of the danger of getting distracted a second time. The shimmering wings seemed to mock him.
The wings. Roger relaxed the pressure of his hands, throwing Sandor off balance for a second. As the killer, with a growl of triumph, closed the gap between them, Roger grabbed both wings near the shoulder blades and crumpled the delicate membrane in his fists.
Sandor let out an agonized howl. Roger was vaguely aware of Britt jumping up, the rosary clutched in her hand. She jabbed it at Sandor's chest. The vampire collapsed, stunned, on the ground.
Staring down at him, Roger noticed a second-degree burn where the crucifix had branded the flesh.
Britt gulped a few breaths and said in a shaky voice, "Interesting psychosomatic effect."
Roger's chest ached from the exertion. He, too, had to catch his breath before he could ask whether she was all right. At the moment he didn't trust his perceptions.
"Sure," Britt said. "I knew that book on how to survive rape would come in handy someday. What do we do now?"
Roger eyed the prostrate vampire, who had resumed human form as soon as the cross had touched him. Sandor's legs jerked.
"Get back!" Roger ordered Britt, plucking the rosary from her hand.
Sandor struggled to his feet. Roger thrust the crucifix at him. Sandor's lips curled in a snarl. Lurching backward, he shifted from human to winged form and back again like a time-lapse special effect. He seemed weak, disoriented. One good blow should knock him out, and then -- Roger lunged for the wounded vampire. Sandor spread his wings once more and rose straight into the air. A lupine howl keened from his throat as he vanished above the trees.

Margaret L. Carter

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Preserving Worlds That Have Been Built

Most people didn't think of Star Trek: The Original Series as "alien romance" but I'm telling you the FAN WRITERS did! It might well be billed as the first AR on TV. There have been some interesting follow-ups like Forever Knight and now Moonstruck. Alien Nation comes to mind, but more as family drama than romance.

So it's time to capture for future generations some of the origins of our genre, bits and pieces scattered here and there that build up to what the authors on this blog are now able to publish -- stuff that would have been banned a few decades ago.

Appropos of that, on May 21, 2008 I got the following GOOGLE ALERT (by having signed up to get notices when my name appears in a google search)


Google Blogs Alert for: "Jacqueline Lichtenberg"
please help identify these costumers
By angeet(fanac)

Also from DisCon 2--3 individual costumers--I'm pretty sure that's Star Trek author, Jacqueline Lichtenberg on the right--any ideas of the other 2 and/or their costumes? Thanks, ...
FANAC - The Fan History Project -


Well, so I had to go look at the photo because I think I remember DisCon 2. I believe that was the WorldCon where I was nominated as Best Fan Writer for my Star Trek fan series, Kraith.

I didn't win the Hugo, but it turned out the person who did win needed it more than I did.

And it turned out the photo wasn't of me.

So I dropped a note on the livejournal site to that effect and got a nice email back from -- an old friend! Angelique Trouvere!! The famous costumer who wowwed crowds at Star Trek conventions for years.

She said:

Hi Jacqueline,

Thanks for clearing up my mistake about the DisCon 2 costume! I inherited a ton of photos from Jeff Maynard who recently passed away and most are not identified other than the obvious like Shatner addressing the crowd at a 1975 Trek con, or Nimoy at a 1973 con, etc. So I’m trying to figure out the who’s who & what’s what.


We exchanged more quick notes, I invited her to connect with me on LinkedIn and she said:
While I’m not sure what to do with Jeff’s massive collection, I’d be happy to be listed if that would help.

Ideally, I would like to see his collection in some sort of Trek archive open to the public and dedicated to Jeff’s memory.


So a new project on my desk is finding a home for these photos online where they can be enjoyed (Jeff took hundreds of photos of fan costume contests that will knock your eyes out, and snapped some famous people in interesting poses!)

So spread the word as far as you can. Angelique Trouvere is

And she has contributed a comment to our page about Joan Winston's contribution to Star Trek. Another piece of history we'd like to see preserved -- The Making Of The Trek Conventions. -- see the index at the bottom of the page. Comments are collecting nicely. To add yours email with your memories.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I write futuristic romances about an alien royal family whose male members are so widely mistaken for gods, that they believe their own mystique.

Not only do they have superb predator senses (seven of them), and a few nifty and deadly paranormal abilites, but they control highly advanced technology, and also the media and the history books.

I'm allowed approximately 90,000 words, which means that a great deal of material that I would like to include gets bumped (a motor racing metaphor) in favor of the romance, the characters, whatever my subplot is, and any colorful detail that appeals to my editor.

One day, I'd like to do more than glance at Lord Acton's dictum that Power tends to corrupt. Most Romance heroes, and not a few heroines in our genre, are extremely powerful individuals. They are either born great, achieve greatness, or have greatness thrust upon them.

How many are corrupt?

If they are not corrupt, why aren't they?

Was Lord Acton unduly pessimistic? Or since the Magna Carta, have lesser beings found ways to institute and enforce checks and balances?

Personally, I like my heroes to be slightly morally questionable. That's the charm of Dominic, Lord Vidal in Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer; of Selendrile in Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Valde; of Tamnais Nathrach in Armed and Magical by Lisa Shearin.

When I think about the direction I'd take if I wanted to show a "god" going about his business of maintaining "the image," a big part of seeming omnipotence has to be the appearance of omniscience.

Knowledge is power.

Sun Tzu made a similar point in The Art of War.

So did George Orwell with Big Brother in 1984.


Happy Memorial Day.

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"When I Saw the ET...."

This is SO mind-blowing! Everybody go over to Suzette Haden Elgin's blog right away and read this post entitled "Writing Science Fiction" and its responses:

It's a series of one-liner "storylets" each completing a sentence that begins with the clause, "When I saw the ET trapped in the storm drain...."

There's nothing I can say to elaborate on it, except that I wish I could do that with such apparent ease and grace.

Hmm—now I wonder what might be some other opening clauses that could yield equally enticing and provocative variations. "When the vampire flapped at my window...."?

Margaret L. Carter

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Art of Fantasy Worldbuilding In SF

Google Alerts sent me the following alert on "Jacqueline Lichtenberg"

This link is to a blog posted May 9,2008, by Angela Benedetti, which discusses the reasons why a writer should make the effort to construct a fictional world solidly. It's a very well written post (read it, please!) and speaks right to many of the points that I've made recently on this blog. About me, she says:

And if the vampire turns someone, even if it’s only once per book, extrapolate that back for however many centuries or millenia vampires have existed, figure out about how many vampires there probably are in the world, and escalate the problem accordingly. Even the occasional Van Helsing with a satchel full of stakes isn’t going to be able to hold back that particular tide — how long before the human population dwindles to the point where the vampires are all going to starve to death?

This sort of economy of dwindling resources can be done and done well, and turned into an excellent story arc of its own. Jacqueline Lichtenberg wrote a series of SF books where the human race had mutated into two forms, one of which was a vampire-like predator who had to kill one of the other sort each month to survive. The predators started out as a minority population, but about halfway through the series (which covered centuries of future history) she addressed the problem of twelve deaths per year times a lengthening lifespan for the predators multiplied by an expanding predator population, and came up with what she called Zelerod’s Doom, named after the predator mathematician who ran the numbers and gave his people the extremely unwelcome news that Something Had To Be Done by a certain year or they were going to kill all the prey and then starve to death. It was a major plot point of the series and eventually forced a significant shift in the functioning of her society, with all the politics and wars and death and crises this sort of shift usually entails.

This is great worldbuilding, following the implications to their logical conclusion and then using that conclusion to tell an absorbing story. Note also that this sort of conflict would’ve rocked in a romance series — classic Romeo and Juliet stuff.

And of course Angela knows that when the first 8 Sime~Gen novels were published in hardcover and mass market, the SF world would not allow any whiff of Romance in an SF novel, and the Romance world would reject outright any novel that had something vaguely fantasy or Sf about it. Mixing SF and Fantasy was death to sales. I did all of this and more in blatant defiance, but tried not to let them know I was defying them. Really, after all, what they don't know won't hurt them. So here are some clues to what I didn't tell "them."

The Sime~Gen premise is based on the Vampire archetype and welded to an SF framework that has Fantasy "rebar" reinforcing the masonry. It's a complex cross-genre world, so to publish it in the SF genre, most all the fantasy had to be folded inside and underneath so no editor would notice (the fans did, though!)

The following link of my name will take you to the amazon page listing my books where you can find the Sime~Gen titles very easily.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Right after I saw Angela's blog entry, acquired a new advertiser who is selling lessons leading to a massage license.

I commented to our sysadmin, Patric Michael, "Well that advertiser certainly belongs on because after all it's the root of the Companion's Training." And Patric insisted I write an article about the connection.

In the Sime~Gen premise, the Companion is a kind of voluntary donor to the vampire figure, called a Channel whose major job is Healing and giving Life.

And I started thinking about the Companion's training in terms of this blog.

The Companion and the Channel are the solution to Zelerod's Doom. Working in pairs, they are able to provide all the sustenance the predator Simes require.

Most readers of the Sime~Gen novels assume the Channel has the upper hand, control, power in the ever increasingly intimate relationship between Channel and Companion. They assume it's the Channel's decisions and the Channel's talent that Heals and Sustains, and the Companion just follows along and does as instructed.

NOTHING could be further from the truth.

In any relationship between Sime (predator) and Gen (prey) -- the Gen always has the upper hand, the greatest portion of the "power," and makes the really critical decisions. The Companion uses the Channel to accomplish Healing and other miracles.

It's the Companion's trained and disciplined ability to Heal and use the Channel that allows this whole crazy system of Sime~Gen society to work. A person with Companion's talent who isn't so trained is a monster, a danger, a menace. One fan writer, Andrea Alton, picked up on this and wrote a marvelous story titled ICY NAGER about a Gen turned hunter of the Simes because he had acquired a unique sort of training.

How the Companions learn to use Channels to Heal has been covered in some of the published novels, and explored and elaborated on in many fan written stories (posted online for free reading at )

But not a lot has been written about how exactly Companions do all this and where those skills came from in our "real" world.

The Worldbuilding process takes a bit of our "real" world and extrapolates it or alters it to serve the constructed world.

Sime~Gen is an SF Universe and most all the stories are pure SF. But the science behind what Companions do is from the Occult Sciences, or Magick which normally is the science behind Fantasy worldbuilding.

At the time the Sime~Gen world was built, Chakras, acupressure and acupuncture, Auras and assorted models of the human nervous system were considered rubbish by mainstream science.

Today reputable chiropractors use acupressure and other procedures related to the nervous circuitry of the human body that manifests as acupressure points.

So today, this science is "science" and when you use it to build a world, you end up with a "science fiction world." When the science stood in disrepute and you used it to build a world, you ended up with a "fantasy world."

If you look at a map of the human nervous system such as acupuncturists use,

You see one nervous system with nodes strung along the lines.

A similar chart of a Sime's or a Gen's nervous system would look pretty much the same, differing in some details because both Sime and Gen are mutated Ancients (us).

A Channel's nervous system would be very different from ordinary Simes' and Gens'.

A Channel has two separate but conjoined nervous systems with two sets of nodes running all over the body.

Here's an old, traditional poster of Chakras and information about them:

And here's a page of colorful Chakra posters and diagrams

These two sorts of diagrams of connections that hold a spirit into a body, if extrapolated to a science about the Channel's body and its Healing functions become the basis for the Companion's training. The Companion has to learn to sense these nodes and free up the energy flowing among them. That is done by using personal emotions to affect his/her own body, very much as a Yoga Master can control respiration and heartbeat, etc.

For Ancients, physical stimulation of the points on these diagrams affect strength of body, mind, spirit, psychology, mood, emotions, pain, vigor, well-being, and everything we consider important in life.

Today Massage Therapists, soft tissue workers, chiropractors, healers of all sorts use these theories to alleviate all manner of suffering that conventional medicine just doesn't address.

A number of schools have grown up and there are vigorous arguments among them about what's best for whom under which circumstances.

And so it is with Companions and Channels. They have their colorful and informative charts hung on their office walls, and their erudite arguments and a huge variety of ways they are trained, and those trained this way look down on those trained another way while others invent even more new ways to train people.

But it all boils down to massage therapy. The job of the Companion is to know where to touch a Channel, how hard, how often, in what pattern, and most especially how to use concentration and imagination to affect the condition of the channel's nervous system. There's a lot of book learning behind it all, but most of it is talent, skill, practice, and most of all compatibility with the particular Channel.

The Companion must diagnose the Channel's problem and apply the correct remedy - or the Channel won't be able to save the next life put into his/her care.

The Companion's strength, skill and discipline, (and talent) keep the Channel going, and keep the Channel's perceptions honed to a fine edge so the Channel can diagnose and treat the problem presented by ordinary Simes and Gens (or even other Channels and Companions).

Now why isn't all this explained in detail in the novels? Because there's no way to "show" it and it's mostly irrelevant to the plots (so far).

These stories are set so far into the future that the characters don't know anything about the Chakra charts etc. and the actual Ancient science on which their practices are based. They mostly had to reinvent all this for themselves from scratch. Few Ancient texts survived, though some hidden communities preserved a lot of it.

So the writer has a big problem avoiding expository lumps! All that's visible when a Channel and Companion pair work on a patient is a couple of gestures, a careful touch, a precise repositioning holding the distance between them just so.

When writing from the Channel's point of view, all that shows is the Channel's awareness of the Companion's attention focused at a particular point. If that attention wavers or becomes fuzzy, the Channel can't do his/her work.

The best Companions have not only the talent and training of a Companion, but also good, old fashioned Ancient psychic talent.

A good Companion can see auras as psychics can, and can see the hitches and clogs in the flow of energy among the chakras and pressure points.

It takes training to hone those perceptions, and it takes training to know what to do about any given problem -- and even more training to do it reflexively, easily, and in time to help. Elements of the Companion's training resemble training in the martial arts. Do without thinking.

Not everyone can learn it, not everyone can master it.

Personality also figures in. Channels prefer certain Companions over others. A personal, and very intimate, bond is necessary to produce a really great Channel/Companion team. The tensions and conflicts involved in forming such teams make for a good story.

As the centuries pass, Companion training is standardized so that teams can work together without the long years of forming an intimate bond. This, too, is a situation fraught with dramatic possibilities.

When setting out to do some serious worldbuilding, start with something that is well known and accepted -- add something that's just a crazy theory of the day, a fad maybe, shake well and decant into your novel. See what happens. But when marketing your novel, play your cards close to your chest.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sexism and the English language

I love writing alien romance in part because it allows me to comment on our society and our ingrained beliefs without being offensive... I hope.

This weekend, I've been going over the copy-edits of my most recent romance, Knight's Fork, which is due for release in October 2008.

It's been a delightful and instructive experience. I've inferred that my copy-editor is an erudite, scholarly, English professorial type of the male persuasion.

Possibly, I've enjoyed a similar mixture of glee and embarrassment to that reported by RomVet Cindy Dees.

Cindy Dees recounted that a lieutenant colonel in the lowest regions of The White House had to read her slightly steamy Romance novels to make sure that no Cindy Dees fictional action adventures accidentally betrayed the sitting President's secrets.

Cindy Dees, Lise Fuller, Lynn Hardy, Larissa Ione, and Ashley Ladd were my guests last night on a special radio program in honor of Armed Forces Day and Lynn Hardy's organization which sends books to members of the armed forces who are desperately bored during their down-time while deployed overseas.

Back to my copy-editing.

In this scene from KNIGHT'S FORK, the hero, 'Rhett has just shared the contents of a letter from his grandmother. The letter summarizes family history.

One name she had heard recently. “The toddler who was a terror, Djetthro-Jason. Is that my sister’s new Mate? He spoke to me at your fortune-telling.”

’Rhett nodded, unsmiling. “He’s my half brother. His mother, Djavena, was my mother, too. My father married—on Earth, they call Mating “marrying”—three times. My mother, Djavena, also was Mated three times. Three brothers had her, one after the other. She got passed around.”

His mother had three Mates.

Electra noted his casually brutal tone, and also the doing word-choice for his father’s sex life, and the done to wording for his mother, as if Djavena hadn’t had a choice. Possibly ’Rhett’s view of females had been affected…and also his attitude toward sex.

Au: means this is a question for the author. The comments pertain to the last paragraph.

Au: this doesn’t seem to refer to anything above; delete?
Au: ‘the had her wording for his mother’ ? [is ‘done to’ from an early draft?]

Did you notice the difference between the Active and Passive constructions? Did you notice the Subjects and the Objects of the phrases and sentences?

I did it deliberately, of course.
Surely, it doesn't take an alien, or an immigrant, or a feminist to notice the subtle sexism in our language, does it?

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crossover Promotion

How can a new book be effectively used to promote other books in an author’s backlist? What’s the secret to luring readers who’ve enjoyed one novel into seeking out the rest of the author’s work? It’s been a frequent source of frustration for me that new releases don’t seem to produce the carryover effect I’d hoped for. My Silhouette vampire romance, EMBRACING DARKNESS, was my first full-length fiction opportunity to reach a mass market audience. The bio in the front included my website URL. The book sold fairly well (as far as I could make out) and got a 4-star rating from ROMANTIC TIMES. I hoped for at least a temporary bump in sales of my earlier works to people who liked my vampires in EMBRACING DARKNESS and discovered other books in the same universe on my web page. I saw nary a bump, not even a discernible blip. If I enjoy one book by an author who’s new to me, I usually check out her previous work and sometimes even buy from her backlist. I assumed (well, yeah, we know what that word spells) other readers would react in a similar way. Whenever I’m interviewed, I mention books I’ve had released by several different publishers, and if appropriate I make a point of mentioning that my vampire series is listed chronologically on my website. I send out a monthly newsletter with excerpts and review links, as well as other goodies such as interviews and brief book reviews. I occasionally give away books from my backlist through various venues; if that tactic draws in new readers for the rest of my oeuvre, I haven’t noticed. I haven’t even seen any crossover from my e-book sales with Ellora’s Cave—fairly high-volume for e-books—to sales of my books from other e-publishers (not so high-volume), even though EC’s readers are obviously web-savvy and willing to buy e-books and small press releases.

I’d hate to think the obvious answer is correct—that almost everybody who reads one of my novels reacts so lukewarmly that he or she has no interest in ever reading another. :) Setting aside that possibility, is there a secret to stimulating crossover readership? I’ve often encountered the advice that an author should promote herself more than promoting any particular book. What are the most effective ways of doing that, other than things I’m already doing?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Exogamous Human Female

I've been thinking a lot about ethics lately, more even than morals. But you can't really separate the two from your total view of the universe when worldbuilding for an Alien Romance novel.

Chabad is offering a course, titled Talmudic Ethics about how the great Rabbis of yore solved ethical problems (find list of courses at ). They developed a very methodical way of solving these problems, but I haven't taken the course and I know nothing of how they'd solve these kinds of problems. Here's an example of an old classic dilemma they've posed, a word problem:

You are waiting at the train tracks for the train to pass, suddenly you notice that there are 5 people tied down to the tracks. You want to save their lives (I hope) so you jump out of your car and as you are running over to the people, a man stops you and says: flip this switch to make the train change tracks - here is the catch -- if you do force the change, you will kill one person that is tied down to the other track. What should you do? Can you stand by and do nothing and see FIVE people get killed, or should you save five and CAUSE one person to die?

Now you have to understand I'm a Star Trek fan and sharpened my ethical teeth on James T. Kirk's problem solving method. (does it count as alien romance when you have a crush on a fictional character?) Remember the Kobayashi Maru?

And I have always flunked word problems in algebra even though I was very very good at algebra itself. I never manage to understand the problem correctly.

So my first solution is to yell at the man to turn the switch to divert the train, grab flares and anything sharp out of my car's trunk and run to release the single victim, tossing lit flares at the train as I run, preferably into brush where they'll start a visible fire. I'm not so good at running these days, so that might not be an option. But it's easier to get one person loose than 5, especially if the nit-wit manning the switch comes to help.

My second solution would be to yank off my blouse or dress or anything bright colored I was wearing and run at the train waving it down -- naked. (this is a Jewish ethics course so there's a modesty issue here but I just don't have that much modesty that I would hesitate to strip to save a life.) I might also drive my car onto the track and get out quick then run at the train waving anything I could strip off in time.

But before even thinking of how to solve the problem as presented, my questions to the person posing the problem would be about the missing vital details that I would have in a flash if this were a real-life problem.

Are the 5 people already dead -- or maybe the one person is already dead? Is there brush on the side of the tracks? Do I smoke and have a lighter in my pocket? What's in my purse?

What's in the trunk of my car? What am I wearing? Is the grade up or down and is there a cliff on one side? How fast is the train moving? Do I know anything about trains and tracks? There's a lot of computerized equipment routing trains today -- I could smash something and make the dispatcher stop the train by radio.

What kind of train is it, passenger or freight, and if passenger are there people aboard? If freight, what's it carrying? Is there a third siding track with no danger or some other danger? How fast can I run? How fast can the other person with the bright idea of switching tracks run?

Where does he get off trying to trap me into an ethical dilemma? Who does he think he is? Those are really 6 dummies on the track and this loud-mouth is my real enemy. He wants my fingerprints on that switch -- the train hits the dummies, derails and bankrupts some business his boss is trying to buy and I get the blame. I knock him out with the crowbar and call 911 while tossing flares to stop the train.

Or, having assessed my resources, I would consider derailing the train. My car trunk might yield a crowbar, or the guy standing there telling me to divert the train might have one. Pry up one section of track and the train is stopped. Now that might cost some insurance company millions of dollars -- in fact, it might well put me in jail for the rest of my life, but it would stop the train. Two of us working together might manage that (if he's not the bad guy).

Another bit of data missing is whether the guy giving the advice is the one who tied the people to the track -- and whether I know this guy or any of the victims or not. What if the 5 people had tortured me for days in a basement, and the one guy had rescued me?

See why I flunked word problems time and again all the way through school?

But let's play the school-kid game and take the problem at face value.

It is a classic no-win scenario, and the only thing that makes it a problem at all is the unwillingness of the test taker to think outside the box, to take personal risk, to accept personal damage, and to defy the authority of the test-giver and change the parameters of the test, as James Kirk did in the Kobayashi Maru test.

The test-administrator is trying to define your world for you, and to convince you that you know things you in fact do not know. (like whether or not you can save all the people) The way I approach these tests and life in general is that I make my own rules and no human being tells me what I can or can't do.

If you don't let the test administrator mess with your head, and you proceed on the assumption that it doesn't matter what the odds against you are, but you only care that you do the right thing -- you will change the rules of the game and generate new solutions that defy all odds. The impossible WILL happen -- or it won't. But you will have stayed true to your own character and not let any petty authority figure dictate the parameters of your world. You may die, but not with blood on your hands.

So can't you see The Authorities administering tests like this to Aliens who land on the White House lawn trying to find out if they share our ethics?

What has all this to do with the human female's exogamous tendencies and Alien Romance worldbuilding?

Now I get to make up the word-problem and mess with your head, if you let me.

Your soul-mate turns up in your life, but you defy all his rules and finally find out his big secret. He's an alien from outer space sent to Earth to fix our health-care delivery system for us. You are a major diversion that's kept him from his job. That has put him in trouble with his employer.

He has two solutions to offer Earth, mutually exclusive solutions. He says because he's in love with you and you're human, he will give Earth whichever solution you choose and it'll be free, initially. But you can only choose one plan.

While romancing you, he has set his orbiting ship to collect all the medical records data in computers and on paper all over the world, all the medications, searched the medicinal plants now growing, even ones not yet discovered, catalogued it all along with all human medical knowledge.

A) Now he can create a Best Practices database that will let any doctor prescribe the cure that has worked best for the most people with a given condition. All this would be Earth-based state-of-the-art equipment and data we could maintain and grow. But everyone would be treated as an "average" person, therefore people on the out flung tails of the bell curve would die -- shrinking our genetic diversity.

B) He can use all that data to program an army of robots (enough to serve the world) who are able to diagnose individuals and select a treatment based on that particular individual's idiosyncrasies. But the robots would only last two hundred years, and there would be a replacement and maintenance charge that he can't waive.

Either plan can be fully implemented within two weeks.

Then he tells you that you're pregnant by him and he has to leave in two weeks on a dangerous mission and might not be back. He can't take you with him - not won't, can't - because you would die. But you are soul mates, and he does love you, and he believes he will reincarnate as an Earth human with you again for a lifetime. But he must complete his job honorably for this lifetime to earn that. He can't decide which system to leave behind him -- you must choose for Earth and for the future you.

If you need a clue read this news item -- I'm hoping it'll still be available when you read this:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, May 12, 2008

Blogging, Computer Crashes and Me, Oh My

Yes, it's Monday and yes, I'm supposed to blog. But my main Dell PC went to blue screen hell on Thursday and life has been annoying ever since. The Dell is now back in the office but has been reformatted and I'm in the process of reloading everything, both via backup and from scratch. I finally finally found where my old emails resided in the backup but restoring them brought them back in one huge (2000+) lump. All my folders are gone. So now I have to... you know. Pound my head on the nearest hard surface.

Given that, I did blog yesterday at the HEA Cafe. I'm their 11th day gal. If you didn't know, I blog there on the 11th of the month. So you can go read my rant on Amazon trolls:

Also, my agent, Kristin Nelson, has been fully brilliant in her blogs of late. Lots of good pitching advice for writers there:

That should keep you busy and off the streets for a while. ~Linnea

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bear Awareness Week

Not only is today (Sunday) Mother's Day, but it is also the start of
Bear Awareness Week.

And the connection to alien romance is...?

Admittedly, it's tenuous. It has to be were-bears and shapeshifters, and maybe berserk, bear-spirit-possessed Viking warriors who seem to have had a dark ages type of 'roid rage.

Anyway, an intrepid bunch of bear-loving, speculative Romance authors are going to get together to thrash out what it is we love about men who have a lot in common with bears.

Angie Fox, Carrie Masek, Sandy Lender, Cynthia Eden and Charlee Boyett-Compo are joining me on internet voices radio tonight between 9pm Eastern and eleven pm to give a whole new depth of meaning to Bear men and Romance.

We'd love some listeners, even for a little while.

For those whose taste in alien romance veers off the beaten track into exotic historicals, check out the last CRAZY TUESDAY/

In the last program, Jade Lee and Emily Bryan (aka
Diana Groe) talked about everything below the belt in honor of Earth
Day... from Brazilian waxes for courtesans, to castration, to foot

FOR CHERRY PICKING SPECIALS, which is the irreverent and irregular
Sunday night-time show about Romance heroes and the animals they shift
into being when the right female comes along.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I am currently reading Netherworld by Michelle Lang. Its the latest in the Shomi line that released Twist. I love the fact that Shomi features stories that don't have a niche in the mass market world.

Netherworld talks about living a simulated life. People are actually able to experience life as an Avatar in a computer game. They "feel" everything that happens to their Avatars, even down to sexual satisfaction. But by humans spending so much time inside the sims the AI is able to learn more about the human psyche until it becomes more powerful and demands that all humans become part of the machine. Which brings into question, what happens to the human soul once the humans reduce down into the machine? I'm not quite done with it yet but it brings up some interesting prospects. Plus its a great read.

It also kind of goes along with Margaret's post. How much human simulation is enough? At what point will robots become more like human or animal clones that are imprinted with the images of pets or even people that we've lost. As technology becomes more advanced it will be something that our conscious and our governments will need to decide. I guess it all will come down to the value of the human soul.

I have to admit that it would be nice to have a replica of my cocker spaniel around. But would I see the essence of what was Dauber when I looked into a replicant's eyes and would it feel the same. I'm not sure these are questions that apply to my generation but I am fairly certain they are not too far off in the future.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lifelike Robots

Reflecting on predictions of glossy futuristic technology envisioned in cartoons and utopian SF, I’ve decided I don’t want the flying car, after all. Imagine the chaos if two of those collided in mid-air (not unlikely, considering the way many people drive). What I want is the household robot. Robert Heinlein’s DOOR INTO SUMMER predicted commercially viable cleaning robots by the 1970s. Up to now, so far as I know, all we have in this country is that self-propelling vacuum cleaner, the Roomba. The Japanese, however, are working on more complex automatons. I found several articles by Googling “Japan robots emotion.” (Give it a try.) Engineering students at a Tokyo university are experimenting with robots that have rubbery faces capable of simulating six emotional states in response to key words: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and disgust. The project leader says that in order to work around people, “robots need to handle complex social tasks.” In Japan, robots already perform many varied jobs, not only factory work, but such tasks as acting as receptionists, serving tea, and spoon-feeding the elderly. Japanese culture, according to this article, views robots as “friendly helpers.” With an aging population, they expect to rely on automata to replace human employees in the workforce and care for the aged. On the emotional front, currently available are a soft, dog-shaped device and a furry character called Paro, resembling a baby seal, both designed for “pet” therapy in nursing homes.

Even robots that aren’t cuddly, much less as human-like as the maid on THE JETSONS, seem to evoke an anthropomorphizing response. People get attached to them. I read somewhere that Roomba owners have been known to name and adorn their robot vacuum cleaners. A talking robot on wheels was once lent to a family for research (according to one of those online articles); when it had to be taken away for an upgrade, the child of the family cried. “People aren’t going to be able to throw away robots when they break,” one researcher says. How small a step is that kind of reaction from considering the robots so nearly human that we’d feel guilty about “enslaving” them—especially if they do advance to the point of having some degree of intellect and consciousness (or the ability to simulate it)?

This quandary comes to life in a delightful poem, “Too Human by Half,” by Suzette Haden Elgin in her recent book TWENTY-ONE NOVEL POEMS, a collection of narrative poetry on SF themes. supplies elder-care robots constructed in roughly human shape so the aged clients will feel comfortable with them. The problem arises when the machine wears out. “Mama” protests angrily, “Replace JANE?. . . Just because she’s getting OLD?” The solution: When DearCompanion designed its next line of assistive robots “they made every one of the units look exactly like a broom.” You need this poetry collection. Really you do. :) It even includes suggestions for discussion topics. Information for ordering the book is on Elgin’s home page:

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Linnea Sinclair and Mike Shepherd

Margaret Carter noted, in a comment to my April 29th 2008 post here, That ALIEN NATION (the TV show -- which I was and am a fan of!) presents a species that doesn't biologically require submission in order to reproduce.

Since it was a TV show, (based on a film) they really didn't develop the alien-ness of the aliens very well. When they did explore a premise, it usually made no scientific sense, but it did make a kind of psychological or artistic sense.

I'm assuming fans of Alien Romance are all thoroughly familiar with the film ALIEN NATION and the show that sprang from it. If you missed it, get the DVDs.

ALIEN NATION was only marginally successful as a TV show, but it did spawn fanzines gallore. You might find some good fanfic still posted. Many Sime~Gen fans participated. But I originally brought up the topic of "submission" as part of the Romance formula because the Romance field is changing with the attitudes of the general public and the romance reading public.

How much of sexual submission is biological -- and how much just cultural conditioning?

Obeying or defying cultural conditioning can deliver a sexual thrill just as intense and primal as biology. How do you tell the difference?

In my July column, I've reviewed Linnea Sinclair's new book SHADES OF DARK as well as a new Kris Longknife novel by Mike Shepherd titled AUDACIOUS.

The Kris Longknife novels aren't technically "alien romance" -- they are military Space Opera with a female lead character tough as nails and twice as deadly. But in that category, they are really good reading.

My only quibble, that I didn't mention in my review, is that there are "anacrhonisms" sprinkled through the backgrounding of the Longknife novels that irritate me. The rest of the writing is so good, though, that I suspect we will eventually get a good explanation for these anomolies.

Kris Longknife and Sinclair's Captain Chasida "Chaz" Bergren are characters made popular by our culture's search for answers to the question I raised in my April 29th entry.

Can a society have "freedom" at all if half the people willfully submit to the other half?

Will refusal to submit result in an ever lowering birth rate and thus extinction of the species?

Margaret Carter touched on that in her entry here of May 1, 2008 -- a new theory that the human species, our own ancestors, once shrank to a gene pool of about 2,000 individuals.

And that brings up all the issues connected to questions of who among us holds power over reproductive choices. Margaret mentioned Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels -- when the lost Terran colony ship crashed on Darkover, it was decreed that the women would become breeders and have no other responsibilities. The men decreed this, and made it stick, and that shaped the subsequent cultures.

Currently, disaster preparedness officials are debating how to handle pandemic or other disasters that limit medical treatment resources. How do they decide who dies?

None of the plans considered, as far as I know, called for volunteers. The Darkovans, facing a tiny gene pool and no help coming, didn't call for women to volunteer to breed, even though under primitive conditions, that does risk life iteself. Did our 2,000 ancestors call for volunteers?

Now look carefully at Chaz Bergren (did I mention SHADES OF DARK is a strong, fast moving, intricately backgrounded, splendid great good READ!!!???) Linnea Sinclair has given us a female lead character who is confronting head on the basic biological conflict of dominance/submission male/female. And she's considering what to volunteer for.

Chaz isn't even sure she's "married" to this man whose strange telepathic talents are morphing so fast he doesn't even know who he is. But he's sure she's his wife because of their telepathic bond.

Kris Longknife is in the part of her adventurous life where she's not marriage material. Being royalty, she will be, and she knows it. But she's not confronting that dilemma yet while she is sent off to various trouble spots in the galaxy to solve problems.

Her psychic talent, in addition to some telepathy, seems to be to bend the laws of probability in her vicinity such that her rather ordinary actions produce extraordinary results. This talent runs in the family, and thus the Longknife family has a fearsome "reputation."

Kris's conflict is with her mostly invisible older relatives who are pulling her strings.

Then, when embroiled in an external conflict by actions of her relatives not her own choice, she resolves it. Mike Sheperd is a good enough writer that I believe the series will eventually come to a confrontation with marriage, dominance and submission.

There are a number of really good novel series featuring female lead characters like Kris Longknife -- tough bitches embroiled in so much action they have no spare capacity for romance.
There are a number of really good SF/F Alien Romance series where the female lead character is so embroiled in romance that she has barely enough capacity to survive the action exploding over her head.

And then there's Chaz Bergren and her ilk -- a rare breed of female character whose life's main external action-conflicts are fully integrated into her internal romantic submission and sexual issues. This creates a karmic picture that makes sense, adds up to a statement about the purpose of life, and also delivers an entertaining good read.

Sinclair is practicing a more complex artform here than the genre publishers are equiped to market.

Is the readership ready to explore directly the issue of the indomitable woman who has no dominating tendencies at all?

Is the readership able to conceptualize a human female who is neither submissive nor dominating?

If she can find a mate -- what would her children be?

Does Alien Romance have a place for The Mother? Where are the SF Romance novels about women with a passle of children to raise? Are children the plot or the complication? Ever read CHILDREN OF THE LENS by E. E. Smith?

I'm also a fan of the old TV series, SCARECROW AND MRS. KING (1983-1985)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What I'm reading...

I'm just out of deadline hell, so am tickled silly with myself for reading someone else's book this week.

Of course, I really ought to have printed out my own, and be going over it for stray commas and missing tiny parts that make all the difference whether or not a sentence makes sense.

However... for the last month, I've been leaping wildly out of bed at 3am (not good for the waistline or the eyes) to meet my own deadline for KNIGHT'S FORK. Now, I want a reward.

I'm reading Lisa Shearin's sequel to Magic Lost, Trouble Found. Raine Benares's adventures continue in Armed and Magical.

Since I'm only up to p 49, this isn't a review, and I wouldn't be writing about Lisa Shearin's books at all if I weren't thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying her magical world of elves, goblins, humans, mages, pirates, a nightclub owner who used to be a Duke and who is revealed to be more powerful every time we see him (at least, he was in MLTF).

Right... I've got to find out what's happening next


Rowena Cherry

Friday, May 02, 2008

The care and feeding of your deadline slammed author

I was trying to explain to a friend the other day about deadline hell. What happens to writers when we have to slide into that dreaded place that consumes every bit of our time, imagination and energy. I realized that until you really live it, that most people do not really understand what it is. So hopefully this will explain it a bit and give you some hints on what you can do to help your favorite writer get through it.

Deadline hell is what occurs when you don’t hit your carefully planned out page count for each day that you have until your book is due. Best laid plans and all that, but quite frankly, life happens and it does get in our way. For me lately it’s been my dad’s cancer, which is now in remission, thank you. So said book that was due March 1 is now due June 1 and has to be turned in or else it will not make it to production on time for its February release. This also means that since I missed the first deadline I will not have a Cindy Holby release this year (only Colby Hodge’s Twist) andI SUCK AS A WRITER AND MY CAREER IS OVER.

Since I now have two extra months to write I can do it. Woohoo! WRONG. During April Dad is in hospital twice with complications, I am preparing for RT, I go to RT for eight days and it takes me a week to recover, catch up from RT. Two of those days were spent sleeping as I got no sleep at RT. So now its May 1, book is due June 1 and I’m about 4,000 words away from halfway. Which means I have to write around 250 pages in a month. Which is around ten pages a day if I write everyday which I won’t be able to do because life gets in the way. Can I do it? I better because if I don’t I SUCK AS A WRITER AND MY CAREER IS OVER.

So what happens then. I sit in front of my computer. I tell myself I will not play Freecell ever again for as long as I live. I play Freecell. I look at manuscript. I decide entire book is the great dedication to sucktitude. I put on writing inspired songs to get into the story. Since I am writing an angsty story I get depressed. I listen to them over and over again. I get all weepy. My bwff (best writing friend forever) tells me to quit listening to angsty songs and I reply with giant wail. “But I caaaaannnn’t. It’s the soundtrack to Atonement and I Lurve James MacAvoy and he diieeesss.” Btw dialog like this goes back and forth all day with my bwff posse. If you want to know who they are check out the dedications in my books. Finally I decide I am in right frame of mind to write.

But first I check my email. Why? Because writers are isolated. Email is our connection to our friends. What are our friends doing? Are they in writing hell too? Ohh, here’s a link to something. Maybe I should check that out. Finally I realize that I’ve wasted half a day on internet. Turn off internet and write. Go back to manuscript. Maybe it doesn’t suck. Hmmm, writing historical and I need to know what certain building on certain street looked like in eighteenth century. Sign back onto internet. Get distracted again by email, IM or something Brittany/Paris/TomKat has done. Oh, another email, someone I know has hit list/won award/got new multi comma contract and while I am happy for them it didn’t happen to me because I SUCK AS A WRITER AND MY CAREER IS OVER.

Why do writers obsess over things like that? Because we write in a vapor. Some writers have critique partners. I don’t. If the story takes a direction I’m not sure of I’ll send it out to a few of my friends for some feedback but for the most part it’s just us and the story.

So now its time to really get serious. What happens next in the story? Write write write. Hmmm, write some more. Shove kitten off desk. Try to ignore sad doggy eyes. Grab apple, yogurt, banana, hand full of chips for lunch. Grab some caffeine. Grab some more. Stay up late writing. Eyes cross, wrists aches, back and shoulders ache, butt hurts because this continues day after day after day. Husband pokes head in and asks about dinner. You look at him like he’s an idiot and wave him off. Husband carries in dinner, does laundry, vacuums, rubs back and tries to stay out of your way. (I am fortunate that my kids are grown and pretty much self sufficient and I also have an awesome husband) Week goes by, then another, then another and you realize story has come together and perhaps you aren’t the giant burrito of sucktitude (bwff term) that you once thought you were. But you are also very lonely, and you kind of look like crap since you have basically lived in front of your computer for a month. Since I am now working on my thirteenth book I’ve kind of been through this before so I know what to expect. You think that one day I would figure it out and stay out of deadline hell but I don’t because I SUCK AS A WRITER AND MY CAREER IS OVER.

So what can you, as a fan/friend of a deadline crazed writer do? I have my own little support group. I just got a text hug from one. Another is giving me rah rahs every night and I have realized how much I really appreciate it. I look forward to it. It keeps me inspired because I know these people believe in me and maybe I don’t SUCK AS A WRITER. So if you have a writer friend who is in deadline hell then drop them an email (believe me they will be checking) or a comment on their myspace page and say Yay, we believe in you and can’t wait for the next book. They will appreciate it more than you know. And it’s also great to know that you don’t really suck that you are just doing the best that you can.

Oh yeah, we procrastinate too. Why else would I be spending my time writing this instead of working on my story?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Remnant Populations

Did you read about the new hypothesis that the entire human species, about 70,000 years ago, declined to no more than 2000 people? Genetic studies suggest that severe climate conditions caused the near extinction of Stone Age humanity. At first I wondered whether this discovery meant only one small group of people survived. The researchers think, however, that “humans separated into small populations prior to the Stone Age” and later “came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.” Depending on how many tens of thousands of years they were separated, though, I wondered why genetic drift didn’t make it impossible for them to produce fertile offspring when they reunited.

This theory brings to mind numerous SF and fantasy post-apocalyptic scenarios. (It also makes me think of Noah’s flood and the dispersion of the people who built the Tower of Babel. I’m not a biblical literalist, but these do make exciting stories.) Another similar situation appears in novels that chronicle the ordeal of an abandoned colony (e.g., C. J. Cherryh’s shared-world Merovingen series) or a starship’s crew stranded on a seemingly uninhabited world (e.g., Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series) trying to establish a society and build up their population to a viable size. I imagine a small band of Cro-Magnons believing they are the last surviving people in the world. What would they think when they finally ran into another group with wildly different language and customs that have developed during the long divide? Would the two tribes even recognize each other as human? Come to think of it, even today, would an alien biologist at first glance identify Scandinavians and Australian aborigines (for example) as members of the same species?