Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Eye of the Beholder/ Place of the Servant



Linnea made a very important point in the blog entry before this one.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When I saw the title, I thought surely she would address the recent comment by a Moslem cleric in Australia that the rape victim is to blame, not the rapist. But she went in another, perhaps even more important, direction.

Because we've been raised in a visually oriented society -- even before we got our first TV set, there were comics and a weekly trip to the movies! -- we tend to adopt as our personal yardstick the standards promulgated by the media.

Humans are hardwired to "belong" -- to mark ourselves as part of some group or other for protection and emotional support. One way we do that is to adopt whatever crazy nonsense the group has agreed on as our own personal philosophy.

Once a group has formed such a shared belief or standard, that standard persists for generations. That's why it's a good thing that youth rejects everything their parents treasure, then re-adopts certain select beliefs in their 30's forming the new establishment their children have to reject.

By successive approximations, we should eventually generate some yardsticks that really work.

Well, that process has, in another part of the world that is out-breeding my kind, produced a shared and solemnly believed system which STILL believes the victim is the cause of violence.

Europe for thousands of years, and the US until recently, actually did believe that. To us, today in our modern society, the idea that the victim is the cause of violence is ridiculous, dangerous and offensive.

Why have we changed? I submit that the modern Romance Novel (including AR) is a contributing factor in promulgating a value system (not originating or conceptualizing, but promulgating) in which Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.

If it is true that Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, then the idea that a rape victim is the cause of rape becomes something so absurd it can't be addressed in words.

What stirs a rapist to violence? (thousand novel premises in that, especially AR premises!)

If Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then perhaps that which is so reprehensible that it must be punished, dominated, denigrated, and destroyed is also in the eye of the beholder?

And we enter the murkly realms of subjectivity where anyone's opinion is as reliable as anyone else's.

Where are the objective yardsticks in human life? (I have a few answers. I suppose you have your own.) These are story-generating questions.

Before I saw Linnea's provocative post, I wanted to talk about another subjective experience that has to be shared to become useful -- one that is very often a vital ingredient in really hot romance.


Most of us haven't grown up surrounded by servants. We've all read a lot of Regency Romances and historicals where "servants" are a dynamic plot element. And we've seen THE BRADY BUNCH and HART TO HART and other shows where domestic help becomes "part of the family".

So we have an image of "The Servant" that is not real, not tactile. In the USA we had "slaves" to perform "servant's work" for a while, and then rejected the entire "slavery" concept. But there are a lot of romance novels set in that era that are important reading experiences.

There are two ideas to "The Servant" lurking in the eye of the "un-served" beholder: that the servant was "looked down on" -- a member of a lower class, someone you don't mix with, or sit at table with (DRIVING MISS DAISY); that the servant did work that is inherently degrading, or "minimum wage grunt work" not worthy of The Master.

I'd like to relate two personal experiences -- let you look through the eye of this beholder.

I learned the meaning of SERVICE in a very personal and tactile way through these two experiences.

At one very high profile convention full of celebrity speakers, I was classed as a celebrity and provided with FIRST CLASS "service". I had a "lady's maid" who chose, touch-up ironed, and laid out what I was to wear that day, and prepared the bathroom for my shower at night so I didn't ever have to think a thought about CLOTHING or APPEARANCE. I just ignored that entire part of "life."

I had a "personal gofer" (like a secretary) to keep track of where I needed to be when, who I had appointments with, press conferences, speeches, everything to do with moving me from place to place - and even providing food, and refreshments. This was a couple cuts above the usual fan-gofer assigned by some conventions to speakers. It was a completely different EXPERIENCE OF REALITY.

The other experience that drove that lesson in good and hard was a time when I was invited to participate in a Think Tank meeting with an international figure.

The meeting was held at a prominent New York Men's Club (this was before it was illegal to bar women; they had an absolute rule there, no WOMEN. But my driver and I got in because we had these really high class engraved invitations.)

We weren't allowed into the "smoking room" but got to look in because at that moment no one was there. Goshwow. We were escorted to the depths of the plush and silent building, a thousand lightyears from the throbbing din of Manhattan's streets.

So we got to the meeting room in the back -- picture the President's Cabinette meeting room. It was like that. Mahogany table a mile long, carpets ankle deep, drapes from Buckingham Palace, Original Oil Paintings belonging in a museum, ever-so-tasteful lighting. A silence so deep you could disappear into it.

I must have lived like that in a prior life. It was the first time in this existence that I actually felt totally at home!

But the tangible shock came during the meeting when the wait staff served coffee and refreshments.

This wait staff was 100 cuts above the folks who helped me out at the convention. These guys were PROS -- top of the top. I've never encountered anyone like them since, and I've been in some hoity-toity places and been served with white gloves, towel over the arm, waiters wearing suits I couldn't afford!

What happened? What did I learn?

Nothing happened. And that's what I learned -- the VALUE of nothing.

The coffee orders were taken without interupting the flow of conversation around the table. The exact correct order (beyond top quality) appeared somehow before me -- I never saw or heard or felt or was aware of the men moving behind the row of chairs at the table.

Refills appeared just as magically.

The crockery was taken away just as silently. It was there. It was gone. NOTHING ATTRACTED ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE CONVERSATION.

It was a stunning experience. A tactile experience. My beholding eye was never the same after that.

In both instances, I discovered that when the trivia of mundane existence is lifted away, productivity goes up a thousand fold.

I discovered just how much output-potential is wasted on the fiddling around in daily life -- and when that is gone, all that output-potential focuses on the job in hand and suddenly huge, complex, amazing accomplishments become EASY. And more, things get done right that would, without that Servant, have been done wrong or not-so-good.

I learned that it isn't a waste of our tax dollars to hire the BEST White House Staff servants.

But more than that. I learned that The Servant is not a lower being, not someone exploited, not a lower class person, not something separate from The Job At Hand.

The Servant contributes to the success of The Job At Hand, is an essential and integral part of the accomplishment. Without that utter INVISIBILITY, the silent step, the careful rhythm of movement, the intense precision of that service, The Job At Hand (in my case a Think Tank fact-finding briefing) could not have been done with such effectiveness.

If that's true of such a small thing as that meeting -- or the convention where the same thing happened -- imagine how very great the effect has to be on International Affairs?

Or Interstellar Affairs.

It is this aspect of Service that I've found missing in many Romance novels. The real REASON for the existence of "Service" and what great talent and training it takes to succeed at the profession of "Service."

I think that missing ingredient is the result of the authors themselves never having experienced being SERVED at that tremendously high level. Or having taken lessons (gosh where would you go to get that kind of training?) in how to SERVE at that extreme level of society.

QUESTION: could machines, even R. Daneel Olivau, ever produce that "relieved of mundane trivia" effect? Is it just that the thing got done for you -- or is it that it was done by a human being who knows how to mute or bury his/her psychic signature?

And I do think that's the key to the 100 times more impressive Service at the Men's Club -- that's what those waiters did. They muted their psychic signatures. They were not "presences" in the room. They checked their personalities at the door.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, October 30, 2006

Eye of the Beholder

First of all, I know that's somewhat the title of a really great Julie E Czerneda book, but that's not what I'm going to blog about today. Rather, I'm going to yammer on about the perception (misperception?) that romance novels are peopled with flawlessly beautiful and handsome characters.

I can tell you that mine aren't but there may be several of you who then squirm in your seats, thrusting impatient hands in the air like a bad imitation of Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter (am I showing my age here?), anxious to point out to me that Captain Trilby Elliot made no bones about the fact that she found Rhis attractive. Or that Admiral Branden Kel-Paten was so smitten by Tasha Sebastian that he wrote her love letters for nigh on ten years or more.

And my answer to you would be: So?

The fact that two characters in my books might find each other irresistible does not unequivocally mean either is a candidate for a fashion model career. It just means that two characters in my books found each other irresistible. Period. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Don't assume (and you all do know what they say about ASSUME, don't you?) that irresistibility means perfection. I happen to know more than one long time married couple who still gaze longingly into each other's eyes...and none of them would qualify to grace the cover of Cosmo. Or GQ.

Because beauty is, you see, in the eye of the beholder.

What I strive to do in the romance parts of my books is also bring the reader to understand all the other factors that make one character appealing to another: belief systems, personality, bravery, loyalty, sense of humor... it's all part of the package. In fact, I've even had my characters comment on occasion that yes, they know of others who are physically more attractive than the hero/heroine. But it's all of the elements of that person that make him or her beautiful to the other.

So just as we're often cautioned to not judge a book by its cover, don't (pre)judge my characters by whatever stereotypical misinformation you've heard about the romance, or science fiction romance, genre. Open the book and get to know the characters for yourselves--with all their faults and foibles that make them, yes, very beautiful.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Insufficient Mating Material (excerpt)

Insufficient Mating Material
Rowena Cherry

copyright Rowena Cherry

ISBN 0-505-52711-1; LoveSpell 1/31/07

All rights reserved.
This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.

Damn them! Prince Djetthro-Jason eyed the masked males and the unpleasant array of implements they were preparing to use on him.

I haven't told them everything, and I'm not about to. No way am I going to invite anyone to take a laser to my privates. Ahhh, Fewmet!

The "battlefield analgesia" was wearing off. During the duel that he'd begun as Commander Jason and ended--defeated--as Prince Djetthro-Jason, he'd felt almost no pain despite the damage Tarrant-Arragon had inflicted.

Now, his massively bruised thigh throbbed heavily, his neck muscles ached, and his jaw...it hurt even to think about his jaw. Perhaps worse--but less so by the moment--was the damage to his alpha-male machismo as he lay strapped down, stark naked, in his enemy's operating theater, preparing his mind for surgery without anesthetic. Also for "the fate worse than death" which was to come.

If Tarrant-Arragon had observed Great Djinn tradition, the duel they'd fought less than an hour ago ought to have been to the death.

Why hadn't Tarrant-Arragon killed him then and there? To the victor went the Empire, the Ark Imperial, and gods-Right to any female he wanted...and they both wanted the same female.

Damn it! Even if he wanted to stop, I should've fought on after he crippled my leg and shattered my bloody jaw. Why didn't I? What's left for me?

What indeed?

I'll be the Djinn equivalent of a broken thoroughbred stallion put out to stud. It's fairly obvious why Tarrant-Arragon made an excuse not to finish me off.

The Great Djinn were nearly extinct. In twenty years' time, Tarrant-Arragon's and Djinni-vera's children would need true-Djinn mates, all entitled to the silent D-prefix to their royal Djinn names. That's why!

When the "fate worse than death" had been spelled out, it had been sheer bravado to mumble that he wanted to marry Princess Martia-Djulia.

Maybe I do. Maybe I don't.

It hurt how much he still wanted Djinni-vera, who'd been the last Djinn virgin in all the Communicating Worlds, and betrothed to be his, until Tarrant-Arragon abducted her by force and took her virginity.

What consolation would it be to have Tarrant-Arragon's sexy, fashionista bitch of a sister in his power and in his bed instead?

Djetth winced at the savagery of his thoughts about Martia-Djulia. Shards of pain shot along his broken jawline.

"Well, Djetthro-Jason, are you ready to be carved up for your new identity and your new life as my little sister's glorified love slave?"

From somewhere out of Djetth's line of sight, Tarrant-Arragon taunted him, stressing the part of Djetth's real name that he'd used until his cover as "Commander Jason" was blown and he was overpowered and arrested.

Djetth did not turn his head. The pain in his face and head was intolerable enough without moving.

"Ahhh, I do believe that Our Imperial surgeons are ready to do away with that distinctive jagged scar on your cheek," Tarrant-Arragon crooned. "And screw together your jaw."

What else might they do while he was under the laser and the knife? While his face was open, might they carve out a sensory gland or two? Implant a tracking device? Use his broken jaw as an excuse to weld a mask over his head?

Prince Djetthro-Jason would be a latter-day "Man in the Iron Mask" if they realized how closely he resembled Crown Prince Tarrant-Arragon. Which he would, without his scars, his colorful contact lenses and his long, blond-dyed hair.

Djetth glanced at the treacherous, turncoat 'Rhett, who'd been his bloody useless "second" at the duel, and who was still hanging around.

What for? Damn him. 'Rhett was too much the intergalactic statesman for his own--or anyone else's--good.

If the patient lost consciousness, Tarrant-Arragon could decide that the chances for galactic peace would be better is Djetthro-jason were neutered...one way or another. Given the secrets 'Rhett knew, 'Rhett might agree.

"No--" Djetth groaned with the unexpected agony of trying to speak. He wanted to refuse anesthetic again. How he wished there was somebody present who he could trust!

A door swished open.

"Does he have to be in such pain?" The cause of all the trouble spoke from the doorway. She sounded on edge, as if she felt his pain telepathically.

Djinni-vera! No longer his Djinni. By conquest, by the irrevocable exchange of vows,and finally by her own choice, she was Tarrant-Arragon's.

By All the Lechers of Antiquity, how he loved her! At that moment. For coming. Mentally Djetth qualified his thoughts. Djinni-vera might not love him now, but she was honorable to the core. Tarrant-Arragon wouldn't dare do anything dastardly in front of her.

As she glided to his surgical table, Djetth looked at her wildly, helplessly, with mute appeal, hoping that she would read his mind and aid him this one last time.

Djinni-vera's amethyst eyes widened as if she had Heard him and understood. Her gaze averted, she reached out and dropped a gauzy white cloth of some sort over his monstrously inappropriate erection.

To others, her action might have looked like public modesty on her part. Djetth assumed that Djinni had read the part of his mind that was worrying about the striking tattoo that only showed up in the dark or when he was suitably excited.

Thank you, he thought. Please help me. Stay.

She nodded, and took his fettered hand with her undamaged left. "You've been macho about this too long, J-J. Why won't you let them put you to sleep?"

"Careful, my love," Tarrant-Arragon said, moving possessively to her side. "You can never call him J-J again. Nor may you use any of his other damned traitor's aliases. Not J-J, not Commander Jason. Traitors cannot be seen to survive their attempts on my life. Commander Jason is officially dead,and everyone--including Martia-Djulia--must believe it. From this day forward, he's Prince Djetthro-Jason."

"What a mouthful..." Djinni began; then her changing expression told him that she must have read a thought-pun he couldn't resist. "Djetth!"

She frowned sternly.

"I know you Great Djinn males can't help thinking of sex all the time. But it's not helpful, Djetth. As long as you have your satuurnid gland, you're dangerous."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Favorite Earthling (instalment #3)

Readers may remember that Sue's last chapter ended with the gorgous tycoon and weekend National guard pilot (call sign Prince) sitting in the pilot's chair of the crashed alien spacecraft, wondering if he'd been detected.

copyright Susan Grant 2006

MARCH 2007
ISBN 0373771924; HQN books

This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.

Chapter Three

Keira, Queen of Sakka swung her plasma sword at an imaginary opponent, working through a series of choreographed moves designed to hone and strengthen the body and bring focus to the mind. Her long thick hair whipped around her shoulders with every slice of the heavy sword in her gymnasium deep within the largest palace in the galaxy. To her left and right massive columns soared to the ceiling, the space between them open to various chambers—a meeting room, her bathing hall, an entertainment alcove where she could take visitors and or watch troubadours perform. She took little interest in the rest of the palace, but this was her sanctuary and she’d had it decorated it in every color opposite the reality outside the thick castle walls: a world of ice and towering glaciers, a land of white, ice-blue, and steely gray, where it snowed almost all year round except for a fleeting summer.

Sometimes she wished she could wall herself off from the rest of the palace in much the same way.

The captain of the Palace Guard, the hulking eunuch Tibor Frix, stepped through the door. She’d known him almost her entire life. Not once had she ever seen him look anything other than as he did now: immaculate in a flawless uniform and gleaming boots. He snapped his fist over his chest and dipped his head in a bow. “The visitors have arrived, my queen.”

“Send them in.” Gripping the heavy plasma sword in a two hands, Keira whirled on Prime Minister Rissallen and the individuals who had accompanied him: the commander of the Coalition army, several unhappy looking officers, and the highest ranking members of parliament. The usual cronies.

Tibor Frix stepped out of the way, his hooded eyes ever-watchful as the prime minister stepped forward and crossed his arms at the wrist over his chest, bowing low.

She took a moment to catch her breath. “Rise.”

“I’m afraid I have disturbing news, Your Highness.”

“Speak in terms I can use, Kellen.” Rissallen’s lips twitched. He hated when she called him by his given name. “‘Disturbing’ means nothing to me.” She held her sword up to the cold winter light filtering through the skylight and admired the sparkle of tourmalian. Then she sliced her sword through the air. It made a humming noise as it arced in a half-circle. The green glow of plasma reflected in the men’s nervous eyes. Simultaneously, they took a step back. Except Supreme Commander Neppal, who regarded her as if she were a useless figurehead.

Wasn’t she? After all, these men came to her only under the most unusual circumstances—and never to ask her advice. They fed her the information as if worried they’d upset or...disturb her...and had done so ever since she took the throne as a child, thrust into the role after her entire family died in a tragic accident.

But even though they often kept her ignorant of their silly facts, she frightened them, and she liked that. As long as she inspired fear, she maintained her power over them. If they ever lost their fear of her...

Don’t think of that. You’re strong, a warrior. Keira stabbed and parried an imaginary opponent, finishing with a vicious lunge at the Supreme Commander’s heart.

Neppal didn’t even flinch. She moved forward until the pointed tip of the blade made a hissing sound as it pressed ever so lightly into the officer’s gaudy, beribboned uniform. Pinned over his heart were medals and commendations that he’d probably earned but, regardless, his condescending attitude irritated her.

Her mouth tipped in a smirk as she withdrew the blade and noticed the fleck of charred fabric around the tiny tear. That is for thinking you are better than me, you arrogant bastard. But she said coquettishly, “Oh! I must be more careful. You’ll be visiting your tailor later, won’t you?” She dusted a hand over the officer’s broad chest. “I’m sure it can be repaired.”

Dark brows lowered over angry eyes but Neppal knew better than to stare her down. A second later he turned his eyes to the floor. Good boy.

“Taye!” Keira snapped her fingers to summon her favorite attendant. The slender, baby-faced eunuch took the sword and replaced it with a scented towel which she used to blot perspiration from her face. It had been a brutal workout. Her skin gleamed, her muscles trembled. She’d worked her body to the limit, and gods, it felt good. She wanted nothing less than total control over her body, and so she pushed it, sculpting it, emulating the warrior queens of the distant past when being a queen probably meant something. Meant something more than being a gorgeous creature bred to produce princes and princesses. An heir factory: that’s what she was to them. A breeder. All because she was the last of her line, and they wanted more. If it wasn’t a sin, the Coalition would have cloned the holy Sakkaran bloodlines by now to be done with her. Her pedigree was probably the only reason she was still alive. As the last surviving member of her family, the Coalition needed her—needed her because her ancestors were gods to trillions of religious citizens and no one wanted to risk taking that away and destabilizing the Coalition, especially when murderous Drakken hoard was breathing down their necks.

But that’s why she had generals around. It was their job to play war games with ships and guns, not hers.

Keira tossed the towel over her shoulder. Taye rushed to retrieve it. The men followed her through an arched doorway to an expansive polished crystal table. Sheets of gold trapped inside the crystal reminded her of autumn leaves kicked up in the wind. Fall was a short season on this world, like every other season that wasn’t winter. In fact, she’d missed autumn this year completely. First there had been summer, then, oops, fall had sped by before she’d next had a chance to step outdoors.

Blink, and the seasons other than winter were gone. Now it was too frigid to venture past the palace doors. The cold of this world had long ago seeped into her heart. Maybe it was why she cared less and less about venturing outside. Or perhaps having to be accompanied everywhere by Tibor Frix and his merry band of eunuch guards had taken the enjoyment out of it. They were present at all times, except when she had to relieve herself, and only because she’d protested.

She was the last of her line. What did she expect?

Her smart-chair floated away from the table, and folded around her comfortably when she sat in it. The officials waited until she was seated before they did so. Goddesses first. “Sit, gentlemen, please.”

She threw a longing gaze at the door to her private chambers. Steam floated out of the room as the attendants prepared her post-workout bath. She should be soaking in cloud-bell scented water, not putting up with these insufferable men who wanted to talk about the most boring subjects imaginable.

“Your Highness, the news we bring you today is troubling,” Neppal said, dragging her glare away from the irksome prime minister. The supreme commander was the leader of the entire army with an ego to match. Good thing it was never proposed that she take Neppal as her mate. What a disaster that would have been. “There is a new and serious threat to the Coalition. I have confirmed reports of an encounter between a planetary acquisition force and a rogue planet at the edges of civilized space. The intelligence minister in fact was working on this when he met his tragic fate. The world is known as Earth, and they appear to maintain a substantial battle fleet. We cannot as yet determine the types of vessels, nor the technological level, but we have teams working on it.”

Tibor Frix interrupted. “Is the palace at risk?” The sharpness in his tone caught Keira’s attention. He rarely spoke up, but his eyes were focused like lasers on the commander.

“Absolutely not. Their fleet formed a defensive barrier, preventing the acquisition force from landing, but made no move to attack. We are still the larger power by far, but they are respectable in their own right. That we didn’t know about them before is the issue that disturbs me. Where do their loyalties lie? This we must determine.”

“But they’re nothing but a frontier world,” Keira exclaimed. “Country bumpkins. Yet you act as if they have the power to swing the balance of power in the galaxy.”

“They do.” The warning in the commander’s dark eyes made her shiver. “If they were to align themselves with the Drakken.”

Keira went very still. She refused to admit to fear, and she’d rather die than do so, but the mere thought of Lord-General Rakkuu bringing his army to the palace gates stabbed fear deep into her heart. Not only would he want to conquer her Coalition worlds, he want to conquer her. He was growing old, but he had a son nearing adulthood, she’d heard. It was said the boy would likely grow up to be worse than his sire.

“No more talk of the Hoard,” she commanded. “Earth will join us. You will find a way to make it so.”

“I’ve called an emergency session of parliament,” Rissallen. “In light of this threat to our national security, it would reflect well if you attended.”

“Attend...” He wanted her to go into that chamber? Keira fought a wave of dizziness. The thought of the cavernous room, the noise of many voices... Her head spinning in confusion, the grief choking her, the fear. She could not. It would be all too reminiscent of when she was summoned before a full session of parliament the day she learned of her family’s fate. She’d felt so small, so frightened. Helpless. She’d never again set foot in those chambers.

She tossed her hair and sniffed in disdain. “I have no patience for politics. Send me summary.” Which she’d have Tibor summarize even further, while her attendants gave her a post-bath massage or painted her toenails. Every government communiqué was condensed by Tibor. He was invaluable. Without him she might actually have to pay attention to what was going on. “You are dismissed.”

The visitors bowed low, mumbling the usual respects, and left.

Only Tibor remained behind, silent, ever-watchful. “What?” she demanded when he continued to ponder her. She couldn’t tell if there was censure in his scrutiny or pity. If he didn’t agree with her aversion to politics, so be it. She wasn’t going to change for him—or for anybody. She had her reasons for doing things, and they were private. She had no desire to share her inner thoughts with anyone, especially a man.

She shoved away from the table and stood, sending the chair spinning. It collided with a display shelf and sent a priceless vase crashing to the ground. What did it matter? Everything was priceless around here. They’d find another trinket in the museums. Unlike people, objects could always be replaced. “Taye,” she yelled.

The boyish eunuch scurried forward. “How may I serve, My Queen?”

“Bring me my daggers.”

The eunuch returned with a set of ancient throwing knives. She snatched the box and stormed into her private chambers. The only way she could ease her apprehension was to work with weaponry.

A breath exited as she hurled a dagger at a padded wall. She selected another. The knife went hissing through the air. It landed in the same spot as the first, shattering the ivory hilt. Another replaceable object, she thought, hefting another dagger.

Keira kept burying daggers in the wall until she’d exhausted her supply—and herself. Muscles trembling, she raised her arm to throw the last knife when the communication screen taking up half of one wall distracted her attention.

The screen was illuminated, signaling in incoming visual.

Damn politicians. What more could they possibly want to bore her with? Furious at the annoyance, the invasion of privacy she whirled on the screen. “Display message!” The visual came to life.

She stormed forward. “I thought I made it clear that I’m not interested in—”

The sight of the gorgeous man slouched in the cockpit of a fighter craft brought her up short. Their shocked eye contact was instant and intense, and for one dizzying moment, the room around her faded away, the sounds becoming muffled. In those few beats of her heart, she didn’t know what to say or think.

Swiftly, the trespasser’s shock slipped into curiosity and a dark, amused, flicker of male appreciation which made her acutely aware of how form-fitting her workout wear was when damp. In his gaze, she felt naked, a sensation that was unexpectedly, breathlessly, and infuriatingly arousing. “How dare you?” How dare he what? She didn’t have any idea, but she felt utterly...invaded. By the gods. “Identify yourself immediately!”

Keira gripped the dagger and strode forward to confront the trespasser, intending to make her displeasure perfectly clear.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Demons as Aliens

Our all-too-common xenophobic reaction to people exotically different from ourselves is well illustrated in the innovative fantasy novel THE DEMON'S DAUGHTER, by Emma Holly, which I may have mentioned a few weeks ago. Here's what I said about it in a recent issue of my monthly newsletter (which interested readers can subscribe to at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/margaretlcartersnewsfromthecrypt):

Set in an alternate-world analogue of Victorian London, this novel envisions an Earth on which "demons" called the Yama dwell in the far north and have begun to mingle with ordinary human beings. Not truly demonic, the Yama are another species, humanoid but not human, capable of draining "etheric energy," and some of them find human etheric energy irresistibly tempting. Scotland Yard Inspector Adrian Phillips specializes in tracking down missing children, including those illicitly sold to the Yama. He has undergone enhancement with Yama implants that endow him with superhuman strength, a benefit that comes at a price of exhaustion in the aftermath of each use of this power. His colleagues view him with suspicion because he has accepted this operation, but the department needs him because he is one of the few officers who can function effectively in the part of the city where the Yama comprise the majority. His work brings him into contact with Roxanne, an artist who takes him in after he has been injured while incognito in a dangerous sector of the metropolis. Soon afterward, Roxanne discovers that she is half "demon," a crossbreed previously thought to be impossible. Adrian's enemies and those of Roxanne's newfound Yama father, a prominent diplomat, place the two protagonists' lives as well as their relationship at risk. Moreover, Adrian's love affair with Roxanne threatens his law-enforcement career, the core of his identity. Since the late Victorian period is my favorite era, I found Holly's adaptation of that world enthralling, an excellent piece of world-building. Also, she writes some of the best erotic scenes I've read in a long time, both hot and tender.

This book presents several intriguing aspects, including the way Adrian is thought of as "tainted" by association because of his implants, even though they enhance his abilities and, viewed objectively, don't make him any less human. I'm especially intrigued, though, by the fact that the Yama are labeled "demons" although they're natural creatures, because of their differences and their mysterious (to human observers) powers. I'm reminded of the treatment of demons in the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL universe. In the early episodes of BUFFY, we get the impression that all demons are evil. Although we gradually discover they aren't demons in the religious sense—fallen angels—we still assume, along with Buffy and her friends, that they're evil by definition. Later, however, we learn that "demon" seems to be a generic term for creatures from other dimensions (some of them being "hell dimensions," but not necessarily all). Such beings belong to a wildly various collection of species; indeed, some are incorporeal, while many are quite physical, though with superhuman powers. Some demons are harmless, and some, such as Clem on BUFFY and Lorne on ANGEL, are actually nice. When Angel and company visit Lorne's home dimension, they find that over there human beings are regarded as the monsters! Moreover, Angel's late, lamented partner Doyle is half demon, and toward the end of the series, Cordelia becomes infused with demonic traits to enable her to endure the agony of her visions. So the concept of "demon" becomes almost equivalent to "alien," carrying all the ambiguity of that term.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg's essay "Vampire with Muddy Boots" draws a distinction between the horror mode and the science fiction mode of conceptualizing the Unknown. In the horror worldview, "the Unknown is a menace because it's a menace." A vampire (or a demon) is an enigmatic threat to be exterminated. In the SF mode, on the other hand, the Unknown can be understood, a process that often neutralizes the menace and promotes a rapport between the self and the Other. Even if the Other is a "demon."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

eye candy

I'm swamped today, but wanted everyone to enjoy these pictures. You can see them at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/cassini-essay-4/index-flash.html?msource=FL090606&tr=y&auid=1942252

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

. . . but the author's job is never done.


Your publisher may work from sun to sun, but the author's job is never done.

Today, authors even with the big Manhattan and international publishers, have to do self-promotion that was basically forbidden to authors 30 years ago -- even 20. An author who did what is demanded today was considered stigmatized as an amateur without a future in the business.

Yes, the internet has changed the whole world of publishing and is changing the entire world of FICTION -- what I call the Fiction Delivery System -- more and more on a daily basis.

The huge corporations (Sony, United Artists, etc etc) have decided we have become too big and important to ignore anymore. So they're at war with small entrepreneurs the world over to grab market share of e-book, podcasting, internet radio, and other video niches that fiction consumers now flock to.

Well, that's the key isn't it? An author has to promote to her own market, just like any business, and if necessary make a market. Market is the foundation of promotion.

Here are several internet based opportunities for the right author with the right product, (i.e. books, e- or otherwise.)

1) Promote yourself by becoming known as a Philanthropist:

Sime Center on simegen.com is looking for a new manager. Sime Center connects authors, artists, and charity organizations. The author or artist provides a short story or artwork which the Sime Center manager posts for one month and promotes. The readers donate $2 through PAYPAL (money never handled by Sime~Gen Inc.) and get a good story to read.

A writer has two ways to take advantage of this --

A) Donate a story, become known to readers who wouldn't otherwise have seen your work. Use a short story in a universe where you write novels and get a link to where the novel is sold. Become known as someone who walks the walk you talk about in your books, compassion.

B) Volunteer to work on Sime Center, either soliciting stories from authors or maintaining the html pages. Or both.

2) Sime~Gen Inc. has a large and thriving Reviews Department and is looking for a new head for that operation as the current head wants to rebuild our Romance Section. Become known to and network with Agents, Publishers, Publicists, Writers, Artists, and some people in the video industries as we also review films. You never know when a contact can save your career.

3) The Reviews Department of Sime~Gen Inc. tends to use professional writers as reviewers and is known for that. Volunteer as a Reviewer, get lots of free books, and many iterations of your name on the web cross-connected in search engines with other authors' names. Qualified professional writers are elligible to become independent review columnists in this department.

4) Internet Radio: One of our Sime~Gen Reviewers is an internet radio entrepreneur with a vastly successful podcast. She is owner of an internet radio station and has openings for part time Radio Show hosts and hostesses to interview authors about their latest works.

If you have a voice that records well and would like name recognition with readers, this could be your most inexpensive way to reach thousands of readers in an established audience. It could be your entre into professional radio -- all it takes is experience and a reputation among your followers, and here you can get experience for your resume and followers who will listen to you on other networks.

5) volunteer to be interviewed on podcast about your latest book.

If any of these opportunties awakens your interest -

See: http://www.simegen.com/simecenter/


http://www.simegen.com/agreements/ to see how we do business. (this section does not apply to the radio exposure).

email simegen@simegen.com with your relevant experience and general resume.

Monday, October 23, 2006


There's an old-- and somewhat disparaging-- anecdote in which Mr. Average American travels to Paris, France and complains to his wife, "Know what's wrong with this place? Too many durned furrinners who can't speak English!"

The problem with some of speculative fiction and science fiction/fantasy romance is the opposite one. For some unknown reason, everyone in the universe speaks English. American, Canadian or British version, but they all speak English.

Maybe this is a reaction to too many visits to Paris (can there be too many visits to Paris?). More likely, it reflects an author's fear of not understanding how to build a realistic language or of confusing the reader with alien phrases or terms.

Fears well founded. On the other side of the intergalactic literary coin, there are those spec fic and SFR novels in which the use of an alien language is a jarring distraction. It's overdone, comically done (and the intention is not to be comical) or snobbishly done (what, you mean you haven't memorized the Klingon dictionary?).

One of the necessary parts of world building, one of the necessary parts of crafting a believable spec fic novel, is the inclusion of alien concepts, religions, cultures and terms. Words.

“I want you. Yav chera.” His hoarse whisper filled her ear. “Yav chera, Trilby-chenka. Tell me you want me.”

She turned her face slightly to look at him. There was a softness in the lines of his face she’d never seen before. An openness. A vulnerability. It tugged at her heart.

Yav chera,” she replied softly.

His thumb covered her lips. “Yav cheron. If you want me, it is yav cheron. When I want you, which is all the time, it is yav chera.”

He moved his thumb and brushed his lips against hers.

Yav cheron,” she told him. She laced her fingers through his hair and pulled his face back to hers.
(from Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair)

The trick is to make the inclusion of the words, the phrases, the names, the terms as natural and effortless as possible for the reader. The reader will be reading/hearing this language for the first time. But that's not a unique situation in spec fic. The reader is also encountering sickbays and starship bridges for the first time, or alien city streets, or space station corridors. Or forests thick with flora and fauna heretofore unknown and unimagined.

If you can make a reader see those things-- those station corridors, those lofty forests-- you can make them hear and understand your alien language.

One of the easiest ways I used above: make one person explain the language to the other. “I want you. Yav chera,” Rhis says to Trilby, thereby informing the reader of the meaning of the words 'yav chera'. He goes further by correcting her: Yav cheron is what she should say to him. So the reader begins-- consciously or unconsciously-- to see a pattern: chera/cheron. Female/male.

I use this same template for Rhis's language Zafharish, through the rest of Finders Keepers. But it's not a template I invented. I gleefully filched it from two workbooks I have on my bookshelf: Italian Made Simple and Vamos Apprender Portuguese.

And I've just taught you something else: you may not speak a word of Portuguese, but by comparison, by equivalency, you're going to at least figure that Vamos Apprender Portuguese is a book with the same function as Italian Made Simple.

“Ground forces. Like your marines,” he said, plucking at the insignia of crossed swords on his chest, “but we call ourselves Stegzarda. Stegzarda means perhaps ‘strength command’ in your language. We assist the Imperial Fleet when it comes to border outposts.”

Farra nodded. “Especially with recent

“Aggression.” Mitkanos corrected her.
(from Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair.)

Farra says the word in Zafharish (Trilby's at the table listening to all this). Mitkanos, her uncle, corrects her. He also, conversationally, defines another term for Trilby.

Just as a good writer weaves in essentials elements and clues through dialogue (never, never using an info dump!), so a good spec fic writer can weave bits and pieces of a language into conversation.

But let's get back to using Vamos Apprender Portuguese as a template. You don't have to use 'We're Going to Learn Portuguese' (which is what that title says). You can use Russian or Japanese or Swahili as a template. Or you can combine templates of several languages. The point is, start with a basic linguistic template and it'll make your language-world building go so much smoother.

In Vamos, we learn o amigo and a amiga both mean 'friend'. We also see that our amigos are male and our amigas are female. (And yes, this is the same as Spanish and Italian - which is another point to keep in mind). We also see that the subject pronoun is often dropped (I, she, we) and the ending of the verb denotes the subject pronoun: Eu falo (I speak) is the same as Falo (I speak). Falamos is We speak. Same as Nos falamos.

Bear with me. I'm not trying to prep you for a trip to Rio de Janeiro, nice as that would be. I'm trying to show you that if it's done on this planet, you can do it on your planet.

Find a language template and use it. In Finders Keepers, I used Portuguese, Polish/Russian and un petite peu of French. Not the words - but the structure and conjugations. The sequence of words. And obviously, the sound of words.

Which brings me to another point about language-world building: not everyone sounds the same, even if they speak the same language.

Drogue’s bright-eyed gaze ran up and down my length, or lack of. “Captain Chasidah Bergren. Yes.” He stuck out his hand.

I accepted it.

“You are well?” he asked.

I tried to place his accent. South system, Dafir? Possibly. “All things considered, yes.” Some of my wariness returned. The Englarians were invariably cooperative with the government. I still had visions of a firing squad as a reception committee, Sully’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
(from Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair.)

When I was a wee kidling, my parents gave me this enormous dictionary that contained a number of appendices, including 'Regional Variations In American Pronunciation' by Charles K. Thomas, PhD. Of course, even at 11 years old, I knew not everyone sounded alike. My grandmother, from Poland, spoke nothing like my teachers at school. And my neighbor Patty's parents, who were from Tennessee, sounded very different from anyone in my small town in New Jersey. But I'd never before seen those differences in writing. Dr. Thomas delineated ten different speech regions in the US of A. Ten! Eastern New England, North Central, New York City, Middle Atlantic, Western Pennsylvania, Southern Mountain, Southern, Central Midland, Northwest and Southwest.

And yet we have spec fic novels that while, yes, they include an alien language, all the aliens in the entire galaxy sound the same. No, they won't. They may read the same to the reader but they won't sound the same to your characters. Someone--like Chasidah, above--will notice the difference. You want your character to notice the difference. Different languages are as essential to world building as different religions, customs and even climate.

And just as with the weaving in of your alien culture or climate, use of an alien language must be done with a delicate touch. You're still writing for an English-speaking audience (or whatever other language your novel is written in). You must provide your reader with enough of a story they can understand or they won't slip into your fictional world.

Pick five or six key phrases; eight or ten key words, sprinkle your dialogue with them just enough times for the words to feel familiar. You don't jump when you walk into a French restaurant and are greeted with "Bon soir". The words, the sound, the accent belong in the setting. Your alien language should work the same way. Make the language flow easily with the scene any time you use it. Don't force your reader to stop and puzzle over it, or it might draw him out of the story. And then he'll put your novel down, grumbling… "Too many durned aliens in that book!"


(This article originally appeared in SFROnline)
To learn to speak Zafharish, click HERE

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Chess at full tilt" or "Chess at a sprint" or "Chess in bed"

In Insufficient Mating Material, apart from the title, the climactic chess got left out, and so did mating in bed.

There aren't too many beds on uninhabited desert islands on alien planets. The cover artist suggests how my hero and heroine might improvise, and I've blogged about that before.

I once had a chess scene in the version of Insufficient Mating Material that was 300 pages too long for publication, but the revealing conversation that my romantic alien couple were supposed to have over the chess board (improvised out of a variety of conch-like shells, played on hard sand) had to be reassigned in order to save paper, ink, and yawns.

To my delight, as I research the history, attitudes, mindset and culture of fencers and sword fighters for my next book, I'm learning that chess --especially lightning chess-- and swordplay have more than a little in common, though duelling with a naked weapon is potentially deadly.

The first book I chose to read, for the pragmatic reason that my local library had it (and one other that my sword master recommended) is BY THE SWORD - A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samauri, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions -- by Richard Cohen.

How could I not dive into it with an extended title like that, and it has the coolest cover showing a gauntleted hand elegantly curled around the hilt of a sabre... at least, I think it is a sabre? The painting is a detail from Le Maitre D' Armes by Tancrede Bastet.

By the way, "Chess at full tilt" and "Chess at a sprint" are mottoes that my local fencing club uses.

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Vampire Lust

Since no discussion topic has occurred to me this week, I've decided to post a short excerpt from my first vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING, from Hard Shell Word Factory (www.hardshell.com). It illustrates my approach to the intersection of blood and eroticism for vampires. My vampires are members of a natural nonhuman species, who enjoy erotic gratification by drinking from human donors ( as opposed to ordinary nourishment, most of which comes from animals, and totally separate from reproductive sex among themselves, which happens rarely, because of their long lifespans). They can't get fulfillment from the blood of their own kind. In this scene, Roger Darvell doesn't yet know that he's a vampire-human hybrid (he thinks his blood thirst is pathological), and he doesn't recognize Sylvia as a vampire because he doesn't know they exist. The two of them have met while both trying to prey on the daughter of their hosts at a party. They fled after almost getting caught:

He felt Sylvia's smoldering anger, but she docilely followed him out of the house. She balked only when he led the way down the circular drive to his black Citroen. "I'd rather take my own car."
His hand clamped onto her arm. "You can pick it up tomorrow. I'm not letting you escape until we have this out." He sensed her debating whether to fight him and rejecting the idea. Though she was tall for a woman, he was taller and outweighed her. He shoved her into the passenger seat, then got in on the driver's side and leaned across her to fasten her belt and lock the door. She watched him speculatively as she accepted these indignities. He sensed her anger yielding to curiosity.
He roared out of the driveway in a shower of gravel. Beside him, Sylvia wedged herself against the far door, subdued by his display of temper. After skirting the perimeter of the M.I.T. campus, he headed north out of Cambridge. Thankful for the late-night dearth of traffic, he didn't slack off the accelerator until they came to a scenic turnoff on Route 1A several miles out of town. The car swerved off the road and squealed to a stop.
Sylvia gave Roger a wary look. "Are we getting out?" She scanned the marshland beyond the low wall of unworked stone, as if evaluating its suitability as a refuge. Roger gripped her shoulders and jerked her around to face him. "What is this, rape?"
"Not exactly." His inflamed thirst left him with no patience for hypnotic seduction. He'd rely on physical force and wipe her memory later. He came down upon her.
Her resistance astonished him. Rather than overcoming her easily, he had to use all his strength to keep her immobilized. She kicked and squirmed in his grasp, twisting her neck away from his mouth, her own teeth bared as she tried vainly to retaliate. But she had no chance against him. Pinning her legs with one knee, he bit into her throat with a roughness unusual for him.
When her blood began to flow, she relaxed, not cooperative, but resigned. The taste was cool and tart, not the hot richness he expected. Despite Sylvia's residual excitement, satisfaction eluded him. He felt no outpouring of vitality from her, only an emptiness like his own. Baffled, he finally drew back, still unappeased.
She gazed at him, heavy-lidded, and pressed her palm to the oozing gash on the side of her neck. "What's the matter with you? Don't you know we can't get nourishment from each other?”
His rage dissipated by the struggle, Roger offered her his folded handkerchief, resisting the impulse to apologize for the red flecks staining her gown. "What do you mean, `we'?"
Sylvia wearily dabbed at her wound. "You mean you don't know? That's impossible." Her eyes probed his.
He sat up straight on his side of the car. "What are you raving about?"
"Come off it! With that strength, and your psychic power -- you have it, I felt you trying to manipulate me -- and those teeth? You're my kind. I wasn't sure until just now, because you feel somehow human, too, but you are."
He stared through the windshield, his fingers cramping on the wheel. He felt overheated in his suit jacket, stifled by the knot of his tie; he envied Sylvia's lightweight clothes. "Human? What else could I be? What do you mean, your kind?"
Again she projected bewilderment. "Maybe I did read you wrong. You don't feel right -- but you don't feel human, either."
*The woman is schizophrenic, and I'm listening to her.* "Are you saying that you're not human?"
She forced a humorless smile. "You don't believe me."
"Do you expect me to?"
*What about the things she mentioned, though? Especially the quasi-telepathy?*
Well, what about it? Some educated and otherwise rational people did believe in auras and paranormal perception. Stipulate that the power was more than delusion, that he did possess an empathic passkey to other people's emotions. If he met a woman who shared not only that power but the same perversion he suffered from, it made sense that they would be drawn to each other. Perhaps the power to read emotions predisposed to an obsession with blood. That didn't mean he had to accept Sylvia's proposed folie a deux.
"Can't you decide about having me committed later?" she said. Her shoulders twitched, and he glimpsed the tautness of her nipples through the rippling crepe de chine of her dress. She hugged her arms to her chest. "You've got both of us needing it in the worst way."
His own nerves vibrated in sync with the thirst she projected. Regardless of her mental balance or lack thereof, she certainly shared his obsession. "What do you suggest?"
"Drive," she said through clenched teeth.
He pulled onto the highway and floored the accelerator. After a few minutes she said, "Better slow down, or you won't be able to stop in time."
He noticed her eyes darting from window to window in a restless circuit of the visual field. "What are you looking for?"
"At this hour?"
"You'd be surprised." She didn't pause in her scan of the roadside. Over twenty minutes passed before she pointed to a figure standing on the shoulder. "There. Pick her up."
Roger slowed to a stop next to a teenage girl in a denim jacket, holding a crayoned sign that read "Cape Cod." "She's a bit young, isn't she? And what's the matter with her? Doesn't she know she's begging for assault or murder?" he said to Sylvia.
"Yes, isn't it lucky for us that people are such idiots?" she replied. Opening the door, she leaned out and beckoned to the hitchhiker.

A Writer's Life

A writer's life

I haven't been a regular blogger and I am sorry. Life keeps getting in the way. First and foremost I had to finish KISS ME DEADLY, my July 07 romantic suspense release . The galleys (final proofs) came in on ISLAND HEAT, the Feb 07 release. And both books needed quotes, dedication pages and acknowledgments. In addition, I've been traveling to conferences. In the last few months I've been to St. Louis, MO, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston and DC. I'm not complaining. . .I love to travel and even got to do a local TV appearance. It's been fun. Time consuming. But fun.

And now I'm in the middle of helping to organize a Booktrailer (tm) for Circle of Seven Productions. We're shooting ISLAND HEAT with the same people who are on the cover of the book. (You can see them on my website www.susankearney.com then click on Future Books and scroll down the page) And I get to help with the script, the costumes, the actors. This past weekend we spent the entire day to get about 20 secs of film. Eventually, I'll put it up on my website . . . no, you can't see it yet. Sorry to be a tease.

And I'm also starting to think about the next book, POLAR HEAT, a sequel to ISLAND HEAT. This story is going back into space. And I need to start writing next week. All I need is a subplot, characters and an opening scene. Those openings drive me insane. It is so hard to write them. I must rewrite page one 20 times. On the other hand, I love the middle of the book, where I can put in all the complications. Endings get more difficult again. Wrapping up all those details is hard, too. Actually, there is nothing easy about writing. And the more I learn the more difficult it becomes.

So each book I try to work on one part of craft, hoping it will eventually become automatic. Sometimes this actually works. This book my goal is to deepen point of view. For a simple example, "He was worried," is a poor way to evoke emotion. It would be better to write, " He wondered if the kids were all right. Why weren't they running to the front door to greet him? Why couldn't he hear their happy voices? Maybe they were next door. "

It sounds easy to do, but for me, it's not. So the plan is to work on that as well as figure out my plot. All before Monday.

Susan Kearney

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How To Get Started Writing


Linnea wrote: "An old, and perhaps overused, adage often dangled before writers is to ‘write what you know’. . . . But that adage, in my humble opinion, ignores another old adage. One that has equal, if not greater weight in my authorly mind: 'write what you love.'"

And then she went on to make a magnificent point about how it shows when you write about what captivates and motivates you.

So lets take a closer look at just how to do it -- where to get a great idea for a novel that's just so good you have to write it because YOU want to read it.

Linnea nailed the core of the matter -- write what you LOVE. That's always where to start. But it's not enough all by itself. Most of us love things we admire, knowing we could never do that.

So of all the subjects you love, the subjects that brighten your day or make you skip lunch to get the money to buy a book about it, which of those subjects is something you didn't study in school but can't stop reading about now?

If you like Regency Romances, do you devour history books on Regency costumes, language, manners, culture, The Peerage, etc?

If you like Alien Romance, do you read anthropology, sociology, psychology, biology etc etc on the side? Incessantly?

What are you hobbies? What do you do for fun? What is it you can't stop doing and learning?

Now here's the point -- you are most likely to sell only the fiction you write that is about what you love, but it will sell only if it is based in what you know.

Linnea studied criminology -- but that's the near kin of psychology, philosophy, and even art, and that's why her books shine even without a mystery to solve or criminal to expose.

Here's where, as a writing teacher, I depart from most teachers. I do not believe in doing research for a book -- except to verify details to check your memory.

First you learn -- anything, everything, without limit -- eclectically and boring down into the depths of every website you can find on it.

Then you forget -- all that you've learned.

THEN you write about what you loved about it all -- and the story comes out powerful, memorable, and inspiring to others.

Why is that? Because a writer does most of her work with her subconscious mind. That's where all the stuff you learned but forgot went -- deep down inside where you understand life, the universe and everything. Art (such as Alien Romance Novels) is about sharing that vision with others.

So you do your research ten or twenty years before you get the idea for a story.

That means that if you want to get started as a writer, what you have to do is learn -- everything, anything, all day and all night, all the time. Then forget it. Then one day you'll be sitting outside watching thunderclouds morph in the sky, and BINGO you'll have the idea for a book you have to write because you need to read it.

Where does that idea come from? Your subconscious where you stored all the stuff you learned and forgot! The subconscious is a magnificently powerful creative tool and I do suggest you make friends with yours!

When that idea strikes, you'll know everything you have to know in order to write it, and the words can just flow. That's what makes writing so much fun -- you don't have to abort the creativity to go master a whole realm of knowledge. When you're done, verify your details, and put the thing on the market.

You write what you know -- and you know it because you love it!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, October 16, 2006

From Sleuthing to Sorcery (and Starships)

An old, and perhaps overused, adage often dangled before writers is to ‘write what you know’. There is a wisdom in that saying which rests in the fact that it’s difficult to convincingly portray something you’ve not experienced. How can you make a reader feel, smell, taste, love or fear something you’ve not?

But that adage, in my humble opinion, ignores another old adage. One that has equal, if not greater weight in my authorly mind: write what you love.

Like most authors, I’ve always written. I can’t imagine not writing but that doesn’t seem to be the issue with who read my books and then peruse my bio.

The question inevitably raised is: “What’s a nice (retired) private investigator like you doing writing about wizards and starships?”

In essence, why don’t I write what I know? Why don’t I write about sleuthing, about surveillance, about sussing out someone’s deep dark secrets?

There are actually several answers to that question, but the primary one is that I write about starships, space stations, demons called mogras and a furzel named Tank because I’m writing what I love.

Long before I donned my professional deerstalker, long before I lounged in ‘Criminology 101’ as an undergrad and ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ as a grad student, I was fixated on Star Trek®. Fascinated by Battlestar Galactica. Okay, I’ll give away my age and state I never missed an episode of Lost In Space. The original show from way-back when there were only seven channels to choose from on television.

I went into private investigation (well, first I went into journalism) because it was a way to make a living. But my heart belonged to the Starship Enterprise.

It never occurred to me to follow science as a career. Well, okay, astronaut training did occur to me but was quickly discounted after a glance in the mirror: five foot tall, thick glasses and (see report card dangling from left hand), never managed more than a ‘D’ in math… nope. Short, bad vision, can’t add. Definitely not astronaut material.

Not like Catherine Asaro or Susan Grant, two authors who write in the same genres as I do. I greatly admire both, not only for their literary talents, but their career choices. Grant is a 747 pilot who used to fly jets in the Air Force. Asaro is a real life scientist. They not only write what they love but they do what they love, and it shows in their terrific books which draw awards and hoards of fans.

But does that mean a short, myopic detective can’t write science fiction?

I never thought so, because like Grant and Asaro, I’m still writing what I love. And to me, that’s equally as, if not more important than writing what you know.

One thing I’ve learned over the years as a journalist and a detective is that knowledge can be acquired. But true passion for something, no, that has to come from within. And true passion is what adds the oomph to your plot lines and strums the heart strings of your characters and your readers.

That doesn’t mean I couldn’t write a gripping detective novel (actually, I have two in the works, though both have paranormal/science fiction elements). It means that I prefer the science fiction and fantasy realm for the breadth and depth it permits me with characters and plot. The genre permits me to play with, and shatter, stereotypes and beliefs about good and evil, as I did in my (now out of print) sword and sorcery novel, Wintertide. My heroine, Khamsin, is a village healer who has her world turned around when her closest friends, and eventually even her lover, are drawn from the very people she’d believed to be her direst enemies.

In Gabriel’s Ghost, which is science fiction with a shape shifter element, Captain Chaz Bergren learns a lot about prejudices…especially her own. The false accusations which have branded her a murderer and stripped her of rank and command in many ways mirror her own false beliefs about Stolorths and Ragkirils, two alien races she’d been raised to fear.

And in Finders Keepers, down on her luck starfreighter captain Trilby Elliot must face the biggest prejudice of all: her own lack of self worth.

These situations, these challenges could be contained in any genre’s novel, true. But by placing them in the science fiction and fantasy settings that I love, I can draw on that extra energy inside me and infuse that into my characters and their stories. Like other authors in my genre who’ve never piloted a starship—Robin D. Owens, Patricia Waddell, Elaine Corvidae, C.J. Barry and my 'sister' authors here on this blog—I can bring to life worlds none of us have ever experienced excerpt in our imaginations. And our hearts.

The unreal becomes real. And then we’re writing not only about what we love, but about what we know.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

My hero, with his weapon in his hand

Have I told you how much fun I have with researching my alien romances?
Possibly the high point of my week this week was a visit to a sword master's lair. My quest was to get inside the head of my next hero: Prince Djarrhett.

'Rhett is a swordsman, which seems rather anachronistic in a high tech, albeit feudal, world, so the Sword Master and I had a wide ranging chat lasting nearly two hours, which covered the real-life Sword Master's opinions of the fight scenes in the Bond movie Die Another Day, and The Phantom Menace. (He feels that the light sabres are cool, but is concerned about the balance of the hilt, given that light can't weigh much, which is why Darth Maul is his favorite!!) We also discussed the logistics of weapons aboard space ships. Swords come in various lengths, and the big ones --like rapiers-- could be rather antisocial.

I so love this analytical thinking!
You can bet that if an opportunity presents itself, a lot of Sword Master Todd's opinions will filter through into 'Rhett's point of view.

"Have you ever cut someone?" I asked, never hoping for an affirmative answer. Fencing is supposed to be safe, right?


"What does cutting someone feel like?"

I couldn't believe my luck! After all, if I'm going to write a swordfighting duel from the point of view of my hero, he is going to have to sink some portion of his weapon into someone else's flesh.

The answer presents some literary challenges, but I can handle that, secure in the knowledge that if any Sword Masters read my next book, they will not hurl it at a wall--or trash can-- because my hero feels unrealistic sensations.

I think I must have asked more than twenty questions. I will share one more:

"Is your image of yourself different when you have a sword in your hand?"

(Oh, I did ask what he'd fight in, if he did not have to worry about protection. Would you believe, Underarmor? )

"I feel younger, stronger and faster with a weapon in my hand."
I really liked that answer, because I can make use of a double entendre. Now, I have four books to read, including The Secret History of The Sword. I had no idea there was a secret history. I cannot wait to find out what it is!

Until next week.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Insufficient Mating Material --Writing Grievous

    Question: How does one spell confidant?

    Answer: Grievous, aka Gregory Bodley Harmon.

    Grievous began life as the ne'er do well mercenary, soured by life, down on his luck, with tendencies to court death-by-alien.

    Originally, in the first version of FORCED MATE written in 1993, he was hired as a glorified stretch limo driver and tour guide, solely to transport Prince Tarrant-Arragon from the Salisbury Plain area (where all the best UFOs land in England) to Cambridge, and then to Cerne Abbas in Dorset for a visit to the fertility symbol hill-figure.

    He was supposed to get left behind.

    But Prince Tarrant-Arragon had never met anyone, human or alien, who blurted out unpalatable truths to his face. Grievous told Tarrant-Arragon that his courtship manners sucked; that nice girls didn't behave like 70's Bond girls; and that it wasn't polite to stand guard too close outside a lady's bathroom door, even if she was a flight-risk.

    After a few hours of Grievous's lese-majestical critiques -- of everything from prehistorical porn, to modern local government, to whether a girl would tolerate bad breath if she knew it was a prince kissing her -- Tarrant-Arragon created the job of Earthways Advisor, and made Grievous an offer the human could not refuse.

    Thus Grievous, who'd been imprisoned for Grievous Bodily Harm (great bodily harm in the American legal system... how lucky Grievous was an English felon!) and had chosen Grievous as a suitably "hard" handle, found himself forced to quit smoking and take up a clean, fresh life in outer space.

    One cannot smoke on a spaceship. Even on a spaceship bigger than the biggest aircraft carrier, fresh air is a concern, and a whole system of swearing and insult-giving revolves around offensive smells.

    Of course, being an outsider, he makes potentially dangerous mistakes in FORCED MATE. He makes an even worse mistake in INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL, and his love life suffers a set-back. Now, I'm writing KNIGHT'S FORK, and again Grievous accidentally puts his employer into hot water.

    Grievous is quite a character. In his original incarnation he was heavily influenced by the Shakespearean character Enobarbus --whom I always thought was a bit of a misognynist-- the tough-guy Roman who felt such remorse he spouted a soliloguy to the Moon: Oh, sovereign mistress of true melancholy, the poisonous damps of night disponge upon me, that life --a very rebel to my will-- may hang no more upon me.

    That's quoted from memory from Anthony and Cleopatra. It might not be quite correct.
    If it isn't, I like it the way I remember it!

    Until next time.


Colby Hodge is out of town, so has generously invited Susan Grant to post
another excerpt from

by Susan Grant
copyright Susan Grant 2006
MARCH 2007
ISBN 0373771924;
HQN books

This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.

Chapter Two (continued)

“Aw, come on. Aren’t you curious?”

It reminded him of the times he and Evie got in trouble as kids. They were always going where they weren’t supposed to, giving and taking dares, playing with gusto. Jana was the serious one. Except for the night she met Cavin, she’d always behaved.

Supposedly the ship was pretty nice. A fighter. Cavin’s ship, on the other hand, was a troop transporter and ugly. He started walking along the furrow. Evie followed. There was a bounce in her step now. Her hesitance to view the spaceship was crumbling.

“But didn’t Cavin say something about staying away?”

“That was when the Reef was alive. The risk’s gone now. In fact, in the interest of national security, I say it’s our citizen’s duty to check it out.”

“Trespass, you mean. I like the sound of that. I’ll tell you what, Jared. The guy broke into my house, went through my things and scared my dog. I’d be happy to return the favor. This is the next best thing. Let’s go see his ship.”

While hunting for Cavin, the assassin had sneaked into Evie’s house looking for evidence. Evie’s house was holy ground—you didn’t mess with it, you didn’t criticize it, and you definitely didn’t invade it. The killer was probably lucky to be dead, because if Evie got her hands on him it wouldn’t be pretty. Especially after learning her psychotic, girly dog Sadie had been completely traumatized by the incident. Even staying at the ranch, surrounded by familiar people, the Chihuahua was continued to tremble and growl at nothing. Well, trembling and growling more than usual.

Jared helped Evie climb over a toppled, shattered oak tree. Beyond, the gouge in the dirt ended. The grass was flattened in a vaguely triangular shape. “There she is,” he said.

Jared and Evie walked forward, arms stretched out. It was like playing pin the tail on the donkey except with eyes wide open and without the donkey.

His hands impacted something solid. Bingo. His pulse kicked into overdrive with a spurt of adrenaline. “Say hello to the Prince, baby.”

“Say hello to the who?”

“The Prince.”

His sister gave him a pitying look.

“It’s my call sign. The Prince. I know what you’re thinking, but every fighter pilot has one. It’s part of the tradition. No one in the squadron calls anyone by their first name.” He’d hated “The Prince” at first. He’d won the name because of his privileged upbringing, his family’s celebrity. But over time, he’d made the name synonymous with shit-hot flying and unwavering professionalism. Now he wore it proudly.

“Okay, Prince. How do we get inside?”

“I have to find the hatch.” He ran his hands over the cool smooth hull. Cavin showed him how to get inside a dormant ship. He assumed the same technique would work for this one. The fuselage was rippled here, dented there, but not as damaged as he’d expected. He bumped up against what felt like a wing and climbed onto the surface.

“Careful, Jared.”

“Don’t lose your nerve, girl. This was your idea.”

“My idea? All I wanted to see were poppies.”

He found the seam of the hatch, just where he expected it to be, and the release. It opened smoothly. He swung his legs over the edge and dropped down.

The cockpit was snug and dark with room for only one person. But the craft had enough bells and whistles to make his little fighter-pilot heart roll over. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, more of the details became visible. Graceful, unfamiliar symbols labeled the smooth panels. An alien language.

God, you’re beautiful. “Say hello to the Prince, baby,” he murmured. “Say you’re mine.” He slid into the seat. It made a whirring noise and molded to his ass.
He jumped. “What the f—?”

“Jared!” Evie cried out from the open hatch.

“It’s okay. The seat moved. I didn’t expect it.” He was damn embarrassed to see that his pulse had doubled.

Enthralled, Jared took hold of the control stick as the ship continued to come alive. Lights came on, slowly, a clean white glow. One by one, the panels of instrumentation powered up. In front of him, a large rectangular screen with rounded edges glowed smoky gray. In a blink of an eye, it became transparent and he was looking outside at the fields. “This is how they see where they’re going,” he explained.

“Don’t be a spaceship hog, Jared. My turn.”

“Not yet. Wait until it finishes powering up.” They watched in wonder as the ship continued to unfurl. He’d give his right testicle for a chance at taking it up for a spin, to leave the stratosphere at mach twenty...to view the curve of the Earth...to experience weightlessness for longer than the top side of a reverse loop... Hell, maybe he’d throw in his eye teeth, too.

Suddenly, all went still. A silky female voice murmured something in a language he didn’t understand.

“What did she say?”

“I don’t know. It’s the ship’s computer, I think. Probably waiting for voice recognition.” One light blinked on the left hand rest. It resembled the incoming message light on the e-mail program on his laptop. It was too irresistible to ignore. He tapped his finger against the light and the screen turned white.
“Jared, what’s happening?”

“I’m not sure.” The forward screen was milky bright and rippled like smoke. A part of him not-so politely suggested that he might want to beat feet out of the ship, but curiosity kept him rooted in place. He extended a hand. “The light...it’s so beautiful,” he joked.

“Not funny. This is freaky. Come out, Jared. Please. Call Cavin.”

“Evie, check this out.” The milky screen slowly cleared. It revealed a large room sumptuously decorated in warm, cozy colors. Soft, comfortable looking furniture blended with what was obviously tech beyond anything they had on Earth: a small round sphere resembling a volleyball floating along near the floor; an entire wall glowed with rippling colors. “A window into another world,” he murmured.

Then voices from off screen erupted, speaking in an alien tongue. His heartbeat kicked up a notch.

“Uh oh. Jared.”

“I know. I hear them.”

The closer and louder the voices got, the more Jared hoped to God the screen wasn’t two-way. If it was, they were busted.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Presently I'm working on a short novel about a modern-day wizard who gets changed (for about 18 hours each day) into a St. Bernard by a witch's curse. In the process I have to decide, as with any shapeshifter, how much of his human intelligence and personality he retains in animal form. In a romance, another question to deal with is how much and what kind of attraction, in this form, he can feel toward the heroine without verging on bestiality.

In one of my favorite werewolf stories of all time, Anthony Boucher's novelette "The Compleat Werewolf," Prof. Wolfe remains completely human in mind when he transforms, but with the added advantage of a wolf's body and senses (plus supernatural resistance to any non-silver weapon). I love the humor of Wolfe's adjustment to his new condition. When I used this story as a partial model for my werewolf novel, SHADOW OF THE BEAST, the editor disliked the light touch (he wanted darker horror) and vigorously objected to having the heroine, as a wolf, think like an ordinary human being. So I altered my presentation to show her drawn deeper into the lupine experience of the world. As a beast, she can't read (the editor thought a wolf reading street signs was too silly), she doesn't think abstractly, and she has trouble focusing on whatever plans and goals she fixed in her mind before shifting. As for sexuality, she finds the process of transformation intensely arousing, but she changes back to a woman before doing anything erotic with the hero.

For what I'm thinking of as my "dog wizard" story, an erotic romance, I go for a lighter touch. It's fun to play with the predicament of a character who thinks like a man while wearing a dog's body and senses. He finds his occasional lapses into canine behavior somewhat embarrassing. While a dog, he enjoys the heroine's scent and touch, but actual arousal occurs only when he's human. In sleep, he uses the residual traces of his magic to enter her dreams and seduce her; in the dream realm, he's human.

Nancy Springer's YA novel THE HEX WITCH OF SELDOM features a man who incarnates the archetypal figure of the outlaw, trapped in the shape of a horse. A teenage girl buys the magnificent stallion and loves him fervently in the classic manner of girl-horse devotion. When she discovers his true nature, she still loves him passionately, but there is no hint of a physically erotic attraction between them. There is no hope that they can be together as a couple. Once she helps him get permanently restored to his true form, he has to go back where he belongs. It's a great story with mythic overtones, highly recommended.

In my erotic romance novella "Dragon's Tribute," the dragon has the power to transform into a man. He makes love to the heroine as a man, as well as when they're both in dragon shape. Also, as a dragon he uses his tongue and tail to satisfy her while she's in woman form. The editor allowed this activity because he's an intelligent creature and not any kind of real-life animal. Here, of course, there is no question of whether his mind remains intact in either of his forms; a dragon is superior in power and intelligence to human beings.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

We Made The Front Page!


I am first and foremost a FAN -- an SF Fan! And for me, that's the most prestigious status I have won in life.

How did that happen? Well, it's a lifelong story and the story of my life. I was a very lonely person outcast among my age-mates for having a huge vocabulary strewn with 4-syllable words and for loving school except for recess.

And then when I was in 7th Grade, I wrote a Letter of Comment (fan-speak LoC) to AMAZING MAGAZINE, and they published it with my address (not illegal in those days). My mailbox exploded with letters from the N3F (National Fantasy Fan Federation now on the web at http://www.n3f.org/N3F.shtml ) Welcommittee, and I dove in and became a snailmail letterhack because the dolts hadn't invented the web yet!

THIS is the world I was born to live in.

Over the years my books have been published and reviewed in the New York Times (in addition to reviews, a featured article on the front page of the Sunday Books section), Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, etc. etc. -- a number of magazines and newspapers across the country and internationally, and I've even had a few articles and interviews -- radio, TV, focused on me and what all I do. Even internet radio interviews! (see? THIS is my world!)

But THIS MONTH Jean Lorrah (http://www.jeanlorrah.com ) and I made the front page of a FAN NEWSPAPER!!!

We did the interview at WorldCon -- squeezing it in over breakfast before the daily race from panel to panel, and filled a couple of tapes which the reporter, Catherine Book, had to condense into some kind of sense. She did a great job.

But I had expected to be placed somewhere past the centerfold with 2 continuations. Instead, when my paper copy came in the mail, I saw that we're featured on the front page, ABOVE THE FOLD!!!! With a large picture of both of us!

Most writers would find this event of no note whatsoever. The newspaper circulates only within the SF/F community and mostly in the Southwest -- though a few subscribe from elsewhere. Nowadays it's posted on the internet too. But the paper is by fans about SF/F, and cons, and things of fannish interest. Others wouldn't find the target audience exciting.

For me this is an event to celebrate loudly and joyously.

I MADE THE FRONT PAGE! (with Jean's help of course!)

At this posting, the issue hasn't been put up on the web yet, but you will eventually find it under October/November at


And if you're into SF, you might want to read some previous issues or check out the advertisements which are demographically focused at US!

And hey, you can use 4-syllable words and not be rejected!

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Monday, October 09, 2006


Many of you have no doubt seen in-depth, incisive interviews by noted journalists such as Barbara Walters or Connie Chung. So have I. This isn't going to be one of them. This is just me, wearing my battered reporter's fedora, attempting to weasel out some good gossip from Admiral Rynan Makarian, newly appointed head of the Fifth Fleet. Those of you who've read AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS havealready met 'Mack', as he's known. Those of you who haven't, here's your chance to get up close and personal with a very tall, dark and handsome man!

Admiral Makarian, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I know getting Cirrus One Station into working shape hasn't been an easy job. How did you feel when H.Q. informed you of your new posting to Cirrus?

[leans back in his chair, arches on eyebrow] Honestly, I didn't know whether to be flattered, or to flee. Being the youngest, and newest, admiral in the fleet is something of a responsibility. And I was well aware of Cirrus One's reputation as a space station in the middle of nowhere. Well, maybe not quite in the middle of nowhere. As it's been said, it's located at the last exit before nowhere.

I anticipated there being some personnel problems, some residential problems, some supply problems. I feel fortunate that many of my best officers from the VEDRITOR agreed to accompany me. Lieutenant Pryor, Doc Janek, Commander Rand and of course, Lieutenant Tobias, my Number Two, have been a tremendous help.

What about those problems you didn't anticipate?

[smiles wryly] You mean, like Gille?

Why would you label Captain Gillaine Davre as a problem, sir?

[laughs] As someone who's known her much longer than I have has said, "With Gillie, it's always something". She has... a penchant for trouble. I think it comes from a very deep sense of right and wrong inside her, a very deep sense of fairness. However, she often attacks these problems by herself. It would have been a lot easier if she'd simply have told me what was going on. After all, Cirrus One is my station.

Are you saying that you were angry that she didn't tell you who she was?

At the time, I think I was more shocked, more surprised, than angry. Later, yes. But moreso because I was worried she didn't trust me. [leans forward] I'm a very straightforward person. I don't play games. My crew, my officers know that. I'd hoped Gillie did... well, actually, she did know that. But when I told her I was in love with her, the entire issue became more complicated. [smiles softly]

So what's it like, being in love with, and being loved by, a goddess?

Heavenly. [grins widely]

[groans] Thank you again for your time, Admiral Makarian. Please feel free to bring Lady Gillaine to the Intergalactic Bar & Grille anytime for a drink!

~Linnea, feeling silly today...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Undressing the heroine


Survival is more than a matter of making out.

Djetth and Martia-Djulia have been dropped into an alien sea, and are marooned on a deserted island.


“Haven’t you got a simple petticoat or shift under all that? No, I don’t suppose you have.” He tilted his head to one side and seemed to consider. “My T-shirt is bone dry. I could lend it to you.”

“I would not be seen dead in male underwear.”

“If you die, I’ll take it off you.”

Martia-Djulia hadn’t expected to laugh. Djetth’s warped sense of humor took her completely by surprise. She found herself laughing aloud before she could reflect on the unwisdom of encouraging him.

“That would be acceptable,” she said formally.

As they neared the fire, she straightened her back and lifted her chin. “Owing to the action of the sea water, I may require some assistance,” she said with as much dignity and detachment as possible under the humiliating circumstances.

“Of course,” Djetth said urbanely. “Your things have shrunk. I should have thought of that.”

“Why should you?” she questioned, wondering whether he was mocking her. It was, after all, quite implausible that her clothes had really shrunk.

He threw her a disquieting look.

“Are we as close to the fire as we want to be for this exercise?” he asked. “Some of this stuff you are wearing could conceivably be flammable.”

Martia-Djulia inclined her head in acknowledgement of his concern for her safety, then turned her back to him.

Nothing happened.

“My sleeves seem tight. I cannot reach between my shoulder blades. Please unfasten my dress at the back.”

“Oh, yes, of course. Happy to.” He sounded distracted.

Martia-Djulia felt his breath on the bare skin above her scooped neckline. His warm, clumsy fingers brushed the curve of her hips and curled around the back of her waist. It was almost as if he held her from behind at arms’ length while he bent to study the intricacies of her fastenings.

“Start at the top,” Martia-Djulia suggested.

“Hmmm,” he commented obscurely. Instead of obeying a simple instruction, he stroked his fingers up either side of her sensitive spine. “It seems to me that this fabric has not shrunk evenly. I think that there would be less strain if I were to alternate.”

Martia-Djulia didn’t know what to say. She could hardly contradict herself and tell him that the fabric had not shrunk. Yet, he seemed to be using shrinkage as a pretext to gently and firmly stroke her body around each successive —or alternating— fastening.

Up. And down. Up… It was most unnecessary.

INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL will be in bookstores as of January 31st 2007.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Where it all began

When talking of Futuristic Hunks I have to revisit where it all began. And that was of course with Star Trek. Yes I was addicted. The first episode I ever saw was the one with Kirk battling the rock monster and of course he got his shirt ripped off. Which leads me to think of Galaxy Quest and Tim Allen getting his shirt ripped off. Kind of not the same. And I wasn't more than ten at the time so not the same effect. But I did love Kirk...well just because he was Kirk.

But then Chekov came along. Sigh. For my just turned teen heart he was just the right fit. Think that's what they had in mind when he came on? Someone to connect with the teeny boppers?

Chekov with his cute brown hair and his exotic accent and his hippie ex girlfriend. Yep. Love at first sight. Trouble was I didn't know his first name until the hippie exgirlfriend showed up. Kind of hard to sigh Chekov.

I was glad to see he advanced in Star Fleet. Got his own command. Had a brain worm dropped in his ear. But he survived. I don't think I could have stood it if they killed off Chekov. But come to think of it I never saw him in one of those red shirts which was always a sure sign of disater.

Cindy Holby

(posted in her absence by Rowena Cherry)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Aliens Among Us

Recently I read an unusual "aliens among us" romance, THE DEMON'S DAUGHTER, by Emma Holly. Set in an alternate-world analogue of Victorian London, this novel envisions an Earth on which "demons" called the Yama dwell in the far north and have begun to mingle with ordinary human beings. Not truly demonic, the Yama are another species, humanoid but not human, capable of draining "etheric energy," and some of them find human etheric energy irresistibly tempting. Scotland Yard Inspector Adrian Phillips specializes in tracking down missing children, including those illicitly sold to the Yama. He has undergone enhancement with Yama implants that endow him with superhuman strength, a benefit that comes at a price of exhaustion in the aftermath of each use of this power. His colleagues view him with suspicion because he has accepted this operation, but the department needs him because he is one of the few officers who can function effectively in the part of the city where the Yama are in the majority. His work brings him into contact with Roxanne, an artist who takes him in after he has been injured while incognito in a dangerous sector of the metropolis. Soon afterward, Roxanne discovers that she is half "demon," a crossbreed previously thought to be impossible. Adrian's enemies and those of Roxanne's newfound Yama father, a prominent diplomat, place the two protagonists' lives as well as their relationship at risk. Moreover, Adrian's love affair with Roxanne threatens his law-enforcement career, the core of his identity. Since the late Victorian period is my favorite era, I found Holly's adaptation of that world enthralling, an excellent piece of world-building. Also, she writes some of the best erotic scenes I've read in a long time, both hot and tender. Reflecting on Holly's world started me thinking about other scenarios in which aliens establish a presence as a minority amid the human population.

In the "Tripods" YA trilogy by John Christopher (THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, THE CITY OF GOLD AND LEAD, and THE POOL OF FIRE, later supplemented by a prequel, WHEN THE TRIPODS CAME) extraterrestrials have built enclaves on Earth. As hostile conquerors whose motives are mysterious, they present a frightening enigma to the human characters, who know them only as monstrous, three-limbed machines (apparently modeled on the Martians in WAR OF THE WORLDS). Young people approaching adulthood are "capped" with helmets that make them docile slaves to the Tripods. Will, the teenage hero, escapes to the White Mountains and later infiltrates the City of Gold and Lead, a Tripod metropolis, where he becomes servant to one of the aliens. The ETs turn out to be tentacled creatures who can't survive in Earth's atmosphere. Knowledge brings Will some degree of understanding of them, but the Tripods are still implacable invaders.

More interesting in terms of a wide range of interactions between locals and interstellar visitors is Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. The earliest-published books focus on encounters between native Darkovans and the Terran newcomers. Darkover is, in fact, a lost colony from Earth's early period of interstellar exploration, but this fact isn't generally known until late in the series' chronology. So, to the feudal society of Darkover, where psychic powers called "laran" take the place of hard science, the Terrans in their spaceport compound, with their advanced technology, are aliens from a strange culture with odd customs and suspicious motives. Freedom of contact between Darkovans and Terrans varies over several generations, so that much of the time the two peoples appear exotic and mysterious to each other. THENDARA HOUSE involves a particularly interesting situation, with a Terran and a Darkovan woman essentially changing places, each having to adjust to life in the opposite culture.

Then there's the archetypal spaceport bar setting, like the tavern where Luke first meets Han Solo in STAR WARS. Neither invaders nor permanent residents, throngs of wildly different aliens from many worlds mingle on neutral ground. These four fictional universes suggest a few kinds of modus vivendi that might develop if the aliens came to us (instead of vice versa) without annihilating us on sight.