Guest Post

Our Hyperdimensional Mesh of Identities, by Alliah

“There is a common poor attempt at a joke … that consists purely in stringing together a series of marginalized identities and calling attention to it … as if the mere existence of someone like that would be so absurd it could only be laughable.”

Invisible 3 CoverAlliah is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which came out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can order the collection at:

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.

As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.

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Our Hyperdimensional Mesh of Identities

Growing up in the 90s and early 00s in the south-east of Brazil, all I saw in mainstream media were the same repetitive, harmful and offensive stereotypes about travestis in telenovelas and badly written comedy TV shows, and the effeminate gay men and macho lesbian women token characters whose non-conforming gender expression was grossly caricatured for cheap laughs.

As an openly queer young girl in school, I learned that I could be queer, but not too much, not too visibly. I’ve heard those laughs, and I internalized through bullying and ridicule that I should change how I presented myself to the world—which I did really fast by becoming the stock image of a non-threatening feminine girl, although I never hid my sexuality. My first awkward attempts at a masculine gender expression didn’t have time to blossom. I shoved it down some unreachable recess of my mind and avoided it for 10 years, which (along with compulsive heterosexuality and a binary cisnormative culture) is why it took me so long to understand my bisexuality and figure out my transmasculine non-binary gender identity.

Once I did, I uncovered a gender euphoria I’ve been cultivating ever since.

It took me years to understand the ways in which I inhabit my queer transmasculine genderfluid neuroatypical body, and my most powerful illumination came unexpectedly through the stories of a queer non-binary neuroatypical green witch: Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Wicked: Cover ArtI first met her in the book series The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire, where most aspects about her gender and sexuality were ambiguous or obscured between the lines, and later in fan fiction, where the depths of Elphaba’s intersectional identities (canon or not) could be explored to the fullest by writers that shared those same identities.

Despite being an avid reader of speculative fiction since childhood, it was only after these encounters with trans and non-binary characters in fan fiction during the first half of my twenties that I started researching these topics, that I found out where I belonged. I discovered a thriving community of authors from marginalized groups creating astonishing rebellious versions of every world I’ve ever dreamed of and countless others I couldn’t imagine would be paramount to my process of liberation.

I owe it mostly to the fictional characters and their creators that illuminated me—from early readings like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to the most recent fan fiction stories about a non-binary autistic Elphaba, a genderfluid bisexual Korra (from The Legend of Korra), and an agender transhumanist Root (from Person of Interest). I wish I could’ve met them sooner. Along the way to self-discovery, I had to collect all sorts of missing pieces with jagged edges and weird fractal shapes, and figure out a way to put them together myself. I was lucky to stumble upon the stories that I did and then to be able to find the communities that I needed. That’s why representation is vital. You cannot search for something you don’t even know exists.

There is a common poor attempt at a joke (that I’ve seen in both Anglophone and Brazilian online spaces), often directed at dehumanizing non-binary people and mocking activists working at the multidimensional core of intersections, that consists purely in stringing together a series of marginalized identities and calling attention to it, using the accumulation of these identities as a joke in and of itself, as if the mere existence of someone like that would be so absurd it could only be laughable.

One of the things fantasy author Jim Anotsu and I wanted to acknowledge when we wrote the Manifesto Irradiativo—our call to diversity and representation in Brazilian speculative fiction—is that our lives cannot be reduced to an isolated shelf in a bookstore or a niche market, thus we cannot be constrained to discussing the realities of our identities in those compartmentalized terms. We’re so much more than single-issue stories, than the same old one-dimensional narratives constructed to serve the gaze of the oppressor without making them examine their privileges and dismantle their systems of violence.

Those single-issue stories exist and persist for several reasons concerning the maintenance of racial, economic, and social power, amongst them because there is a fear of “too much” diversity. As if a book about a bipolar asexual bigender Afro-Brazilian person, for example, would scare away or alienate the common reader—who is always presumed to be the neurotypical cis straight white default that can handle only one unit of diversity at a time, served lukewarm, unseasoned. But as Audre Lorde said in a 1982 speech at Harvard University: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Stories matter. And we shouldn’t have the full extent of our existences cut, segregated, and dimmed in them. We deserve to live as a hyperdimensional mesh of identities when they want to flatten us, to be loud when they want to silence us, to occupy the spaces that have been negated to us, and to be wonderfully written and represented as such.

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Alliah/Vic is a bisexual non-binary Brazilian writer and visual artist working in the realms of the weird and pop culture. They’re the author of Metanfetaedro and have various short stories published in themed collections and on the web. They’re currently building too many independent projects, working on their first novel, and haunting your internet cables. Find them tweeting at alliahverso and newslettering in Glitch Lung. Or buy them a coffee at ko-fi!

Of Asian-Americans and Bellydancing Wookiees, by Dawn Xiana Moon

“We’re so conditioned to believe that white is the default that we write ourselves out of the worlds that we create.”

Invisible 3 CoverDawn Xiana Moon is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which comes out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can preorder the collection at:

Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

(It will be available for Nook as well, but we don’t have that link yet.)

Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.

As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.

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Of Asian-Americans and Bellydancing Wookiees, by Dawn Xiana Moon

We have always existed.

In the early days of the internet, back when we were on Prodigy or CompuServe and email addresses were long strings of numbers with a comma in between, I was answering distress calls on derelict starships. America Online (because it wasn’t yet AOL) launched an ad campaign that envisioned an internet with graphics; I dodged Borg at Warp Six. I outsmarted Q when he appeared on my bridge, launched photon torpedoes at Romulans, and flirted with fellow Starfleet officers in Ten Forward. I was thirteen. And like a good overachiever, I wondered if I could list being second-in-command of the CompuServe sim group Fleet 74 on lists of my activities and accomplishments, right next to years of piano lessons, parts in theatre productions, dancing and singing in the community show choir, and the environmental and video game clubs I’d started (and of course led as president).

My father is an aerospace engineer; by the time we moved from Singapore to the US, I was five years old and already lived in a world where discussing wrap drive was normal. My AP Biology teacher was shocked when I mentioned a singularity in class one day, surprised that a high school senior would know the term (which she made me define in front of the class before she was satisfied), but I’d been raised on a steady diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and every science fiction and fantasy novel I could get my hands on—my father handed me Isaac Asimov books in elementary school and I read them, wondering why I didn’t have a robot nanny or automatic food-making gadgets. I am a native speaker of technobabble.

All that to say: I’ve always been a nerd. And proudly so. But growing up I rarely saw people that looked like me onscreen—sure, we had Sulu, but George Takei was closer to my grandparents’ age than mine. Asian characters were few and far between, and girls? Girls didn’t like Vulcans or computers. Girls especially didn’t like dancing and princesses and talking about the space-time continuum all at the same time. Or so I was told.

But I was Asian. And female. And I existed.

I was the girl who hung out at the arcade playing Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, first surprising boys who saw a girl in front of a fighting game, then shocking them when I won. I was the foreigner who walked into first grade in the middle of the school year, a Chinese kid from another country but a native speaker of English. I was the founding member of the high school forensics team who learned quickly that judges gave higher ratings to performances of minority stories by minority students than they did mainstream stories by minority students—so while the handful of black students I competed against performed passages from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, I lent dramatic flair to Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. I often won.

And now? I’m the bellydancer, firespinner, singer-songwriter, and nerd who designs and codes websites. I obsess with sparkles and sequins and makeup and then wrestle with merge conflicts in GitHub. I flirt with audiences and shimmy to Balkan brass bands and then debate backstage whether Daleks or Cylons would win in a fight. I sing 19th century French poetry layered on piano parts in 7/8 time inspired by traditional Chinese folk music, Americana, and jazz. I break stereotypes into tiny pieces and eat them like candy. I exist.

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Growing up, the few Asians I saw in media invariably fell into tropes: the martial arts master, the submissive woman, the uber-nerd/scientist, the Dragon Lady seductress. None of these matched my personality. While I was able to beg my way into flute and voice lessons—in addition to piano—my father refused to let me study tae kwon do on the grounds that it would be “like handing a kid a loaded gun and telling him not to use it.” People told me I was bossy—my heroes were characters like Princess Leia and Babylon 5’s Delenn, forces of personality who were fully themselves and didn’t need rescuing. I was more Captain Kirk than Yeoman Rand. I was a geek, but I had far more interest in music and dance than I did in math or chemistry; science interested me primarily as story. And I had no idea what it would mean to be seductive—my conservative evangelical church preached “modesty,” and Bible camp banned spaghetti strap tank tops, two-piece swimsuits, and short shorts on the grounds that they would evoke lust in the boys.

I didn’t exist.

I grew up around Americans who discussed race in black and white terms, expressing couched racism with the assumed understanding that I was one of them. Those were the same Americans who complimented my English, told me my face was flat, and pontificated about how eating Chinese food was great except that you were hungry again immediately afterward. After the last election, CNN disseminated a chart of votes with breakdowns by both race and gender: Black men voted this way, black women this way, Hispanic men and women these ways. Asian-Americans didn’t appear on the chart—we were literally “Other.”

As an Asian-American theatre major, so often I was cast as that literal Other: I spent two summers performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in college. The first year, I was one of the fairies. So were most of the black students. The one who wasn’t a fairy was cast as Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. The second year, we reprised the show; I was cast as Hippolyta. All of the black students were fairies. The Greeks and lovers were uniformly white.

How often do we cast an Asian-American as the protagonist, the superhero whose origin story we follow? How often do we allow an Asian-American to lead a movie as a swashbuckling rogue, the resistance fighter who marries a princess along the way, the rockstar with thousands of screaming fans? Hollywood casts Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park in The Martian—with so few roles available to begin with, we’re often denied even characters who should look like us. We’re over 5% of the US population, but only 1.4% of the lead characters in studio films released in 2014. According to Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, the majority of media features zero named or speaking Asian characters. Zero.

Two years ago I attended a curated acoustic music showcase where every single one of the musicians was a white guy with a bushy beard. Most of them wore plaid. Producers often think of diversity in terms of instrumentation or musical style; I’ve released two albums of original music, toured 10 states, and performed hundreds of shows, but it’s rare to see another folk singer-songwriter of color. While the genre is dominated by white people, Asian-Americans are making this music. And making it well. We exist, but we’re not part of the narrative.

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Living in a world where people who look like you are functionally non-existent yields odd fruit. As an ambitious elementary school kid, I wrote (what I considered then) a novel. Starring ninjas. Based heavily on the Ninja Gaiden video game. Of course I Mary Sued my way into the story. But I always envisioned my surrogate as white. And male. (Because, we’re told, the appropriate protagonist of an adventure story is white. And male.) Likewise, when I wrote other stories, every character—heroes, villains, NPCs—was white.

Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scott Pilgrim fame talks about how he never realized that he’d whitewashed himself out of his own story until seeing his comic in movie form and realizing that no one looked like him. As I’ve talked with other Asian-Americans, I’ve realized that I wasn’t the only one—many of us did the same thing. Even the excellent Ted Chiang—one of my favorite writers, and the first Asian-American I can recall encountering in science fiction—falls into this. We’re so conditioned to believe that white is the default that we write ourselves out of the worlds that we create.

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I refuse to be invisible.

Faced with a culture that minimizes the existence of Asian-Americans in the arts, I’ve long created my own projects. In 2012, I founded Raks Geek, joining my love of geekdom and dance to form a nerd-themed bellydance and fire performance company that features a primarily Asian and LGBTQIA cast. While our society pigeonholes Asians as socially-awkward scientists, perpetual foreigners, and weak submissives, I’m determined to show Asians can be creative, tough, and unconventional.

“To dance is a radical act.”*

A body on a stage makes a statement. A female, POC body on a stage makes a statement. When I dance, I’m changing the narrative, the story of what an Asian-American woman is allowed to be. When I dance with Raks Geek, I’m making an audience laugh at the ridiculousness of a Wookiee shimmying, but I’m also bringing a new audience to an insular dance form, teaching them what bellydance looks like at a high level of technical and artistic proficiency, and defying a host of model minority and immigrant stereotypes.

Visibility matters. Few would conceive of an Asian-American bellydancer performing as a Wookiee. Or Mystique. Or the TARDIS. But I do, and I hope to challenge perceptions of who we are and can be every time. We exist, and we have always been here.

We exist.

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* “To dance is a radical act because doing so implies that there are forms of knowing that cannot be mediated to us in words, which give words their meaning.” -Kimerer LaMothe

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Dawn Xiana Moon is a lifelong geek that has worked professionally in almost every area of the arts. She the Founder and Producer/Director of Raks Geek, a nerd-themed bellydance and fire company that’s garnered acclaim from WGN-TV, MSN, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Mail, and UK Channel 4 TV. As a singer-songwriter, Dawn has performed in 10 states and released two solo albums; her latest CD, Spaces Between, fuses elements from traditional Chinese music with jazz and alt folk pop. She performs with Read My Hips tribal bellydance, spins fire with Acrobatica Infiniti circus, works as a UX designer and web developer, and has written for Uncanny Magazine, The Learned Fangirl, and RELEVANT Magazine. Though she loves Chicago, she periodically needs to flee the US; her wanderlust has brought her to 20 countries (and counting!) thus far.

Notes from the Meat Cage, by Fran Wilde

“It turns out that what I wanted wasn’t the story of a young woman coming to terms with her brace or her body … what I wanted was something to love.”

Invisible 3 CoverFran Wilde is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which comes out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can preorder the collection at:

Amazon | Kobo | Smashwords | Google Play

(It will be available for Nook and iBooks as well, but we don’t have those links yet.)

Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.

As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.

I hope you find Wilde’s essay as powerful as I did.

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At twelve, I perfected the baggy clothes drape. I stood and leaned against walls rather than sitting. Leaning kept the bottom edge of the hard, white fiberglass brace from digging into my thighs and the top edge from pinching under my arms. Either or both would drag my clothes funny and ruin the effect. I was pretty careful, but one pat on the back or a joking poke at my ribs and thunk. Hip to collarbone, my identity was wrapped in a hard shell.

Other braces, before and since, were easier to hide if I wanted to hide them. Foot braces, worn at night, turned my feet in the right direction, and no one was the wiser. Their ugly cousins, the orthopedic shoes, went away by third grade. The current knee and wrist braces and all the bracing tape? Those disappear under sleeves and skirts. And they’re mostly soft, not hard.

But I’ve always identified with that thunk. Part of me has always been a brain rolling around in a cage—both the skin and bones cage that doesn’t behave, and the shells that try to help fix that.

Growing up, this sucked.

Worse, the available books I could identify with sucked too. Deenie? Once was fine, but everyone gave me Deenie as if there was nothing else. And there really wasn’t. I started leaving annotated pages of Deenie secreted around my doctors’ offices in protest.

The year before I was cast for that second brace, I found science fiction.

I realized early that I identified more with the ships I was reading about than their captains. Especially the brain ships. (I’m still incredibly partial to liveships like Farscape’s Moya, Bear & Monette’s The Lavinia Whateley (“Boojum”), and Aliette de Bodard’s mindships.)

It turns out that what I wanted wasn’t the story of a young woman coming to terms with her brace or her body (seriously it’s a fine story, but it didn’t fit me at all—or, rather, it fit me like a brace, constraining and awkward). What I wanted was something to love. I was listening for that familiar thunk on the hull; I just didn’t know it. That recognition that there was a mind inside a cage of muscle, bone, pain, fiberglass, and metal. The acknowledgement that a mind could do things—heroic things! Cool things!—even if the body rebelled.

The first time I read Anne McCaffrey’s short story “The Ship Who Sang,” I read that painful first line—”She was born a thing,” and the ensuing replacement of Helva’s body with something better, a brainship shell—and felt guilty that I had it easy in comparison, while being thrilled that the main character was female. At twelve, I didn’t quite grasp some problematic aspects of the story.* What I knew immediately was that “The Ship Who Sang” delighted me.

That delight stemmed from recognizing a part of myself in the story—a singer, an artist, a perfectionist, a twisted form, triumphant inside a hard, albeit fiberglass, shell.

I fell in love with Helva from the start, and never really let her go. She’s mine. My ship.

She was so much better than freaking Deenie.

Later, another story caught me up in similar ways, though, again, I didn’t realize why until a lot later. William Gibson’s “Winter Market” (Burning Chrome), features Max, a recording engineer, and Lise, a wunderkind artist about to go viral. Lise’s genetic disorder requires her to wear a full-body brace in order to survive, but this is faulty equipment too, so much so that the brace once trapped her starving and unable to move in a pile of garbage. Told from Max’s point of view, “Winter Market” opens with Lise’s escape to immortality: “It was like that the day her agents phoned to tell me she’d merged with the net, crossed over for good.”

In “Winter Market,” Lise creates something astoundingly beautiful and Max sees her for who she is when no one else does. I love the story. I thought I loved it because of what it said about art and dedication and rage; because of the connection between two people; because of how angry Lise was whenever anyone looked at her with anything approaching pity.

Lise is better than Deenie too.

But, as I said above, Lise is already gone by the time “Winter Market” begins, and my love for Gibson’s story has grown more complex and layered.

Lately, I’ve been arguing with Gibson in my head about Lise. (And, to a lesser extent, with McCaffrey about Helva.) Because Lise is a prop for “Winter Market.” She’s gone, and what she’s left behind and what she’s become are not Lise any more, in the narrator’s eyes especially. Because her tech cage failed her, maybe. Because her meat cage failed her too, probably. Because her mind needed to escape all that she was in order to fulfill what she was capable of.

I’m arguing about that now for a lot of reasons. First, because I can’t get out of my cage—none of us can—and second because I do not want to be gone. I want a world that lets me live, and love, and create, and be me, with whatever braces or tech I need. One that doesn’t stand in my way or expect me to disappear in one flaming act of creation. Gibson’s and McCaffrey’s stories helped me understand this, in their own ways.

So when I write characters like Djonn in Cloudbound and Horizon, or Lane in “Happenstance,” a short story coming out this summer in the FutureScapes anthology, I write them uncaged, even as I give them braces and tech to help support them. The cage I’m talking about is the story’s definition of who they are—where Lise is at one point garbage and the hole she leaves in the story, where Helva cannot be at all, unless her parents make her a ship. Djonn and Lane and others aren’t defined by their bodies and limitations; they have the tools to do their jobs and live their lives.

Sometimes people don’t notice my characters have disabilities because these characters are too busy living their lives.

I’m really very fine with that. I’m busy living my life too.

Even when the meatcage goes thunk.

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*And has been beautifully explored by readers and academics including Dr. Ria Cheyne, in “She was born a Thing, Disability, The Cyborg, and the Posthuman (Journal of Mondern Literature 36.3)”

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Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton- and Compton Crook Award-winning, Nebula-nominated novel UPDRAFT (Tor 2015), its sequels, CLOUDBOUND (2016) and HORIZON (2017), and the Nebula- and Hugo-nominated novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com Publishing 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.

Sexism and Second Chances, by Brianna Wu

As we continue to see discussion and fallout surrounding Odyssey Con, it’s important to remember that these things don’t happen in isolation. While I wish it weren’t necessary, I’m happy to share this guest essay from software developer and Congressional candidate Brianna Wu, talking about some of the reasons we keep seeing this kind of mess with sexism and sexual harassers.

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I want to tell you a heartwarming story about second chances. Last year, Google welcomed a developer named Chris onto their team. Chris is like a lot of men I know in the tech industry. He’s super geeky, white, male, just 28 — and has an incredibly irreverent sense of humor. He’s the kind of guy that would fit right in a Google — or really any other large tech corporation.

Just one catch. Chris had a bit of a misadventure as a teenager, launching a well-trafficked internet site where some pretty unsavory things happened. An encyclopedic list would take too long, but here are the highlights:

  • The site was a haven for child pornography.
  • A member murdered a woman violently, and posted picture of her strangled to death on the site.
  • A transgender woman was outed and then bullied until she committed suicide.
  • A breach of iCloud resulted in non-consensual sexual imagery of celebrity women to be spread through his site, most notably Jennifer Lawrence, who called it a “sex crime.”
  • Prominent women in the game industry were relentlessly harassed through his site, resulting is several careers being destroyed — and unmeasurable personal harm.

I’m speaking, of course, of 4chan founder Chris Poole. Last year, after not being able to make money from his site, he decided to take a job with one of the most powerful corporations on earth. As I was one of the women who had been repeatedly targeted by 4chan, I was fairly incredulous, as were my fellow women colleagues.

Unsurprisingly, the white men in tech I know felt differently.

I’m not going to name names, but I had at least 10 conversations with colleagues in tech about Poole’s hiring. They felt it would be unfair to deny him a fresh start at a career. They didn’t want his past to haunt him forever. They saw 4chan as just a silly teenage hijink, something all in good fun. It’s hard to imagine, they saw parts of Chris Poole in themselves — and by giving him a second chance — they could give themselves a chance to clean up their own mistakes.

America loves second chances. But it’s hard to not notice that the main people that seem to get them are straight, white, and male.

This brings us Odyssey Con.

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow, which has been written up here. But, long story short, the con had decided to let an extreme sexual harasser onto the programming committee. When guest of honor Monica Valentinelli was put on programming with him, she asked the con to step in. They wrote an amazingly condescending email back to her, at which point she withdrew from the con.

What stands out to me the most in the whole harmful affair was a single line by Gregory G.H. Rihn, writing about “what would be fair.” He suggested a compromise between Monica and Jim Frenkel, the known serial harasser. In a world where sexual harassers are on one side, and women wanting to be treated with respect are on the other — women can never win. Rihn saw himself as an impartial observer, but he’s part of the problem in a way he can’t understand.

And he’s far from alone. Or even, a particularly egregious example.

As a prominent woman in the game industry, I’m also married to four-time Hugo award winner Frank Wu — so I feel uniquely positioned between the tech industry and science fiction fandom. And while, I know it would shock some of you to think about this, the structural sexism is practically the same. Consider the following.

  • Like the game industry, I am regularly asked to do programming at cons on my gender rather than my professional expertise.
  • Like the game industry, I am regularly talked over by men on programming.
  • Like the game industry, men generally talk to my husband and not me when we are in groups.
  • Like the game industry, it’s the men in the field getting big career opportunities – and not the equally talented women.
  • Like the game industry, no men I know will admit they are part of the problem.
  • Like the game industry, the men in science fiction consider themselves impartial judges of structural sexism – rather than influenced by motivated reasoning.
  • Like the game industry, there’s a lot of window dressing and very little examination of bias.
  • Like the game industry, I regularly hear sexist, racist and transphobic jokes that make me blanch.
  • Like the game industry, men that speak out about sexism are heroes — while women are put in a career box as a known feminist.
  • Like the game industry, you have a hate group rooted in white supremacy — hellbent on establishing a golden age without diversity.

If the tech industry gets a D- for sexism, science fiction doesn’t deserve much better than a C-. Maybe a C+ on the good days.

This brings us to Jim Frenkel. His situation is no different than Chris Poole’s, albeit a lot less extreme. The men of Odyssey Con (and one woman is a position of power) were reluctant to exile him from fandom because if he were held to high standards, that would mean they or someone like them might be one day as well. So, he will get an ample supply of second chances, just like most white straight men in science fiction.

There are so many times in science fiction I hold my tongue because I don’t think anyone on programming would listen. Recently, I was on a panel with a rather prominent man in the game industry that made a wildly sexist remark about “banging whores.” I sat there for the panel, stewing, feeling like this inappropriate statement needed to be called out. I asked male friends about it later, who all told me to, “let it go.”

I realized it wouldn’t be worth it to fight that battle with programming, and it could burn a bridge with someone powerful in my field. Like most women, I fight these internal battles daily — and I lose a piece of my soul every time. I have to imagine Monica Valentinelli was fighting this same internal battle before withdrawing as guest of honor. Her comment about wanting to be known for her work rang so true for me. It’s the same fear all women feel when deciding to speak out, being shoved into a box that says loud feminist.

Our political system trains people to root for one side like a football team- everyone points fingers and no one feels accountability. For science fiction, there are plenty of men that vote Democrat and believe intellectually in the equality of women. They think that’s the end of the story. It is not.

You can either have a community where the Jim Frenkels are thrown out, or you can just admit all the talk about gender equality is window dressing.

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Brianna Wu is a software engineer and a candidate for US congress in Massachusetts district 8. You can follow her on Twitter at @spacekatgal or on Facebook at Facebook.com/developerBriannaWu.

Guest Post: On Representation in RPGs, from Monica Valentinelli

I met Monica Valentinelli years back … I think it was at GenCon. We got to hang out again last year at Launch Pad. (Confession: I might have name-dropped her from time to time when I wanted to impress people by talking about how I was friends with someone who co-wrote the Firefly RPG.)

She’s a full-time writer of stories, games, essays, and comics for media/tie-in properties and her original works from her studio in the Midwest. She’s also a former musician of 20+ years. She’s the developer for Hunter: the Vigil Second Edition, and was the lead developer/writer for the Firefly RPG books based on the Firefly TV show by Joss Whedon. Her book The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Language Guide in the ‘Verse, featuring the work of the show’s original translator Jenny Lynn, debuted in April 2016 Titan Books.

In other words, she knows a lot about media properties and RPGs. In April of this year, she’ll be teaching a class on Writing Inclusive Games. Why does that sort of thing matter? Read on…

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Why does representation in RPGs matter? The answer is simple: players play games so they can be the hero in their own stories. The characters they choose (or build) allow players to perform heroic acts with their group, and they’re crucial to a player’s ability to have fun. There’s even a joke told about this at conventions. What’s the best way to get a player excited to talk about their game? Ask them about their beloved character!

Characters are important, and I feel it’s a game designer’s job to acknowledge different styles of play to offer a broad range for players to choose from; the other side of that coin, however, is to remember that players also possess different identities. In order to consider both in the games we make, developers, designers, writers, and artists address inclusivity through the lens of representation.

Representation intersects into a game’s design and presentation in a few different ways. The first and most easily visible method is through the art; the decision-makers for the art will vary widely, however, and will depend which company you work for. The second way that representation comes into play is through the game’s design itself. An alternate history game with magic that intentionally limits the role of women, for example, is not well designed, because you’re sending a message to players that the female identity is sub-par to their male counterparts. Often, the argument used to justify designing games based on a player’s identity is: “Well, it’s not historically accurate!” Only, historical accuracy doesn’t apply once dragons are involved. Even so, designers opting for realism know that many history books have erased or ignored the contributions and presence of women and minorities. So, in some cases, when a designer is making decisions that are historically accurate it might appear to be “wrong”, because those details are not what a player or reviewer had internalized as true.

Lastly, representation is incorporated into the text itself. The text, which includes rules, setting, and fiction, is what the players and gamemasters of the world cue off of. While it’s true that some players and GMs absolutely take a game and modify it for their table, over time I’ve found that many players want a fully-developed and well-researched world before they’ll do that. Most players place a lot of trust in the material, and when those details are done well it can have a huge impact on their creativity and the time they invest in that world. RPG enthusiasists tend to be avid readers, and many will read more on a subject (both fiction and non-fiction) to prepare for their games because they’re inspired by what the designers wrote. Mind you, there are games designed with different goals in mind, so including detailed setting isn’t a one-size-fits-all-games approach or solution to representation. In general, however, representation is addressed through the game’s text to varying degrees, and the setting portrayal and characters are an important part of that effort.

If done well, corebooks, supplements, and adventures will place a player in that world, entice them, and get them excited to play. Most players won’t notice when representation is done well, because different identities will be ingrained into the worldbuilding and presented in a natural fashion. Thus, players will be able to spot themselves in the game, and won’t feel excluded. The game’s design will clearly say: “You can slay the dragon. Can you see yourself wielding that sword?” “Yes!!!” If done poorly, however, representation can cause harm by perpetuating stereotypes and by hurting a player who either sees themselves represented badly—or not at all. A game that falls down on representation can do significant amounts of damage, because there is a strong, social component to playing games.

The good news is that there are more resources and tools to facilitate better representation in RPGs than ever before. Those tools include the classes conducted by K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl. I have the honor of teaching a class in April with K. Tempest Bradford, lending over a decade’s worth of experiences to address the issue of representation and help you be successful working in games. If interested, please consider registering for our class called: “Writing the Other: Writing RPGs Sans Fail.” Together, we will show you how to address representation in RPGs, and how to be inclusive so players say “Yes!”

Writing Inclusive Games: Creating RPGs Sans Fail

Guest Post on Policing in Problematic Times

I blogged last week about the police shooting of a black man in Florida. I’ve talked about Black Lives Matter as well, and I’ve been trying to follow the reporting and discussion online. Recently on a friend’s Facebook page, a commenter talked about how the police should be trained to shoot to wound instead of shooting to kill. Which…isn’t how that works. It’s hard to have these conversations if all you know about law enforcement comes direct from Hollywood.

A U.S. police officer named Griffin weighed in and offered his perspective and experience. I appreciated the knowledge he shared. We chatted a bit more after my post last week, and I invited him to share some of his thoughts on the blog. His friend Adán, a retired police administrator from a department in an urban area, also contributed.

Both men recognize that our nation has systemic problems with race and other issues. That creates very real conflicts for the police. (As a police officer, your job is to enforce the law. What do you do when the law itself is racist?)

I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything. But their post gave me more to consider, and is a good reminder that these problems exist on multiple levels, from the individual to the global and everything in between.

Thank you to Griffin and Adán for taking the time to write this. Please remember they’re guests on my blog. I’d appreciate if we treat them as such.

The whole thing comes in at about 4400 words.

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Guest Post from Rachel Swirsky: Coping with Harassment (Also, Butts!)

Rachel Swirsky is one of the founding editors of PodCastle, served as Vice President of SFWA, and is a prolific author as well. She’s twice won the Nebula award, and has also been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, Sturgeon, and the World Fantasy Awards. Her second Nebula win was for her story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” which was also nominated for the Hugo.

Like every other award-winning story in existence, you had people who loved this story, and others who didn’t. And just like the rest of us, when faced with a story they didn’t like getting such honors, everyone calmly accepted that different people have different tastes, and looked for worthy work to nominate and support for next year.

Yeah, not so much. A small group set out to harass the hell out of the author, up to and including “jokes” about killing her.

Swirsky responded with a fundraiser, “Making Lemons into Jokes,” which has so far raised more than $700 for Lyon-Martin health services, one of the only providers that focuses on caring for the LGBTQIAA community — especially low-income lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. As part of the fundraiser, she’ll be writing a new story that riffs in part on this year’s Hugo Award mess, “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

I asked her to talk a bit about coping with this kind of harassment. Read on for her thoughts.

Also — and this should go without saying — if you start trolling or bullying in the comments, my web goblins will ban your ass so hard you’ll spend the next month farting through your nose.

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My warm thanks to Jim for letting me come into his space to talk a bit about the fundraiser I’m doing for Lyon-Martin health services through my Patreon. We talked a bit about what subjects I might want to discuss. For Ann Leckie, I wrote about why advice to ignore the bullies misses the point. For Mary Robinette Kowal, I wrote about a few of the many threads in my life that make advocacy important.

Jim asked me to write about how to cope with harassment. That overlaps a little with what I wrote for Ann, but on her blog, I wrote about how to be part of a community that was coping, not how to be an individual who copes with being a target.

A few years ago, there were a lot of pieces circulating about how hard it could get for women online. The VOLUME of hate and harassment; the INTENSITY of it; the terrifying PERSISTENCE. It spoke not of ordinary road-rage-type flame outs, but of something with more emergent structure. Not just drivebys, but pack hounds, stalking victims.

I wrote to a woman who had published such an article. “I so admire your courage,” I told her. “I don’t think I could stand up to it. I’m a weak person.”

It’s strange, I suppose, to identify yourself as a weak person. I am, though. A long time ago, I was on a panel about apocalypses, and someone (I believe it was the keenly insightful Eileen Gunn) said that viewers and readers always identify with survivors, assuming they too would survive.

I don’t. I’d die.

That’s fine. There are zombies or there are Rachel Swirskys and the twain shall not meet, except for the bloody moment of skull-breaking and brain-scavenging. I hope the zombie comes out of it with nagging depression and Star Trek pedantism.

I could write a whole essay interrogating the concept of weakness as I’m using it, of course. But that’s not this essay. I want to talk about how I feel about myself, not culturally critique the feeling.

I am weak because I am vulnerable. It’s dangerous to admit being vulnerable. Bullies go for the vulnerable. That’s one of the things they do.

When I wrote to the woman mentioned above, to tell her that I admired her courage, she expressed concerns. In retrospect, I think she meant that it does not take unusual courage to stand up to harassment. The women who stand up to it are not superhuman. They have done and are doing a difficult thing that no one should have to do, but they undertake that labor as people, with their own strengths and stresses.

I do not need to look at that woman and think, “You are brave. I am not.”

I can look at her and think, “Courage is work you do, not who you are.”

(A complication: Some people really are less vulnerable and more buoyant than others. Often, they’re the ones who speak more, which is perfectly natural.  They do everyone a great favor by using their resources and energy to speak out. But it can feel intimidating sometimes, which is no one’s fault.)

Personally, I complain to friends a lot. I really, really like listening to the audio recording of Alexandra Erin’s John Scalzi Is Not a Very Popular Author, and I Myself Am Quite Popular. I subtweet; over time, that’s mostly become overt tweeting. I suspect specific solutions are very personal.

This I’m sure of: for me, it feels better to talk than stay silent.

If you’re vulnerable as I am, and you become a target as I have, this is the best I know to give you: You’re not alone.

Don’t count yourself out.

Best,
Rachel

From Russia with Love (and More than a Little Magic): Guest Post from Deborah Blake

Deborah Blake and I have been internet author friends for a while now, though we haven’t yet met in person. (Note to self: Meet Deborah Blake in person one of these days.) A year and a half ago, I read, enjoyed, and reviewed her first Baba Yaga book, Wickedly Dangerous. From the look of things, the paranormal romance series has been doing quite well, and yesterday marked the release of book three: Wickedly Powerful.

Jim, reading Wickedly PowerfulTo celebrate, we’re doing a blog swap today. I’m over at her place talking about…okay, I forget what I wrote my guest post about. And Deborah’s here discussing fairy tale retellings and how she developed the Baba Yaga books.

She’s also giving away an autographed copy of the new book. Just leave a comment, and we’ll pick a winner at random. It will look just like the book I’m reading here, but this one is mine. You’ll have to just win your own.

Or if that fails, you can pick up a copy at Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and the usual suspects. You can find Deborah on Twitter, Facebook, and at her website.

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Jim and I are book twins this week. His book REVISIONARY (the fourth and final installment in his fabulous Magic Ex Libris series) came out on the same day as my WICKEDLY POWERFUL, the third book in my Baba Yaga series. Since we are huge fans of each other’s work, we decided to swap blogs and talk about how wonderful the other one is. Er, and chat a bit about our own books, too.

Wickedly Powerful coverJim was, in fact, part of the inspiration for the Baba Yaga series, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned that particular fact to him (you know, in case he wanted a cut of the royalties). I’ve always loved updated fairy tales, and Jim is one of the authors I read who did a terrific job taking an old classic tale and making it into something completely original and not a little kick-ass.

When I decided to do something along those lines, though, some people had already used up most of the better known fairy tale characters, like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the rest. I decided to find a story that was a bit more obscure. And featured witches, because that’s kinda my thang. So my books are based on the Russian fairy tale witch, Baba Yaga.

Yeah, I know. A bunch of you just said, “WHO?” Hey—if everyone knew about her, I wouldn’t have been the first one to write new stories featuring her as the protagonist, now, would I?

The traditional Baba Yaga might seem to be an unlikely heroine (unless you asked her, I suspect). Although she had roots as an elemental goddess, by the time she became a tale to scare children into finishing their borscht, she had iron teeth and a long nose, lived in a wooden hut that ran around on giant chicken legs, flew through the forest in a mortar steered by a pestle, and kept such dubious company as a dragon named Chudo-Yudo, and three mysterious men called the White Rider, the Red Rider, and the Black Rider.

Seriously—what writer could resist playing with that kind of material? The stories even talked about the Baba Yaga’s sisters (also called Baba Yaga), which gave me the perfect opportunity to write a trilogy about three different characters, all with the same basic job—guard the door between our world and the magical Otherworld, keep the balance of nature, and occasionally (if it was absolutely unavoidable) come to the aid of a worthy seeker.

Of course, things like movable huts, flying kitchen implements, and dragons would probably stand out these days, so I had to update my Baba Yagas a bit. So instead of huts on chicken legs they have cool traveling houses. Barbara, the first Baba you meet (in WICKEDLY DANGEROUS) lives in an Airstream trailer. Beka (from WICKEDLY WONDERFUL) is more of a California hippy type, so she has a funky refurbished school bus. Whereas Bella, who is the protagonist of WICKEDLY POWERFUL, has a cool modern traveling caravan.

The dragons are disguised too, of course. Barbara’s Chudo-Yudo is a gigantic white pit bull, Beka’s is an oversized black Newfoundland, and this time around (at the insistence of my five cats), Bella’s companion is a huge Norwegian Forest Cat. Mind you, no matter what form they take, you’re going to want to have some good fire insurance…

One of the things that drew me to Baba Yaga as a character was that even in the traditional stories, she wasn’t a “bad” witch or a “good” witch, as scary as she might have appeared. It all depended on how you approached her. If you are pure of heart and strong of will, she will almost certainly help you with your task. If you’re not, well, can you say ribbit?

Mind you, it’s not easy being a Baba Yaga. Poor Bella has this tiny problem with setting things on fire when she gets upset. Probably not the best issue to have when you are dealing with a mysterious arsonist and a flame-shy former Hotshots firefighter in the midst of a Wyoming national forest. Still, it’s all in a day’s work if you are a mystical, magical witch out of Russian fairy tales.

I loved reading fairy tales as a kid, and I’ve really enjoyed reading updated tales by authors such as Robin McKinley, Pamela Dean, Patricia McKillip, and oh, some guy named Jim Something or other. (Editor’s Note: That’s Jim C. Something or other, thank you very much!) I wanted to write my own books that would add something different to the genre, and maybe bring a little bit of magic to those who read them. You’ll have to let me know if I succeeded.

Thanks to Jim for letting me share release day with him. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new book called REVISIONARY to go read. If you’re curious to learn more about me or the Baba Yaga series, you can check me out at www.deborahblakeauthor.com or find me on Facebook or Twitter, usually talking about books, cats, or (on a good day) dragons.

Jennifer Brozek: Revealing Personal Details Through Your Writing

Never Let Me Die - CoverEditor and author Jennifer Brozek has a new book out today! Never Let Me Die is the third book in her Melissa Allen series. She’s also edited more than fifteen anthologies, written for numerous role-playing companies, won a number of awards including the Origins, Scribe, ENnie, and Australian Shadows. In her free time, she’s a Director at Large for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. And she’s just a generally nice person. You can find her on Twitter at @JenniferBrozek.

She’s talking today about the things authors reveal in our writing — both unintentionally and deliberately…

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Writing is a private, intimate affair. It’s the writer and their work. It’s easy to see why we pull from personal experiences to enhance the story on the page. For me, this is a terrifying fact in retrospect. Sometimes, many times, we authors reveal more about ourselves and our experiences in our writing than we intended. Then again, sometimes, we do it on purpose.

The Melissa Allen series (Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die) is the first novel series that I wrote based on things in my own life. Things that I wanted to see on the page for others to experience.

I wrote a mentally ill heroine because I never had the opportunity to read about one growing up… and neither did the young woman I wrote the book for. I knew from the get-go that I would be questioned on this aspect of my protagonist. I knew that I would need to reveal my own autism (high functioning aspergers), my dyslexia, my stutter, my bouts of anxiety.

I knew I would be opening the door to that mostly hidden part of my life. However, it is this hidden aspect that needed to be shown, because I have many coping mechanisms. Enough that most people are surprised to find out I suffer from any of it. This is something I wanted to point out. Many people suffer from mental illness, and you never know because we don’t advertise. We cope. We medicate. We hide. We try to get through the day.

In Never Let Me Leave, I introduce a secondary protagonist, Carrie, who has a congenital defect. She is missing the top two sections of her fingers on her left hand. Why did I do this? Because this is something my mom has. I was sixteen before someone was brave enough to ask, “What happened to your mom’s hand?”

I was surprised at the question. At first, I thought she had hurt herself and I hadn’t noticed. But, no, they wanted to know what happened to her fingers.

Nothing “happened.” There was no story there. She was born that way.

I talked to my mom about adding this detail to one of my characters. I wanted to make sure it would be okay to do so. I knew I would be asked about it. Why would I want to “limit” and “deform” one of my characters like that? Because… tens of thousands of people deal with the same thing every day.

I wanted to show that even with such a facet to her character, Carrie is strong, smart, fast, and resourceful. Like my mom, she is a fast one-handed typist. Like my mom, she is good with computers. Like my mom… she exists. I wanted to include a heroine like my mom for her and every other person like her out there. They deserve to read about characters like them

Both of these facets (my autism, my mom’s hand) are big details that I meant to reveal. There are others that just sort of happened while I was writing because they were details I remembered and used — like an intellectual magpie. Little things: the experience of wearing pink in a military hospital, phrases told to me over and over as I was growing up, Also big things: like personal thoughts on social issues happening today.

I didn’t want to write about Ferguson, but one of the characters in Never Let Me Die is a black teenager, Adam. He grew up sheltered, but he still had access to the internet. He is very aware how many people view black teenagers. He knows the words and images the news gives to young black men. It influences him as a character.

In specific, he distrusts the police in the small town they moved to because he doesn’t know they won’t mistake a bag of skittles in his pocket for a gun. This means he is reluctant to deal with firearms in a public setting. This informs the reader that I’ve been thinking about the difficulties and the crap many young men and women, who aren’t white, face. This wasn’t something I had specifically set out to reveal. It was something I realized after the fact.

I could go on. There are so many things writers reveal through their writing. I think it’s because of the adage “write what you know” and the corollary “write what you can extrapolate from what you’ve experienced.” The more I write, the more I learn about why I write and what I want to write about.

I started out writing because I had stories to tell. I continue to write because I have messages to give: intentional and otherwise.

Julie Czerneda: I Think I’ll Call It Bob

Julie Czerneda

Photo by Roger Czerneda

I’m delighted to turn the blog over to author, friend, and generally wonderful human being Julie Czerneda. Her new book is This Gulf of Time and Stars [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], the first in a new Clan Chronicles trilogy that will finally answer the question: Who are the Clan? Julie’s here chatting about the potential challenges of making up new names and words in speculative fiction, and oh can I relate…

As an added bonus, DAW is giving away a copy of the book to one of my lucky readers (from the U.S. or Canada), and Audible will be doing the same with a code to download the audio book. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment with your favorite made-up word, either from SF or elsewhere. (Make sure you also leave a way for me to get in touch with you.)

You can learn more about Julie’s blog tour on Facebook, or check out an audio sample of the new book, courtesy of Audible.com.

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Picture this moment, if you will. I’m writing along at a happy clip, action underway, dialogue snappy, plot racing, and I say to myself, this isn’t so hard. Then, SMACK. I run into that bump in the writing road known as “What to Call It.”

Every writer hits those. (Don’t get me started on titles! That’s another post. Names for things—and characters—and places are bad enough.)

Before I sold my first book, I had a simple method. I’d hit keys until I had something cool looking.

I’ll let you ponder the wisdom of that.

With my very first book, I discovered making up words by how they look is less than ideal.

Sheila Gilbert is my editor/publisher at DAW. Her first revision comments for A Thousand Words for Stranger were prefaced with: “You’ve never said these names out loud, have you.”

Why would I? I thought. It’s a book. Aloud, with caution, “No.”

“You’ll need to,” she explained patiently. “When you read in public.”

I believe I was rendered speechless.

My editor-dear went on to read some of my made-up names to me, starting with “Pul.” In her light New Jersey accent, it came to my ear as “Peew-ul” Not good. So Pul di Sarc became Rael di Sarc. (In Beholder’s Eye Sheila caught me again. I’d come up with “Liccs” and “Scru.” Feel free not to ponder too long. Those I changed, and quickly.)

I now, sometimes, say my new words out loud. Not as often as I should; it makes me self-conscious and I giggle. Sometimes I’ll make a name almost unpronounceable on purpose, giving myself an out with a nickname. In Migration “Arslithissiangee Yip the Fourteenth” is “Fourteen.”*

Having learned how naming things and characters could mess me up? I changed tactics.

The Do-It-Later Approach

One way not to slam on the writerly brakes is to insert a searchable placeholder and keep going. I use 000. Good idea, because if I have a few of those, I can take my time and pick words that won’t conflict and might even work well together. For example, that’s how I wound up with comtech, comlink, etc.

Bad idea, because after a few are scattered through the text I begin to feel the manuscript is full of holes. Creepy!

Also, if I use 000 for more than one name? I end up wondering which 000 was whom, when. That way lies madness, trust me. These days, I try my best to fill them in as soon as possible. (Having them here makes me twitch, to be honest.)

The Modified Do-It-Later

A better approach, if you’ve the patience, is to insert a descriptive placeholder. For example [ADISGUSTINGHOTEL]. The advantage here is that you have a clue later what you were thinking at the time, and can move on quickly. I found this also helps me leave some of the descriptive details for later when I want to write quickly, a trick I learned from the inestimable—and insanely speedy—Ed Greenwood. It’s proven handy so long as I spot them all. Which didn’t happen my first go, so now I add in my searchable 000 string [000ADISGUSTINGHOTEL].

Occasionally, when reading these over, I giggle. Writing’s like that.

The Think-of-Them-All-First Approach

I suspect there are writers of vast virtue out there who do this. I’m not one of them. I manage to create a few names for things, while researching and noodling the plot, but the instant I’m ready to write a story, it’s full ahead at a happy clip, with bumps.

That said, I did myself—and the Clan Chronicles, including This Gulf of Time and Stars–an unexpected favour a few years ago. Back then, my inbox kept getting spammed. Rather than let myself get annoyed, I’d jot down the more interesting names before deleting. Soon I had the collection shown in small part here. To my joy—and perhaps with a smidge of righteous vengeance—my spammers proved perfect names for many of the Om’ray, and others.

Spam Names

Don’t Use Me Twice List

Because that happens. I named a planet in the Webshifters series “Paniccia.” Later, I became close friends with someone having that last name, totally forgot about the planet, and used her name for a character in the Clan books. I’m not telling you the others. These days, I keep a glossary of “Julie’s Wierd Words” (misspelled on purpose—the copyeditor is aware) for every book and series. I’d like to say I add words to it as I make them up, as a writer of Vast Virtue should.

Nope. I write down those I need to refer to as I go, such as all the people in a room, and leave the rest until I run the US spellcheck to dig out my Canadianisms before I send in my draft. I know it’ll pick up words I’ve made up, most of them anyway, and that’s when I enter them into the glossary, as well as add them to the dictionary for the book.

Because, misspelling your own made-up words happens ALL THE TIME. Copyeditors (Hi Paula!) are worth their weight in gold-pressed latinum, believe me.

Notebook JC-Glossary

Don’t Use Me Ever

I google each word I’ve made up, in case it isn’t a word I’ve made up. Trust me on that. On the flip side, I’ve encountered many unexpected tidbits of information along the way.

Then, There’s Consistency

Oh gods. You make up a single name and suddenly there are relatives and ancestors, let alone conventions for children or sexes or status, not to mention titles and nicknames and slang. Nothing says they’ll be the same for the people over there, because they aren’t here, are they. Think things and places are safer? Nope. I decided to make a setting more alien even to me by removing words such as “forest and tree and leaf” from my vocabulary in Reap the Wild Wind, a setting OF trees, no less. It worked, but there were times I’d stop and search on “leaf” to be sure. Readers have a right to expect a consistent use of a term. When you’re sticking random apostrophes in alien names (in my defense, it was my first book), they move! All by themselves!

Outside Input

Tuckerization is when you use a real person’s name in a book. It’s a fine way to raise funds for charity, and I’m proud to have done so, but it’s not always straightforward. A name may not fit the nomenclature of the story’s setting and need to be altered. I’ve had two people go together to bid on a character name, Ruth and Tim; fortunately, they were happy to combine their names into one: “Ruti Bowart,” from Ties of Power. Then there’s sequels, characters who must die, and so on. A topic for another blog post.

Shouting for Help

Every so often, I’m stuck. There’s nothing in sight to inspire (I do scramble words if I must. A Juicy Fruit label somehow inspired “Yihtor” in Thousand. Honest.) Or I suspect I’ve used a great word elsewhere (see above). Online friends to the rescue! I’ll post a plea on Facebook or Twitter and have an answer in seconds. Thank you all! Some of my favourite made-up words/names resulted from our quick interactions. My friend Janet dared me to use “Jim-bo Bob.” I did. “Janet Jim-bo Bob” is the Carasian in Reap. (Proper name: “Janex Jymbobobii,” but I couldn’t resist.) For In the Company of Others, I needed more names for the security unit on the Earth starship. Anyone who contacted me that day from my newsgroup is in there.

Readers Get It

The best thing about words in science fiction is the enormity of ready-made language at our fingertips. Anyone who’s read Andre Norton will know what I mean. Thanks to her and others, I can say blaster, spaceport, alien, teleport etc. and my readers stay with me. (If you’re curious about how many words science fiction folks have coined, check out the Oxford Dictionary Citation project which is now a book, Brave New Words. Note to self, get that.)

Genre-friendly words and scientific terms are jargon, however. Words we know and they don’t. I do pay attention to which might be a potentially fatal stumble for those coming fresh and new to science fiction. After all, we want such readers to stay and love this stuff too. Where I can, I put those terms in context as they come up, regardless of how familiar each seems to me. Or to you.

Other Bits of Fun, and Bob

Some names I give things are for fun. I’ve starships named after Canadian astronauts. Some characters share names with those on shows I love, such as Farscape. Sharp-eyed fans might have spotted a few Toronto Maple Leafs in Survival. And then, there’s Bob.

We have an old British expression in our family. “Bob’s your uncle.” It means, more or less, a tidy, pleasing finish to something. Well done. A wrap. At the end of Titan A.E., the main character suggests “Bob” for the name of humanity’s new world for good reason. Makes me laugh every time. I’ve used it in In the Company of Others the same way. Maybe somewhere else. Not telling.

I hear it makes an excellent working title for a book, too.

The takeaway from this? Made-up words are an essential part of building a world that isn’t like this one. It’s work and fun—and fraught with risk!—all at once. So when next you see a writer head down and scribbling frantically? Give them a moment.

They’ve thought of that new word.

This Gulf of Time and Stars

Thanks for hosting me, Jim. Love your words, by the way. “Fire-spider?” Genius!


* If you missed my recent interview with Allyson Johnson, voice actor for the Trade Pact and Gulf, check out her take on my made-up words here.

Jim C. Hines