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The Tribe Trilogy, by Ambelin Kwaymullina

I met Ambelin Kwaymullina in 2014 at Continuum. Later that year, I read and talked about the first two books in her young adult Tribe series. At the time, only the first book was available in the U.S.

As of today, the second book is out in the U.S. as well, but the third is only available through the Australian publisher, as far as I can tell. Fortunately, I have connections down under, and was able to get my hands on the final volume of the trilogy 🙂

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf Cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow Cover The Foretelling of Georgie Spider Cover

Kwaymullina describes the series as:

…a three-book dystopian series set on a future earth where the world was ripped apart by an environmental cataclysm known as ‘the Reckoning’. The survivors of the Reckoning live in an ecotopia where they strive to protect the Balance of the world, the inherent harmony between all life. But anyone born with an ability – Firestarters who control fire, Rumblers who can cause quakes, Boomers who make things explode – is viewed as a threat to the Balance. Any child or teenager found to have such a power is labeled an ‘Illegal’ and locked away in detention centres by the government.

Except for the ones who run.

Sixteen year old Ashala Wolf leads a band of rebels who she names her Tribe. Sheltered by the mighty tuart trees of the Firstwood and the legendary saurs who inhabit the grasslands at the forest’s edge, the Tribe has been left alone – until now. A new detention centre is being built near the forest, and when The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf begins, Ashala has been captured by the government and is on her way to interrogation…

I really enjoyed these books, set in a world of powers and politics and love and cruelty. Georgie Spider was a particularly good PoV character for the final book. She’s trying so hard to understand the various futures she sees, searching so hard for the best path that she sometimes loses herself. She’s so dedicated, and you just want to give her a hug and take her out for ice cream and tell her it’s going to be okay, but they don’t actually need you to do that because they have each other. The family bond connecting the Tribe is so powerful, and so wonderful…even though the events that made the Tribe necessary are so horrible.

This book does a nice job of bringing things to a head. We learn more about the history of various characters and what happened after the Reckoning. A lot of powerful people want to reshape the world, but Ashala Wolf is the only one with the power to do literally that. Which means a lot of people want her dead, and Georgie is desperately trying to keep her alive.

I appreciate the parallels to the real world. Kwaymullina talks about this a bit in the author’s note to book three:

The Citizenship Accords … are based upon legislation that applied to Aboriginal people here in Australia, and particularly on the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944 (which was finally repealed in 1971. This legislation offered a strange kind of citizenship, if it could be called that, because what it did was exempt Aboriginal people who obtained a citizenship certificate from the discriminatory restrictions which only applied to them in the first place because they were Aboriginal. These restrictions included being unable to marry without the government’s permission, or even to move around the State. Citizenship could be easily lost, for example, by associating with Aboriginal friends or relatives who did not have citizenship. Many Aboriginal people referred to citizenship papers as dog licenses or dog tags — a license to be Australian in the land that Aboriginal people had occupied for over sixty thousand years.

She also talks about the connection between the conflicts of the books and the battles of today. Battles between fear and hope, between hate and acceptance, between greed and balance.

They’re good books, and I recommend them. If you’re in the U.S., you can use the following links:

I’m really hoping the U.S. publisher will pick up the third book soon…

If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women, Part II

Wow. A lot of great comments and other responses to yesterday’s blog post that genderswapped scenes from Heinlein, Asimov, and Anthony.

Some preliminary thoughts:

  • My goal was not to say or suggest these three authors were HORRIBLE HUMAN BEINGS and if you ever liked anything they wrote then YOU’RE A HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING TOO! Pretty much everything we love is problematic in at least some respect. (But please don’t take this to mean we should ignore or excuse sexism, etc. either.)
  • Yep, I started with older, classic/popular works. It would indeed be interesting to see how more recent and current bestsellers looked when put through the same genderswapping process. I’m hoping to get to that.
  • “What is seen cannot be unseen.” I hope so. One of the most powerful aspects of this kind of exercise, in my opinion, is that it helps us to see things we’ve gotten so used to we might not even notice it. Hopefully, that awareness continues beyond the immediate examples.

In a way, yesterday’s exercise grew out of an experience I had writing — and then rewriting — my story “Spell of the Sparrow,” which eventually appeared in Sword & Sorceress XXI. I’d originally drafted the story, a sequel to “Blade of the Bunny,” from the male character’s point of view. Then I saw the call for S&S, and I thought this story might be a good fit. But S&S stories have to be from female characters’ PoVs. So I rewrote it.

It was eye-opening. Sentences and phrases and individual words that had seemed completely neutral suddenly reared up like speed bumps, tripping me up as I read. It highlighted my own gender-based assumptions and threw them back in my face.

That’s a good thing.

I don’t think writing should ignore the realities and complexities of gender. I do think it’s good for us as writers — and as human beings — to be more aware of our own baggage and assumptions.

We’ve all got some. We live in a world that’s far from equal, and we’re immersed in stories and portrayals that perpetuate and normalize those inequalities. That doesn’t make us horrible, awful, evil people. It makes us human. What’s more important, I believe, is what you choose to do with that baggage. Do you double down and attack anyone who dares to suggest you’re anything but perfect? Or do you work to do better?

Here’s a genderswapped excerpt from Libriomancer, where I introduce Lena Greenwood for the first time.

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When I saw who was standing there, my body went limp with relief. Lenny Greenwood was the least imposing hero you’d ever see. His appearance supposedly changed over time, but for as long as I’d known him, he’d been a twenty-four year old Indian man. He looked about as intimidating as a teddy bear. A damned sexy teddy bear, but not someone you’d expect to go toe-to-toe with your average monster.

Wisps of loose black hair framed dark eyes, a slender nose, and a cheerful smile, as if he had walked in on a surprise party. He wore a brown bomber jacket with a Snoopy patch on the right sleeve, and carried a pair of three foot long fighting sticks made of unstained oak.

I definitely don’t think that’s on the same level as yesterday’s excerpts, but even so, there are a few bits of description that feel more jarring. For a stronger example, let’s take a look at a bit from a little later in the book.

The sky outside was dark, and the clock said it was just past five in the morning. The red glow of the clock was just enough to make out Lenny sitting on the edge of my bed. I heard Smudge stirring in her tank. At night she slept in a twenty-gallon aquarium, lined with obsidian gravel and soil. A single cricket chirped. That was a mistake. A scurry of feet and a faint spark followed, and that was the end of the cricket.

“Mm.” Lenny studied me in the faint light. “Has anyone ever considered doing a topless librarian calendar?”

I grabbed a flannel bathrobe from the floor and pulled it on. “Hauling books is good exercise.”

“Very.” He stood and stepped toward the door, his fighting sticks in one hand. “I think I need to start spending more time in libraries.”

Okay, that scene just got creepy as hell, reminiscent of Twilight.

Now, it’s true that Lena’s character is problematic in a number of ways. That’s intentional. But the dynamics of this scene feel very different, and much more disturbing than before.

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Ultimately, I think this sort of thing can be a really useful exercise for most of us, both to better see the sexism and imbalances in the stories and books we read and the world around us, and to better see it in our own writing. In our own minds and assumptions.

I’ll end this with a quick genderswapped scene from one of this year’s Hugo-nominated books, Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. Again, I think this comes out worlds ahead of yesterday’s examples…but the results are still fascinating and even powerful, at least to me.

I’ll be curious to hear other folks’ thoughts!

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[The ISS] was then in earth’s shadow, on the night side of the planet, and so all was dark otherwise, except for white light spilling out from the little quartz window beside Dan’s workstation. This was barely large enough to frame his head. He had straw- colored hair cut short. He had never been especially appearance conscious; back at the minehead his sisters had mocked him to shame whenever he had experimented with clothes or cosmetics. When he’d been described as girlish in a school yearbook he had interpreted it as a sort of warning shot and had gone into a somewhat more manly phase that had run its course during his late teens and early twenties and ended when he had started to worry about being taken seriously in engineering meetings. Being on Izzy meant being on the Internet, doing everything from painstakingly scripted NASA Pr interviews to candid Facebook shots posted by fellow astronauts. He had grown tired of the pouffy floating hair of zero gravity and, after a few weeks of clamping it down with baseball caps, had figured out how to make this shorter cut work for him. The haircut had spawned terabytes of Internet commentary from women, and a few men, who apparently had nothing else to do with their time.

If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women

Posting these without comment…for now. Curious what people’s thoughts and reactions will be. -Jim


While Mr. Douglas was speaking freely on a subject he knew little about, Jane C. Henshaw, LL.B, M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosopher, was sitting by her pool at her home in the Poconos, scratching the gray on her scalp, and watching her three secretaries splash in the pool. They were all amazingly beautiful; they were also amazingly good secretaries. In Henshaw’s opinion the principle of least action required that utility and beauty be combined.

Andy was blond, Martin red-headed, and Dean dark; they ranged, respectively, from pleasantly plump to deliciously slender. Their ages spread over fifteen years, but it was hard to tell which was the eldest.

Henshaw was working hard. Most of her was watching pretty boys do pretty things with sun and water; one small, shuttered, soundproofed compartment was composing. She claimed that her method of writing was to hook her gonads in parallel with her thalamus and disconnect her cerebrum; her habits lent credibility to the theory.

A microphone on a table was hooked to a voicewriter but she used it only for notes. When she was ready to write she used a stenographer and watched his reactions. She was ready now. “Front!” she shouted.

“Andy is ‘front,'” answered Dean. “I’ll take it. That splash was Andy.”

“Dive in and get him.” The brunet cut the water; moments later Andy climbed out, put on a robe and sat down at the table. He said nothing and made no preparations; Andy had total recall.

-Genderswapped from Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein


The Commdora referred to her dwelling place as a house. The populace undoubtedly would call it a palace. To Marion’s straightforward eyes, it looked uncommonly like a fortress. It was built on an eminence that overlooked the capital. Its walls were thick and reinforced. Its approaches were guarded, and its architecture was shaped for defense. Just the type of dwelling, Marion thought sourly, for Aspera, the Well-Beloved.

A young boy was before them. He bent low to the Commdora, who said, “This is one of the Commdor’s boys. Will he do?”

“Perfectly!”

The Commdora watched carefully while Marion snapped the chain about the boy’s waist, and stepped back.

The Commdora snuffled, “Well. Is that all?”

“Will you draw the curtain, Commdora. Young man, there’s a little knob just near the snap. Will you move it upward, please? Go ahead, it won’t hurt you.”

The boy did so, drew a sharp breath, looked at his hands, and gasped, “Oh!”

From his waist as a source he was drowned in a pale, streaming luminescence of shifting color that drew itself over his head in a flashing coronet of liquid fire. It was as if someone had torn the aurora borealis out of the sky and molded it into a cloak.

The boy stepped to the mirror and stared, fascinated.

“Here, take this.” Marion handed him a necklace of dull pebbles. “Put it around your neck.”

The boy did so, and each pebble, as it entered the luminescent field became an individual flame that leaped and sparkled in crimson and gold.

“What do you think of it?” Marion asked him. The boy didn’t answer but there was adoration in his eyes. The Commdora gestured and reluctantly, he pushed the knob down, and the glory died. He left, with a memory.

-Genderswapped from Foundation, by Isaac Asimov


Blink looked at the boy beside her as he stepped through a slanting sunbeam. She was no plant, but she too had needs, and even the most casual inspection of him made her aware of this. Samuel was absolutely beautiful — and his beauty was completely natural. Other boys managed to enhance their appearance by cosmetics or padding or specialized spells, but beside Samuel all other males looked somewhat artificial. He was no enemy.

“What did you wish to talk to me about, Blink?” Samuel inquired demurely.

As if he didn’t know. But as her mind formed the necessary words, her mouth balked. She knew what his answer had to be. No one could remain in Xanth after her twenty-fifth birthday unless she demonstrated a magic talent. Blink’s own critical birthday was barely a month away. She was no child now. How could he marry a woman who was so soon to be exiled?

Why hadn’t she thought of that before bringing him out here? She could only embarrass herself! Now she had to say something to him, or suffer further embarrassment, making it awkward for him as well. “I just wanted to see your– your–”

“See my what?” he inquired with an arch lift of eyebrow.

She felt the heat starting up her neck. “Your holograph,” she blurted. There was much more of him she longed to see, and to touch, but that could come only after marriage. He was that sort of boy, and it was part of his appeal. The boys who had it didn’t need to put it on casual display.

Well, not quite true. She thought of Andrew, who certainly had it, yet who–

-Genderswapped from A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony

The Princess Series Comes to UK Territories

Hey, check out these e-books that just came out in the UK and its territories!

The Stepsister Scheme - UK Cover The Mermaid's Madness - UK Cover
Red Hood's Revenge - UK Cover
The Snow Queen's Shadow - UK Cover

All four books are still available in print and e-book from DAW in the United States, but there’s never been a UK edition. Until now!

::Dramatic music plays::

Book one, The Stepsister Scheme, is £2.80, and the rest are £3.50. (That includes VAT.)

I’ll be updating with additional sales links as the books go live at various vendors.

  • The Stepsister Scheme: Amazon
  • The Mermaid’s Madness: Amazon
  • Red Hood’s Revenge: Amazon
  • The Snow Queen’s Shadow: Amazon

Here’s the all-new cover copy for book one:

The epic, action-packed story of what happened after the fairy tales.

Once upon a time, a girl named Danielle (better known as Cinderella) escaped her evil stepmother, married a prince, and according to the stories, lived happily ever after.

The stories lie.

Danielle Whiteshore has no sooner moved into the palace when her stepsisters show up to kidnap her prince and steal him away to the realm of fairies. To save Prince Armand, Danielle needs more than the enchanted glass sword her mother left her. She needs the Queen’s secret protectors: the deadly warrior and assassin Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and the fun-loving, flirtatious witch known as Snow White.

Plunged into a world of adventure and intrigue, Danielle must forge the trio into a team if they’re to rescue her prince and survive the machinations of a foe far deadlier than her stepsisters.

I love that these books are finally available to a wider audience. (Even if it meant going back and adding all those extra U’s to the words.)

And as always, I really hope people enjoy them!

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Racism and the Backlash Against Black Hermione

I had a long layover in Minneapolis when I was flying out to Launch Pad at the start of the month, and ended up in a bit of a heated Twitter exchange, as one does. It started with this Tweet.

Naturally, this led to responses like, “Why make this automatically about racism? People can’t disagree just because they don’t think it’s true to character?” and “Assuming they’re racist w/o knowing anything else about them makes you guilty of same prejudice you accuse them of,” along with the ever-popular, “Is that actress best audition, or was production going just for ‘diversity’?”

Ron, Hermione, and Rose Granger-Weasley from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

What is it about the suggestion that someone or something might be racist that makes people lose their minds? It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago where in I was told, in all seriousness, that yeah, racism is bad, but being accused of racism is worse.

Some thoughts in the aftermath of that argument earlier this month:

1. Saying, “Hey, this thing/comment/whatever is racist” does not mean “You personally are a horrible person who should be shot and stabbed and otherwise killed to death for your horrible horribleness.”

We live in an imperfect world. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in a context of racism and sexism and other forms of inequality and discrimination without having some of that garbage get into your head. We all stumble. We all make mistakes. We’ve all absorbed messed-up ideas and assumptions. That doesn’t mean we’re all horrible, awful people. It means we’re human.

Doubling down on racism and other ugliness, on the other hand? Defending and trying to justify it? Belittling and minimizing it? Assuming it’s so much more important to wave your “I’M NOT RACIST!” flag than it is to actually, you know, try to fight and reduce racism? Yeah, that crap steps you closer to the horrible person category.

2. Questioning whether a person of color was picked just for the sake of diversity? That’s pretty messed up. And yeah, racist. Let’s talk about why.

Take a look at this chart, from a PBS article about race in Hollywood.

Diversity in Film GraphIn 2010, non-Hispanic whites made up 63.7% of the U.S. population, but we consistently have about 75% of the roles in these films. We’re overrepresented. And yet how often does anyone ask if a white actor was cast not because they had the best audition, but as a result of their whiteness? To meet some unconscious white quota, or for the sake of making sure the film is white enough to be comfortable for “mainstream” audiences, whatever that means?

If you assume white actors (or authors, or speakers, or whatever) got the job because they were best qualified, but question whether people of color were chosen to meet some kind of diversity quota, guess what?

That's Racist

3. Reading comprehension is important.

Before you go off with knee-jerk defensiveness, make sure you understand what’s being said. Re: Hermione, one response I saw was that people had gotten used to Emma Watson as Hermione, and between that and illustrations in some editions of the books that portrayed her as white, it was totally understandable that people might stumble over seeing a black actress take over the role.

Personally, I’m having trouble adjusting to all of the new actors, having imprinted pretty strongly on the movie cast. But that’s not what I was tweeting about. I didn’t say anything about people who were having trouble resetting their mental Hermione. I was talking to people who are pissed off about it.

If the only casting change you’re struggling with is the role of Hermione, and if you’re actively pissed off about that one change? Please see the previous gif.

4. What’s up with the whole, “Talking about race/racism makes you racist!” fallacy?

It feels like elementary school-style arguing. “I know you are but what am I?”

Pointing out that white people are overrepresented in Hollywood doesn’t actually make me racist against white people, no matter how much you want to play the “I’m rubber, you’re glue,” card.

It’s almost like people don’t understand what racism is. Or they don’t want to understand. They don’t want to learn, or to try to change anything for the better. They just want to shut down the conversation.

Or maybe it’s the colorblindness fallacy. The idea that “I don’t see color” is a good thing, and falling short of that ideal makes you racist. The thing is, “not seeing color” means refusing to see or acknowledge the whole of who people are. It means ignoring systemic inequality and discrimination, because how can you see racism when you refuse to see race? It’s a luxury, a way or turning your back on very real problems. Basically, it’s a cop-out.

5. Some commentary from folks who aren’t me.

I Don’t See Color” – An excellent article by Michi Trota.

The Effect of Media Representation on Self-Esteem. “Television exposure predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys, and an increase in self-esteem among white boys.” Is anyone shocked by this?

Bookmarks for Blood

For a long time, I’d assumed I couldn’t donate blood because of my diabetes.

Yeah, I was wrong. But I didn’t find that out until earlier today. I was still thinking about Orlando, and feeling generally powerless. I wanted to do something. I got to thinking about blood donation. My diabetes is under good control. My HBA1C has been relatively normal for ages. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to donate?

So I looked up the eligibility requirements.

Red Cross BuildingAn hour later, I was sitting at the Lansing Blood Donation Center, answering questions and getting prepped.

The whole process took about an hour. The most annoying part was the finger-prick so they could test my iron. (Their finger-stabber jabs a lot deeper than the one I use to check my blood sugar, but they have to use their own equipment.) The actual bloodletting was really quick. Apparently I’m a fast bleeder.

It doesn’t help the wounded in Orlando. Their blood banks are currently at capacity. (Though they’re asking people to schedule future appointments, because the supplies will need to be replenished.) But it’s a way to help someone.

And a much darker part of my brain keeps whispering that if nothing changes, sooner or later my home will face the same kind of tragedy, and the same need for blood, as Orlando, Virginia Tech, Newtown, and all the rest.

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Author Janet Kagan had a page on her website asking people to donate blood. Janet died in 2008, but  the page is still there. She didn’t weigh enough to donate herself, so she asked others to do so. She even offered to send a homemade postcard as thanks.

I want to do something similar to encourage more people to donate. For the rest of June, I’ll send an autographed bookmark to any first-time blood donors in the U.S. Depending on how this goes, I may extend that offer indefinitely. It’s not much, I know…but it’s something. (And it will have Katy Shuttleworth’s awesome artwork, similar to my website banner, but with a Libriomancer quote about books.)

Just email me at jchines -at- sff.net once you’ve donated, telling me where to mail your bookmark.

Donate for those who need it. Donate for those people who aren’t able to do so themselves, either for health reasons, or because of outdated, discriminatory regulations. (According to the Red Cross, men who’ve had sexual contact with other men aren’t allowed to donate, though they’re working to update their policies to bring them into alignment with the December 2015 change to that FDA guidance.)

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There are a lot of other ways to support the people of Orlando. There are lots of ways to try to make the world better, day by day.

This is one way. It’s one I didn’t used to think I could do. Despite my sore finger and the tender spot on my inner elbow, I’m very glad to have been wrong.

Some Thoughts and Facts, in No Particular Order

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I’m tired. I’m heartsick.

I’m afraid. Not for myself — statistically, I’m one of the safest people in the U.S. — but for my friends, my loved ones, and my country.

I’m afraid we’ll keep looking for simple, simplistic answers to complex problems. We want a clear enemy to fight. An easy solution. Build a wall. Bomb ISIS. Kick “them” out of the country.

It’s the same pattern, the same thinking I’ve seen with cases of rape. We cling to myths and misinformation that give us a false sense of safety. Like rapists are all strangers lurking in the bushes, easily identified and avoided with simple precautions. Rape victims must have done something to deserve it, and if we avoid those “mistakes,” we’ll be safe. Carrying a gun will keep you from getting raped.

I’m afraid my country will continue to accept these tragedies, so long as those in power aren’t directly or proportionally affected.

I’m afraid people will still refuse to recognize or acknowledge the real risks LGBTQ people, people of color, women, non-Christians, and other minorities face every day in this country. Or we’ll minimize the risks and harassment, as illustrated so well in a recent Dork Tower comic.

Time and again we refuse to listen. We refuse to believe people when they talk about the threats, the harassment, the fear they face simply for existing. Simply for trying to have a voice. We call them thin-skinned and oversensitive. We accuse them of making it up for attention. We dismiss them as “perpetually offended.” All so we can avoid the discomfort of acknowledging the hatred and violence others face every day.

I’m afraid we’ve grown numb to violence.

I’m afraid we’ll continue to let everyday hate and bigotry go unchallenged.

I’m afraid we’ll keep attacking things like diversity and inclusiveness and representation instead of recognizing them as a reflection of the world we live in, and a way to help build empathy and connection and acceptance.

I’m afraid those in power are teaching our children to Beware the Other, and to use hate and violence to keep those others from gaining power of their own.

I’m afraid people will continue to choose the comfort of ignorance.

To all of my friends and readers and loved ones, particularly those of you who are people of color, who are LGBTQIA, who aren’t Christian, who aren’t male, and who are otherwise marginalized, you don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve the hatred. You don’t deserve to live in fear.

You have my love, and you have my ongoing pledge to try to make things better in whatever ways I can.

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Comments are closed, because I don’t have the energy to moderate them right now.

Jim C. Hines