A Secondary World Much Like the First
Even if you put aside problematic assumptions of biological determinism, there’s still one thing I just can’t understand: why on earth would a fantasy world have to conform to the (supposed) rules of this one?
Lately there have been questions as to whether epic fantasy is inherently “conservative.” The term is sometimes specified in terms of political movement or ideological conservatism, but more broadly refers to the production and reproduction of social convention. I have serious doubts about the ideological bit, a point already well articulated by Liz Bourke. Unfortunately, I have little doubt about the rest—particularly in comparison to epic fantasy’s sibling genre, science fiction. But why is that, and does it really have to be that way?
I started thinking about these questions after reading excellent essays by Kameron Hurley and Foz Meadows on the historical precedent for women warriors in epic fantasy (as well as Django Wexler’s epic follow-up piece), and particularly after being drawn into a vigorous online discussion on that topic. The prevalent counter-argument, as I understand it, is this: for biological-evolutionary reasons (lesser upper body strength, necessity for the slow human reproductive process, greater empathy, etc.), women in our world are less likely to be soldiers; therefore, they should be less common as soldiers in fantasy worlds.
Huh? Continue reading
Two Genres, One Author ... Not Bad.
How could I not embrace science fiction? Literature that took me outside the here and now, to look back from somewhere else.
I’ve written science fiction for a while. Okay, since I was ten, which was the year before the first episode of Star Trek aired. I’m a child of the Cold War, of monster movies (Rhodan!), and of the seemingly limitless vistas of technology and space. My textbooks changed while I was in school, adding the discovery of DNA as well as the perils of pollution. In my university room — in everyone’s — hung the first photo of this planet taken from somewhere else.
How could I not embrace science fiction? Here was literature that spoke of what was happening in the world around me — and what I hoped might happen. (Or not!) Literature that took me outside the here and now, to look back from somewhere else. When I discovered my first volume in the school library (Andre Norton’s The Star Rangers), it began more than a love affair. As a budding scientist, science fictional thinking, replete with questions and speculations and curiosities and wonders, was like coming up for air. When I became a biologist, it became my most trusted skill set. I could frame questions. I would search out answers. Findings, the fun ones, should challenge preconception. Science fiction, to me, has been how I talk and dream science. It’s made me a better communicator. It’s given me a venue to share my passion. Continue reading
And They Lived Happily Ever After...
“You can’t deny myth. It’s too powerful. You have to embrace it.”
I didn’t come to writing through literature and creative writing courses. I was a singer and then a lawyer before I turned to writing. I had an instinctive sense of what was satisfying, (and really writing is about telling a story you’d like to read), but actually analyzing how you make something engaging and emotionally satisfying is a long process, and you never stop learning. This little essay on myth represents where I am in the journey of learning and refining upon which I’ve embarked.
So how did this musing about myth and to some degree fairy tales all start? It was because of a movie script and a video game.
I’ve been writing a movie for Universal Pictures based on the Wild Card books that I co-edit with George R.R. Martin, and there’s a father/son situation in the script. My protagonist was a man trying to live up to the legend of a deceased father and this shows up on about page three of the script. The world is filled with images and comments about this father. Ultimately my hero discovers his father’s not dead, and then I had to figure out how Frank was going to react emotionally. What would he actually do? Continue reading
'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative
I’m going to tell you a story about llamas. It will be like every other story you’ve ever heard about llamas: how they are covered in fine scales; how they eat their young if not raised properly; and how, at the end of their lives, they hurl themselves – lemming-like- over cliffs to drown in the surging sea. They are, at heart, sea creatures, birthed from the sea, married to it like the fishing people who make their livelihood there.
Every story you hear about llamas is the same. You see it in books: the poor doomed baby llama getting chomped up by its intemperate parent. On television: the massive tide of scaly llamas falling in a great, majestic herd into the sea below. In the movies: bad-ass llamas smoking cigars and painting their scales in jungle camouflage.
Because you’ve seen this story so many times, because you already know the nature and history of llamas, it sometimes shocks you, of course, to see a llama outside of these media spaces. The llamas you see don’t have scales. So you doubt what you see, and you joke with your friends about “those scaly llamas” and they laugh and say, “Yes, llamas sure are scaly!” and you forget your actual experience. Continue reading
The Many Faces of an Alien
Aidan was kind of enough to give me the pulpit and asked me to share my thoughts on why I think aliens make such great enemies/sources of conflict in science fiction. Now, before I delve deeper into this, I believe it is important to break down the roles of aliens within the science fiction genre.
I find that these truly alien “Aliens” tend to make poor primary plot devices since readers need to make some sort of connection with antagonists in order for them to be effective enemies.
Aliens are portrayed usually in one of two ways. First, in the true sense, they are introduced as something completely foreign to Earth and our way of thinking. We tend to have a difficult time grasping their physiology, method of thinking, and purpose behind their logic. I find that these truly alien “Aliens” tend to make poor primary plot devices since readers need to make some sort of connection with antagonists in order for them to be effective enemies. Good storytelling requires the reader to sympathize or understand the characters in a book. Otherwise, the alien just devolves into being an antagonist for antagonists’ sake. Or in the words of Tropic Thunder, it’s like going “full retard.” The exception to that is if these antagonists are there only to serve as a plot device to reflect the focus of the story back onto the protagonist. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey sort of storytelling.
The second way that aliens are portrayed in science fiction is to make them not alien at all and uses them as a literary vehicle to explore social issues within our culture and society. Usually, the author does this a safe distance by hiding behind the façade of portraying an alien culture, but can delve deeply into lingering prejudices and social stereotypes. Continue reading