Monthly Archives: March 2014

Both/neither, past/future

Yesterday was International Transgender Day of Visibility, and I’m delighted to have just sold a short story with a non-binary-gendered character. (I know ‘transgender’ and ‘non-binary’ aren’t synonymous, but they have some strong connections and so the coincidence feels fitting.)

I don’t have a gender identity myself, but it was Alex Dally MacFarlane’s recent articles which prompted me to finally write an obviously non-binary character. (And the rush of responses to the first article pointing out that I don’t exist. Obviously, I write from a place of pure joy and possibility, but an afternoon of livid seething did help me knuckle down and tackle the potential pronoun problem. )

I only have one worry: will my character’s non-binary gender be read as one of the SF elements? The ‘novum’, the cognitively estranging MacGuffin? Might SF accidentally imply that non-binary people don’t exist yet? (Suggesting that in the future there’ll be more than two genders has the same benefits and drawbacks as suggesting that after 2050 we’ll all be bisexual: it shackles an identity to a shaky progress narrative; it erases human complexity; and it sounds smug as a bug in a rug.)

I didn’t include my character to signify the white heat of futurity. The story’s a very near-future fiction (in fact, I hope it gets published soon or reality will catch up with it and trip over its extrapolations). It has a dozen not-futuristic bits – including students who work in bars and apply for rip-off internships – and the ungendered character is one of those now-bits. I’m not sure how to signal that.

I’m not a very futuristic person. I’ve got tweed trousers on while I’m writing this. If I have to wait until the future to be my (frankly humdrum) self, I’ll be peeved.

So yes to more gender diversity in SF. And it needs to be in all the other genres, also. Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility.



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Uncanny jumble

On a short visit to my hometown last week I was drafted to help with a church jumble. It confirmed for me that:

– there’s so much stuff. Too many things. Kipple. I had a fond wish that eBay would redistribute all the existing things to the people who wanted them, and that then maybe we could just make fewer things, but it doesn’t seem to be working that way. So many things.

– the line between heimlich and unheimlich, homely and creepy, is really thin. The attributes that make your stuff comforting and familiar also make it unappealing to other people. Picture a jumper that belongs to someone you love – it smells of them, maybe it’s still warm from them wearing it, and it’s still got a bit of their shape to it. So heartwarming! Press it to your nose! Now imagine picking up a jumper at a jumble sale and it’s stretched and it smells of a stranger. So grim! Cast it from your person! I love re-use: I’m a charity shopper, a forager in skips, but some of the stuff I was trying to flog felt near to haunted. (I got two new tops and a tie.)

this short story I wrote is shamelessly autobiographical.

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What If I can’t think of a title for my blog post

Explaining a story is probably as bad as explaining a joke, but I wanted to add a quick note to this short story, ‘Reach > Grasp’ (originally published by Spacewitch).

Asking “What if” is often understood to be central to writing science fiction (what if there’s life on other planets, what if there was a robot that looked just like a human).

I was lucky enough to see Nina Allan last month, and she argued that while science fiction becomes ever more popular, it often stops asking What If. It uses one unusual element (aliens, robots)  but allows everything else to plod along as normal around that element. Good speculative fiction, she said (and I paraphrase) is speculative all the way through. It keeps shaking out the consequences of the central What If.

I confess I feel inadequate in the face of the ‘What If’ – I don’t have a proper What If very often. Sometimes I have quite a few Why On Earth and Isn’t It Annoying That.

But this short story came from a proper What If, which I owe to Jared Shurin and/or Magnus Anderson. I was primed for it. I was in a pub after a book event, surrounded by speculative authors, and thinking Wow these people probably What If all the time: ceaselessly sparking with speculation, barely able to brush their teeth without forking paths of futurity springing up before them. I need to get me some of that. And thus I was probably trying it out on every comment I overheard. (What If we DID have another pint? What if crisps WERE available?)

Then, fortuitously, Jared or Magnus told me that bodybuilders on hormones have a lousy sense of proprioception. They forget how big they are, or where their limbs are, and are constantly barging into things or falling over. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s a brilliant image.

Then I thought – what if there was a drug which gave you an absolutely accurate perception of your abilities?

From that I wrote Reach > Grasp. I will try to cultivate yet more ambitious What Ifs, and not be satisfied with to What If We Were All Just Nice To Each Other For A Bit and What If I Had Lunch Early.

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