Love in the Time of Starships: The Grunts in the Engine Room (Menial: Skilled Labor in SF)

Kelly Jennings & Shay Darrach, eds. Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction

The premise sold the book to me: the grunts in the engine room (and elsewhere) are seriously neglected in traditional SF. Also, I love anthologies the same way that I love boxes of assorted chocolates. I have 50-some anthologies queued up on my ebook reader, and they’ve been my gateway to the work of many new-to-me writers. Continue reading

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 25 January 2015 (NaNo 2014 WIP Romance with Rayguns)

Next to him, Taryn sat on a temporary cot, her knees tucked up, wearing a shipboard coverall with no insignia. Her short hair had been combed and fluffed; she was holding a tablet in both hands, reading. Her feet, in soft shipboard boots that zipped seamlessly onto the coverall, flexed and stretched, as if, consciously or not, she were keeping every part of her body limber even as she absorbed the words or figures or pictures on that tablet.

“Ah, you’re awake,” she said.

“Where are we?”

“Sickbay. Doctor Genubi’s gone to talk to the Captains. They’re deciding what to do with us.”


From NaNo 2014, untitled romance with rayguns.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Preview of Coming Attractions: Writer Interviews! and a shout-out to writing community

As I’ve become more active on Twitter, I’ve made the digital acquaintance of some pretty amazing colleagues in the SF/F writing community.

Coming soon will be interviews with:

E. E. Ottoman, author of A Matter of Disagreement (reviewed on last week’s Love in the Time of Starships), a rising star in trans romance as well as a debonair geek-about-town. E. E. took time last week to chat with me via Google. We talked about new twists on the “enemies in love” theme, favorite SF/F writers, and paths to more diverse romance in M/M and F/F romance. In the meantime, check out E. E.’s work at Less Than Three Press.

Silvia Moreno Garcia, whose short stories I first encountered in the Canadian superhero anthology Masked Mosaic and the post-colonial SF collection We See a Different Frontier. I went on to enjoy her luminous short story collection Love and Other Poisons. She works the horror end of the fantasy spectrum as editor and writes the unstable boundary where the magical and the mundane mix in unpredictable ways. Her novel Signal to Noise (magic, mixtapes, and Mexico City) will be released in March 2015 and can be pre-ordered now.

I’m taking this opportunity to thank both of these writers for their willingness to talk with me.

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Love in the Time of Starships: Postcolonial Fluff and MORE Queer Steampunk! (Zen Cho, E. E. Ottoman)

  • E. E. Ottoman. A Matter of Disagreement
  • Zen Cho. The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

How I met these authors

I don’t remember by what chain of linky-linky I found Zen Cho’s work, but I’ve been reading her stories since 2012 or thereabouts. There is free fiction on her site, but really you should buy The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo and Spirits Abroad, because they are both awesome and full of treasures, and I will be reviewing Spirits Abroad later on, so if you read ahead you will get full benefit of my words of wisdom.

I’m still working my obsessive-completist way through E. E. Ottoman’s oeuvre, following my 2014 discovery of Queer Romance Month  and E. E. Ottoman’s moving essay on Why We Need Trans Romance. (Warning: make sure you have hankies/tissues to hand when reading; it moved me to tears. Feelings we’ll all recognize, exponentiated.)

Romance in which the love interest is not the major obstacle

I’m all about interesting characters and world-building, and this is the second time in this series that we’ve brought in historical novels.  But then I’m not a Genre Fascist, or even a Genre Dogmatist, and there are lots of interesting things to be learned about world-building from historical fiction.

At 20-25,000 words, both of these fictions are short works that reward re-reading. I’ll tease all of y’all with the first line of each:

A Matter of Disagreement: “Andrea scowled at himself in the mirror.”
The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo: “I had tea with the intolerable aunt today.”

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo takes place in 1920s London, in the Bloomsbury literary scene, but from an angle not usually explored: our heroine is Geok Huay (Jade) Yeo, a young writer from Malaysia who studied in London and writes about fashion for one magazine and literature for another. E. E. Ottoman’s A Matter of Disagreement is set in a fanciful steampunk-with-magic universe, but tackles the very real-world question of interdisciplinary rivalry in scientific research. In the aristocratic milieu of Ottoman’s story, research is funded by aristocratic patronage and access to resources is restricted to people of noble birth. The student of French history will notice some familiar surnames. Our hero is Andrea, Lord Ashcroft de Bourbon, a chubby nerd who’s the younger son of an aristocratic family.

Romantic tension in these two stories comes from intellectual differences, class anxiety, cultural differences, and personal insecurity. Bonus points for witty meta touches: Ottoman’s geektastic romantic lead reads his sister’s romance novels. Heroine Geok Huay (anglicized to Jade) reads regency romances alongside her long-term project of reading the classic Dream of Red Mansion.

Romantic protagonists who are bookish and proud of it

Equal parts snarky and sweet, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is Zen Cho’s entry to the hopefully soon-burgeoning genre of Post-Colonial Fluff for Book-Nerds. “Made-up genre of my heart,” Zen Cho writes on her blog, here. To which I reply: My heart too! I want more like this one!

Both stories are truly romance for the book-nerd and/or science-geek. Jade Yeo is one of the funniest first-person narrators I’ve met recently. I’d totally hang out with her for drinks (beer, wine, coffee, tea, you name it I’m there). Andrea’s passion for his work, and his discomfort at large social gatherings, ring true with me. At a real life salon, I’d more than likely run into him while hiding out in the library with my drink.

Both stories turn on the romantic fallout of intellectual judgments expressed in print. Andrea takes issue with the preponderant focus of research efforts on magical clockwork (mechanical animation) rather than older directions in the use of magic. He’s been engaged in a duel of opinions with the leading light of mechanical clockwork, Gregory de la Marche. Meanwhile in 1920s London, Jade publishes a less than flattering review of the latest effort by Bloomsbury novelist Sebastian Hardie, for the relatively obscure Oriental Literary Review, edited by her friend and colleague Ravi.

Jade and Andrea are both forthright, not-as-naive-as-they-look protagonists. Jade in present tense, and Andrea in past tense, each have a relationship that’s mostly about the sex, out of curiosity (Jade) and desire for physical companionship (Andrea).

The tension in both stories — and by no means are the protagonists’ love interests the true antagonist — comes from layers of social expectation, who is ‘real’ and who is not. Jade, the granddaughter of a Chinese laborer transported to Malaya, constantly meets people who don’t understand why she speaks English so well, or who treat her as a decorative exotic. Her story is told in the form of journal entries and letters, harking back to the original form of the novel; in first person, we live inside her head and watch her use wit and charm as weapons in defense of her sense of self. Both the funniest and the most painful scenes take place between Jade and her very-assimilated Aunt Iris. The opening scene, in a tea shop, deploys chocolate cake and sandwiches in a battle of wits and courtesy that is very definitely about the money underlying all of this, as poor relation Jade outwits rich-but-miserly Aunt Iris.

In A Matter of Disagreement, Andrea is a shy scholar whose brother wants him to get out and about in society to improve their family standing. As a younger son, he does not have access to family money for his research, and he struggles to pay his research assistants, who might be his intellectual equals but are not his social equals. Ottoman deploys a fanciful aristocratic-steampunk setting to talk about interdisciplinary turf wars that are as surely about money as they are about ideas. At a party, Andrea unknowingly comes face to face with the leader of the opposing scientific faction.  The social conversation goes swimmingly until each discovers the other’s identity, though Andrea finds Gregory very attractive from the outset. It’s an interesting twist on the usual “love-hate” setup popular in romance.

Jade is an intellectual duelist as well; her scathing review of a lazy effort by novelist Sebastian Hardie gets her an invitation to one of his parties. Hardie has all the marks of the usual romantic male lead, with his School of Heathcliff broody-dude good looks.  Jade’s response to him, over their several meetings, is sexual curiosity. Her descriptions of sex are very realistic, funny-because-true, acknowledging the personal-but-impersonal nature of physical connection. She’s by no means swept off her feet, and unapologetically her true love is somebody else. When her casual liaison results in pregnancy, everything gets a whole lot more serious — though the options are not the usual ones, including an invitation to a polyamorous menage. (She turns it down, having no desire for dinner parties every other day, and having to remember everyone’s lover’s name.) She does end up with someone who loves her for her sharp wit and lack of inhibition.

(One of the truest-to-life bits in a novel full of such is the journal entry in which Jade replays an inadvertent gaffe, having casually referred to “sacred cows” in front of her friend Ravi, who is Hindu. The extended cringe after the fact is something that most of us will recognize.)

The bumpy progress of true love

The stumbling progress toward understanding with another person is brilliantly written in both books. The protagonists’ true attraction is evident from the very beginning, if one reads carefully (or re-reads). Money, class, race, and gender expectations are not background assumptions, but central to the struggle to find love without compromising one’s personal integrity. Both protagonists are the “wrong sort,” the people who usually aren’t the main character. Andrea is a short plump man, who loves his books and hates parties. His true love, Gregory, is a trans man who lives up to the manly ideal of his society, but whose personal ambition shows itself in his choice to be a leader in a new field of research rather than a follower in an old one. In parallel with their personal love story, there’s a story of finding one’s true work.

E. E. Ottoman gives us some lovely and hilarious scenes in bed, playing on everything from flowery euphemisms for genitalia to the awkward and imperfect details of the first time with someone you think you might love. One thing these scenes capture perfectly is imperfect, ordinary human bodies transfigured point-of-view a lover. We all know pretty people with ugly souls and vice versa, but the genius of Ottoman’s love scenes is that they say unapologetically “This too is beauty.” That’s the diversity in romance that we all need.

Jade and her friend Ravi are colonial subjects who have to struggle in the London intellectual scene in spite of their personal attainments; they’re physically conspicuous in a decidedly uncomfortable way  (“hyper-visible” one would say today).

In neither of these brilliant romantic novels is sex or romance a cure for external problems. Jade’s personal happy ending does not remove the struggle with family expectations, the racial self-consciousness of a colonial subject of the British Empire, or the pressures of dealing with traditional family expectations. She and her husband-to-be are headed home to family conversations over their respective choice of spouse whose intensity is not reduced by the foreshortening of distance. She ends in a cross-cultural romance, just not the one that you think is being set up in the opening of the novel. Andrea and Gregory find a happy ending together, with  the social and intellectual tensions of a radically unequal society still very much unresolved.

What I learned as a writer

I am not alone in writing self-aware, well-read protagonists whose romantic struggles take place against the background of larger questions.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 18 January 2015 (NaNo 2014 WIP Romance with Rayguns)

“The Captain sent me,” the voice repeated. Hernan pushed himself up, in spite of the pain from his injuries; dimly, beyond Taryn’s silhouette, a girl in a Crew’s black coverall and blue leads stood in a pool of light that hadn’t been there before. She looked no more than sixteen or seventeen, curvy and solid, dark-skinned, with an elaborate coiffure of braids and snowflake-necklaces woven through them.

Hernan remembered Melisand at Midsummer, with similar stars in her hair. Unknowing, she had dedicated herself to the Queen of the Snows, and to her sister the Daughter of Storms, the principle of destruction and chaos, the guardian of those who left the ground.

“I’m Taryn. I’m following Martisset yr Astok; nothing to her harm, mind you, and I thank her for rescuing my cousin Arna, but it’s time she came back home.” She sounded authoritative, as if she were representing some Power, and wasn’t, like him, a grubby stowaway armed only with a crossbow.


From NaNo 2014, untitled romance with rayguns.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Writer Tech: Playing Dragon Age Helped Me Level Up As a Novelist (interview with Devin Harnois)

Dragon Age™: Inquisition_20141126230815

Cool and scary view, with some excellent advice. “Deal with the wolves.” Dragon Age (TM): Inquisition Screenshot: Devin Harnois;

In this installment of Writer Tech, we interview Devin Harnois about his experience with playing games in the Dragon Age franchise. As anyone following the SF/F/R (science fiction/fantasy/romance) axis on Twitter knows, these games have taken a big bite out of productivity for a lot of pro writers, especially since the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Devin and I started out talking about how he got sucked into the vortex. Dragon Age: Inquisition was released during National Novel Writing Month (and somebody needs to talk to the developers about that, hmm). I beta-read the novel Devin wrote in NaNoWriMo 2014.

Together we discovered something  really interesting. No spoiler: it’s in the title.

Continue reading

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Love in the Time of Starships: Foxhole Romance, Raygun Shenanigans, and the N-Ring Circus (Veronica Scott, Kris Rusch, Lois McMaster Bujold)

  • Veronica Scott. Wreck of the Nebula Dream
  • Kris Rusch (writing as Kris DeLake). Assassins in Love
  • Lois McMaster Bujold. A Civil Campaign

For better for worse, or: nothing is more romantic than a shipwreck

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, a protegee of mine loaned me the film ‘Titanic’ to watch (on VHS, which tells you how long ago this was).

My partner and I watched it together; the part we replayed was actually the ship rats splashing down the corridor. My partner commented in the persona of young rats watching at home: “Hey, there’s Uncle Lennie! Yeah! He really did make it big in Hollywood!” Tape number 2, in which things get real, elicited from me the comment, “That’s got to be the worst day at work ever.”

At the end of the film, my partner said, “I believed that love story because they stood up for each other.” Continue reading

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