Recently, Angry Robot announced something I’ve known about for quite a while now: I’m writing a book called Company Town, set apart from the Machine Dynasty series. It’s about an escorts’ escort named Hwa, who takes a job bodyguarding the young heir to a family-run corporate energy empire, just as that empire colonizes Hwa’s hometown: a floating city of Slocum towers built around an oil rig 500 km northeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Taking the job means quitting her gig with the United Sex Workers of Canada (Local 314), going back to high school (after dropping out three years ago), and trying to figure out if the death threats sent to her client are really coming from another timeline.
This was Carol Riggs’ third-place contribution to Angry Robot Books’ competition to re-imagine their covers, and as it turns out, Carol also took first place, for illustrating one of Anne Lyle’s novels with an Etch-A-Sketch. An Etch-A-Sketch, people. Your own artistic talents are officially meaningless, in the face of that achievement. (Also, don’t piss off Carol. She clearly has the patience and attention to detail required to orchestrate a slow, painful act of retaliation.)
I should add that I’m really flattered that someone even considered my book for re-crafting, and over the past couple of days I’ve gone back to look at it over and over again. It’s a careful, loving interpretation of the book in visual form, and I’m tickled by it. Thanks, Carol.
Today sees the release of Cautions, Dreams, and Curiosities, another anthology from the Tomorrow Project at Intel Labs. I was asked to write a story pertaining to the White House Grand Challenges, and I focused on food security. I watched a lot of TED talks (Netflix helpfully organizes the subject headings, and there have been a lot on the subject of farming, food security, food science, genetic modification, and so on) and a lot of documentaries like Food, Inc. and others that the organic/green/foodie community has been familiar with for a while, now. This was all months before I decided to go mostly vegetarian for health reasons, but the knowledge sure helped reinforce that decision. (I’ve since become one of those annoying people who tries not to eat meat that doesn’t come from a butcher I know by name. My butcher’s name is George. He sells us meat from, among other places, Beretta Family Farms. I no longer eat chicken unless it’s given to me, but I highly recommend their beef.)
With that said, the story turned out to be mostly about the future of imprisonment. That’s not a Grand Challenge, but it should be. The United States has mostly privatized the problem of how to spend the wealth of humanity generated by zero-tolerance laws and the War on Drugs, and the solution seems mostly to save it somewhere where it can never be seen or touched. To bury the talent. I wanted to write a story about people using their talents and achieving things. I was raised with the Catholic social teaching that values the dignity of work, and although I haven’t attended Mass in years and have no intention of doing so again, I still think that giving people jobs also gives them agency and purpose in life, and that alienating people from their labour also alienates them from that sense of purpose and meaning. The same goes for protagonists: compelling protagonists take control of their circumstances in order to achieve results, even when those circumstances are limited and opportunities for action are few. So in this story, prisoners prototype new ways of farming that lead to both personal and agricultural redemption. It’s the healing of the land as the healing of the self.
At least, that’s the theme I had in mind at the time. I’m not sure if I executed it clearly enough. That’s not really for me to decide. I can promise that it also includes tower farms, the future of Detroit, wild boars, spider bots, sparkly prison makeup, and a guy who gets sent to jail for open-sourcing GMO seeds. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you might enjoy it. I hope that you’ll read it, and that if you read it, you’ll like it.
So, this happened. I went to the Kingston WritersFest, where I was on a panel with Margaret Atwood and Corey Redekop. It was a really fun panel, but I felt kind of embarrassed about how I fumbled through my reading. Also, I didn’t sell very many books. Given that my publisher helped send me there, I feel like I didn’t bear out their investment. On the other hand, I was there to represent a series of novels, one of which has a brown guy on the cover, and at Atwood’s request I read a section of the book that details blowjob technique.
Actually, she asked about “the part with the little girls.” Which I realise sounds even worse.
Recently, Kameron Hurley shared this piece by E.M. Kokie on the seeming dearth of language available to workaday prose writers to describe what arousal feels like in a cis female body. Said Kokie:
When I found myself stuck and looking for the words, I started pulling books off my bookshelves and scanning for the romantic scenes I remembered from prior readings (much like when I was an adolescent reader). I was shocked to find a complete lack of language for the female anatomy in all but one of the books I checked, and none at all during an intimate scene. Despite effective and appropriately done intimate scenes, none of these books actually used specific words to refer to the female anatomy below the waist. Almost none of them refer to the obvious reactions these female characters would be having to the scene, and none while the character was actually in the moment. Not one mention of words like slick and wet. No mentions of scent or taste.
Over the last few days, Twitter has been all, well, a-twitter about diversity in science fiction. Most of that has to do with this piece in The Guardian, which begins thusly:
Science fiction loves a good paradox. Here’s one for you: how can a genre that dreams up alien cultures and mythic races in such minute detail seemingly ignore the ethnic, religious, gender and sexual diversity right here on the home planet, here in the real world?
In other words, for a school of writing that swims so deeply in the unconventional, why is science fiction and fantasy so darned conventional?
Those are all good questions, and they reflect frustrations I’ve felt myself. The piece also quotes Cheryl Morgan, a class-act lady who I was lucky enough to have lunch with this summer. She was really nice about how I basically hacked up a hairball in front of her when I choked on my naengmyeon, effectively re-enacting the moment in The Ring when Naomi Watts chokes on electrode. Because no lunch with a well-respected editor and blogger is complete without total mortification. After lunch, she casually informed me that, without having read it, she was already impressed with iD for one reason: it had a non-white man on a genre cover sold in England.
“I don’t think you know what a big deal that is,” she said.
This year at Ad Astra, I did a panel on Fake Geek Girls. Or rather, their mythical quality. (For future reference, there are about as many Fake Geek Girls in existence in 2013 as there were witches in Salem, MA in 1693.) During the question period, a teenaged girl at the back of the room asked what was to be done about all this, about the guys who would seemingly never accept her in their space (which was never their space to start with). I told her two things.
Plenty of things are being done. It is not your responsibility to do all of them. Your responsibility is to show up, even when those guys don’t take you seriously, because your showing up unnerves them more than those dreadfully subtle Cialis commercials. The medium is the message. You are the message.
Seriously, why aren’t you watching Top of the Lake right now? It’s written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee and it has Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter and Faramir and that guy who plays the really pretty beast from the CW version of Beauty and the Beast, on in this he has a bunch of tattoos and a real script.
Top of the Lake is a Sundance Channel production, and it’s available in Canada via the Sony PlayStation Network, and probably some other outlets I don’t know about. I heard about it online and we gave it a shot, and were both instantly mesmerized. The story is about Robin Griffin a Sydney detective on leave to care for her mother back home, who has cancer. Doing so means returning to the small town where she grew up, and to the lake where her father drowned. While there, Robin finds out that a 12-year-old girl named Tui Mitcham is pregnant. Tui’s father Matt is the backbone of the town’s economy: he makes all the meth, does all the killing, and collects all the rent. He’s like the Al Swearengen of Laketop, but instead of a saloon he owns a beautiful spread of land aptly named Paradise that he defends just as viciously as his many dogs defend his A-frame home. But then Paradise, like his daughter, is lost to him — a group of women chopper in some shipping containers, and a cult leader named GJ takes over. All of these parties converge at Laketop, where the secrets run as deep and cold as the water that gives the place its name.
Campion shoots each episode like a Western, taking advantage of the jaw-dropping New Zealand landscape to tell a story about how humanity can never be as beautiful as the environment it inhabits. In lesser hands, this story of a woman returning to her childhood home to settle scores and reclaim her identity while solving a child rape case would be the stuff of James Patterson, or Mary Higgins Clark. But Campion and Lee don’t write easy characters, or easy scenarios. Each one is as rough and hard and brutal as the bushland they come from. Robin, the heroine, is complicated and real. Tui, the victim, never treats herself like one. Even the story’s villains remain remarkably human and vulnerable, just as frail emotionally as they are morally.
It’s powerful stuff. If you miss Twin Peaks but wish it made more sense, or you wished The Killing left you more satisfied, this is the title for you.
No, not the punctuation mark. Yes, the other thing.
Periods tend not to show up in fiction, probably for the same reasons that urine and shit don’t show up in fiction. They’re quotidian elements that don’t really add anything to narrative unless they’re indicating sickness or a dramatic turn — pregnancy, miscarriage, sudden reproductive potential, and so on. But the fact is that unless your novel or short story takes place in a span of less than 28 days, your female characters of reproductive age are going to experience them. You could brush over this, but it’s a missed opportunity to actually explore some things with character, setting, and worldbuilding. For example, in Charlie Stross’ Glasshouse, one of the protagonists swaps sexes for an anthropology experiment in historical modelling, and she has a rude awakening upon realizing how exactly periods work. I loved this because it reminded me of a moment I had in adolescence. I was at theatre camp (yes, theatre camp) and I’d made friends with all the older kids (or they’d sort of adopted me, I guess, speaking of anthropology experiments) and one girl, Dallas, told us all about the horrified reaction her boyfriend had when he realized how periods worked.
“He was like, Don’t you just get up and take care of it? And I was like, Well, yeah, but it’s an ongoing process. And he’s like What do you mean, ongoing process? What, it like, lasts a long time or something? And I was all, Uh, yeah, it lasts like five days, and he was totally terrified.”
Then she showed us this really sweet letter he’d written in her yearbook with silver pen. So. Here are some things you should know, if you have to depict somebody having their period.
...is a science fiction writer, strategic foresight consultant, anime fan, and immigrant. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and IAM Sports & Entertainment. She has been a guest on TVO's The Agenda multiple times. Her novels are published by Angry Robot Books. Her fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.