The Extrahuman Union

I am super thrilled to welcome Benjanun Sriduangkaew to the blog today, for a fantastic guest post all about her new novella, Scale-Bright. You can pre-order Scale-Bright here (ebook) and here (hardcover)!

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I adore writing the far future, a place and time where you’re limited by nothing save your imagination. In my vision of space travel and data-as-mind, society treats you as the person you say you are. You may love where you wish, dress how you like, pursue any profession, and the right to a body which matches your sense of self is both universal and basic: like water and food. In this future, ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ have no meaning. A quality, a mode of dress, or a job is what it is, without gender coding or judgment. This future may be fraught with conflict, war, conquest – those things I don’t believe will vanish even when we’re all more cybernetics than skin – but when it comes to gender identity and all the complex ripples it causes, I’m a thorough (perhaps even naive!) optimist.

But writing contemporary fiction, even meshed with the magic of snake women and layered with fantastical cities, must take into account what we have now.

Of all matters Houyi is least acquainted with the society of dresses.

There are lines of etiquette woven into the nylon that sheathes the muscles of her thighs and calves, into the silk that bares the taut hardness of her arms and the blades of her collarbones. The laws of the skirt enforce the positioning of knees and ankles, as eunuchs once shaped the posture of imperial concubines, as the color red once dictated the conduct and silence of new brides.

My novella Scale-Bright takes place today, for a rough definition of ‘today’ (I try not to precisely date my fiction! I think it’s part of the Great Unwritten Code; at least mine). One of the characters is Houyi, the archer god who shot down the suns. Readers familiar with Chinese mythology may give pause here, as Houyi is traditionally a man. When I made the decision to write her a woman, though, I kept some of the trappings: in ancient China she dressed like a man, and in the present day she is seen in button-on shirt, slacks, men’s shoes; she wears what most of us would consider ‘butch’ getup.

Houyi sprang into existence fully sentient and adult; she carries herself without being informed by the experience of childhood or growing up. But even in the mythical heaven of her birth, she’s a quick study. She recognizes the limits placed on other women, goddess or mortal, recognizes as well that her mode of dress – her martial aspect, born with bow and arrows in hand – sets her apart, gets her treated differently. In Scale-Bright she tells Marshal Tianpeng, a god notorious for his lechery, ‘Pretend that I am a man. Your equal, if you will’ – and she knows that he does at one level because she has a wife and has always been known as a great archer, a hunter of demons. When she puts on ‘feminine’ clothes in one part of the book, it’s a surprise to all involved and a ploy that deeply discomforts her. That isn’t the only place presentation comes up; Houyi’s niece-in-law Julienne (mortal, and ordinary) thinks that Houyi ‘sits like a man, in a way Julienne would never dare’. How you appear is everything, the way you walk and sit, what you wear or don’t. It can shape your world.

It’s an immense gulf to leap between: as I write this, I’m also working on short stories and a manuscript all taking place in the far future. In that world, your appearance – makeup, clothes, shoes or even anatomy – has no bearing on perception of your gender. And, even in Scale-Bright, I don’t want the pressure and limitations to take over – that can be an important and necessary story, but it’s not the one I’m telling. A balance has to be struck.

That partly informs my choice to make this about a world aside, an interstitial city beneath the evident with demons and gods, where there are some of the same limitations and problems we experience, but not so strictly. If there are rules among demons they haven’t much to do with whom you may love and whom you may not. Even among the gods of Scale-Bright some of them are not one gender all the time, and despite everything Houyi and her wife Chang’e were wedded in heaven. When you and everyone you know is a deity who’s seen eons, or ancient shapeshifting spirits, there just have to be things so much more important than what’s being worn and who’s marrying whom.

Haven’t there?

Here it is at last, the cover for THE SEEKER STAR (Grayline Sisters #2)!

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The big reveal happened yesterday over at The Book Smugglers. They’re also hosting a giveaway of the first Grayline Sisters book, THE DAUGHTER STAR, so go check it out and enter!

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The ebook for WAR STORIES is out now!

Go grab it DRM-free over at Apex. My story “The Radio” is in the “Wartime Systems” section of the book.

“The Radio” is the story of Kay, a Synthetic soldier made from machine parts and the corpse of a volunteer, who gets left behind after her unit is destroyed in hostile territory. Hope you get the chance to read it! The rest of the book is fantastic, too.

If you’d prefer to wait for the print version, those will be out on October 7th.

Recently I wrote about finishing the first draft of the final book of the Grayline Sisters trilogy, and how that felt. I had no idea I’d be making another post like it so soon after.

I finished the second draft of WAKING GIFTS (Extrahumans #4) last week. It was an excruciating effort–I basically rebuilt the story from the ground up because what I’d originally put down simply wasn’t working. I changed just about everything about the book, including the title (it was originally THE GIFT OF GREAT YIA, then THE BELLS OF VALEN, and now WAKING GIFTS). I think it’s pretty decent. I know I can turn it into something good. So at some point, this book will exist, and you’ll get to read all about what happens when Jill gets everything she thinks she wants (hint: nothing good).

And then that will be the end of the Extrahumans series.

There are several reasons for this, some about business, some personal. Mainly, though, this is a decision that grew out of the story.

I’d originally planned on five books, but at some point I realized that the plans I’d had for the fifth book were not particularly workable, and not actually about the characters we’ve been following.

Worse, it had nothing to do with Penny. Basically, even though she is the main character in only one of the books, Extrahumans is at it’s very heart the story of Penny Silverwing, her friends, her family, her lovers, and her transformation from who she is at the beginning of BROKEN to who she becomes by the end of WAKING GIFTS. Penny drives the stories and ties them all together, and she’s at the center of the extended “family” of characters. Her arc, after this story, is done.

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This story also completes the arcs of many of the other characters, such as Jill (obviously), Emily, Sky Ranger, and Felipe. It also does provide some answers to some of the big questions that the series has been asking, and wraps up some of the larger, overarching storylines.

So this is a good place to end it. I thought about ending it with THE SPARK, but there were simply too many unanswered questions. I don’t feel that way about this book. This is a good end point.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this will be the last story in this universe, and that this is the last we’ll ever hear of these particular characters. There is so much left to tell! But this particular series will end with book 4, and I’m happy with that.

I am so grateful to all of you who’ve been sticking with this series. I know WAKING GIFTS has been a long time in coming compared to the first three. I hope I can make it worth your while!

So, on to the updates!

THE SEEKER STAR (Grayline Sisters #2) – Hoping to have a cover reveal for you real soon. Plans are that it’ll be out late this year, but I don’t have a date yet.

WAKING GIFTS (Extrahumans #4) – Second draft finished. I’d like to send this to the publisher by the end of the year.

THE FALLEN STAR (Grayline Sisters #3) – First draft done, doing a few edits here and there.

Short stories: WAR STORIES has been sent out to Kickstarter backers! My story “The Radio” is in the first section. It is a very, very cool anthology from Apex which you should check out when it goes on general sale in the fall. I should also have another short story out either late this year or early next year, we’ll see.

Lastly, I’m going to be at Readercon this Friday–if you’re there, say hi!

That’s all for now!

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Hey everyone!

Gonna be doing two readings with the Topside Press summer tour this coming weekend. One’s in Providence, RI on Saturday, June 7 at 7pm at the Carpenter Street Gallery, 186 Carpenter St. This is the reading I had to miss out on in February because of a MASSIVE SNOWSTORM, which sucked for sure.

The second reading is me coming home! The tour swings into Hartford’s Real Art Ways on Sunday, June 8th, at 3pm, so definitely come hang out.

Yeah, it’s another story day! They come fast and furious around here.

This one is not so much about deep, personal things so much as its about what you do when you have dickish spirits inhabiting the eggs you just bought at the store.

The Possessed Egg Predicament one of a bunch of stories about Stacy and Jazz, so lemme know if you want to see more of them. Because there is more of them.

I’ve got a new short story up at Strange Horizons today!

And thus endeth the long, no-fiction-being-published drought. Whew.

Some notes on the story, if you’re interested in that sort of thing: It came from a dream that wouldn’t leave me alone. Basically, it’s the first dream Sarah has, with a few changes. I’ve written a couple things dealing with my own (rather voluntary) infertility; this is one, the forthcoming book SEEKER STAR is the second.

The setting is similar to my old hometown. I don’t usually do that; but this story wanted to be close to home.

Yeah, it’s focused on trans stuff. Again, this story landed so near that I can see the impact crater from where I sit.

I wrote the first draft of this story in less than 12 hours. I’ve found that the good ones are like that; they won’t let me sleep till I finish them! I was thrilled when Strange Horizons accepted it (after a rewrite).

I’ve actually got quite a bit of short fiction coming out. At least one more during the summer, probably two. Then another late in the year, or early in 2015. Take that, novels!

The Table of Contents for the forthcoming WAR STORIES anthology from Apex is out! This means the book’s getting closer to publication, which is totally exciting. Mine’s the third story, in the “Systems” section.

I like the way the sections are broken down into “Systems,” “Combat,” “Armored,” and “Aftermath.” I’m especially looking forward to that last section.

This is going to be a fun anthology, I hope everyone checks it out when it’s released!

Okay, I’ll start off by saying I don’t watch “Game of Thrones.”

I tried to read the books, but ran out of resolve somewhere in the first one, and never came back.

And for most things, I’d just leave it there. I don’t watch, I don’t read, that’s my choice. Fine.

But GoT is one of those things that’s really hard to ignore, if you’re a fan of fantasy. It’s pretty much the biggest thing going right now. Loads of people watch the show and talk about it. I largely tune those conversations out, much as I tune out conversations about basketball or Eurovision. Not my fandom. Most of my experience with the show is making fun of people melting down on Twitter about the Red Wedding.

(This is actually how I determine Twitter meltdowns now: how many Red Weddings is it? So far only the finale of Breaking Bad has even come close.)

So that’s my interaction with GoT, and I’m usually happy to leave it there. But every once in a while something will pop up that gives me the twitch. Like, for instance, this from George R. R. Martin:

But Martin told the New York Times that although his books are epic fantasy, they are based on history (the series is loosely inspired by the Wars of the Roses). And “rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day”.

“To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.

Hrk.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time deconstructing this. Others are doing a better job of that elsewhere. The only thing I’ll say is that obviously using “history” as an excuse for perpetrating sexual violence on women is pretty crap; the Middle Ages were no more full of wanton rape and sexual assault as our own day. And in a series where summer mysteriously lingers for decades and there are literal dragons, “history” only applies to women having horrible sexual things happen to them? I see, I see.

Someone asked me today what possible stake I could have in pointing this out, though. After all, I don’t watch. I don’t care. All the Lannisters and Starks (HOW DO I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT THESE PEOPLE????) can fall into a very large pit and I’ll be fine. So why criticize?

After all, isn’t this a conversation that fans should be having? Where’s my place in it?

I don’t know. I’m not just trying to defend my own right to complain about things, though I do like doing that. For sure! But I think what GoT is doing is doubling down on some very toxic trends I see a lot of in fantasy, like the trope of “history” being used as a cover for graphic and gratuitous sexual violence against women and women mostly existing to provoke the men of the story into feeling or doing something, and that’s the sort of thing I think needs to be pushed back against whenever possible.

When a piece of pop culture gets so big that I can just rattle off “Winter is Coming” riffs without even thinking about it, without having watched a single episode or gotten to the end of a single tome book, and I can point to a fairly vast compendium of online reviews, criticism, and conversation that I’ve been reading and following for years, and I can’t walk into the SFF half-aisle in Barnes & Noble without seeing George R. R. Martin’s name everywhere, then maybe I have a tiny little toehold of a stake in this. Maybe as a member of SFF fandom in general I have a somewhat bigger stake, especially because I want to see us get away such a strong focus on sprawling faux-medieval melodramas where white men whack each other with swords.

So maybe the suggestion that not fully engaging with a piece of culture means there’s no right to criticize it isn’t entirely accurate. And maybe there’s some value in criticisms coming from many places, including from those who for all kinds of good reasons don’t want to watch/read.

So, there is an article out there today saying that politics don’t belong in science fiction.

It’s by a guy (Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit) who is known mostly for writing mildly irritating things about politics. I know, I had no idea Instapundit was still around! That really brings me back, talking about him. Ah. Memories.

Anyway, I’m a political writer as well as a science fiction writer, so I took one look at this title and just rolled my eyes. Then I read the rest.

Here’s how it starts:

There was a time when science fiction was a place to explore new ideas, free of the conventional wisdom of staid, “mundane” society, a place where speculation replaced group think, and where writers as different as libertarian-leaning Robert Heinlein, and left-leaning Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke would share readers, magazines, and conventions.

Yes, in those days you could read books with cardboard characters by white guys from America AND Great Britain. How were there not literal wars in the aisles during conventions in 1968? The past was amazing.

But of course what Reynolds is actually irritated about is the sad treatment of Vox Day and Larry Correia, whose fans decided to troll the rest of us by nominating them, by intolerant liberals who, let’s face it, seriously can’t take a joke. “Purging the heretics” is how Reynolds refers to it. He also says that liberals have “colonized” science fiction. Yes! I know.

I just have to sigh, because here are these poor benighted souls getting attention from a national libertarian columnist in a national newspaper which has millions of readers all across the globe. I’m reminded of the endless parade of politicians and conservative celebrities who have been making the pilgrimage to Bundy Ranch. Conservatives are very good at using their power to present a united front against this vast army of liberals, some of whom may have blogs or Twitter accounts.

As for the headline itself and the premise behind the column: it’s laughable. Science fiction, not political? Have you actually read any science fiction, Mr. Reynolds?

Science fiction is inherently political. It always has been. Science fiction is, in many of its forms, about either the future we want to see, or the future we dread seeing.

The things we say about the future, about technology, about how humans grow and work and interact, all of that reflects on the world we live in today. Almost all science fiction books that I’ve read have had something to say about now, even if it’s something very quiet.

I write political books and stories. Sometimes the politics are more obvious, sometimes more subtle, but they are there. I can’t take the politics out of my stories; they’d be a lot lesser if I did that.

This struggle between various opposing camps in SFF fandom can’t be boiled down to the tired trope of “We are too politically divided these days, and it’s because of [insert name of political opponent here]!” This is about change, and about what happens when big sections of fandom who have been ignored for decades demand to be seen and heard.

It’s also about the future: we are trying to define the future we want to see. Sure, it’s political.

How can it not be?

Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahuman Union

Hey! Welcome to the Extrahuman Union, home of Susan Jane Bigelow. Prepare to be stripped of all meaningful identity. While you're processing, check out more about me on the about page!

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BROKEN

Extrahuman Union #1

SKY RANGER

Extrahuman Union #2

THE SPARK

Extrahumans #3

THE DEMON GIRL’S SONG

YA LGBT epic fantasy!

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