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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

The most unrealistic thing about science fiction

...is the idea that the conventional wisdom about the structures of the human mind and the the universe in a hundred years will have any resemblance to what we theorize today.

Which I guess is my problem with mundane SF. Well, that, and aliens are so pretty and useful from a narrative perspective, and I don't believe in letting my ideology get in the way of the story telling. (I'm going to have a great time watching people assign me to one side or another of the philosophical arguments in Carnival, lemme tell you. My favorite character in the Jenny books in the pacifist, and my second-favorite is the wisecracking bandy-legged old academic, but of the various ideological stances I've been assumed to be taking with those books, nobody's yet twigged to that. My favorite character in Carnival is consistently and creatively wrong. And kind of a bigot.)

You dance with who brung you.

I had a conversation with arcaedia and mcurry recently in which mcurry asked me about author insertion characters. Which is a funny thing to try to answer.

Almost none of my characters are people I'd like to be. Elaine is crazy as a sack of hamsters and a pain in the ass to boot (she's a bit of a deconstruction of what truepenny calls a Byron Sue), Muire is self-absorbed to the point of needing a swift kick, Jenny is pretty much incapable of happiness and has enough post-traumatic stress disorder to power Cleveland for three days in spring or autumn, Whiskey likes to seduce and drown virgins for fun, Will's a manipulative jerk, Kit suffers... what we will generously term "poor impulse control," Cathoair is even crazier than Jenny, Mingan eats people who annoy him, Vincent is a stone cold son of a bitch with a completely plausible shell, Michelangelo is this close (--><--) to a sociopath and I mentioned the bigot thing, Lesa's ideology is suspect, Tribute is what you get when you take the world's oldest spoiled teenager and turn him into a vampire, Abby Irene is a sad old drunk, Ian acts exactly like you'd expect an intentionally emotionally retarded eighteen year old to act, Valens is... the evil that exists to oppose other evils, and Matthew... poor Matthew. He's such a nice boy. He's got Hamlet Issues, Matthew does.

Which does leave a few. Sebastien and Jack Priest are good men, and Sebastien certainly deals with his, er, special needs more successfully than Tribute does his. And Jack is just delightful. Of all my characters, I adore him the most.

The other Jack--Jackie--and Stewart have their moments of denial, but they're good eggs, doing their job the best they know how. Gabe Castaign is pretty much a profoundly decent human being, his temper aside. Autumn and Annie and Lily are all much better people than they have to be, or, really, than you would expect of them.

Fyodor Stephanovich... I love Fyodor Stephanovich. He's not good. He's not nice. He's just right. Morgan, too, though Morgan is even less nice than Fyodor is. Morgan is the Not Nice. She's the witch; we're the world.

Jack Priest and Leslie are the characters I'd probably most like to be. Funny, nurturing, sharply intelligent, accomplished in their own ways, unconcerned with what anybody thinks of them. As for the characters I am most like, the actual author-insertion characters? Elspeth the pacifist, who alternates the paralysis of being afraid to decide wrong and hurt somebody (though she's also kind of  parody Mary Sue, with her multicolored hazel eyes and her Giant Brain and the way everybody likes her--but I got away with it because she was chubby, I think) with snap decisions that maybe are or aren't so good. And Matthew, who lets himself be swept along by events, taken advantage of, underestimated, and can't get out of his own damned way to save his life.

They both pull it out in the end, more or less, though, so I guess I have a soft spot for myself after all.


Karen Traviss has some good opinions on characters based to closely on yourself or on those you know. They're solid arguments, although they go a bit further than my own.

I don't mind taking traits of people I know and using them, but I have to turn them into characatures in a way, or emphasise one point and drop the rest. One of the smartest things I remember Karen saying in her rant on characters was that if you based them on any particular human, they'd be illogical, inconsistent and (most importantly) unreadable. You puny humans just change your minds too much in real life, heh. It would make poor reading.

I think I've kept that little gem with me every time I've made a new character.
My characters are illogical, inconsistent, and I get a lot ofcompliments on them. The trick is to make them illogical and inconsistent in logical, consistent ways. Real people don't always understand why they're doing what they're doing, and it's fine if the characters don't know their own motivations.

But the writer has to know.

Otherwise, I think one runs the risk of creating very flat characters.

As for inserting one's self or others into the work--I don't think you quite got what I was driving at. *g* Because I don't, in general, do that.
Oh, I didn't mean to imply you did. It was more a badly phrased and tanjent-ridden agreement with what you were saying about characters, definately not a correction (hey, you're the one with books on the shelf, not me! :D) - the whole post just reminded me of something KT went off on once.

I'm only about a hundred pages into Hammered at the moment, so can't comment on your characters, but I am enjoying it - I'm just short on time!
Aha! Okay. I was like, "Where did I say anything about Tuckerizing?"

Hah. Mundane SF. My next novel is going to be Mundane. (It's also going to be a thumb-in-the-eye, but that's another matter.) This works because it's set about 10 years in the future. I suspect Mundane SF is going to look very dated any more than one decade hence ...
I think you're probably right.

Personality, my problem as a writer is getting weird enough; I tend to default to mundanity. So, while the mindane SF ethos is very attractive to me, it would feel like a cop out rather than a challenge.

There's playing to one's strengths, and then there's sissying. For me, it would be sissying.
I never noticed that Elspeth was chubby. Just sayin'.
It's mentioned a couple of times. *g*
People often don't notice that characters are chubby or fat unless you rub their noses in it, unless the character is villainous or comic relief. I have a fat courtesan character. Despite the fact that there is absolutely no reason the standards of beauty in her world should be the same as ours people tend to assume she is skinny because she's considered beautiful by the people around her, so I had to make a point of it.

I also had a problem with people not noticing that one set of my characters were black, even though I described them as having brown skin, wide noses and very curly/nappy hair ranging in colour from dark red to black.
Exactly. Elspeth is chubby and fifty, but she has a sex life and she's funny and career-oriented and she fusses with her hair and makeup, so people don't always remember that she's chubby and fifty, because, I think, she doesn't fit any of the stereoypes of a chubby middle-aged woman in a book.

"...is the idea that the conventional wisdom about the structures of the human mind and the the universe in a hundred years will have any resemblance to what we theorize today."

well, yeah, but how is that different than any fiction? Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point. (And I'm not trying to argue for mundane sf here, I like all kinds of sf, I'm just very interested in what you're saying.) When looking back at literature that has survived--for instance, Beowulf--if you take the language differences into consideration, it isn't all that different from good fiction today. Science fiction probably has the toughest problem with appearing "dated" because of the science bit and how quickly our knowledge changes. But something like _1984_ has become a classic despite we're twenty-plus years beyond, and _Handmaid's Tale_ from today's perspective is actually kinda scary in its predictions. I don't see Ursula le Guin or Carol Emshwiller becoming passe, either. Now, maybe as a fad or current popular style, mundane sf will become dated in ten years, like looking back at old magazines and everything is brown & orange. *shudder*

In the end, I suppose that's why you always hear advice-givers saying "write what you know" (which is a laugh for us genre writers), when what they really mean is "write what you're passionate about", which some then misinterpret & write Mary Sue characters. And I think it's the passion that comes across clearly in Atwood & le Guin works; they're able to show that while standing back and letting their characters tell the story (as you point out, not letting the author stand in for their characters).

Even with rapidly changing theories on the state of the universe, the humans in it haven't changed much in essentials, and stories about them haven't either. No matter how we doctor up the scenery, the best stories won't change in their truths. My issue with the rabid "mundane sf" folks is that aliens can illustrate these essentials (especially when contrasted against humans) sometimes more poignantly. I guess I really don't understand the division between the sub-categories of sf.

well, yeah, but how is that different than any fiction?

I'm not familiar with a lot of other genres that pride themselves on their future-predictive abilities.
;) true. I take your point that science fiction is more easily dated than other types of fiction. I only meant that if the fiction is very good, it transcends dating, no matter the genre. (Even when they turn good sf classics into bad movies.)
Nope, not talking about dating.
Mingan eats people who annoy him

And that is why I love him. *g*


My other problem with Mundane Sci-fi is that their manifesto has nothing to do with writing quality, and everything to do with tropes. I read fiction for entertainment, period. One of the reasons I've been slacking off from reading as much sci-fi recently has to do with the crap-quality ratio in the past decade or so, and nothing to do with whether or not the future protrayed is "realistic" or not.

I could go on, but I'm saving it for one of my other LiveJournal accounts.
I was going to ask what "mundane" SF is, because it seems oxymoronic; thank heaven for Google. The need to tag subgenres and subsubgenres and microgenres continues to baffle me. Why don't we just read what we like and write what we like without getting all hoity over it? All reading manifestos does is make me want to write exactly what they're railing against. ;P
Wow. I managed to get through all three books thinking Elspeth was reasonably fit-shaped, just the normal side of willowy.
Heh. The words used to describe her are words like "chunky" and "plump."