Archive for February 26th, 2003

2/25/03: More notes from Potlatch

Word count (outline and notes): 14656 On Saturday night, over a fine dinner at Zumi, I talked with friends Matt (former astrophysicist) and Janet (former anthropologist) about the aliens and their planet. Matt thought that giving them no magnetosphere would not necessarily kill them with the radiation, though it would not produce enough radio noise to make radio impractical, and the radiation would be enough to give them a biology different enough from ours to prevent us eating each other’s food (there are maybe 100 potential amino acids, of which Earth life uses about 20). Janet independently evolved the centrality of one-to-one communication from their background as presented, and agreed with my idea of “networks of small hierarchies” as the basis of their culture (a culture organized like the Internet, hmm). From this, we extrapolated a few ideas: they would have neither democracy nor dictatorship, but would be divided into small cooperating/competing clans and sects; they would have overlapping mosaics of culture (maps of religions, languages, ideologies, etc. would not overlap even as much as they do here); they might not even have the concept of a “language” as such, just swarms of ideolects of greater or lesser mutual comprehensibility; their philosophy of life might be something like “me against my brother; me and my brother against the clan; me and my clan against the world.” Matt wondered if such a society could develop the industrial base for spaceflight. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I now think that their technology is more hand-crafted than industrial. (Plausible? Maybe not.) One other keen idea that came out in that conversation is that they would have Northern Lights all over the sky every night. Oh, as long as I’m here… just got two bits of good news in the mail yesterday: 1. My story “The Tale of the Golden Eagle”, which I sold to F&SF last year, will appear in the June 2003 issue. I should have my contributor copies in mid-April. 2. I received my contributor copies of Land/Space, containing my story “Fear of Widths.” They look great!

2/21/03 (my birthday): More thoughts on the future

Word count (outline and notes): 13803 (Typing in the It’s Tops Coffee Shop on Market Street.) Yesterday I found something on the net about an AT&T research project called ShortTalk. This is a speech-based text editing system that uses non-English command words for commands, such as “looft” for “cursor left,” “spooce” for “insert a space,” and “gairk” for “move cursor to mark”. The advantage is that there is no ambguity as to whether an utterance is a command or a word to be typed. The disadvantage is that when using it you sound like the Swedish Chef. I think I may adapt this for use with datappliances by adopting the non-English command language but not so silly. Perhaps each command word starts with “z”: zeft, zight, zup, zown, zelect, zopy, zaste. “Zup zive; zelect zentence; zelete.” Hmm, still silly. But such a thing could catch on, if it works (e.g. Graffitti) and once it catches on it becomes part of the language. “Zuck zou!” “Zelete zat!” (Datappliances use small screens (the cheap ones) or heads-up displays (like Sienna’s) or project directly into the eyeball (the top of the line). There is no holography in this world.) The command language would be called ZTalk — no, Zalk. (Now at the Bombay Bazaar, eating ginger ice cream.) Alien words would also get picked up (viz. “tycoon,” “verandah”), but since the language is signed and the written language symbolic, how would it be picked up? Perhaps, like the ASL signs oh-I-see and you-and-me (vs. me-and-someone-else) such words can only be translated approximately and/or by phrases. This would limit their acceptance. We may see alien gestures being mixed in with human speech. (At a yarn shop, waiting for Kate, working on 2-column outline in Excel.) It occurs to me that if I can write these notes a paragraph at a time, in the small interstices of life, I could be writing the novel itself in the same way…

2/24/03: I am woman, hear my ROARS

Word count (outline and notes): 14314 At Potlatch I took a Sunday morning workshop on “Transracial Writing for the Sincere” led by Nisi Shawl and Cyn Ward, which was about half lecture and half writing exercises. (Many and varied were the writing appliances in use, including a Palm with a soft fabric keyboard that doubled as a case and a notepad with shorthand.) The good news is that I am already doing a lot of things right, in questioning assumptions and not letting my characters fall into the default ROARS (Race, Orientation, Ability, Religion, and Sex). Key points: You are not a racist just because your reptile brain comes up with nasty stereotypical thoughts about people of different ROARS. Racism is when your conscious brain agrees with your reptile brain. — Your first impulse for character, setting, etc. is probably wrong; question your unconsidered choices. — If a person belongs to the “unmarked” (cultural default) ROARS his way is smoothed in ways he may never even recognize. — SF can create new social divides to illuminate marked/unmarked states. — As writers we can use marked/unmarked state to create parallax. Who is looking at whom? How do they look? It varies depending on the observer. — Difference is not monolithic; not everyone who is oppressed has common cause (e.g. American Indians and African-Americans may dislike/distrust each other though they are both oppressed), and complexes of characteristics do not always go together. Avoid the categorical fallacy of mistaking the traits of an individual for the traits of the group or vice versa. Catagorical thinking is not inherently fallacious, but it can be; you can have charactes engage in categorical thinking to reveal aspects of their character (e.g. blind spots). — Use congruence (shared characteristics) to establish ties between the reader and a character of a different ROARS. — Even secondary characters should have multiple traits, as real people do; even if a very minor character has only a few traits, they should not all point in the same direction (e.g. have your poor black man be passionate about classical violin, not rap). — Resonance is the association of related ideas (e.g. if a German is a torturer that inevitably raises the suspicion he might be a Nazi); it can be intentional or unintentional, but should be carefully controlled. An easy way to disarm unfortunate resonances is to have more than one member of a particular ROARS (e.g. don’t have the villain be the only bisexual in the book). — You will make mistakes, get feedback to correct them. In the exercises I tried rewriting a scene from “Nucleon” with Carl the junkyard owner as a Puerto Rican rather than a Polish-American, and a scene from “Primates” (a Clarion story, unpublished) with the primatologist as a woman rather than a man. I was intrigued to see how much the other characters changed in reaction to these changes. Obviously I need to do some research on African-Americans, if I’m going to get Sienna right.