Pixel Scroll 4/18/17 There Is A Scroll In Everything, That’s How The Pixel Gets In

(1) WISDOM. Chuck Wendig’s birthday gift to himself can also be shared with the universe — lucky us: “What I’ve Learned After 5 Years And 20 Books: 25 Lessons”. JJ’s favorite is #21. This is my pick —

  1. The Opposite Of ‘Kill Your Darlings’ Is ‘Know Which Hill To Die On’

Early on you learn to kill your darlings. Your work has these precious, preening peacocks who strut about for their own pomp and circumstance. These darlings are like chairs you can’t sit on, food you can’t eat — they’re just there to look pretty and take up space. So, you kill them. You learn to kill them. You get good at killing them. And then, one day, you realize maybe you got too good at it. Maybe you went too far. You started to think of everything as expendable, everything as negotiable. But it isn’t. It can’t be. I learned this writing Star Wars: yes, those books are not purely mine. They belong to the galaxy, not to me. Just the same? It’s my name on those books. If they fail, they fail on my watch. If there’s something in there you don’t like, it doesn’t matter if it’s something Mickey Mouse his-own-damn-self demanded I put in there: it lands on my doorstep. That’s when I saw the other side of the brutally execute your peacocks argument: some peacocks stay. Some peacocks are yours, and you put them there because that’s where you want them. Maybe they add something specific, maybe you’re just an asshole who demands that one lone peacock warbling and showing its stuff. But you own that. You have to see when there are battles to lose, and when there are wars to win. There are always hills to die on. It can’t be all of them. You want to die on every hill, then you’re dead for no reason and the book will suffer. But some things are yours and you have to know which ones to fight for, and why. You have to know why they matter and then you have to be prepared to burn the book to ash in order to let it stay.

(2) WRITE LIKE THE LIGHTNING. Too Like the Lightning author and Hugo nominee Ada Palmer is interviewed in the Chicago Maroon.

CM: Where’d your inspiration arise from, and what made you want to write a book with such an intersection of so many topics like philosophy, politics, science fiction?

AP: I mean, good science fiction is like that. Great science fiction is full of ideas, not just one, or two, or five ideas, but new ideas in every page. Also, I was inspired by reading pre-modern science fiction, which I do as a historian. We think of science fiction as a late 19th- and 20th-century genre, but Voltaire wrote a science fiction short story called “Micromegas,” in which aliens from another star and from Saturn come to the Earth. When they make first contact with people, the first thing they discuss is, “Is Plato or Descartes correct about how the soul and body connect to each other?” and “Is Thomas Aquinas’s discussion of Aristotle’s divisions of the parts of the soul true?” Voltaire’s society was obsessed with providence, so providence and the existence of God and the immaterial soul was what his people talked to aliens about, and it was as plausible to him as our science fiction works are to us.

So I wanted to write science fiction that used the amazingly sophisticated vocabulary of modern science fiction, all the great developments we’ve had in terms of thinking about AI and flying cars, but to ask questions like Voltaire would.

(3) GOT TO HAVE IT. A couple of other Hugo nominees woke up the internet.

Ditch Diggers has been nominated for a Hugo Award! You did it! Mur and Matt will go up against the likes of The Coode Street Podcast and Tea & Jeopardy in Helsinki for Best Fancast (even though we’re all professionals. Because there’s only one podcast category)! Thank you to all Ditch Diggers listeners who supported the show and don’t forget to vote for Mur and Matt for the Hugo itself!

(4) PROFESSIONALISM. Michi Trota reinforces the lessons of Odyssey Con in “Volunteers, Professionals, and Who Gets to Have Fun at Cons”.

…Being on the job at a con doesn’t have to ruin my fun–or anyone else’s for that matter–but you know what does? The dude with the grabby hands and eyes trained on my chest. The person who kills a conversation with their racist jokes. The gatekeeper who quizzes me on the X-Men then tries to play Gotcha! with a question about Legend of Zelda because obviously the brown Asian woman’s just playing at being a nerd. The asshole selling misogynistic art. A concom that selectively enforces their code of conduct and dismisses concerns I’ve expressed about my safety because “Stories about X’s behavior are just exaggerated.” Not only does that ruin any fun to be had, it also makes my job that much harder to do, potentially costs me opportunities as a creator, and makes me wonder how much of my investment that con is actually worth (Elise Matthesen had some excellent things to say about the real costs of harassment and who pays them).

This is where the argument that having things like rules, codes, and policies that attendees and organizers are expected to abide by also ruins everyone’s fun usually comes up. But it begs the question: just whose fun are we referring to here? Because let’s be real, con’s haven’t always been fun for everyone.

… The widespread adoption and implementation of anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct has made it a bit easier for people like me to be more involved in fandom. They don’t mean that I never run into problems, but it’s less likely those problems will outweigh the time and effort I invest in those cons. It’s because of my participation and attendance at cons as both a fan and a pro that I was able to meet people and find opportunities that helped me get to where I am now. Expectations of professionalism on the part of con organizers are not unreasonable simply because those organizers are volunteers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong about professionals treating cons as a workplace (particularly if they’re guests who have been contracted by the con for their presence) and nothing preventing pros and fans from being friendly with each other. There’s nothing about running your con with a minimum of professional standards, practices, and behavior that excludes everyone also having fun.

If your fun is dependent using your status as a volunteer as an excuse to not act responsibly, if it requires victims to stay quiet about mistreatment: then it’s not really a fun time for “everyone” is it? It’s not the expectation of professionalism that’s killing the fun at cons, it’s the lack of it.

As Deb Geisler says, “Never, ever, ever should “but we’re just volunteers” be an excuse not to do the finest job of which we are capable.”

(5) STUMBLING BLOCK QUESTIONS. Alyssa Wong says it in her own way in “Why ‘I’m a feminist, but –‘ isn’t enough”.

ii.

Incidents of sexual harassment in the SFF field are distressingly numerous. And it’s nothing new; Isaac Asimov was so well known to grope women that in 1961 he was asked to deliver a “pseudo lecture” on “the positive power of posterior pinching” (read the correspondence between Earl Kemp, chairman of Chicon III, and Asimov here).

But this isn’t 1961. SFF is more global, diverse and inclusive than ever, and much richer for it. Writers who challenge and explore systematic injustice and oppression through their work are myriad; their work can be found in bookstores, presses, and online across genres, across the world.

And yet we keep asking:

are you sure she didn’t just have a vendetta?

how could it be sexual harassment if he didn’t touch her?

why do we need to be so politically correct?

Why? Because real people are affected. Because both macro- and microaggressions are harmful.Because everyone deserves to feel safe in professional settings, and for writers and industry professionals, that is what conventions are. Moreover, Wiscon is a feminist SFF convention. If safe feminist space exists in genre, Wiscon should definitely be part of it.

What concerns me is the number of women and men who continue to stand up for known abusers. In this sense, it seems that Jim Frenkel is not alone.

(6) CARPENTRY. Cat Rambo also says it is “Time to Fix the Missing Stair”, in a multifaceted post that includes this allusion to a Superversive SF post, and highlights from a relevant panel at last weekend’s Norwescon.

…[Re: Monica Valentinelli’s departure as OdysseyCon guest] One manifestation of that is a brief statement asking why she hates women, declaring that her example will make conventions reluctant to invite any women in the future. Let’s unpack that one a little because the underpinnings seem ill-constructed to me.

There are many kinds of humans in the world. That means there’re also many kinds of women. The logic of the above statement says two things: 1) that it is wrong for people speak out about conditions that are uncomfortable, unprofessional, or sometimes even dangerous and 2) that only people with the strength to survive a gauntlet that can include being groped onstage, being mocked publicly, having their work denigrated for no reason other than having been produced by a woman, and a multitude of other forms of harassment deserve careers and the rest are out of luck. Does that really need to be demanded for someone to have a career? Writers are notoriously unstable mentally as it is. Serial harassment is a professional matter.

This was underscored for me on a Norwescon (a con that does a great job with selecting programming and volunteers and understands the issues) panel that I moderated last Friday, Standing Up to the Mob, with panelists Minim Calibre, Arinn Dembo, Mickey Schulz, and Torrey Stenmark. The description was:

How do you support female creators who are being harassed online by the ravening hordes of the unenlightened? Tips for voicing your support in ways that mean something.

Here are Arinn Dembo’s excellent notes on the panel overall.

(7) THEY’RE GONE. Would you like to bet this writer’s stance was a factor in today’s decision to retire the Lovecraft nominee pins?

(8) THE ONE-PERSON SALES FORCE. A lot of things affect an indie author’s sales and it isn’t easy to keep all of them in mind, as Amanda S. Green explains in “It really is a business” at Mad Genius Club.

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

(9) I’M A DOCTOR NOT A MILLIONAIRE. By the way, if you want to know how much the tricorder X Prize was worth, the Washington Post article says that Final Frontier Medical Devices, led by Dr. Basil Harris, won the $2.6 million first prize in this contest, with Dynamical Biomarkers Group got $1 million for second place.

(10) MAGAZINE LAUNCH. Anathema has published its first issue. The free, online tri-annual magazine publishes speculative fiction by queer people of color. The magazine was funded by a 2016 IndieGoGo campaign.

Exceptional art is a bruise: it leaves its mark on you. At its best it leaves us vulnerable and raw, transformed by the experience. At Anathema we’re interested in giving that exceptional work a home. Specifically the exceptional work of queer people of colour (POC). As practicing editors we’re keenly aware of the structural and institutional racism that makes it hard for the work of marginalized writers to find a home.

So Anathema: Spec from the Margins is a free, online tri-annual magazine publishing speculative fiction (SF/F/H, the weird, slipstream, surrealism, fabulism, and more) by queer people of colour on every range of the LGBTQIA spectrum.

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • April 18, 1938 – Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics #1. (Cover-dated June, but published in April.)

(12) TAFF. SF Site News reports John Purcell has won the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund race. Voting details at the link.

(13) CARTOON OF THE DAY. Martin Morse Wooster recommends The Bigger Picture, a cartoon by Daisy Jacobs done in the style of a painting about two brothers feuding over their ailing mother. It was a 2015 Academy Award nominee

(14) DEVIL’S DICTIONARY. In McSweeney’s, Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s “A Short Description of Cultural Appropriation for Non-Believers” supplies a wryly amusing 10-point illustration of the term.

(15) WINTER IS HERE. Dave Truesdale, who had a lot to say about “special snowflakes” at last year’s Worldcon, has been using an F&SF forum discussion to call into account Liz Bourke’s Tor.com post “Thoughts on the 2017 Hugo Awards Ballot”.

….Going back to 1993, women received the majority of the 15 Hugo short fiction nominations that year. Hardly discrimination by the entire SF field. And that was just shy of 25 years ago!

But now it’s not yay!, look how far we’ve come in a positive celebration for a year in which women and poc dominate several major awards ballots, it’s neener neener we dominated an award ballot and “This year is a historic one for the Hugo Awards in more ways than one. In addition to the changes to the awards process, this is the first year in which the Best Novel nominees have been so completely devoid in white men.” [[Link added]]

Why the F bring up white men I ask for the umpteenth time. Why not white straight women too, then, who have been on the ballot plenty over the past 40 or 50 years and have taken up plenty of slots that could have gone to poc, especially in the past decade or so (pick your starting point).

Why just white men? An unconscious bias perhaps? A conscious prejudice? Give me a sound reason why not just “white” people, or “men” were noted in the article, but “white men.” There’s something else going on here. The article doesn’t have to come right out and be the instigation of a flame war in its use of inflammatory language and tone to reveal certain things about the writer or her view of the situation. That she’s more subtle in doing it doesn’t give her a pass.

He came back again and added:

In the stuff-you-always-think-of-later department:

CJW wrote: “She noted the lack of white men on the Best Novel list, because there were no white men on the Best Novel list.”

There were also no black, brown, yellow, or red men on the list either. So why single out white men I ask again for the 3rd or 4th time? Subconscious prejudice bubbling to the surface because that is her default–that pesky white color? What could possibly be the reason she forgot non-white men? I mean, there has to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for her discriminatory statement.

Although other commenters weren’t interested in engaging with Truesdale’s complaint, they couldn’t resist dropping in another coin to see him go off again.

SHamm ended a reply —

P.S.: Dave, I am not quite sure from your phrasing: are you under the impression that Milo Yiannopoulos is a “straight white male”?

P.P.S.: Dave, I believe Best Novel nominee Liu Cixin qualifies as a “yellow man,” in your parlance, although I am told that particular descriptor is no longer much in vogue.

P.P.S.: Dave, does it have to be a “straw MAN”? Asking as a man.

Truesdale answered:

SHamm, of course Milo is gay, but he doesn’t agree with the party line and so is reviled and efforts are made to silence him.

Liu Cixin is a yellow man in historical terminology, which makes the essayists use of “white men” even more telling. Person of color=OK. White men not OK.

Straw man is just a phrase we are all familiar with. No need to make anything out of it.

Why bring Puppies into this? No Sad Puppy I know of is afraid of women/people of color/LGBTQ writers dominating the awards. Certainly not me. I’ve said it a hundred times, the more the merrier. The problem for me arises when these same people heralding diversity for their own benefit try to silence diversity of thought from everyone else. And if you dare speak out you suffer the consequences–inside and outside the SF field, witness Milo and others lately who have suffered similar fates while trying to express differing views on university campuses (though maybe not with the violence attendant at Milo’s cancelled talk). It’s the darker underside agenda of those rallying behind good causes such as diversity that puts the lie to their true agenda. And it’s hurting SF. Again, writers aren’t taking the kinds of chances in speaking of social or political issues they used to, for fear of various forms of reprisal from those waving the banner of diversity. Their diversity only runs in one way, and its killing free speech and controversial thought experiments in our stories. That Puppy crap still being thrown out is ridiculous and an intellectual dodge. Besides, there was no SP this year as far as I know, but every time this discussion comes up someone thinks that tossing in SP or RP is the answer to everything, when it is an excuse to honestly address the issue.

(16) MAKES SENSE. The head of Netflix isn’t worried about Amazon and HBO because, he says, they aren’t the competition.

But today, on Netflix’s Q1 earnings call, [Netflix CEO Reed] Hastings got a little more expansive, in a bong-rip-in-a-dorm-room way, if that’s still a thing. (Is that still a thing?) Here’s the answer he gave to an Amazon competition question; we join this one mid-response, right after he finished praising Amazon and Jeff Bezos:

They’re doing great programming, and they’ll continue to do that, but I’m not sure it will affect us very much. Because the market is just so vast. You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. You really — we’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time. And a way to see that numerically is that we’re a competitor to HBO, and yet over 10 years we’ve grown to 50 million, and they’ve continued modestly growing. They haven’t shrunk. And so if you think about it as, we’re not really affecting them, the is why — and that’s because we’re like two drops of water in the ocean, of both time and spending for people. And so Amazon could do great work, and it would be very hard for it to directly affect us. It’s just — home entertainment is not a zero-sum game. And again, HBO’s success, despite our tremendous success, is a good way to illustrate that.

(17) AND NOW FOR MORE SCIENCE. This unauthenticated video may date before the Ice Age. Or before breakfast today.

(18) INKLINGS NEWS. Inklings Abroad is developing an international registry of known Inklings groups.

(19) DANCE WITH ME. Believe it — Guardians of the Galaxy has a La La Land moment!

(20) THINK TWICE BEFORE GETTING THAT EXTRA LARGE SODA. In its own way, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 threatens to have as many endings as Return of the King. As ScienceFiction.com says — “Just To Outshine The Rest Of Marvel’s Movies, ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2? Will Have 5 Post-Credit Scenes!”

Director James Gunn blew away expectations with his first foray into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and now he’s doing it again by adding five post-credit scenes at the end of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘! Originally it was being announced that he had four included from early press screenings and now Gunn himself took to clarify that it would be five. That’s one announcement he could make that would easily top his return to helm ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, ‘ but honestly, I think we were all hoping that was going to happen anyway.

This will set an all new record for the most post-credit scenes in a superhero movie, possibly of any genre.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, John King Tarpinian, Cat Rambo. and Kate Nepveu for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Schnookums Von Fancypants.]

178 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/18/17 There Is A Scroll In Everything, That’s How The Pixel Gets In

  1. +1 to Hampus’s comment. Setting aside the question of whether or not the character’s identity is plot-relevant in this particular book, an important step in establishing a more realistic portrayal of diversity in media is to include people of all kinds who simply are those kinds of people, in the same way that White, cis, male, straight, abled (etc) characters are allowed to simply be those things.

  2. clif on April 19, 2017 at 9:10 am said:

    ok … re: recent discussions on box checking, here’s a question

    Just finished reading The Fifth Season

    SPOILERS

    the character Tonkee (Binof) … what does the fact that this character is a female with a penis and facial hair have to do with the story? It was only a brief sentence or two … but it WAS part of the scene. Why? Transgenders make up what? 1/10 of one percent of the population maybe? Why have THAT particular character be transgender?

    Oh, oh, I know the answer! Pick me! Pick me!

    People have correctly pointed out that it doesn’t HAVE to have a reason but look at what Jemisin is doing with society in the Stillness.

    Race matters there – but not really in the way it does in the USA.
    Gender matters there – but not really in the way it does in the USA.

    What REALLY matters there is your assigned community role. Your surname, for example, signifies the kind of person you are in terms of the stuff you’ll do in the event of a season.

    Strongbacks, Resistants, Breeders, Innovators, Leaders – this is a social construct that is alien to us the reader but which to the people of the stillness is perceived as natural and as innate as many here would see gender or race. If you went to a community in the stillness and said that use-caste was a social construct some stillness Dave Truesdale would get all huffy about it.

    Now, the character in question: Transgender – not such a big deal in the Stillness (not viewed positively perhaps but not seen as outrageous as it would have been in say 1900 USA. However, is she following her use-caste? Nope. Worse, NEVER really has. Societal expectation was that she would be a leader but she breaks social norms and has done her own thing because of who she is (and as we learn) because of who she has always been.

    By being transgender Tonkee break with the social constructs of the Stillness is given a parallel equivalent in terms of OUR society hat mirrors what her rejection of use-caste is like in HER society. The only way that she can be even sort of accepted in Stillness society is if she is a person who lives eccentrically on the fringes of society. And we can call all see that is absurd as far as profession goes because OBVIOUSLY your professional role in society isn’t something fixed at birth!

    It’s bloody brilliant.

    Put another way, if you were a stillness person reading a story from our world and it had a transgender woman in it whose parents were politicians and she was bricklayer, then you would be “yeah, but why is she a bricklayer when her parents were politicians?” and not really give two hoots that she was transgender.

  3. all right I can get behind Hampus and Contrarius. Accepting that box-checking is not a pejorative thing at all … thanks guys.

  4. Since it keeps coming up here’s some word vomit on box-checking.

    This ill-defined buzz term appears to be in use for a number of different things so that when it is brought up or discussed it’s possible that the two people talking aren’t even talking about the same thing. It’s been used to described the focus of comments and scroll subjects and that the content of books include items that exist for no reason other than to satisfy a list.

    The term box-checking and the colloquialism ‘checking off a box’ derives from the idea that the person checking off the boxes has no personal interest in the subject and doesn’t care for the quality of it, only that it meets the bare minimum requirements set by someone else. That instead of making any effort the person took the lazy route, though some are using the phrase to include pandering on top of taking the easy way.

    Notably there are those using the term only to point out gender, race or sexuality as box-checking. Aside from not realizing how insulting it is to suggest that an author only wrote a character or situation a specific way because they don’t care about the quality of their work so much as they’d rather just do the bare minimum and meet the requirements to pander to a select audience, it’s also is a feat of mental gymnastics to see in action. In practice the easy road would be to write complete stereotypes instead of careful consideration of the who the characters are and how that fits into the world they inhabit. Or even lazier would be to not include them at all and make characters cardboard cut outs.

    It’s very similar to the term ‘virtue signaling’ in that someone expressing empathy doesn’t actually have empathy they’re just trying to gain social points. Usually the person using the phrase can’t believe anyone else could care so those that do must be lying. ‘Box-checking’ is used by some in the same way, they believe the writer doesn’t actually care about the book or characters because they can’t imagine caring about those subjects so the writer must be just pandering.

    Similarly you’ll notice that those accusations aren’t leveled at other common tropes like elves and dragons as box-checking or instances of lazy characterization (like Sword of Shannara kind of felt like someone distilled a list from LotR and checked it off as they went on). You’re not seeing the complaints of ‘Oh man of course that YA book had to check off mmf love triangle in a dystopian future’. It’s ‘this book has a gay character, guess they checked that box’.

    If you’re going to insinuate that diversity is only lazy pandering at least man the fuck up and say so instead of beating around the bush.

  5. Sorry, just to follow on from that last comment. Note it isn’t that social class isn’t a thing in our society either but unless you are Charles Murray or really out-there politically, the assumption that your job is predetermined by birth is not one that people tend to overtly accept. Having said that, people often do fall into default assumptions about people somehow being predetermined to be poor.

    The society in The Stillness is not a nice society and it isn’t one free of racism or sexism or misogyny but they are lower key inequalities compared to the use-caste system. That system has elements that we can recognise in our social divisions but the system itself is alien to us. We* have nothing quite so regimented in the domain of work, even if you are used to English class & regional distinctions.

    Jemisin is flipping different kinds of social inequalities into different dynamics. We know ‘race’ plays a role by the way people discuss different skin and hair colouring and associate that with different regions and by how one ethnic group tends to dominate in the capital, but it’s not anything like the role use-caste has in that society.

    Jemisin works in elements from our societies hang-ups and prejudices to help a reader get a sense of the different hang-ups and prejudices in the Stillness. In turn, the distance we have from the Stillness’s societal issues, gives us a perspective on our society’s social issue as an outsider looking back in.

    Look at how subtle that worldbuilding is. No huge infodump, she never really underlines any of this. The three plots rattle along at pace and yet Jemisin paints a society as complex as the one in the last third of Seveneves with just subtle points.

    *[i.e. Modern Western societies]

  6. @clif

    (I don’t wish to pile on here as I appreciate you’ve stuck your neck out here, and are listening to people’s points and taking ideas away, but this point interested me)

    Box checking, as I understand it, is the inclusion of a character or characteristics for the sole purpose of appealing to some discriminated against minority. So to add a character or characteristics that have no seeming purpose to the plot or story for the sole purpose of appealing blah blah blah is, yes, gratuitous.

    I think that’s probably a fair example of what people who use box-checking mean, although they tend to shy away from actually defining it.
    However, that definition suffers from essentially being an assumption of bad-faith. There are a vast number of motives for writing a character with particular characteristics, ranging from deliberately wanting to make a particular point to just having that character pop into your head. Short of interrogating them, there’s really no way to know why an author wrote a particular character that way, so a person accusing an author of “box-checking” is assuming that the motive was one they believe is bad without any actual evidence.
    When you’ve got a definition that depends on thinking the author had a “bad” motive in order to prove they had a “bad” motive, you’ve got a circular definition based on pre-judging the whole situation.

  7. When you’ve got a definition that depends on thinking the author had a “bad” motive in order to prove they had a “bad” motive, you’ve got a circular definition based on pre-judging the whole situation.

    yes of course and I should have clarified what I meant by that.

  8. I like The Fifth Season btw

    I do too … have two geology degrees so it fits right into my wheelhouse science-wise.

  9. The insulin port example is interesting to me, because I can think of two very well-known books that use insulin and diabetes quite effectively:

    In Alas, Babylon, there’s an early scene which gives a very good sense of the tragedies inherent in the breakdown of industrial society (the electric blanket puts the cherry on top), while in Lucifer’s Hammer it’s used both to motivate a key character’s actions and to illuminate his moral nature.

  10. Camestros Felapton says Oh fer goodness sake this narrative had a start, a complication and then a resolution – I guess they had to tick those boxes. That might will the best answer I’ve read. Certainly one the succinct ones.

  11. I think Seanan McGuire once answered a reader’s question about “Why is this character gay?” with, “Because she is.”

    Which strikes me as a perfectly reasonable response.

  12. Mark-kitteh: …so a person accusing an author of “box-checking” is assuming that the motive was one they believe is bad without any actual evidence.
    When you’ve got a definition that depends on thinking the author had a “bad” motive in order to prove they had a “bad” motive, you’ve got a circular definition based on pre-judging the whole situation.

    When I worked in tax I soon learned that, for all our cynicism about the field, people did not put things on their return for no reason, and that reason often included a sense that it was the right thing to do (whether it actually was) and keeping that in mind was important to any conversation.

    So I agree that if someone put 25 examples of alleged box-checking in front of us and we had the power to interview the authors about them, we would find that in most cases people thought they were doing something else entirely. And that a lot of those explanations would be persuasive.

  13. John A Arkansawyer comment that The insulin port example is interesting to me, because I can think of two very well-known books that use insulin and diabetes quite effectively:

    An insulin pump figures in one of Gil the ARM stories that Larry Niven wrote in which a used up pump is what Gil uses to figure out who the killer is.

  14. Insulin and diabetes is a pretty common thing in post-apocalyptic literature as a group that is doomed. S.M. Sterling had a pair of elderly, Mormon diabetics whose disaster prep helped save the Wiccan group founded by Juniper McKenzie. In following decades people still left offerings to the memory of those Mormons.

  15. @airboy —

    S.M. Sterling had a pair of elderly, Mormon diabetics whose disaster prep helped save the Wiccan group founded by Juniper McKenzie. In following decades people still left offerings to the memory of those Mormons.

    I frequently say that if anyone survives the apocalypse it’s gonna be the Mormons. I lived in Salt Lake City for five years, and though I object to or find silly many of their religious views, I have great respect for their social cohesion, organization, and preparedness.

  16. My answer to “why are so many of your characters lesbian/bi women” is: of all the varied people who inhabit my invented country of Alpennia, I’ve deliberately chosen to tell the stories of queer women. There are lots of non-queer characters in the books with very interesting stories of their own. But they aren’t the ones I’ve chosen to tell. It’s not something about the world itself, but something about my authorial choice. On the other hand, if I’d constructed my invented country in such a way that there were no queer characters available to tell stories about, that would be something about the world. (And that would definitely say something about my authorial choice.)

  17. This post by Yoon Ha Lee makes an interesting counterpoint, pointing out another way (besides the requirement that a character’s identity be plot-relevant) that representation can flatten characters — in this case the expectation that all characters representing a marginalized group be positive portrayals: http://yhlee.dreamwidth.org/2298302.html

    IMO, a big part of the solution in both cases is simply more representation of diverse groups. When there are more examples of a particular group across media, there’s less of a sense that each one represents the group as a whole.

  18. @Contrarius: “So I think it’s a great thing when authors do include diverse characters without forcing them to justify their contributions to a plot. They’re just people, just as much as anyone else. They’re just living their lives.”

    I find that Seanan McGuire’s really good at that. It doesn’t take a lot of text setup to do it, either – for instance, a line of dialogue from a woman who’s anxious to get home because her girlfriend’s cooking something special for dinner. Those one or two words that define an incidental character as gay or bi rather than straight don’t affect the plot in the slightest sense; it’s just a queer character in the book being a regular person. Sure, that character could be a man saying the same line, or a woman talking about her boyfriend, and it wouldn’t change anything to the plot…

    …but to the queer people reading the book, that one line that includes them and recognizes that they’re just everyday people can make a world of difference. That’s why I fume at allegations of “box-checking” and demands that sexual orientation or minority status need to be plot-relevant. It just ain’t so.

  19. One more thought — I think there is a lot of social value in representing diverse groups in ways where their identity isn’t directly relevant to the plot. A few years back I did a focus group with youth who were dealing with mental health issues and they said what they wanted to see most in media representations of mental illness was people who were successfully using medication (or other tools) and just getting on in life. For them, the idea of characters whose mental illnesses were not plot-relevant was an empowering one because it would tell them, and their peers, that you could still have a normal life with mental illness (and maybe get people thinking about how many people we might know who were dealing with mental illness without us knowing it.)

  20. So to hark back on this:
    Contrarius on April 19, 2017 at 9:50 am said:

    Red hair isn’t “typical”. Left-handedness isn’t “typical”. Missing appendages aren’t “typical”. Blindness isn’t “typical”. Do you believe that characters with any of these traits also need to have their existence justified?

    clif on April 19, 2017 at 9:54 am said:

    of course not … but making a point to mention them generally has some bearing on the story.

    We have many stories of, say, sailors having peg legs that, apart from Ahab, have little or no bearing on the overall story. Cordelia Vorkosigan has red hair. Does that have bearing on her stories? Does Fate Ravenglass’s blindness have bearing in The Snow Queen? Kermit the Frog’s being left handed?

    I WANT a world where mentioning a disability or religion or skin color or orientation or gender or other is just part of a character who is part of a world. I’m tired of Checkov’s Minority.

    Writers and readers hungering for that sort of “please make this unremarkable and not needing justification” is an utterly valid reason to write such characters.

  21. @clif – hmmm … if 1055 stories were accepted out of 1075 submitted … would that still mean women were underrepresented?
    Surely we have that data for today’s magazines/anthologies to compare.

    We don’t, though, partly because it’s not possible to accurately count let alone divide slush for every print and online magazine and anthology. Another unquantifiable data point would be whether underrepresentation had a quelling effect on submissions. My guess would be yes, but there’s no way to know.

    All we have is the data we have, which is actual publication. There, it’s clearly looking better for women these days than it was in 1967.

    In terms of check-box fiction, @clif and I are in the same age bracket. I know that I found it a little jarring when I first started running into gay, trans, and gender fluid characters. Since I have been surrounded by gay, trans, and gender fluid people for most of my life, it wasn’t jarring because of unfamiliarity. Instead, it was because it was novel (yeah, sorry, but I like puns) to run into them in fiction.

    Some authors do a better job of characterization than others, so if the introduction of a non-white, non-heteronormative, non-cis character is clunky, pay attention to the other characters and you’ll likely see just as much clunkiness. It’s just that we’re used it when it’s describing some blond military guy with laughing eyes (or whatever is your secondary character of choice).

  22. Rev Bob:

    for instance, a line of dialogue from a woman who’s anxious to get home because her girlfriend’s cooking something special for dinner. Those one or two words that define an incidental character as gay or bi rather than straight don’t affect the plot in the slightest sense; it’s just a queer character in the book being a regular person.

    There’s a story Moira ghem Estef tells in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance about her husband’s (who was a ghem General during the Barrayaran Occupation) son who went off to meet with a lover in Vorkosigan Vashnoi just as the nuke was detonated. Bujold originally had the lover be a woman. She then thought there was no reason why the lover should be a woman, so switched him to a man. Not box checking, just no reason at all for that relationship to be heterosexual.

    There was equally no reason at all for that relationship to NOT be heterosexual. So in the absence of the plot needing one or the other why would it matter which was chosen?

  23. @Rev. Bob

    for instance, a line of dialogue from a woman who’s anxious to get home because her girlfriend’s cooking something special for dinner. Those one or two words that define an incidental character as gay or bi rather than straight don’t affect the plot in the slightest sense; it’s just a queer character in the book being a regular person.

    Right. Or like the recent decision to make Sulu gay. They never say a word about it on screen (that I remember, anyway) — just show him kissing his husband and little girl when he gets home. Because, guess what? On a ship that size, some of the crew are gonna be LGBT — and they’re gonna have loved ones to get home to just like everyone else.

  24. If you think details are merely cosmetic, then the logical outcome is e.g. a heist story where the Brains, the Muscle, the Thief break into a bank vault, and abscond with the money. But nowhere during the story do you find out if any of them are male or female, what their names are, or any distinguishing features they might have (height, weight, hair & eye colour etc.).

    I mean, sure you can tell a story that way, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps, but really all characters default to faceless blobs, described purely by their functional roles. It might work as a one-off stunt writing type of story, but I highly doubt there’s a market for this sort of storytelling.

  25. @Soon Lee:

    I remember seeing a sex scene written that way. Undeniably explicit, but there were zero clues to indicate the two people’s genders; the details that would give that away were carefully elided. It could be read as a straight encounter just as easily as a gay or lesbian one. Now that I think back, I don’t think there was much physical description, either – although they would have to be about the same size and build.

    It was a neat trick, but I’m not sure it’d hold up over the course of a novel.

  26. @Ultragotha:

    Not yet, but (a) it’s on my list, (b) sexless robot proxies are cheating, and (c) I had not understood that book to contain multiple explicit sex scenes.

    ETA: Keeping with the “status of Mount Tsundoku” theme, going from “to get soon” to “to process and read soon” today are the latest three volumes (one novel and two novellas) in Jennifer Estep’s “Elemental Assassin” series. I got a $25 gift card more quickly than I’d anticipated, so into the cart they went!

  27. Kermit the Frog’s being left handed?

    Just a note: Most Muppets are left-handed. It has to do with the way they are constructed and handled, and the fact that most muppeteers are right-handed. The right hand of the muppeteer is used to control the muppets’ head and body, while the left hand controls their left arm. Most muppets have their other hand stitched to their chest.

  28. Matt Y: It’s very similar to the term ‘virtue signaling’ [which presupposes] that someone expressing empathy doesn’t actually have empathy they’re just trying to gain social points. Usually the person using the phrase can’t believe anyone else could care so those that do must be lying. ‘Box-checking’ is used by some in the same way, they believe the writer doesn’t actually care about the book or characters because they can’t imagine caring about those subjects so the writer must be just pandering.

    This is exactly what I think accusations of “box-checking” are about: “I find gay characters icky and unnatural, therefore the only possible reason an author would include gay characters is to pander to a special-interest group, because it’s impossible to me that the author would actually consider gay characters a normal and natural part of the novel’s world.”

  29. Paul Weimer: Nerds of a Feather has some Hugo Award suggestions. . Dropping the Best Editor categories are amongst G’s suggestions.

    I note that dropping the Fanzine category is not amongst his suggestions. 😉

  30. JJ: I note that dropping the Fanzine category is not amongst his suggestions.

    LOL!

    It’s far from impossible that idea could resurface, but a few years ago somebody’s idea to repeal the fan Hugo categories was flattened by the pros who had discovered they could win them.

  31. There is a new Humble Unicorn Bundle, curated — of course — by Peter S. Beagle, which includes his newest book, In Calabria, as well as 2 made-for-this-bundle Fantasy and Science Fiction Book of Unicorns anthologies edited by Gordon Van Gelder.

  32. (b) sexless robot proxies are cheating

    The gender of the narrator in the robot-free Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson is never specified. Not SFF, but a great book. One of my all-time favorites.

    (I do not recall it having multiple explicit sex scenes, it is true.)

  33. Just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed reading this conversation about box-ticking (or not). Many thoughtful points to remember for future discussions.

    I haven’t read The Fifth Season and am not sure if I will any time soon; it generally sounds a bit bleaker than I’d care for. Is the second-person present-tense in the quoted bit used throughout the book?

  34. clif,

    1. I am not worried about spoilers; if I were, I wouldn’t have participated in the discussion. I pointed out that I hadn’t read the book only as a caveat–to say, “I may be totally wrong, but *just from this paragraph* I am picking up all sorts of world- and character-building relevant to the revelation of Tonkee being trans.”

    2. I am disappointed that “I haven’t read this book” was the only part of my post you replied to, as it wasn’t really my point. But by now others who *have* read the book have made the point I was trying to, with much better grounding in the whole of the novel. Their posts are very worth reading in detail.

    3. The answers “It’s hella plot-relevant that she’s trans” and “Does it *have* to be plot-relevant? Trans people can’t just *exist,* like cis people can?” are not mutually exclusive. Just wanted to point that out, in case it was confusing that you’re getting both kinds of answers.

  35. Hi Robin! The Fifth Season is indeed quite bleak. The second-person present tense is used for one of the three PoV characters, so it’s not used throughout the book. I believe the other sections are third-person past tense.

  36. @clif
    I frequently read stories that appear to contain an LGBT character for no purpose other than local color. I view this as about the same as an SF story that includes flying cars or teleportation booths just to make the setting seems more exotic. There’s nothing particularly wrong about it–it just doesn’t add any significant value to the story.

    It’s a conundrum. I want to believe in a future where being LGBT isn’t a big deal, but my own experience of being gay involves enormous conflict, so a story where a gay character doesn’t experience any sort of gay-related conflict always feels a bit flat to me. I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut that most trans people feel the same way.

    I always appreciate any author who chooses to include us–in any role, no matter how small. But the ones that really resonante with me are the ones where we’re a big part of the conflict that drives the story.

  37. Thanks, Dawn! I’m always torn on when to take a chance with a highly-acclaimed book, since I’m willing to accept “good” as a quality description from folks here, but that doesn’t always track with “enjoyable” for me personally. I read the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms et sequelae and found it compelling enough to keep reading, but too dark to reread for me personally.

  38. Not yet, but (a) it’s on my list, (b) sexless robot proxies are cheating, and (c) I had not understood that book to contain multiple explicit sex scenes.

    SPOILER

    .

    (b) Chris isn’t genderless, AFAIK. We just don’t know what gender Chris is.

    .

    /SPOILER

    (c) sustaining sex scenes throughout the entirety of any book would be … well, boring. At least to me.

    Robin Whiskers on April 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm said:

    I haven’t read The Fifth Season and am not sure if I will any time soon; it generally sounds a bit bleaker than I’d care for. Is the second-person present-tense in the quoted bit used throughout the book?

    I was put off that book for a long time due to what I thought would be a very bleak story. It’s not as bleak as the descriptions led me to believe. Also, no, the second person present tense isn’t maintained throughout the book. I was put off by that possibility also. I really liked it once I read it.

  39. @Ultragotha:

    Unless Chris is a robot – as opposed to a human using a sexless robot as a proxy – I don’t see the relevance of your “correction.” I’m quite mindful of the difference between sex and gender, which is precisely why I referred to the robot as “sexless.”

    Or am I mistaken, and the robot Chris uses has genitals?

  40. I’m just chuffed we’re still talking about Fifth Season. SO GOOD. I usually hate end-of-civilization and even vaguely dark books, but I LURVE these (with an entirely non-sexual or gender-related passion).

    @Greg: That’s your hangup. My LGBT friends who haven’t had problems (or haven’t had them recently) are so tired of the gay stories where it’s all about the gay and the angst of the gay is the whole plot. Gay. Too many books are that way, not enough where the plot is about trying to pay the mortgage, or making sure the kids aren’t hanging around with the wrong sort, or flying the spaceship and saving the world like nuSulu.

    My two closest trans* friends roll their eyes at the cliche of Tragic TransPerson. Yes, it happens way too often, but their concerns are largely the same as mine. The garden is full of weeds. The computer isn’t working. When is the next Marvel movie coming out? Is Drumpf gonna nuke North Korea? What the hell is quinoa? On another planet or in the future (or both, like Vorkosigans and maybe Fifth Season?), things are going to be different.

  41. @Rev Bob: pretty sure there isn’t mention of genitalia for threeps (robot bodies). There’s a side note in either the book or the prequel novella Unlocked about a pair of Hadens (robot-body-users) wishing to reproduce, using their biological bodies with medical assistance. I think that’s the closest it gets. But I haven’t read it since it came out.

    Wait, maybe that’s not the closest. There are also some humans who can serve in place of robot bodies. The narrator mentions getting the use of such a human for a 12th? birthday present at Disney[land/world/other], and hating it, not least because of not knowing how to eliminate, having had use of a robot body since the age of two. The human host has to take over for that instead of remaining in the background. Eventually the narrator insisted on getting their robot body again and enjoyed the day much more that way.

    There’s also a scene or two in which a human is host to a Haden of another biological sex. But if there’s any discussion about copulation in that situation, I totally missed or have forgotten it. This might be kind of a useless comment, then. Sorry.

  42. cliff:

    but blond hair blue eyes tall thin short rotund etc are all cosmetic descriptions. Describing genitalia doesn’t really fall into that category. Blood type is another example … Tonkee was blood type AB+ … so what? Why do we need to know this?

    I haven’t read the book yet, but some details are just texture. If I’m writing a story, and I need to cut to a scene, say, somewhere rural, I’ll pick a rural place. I won’t necessarily have a reason for that particular place, but I won’t reflexively pick Kansas just because it’s really common for Kansas to get used in that kind of situation. I might actually avoid Kansas, because picking Kansas feels unimaginative. If I’ve got a group of international pilots in an SF story, it’s just as easy to make one a Finn and another from India as it is to pick from just the familiar flavors, and it makes things feel just that little bit more specific, less generic. If the character’s Finnish background never becomes something the plot turns on, any more than it would have if they were French, no big deal. We don’t need to justify Finnishness, it’s a perfectly reasonable possibility by sheer chance.

    So if blood type comes up in a story, I might figure that one or more of the characters could have an unusual blood type, simply because unusual occurrences happen, and it helps make the world seem more real. If the characters are all AB+, then that seems like an unusual occurrence that stands out, perhaps as a clue — why is this seemingly-random grouping of people all AB+? What does that signify?

    But if one of them is AB+, well, it happens. It’s a piece of texture that might result in a complication or might not, but doesn’t need to be a plot point that the story turns on, because there are people out there who are AB+ and they’re not always plot points. If there’s a person who’s a slob, and their apartment is a cluttered mess, I don’t need that to lead to a plot point. If they’re businesslike about hair and makeup, that’s a character point but it doesn’t need to be a plot point. And so on.

    Details — even unusual details — may just be texture. If it’s the end of the world and the survivors are coping with the collapse of civilization, some of those survivors will be trans and some will be AB+ and some are likely to be Finns and some slobs and so on. And these details may be texture without being major plot drivers.

    Red hair isn’t “typical”. Left-handedness isn’t “typical”. Missing appendages aren’t “typical”. Blindness isn’t “typical”. Do you believe that characters with any of these traits also need to have their existence justified?

    of course not … but making a point to mention them generally has some bearing on the story.

    I don’t think that’s true. If it were, then what it’s saying is that if someone is blind, they can’t exist in a story unless the story hinges somehow on their blindness. It can’t just be a thing that happens. My best friend’s father was legally (and almost but not quite functionally) blind, and my friend’s daughter has inherited the same condition, and I wouldn’t want to tell either of them that characters like them can’t or shouldn’t crop up in a story unless they’re a plot point, or that left-handedness can’t or shouldn’t be mentioned unless it drives the plot. Sometimes it’s just a way to make the world in the book feel like the world around us.

    I tend to sit at the corner of a table that’ll leave my elbow unimpeded by anyone else, because I’m left-handed, and I know from experience that sitting next to a right-handed fellow diner in the wrong configuration will end up with us bumping elbows. If that was a bit of business that came up in a story, I think a lot of readers would recognize it as a naturalistic moment and the ones who didn’t would take it as just texture — although it might contribute to establishing the character who did that as logical or a planner or perhaps mildly compulsive. But it doesn’t need to be a plot point, like “if Fred hadn’t insisted he sit at the corner he wouldn’t have been seated next to Marjorie and wouldn’t have overheard the fateful clue.” If characters only have characteristics that plot moments hinge on, it starts to feel like a Rube Goldberg machine or an Agatha Christie mystery rather than something naturalistic.

    Dann:

    If a character has a dragon tattooed upon their buttocks, but they never disrobe sufficiently for another character to see it, and if the tattoo has no cultural/social impact within the story (i.e. belonging to the Ancient Order of Dragon Butted Defenders), then it strikes me as “box checking”.

    The problem isn’t that the character shouldn’t exist. The problem is that the specific aspect of the character being described is not evident within any normal social interaction given the context of the story.

    What about the normal social interaction of conversation?

    “We talked late into the night. At one point, Bill and Hermes compared tattoos—Bill had an ourouborous wrapped around his left wrist, and Hermes laughingly pulled up his jean cuffs to show delicate wings just above his ankles. ‘It was a bet,’ he said. ‘I lost.’

    “Melisandra suddenly giggled, burped, and spoke up. ‘I’ve got a dragon tattooed on my butt.’

    “Everyone wanted to know more—when? why? Chinese dragon? European dragon? Pete’s Dragon?—and of course half the guys wanted to see it, as did Lenore. But Mel just blushed redder than I’ve ever seen a senior citizen blush, and refused to say another word.”

    The tattoo doesn’t need to be there for plot reasons. It doesn’t need to have social or cultural impact. But it says that Melisandra has a past in which she did things that you wouldn’t expect, seeing her today. And that she’s not the type normally to talk about it. Combined with other information, it may establish her as secretive, as private, as someone who was once daring but has been staid for a very long time, and so on.

    Alone, it’s a fragment. What that fragment means, in combination with other fragments, may create a convincing sense of texture, of humanity, to the characters, even if none of them ever see the tattoo.

    Hair color (eyes, skin, fur, etc.) is something that can be seen by the average person on the street. Genitalia and other aspects of gender orientation…not so much.

    Fiction need not limit itself to descriptive details only seen by the average person on the street. What if the narrator has a tattoo? Narration may bring it up even if no one in the story ever sees it, as a piece of data that lets us flesh out the lead character. What if the story is set in a setting where these characters regularly go through decontamination showers in a group, and nudity is not unusual? Genitalia comes up in lots of stories, even though it’s not seen by the average person on the street.

    Gender orientation isn’t often a physical detail, but can easily come up due to behavior, and even the random person on the street may be able to know someone’s orientation, and that person’s friends and family may know it more.

    The idea that a story should only cover the minimum needed to understand it is a legitimate approach to writing, but it’s only one of the nine-and-sixty ways. Lots and lots of texture is another legitimate approach. So is everything in between.

    ***

    Used to be, lots of different kinds of people were ignored in fiction unless there was a “reason” for them to exist in it. Black characters were slaves or servants and/or confronted prejudice. Women were prizes and captives. Etcetera.

    The world changed, as it always does and always will. It’s no longer unusual (well, noticeably unusual) for a scientist or engineer in a SF story to be a woman, and it doesn’t need to be commented on, and it doesn’t need to set up a plot point. It just reflects reality.

    This change has happened with minorities as well — your scientist’s a Muslim? Fine. A Finn? No problem. The digitally-preserved mind of a woman who made the AI breakthrough 150 years ago? Why not? If it helps create the texture and atmosphere you want for your story, it doesn’t have to turn the plot.

    If this is now happening for trans people, well, fine. There are trans people, after all, and they can be scientists or dog trainers or lawyers or performers or whatever else, without it needing to turn the plot. It’ll tell you something about the world, based on how those characters — and other characters — are treated. It’ll build texture and detail and nuance. It’ll establish personality in different ways.

    But a trans character, a blind character, a left-handed character, a black character and even that wandering Finn can all exist in a story — even the same story, maybe, and even the same character — without it having to turn the plot. Because these things are all aspects of real people, so they can crop up without it being a Plot Clue.

    If all the characters are left-handed, that’s a striking detail that suggests there is or was a purpose to it on someone’s part. If they’re all transgender, then maybe the story’s set in the rubble of a support center, or there are psychic waves that are specifically drawing trans people together for some reason. That’s strikingly unusual.

    But if there are merely one or two, that’s not so unusual as to be a striking oddity that must be explained. My eldest’s high school has more trans kids in it than that.

    But it depends on how it’s written — what’s the effect of it. Plot? Texture? Character? Worldbuilding? If they’re all Finns, though, it may just be that the story’s just set in Kalajoki.

  43. @Robin Whiskers

    Please do read TFS. It is a great read. I didn’t put it at the top of my ballot last year, but I definitely agree that it represents the level of talent that should be in the conversation for that sort of recognition. It is dark….I’d say that it wanders into GrimDark territory and that’s a good thing!

    ———-

    In general related to boxes…boxen…boxerology….

    I think that, like so many other issues, this is not one dimensional. Do allegations of box checking represent some sort of accusation of bad faith by the author? Sure…at times. Presuming that all such allegations are inappropriate also presumes bad faith by readers. Haven’t we all run into authors that present flat characters? It should still be acceptable to point out where an author is being lazy.

    I have similar reactions to zombies and sparkly vampires. After reading so many books with those features, I get a little tired of seeing the same thing over and over and over.

    My big hobby horse remains authors that put diminutive 8 and a half stone girl in plate armor and expect her to beat a similarly attired 14 and a half stone man in battle. That has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with physics. It could be an 8 1/2 stone boy beating Breanne of Tarth and I would have the same complaint. (obviously magic or some other factor could come into play, but for the purpose of this discussion, let’s keep it limited to physical combat while wearing lots of heavy steel.)

    The difference is that I frequently see the former and never see the latter.

    ——-

    On another front, I’m about 5 chapters into “Ninefox Gambit”. I sure hope this gets better later on. On the plus side, my reward for finishing Ninefox is the final installment of the Great Coats series that is currently en route from the U.K. Yay!

    ——-

    @Kurt

    A generic, story related incident that leads characters to discuss the non-apparent feature is certainly valid as someone catching a glimpse of the butt tattoo.

    What I’m getting at is that the feature should inform the reader about some facet of the character that helps round them out even if it doesn’t drive the central plot of the story. All of my non-SWM friends have a bunch of defining qualities. If I introduced them based solely on their race/gender, I’d get a well earned dressing down.

    Regards,
    Dann

  44. What I’m getting at is that the feature should inform the reader about some facet of the character that helps round them out even if it doesn’t drive the central plot of the story. All of my non-SWM friends have a bunch of defining qualities. If I introduced them based solely on their race/gender, I’d get a well earned dressing down.

    If you don’t define a character beyond one or two broad descriptors, that’s probably bad writing, not box-ticking. Unless they’re a very minor character. But in all the descriptions of the book that have gone on here, no one has suggested that the character introduced is established as a trans woman with AB+ blood, and nothing more.

    So I’m thinking that’s not the issue.

    And my example of the woman with the dragon tattoo was to show that things that random people walking down the street wouldn’t notice — the standard you offered — could still come up in a story and be used as texture, as incident, as character, without it being strange or untoward, because that’s not a standard we use in fiction. Characters are regularly defined in more detail than what a random person on the street might notice. Even frivolous details that aren’t in an of themselves compelling, like our lady with the butt tattoo, but are a piece of an overall mosaic.

  45. Dann: Do allegations of box checking represent some sort of accusation of bad faith by the author? Sure…at times. Presuming that all such allegations are inappropriate also presumes bad faith by readers. Haven’t we all run into authors that present flat characters? It should still be acceptable to point out where an author is being lazy.

    But flat characters aren’t “box-checking”. They’re bad or lazy writing. And I think that it’s disingenuous to try to conflate that with “box-checking”.

    An accusation of “box-checking” is — at all times — an accusation of dishonesty committed by an author or a reader. It’s saying that an author isn’t really writing genuinely and trying to create fleshed-out characters, they’re just trying to pander to a certain group. It’s saying that a reader doesn’t genuinely love what they say they love, they are only pretending to love it because they are pandering to a certain group.

    This isn’t to say that such dishonesty does not exist. I’m sure that there are cases where it does. But those are the exception, not the rule.

    The problem is that the Puppies’ whole argument is that all non-Puppies and non-Puppy authors are guilty of this sort of dishonesty. Which is just bullshit.

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