The Wonderful World of Pets!

So let’s talk pets.

One of the fun things about creating fantasy or science fiction worlds is deciding what (if any) animals the people of your world have taken a liking to. It gives you a bit more freedom to go beyond the traditional dog/cat idea without your characters seeming eccentric. I personally love using foxes in place of a dog or cat. They can be domesticated and are furry and cute. Humans do tend to love soft fluffy things after all.

Howl 7
Yes, this is an excuse to show off my puppy. He is soft and fluffy!

But before you simply pick your favorite animal exotic or otherwise, take a few minutes to think about how certain animals came to be pets. This would be especially useful for creating animals on another planet for a people that don’t resemble humans and their love of fluffy critters.

Most of the animals we think of as pets now, were domesticated for specific reasons. Early wolves became tamed dogs and were useful in hunting or for protection. People didn’t just share scarce food with an animal for no reason. Dogs had to pull their own weight and served a purpose. It wasn’t until much later that specific traits were bred and the breeds we think of as common today were created, and even then it was more often to create better working dogs, such as dogs that instinctively herded or were skilled at tracking.

Howl 10
I am descended from hunters.

The same is true for cats. Cats served a purpose beyond being indifferent little gods ruling your house.  I’m sure they were still considered themselves little gods, but they also were used to keep rodents or other small creatures off the property. No one wanted their hard sown grain to be purloined by a bunch of rats, so cats were useful animals to domesticate.

A_Persian_Cat_beside_Naser_al-Din_Shah_gravestone2
I am a god.

The same is true of many birds, which could be used for hunting or sending messages, and larger animals, such as horses, pigs, cows, and chicken. Of course, most of the latter animals were useful as food, but that too is a use. Any civilization on the rise is only going to interact with animals that have some kind of function. They are not going to waste food on anything that does not offer something in return until the resources of the world outweigh the needs. In other words only when there is an excess can you spare food on an animal that doesn’t help you. This is why so many of the less practically useful breeds of dogs were started by rich people who had excess to spare.

So even though your civilization may be prosperous for the story you’re writing, think about how it began and what needs did they have that an animal could meet. Those are the animals they’d eventually domesticate. That doesn’t mean you can’t create an animal that serves those purposes. That’s the fun of world building.

Howl 6
One more cause I’m cute.
Advertisements
NASA on The Commons

Eclipse!

In honor of the truly awesome total solar eclipse that I so happen to have been in the path of totality for, let’s take a quick look at how people react to this astronomical phenomenon. Whether you’re fantasy or science fiction, the stars tend to be a very important part a civilization. Just look at how we in reality reacted to the chance to see the eclipse.

The USA went bonkers for a month leading up to today, and we ended up congregating together in celebration (i.e., we had parties).  And we knew exactly what was happening. Imagine a pre-industrial civilization or pre-astronomy civilization witnessing the gradual dimming of the sky, hearing the critters of night start to wake up, then for the sky to suddenly look dark except for this glowing ring of light in the sky.

Photo by Oregon State University
Photo by Oregon State University

Mythology is created around events like this, and for good reason. When you are thinking about the peoples of your world, think about what myths tend to do: they explain the world. So maybe your people have belief that coincide with astronomical phenomenon such as this, or festivals that are meant to keep the sun from disappearing again, which may just be holidays over time. Remember, so many of our own holidays are rooted in festivals that were once celebrating nature, such as the solstices.

Even in the far future events like this can still be of interest. Science loves to examine the unusual. Perhaps even the desire to understand the stars is a driving force behind why your people reach out for the stars. Also, try and imagine what an eclipse looks like from the planet’s orbit. I’m sure someone in your world is selling tickets for that space trip.

That’s all for now. To everyone in the USA, I hope you had a happy eclipse day.

New Stories!

I’m happy to say that two of my stories have been selected for publication.

“The Woman with the Feather in Her Hair” will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Wild Musette.

“The Legend of Koshchey and Maria Morevna” has been published in The Rogue’s Gallery anthology and is available in both print or e-book format.

I’m happy to be sharing my stories with everyone and hope there will be plenty more to come.

One Piece: All the Feelings!

As you might have guessed from the banner, we’re talking about One Piece today. Eiichiro Oda’s world has a lot going on in it, but I’m actually not going to delve in deep to that. I actually want to discuss my favorite aspect of the characters. Yes, it’s a bit tangential to my world-building, but the fact that the world allows the characters to do this is very important. So, what is it that is so amazing about these characters?

All of them are allowed to feel. Really feel.

No one is too cool, too powerful, or too pretty to feel the full spectrum of emotions.

Luffy is basically unfiltered emotion, but that’s another story.

All too often characters, no matter the medium, fall into stereotypes. The loner. The cool guy. The weakling. The goofball. The femme fatale. The cute girl. The villain. The hero. The mentor. Truly the list could go on forever.

Now, while all these stereotypes can be fully developed and be shown to the reader/watcher/player to have emotions beyond their role, they rarely are allowed to openly express those emotions. We might learn of them through flashbacks, internal monologues, or moments of the character alone, but those characters are not allowed to show them in front of others.

The cool or manly guy isn’t going to be sad (besides brooding) in front of people. The femme fatale isn’t going to act silly even if in private she’s a sucker for bad puns. The weakling and goofball might get angry, but no one will take them seriously. And the pretty girl will always cry beautifully.

op68
Here’s a picture of Sabo for no good reason.

This happens for several reasons.

  1. Sometimes a character has a genuine reason to not show certain emotions. If presented well, this is okay. Someone who is surrounded by enemies is going to close off to prevent attack.
  2. Sometimes the writer is too lazy to break them out of their mold. This is not okay.
  3. Gender expectations. Despite all the progress to break away from “traditional” ideas of what each gender should be like, these ideas persist. Men shouldn’t cry. Women should be demure. The cool or many guy isn’t going to be openly sad or cry because that would show a weakness (i.e. it’s what women do). The femme fatale isn’t going to spout every bad pun that comes to mind because she’s supposed to be sexualized danger and mystery.
  4. Societal mockery. This one goes along with gendered expectations. When a character breaks those expectations they become open to societal mockery, and it is often expected. If writers don’t want to deal with that, either to avoid it and be criticized for unrealistic scenarios or force their character to confront the mocker, then it is easier to maintain the stereotype.

There are surely more reasons, but I’m calling them the big ones. And it is for that reason that the world of One Piece is so amazing. It has removed reasons three and four from consideration. Oda decided, whether consciously or not, that in his world there are no gender constraints or societal mockery that can stop someone from feeling whatever they need to feel.

Let’s take a look at the two coolest characters of the Strawhat Crew. (I wanted to include Sabo, Law, and Ace in the coolest, but that’d be so many pictures, so we’ll stick to the Strawhats.)

op66
We’re just going to wait here awesomely.

Look at them! Don’t Zoro and Sanji look cool? Now, being too cool for school, they definitely shouldn’t cry, or if they do, it’s got to be cool, frustrated, manly crying.

Nope! Ugly cry away, boys. But surely being cool, they aren’t going to act silly or goofy or get excited about uncool things.

And they’re way too cool to be scared.

op30
Everyone fears Nami sometimes.

Huh, look at that, they sure seem to be enjoying themselves. But, these are men, and as any women who doesn’t exist in a media bubble knows, guys are allowed to do more than their female counterparts who are almost always trapped in “being pretty.” So let’s look at the women.

Lack of numbers aside, Nami and Robin seem to fit the bill of beautiful women. They’d never be allowed to ugly cry,

act goofy,

and be badass.

The goofy can be badass and the badass can be goofy. Someone can be both seductive and silly. Everyone can be happy, sad, angry, indignant, exasperated, arrogant, frustrated, thrilled, and so much more whenever they want without any negative repercussions.

op37
They can all be stoic, too.

That is the beauty of this world. Rather than constraining what they are allowed to show to others, it embraces those emotions. In fact, the usual response from other characters (who aren’t villains meant to vex them all) is an overwhelming sense of empathy. The struggle of one character becomes a catalyst for others to take up the fight, one’s triumph a reason for all to celebrate.

op26

By allowing the characters to openly show these emotions, the reader/audience is able to viscerally connect with them. So, before you constrain yourself to a world of social expectations of emotion, imagine what you could do if your world allowed anyone to show all of their emotions. It could be amazing.

Fashion – Part 1: Breasts

So let’s talk fashion. Specifically women’s fashion. Even more specifically large-breasted women’s fashion. As a woman who suffers from large breasts—and yes, suffer is the correct word—I have the authority to enlighten you on a few things.

Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves in fantasy or sci-fi is to see a large-breasted woman in wholly unsupportive clothing, often breasts revealed in some way, running, jumping, fighting and all over being a badass.

They might as well be naked for all that does to support/protect them, big or small.

Don’t get me wrong, more media needs to offer badass women of all shapes, and I encourage you to create them, but when you’re forming your world and its clothing—especially if you are in a visual medium such as comics, video, video games—please think about practicality before aesthetic, especially overt sexualization.

What do you need to take into consideration when dressing an active, large-breasted woman?

Pre -bra

If your world is set in an era before bras, then your woman will need to bind her breasts in some way. This is not meant to be alluring or a way to enhance cleavage. Her breasts need to be pressed as tight to her body as they can without impairing breathing or movement.

A secure bodice would help in everyday wear, but it’s not going to be enough in a fight. And, please, remember that corsets were not made to support but to shape, and that fainting couches were common because of how terribly it constrained breathing.

Post-bra

In a post-bra world, your woman will be wearing a bra. Not a sports bra, either. I’ve never found a single sports bra that could do anything more than cower at the thought of trying to support my breasts. More than likely she’s going to be wearing a binding bra. It is about the shape of a sports bra, but will have about a dozen or more clasps in the front to press the breasts against the chest and will cover all cleavage.

enl_2016_rockitred-productpagenatasha_b
I actually own this bra. Nothing moves in this. Wonderful!

For everyday wear, a bra will do, but it’s not going to be the kind you see on Victoria’s Secret commercials. Once again, underwire was made to shape, not support. Support comes from a bra with good coverage and tight fabric. That’s not to say off duty she can’t show off her ample bosom, but I’ve found that the less fabric covering, the less support it offers, and I usually need to adjust it at the shoulder more often.

Fun Fact: Grooves in the shoulder are real. Large breasts weigh quite a bit. Once you’ve contained them in a bra, all that weight is concentrated on your shoulders, and over the years grooves form on the shoulder. It’s not huge or noticeable to the eye, but we can feel it, and if a new bra doesn’t sit where it should, it’s very annoying.

Why is this so important?

If you haven’t figured out yet, the key is breasts need to not move. There should be no bouncing!

screenshot-048-p
Samara must use her biotics to keep from bouncing . . . or popping out.

Gravity is not you friend. Bouncing is the worst thing that can happen to a large-breasted woman for several reasons.

  1. If you are in a fight, you don’t want things moving that can impede your range of motion or could accidentally be injured because it’s flailing around.
  2. Breasts are connective tissue. Constant straining on that can tear that and cause other problems along the way.
  3. Muscles are connected to each other. When large breasts drop (remember, gravity is evil) with significant force there is a chain-reaction of muscles being pulled beyond their limit. If I don’t hold my chest when I need to run or jump, pain shoots through my shoulder up my neck and into my brain until I am dizzy, nauseated, and basically semi-immobile until the pain recedes. That is not the place you want to be if you’re a badass needing to fight.

So, please, I implore you to think more about her needs than her looks and give your character the support she deserves.

Final Note: DO NOT MAKE BOOB ARMOR! I cannot stress this enough. Boob armor is deadly to a woman. It is the most impractical armor in history. Armor is meant to protect the body, but boob armor concentrates all the force of an attack into a single point, a woman’s sternum. If hit, it will break her sternum and kill her. DO NOT MAKE BOOB ARMOR!

Thor actually has good armor. Feminine and sleek while still protective and practical, except for that hole at the stomach thing. But hey, they gave her pants and that makes me super happy.

Gods and Rituals and Theocracies, Oh My!

I want to talk a little bit about religion. As big as this subject is, I’m sure I’ll come back to it several more times, but for now I want to look at how religion can impact the rest of the world. Don’t worry, I won’t be going into any real religions, let’s keep away from those, but religion can have a lot more impact to your world than you might think.

It’s important to remember that everything interacts with each other when creating a culture. The kinds of religions you create, how important that religion is to the populace, the methods it’s used by the governing class, all of that will influence your world in far more ways than simply how the characters worship their god or gods.

To start with, there are two major questions you need to answer when determining how religion interacts with the rest of your world and characters. There are plenty more beside this, but these are a good place to start thinking about it.

  1. Do you have one god or multiple gods? If multiple, how many? Do you have ten or a hundred?
  2. How important is this religion to your society? Is it casual to or demanding of your characters? Will it be mentioned in passing or a continual presence throughout the story?

Those two things will determine a lot and give you a reference as your build your world. Knowing how many gods you have tells you more than who your characters pray to. Art, literature, architecture, song, dance, community, all these things can be affected by how many gods you have.

  • If your world is monotheist, will all your temples or churches have a similar, familiar appearance and atmosphere? If your world is polytheist, do the temples or churches reflect each god’s personality? Is there a hierarchy that means the bigger gods would have more elaborate temples and smaller gods more humble places of worship? Are gods common fixtures on non-religious buildings?
  • Religion has always been a major source of inspiration for artists and storytellers. Whether it is the creation story being made into plays, or pottery and tapestries and paintings of important figures from religious mythology, no matter what time in history or what religion, you can always find these images as a part of their culture. Not only can including these details flesh out your world, but it can increase the value of objects and become a way to describe a character’s wealth or influence. If you’re working in a visual medium, it can also help to create a sense of continuity through the use of symbols or reoccurring imagery.
    adobestock_86481071
  • Song and dance are commonly used in religions, and those religious influences do not remain contained to a church service or religious festival. Think about Christmas carols. Some are secular about Santa or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but just as many commonly played in public places are specifically religious (“Oh Holy Night,” “Little Drummer Boy”).

Religious aspects, even in a casually religious society, seeps into all manner of life choices and events that your characters may need to deal with.  Your characters could take shelter in an abandoned temple, watched by the haunting, half-broken gods forever standing sentinel over an empty hall. Or your thief could enter an extravagant mansion in search of a golden chalice engraved with the story of your god reaching down to craft the first person from the red clay ground.

Statue of Shiva Nataraja - Lord of Dance at sunlight
Who wouldn’t want to steal this?

Of course, how important that chalice is or how ruined that temple would be depends on the second question: how vital to your society is this religion(s)? A casual or personal religion may be nothing more than background to the world or important only to a single character, which could give them more depth. On the other spectrum, religion could define every part of a society’s life from government to daily rituals, and how your characters react to that can be just as important.

So what are some ways religion can determine society?

  • Government: Your society might be ruled as a theocracy, with the religious leaders acting as the governing body, or perhaps those in power simply use religion as a means of guiding/controlling the populace. Perhaps religion and government are considered incompatible. All these choices will create vastly different worlds and laws and interactions.
  • Rituals and Holidays: Everything from daily rituals such as prayer before meal or at certain times of day, giving offering to gods, symbolic motions (making the sign of the cross), to major holidays and festivals are often based in religious institutions. Having these can also make your world feel more real with a history and culture of its own.
  • Allies and Enemies: Sadly, this one is easily understood by most people. Religion can bring large groups of people together, or tear multiple groups apart. This can determine how people view/interact with your characters or vice versa. Such allegiances can also be the cause of major world events or historical actions your characters may participate in or at lease know of.

So whether your world’s religion(s) is important to the story or not, having an understanding of the religion can make your world feel solid and relatable, and that’s always a good thing.

Until next time!

Elegy for a Dead World

So, today I’m going to talk about a great new game (or at least new to me) that any writer should get. Elegy for a Dead World, which is available through Steam, is an independent game from Dejobaan Games that combines video games and writing. That might sound a little odd, or if you’re like me, completely awesome! The player travels to three world inspired by the poets Keats, Byron, and Shelley and “record” (create) the history or ruins of these dead worlds. It is a wonderful tool to help improve writing, think about world building, or simply break through some writer’s block by working with prompts.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visually, it is breathtaking. The artwork is detailed, expansive, alluring, and melancholic all at once. As you wander through the halls or wastelands left of these worlds, inspiration is close at hand for all your writing, and each world is unique. Pair that with the minimalistic background noise, you can imagine being there with your character, exploring and writing down the last bits of a lost civilization.

But the visuals are only a part of the game. As a tool for your creativity, it is accessible for any level of writing skill. In each world you can choose from a number of writing options. You can work with prompts or choose to free write. It has choices of poetry, prose, traditional styles, letter, even musicals. It also offers a number of tools to help improve your writing skills, such as grammar exercises.

Elegy 6

What’s intriguing to me is the intent of the game not simply to get you writing, but to get you thinking about how to create worlds. Even with prompts, very little information is given to sway how you decide their civilization grew, thrived, and ultimately died. While world-building often ends up a sprawling series of ideas and details coming together over time, the simplicity of the prompts and artwork allows you to think about world-building—from settlement to demise—in a grand scale, creating a unique culture without the nitty-gritty of singular characters and moving plots. The plot you create is the civilization itself.

I started in Byron’s world working with the main choice prompts. It was interesting to go through the first few prompts, imagining what kind of people lived in this sand-strewn, sun-burnt planet, only to have a later prompt contradict some of what I’d written. I took up the challenge to figure out how to make both facts work, and in the process expanded the civilization in was I hadn’t imaged through those first prompts. The entire process was fun, engaging, and just a little bit meditative, though that last one could be true of writing in general for me.

In addition to writing your own work, you can also share you stories with other players and read what others wrote. It can be as social or as personal as you want it to be.

I highly recommend the $15 investment in this game for any writer. How often are games catered to us?

If you’re curious, you can read my first creation through Byron’s world below. I’ve left it broken into the prompted pieces to let you see what it is like to write this.

Elegy 7

Red Sand under a Green Moon

They say everything comes to an end. Here, in the sand, their first colony flourished. An oasis amidst the unending death surrounding them. The sun that beat down the rest of the planet breathed life into their colony. It heated the water, filled their energy stores, and reached down to feed the hungry plants below.

The settlers of Byron’s World formed their settlement far below ground, initially because the oppressing sun took years to tame. Beneath the sand, though, were caverns. Cool in the worst of summer and filled with the rivers that had escaped demise by retreating from the sun.

They brought things from Earth that reflected their values. They were a people who strove to learn, always searching for more, but never did they forget what they’d already learned at such great cost. Why they left Earth. Why they risked all to find a new world, even one more terrible than the last. This they remembered. This is why they longed to know all.

This is all that is left of the First Settlement of Byron’s World. Their biggest mistake: growing. They planned for everything except the price of success. They harnessed the sun, grew crops from sand, brought the water us from beneath the ground but this world had died once before, and it was not yet ready to live again. They became too much and the world offered too little.

Moving closer to the surface, they started anew. A new society; with hope that rivaled the star they soared through and a dedication to move beyond the constraints this new planet tried to place on them.

The buildings and roads reflect this new generation. The rooms soar high with arches as smooth and clean as the unbroken moon that hovers ever visible next to the sun. The roads continue on and on, extending out into the desert so that the city can follow. Even now the roads continue, though much of the city has fallen around them.

If you listen closely here, you can hear sand tapping against the glass window in the center of the dome. They say when the sun goes down and the moon shines a pale green glow over the city, the blowing sands glitter in the air like moving starlight. The people would move the tables back and tell stories while they watched the red sands dance above them.

The Third Settlement began as challenge, built to oppose the older generations belief that they needed to conserve and maintain in order to survive. Youth wants to grow, and the young demand expansion. They had harnessed the sun, tapped the waters beneath, and survived on a dying planet. What could they not do?

That opposition more evident here, where searched for ways to bring life back to the barren sands. Decades of research lay unused now, all fruitless but ever striving to do the impossible. To recreate the world in their image.

But everything comes to an end: they failed. The deserts never turned green as the moon. The sun never stopped burning, and the waters they drew up from the heart of the planet began to dry. They could not consume the world, so the world began to consume them.

The Fourth Settlement must have been planned for years before anyone found a location habitable enough to call home. So far from the others, they were pioneers anew, braving the world without the support of the other settlements, but that saved them. They existed with the planet instead of in competition with it. For a time, at least.

This snowman was a stark contrast to bitter deserts of the other settlements. With the dark sun in the distance, the southern continents had frozen instead of burned. Water was not the concern of this settlement, warmth was. Yet even in danger, there is still a feeling of life, of beauty, trapped forever in an icy painting.

But must everything come to an end? They created a device. It was meant to create balance across the planet. No more scorching deserts or freezing glaciers. A planet of green eternally graced with a warm spring breeze. It was meant to save them all.

When activated, it would `reflect some of the burning sun through the atmosphere to reach the frozen land on the southern pole. There the other half of the device would absorb the heat and disperse it evenly into the land and air. The deserts would cool and the arctic would warm. It was the culmination of generations of work.

Finally, at the end of it all, they underestimated the planet. The planet was already in balance, as it needed to be, and it didn’t appreciate being driven from its nature. The frozen lands rebelled as they melted, flooding  the settlement into extinction. And without the terrible heat to dry the deserts, the sands they had once spent years leaning to build on turned to sifting mud that toppled their buildings and trapped those foolish enough to leave the roads. Their device did bring balance back to the planet. It ended their interference. It ended them.

The Final Frontier

Warning: Spoilers for Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. Minor spoiler for Star Trek: Beyond.

So, having finally seen Star Trek: Beyond, it puts me in a mood to do a critique of the universe created in the new Star Trek movies. Now, as a Trekkie since childhood, I have opinions about the new movies. While I can appreciate them as entertaining movies, they are not Star Trek movies. Beyond felt more like Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was the closest to a Star Trek movie so far. That should say something about what I feel about these movies.

320x240
What do you mean Klingons are bald?

 

But I don’t want to go into the issues making it Star Trek, merely the issues I have with it as a cohesive, understandable world as a whole. And, not to get too bogged down in details, let’s look at the biggest problem with the new movies in a world-building sense: Starfleet.

Starfleet is really the core of the Star Trek universe in any timeline or series. The ships are Federation ships manned by Starfleet officers. Its values are that of exploration, cooperation, and understanding  between species. While it may appear to run similar to a military ship, Starfleet is not an outright military organization (though it is a defense force and has been at war in various iterations).  Screw up Starfleet and you screw up the entire world.

They screwed up Starfleet.

To be more precise, they made Starfleet idiots, which for a science organization is pretty bad. Why do I say they’re idiots? Pretty much everything related to Kirk.

JJ Abrams’s universe, or the Kelvin Timeline for Trekkies, is not a pure reboot the way Ghostbusters was.  It is actually an alternate timeline of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). Nero’s time-traveling attack on the USS Kelvin altered the course of James T. Kirk’s life, the most obvious of which appears to be a later enlistment into Starfleet Academy.

This created a major problem for Abrams. To at least carry the name Star Trek based on TOS, he needed to have the entire crew together, but he’s already presented Kirk, McCoy, and Uhura as being cadets at the same time, with Spock an Academy instructor, which would place him as more experienced and a much higher rank than the others. It is unclear if Chekov and Sulu were also part of the cadet crew or were already graduated, but it can be assumed that they are either of equal rank or outranking Kirk as a soon-to-be graduating cadet. So how can he plausibly get Kirk as Captain of the USS Enterprise with this timeline?

He made Starfleet stupid. Please, whatever you do, don’t make someone or an organization act stupidly simply to carry forward the plot. It devalues the world.

Picard
Picard has no time for stupidity.

Starfleet makes a graduating cadet Captain! Let me say that again. A graduating cadet is made Captain. Not of a small ship doing menial jobs, but of one of the most advanced ships in the fleet. And several of its senior offices are also graduating cadets. Deep Space Nine did an amazing episode (Valiant) showing what would happen if a technologically advanced ship was given to a group of cadets. It didn’t end well. Neither does Kirk.

After an indeterminate amount of time, Kirk’s lack of experience and respect for Starfleet’s Prime Directive gets him demoted. The first smart move Starfleet had in the Kelvin Timeline, which is quickly ruined as Admiral Marcus allows Kirk to go on a revenge mission in which he ignores protocol; fires crewmembers for disagreeing with him about ignoring protocol; and then puts a bridge ensign in charge of engineering, instead of perhaps the next ranking member of the engineering crew.

Then, after almost getting the Enterprise destroyed, not only is he given the newly retrofitted Enterprise again, but he is given the choice five-year exploration mission. This is crucial to create a sense of TOS, but it is utterly foolish for the Kelvin Timeline.

Kirk was demoted at the beginning of Star Trek Into Darkness for not following the Prime Directive with a primitive civilization, and at the end Starfleet gives him a mission which will be filled with first contacts and exploring new civilizations.

Picard and Ricker

This brings us to Beyond. At this time we learn Kirk has applied for a Vice Admiral position and is ultimately offered it. Let’s put this into numbers. After three years at the Academy and what can be generously be called four years as Captain (a year of which his ship was being repaired),  Kirk is being offered a position as Vice Admiral. Three years before he was demoted for inexperience and now he was being promoted. Why?

Because the plot needs it.

All these unrealistic situations are happening because the plot needs it, and that is where the movies have failed to build a cohesive world. That is the saddest part of this critique, because there are such rich and immense universes in the Star Trek franchise for it to build off of.

Don’t make their mistake. Don’t sacrifice your world for the sake of the plot.

Who you gonna call? Women!

In honor of Ghostbusters, which I’m finally going to see this weekend, and the BS storm that surrounded its trailers and very existence, I thought I’d talk about something that’s always kind of irked me in a lot of major—mostly fantasy, but sci fi isn’t immune—worlds out there: Gender dynamics.

ghostbusters_2016_watermarked_batch02_06
Don’t mind us being badass here.

I’m using that term to mean the ways that your world/society/planet deals with the division of genders in terms of respect, occupation, power, tropes, etc. If you’re working with an alternate timeline or version of reality, then you might have limited options in changing things up (though that doesn’t mean you can’t try). But if you are making your world or planets from scratch, I strongly suggest you take a hard look at the possibilities you have in gender dynamics.

Now, I’m going to call fantasy worlds out on this, because they have a bad habit of falling into this trap. If your world is set in a pre-industrial, medieval-esque society, you do not have to make the gender dynamics the same as they were in history!  That gets an exclamation point emphasis. Perhaps my favorite commentary on this is from Anita Sarkeesian in her video series Tropes vs Women in Video Games. She says that often people say that

if these stories did not include the exploitation of women, then the game worlds would feel too ‘unrealistic’ or ‘not historically accurate’. . . . When dragons, ogres and magic are inserted into historically influenced settings without objection. We are perfectly willing to suspend our disbelief when it comes to multiple lives, superpowers, health regeneration and the ability to carry dozens of weapons and items in a massive invisible backpack. But somehow the idea of a world without sexual violence and exploitation is deemed too strange and too bizarre to be believable.1

She is referring specifically to the sexualizing of and violence against women, but the idea goes further. Often when placed in pre-industrial societies, women are automatically placed in positions of limited power and regressive roles to make it seem authentic. That’s not to say there aren’t strong female characters in fantasy worlds, but more than often they are depicted as abnormal, the exception that is fighting back against a patriarchal rule. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I challenge you to not fall into that trap.

Gender dynamics, roles, and expectations are created by society, and you, the creator, have the ability to write that society in any way you see fit. Whether you are creating a Euro-centric, medieval-style world, a pre-industrial (or early industrial) world, or an alien race you have the option to change how those roles are without seeming “unrealistic.” You simply have to show the reader that is how your world functions.

Garth Nix does this very thing in just two sentences in his book Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. In the first of three tales, “Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again,” Hereward encounters a female lieutenant:

She was also very beautiful, at least to Hereward, who had grown up with women who ritually cut their flesh. To other, her attractiveness might be considered marred by the scar that ran from the corner of her left eye out toward her ear and then cut back again toward the lower part of her nose.2

In those lines he immediately presents an idea of women outside of what our society may be, altering the idea of beauty, without any fanfare or need of explanation or defense. That is how Hereward’s world works and we accept it without question. It can be that simple to present.

ghostbusters_2016_watermarked_batch02_03
Thor enjoys his desk job.

One more very important thing to remember regarding gender dynamic is this: Respect is not a finite resource! (Exclamation point.) Don’t think that because you increase respect for women, men must then fall to take the submissive role or be limited in return. Respect can exist equally just as easily as it can in skewed forms. Look at how your world was created, how they developed and image how they could be if you adjusted any of those respect or power levels between the genders. It might just make things interesting.

Also, don’t think you need to be constrained by two genders. Why not have one, two, three, or four genders. Remember, you are god.

 

1 Anita Sarkeesian, “Women as Background Decoration (Part 2),” Tropes vs Women in Video Games, season 1, posted August 25, 2014, online video series, https://feministfrequency.com/2014/08/25/women-as-background-decoration-part-2/

2Garth Nix, Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz: Three Adventures (Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2012), 28.