The Next Big Non-Binary-Gender Thing

Blame Sarah.

Yes, this is her fault. She told me about a new novel getting talked up as the next “Ancillary Justice” and suggested that I go read the free sample so I could “discuss” it here.

Well. That’s time I’m never getting back.

The piece in question is The Mirror Empire, also described as book 1 of the Worldbreaker saga. I won’t disturb you with how my mind read worldbreaker because that’s really not fair of me. I’m here to snark *ahem* review the book (or at least the free sample), not make juvenile jokes about the title.

That can happen elsewhere.

Anyway. The description/blurb is pretty standard issue breathless slavering – you all know the drill – but the first real warning lies in the tags. When an epic fantasy (and yes, this has all the hallmarks of epic fantasy) gets tagged with “The Fluidity of Gender” you know there’s Feminist Glittery Hoo Haa in there.

The usual suspects in the reviews certainly seemed to think so. “Ooh, five genders!” Seriously? There are not five genders unless things got rather more interesting under the hood after the free sample ended. What was mentioned was five accepted gender identifications, given in the piece as “female-assertive”, “female-passive”, “male-assertive”, “male-passive”, and “ungendered”, with an implication that this is a cultural thing. Presumably some people would transcribe these as “bossy”, “good girl”, “leadership material”, “wimp”, and “eunuch”. The biology appears to be standard binary, although to be fair it’s kind of difficult to tell.

What this book suffers from most is trying too hard. You can see the laboring over the polished prose gems, but in the meantime there’s no clear idea what’s actually going on for a lot of it, the plethora of characters aren’t drawn clearly enough make them interesting, and the whole thing is just… well… over-pretty.

The opening isn’t too bad, although a bit… off-key. I don’t know about you, but a description of boars with “yellow eyes and wrinkled, mucus-crusted snouts” reminding someone – even a supposedly four-year-old child – of hungry babies does not invoke sympathy for the character. Even though she likes the boars and their mucusy snouts. After that it starts to get too much.

Frankly, there’s far too much self-consciously weird and alien and not enough familiarity to anchor the piece. I half feel like saying “Yes, dear, you’ve created a very alien world here and I’m sure it all fits together beautifully, but the people you want to read this are human, and we have limits on how much strange we’ll accept before we toss the thing and go “meh”.

The strange overwhelms what should be gripping. Hell, the traditional prologue in which a character witnesses the slaughter of her entire family and leaves her crippled has no pull whatsoever. It’s boring.

Which, in the end, is the ultimate kiss of death, five nominal genders notwithstanding.

190 comments

      1. If you don’t feel the need to be fair, why should the other Hugo Voters feel the need to be fair? Think carefully and show your work.

        1. I believe the evidence points overwhelmingly the other way: why should I be fair when the other voters aren’t.

          Of course, understanding this requires knowledge of arcane white male arts such as facts, logic, and statistics.

        2. Get back to me on “Fair” when we start voting for actual Science Fiction for Hugos. And, yes, I’m talking about “The Water that Falls on You. . . ” and “Selkie Stories”. . .

  1. Query: with respect to the fluid genders, could you tell if that was contributing to the story, or was it just there? Larry Niven’s Puppeteers have three sexes, sort of, and that’s part of what drives Puppeteer culture. Joe Haldeman’s Forever War addresses the changes in sexual practices as one of the disconnects his long-action soldiers have to address when they return from missions. I think both of those are creative, not antagonistic.
    And maybe a reference to changing sexual practices could be tossed in as to give you the feeling you aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto, much along the lines of ‘the door dilated.’ I don’t remember the movie, but the girl asks the hero if he wants to have sex, and he enthusiastically agrees, only to discover that sex is experienced through virtual reality headsets.
    I understand all of these applications, because they work. But if I understand you correctly, the part of the book you read was just about the sex; and if that’s the case, isn’t it just deviant porn?
    Or maybe I miss your point.

    1. I don’t remember the movie, but the girl asks the hero if he wants to have sex, and he enthusiastically agrees, only to discover that sex is experienced through virtual reality headsets.

      Demolition Man with Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.

    2. These was also a book where the alien race changed gender each time they had sex. So, go to bed with a woman, wake up with a man. Very startling for the main character.

    3. Pat, I honestly don’t know how much they contributed because I only read the sample. I’m not spending that much on something that I find boring.

      1. That’s the problem. They’ve depleted their Precious Bodily Fluids, by not preserving their Purity of Essence. . . . (or did I just date myself with that reference. . . .)

    1. Oh my. That’s FAR too true. (Says she who is in passive-aggressive attack mode against the programmer who doesn’t want testers to give him technical information. Advice to the wise: do not EVER convince a tester that they want to play “let’s see what I can find wrong with your code”)

      1. Why does this programmer *need* to get technical info from you? If it’s info needed for the program to work, the programmer should have gotten it before the tester got ahold of it.

        Speaks the former programmer who wanted problems to show up in testing so that he didn’t get a 2 am phone call because the program “bombed” in production.

      2. Advice to the wise: do not EVER convince a tester that they want to play “let’s see what I can find wrong with your code”

        I want them to do that on purpose, as long as they can tell me what it took to break it.

        As for technical info: Where I work, on the website where we aggregate Real Estate data for newspapers to generate ads from, I frequently get such technical info as “There are some listings missing from your website that are in the MLS site”, and I’m thinking, “YEAH??? Could you at least give me some freaking EXAMPLES???”

  2. I’m with T.L.. I didn’t and probably won’t read the LAST Ancillary Justice, so calling this book the next one is hardly a draw.

    Pat — that movie sounds like Barbarella. I could be wrong, but…

    M

    1. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to read the last Ancillary Justice. The whole pronoun thing kept pulling me out of the story as I tried to figure out if we were talking about a male or female. It made it impossible to get through the sample on Amazon. It left me wanting to scratch the back of my eyeballs with an icepick.

      The thing is Leckie can actually write. Had she dropped the pronoun thing, I’d probably have a very, very different opinion of the book.

      1. I just shrugged at the pronoun thing and assumed everyone was male in my mental map of the characters. And the setup was fascinating. But I found it plodding. Great ideas smothered in backstory and endless, trivial detail.

      2. Yeah, I do like the far futureness of the setting for AJ, but the pronoun contrivance puts me off. Not to mention the awful feeling the whole thing exists solely for pronoun contrivance and not telling an enjoyable story.

        1. Agreed.

          Honestly, I couldn’t help but think that Leckie was better than that. I’m not saying she couldn’t make her point, but there had to be a better way to do it.

      3. We need the universal one-size-fits-all pronoun that combines “she,” “he,” and “it.” Proposed spelling: “S/he/it.” Pronounciation: just take out the slashes, it’s two syllables. 😉

        1. I gave up a while back and went for “shit”. Works in all circumstances and covers all the bases as it were.

        2. My lovely Filipina wife comes from a language base that has no gendered pronouns. Everything is an “it.” After over 40 years of her living in the States I can tell when she speaks with her family on the phone. For the next hour or two she mixes up her pronouns and a he is just as likely to be a she in a conversation with her. It is called “Filipino Pronoun Deficiency”

          1. My husband notes the same thing with me after I’ve been on the phone with my mum and siblings. My accent is very strongly Filipino for a while, and my grammar structure is a wee bit off.

            And yes, no gendered pronouns. Must have driven the Spanish absolutely wild.

                1. That’s the way my mom talks. In English. 😐

                  What’s disturbing — my father knows exactly what she’s saying.

                  1. Oh, it also doesn’t help that Filipino is a rather tonal language. Best example:

                    (person outside elevator): “Bababa ba?” (Is it -the elevator- going down?)
                    (person inside elevator): “Bababa.” (It’s going down)

                    Which may be part of the reason why Filipino as a language grew faster as a spoken language, and not as a written one, and rather lopsidedly slanted towards slang, aural and visual pop culture, music, TV, entertainment arts, etc.

                    1. It’s a language I’ve had the opportunity to hear fairly frequently, and I like listening to it. But I never felt like I was clearly hearing the structures.

                      The tonal stresses may play a role, there. Something like Chinese, where tone is inherent in meaning. I’m not sure English primes you quite enough to naturally parse those differences.

                    2. It was what seriously hindered me learning the language beyond ‘casual talk’ because my grounding of language was English and German; and for a while it was German first, then English (and also why when people ask me what my first language is, I reply “English.” When I get the funny look, I reply the Philippines is bilingual, and my family speaks English at home.)

                      The things that stick come out when I’m very tired. Several friends, Housemate, and hubby note that my grammar subtly changes enough to make it sound / read as if they’re speaking to someone who learned English as a second language. Sadly, while I can still understand German to some extent, I can’t translate. I’d like very much to remedy that.

                    3. The tonal part (as well as some of the nonverbal body language) is why I never really learned the language beyond ‘casual conversation’ level – and only the pidgin Taglish at that. Most Filipinos don’t assume I’m Filipino on sight – my body language and modes of speech are unfamiliar,. (Oddly, by contrast, I’ve been mistaken for Japanese by Japanese people randomly all over the world.)

                      Plus my grounding in languages is German and English (contrast my siblings, whose grounding in language is English and French). By large, we prefer English as our language of communication – it avoids misunderstandings from our end. Youngest brother got the largest helping of the Chinese-descent genes and was recently asked for his foreign resident ID card. He’s the one who was also born in East Berlin, East Germany, so THAT creates confusion for people who see his birth certificate… XD

              1. Technically, there’s a difference between the ‘item’ pronoun and the ‘person’ pronoun. “Yun/ yung/’ is ‘this’ or ‘that’ (and possibly a few other pronouns) and the person pronoun is si and is conjugated from there. (ex: siya – that person sila those people, roughly.)

    2. Mark, BARBARELLA had the Excessive Machine, and SLEEPER had the Orgasmotron and the Orb. DEMOLITION MAN had their own version. 🙂

  3. Actually I found the “Filed Under” to be an interesting technique–another method of getting extra keywords to your audience. A bit like the silly “Warning!” they occasionally stick in erotica blurbs.

    1. “A bit like the silly ‘Warning!’ they occasionally stick in erotica blurbs.”

      Anything that ‘sticks’ in erotica clearly needs more lube. Must be all the glitter.

      😉

      1. It’s a damn good thing I know never to read the comments here with anything sprayable in my mouth. It’s hard enough protecting the keyboard from the cats without dousing it.

  4. For some “strange” reason, I don’t think I’ll purchase it. [Wink]

  5. The usual suspects in the reviews certainly seemed to think so. “Ooh, five genders!” Seriously? There are not five genders unless things got rather more interesting under the hood after the free sample ended. What was mentioned was five accepted gender identifications, given in the piece as “female-assertive”, “female-passive”, “male-assertive”, “male-passive”, and “ungendered”, with an implication that this is a cultural thing. Presumably some people would transcribe these as “bossy”, “good girl”, “leadership material”, “wimp”, and “eunuch”. The biology appears to be standard binary, although to be fair it’s kind of difficult to tell.

    How would this even work in practice? What about people who were in between the main four “genders?” Would there be political activism in this world for “women who were mildly assertive but often passive” or “men who stood up for themselves but weren’t that pushy?” Does the author not realize that — unless this were supported by some fairly strong on-and-off genetic or cultural switches — the logical end of this system would be that there would be as many “genders” as there were individuals?

    1. Nope. These are people who think humans come off the rack. They honestly believe if you don’t fit the culture “female” stereotype then you need another gender to define you.
      I think they’re insane, but that’s just me.

      1. Yup. They think gender is purely a cultural construct. And if they change the culture, people will magically transcend gender. Somehow.

      2. I’ll be honest, here… this is stereotyping. They’re saying that the Romans and Japanese were right about pitcher and catcher guys, and that all women are naturally butch or gracile, and that everybody who doesn’t fit is asexual, and… gotta love this… bisexual doesn’t exist.

        So yeah, very stereotypical. Makes me a little throwy-uppy.

        The amusing thing is that there are people in the gay and SJW communities who do think this way, and that it coheres amusingly with the manosphere alpha and beta concepts which they hate so much.

        Moving along… why would a four-year-old think about “mucus-crusted” when “snot” or “goo” would be more natural? And why “crusted” instead of “encrusted”? Were the pigs eating mucus piecrust, or are they being cooked with a crust of mucus on top?

        1. As far as I am concerned, if the person in question has two X chromosomes, she is female, if we are talking about X and Y he is male. Now if he pretends to be a female, or she male, especially when there has been surgery and hormone treatments to change the looks and what fits where, I’m quite willing to play along, but that doesn’t change the fact that ‘she’ is still male, and ‘he’ female (the only true exceptions are people who have been born with something having gone off in their development at the very early stage, but considering how rare they are, well). At the present moment anything else is more or less just window dressing and role playing. Now that will probably change some time in the future, but that is still the future.

          And making a huge production number of the whole thing is getting quite tiresome.

          1. And yes, who has sex with whom is their own business. I’m not overly interested in that show either. Mention it if you want, then move to something more interesting.

          2. Finally, someone who has the same opionion on the matter that I do.

            I will add however that “gender” is an attribute of language, not biology as in French is a gendered language, but English is not. The use of the word gender to describe people robs the language of a word that is needed to describe languages. It is even more blatant than the hijacking of the word “discrimination” that has made the sentance “He was a man of fine discrimination.” nonsensical.

            1. My language, Finnish, doesn’t even have different words for he and she, there is only one non-gendered one, hän, used for both. Or nowadays, when speaking, usually actually ‘se’, which can mean pretty much anything, human, animal, inanimate object… “What did she do?” = “Mitä se teki?” – “Put it on the table” = “Pane se pöydälle” 🙂

                1. Maybe I should try that. A short story, if not a whole novel. Maybe with some other pen name than Kiti Lappi, so that nobody voting notices I hang with you guys. 😀

              1. David Brin used “ers” in his Uplift books, to represent either gender, but he didn’t have one (that I can remember) that would span inanimate objects, too.

    2. This is my problem (or perhaps I should scare-quote “problem”) with the current “gender is the most important concept of your existence” thing… we are no longer “girls” who come in all sorts of different amorphous variety. There are no longer two LARGE boxes defined by your plumbing with a great deal of elbow room in them if you feel more like Scarlet O’Hara than Annie Oakley or if you feel more like a raccoon-tail hat and musket than a powdered wig, red heels and a patch. The whole business is about building a never-ending set of ever smaller, more restrictive boxes and demanding that everyone chose one.

      Rather than “female” or “male” encompassing your eccentricities and any limitation on that accommodation something to be fought against… the limitation becomes profoundly important, in fact the most important thing EVER.

      So yes… what about the people between the five “genders?” Are there none? If the “bossy” girl one day slips up or the “take charge” guy doesn’t insist that things be done his way (or with sex they figure that it’s gotten boring having to act like the Dom constantly and the Sub begins to look pathetic to them) did they just change orientation?

      I haven’t read the books (or seen the movie) but it seems like Divergent is about people not fitting nicely in categories. So some people say “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t sort people that way” and other people say “Obviously our method of sorting is flawed by not having sufficient categories for everyone. We need more boxes to sort into and the problem will be solved!”

      Don’t get me wrong… part of the fundamental FUN of science fiction is imagining Other Ways to do Life. Which is why “they’re insisting on white cis-male blah blah blah” is so much fantasy. “Hey look at this unheard of idea about the arrangement of society that no one has ever written before” is a bit like gushing that someone wrote a story with an alien abduction in it.

      1. Yes!! and Amen.

        The word “woman” used to encompass Hattie Green, Lillie Langtry, Emily Dickinson, and Hester Stanhope. We’ve shrunk to a marketing niche.

        1. Yes. And it’s very limiting to people’s horizons.

          A story: back in the Sixties and Seventies when the new Latin Rite Mass was promulgated, there were some (insane liturgist) people who decided that this meant they should also regulate exactly how people prayed and meditated during Mass. As opposed to just saying you should be paying attention, they wanted your every thought to be locked onto only every single word spoken, and no reflection or personal observation or petition. They also thought harmony parts were evil, which is why so many Catholic choirs disappeared at that time. Everybody had to line up to go to Communion and receive (never mind if you were in a state of mortal sin), and everybody had to stand up until everybody got back, even if you were tottery or would rather kneel like a normal American Catholic. And God forbid you have visions or religious experiences, unless everybody else is having them too.

          Instead of the communion of the saints, they wanted the Borg Collective.

          And this is exactly how this same sort of people thinks about sex and personhood. You must think about sex and gender all the time, but only in the exact approved ways that you have been assigned.

          1. You must think about sex and gender all the time, but only in the exact approved ways that you have been assigned.

            Well, if you’re concentrating on the state of your pudenda, you’re not asking questions like “Who said you had the authority to do that? Why are you so prosperous after a life in public service? Why are your friends and family so prosperous? Why can’t I defend myself from criminals?” and so on. Such petty questions. You should be asking yourself, “Am I aroused? Why am I aroused? Is it okay to express arousal? What’s that signal they’re making? What gender are they/it? Better look it up in my special gender-identity cheetsheet. The one with all the silhouettes.”

            That essay by Vaclav Havel, about the sign in the window, really applies here. Every time we accept the changes they make to the language, we’ve displayed our obedience in a culturally accepted manner.

          2. @Synova…another “Amen!”

            @ suburbanbanshee: “Instead of the communion of the saints, they wanted the Borg Collective.”

            …it’s a good thing unsweetened tea is a lot easier to clean off the computer screen & keyboard than Coke Zero!

      2. I think you’re misunderstanding: you don’t have to choose one of the million-and-seven boxes for yourself. (There are, after all, several dozen variants of “none of the above” to choose from as well—“genderfluid” isn’t nearly broad enough, you see.) You “merely” have to acknowledge the existence of said number of boxes, begin each social interaction with a query as to which box(es) the other party places ∗self in (obviously, neither “himself” nor “himself or herself” is an acceptable construction anymore), and never, never, mess up.

        One is grateful that otherkin and headmates are so far confined to Tumblr.

            1. I was still living in Connecticut (I think, memory is a tad funny) when RPG.net added otherkin to the list of groups that you couldn’t say bad things about or you got the ban hammer. If it wasn’t then it was shortly after. I know I’d heard of them before they were added to the protected list.

              Given I left Connecticut in 2006 they were pushy enough to be a protected group in at least one place well before Tumblr.

                1. Went looking:

                  Ban hammer for attack on otherkin in 2010 although Tumblr was founded in 2010.

                  Thread on otherkin in 2007 which is the same year as Tumblr’s founding.

                  Don’t really want to dig deeper but I’m guessing I put them back a little further than I thought. Looks like they protected status in 2010.

                  My timing was off but my point about them being more than a Tumblr thing for years is still true. Also, if the first thread as the same year as Tumblr they must be older than it.

                2. Did a reply with links to RPG.net threads dating back to 2007 and ban related ones for attacks on otherkin to 2010 but it’s in moderation (probably due to three links).

        1. Rather, a whole number (integers include negatives, and I wanted to get in on the numeric comparatives).

          1. I was thinking of the old programming joke “God is real, unless declared Integer” but you have to know Fortran for that, IIRC.

            Besides, for some of those SJWs, Gender IS a negative….

            1. Oh, I’ve heard that one before. Fortran on a PDP-11 was my first college computer course.

  6. Somewhere along the line, some people got confused. They thought that behavior is like checking off checkboxes in a questionnaire. Our modern ‘lights’ have forgotten that the map is not the territory, or they try to fetishize the territory and try to make maps exactly like the territory. They forget that the reasons for the difference have to do with limitations hard coded into reality itself, and all the technology or ideation in the world won’t change it. They’ve forgotten the art of analogy, and how what is important isn’t necessarily the descriptor of all.

    I consider it a symptom of how education has suffered– exchanging true learning with cramming facts down the gullet.

    1. I think that education has gone the opposite way. Instead of real learning; learning those facts crammed down the gullet and being taught in a way that values reason, rationality, and logic… “real learning” is now about the “feels”. The correct conclusions are the ones that elicit the proper emotions and never mind pesky facts.

      1. It’s all about indoctrination and control. People who can think logically and reason are much harder to control. People who know nothing but reacting to the feels are sheep.

  7. I notice Hurley’s been making a big deal about how The Mirror Empire features the “first consent culture in Fantasy”. Seriously. Does this mean that all other fantasies, including those by feminist authors, are all “rape cultures”? Every single one of them?

    BTW, all the negative reviews I’ve read of TME mention that it’s full of female-on-male rape. So I’m curious about where the “consent” comes into it.

    1. I will add: I haven’t read beyond the sample on Amazon, so I don’t have context for that. However, if a male writer wrote something like that, people like Hurley would be complaining about how “rapey” it was. So I wonder how this is different.

      1. Because reasons. And because women know better, and men don’t deserve any choice because everything before now is their fault. Or because it’s healthy play for females to write fantasy about males getting raped, but bad for them to write fantasy where females get raped, because the latter gives bad ideas to men and weakens womanhood, but the former is totally neutral.

        Really, it’s all about being in the proper clique, of course. Just like the mean girls in grade school, you can do whatever you want if you’re a clique leader, and you can do whatever the clique leaders want if you’re a clique follower. Everybody else unattached to a clique is fair game, so whatever they do will be wrong, but changing the clique rules periodically makes it clear who is outside the cliques and who is safely inside.

        Bah, I think I am going to throw up.

    2. It is probably one of those ‘words lose their ordinary meanings’ things.
      In this case, perhaps it is one of those people who think consent means what they want.

    3. It’s a large story with a lot of characters living in at least three and arguably four different cultures. One of the cultures is very big on consent. A different culture culls boys so that men are rare, and forces them into subservient roles in society–this is the culture in which the rapes are happening. They’re–“the bad guys” makes the book sound a bit more black-and-white than it is, but the worse guys, I guess.

      1. Pretty sure the ‘first consent sulture in fantasy ‘ would be in Evangeline Walton. Who wrote it in 1935. If it wasn’t someone even earlier.

  8. This totally sucks.

    I’ve got a WIP in my trunk where a couple of checkboxes are main points (not because they’re checkboxes, but because I thought it made a good freaking story). I hadn’t been able to finish it a few years back, but I was planning on taking it out, dusting it off and completing it once my current project is done.

    Now? I’m worried readers assume it’s checkbox fiction and either stay away or read and slam me for not doing it right.

    1. Blow some stuff up, put a spaceship on the cover, and have a happy ending where the good guys win.

      Like I said upstream… this is what science fiction and fantasy has always been.

    2. As Tolkien said, every story is a stew. If it’s a good story, nobody cares what the ingredients are and where they came from, as long as all the ingredients are cooked well and they work together.

      There’s a long tradition in sf of having all kinds of everybody in stories, and people like it. They only become checkboxes if the author is preening himself in a particular way, and is taking pains to make sure that the ingredients AREN’T cooked well and don’t blend. That kind of author doesn’t want a mess of pottage, but a pot of message.

      As long as you write your story blurb to emphasize story, people will go with it.

    1. The search function isn’t a joke, btw. The image gallery is just a highlights gallery; they’ve got tons of other 300 dpi pics for other animals and such. I was unaware that there was a research herd of white-tailed deer, because they’re trying to stop TB in deer (probably to stop them spreading TB to other species)

  9. Ditto on the self-conscious strangeness. Brandon Sanderson does a great job of blending and subverting fantasy tropes while creating non-typical settings and at the same time making it all very clear and entertaining.

    1. It’s not easy to make anything sufficiently strange work. Those who can have my admiration. I’d call this an honorable failure: the writing isn’t bad, it’s just… not interesting.

  10. Ooooh! Natalie Luhrs has read this blog!

    “Natalie Luhrs ‏@eilatan ·5h Nothing like a little blog hate reading to get the morning going. You adorable privileged white girls with your fabulous lives. Bless.”

    And then:

    “Natalie Luhrs @eilatan · 10m “The Next Big Non-Binary Gender Thing” http://www.donotlink.com/bhuz lollllll mad genius club, two of these things are true.”

    1. Natalie, Natalie, Natalie.

      If you’re going to post the link publicly like that, do you really think you’re accomplishing anything with your passive aggressive “do not link” crap?

      You privileged SJWs and your “hate” are just so darn cute. Maybe someday, you’ll actually grow up and quit trying to bludgeon everyone into your pathetic worldview.

      1. I love how apparently Ms. Luhrs can tell everything about Kate from . . . her name? I guess? I strongly suspect she knows nothing more about Kate than that. But the narrative is that it’s white privileged heteronormative males (and gender-traitoresses) vs. the pure and noble oppressed tanned and multigendered of the world.

        I know one thing: I don’t want to be Natalie Luhrs when Kate responds. 😉

        1. Hehehe. She’s so fortunate I’m not a regular twitterer – althouhg I could pull up tweetdeck just to have a go at her over that and set off a nice little shitstorm for the fun of it.

          1. You totally SHOULD. I mean if you look in the dictionary under “privilege” there’s a picture of dear ol’ Natalie. If she had to live with a chronic disease, she’d be a puddle on the floor. Or maybe a poodle on the floor…

    2. She’s got a funny idea of the meaning of the word “hate”, really she does. And… oh lordy, lordy, she thinks I’m privileged! I’d be laughing if I wasn’t wondering what in hell she’s on, because it’s got to be seriously hallucinogenic.

      So. I wonder which ones she thinks are true. “The”? Maybe it’s “next”? “Big” is a good choice: it’s got all the hallmarks of goat-gagging big fat fantasy. “Non-binary” well, yeah.

      So, “big” and “non-binary” are the true bits. That means that “the” isn’t? I wonder how that works….

        1. Oh, you could be right, too. I just chose to go the other direction. (As for the genius side of things, I have the IQ test results to prove it. The ones that said “we can’t evaluate you because you got *all the questions right* in less than the time limit”)

            1. If the club needs a Token Idiot, I’m available. (Or perhaps a Tolkien Idiot, since I know LOTR fairly well but have a wide spread of ignorance most elseways.)

  11. For what it’s worth, I have actually read the whole thing. There are at least two languages, one of which uses five gender pronouns as you have described, (though not as you “translated”) and another of which uses three, though those pronouns don’t get used in the story to any extent; they just get mentioned in passing.

    There is a character (one, in a large cast) who physically changes gender from female to male and back again; it is a part of their nature to do so on a fairly regular basis. There is at least one other character who is some in-between gender–the physical manifestations of this are left unclear, since they don’t enter into the story. This is in part because the story has no on-stage sex (there’s a scene where two characters decide they are interested in each other–fade to black as they walk up the stairs–and the next scene is with them getting dressed again) so you can’t reasonably call it “porn” though I have no doubt some people will find a way.

    One culture has a very strong tradition that touch must be consensual; the others have no such tradition; one culture has funeral practices the other cultures find disgusting, and so on. It’s no kind of simple, black-and-white world, though I did find myself coming down more or less on one side.

    There were two parts of the story I found challenging; one is that there is a large cast–this was one of the problems I had with Wheel Of Time as well; I’m just not good at keeping track of a lot of people. I think this is an issue with me as a reader, because many people had no problems with Wheel Of Time on that score.

    The other is that pretty much everyone in the story is some shade of grey. I am a simple creature and like to have some like-able characters to root for. I suspect most people’s standards for like-able are lower than mine; I also found the characters in the Grimnoir Chronicles hard to like. But even the character I was rooting for the most wound up doing some things that really bothered me.

    1. Actually, now I think about it, I have to take back the part about “no onstage sex” because I think one of the characters got sexually assaulted on stage (meaning, by the way, “described for the reader”–not that there’s an actual stage involved), in a culture that allowed that kind of thing. My bad; it’s a big book, with a lot going on, and I forgot that part.

    2. My question related to the subject is… since you read it… did it seem like the author was writing as an excuse to promote an agenda, or writing to have fun and the complicated gender divisions seemed like fun?

      I’ll say it again… changing social roles and physical realities is about as standard to science fiction and fantasy as spaceships and dragons.

      The author can’t really help it if the SJWs start promoting the book as a polemic. It would be unfair to project that onto the author.

      1. But this particular author is very much an SJW. She’s the one who wrote: “We Have Always Fought”.

      2. You can be a conservative and not be writing to promote a conservative agenda; presumably the same applies to liberals. She is certainly interested in social justice–if that spoils the book for you, don’t read it. However, I didn’t feel like she was writing to promote a particular political agenda; certainly the people in the novels were all shades of grey (morally) and the different cultures all had (different) things about them that made me hesitate to fully root for any given one.

        Weird wild unexpected things happen. Desperate people do terrible things. Quiet people do heroic things. Sometimes it takes a while to work out what is going on. In places you discover something that casts what you’ve seen so far in a new light. It’s not light reading for when your brain is tired and you just want to vege out, that’s for sure.

        Will you like it? I don’t know. If the above paragraph sounds like your kind of thing, there’s a good chance. If you go into it hating the author and looking for things to despise for that reason, probably not, so don’t waste your money.

        1. “She is certainly interested in social justice–if that spoils the book for you, don’t read it.”

          I think you will find that most science fiction readers are interested in *social justice as one of the themes of the stories they read. (*I presume that by social justice you mean “concerned with the construction of a just society” or something similar.)

          How is a just society ordered? What are the duties of a citizen to the government? Of the government to the citizen? If the government is unjust, what should be done? Revolt and replace it with a more just one? Seek to change the government peacefully? Abandon the government and seek to establish a more just society somewhere else? In another star system?Another galaxy?

          These are questions that science fiction has been treating for more than a century and that science fiction readers have been enjoying for just as long.

          The key question of any story that is interested in social justice is: is it a good story? A boring story is boring no matter how sincere its interest in social justice. The first duty of a science fiction author is to tell a good, interesting story. If the story is good, then any interest shown in social justice will be a bonus to the story.

          Please note that if the author’s definition of social justice is vague, poorly presented, and seems to consist of nothing more than good and bad feelings, this will detract enormously from the story. (From your description of the novel this doesn’t seem to be a problem. It is a problem in a number of novels I have read.)

      3. FWIW the complicated gender divisions don’t play much role in the story. It’s like the different languages of the countries–you get a mention that they exist, very rarely some word may pop up referring to them, but 99.9% of the book is ordinary English and the vast majority of the characters are regular women or men.

        1. If they don’t play much role, why are they in? I know — SJW points, I know…
          And why is she crowing about creating a “consent culture” (Well, she’s crowing about creating the first, but we’ll be magnanimous and not point out the stupidity of that on ALL levels.)

          1. Exactly. If it doesn’t play an important role, leave it out and make things easier for your poor, overloaded readers. They have enough to deal with without the author shoving in everything that seemed cool at the time.

          2. Just going by the person who has read it’s description:

            I think one of the characters got sexually assaulted on stage (meaning, by the way, “described for the reader”–not that there’s an actual stage involved), in a culture that allowed that kind of thing.

            Uh. I’m going to go ahead and assume that that’s not the group that has the ‘consent culture’ that the story author is crowing about, and if the culture where the sexual assault happened allows sexual assault, it’s likely by that culture’s laws and norms, it wasn’t sexual assault. Are we supposed to be outraged by that culture? Or accept it as that culture’s norm in this fictional setting?

            See how twisty things can get when trying to use reader norms but making the culture so unfamiliar to those norms? Logic de wa nai. Or is that supposed to be entirely suspended to allow the suspension of disbelief as well?

            Granted I’m going entirely by other folk’s description, but so far I’m not getting the ‘it makes sense in context.’

        2. I’m all for the novelist equivalent of “eye candy” like they’ve got in MMORPG’s… you’re running along to the next quest area and *boom* you look up in the sky and there is a gossamer/whale flying overhead among a flock of white doves and it’s like… wow. Not part of the story. Not interactive. Doesn’t do a dang thing but make the world more full.

          I’m fine with that, really I am.

          But see… no one is going to gush over the fact that the main characters of A Few Good Men are gay and herald Sarah as the Next Big Non-Hetero-normative Sensation… and I suspect she wouldn’t want them to. So if the author is adding those things to give depth to an alien society, or because it seemed like a neat idea and more fun to write than more conventional arrangements, or the characters just seemed to *want* it, then great. The author is following a long long long tradition of asking “if I change this part of how people work, what happens?”

          The point at which the SJW shtick gets truly annoying is the part where they rewrite the Entire History of the Genre and insist that they’re fighting the good fight against the cis-normative white male colonialist patriarchy that used to insist that such questions never be addressed in science fiction or fantasy ever, women and people of color should be barred from publishing, the Golden Age as supposedly a bastion of oppressive thought, so much so that they’ve got to make an enemy army, the League of Evil, to crusade against this original sin of speculative fiction, all of this created out of whole cloth and then get all flushed and excited about the brave new example of non-binary gender.

          So I asked… is the author intending that or are some helpful sorts grabbing the SJW baton and running with it, because once your book is out in the world the author can’t stop that sort of thing.

          That including the check list might increase an author’s chances of being traditionally published is a different issue and as a capitalist I can’t fault that either.

    3. The free sample didn’t allow me to find out more – and honestly, it wasn’t interesting enough that I would bother to read more. I simply found it awfully twee to have this rather bizarre identification show up more or less without warning.

    1. Ok… Just the descriptions there of male rape and victim self-hate are enough to make me NOT want to read the book. Ever. If that’s the kind of stuff that makes SJWs …excited then they really are no different from the women who excitedly touted Fifty Shades of Grey as a wonderful read. Oh that gets mentioned there. And in the comments. Good on the reviewer.

      The shock elements serving no real purpose would be another major reason why I wouldn’t read it. But then, I’m a reader who, as that reviewer self-describes, “don’t really enjoy novels that try to be a social commentary first and an engaging story second. It is boring.” I buy a fantasy book for fantasy stories and settings, and sci-fi for those settings and tales. If I want hentai, I’ll go read hentai, where I can expect more hentai than plot.

  12. Sigh… it would be so nice if someone would write a really GOOD book, with actual, you know, NEW stuff in it. How many times do we have to do the whole gender-bender stuff to death before some people get over their obsession with sex and start thinking with their big heads again?

    I’d love to see something a bit more big-picture than this voyeuristic obsession with male rape and power addictions. Like maybe using their imaginations and telling a story, instead of preaching. Heard enough of that as a girl, I recognize the cadences, even disguised as allegories and tales.

    I think I’m going to go pick up a copy of an old favorite to cleanse my palate. Or reread all of the Vorkosigan series, since I finally bought myself Winterfair Gifts. Now, *there’s* a writer who did interesting gender things, but didn’t beat us over the head with the squishy bits!

    1. Now, now, Cedar, you know that for many of these people the head they’re thinking with IS the big head.

  13. I swear to Ghu, I’m going to write a book/story/series where the whole ‘effing concept of “gender” as an issue is simply… Irrelevant. As in, people are past the entire concept, period.

    It’s really the way things are going to go: Your plumbing will be an irrelevancy in a world where such things as artificial wombs are available, along with significant genetic engineering. What’s going to be important? What you do, how you conduct yourself, and not how your genetics left you plumbed. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see something like the Culture, where you drift across the spectrum of sexuality, as your personal whims dictate, and nobody gives a rat’s ass what you’re doing, so long as it doesn’t involve hurting others or disturbing the animals.

    I can just imagine an encounter between someone from that reality and the SJW types would go:

    “I identify as a cis-normative lesbian female…”. :

    “So…? What, exactly, does that mean?”.

  14. The best story is a joke. It has pace, timing, a beginning and a middle, an end. It’s not until you get to the end you realise.. it’s a joke.*

    But you still have the Fourth Wall. And that matters.

    Nobody wants to be told what’s what and get poked in the eye.

    Elmore Leonard made a point that the author should be invisible… Hmmm… I don’t think you can be, but you should be as much as you can till the end of the story.

    Still, three scenarios:

    You walk into a room, and in a leather chair is Kurt Vonnegut, smoking a pipe, an avuncular chap who says: “I’ve got a funny story, und so weiter.”

    2:

    You are in a bar, it is 1am, you buy a guy a drink, get chatting:

    “My name’s Elmore, I got a funny story, wanna hear it?”

    3:

    You are minding your own business, a woman thrusts herself in your way and insists on poking you in the eye.

    I can’t escape this. Particularly after Christopher M. Chupik’s link to that review. The woman obviously has an agenda. She is clearly visible.

    And once the author is visible you fuck it up, I don’t care if it’s Ayn rand or Kameron whatshername… not interested.

    * I read a piece a while back by Umerto Eco about wanting to translate Dumas… he wanted to strip the extranious language, make it tighter, but in doing so he would lose the pace… c’est la vie, huh? (Thought Sarah Hoyt might like that)

    1. But there is a way of telling that inserts the author’s personality but NOT the person, if that makes sense? That’s what Dumas does. Dumas is an extraneous character, riding along with the four and winking at us over their shoulders. the language is how his personality comes through. It eases some of the culture shock for us, modern readers, and it allows us to put up with the eccentricities of the characters. I like Umberto Eco as a person. He taught a seminar at my college. But… well, even men very smart at one thing can be total idiots at others.

      1. “Dumas is an extraneous character, riding along with the four and winking at us over their shoulders.”

        Kinda my point as regards Vonnegut and Leonard, you don’t notice them as you ride along with the story. You might see them at the end, but buy then you’ve been punch-lined, and got the point…

        1. BTW i was in town earlier today, and i came across one of your books… in a second-hand store. Book-exchange. Didn’t have the cash, but also I saw Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit book… never seen that before here (I am in the sticks). hmmm.. maybe next week.

        2. yes. And you’re right. I always strive for transparency, otherwise known as “get the heck out of the way of the story.” Cutesy contrivances like different gender pronouns tend to remind us constantly that the author is making a POINT. And when you have a disproportionate amount of world building/backstory then it crushes the story and makes the reader feel he should get out pencil and paper and prepare for the test. I committed his in my second, never to be published in that form book. And learned. Can you write an epic fantasy with five completely different societies? Sure. (But if they involve things such as complicated gender arrangements you best have an explanation for why they deviated from the norm of humanity, and it best be believable.) But three would them would of necessity, be just names with no details. Even if the book is very large, doing justice to five societies without overwhelming the reader like a graduate student before finals would take a series with a minimum of five books.

            1. And Larry Correia’s point, when he fisked the stoopid… it’s about story. But SWJ’s… it’s about narrative. You right wing f*ckers are all Evil League of Evil. Nothing you do can redeem yourselves. Soo… I reckon an Heinlein award would be good, endoresed by the ELoE.

                  1. Mrs Hoyt, well aware, hence my Dumas comment above. I was referring to Thunderbirds, but hey.

                    “(Smiles evilly.)”

                    Come the day you are a single woman, god forbid, gimme a call.

                    (is that too flirtatious?)

                    1. NO, Sarah, NO! You are leaving money and a Hugo and whatever else on the table!
                      See, you take this proposal of marriage & combine it with the idea that we are just one big happy family & then write about after the end of the world how all the science fiction community banded together and adopted literal one-family structure in order to survive.
                      Then, as a new prosperity swept in, our community was attacked by a nominal alternative family celebrating diversity…but their groups splintered off, as each felt their special privileges were being trampled upon. And we ignored them and died on the vine, since most of their practices did not result in progeny…

  15. I like stuff I can relate to. Even Isaac Asimov, that ever gallant dirty old man persona, wrote “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda.”
    There exists at least a few stories where it;s not the plumbing at issue, it;s the culturally defined courtship rites that are to difficult to read, so you go to bed alone, rather than risk a gaffe, “Patchwork Girl” IIRC.
    But in the book I;m reading now for fun, the act is called ‘the family making thing.’
    I wonder: do otherkin f@#k with non otherkin, and is this a desirable outcome?
    But what I really wanted to say was: Phooeeyy

  16. I used to be in Sf fandom… I’ve spent a lot of time over these last few months analysing why i quit…………. and yes PC is a big part of it.

  17. “If I should EVER G-d forbid indeed be a single woman, the SF world is in biiiiig trouble.
    People really should pray for my beloved husband’s health.”

    Sarah you are Awesome.

  18. So I read the free sample. I didn’t read enough to find out whether I agree with the person who said they couldn’t find any character likable enough to root for…but that would be the kiss of death. (I stopped reading Stephen Donaldson, in mid-book, because I was kind of rooting for a virus to come in and wipe all the characters out, every last whiny bas– Ahem. And Donaldson’s prosecraft was lightyears ahead of Hurley’s, keeping me turning the pages long after I had decided I hated ’em all.)

    I found the central concept of TME–a solar system with multiple stars, planets, and lunar satellites with erratic orbits, and a subset of the population whose magic/psychic abilities are tied to the ascendancy/decline of a particular celestial body–to be pretty interesting. If she had taken that idea and run with it, the changing dynamics of “powerful today/powerless tomorrow” could’ve driven a good story. But IMO, the additional elements of multiple genders, and group marriages (many of which seemed to be incestuous, or nearly so) clouded this central concept. And while the prose itself was okay (although I did trip rather badly over “mangled succulent”), it didn’t have the power to carry the weight of so many unwieldy elements. The invaders had landed, the defenders were in hopeless retreat…and I didn’t get a sense of urgency. So I felt no urgency to hit the “buy with one-click” button.

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