The Extrahuman Union

I am super thrilled to welcome Benjanun Sriduangkaew to the blog today, for a fantastic guest post all about her new novella, Scale-Bright. You can pre-order Scale-Bright here (ebook) and here (hardcover)!

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I adore writing the far future, a place and time where you’re limited by nothing save your imagination. In my vision of space travel and data-as-mind, society treats you as the person you say you are. You may love where you wish, dress how you like, pursue any profession, and the right to a body which matches your sense of self is both universal and basic: like water and food. In this future, ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ have no meaning. A quality, a mode of dress, or a job is what it is, without gender coding or judgment. This future may be fraught with conflict, war, conquest – those things I don’t believe will vanish even when we’re all more cybernetics than skin – but when it comes to gender identity and all the complex ripples it causes, I’m a thorough (perhaps even naive!) optimist.

But writing contemporary fiction, even meshed with the magic of snake women and layered with fantastical cities, must take into account what we have now.

Of all matters Houyi is least acquainted with the society of dresses.

There are lines of etiquette woven into the nylon that sheathes the muscles of her thighs and calves, into the silk that bares the taut hardness of her arms and the blades of her collarbones. The laws of the skirt enforce the positioning of knees and ankles, as eunuchs once shaped the posture of imperial concubines, as the color red once dictated the conduct and silence of new brides.

My novella Scale-Bright takes place today, for a rough definition of ‘today’ (I try not to precisely date my fiction! I think it’s part of the Great Unwritten Code; at least mine). One of the characters is Houyi, the archer god who shot down the suns. Readers familiar with Chinese mythology may give pause here, as Houyi is traditionally a man. When I made the decision to write her a woman, though, I kept some of the trappings: in ancient China she dressed like a man, and in the present day she is seen in button-on shirt, slacks, men’s shoes; she wears what most of us would consider ‘butch’ getup.

Houyi sprang into existence fully sentient and adult; she carries herself without being informed by the experience of childhood or growing up. But even in the mythical heaven of her birth, she’s a quick study. She recognizes the limits placed on other women, goddess or mortal, recognizes as well that her mode of dress – her martial aspect, born with bow and arrows in hand – sets her apart, gets her treated differently. In Scale-Bright she tells Marshal Tianpeng, a god notorious for his lechery, ‘Pretend that I am a man. Your equal, if you will’ – and she knows that he does at one level because she has a wife and has always been known as a great archer, a hunter of demons. When she puts on ‘feminine’ clothes in one part of the book, it’s a surprise to all involved and a ploy that deeply discomforts her. That isn’t the only place presentation comes up; Houyi’s niece-in-law Julienne (mortal, and ordinary) thinks that Houyi ‘sits like a man, in a way Julienne would never dare’. How you appear is everything, the way you walk and sit, what you wear or don’t. It can shape your world.

It’s an immense gulf to leap between: as I write this, I’m also working on short stories and a manuscript all taking place in the far future. In that world, your appearance – makeup, clothes, shoes or even anatomy – has no bearing on perception of your gender. And, even in Scale-Bright, I don’t want the pressure and limitations to take over – that can be an important and necessary story, but it’s not the one I’m telling. A balance has to be struck.

That partly informs my choice to make this about a world aside, an interstitial city beneath the evident with demons and gods, where there are some of the same limitations and problems we experience, but not so strictly. If there are rules among demons they haven’t much to do with whom you may love and whom you may not. Even among the gods of Scale-Bright some of them are not one gender all the time, and despite everything Houyi and her wife Chang’e were wedded in heaven. When you and everyone you know is a deity who’s seen eons, or ancient shapeshifting spirits, there just have to be things so much more important than what’s being worn and who’s marrying whom.

Haven’t there?

Here it is at last, the cover for THE SEEKER STAR (Grayline Sisters #2)!

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The big reveal happened yesterday over at The Book Smugglers. They’re also hosting a giveaway of the first Grayline Sisters book, THE DAUGHTER STAR, so go check it out and enter!

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The ebook for WAR STORIES is out now!

Go grab it DRM-free over at Apex. My story “The Radio” is in the “Wartime Systems” section of the book.

“The Radio” is the story of Kay, a Synthetic soldier made from machine parts and the corpse of a volunteer, who gets left behind after her unit is destroyed in hostile territory. Hope you get the chance to read it! The rest of the book is fantastic, too.

If you’d prefer to wait for the print version, those will be out on October 7th.

I was thinking today about Wanda from The Sandman. Wanda was one of the first trans characters I ever came across in fiction, but I always felt so sad about how her story ended.

And so I wrote her a poem. I don’t usually write poems, so take that as you will. Here it is:

 

A Poem for Wanda

 

I couldn’t travel the moon’s road, you said.
I wasn’t woman enough for those old rules.
So now I remain behind to wait for you
As the walls shake and the skies open.

Who am I but a lesson waiting to happen,
An awkward funeral, five letters she’ll scrawl
On a prairie tombstone in fading pink,
And a ghost to endure as your story fades?

When I’m gone she’ll dream me pretty.
She’ll remember me reborn, acceptable, new.
But I’ll refuse Death’s consolation prize,
I’d rather have my own breath than beauty.

I have my own magic, ancient witch.
I’ve sailed a dark ocean between worlds,
Ridden bright down the roads of sun and moon
Across lands wilder than any you can know.

My magic is my own heart’s blood
It is the shining sun on my upturned face
The swirl of skirts around bare legs
And moonlit hair falling on my shoulders.

Our magic brings the tide in.
When I die I’ll bring this city down
And write my name on your soul
In letters no storm will ever wash away.

Recently I wrote about finishing the first draft of the final book of the Grayline Sisters trilogy, and how that felt. I had no idea I’d be making another post like it so soon after.

I finished the second draft of WAKING GIFTS (Extrahumans #4) last week. It was an excruciating effort–I basically rebuilt the story from the ground up because what I’d originally put down simply wasn’t working. I changed just about everything about the book, including the title (it was originally THE GIFT OF GREAT YIA, then THE BELLS OF VALEN, and now WAKING GIFTS). I think it’s pretty decent. I know I can turn it into something good. So at some point, this book will exist, and you’ll get to read all about what happens when Jill gets everything she thinks she wants (hint: nothing good).

And then that will be the end of the Extrahumans series.

There are several reasons for this, some about business, some personal. Mainly, though, this is a decision that grew out of the story.

I’d originally planned on five books, but at some point I realized that the plans I’d had for the fifth book were not particularly workable, and not actually about the characters we’ve been following.

Worse, it had nothing to do with Penny. Basically, even though she is the main character in only one of the books, Extrahumans is at it’s very heart the story of Penny Silverwing, her friends, her family, her lovers, and her transformation from who she is at the beginning of BROKEN to who she becomes by the end of WAKING GIFTS. Penny drives the stories and ties them all together, and she’s at the center of the extended “family” of characters. Her arc, after this story, is done.

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This story also completes the arcs of many of the other characters, such as Jill (obviously), Emily, Sky Ranger, and Felipe. It also does provide some answers to some of the big questions that the series has been asking, and wraps up some of the larger, overarching storylines.

So this is a good place to end it. I thought about ending it with THE SPARK, but there were simply too many unanswered questions. I don’t feel that way about this book. This is a good end point.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this will be the last story in this universe, and that this is the last we’ll ever hear of these particular characters. There is so much left to tell! But this particular series will end with book 4, and I’m happy with that.

I am so grateful to all of you who’ve been sticking with this series. I know WAKING GIFTS has been a long time in coming compared to the first three. I hope I can make it worth your while!

So, on to the updates!

THE SEEKER STAR (Grayline Sisters #2) – Hoping to have a cover reveal for you real soon. Plans are that it’ll be out late this year, but I don’t have a date yet.

WAKING GIFTS (Extrahumans #4) – Second draft finished. I’d like to send this to the publisher by the end of the year.

THE FALLEN STAR (Grayline Sisters #3) – First draft done, doing a few edits here and there.

Short stories: WAR STORIES has been sent out to Kickstarter backers! My story “The Radio” is in the first section. It is a very, very cool anthology from Apex which you should check out when it goes on general sale in the fall. I should also have another short story out either late this year or early next year, we’ll see.

Lastly, I’m going to be at Readercon this Friday–if you’re there, say hi!

That’s all for now!

Adam Bellow over at BuzzFeed has released a list of “21 conservative writers to read at the beach.” Bellow, if you haven’t heard, recently called on conservatives to engage in the culture wars by putting out novels. This is a fine and dandy idea, everyone should write novels!

But then there is this list. Oh.

This an introduction to 21 writers you probably have never heard of — and won’t, if the powers that rule the lit-crit, fanfic, and commercial publishing worlds have anything to say about it.

There’s powers-that-be that rule FANFIC? Shit. I had no idea!

Anyway, on to the list. You won’t be shocked at all to find there’s a lot of SFF books in there. Most of them have really bad covers.

The first one, The Holy Land by Robert Zubrin involves “A madcap role-reversed War on Terrorism” (that sounds fun) with Kennewick, Washington playing the role of… Jerusalem? “Something like the subtlety of the Great Wall of China informs this satire on fundamentalism,” says Booklist.

There’s a book by David Frum, because of course there is.

Then there’s Conservative Insurgency, which is all about crushing those filthy liberals with talking, I guess. It sounds more like a screed than a novel, but so was all of Ayn Rand and people still buy those.

There’s a book by Jim Geraghty because… why bother having a column at all if you can’t write weird fiction on the side? (as an aside: check out my column! *coughs uncomfortably*)

Oh, look, Larry Correia is on this list! Yay! What’s it say about him?

Correia has recently been the target of an Emanuel Goldstein-style hate campaign by intolerant leftists in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Conservatives (and those liberals still concerned about protecting speech they disagree with) should buy his books to show their support.

Yay!

John Ringo’s there, too. Great!

And… Tom Kratman, who:

pulls no punches in his literary war against militant Islam and other foes of American freedom.

Well!

“Literary den mother” Sarah Hoyt’s here, too. I’d yay but I am suddenly too tired for yay.

Whew. This is quite the list. Anyway. There’s been way better articles written by far more clever people than I about Hoyt, Correria, et. al. and the long, running battles within SFF and SFWA about 1) not being so sexist/racist etc. and 2) LIBERALS TAKING FREEDOMS AWAY OH NOES SATAN OBAMA DEATH STAR HITLER, so I won’t get into that.

What is interesting to me is just how much of this is SFF… and how much of it is bad SFF.

Also those covers. Whoa.

"Put the title in... make that image a little blurrier... perfect."

“Put the title in… make that image a little blurrier… perfect.”

Okay. Let’s be serious. There are two schools of American conservative thought online: one is all about ideas and thoughtful analysis of policy. The other is about wallowing in some of the worst impulses of the American right and trolling liberals. Guess which this list is?

I like some politics in my SFF. Like I said before, politics is at the heart of genre. But when your politics overwhelm your story to the extent that you get on an Adam Bellow list, that may be a sign of something.

summer-tour

Hey everyone!

Gonna be doing two readings with the Topside Press summer tour this coming weekend. One’s in Providence, RI on Saturday, June 7 at 7pm at the Carpenter Street Gallery, 186 Carpenter St. This is the reading I had to miss out on in February because of a MASSIVE SNOWSTORM, which sucked for sure.

The second reading is me coming home! The tour swings into Hartford’s Real Art Ways on Sunday, June 8th, at 3pm, so definitely come hang out.

Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahuman Union

Hey! Welcome to the Extrahuman Union, home of Susan Jane Bigelow. Prepare to be stripped of all meaningful identity. While you're processing, check out more about me on the about page!

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THE DAUGHTER STAR

Grayline Sisters #1: out now!

THE SPARK

Out now! Extrahumans #3

FLY INTO FIRE

Extrahumans #2

BROKEN

Extrahumans #1

Buy my books on Amazon!

Check out my Amazon author page!

Follow @whateversusan on Twitter!

Connect with me on GoodReads!

SHELLEY AND MIRA IN THE LAND OF THE SHINING SUN

Seven short stories from Susan Jane Bigelow, including the title story, "Shelley and Mira in the Land of the Shining Sun"

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