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At first I was just going to put this on Tumblr, where I post the most frivolous of my ramblings, but then I thought, no, why not blog. But, fair warning, this is pretty frivolous.

So, I am at the stage of con recovery where I’m hoping the scritchy feeling in my throat is the dry air in the house plus a weekend talking nonstop, and not oncoming Con Crud: Martian Death Flu Edition. And the stage where I’m unpacking things and doing laundry. Which reminds me.

So, the dress I wore to the Hugos (and also the Nebulas) was from Holy Clothing. Y’all know about Holy Clothing, right? Super comfortable clothes. Anyway. Every time I get something from them it’s fit well and been easy to wear, so I didn’t bother trying on the dress I bought for the Nebs, I just put it on that afternoon. And discovered that its lovely big square neckline meant that it was going to slide off my shoulders, or sink six or seven inches forward. I had not come prepared for this, and did some partially helpful stuff with my nominee pin, but it was still a problem.

A few days after I got home I was walking through the drugstore and saw a thing called “Fashion Tape.” This is a thing that exists! It’s for exactly the kind of thing I needed it for, and also for blouses that gap between the buttons and whatnot. (Gods forbid clothing designers actually make clothes that just stay on your body, that might lead us to have realistic expectations for ourselves and we can’t have that, right? Nope, better to have a whole industry and associated fashion hacks that address this kind of thing and let those who aren’t in on the secrets feel inadequate.)

Anyway. I’m here to tell you that the fashion tape did exactly what it was supposed to do–it’s clear, two-sided tape, as you would expect, and it held my dress in place all evening. It was also pretty comfortable, so much so that when I went back to the room to change for the Losers Party, I could not get my dress off easily and panicked for a moment before I remembered that my dress was ACTUALLY TAPED TO MY BODY.

So. If you find yourself needing it, Fashion Tape is a thing that exists.

The 19 year old wanted to know if it was the same thing as another fashion thing I’d run into years ago–I was going to wear a dress to a fancy thing, but the dress was…not made for wearing a bra with. And I pretty much always need a bra. I had asked a co-worker for advice and she said to me, “Oh, that’s easy, just go to the department store and get some titty tape. No, really, that’s what it is.”

So I went to the department store and looked but could not find it. A salesperson saw my confused wandering and asked me if I needed anything, and I was forced to explain that I was looking for something that my co-worker called “titty tape” but I was pretty certain it wasn’t called that.

Turns out, it’s just called, blandly, “stick-ons.” And they don’t quite do the job a bra would do, but it’s better than nothing. So, if you find yourself in need of such a thing, that’s what it’s called.

Anyway, I explained to the 19 year old that, no, “fashion tape” was not “titty tape” but they do kind of exist in similar spaces.

And if you find yourself in need of them and didn’t know they existed, well, now you do.

As the title says, I’m safe home again from my epic voyage to Kansas City, and my plans for today involve a lot of tea and mindless Netflix. But I thought I’d check in and say a few words about how my WorldCon went.

Well, first off, HOW ABOUT THOSE HUGOS! I’ll be straight with y’all, I have been rooting for The Fifth Season to win because it is a fabulous book. Several times I considered posting here to say so. In the end I decided it wasn’t a good idea, but in individual conversations I did say it. I mean, look, I’m really proud of Ancillary Mercy. And by the way, I am honored and seriously touched by the folks who’ve told me they put it first on their ballots and who hoped for it to win the Hugo. I have the best readers. I really do. And I would have been genuinely happy for any of the finalists had they walked away with the rocket rather than me, or Nora.

But The Fifth Season. Y’all, since I started voting for the Hugos I’ve found that very often there’s a particular book in the novel category. I mean, you read them, you read one and it’s like “yeah, this is good, I see why it’s there.” And you read the next. “Yeah, this is really really good.” Sometimes not to my taste, right? But good. Another one. “This is good too! It’s going to be difficult to rank these.” And then you hit that one. “Oh. Right. This is the winner.” This year, in my personal opinion, The Fifth Season was that book. I actually shouted “Yes!” when the result was announced. Because. I mean.

And it was a lovely night pretty much all around. I got to meet an astronaut! There were actually TWO REAL ASTRONAUTS there and I can’t even. Some lovely acceptance speeches, particularly Nora’s. And someone suggested to me afterward that Neil Gaiman maybe could have been more direct, instead of soft-pedaling his opinion. (Just kidding, I found his brief speech entirely delightful.) I got to meet Zoe Quinn, who is fabulous! I went to GRRM’s afterparty!

I’m telling my WorldCon backwards! Well, only kind of. My last con thing was a panel on Sunday afternoon with Geoffrey Landis. There were supposed to be more panelists, but in the end it was just the two of us, dealing with the question “Can hard science fiction be too hard?” which is honestly a nonsense question that misses the point, but it was a great start to just riff on, and we had a great time talking and there were wonderful contributions from the audience, and it went swimmingly.

Lieutenant Awn Elming Memorial Park was a success! I arrived on Wednesday afternoon with the 19 year old, and we decorated it up and arranged things and whatnot, and set out buttons and pins and ribbons for folks to take, and I tried to spend some time there every day so folks knew where they could find me. This was particularly important since I didn’t have a scheduled signing. That’s not a criticism of the con, I’m pretty sure scheduling all that sort of thing is pretty hair-raising and I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars, and there were lots of folks who wanted and deserved signing slots and very likely fewer spaces in the schedule than would accommodate all of us. But it did make things awkward for folks who wanted books signed but who didn’t want to accost me in the hallway. Anyway, the park was a place I could be available and talk to folks and sign things.

It was also a place where folks could play a hand or two of Cards Against Significant Species. Seriously, one of my awesome readers brought an actual customized deck and it sat there in the park and people played it (including me) and enjoyed the heck out of it. There was also a cosplayer! They were Lieutenant Tisarwat on Thursday (complete with purple contact lenses!), Anaander Mianaai on Friday, and Breq (with mourning stripe!) on Saturday. JUST SUPER AWESOME. I had also put out some pens and post-its with the vague, barely formed idea that maybe people might want to leave a note (for me, for someone else, for themselves, whatever) and that turned into post-its appearing on the park sign and the park’s NO FISHING sign, with truly delightful (and occasionally warring) messages. The string of different Anaander Mianaais who declared the park annexed, for instance, made me laugh. I have pictures of all of it, but have not uploaded them from my phone. Some of them have already been posted to Tumblr.

I would really like to thank MidAmericon for the whole park thing. It was a great idea, and it worked out particularly well for me. Partly because I was driving and could pack my car full of silly stuff to put out, but also it was just nice to have that place to sit down and chat.

I did the writers workshop on Friday, by the way, and I so enjoyed that. Rachel Swirsky and I did the same session and the…students, I guess? The students were great and I really enjoyed meeting them and talking to them about fiction–theirs, and in general. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more from them in the future.

I also did my first ever kaffeklatch! Well, first as the person people were there to see, not as a fan. That was a lot of fun, and I so enjoyed meeting everyone and having a chance to just chat and answer questions.

So, basically, my con was awesome. Everything went really well, everything turned out either as I had hoped or well beyond what I could have reasonably wished for, and everything I was involved in was well-run and the folks I worked with or who I had cause to ask for information or assistance were super helpful. The couple of negative occurrences I heard about appear to have been dealt with quickly and appropriately. I had a great time. If I didn’t get to see you, I am sorry I missed you! If I did–I’m so glad we got a chance to hang out!

I could probably continue to enthuse, but the fact is, I’m exhausted. I’ve been basically “on” since Wednesday evening, and while I love love love meeting people and hanging out with new and old friends, it does take energy. (Yes, like many writers, I am a serious introvert.) And I did three panels yesterday on about four hours of sleep and then promptly jumped in my car and drove all the way across the state. So, after the four or five days of fun and partying, it is time for me to spend a day or so drinking tea and watching Midsomer Murders, because that’s about as much concentration as I’m going to manage for a bit.

I stand by this series of tweets. But I may need to clarify something. Someone objected that it might be irresponsible to advise young writers to pretend the rules don’t apply to them, that some projects are just foolish to undertake and it’s better to say so.

Now. I can see where this person is coming from and I sorta kinda agree but not really.

Here’s the thing: yes, there are some projects that are fundamentally unsalable. If you are determined, for artistic reasons, to write a 500K word novel all in Sumerian, well, you know, the audience for that book is going to be very, very small and I’d bet most editors would pass it up no matter how brilliant it was. That’s kind of common sense, right?

A slightly less extreme example–most SF or Fantasy novels come in at around 100K words. Give or take ten or twenty. You’re probably going to have an easier time selling a manuscript that’s 100,000 words long as opposed to one that’s 300K.

But here’s the thing–that’s not really an ironclad rule. I know personally of at least one person who sold their first fantasy novel a couple years ago–it was in the neighborhood of 300K, and the subsequent volumes have also been that length, so far as I can tell. (Hi, Django! And y’all who aren’t Django, the books are great fun.)

See, that sort of thing is covered by my admission in the tweets that, yes, commercial considerations are a thing and you might want to keep them in mind. Or not, you know, because A)you, the writer, get to make the final call just what considerations you want to take into account and B)every one of them is a case-by-case thing. I can’t tell you “never ever write a first SFF novel that’s 200K-plus words, you’ll never sell it.” Because that isn’t necessarily true.

What I can tell you is that most first novels are going to be in that 100K range, and so maybe when you’re working you want to keep that in mind. But you have to balance that against your project. What are you trying to do? What will best serve the goal you have in mind for that particular work? It might well be that the answer is “ruthlessly cut down to 100K” or “ditch it and write something else in a different but related subgenre.” I don’t know, I can’t tell you that. Only you can tell you that. But “most first genre novels are 100K” is not a rule obligating you to stick to that length if you want to be published. It’s a piece of information about what’s mostly being published right now. There are, and will be, exceptions.

No, you can’t guarantee that your work will be one of those exceptions. But, some real talk: there is nothing you can do to guarantee that your ms that has all the characteristics of what’s being published right now–the right length, popular subgenre, whatever–none of that is any guarantee that ms will sell.

If you have a quirky project, and you, personally, feel compelled to see that project through in some way, shape, or form, then do that. Consider advice, certainly. If you can take the advice without harming your project, and it seems good to you, by all means do. I am absolutely not encouraging any writer to refuse to listen to any critique or advice at all in the name of their pure, unadulterated artistic vision.

Nor, by the way, do I consider writers who weigh commercial factors very heavily in their calculations to be sellouts. On the contrary, that is a valid choice to make. I can’t tell anyone reading this blog how or whether to weigh such concerns, because that’s a question of what a given project calls for, and what the writer feels is going to work for that project.

But if you’re going to tell writers never to write anything much longer than 100K, or that they should give up all hope of writing something in a mined-out (or currently popular, soon to be mined-out) genre, well. No. Be aware, if you’re setting out on your 500K vampire-elf novel, that you’re going to have to really impress an editor with it. You might want to consider another project for now. Maybe. Do you? I can’t tell you that, only you can. Think about it. I’d probably say it was maybe foolhardy. But you know, it’s your call, and I can’t tell you that your 80K Angel/Mermaid Romance is going to do any better. Will you get as much fun out of the Angel/Mermaid book? You might want to start there and work on the Vampire Elf next. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes your most ambitious project needs a skill level you don’t quite have yet. Sometimes you need to work up your confidence before you attempt it. It’s your call. Whatever choice you make will be good, it will be okay. There’s no rush, writing takes time, submitting takes time, just write. It’ll be all right. I’m just saying, don’t permanently scrap your cool project because someone said “but you can’t sell that kind of thing.”

And if folks in your writers group or message board or whatever are telling you things like “you have to have a POV character that’s like the reader so they can sympathize with them” or “don’t write in first person” or “editors won’t buy stories with queer main characters” well, frankly, no. “No infodumps.” Really? Take a look at the critically acclaimed books of the past couple years. I can think of at least two, just off the top of my head, that from all I can tell sell pretty well and have been nominated for or won major awards that are pretty infodump heavy. There are likely more, because actually some readers really enjoy the heck out of a good infodump, especially when it’s embedded in a story that hits their buttons in other ways as well.

My advice–don’t get your advice about what editors will or won’t buy from writers group members, many of whom may or may not have sold much themselves but are passing on second-hand, received wisdom that came from Mithras knows where. Take it from actual editors, and from observing what’s actually on the shelves at the bookstore. Always remembering that what’s on the shelves is just what’s being published right now, not a complete set of what will or won’t ever be published in the future. In fact, today’s hot subgenre is already on its way out, for writer purposes. There’s no predicting what tomorrow’s will be.

Weigh writing advice carefully. Anything presented as a rule is not a rule. At best it’s general advice presented as a rule. At best. Half the time it’s bad advice to begin with. But always consider advice. Consider it seriously, and if you find it won’t work for the project at hand, put it aside.

This is difficult to do, by the way. You need to have a weird sort of ambiguous attitude, at least in my experience. You have to be really pig-headed but also willing to bend when it’s called for. And only you can decide when it’s called for.

Weigh advice, think, and if, after thinking about it, you really feel passionate about the Vampire Elf, then go to it. Commit entirely to it. Don’t bar any holds, don’t just go overboard, dive enthusiastically over that rail. Worry about selling it later. Who knows, you might hit the right editor at the right time and spark a whole Vampire revival. (Actually I hope not, I’m pretty much over vampires (and zombies for that matter) but you don’t need to take my taste into account.)

Or not. Maybe the Mermaid is a better call. I know it’s frustrating, part of the reason these “rules” get passed around is because we would so much love to have at least some certainty, at least some indication that there’s a way to get where we’re trying to go, some black and white steps we need to take. But there’s no way anyone can give you that. The only sure thing I can tell you is, if you don’t write you won’t ever sell your writing. If you don’t finish what you work on, and submit it, you will never sell your writing. Everything else is a matter of “it depends what you’re trying to do.” So whatever project you decide to work on, it might as well be something you really do want to write.

So, as I posted just the other day, I will be at WorldCon, and I will be on some panels!

Here’s slightly more information: MidAmericon, apparently having a nice large, open space in the Exhibit Hall, is, I gather, planning to have some sort of “river” with “parks” alongside, and park benches. This is meant to be a place where folks can sit and chat, or gather, or whatever, kind of like the awesome Fan Village at LonCon. People or groups could sponsor parks, or benches, or combinations thereof.

I couldn’t resist sponsoring the Lieutenant Awn Memorial Park. I don’t know exactly where it will be located beyond “somewhere in the exhibit hall alongside a fake river with the other parks.” I plan to spend at least some time there, so if you’re trying to track me down that’s likely a good place to start.

Depending on logistics, I will also try to leave some buttons and ribbons and maybe even pins for folks to take, in case they don’t cross paths with me. But I hope I see you!

Hey, y’all! I’m in the middle of getting ready for WorldCon, and also making progress on the WiP. Which means I haven’t really had the brainspace for blogging. Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly regular on that score anyway.

But. I saw this yesterday. I tweeted it and I tumbled it and now I am going to blog it because it is AWESOME:

It’s a book trailer! It’s by bironic, you know, the person who did the awesome Starships video! This trailer is assembled from a bunch of different sources, none of which was any sort of adaptation of any of the Ancillary books, and yet. And yet!

Look at that. Look how awesome that is!

Yes, I plan to be at WorldCon! This is where I’m scheduled to be:

Thursday Aug 18, 2016


2:00 PM Kaffeeklatsch: Ann Leckie, Jack McDevitt, Jerry Pournelle, Michelle (Sagara) West
Kansas City Convention Center – 2211 (KKs)

4:00 PM SF as Protest Literature
Kansas City Convention Center – 2502A

Science fiction has a history of political and sociological undertones. The genre is the starting point for dystopian fiction, among other forms of politically engaged fiction. How has SF become the literature of protest? What are examples of historical SF protest books and who is currently writing SF literature that protests (religion, gender inequality, gender identity, technology, politics, capitalism, etc.)?


Friday Aug 19, 2016


4:00 PM Describe a World
Kansas City Convention Center – 2502B

Our panel describe a world, building it from scratch, and Rob Carlos will illustrate it as they speak! What flights of fantasy will emerge? Come along and find out!


Saturday Aug 20, 2016

1:00 PM Reading: Ann Leckie
Kansas City Convention Center – 2203 (Readings)


Sunday Aug 21, 2016

11:00 AM Scenes That Changed Your Life
Kansas City Convention Center – 3501B

Science Fiction is fun, but it also inspires and can be a force for personal reflection, inspiration and change. The panelists explore what has impacted upon them and whether it is, or should be the job of creators to deliberately inspire. Do inspirational moments come by accident, or are they entirely personal?

1:00 PM The State of Feminist Fantasy
Kansas City Convention Center – 2205

On The Coode Street Podcast (#256), Suzy McKee Charnas and Pamela Sargent noted that while feminist fantasy exists, there isn’t an agreed upon canon, as there is for SF, nor is there an equivalent community of feminist writers and readers. Panellists discuss this statement, whether there is a difference viewing feminism through a fantasy lens, and whether there are fantasy feminist equivalents to Russ, Tiptree, and Butler. What are some good examples of feminist fantasy?

3:00 PM Can Hard Science Fiction be too Hard?
Kansas City Convention Center – 3501D

Allen Steele defines Hard SF as “the form of imaginative literature that uses either established or carefully extrapolated science as its backbone.” This may not be a perfect or final definition but it works on a basic level. With this in mind, is it possible that there can be too much science in Hard SF? Can the science make the work unreadable or unnecessarily complex or just plain ridiculous?

And of course I’ll be at the Hugo Awards, and around generally. More about that “around generally” later. If you see me, say hi! I plan to have ribbons, buttons, and pins for giving out until I don’t have any more, and I’m looking forward to seeing you!

So it’s coming up on 48 hours since I had electricity at home. I’ve been in sporadic contact with the outside world via my phone (kept charged with my collection of external batteries, all of which are pretty much drained at this point. They would have lasted longer but the 19 yr old discovered Pokemon Go and with the power out all over the place we might as well go out and walk, right?), but today I’ve gone to the library and am availing myself of an outlet and the free wifi so I can catch up with emails that really need more of a reply than is convenient to type on a tiny touchscreen. If you need to get hold of me, I will be difficult to find until the power goes on again.

Which may be a few days yet. The other day a brief storm blew through, mostly no big deal but there were very high winds on the leading edge, and lots of trees and power lines went down all over the place. The electric folks are scrambling to get everyone reconnected, but there are a lot of places unconnected.

I didn’t need the AC anyway! (If I say that often enough I might believe it.) Possibly worse than being without AC or even fans in July is the fact that I had just bought a bunch of food and put it in the basement freezer. I’ve put as much as I can on ice in coolers, and we’re cooking things like raw chicken, or ground meat and icing those cooked, because those are the riskiest to store raw when your refrigeration is unreliable. On the down side, this was stuff meant to last for a few weeks; three hours before the storm rolled through I’d gone to Time For Dinner, a place where you make a bunch of pre-planned main dishes, package them up and take them home and put them in your freezer. Then whenever you just don’t feel like doing anything for dinner but you want something good, you pull one out and throw it in the oven or on the grill or whatever. It was my first visit there. And there’s other stuff in the fridge and freezer that’s definitely a loss. On the up side, dang the TfD stuff tastes good. A+ will visit again. And the basement freezer needed defrosting anyway.

Still, it’s seriously annoying. It’s throwing off my work routine and making me difficult to contact. Sorry about that–there isn’t much to do except try to get to the library when I can.

So, for I think the rest of the month, the ebook of Ancillary Mercy is on sale for $4.99. So if you don’t already have it, this would be an excellent opportunity to grab a copy. The sale is on at Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Amazon.

Probably most of the people reading this already have a copy. But do you have a copy of N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season? Have you read The Fifth Season yet? If not, why not? It is a most excellent book and I recommend it very, very highly. And it just so happens that The Fifth Season is also on sale (in ebook form). Here are links–Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Amazon.

Hello, dear readers! I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m kind of busy writing a book! So today I’m hosting Juliette Wade, who not only writes great short fiction–check out this story at Clarkesworld if you haven’t already-she does the Dive Into Worldbuilding Hangouts, which, if you don’t know about those, check out the link at the end of the post! She’s also starting up a Patreon, and if anthropology and linguistics knowledge applied to sfnal writing and worldbuilding is something that appeals to you, you really should check that out. Links at the end of this post!

Juliette Wade takes a ridiculously close look at the worldbuilding of Ancillary Justice
posted by Juliette Wade

Thanks, Ann, for inviting me to the blog!

I’m here to talk about worldbuilding, and because this is Ann Leckie’s blog, I’ve decided to shine a spotlight – a ridiculously close spotlight – on the opening of Ancillary Justice.

What does that mean? It means I’m going to take a few paragraphs and break down exactly where the worldbuilding is taking place, piece by piece, showing you how Ann pulls you into her world. You’ve read these six paragraphs before, but you probably haven’t seen them this way.
Here we go!

Paragraph 1:

The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it. It was minus fifteen degrees Celcius and a storm had passed just hours before. The snow stretched smooth in the wan sunrise, only a few tracks leading into a nearby ice-block building. A tavern. Or what passed for a tavern in this town.

I’m going to start here with the word “The.” That little article has an important job, which is to tell you that “body” is something that someone already knows about. It’s as if someone just said “Wow, a body,” and then the story picked up an instant later. As readers, we are seeing it for the first time, but we can sense that observing someone outside the boundaries of the page. Thus, “the” implies the presence of a narrator. The first hint of a world comes with “the snow around it.” Our minds produce a snowy scene.

So far we could be on Earth, but we’re about to get more clues to correct our concept. Measuring temperature as “minus fifteen degrees Celcius” means that it’s pretty darned cold, and can hazard a guess that we’re not in the United States, where Fahrenheit measurement is more common. The next key piece is the “ice-block building,” and the fact that the narrator calls it “a tavern.” The only Earthly ice-block buildings we know have very specific terminology associated with them, so our expectation of familiarity has just been dislodged. Last is “Or what passed for a tavern in this town.” That sentence more firmly connects us to the narrator – despite the lack of any pronouns – by passing judgment on the building rather than just describing its appearance.

Paragraph 2:

There was something itchingly familiar about that outthrown arm, the line from shoulder down to hip. But it was hardly possible I knew this person. I didn’t know anyone here. This was the icy back end of a cold and isolated planet, as far from Radchaai ideas of civilization as it was possible to be. I was only here, on this planet, in this town, because I had urgent business of my own. Bodies in the street were none of my concern.

This paragraph keeps the narrator connection alive using the judgment inherent in “itchingly familiar.” Someone has to assess that familiarity; someone has to feel that itch, and get the sense of objection inherent in the word “but.”

Now, finally, we get a pronoun! “I” places us explicitly inside the thoughts of the narrator, and we see in this sentence that the narrator is a stranger to this snowy place. The next sentence gives us the biggest picture yet, keeping us grounded in the narrator’s perception of current location with the word “this,” but then calling it “a cold and isolated planet.” Now we can be certain that this is not Earth, and that the narrator has not only a sense of cosmology but a larger cultural concept where a planet can be judged as isolated from a perceived center. That invisible perceived center, then, is placed in parallel to “Radchaai ideas of civilization.” So Radchaai is the organizing, civilized center from which this planet is far and isolated. We can be certain that our narrator has the ability to travel between planets in the sentence that follows describing business.

I notice also that we have had absolutely no gender indicators about any character at this point, even though both the body and the narrator-protagonist have been established.

Paragraph 3:

Sometimes I don’t know why I do the things I do. Even after all this time it’s still a new thing not to know, not to have orders to follow from one moment to the next. So I can’t explain to you why I stopped and with one foot lifted the naked shoulder so I could see the person’s face.

The opening sentence of this paragraph is really important, because it speaks to another aspect of world that we might not initially notice as important. A protagonist’s identity is often quite easy to establish, because it falls in the realm of things readers expect. However, those who have read the book know that Breq is far from an expected protagonist. So it’s important that this sentence point out that “I don’t know why I do the things I do.” It makes the reader look around for unusual things about the narrator to explain why that might be the case. Then Ann establishes a contrast between “after all this time” and “still a new thing.” It doesn’t imply anything specific here, but later, it will fit in with Breq’s concept of twenty years being long-but-short in the context of her whole life. “Not to have orders to follow” is the next key phrase here, suggesting that the protagonist is someone who expects to receive orders.

Every suggestion limits the possible options for the protagonist’s identity. The fact that “I stopped and with one foot lifted the naked shoulder” shows that a sense of familiarity is not enough to inspire care for the body.

Paragraph 4:

Frozen, bruised, and bloody as she was, I knew her. Her name was Seivarden Vendaai, and a long time ago she had been one of my officers, a young lieutenant, eventually promoted to her own command, another ship. I had thought her a thousand years dead, but she was, undeniably, here. I crouched down and felt for a pulse, for the faintest stir of breath.

Here in paragraph four we find the first gendered pronouns: she, and her, used to refer to the person who has the body. We also find a name: Seivarden Vendaai. This is a name in a created language, like Radchaai which appeared earlier, further confirming the alien setting. The feeling we get from alien names has mostly to do with our instincts for sound combinations or word pieces and the emotions we associate with them, but these aren’t names that carry any recognizable pieces of our language.

The phrases “my officers” and “lieutenant” work with the earlier phrase about orders to suggest that the protagonist is a soldier – and also that military organization is a key feature of this world. “Another ship” is too ambiguous to be definitive about the protagonist’s identity, but we’re getting closer to it. “I had thought her a thousand years dead,” though, pushes us further out of normal expectation, because the protagonist has known this person twice over the course of a thousand years.

Paragraph 5:

Still alive

.

This is a short one, but it does something interesting for a reader’s involvement in the story. It suggests that these two characters will interact in the future, because it suggests that the protagonist bears some responsibility for keeping someone still alive from becoming not alive any more.

Paragraph 6:

Seivarden Vendaai was no concern of mine anymore, wasn’t my responsibility. And she had never been one of my favorite officers. I had obeyed her orders, of course, and she had never abused any ancillaries, never harmed any of my segments (as the occasional officer did). I had no reason to think badly of her. On the contrary, her manners were those of an educated, well-bred person of good family. Not toward me, of course – I wasn’t a person, I was a piece of equipment, a part of the ship. But I had never particularly cared for her.

Because of the implication of the previous tiny paragraph, it’s interesting that the protagonist immediately tries to deny responsibility here. Both this line and the next are full of judgment, which helps us stay connected with the protagonist’s identity despite the lack of description or gender. In the third sentence, we find the word “ancillaries” and the phrase “my segments.” Because Ann provides no explanation, she’s counting on readers to hold onto the new term “ancillary,” which we have seen before in the title, and actively look for its meaning. “My segments” tells us that the protagonist has segments – but we’re unlikely to suddenly decide she’s an arthropod! Why? First, because she has a foot to lift a shoulder with, and second, because when she sees a humanoid body she describes it as a “body” without marking it in any way as strange or alien.
The next piece returns us to the judgment of manners, which has some interesting aspects: first, the protagonist is able to judge education and breeding. The idea of good family is established as an important parameter for judging people (and it will be very influential throughout the book). It’s also interesting to notice that when Ann uses the pronouns “she” and “her”, she doesn’t then use gendered nouns like “woman,” but returns to the non-gendered “person” when describing “a person of good breeding.” This helps to set up the concept of feminine pronouns as being genderless by default.

Finally, Ann changes it up again with “Not toward me, of course – I wasn’t a person, I was a piece of equipment, a part of the ship.” So the protagonist, still as yet nameless, doesn’t expect manners. The protagonist is clearly a humanoid person as we would understand it, but explicitly defined as not a person, a piece of equipment, a part of the ship. If we go back at this point and look again at the way that Seivarden’s identity is described, we start to get a surprisingly good picture of the nature of the narrator’s identity, just from these tiny clues. We also have a pretty big mystery about society and identity to help us keep turning the pages.

This is what Ann is able to accomplish in the course of six paragraphs. When we read, we don’t typically notice any of it on a conscious level, but each word and phrase is doing its worldbuilding work inside our heads.

Juliette Wade hosts the Dive into Worldbuilding show on Google Hangouts, where she uses her academic expertise in anthropology and linguistics to take discussions of worldbuilding topics beyond the expected. Her short fiction explores language and culture issues across the genres of fantasy and science fiction. She has appeared in Clarkesworld, Fantasy&Science Fiction, and Analog magazines.
If you’re a fan of worldbuilding and want to take your skills further, you can also become a part of the
Dive into Worldbuilding workshop. Join Juliette’s Patreon and get brainstorming prompts, research links, exclusive peeks into research topics, or even get Juliette to help you with your work directly. https://www.patreon.com/JulietteWade

When I was a child, I had several Dream Jobs. I wanted to be an astronaut, of course, and I also considered careers in paleontology and archaeology. But high, very high on my list was “any job where people will pay me to read, or failing that, give me lots of free books.”

Reader, it turns out that I now have such a job. And in some ways it is exactly as awesome as I had dreamed. More awesome! And yet. Now that I get books sent to me for free on a regular basis (nothing like Scalzi gets, but still, it’s a couple a week in my email or in my PO box), I do not have time to read them all.

I do try to read them! Because, I mean. It’s just, it takes me a while, because I have so much other job-related reading to do.

Anyway. I get books. And I read them, if slowly. And sometimes I enjoy them quite a bit! Like for instance.

Borderline, by Mishell Baker. This is I think what the kids call urban fantasy. Which mostly isn’t my sort of thing–I’ve got nothing against it, but it usually doesn’t do a lot for me. I’m pretty sure I’m not its target audience. But I enjoyed Borderline quite a lot. And this is the part where I should say why I enjoyed it, but I am remarkably bad at doing that. I can talk about things that caught my eye–the protagonist has Borderline Personality Disorder, which is treated pretty matter-of-factly, without romanticizing or demonizing the character or her illness. The other characters were nicely drawn as well, I thought, and I enjoyed the Hollywood setting (though to be honest, Hollywood might as well be Faery itself as far as I’m concerned). If you enjoy urban fantasy, you should check this out. If you aren’t a UF reader, well, maybe check it out anyway, because it’s a lot of fun.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. If you’ve read any of Yoon’s short fiction, you know he’s fabulous. I confess myself partial to “The Winged City,” which I bought for GigaNotoSaurus several years ago. Now he’s got a novel coming out, and it’s (unsurprisingly) excellent. It’s out June 14, but I got an ARC and boy am I glad I did. Here’s a blurb I found at the Amazon listing:

“I love Yoon’s work! Ninefox Gambit is solidly and satisfyingly full of battles and political intrigue, in a beautifully built far-future that manages to be human and alien at the same time. It should be a treat for readers already familiar with Yoon’s excellent short fiction, and an extra treat for readers finding Yoon’s work for the first time.”

Every word of that is true. I know because I wrote that blurb myself.  Honestly, you should read this as soon as you can. And you should check out Yoon’s short fiction as well.