Friday, October 21, 2016

Charity vs. Justice

We tackled this topic first by talking about how charity is defined. Often it's defined within a religious context, but not always. It means kindness, and helping the less fortunate. It can mean donations of money, goods, or time. Volunteering is a form of charity in many cases.

One of the special features of charity is that it's kindness without the expectation of reward (other than spiritual). People are given tax deductions on charitable donations that can muddy the waters here, but in general, charity makes a far bigger benefit to the recipient than it does to you.

There are organizations whose mission is to perform charitable works. This is different from an individual doing acts of charity. Some charities gather used clothes or household objects and distribute them to the needy. Some, like Heifer international, use donations to provide animals to people around the world who could benefit from having those animals attached to their households. There are also organizations that allow you to personally sponsor individuals in other countries.

One of the big questions with charity is always "who do you help?" There is an element of individual choice involved, but then, how do you choose? What criteria do you use? Do you try to determine if people are worthy?

Is it because you have some kind of personal connection? Sometimes people support cancer charities because they know someone who is affected by the disease. Sometimes the connection comes through an institution like a church or a synagogue.

In a fictional world, what form does charity take?

In our society (modern US), there is a huge value placed on being able to care for yourself. How do you perceive your own opportunities? Do you consider the world just? Would you agree with the premise that what people have is what they deserve?

Foreign aid is often spoken about as charity, but it often comes with strings attached, requiring employment of US companies. The country exerts control over the recipients of the aid.

We then talked about when charity becomes problematic. Charity has a value; partaking of it can have requirements. The control involved is resented by some people. Colonialism and cultural hegemony can get involved. Sometimes you can't partake of charity unless you "are good." How is that good defined?

We talked about tzedakah, which translates as "justice." You are supposed to give a percentage of your crops or income to the less fortunate in your community.

The idea of community is really important here. The community itself has value, which means its members are inherently worthy of support. The question then becomes "who counts as a person"? What defines community membership?

What happens if people are suffering, but their suffering is invisible? This can easily happen because of distance or because of privilege, i.e. the ways in which we don't share experience with everyone around us. There is no way to be perfectly aware of all suffering. This can include elderly people who can't work, or disabled people.

We talked about equality of opportunity, and what that meant. I mentioned the comic of the baseball game:

If you look into it, you'll find a lot of variations on this image with different discussions of the issue. For one thing, this assumes the presence of the fence, and it also assumes that everyone wants to watch the baseball game. In real life, we don't know what everyone needs.

What are the basics for healthy community life? Roads, schools, electricity, water. We have seen in Flint, Michigan, how lead-poisoned water changes everything about the way that people lead their lives. The complexity of a civilization, and its culture, change what it perceives as necessary for the basics of community life.

What kind of charity is seen as most appropriate, or most righteous?
What is the basic minimum for participation in your society?

What happens when a person is "bad"? We have things in our society like the disenfranchisement of felons. If someone has committed a crime, do you strip them of rights? Is that just? How do you make sure innocent people aren't stripped of those rights?

What makes a worthy member of the community?

We also asked, "Is health care a basic right within a community?" Is the burden of health care on the individual or on the community? If a person has a broken leg, that might appear to be individual because it doesn't affect very much about other community members. However, if a person has measles or any other contagious disease, other members of the community are definitely affected. We can also think about how a person's injury/illness affects the people in their web of normal daily interaction.

How do you establish the rules of a community? Religious prescriptions are one way.

I found this article interesting, about the amazing independence of Japanese children. What is going on here is not so much self-reliance, though, as the basic assumption that a child can rely on the community to keep them from running into trouble.

People depend on one another even in a world like Mad Max.

Evolution has many examples where the existence and behavior of a group allows evolutionary success even though the individual wouldn't necessarily have that same success. (Ants, for example).

We referenced our earlier hangout on Corruption, because any kind of system can suffer abuses, and charitable systems are no different. There are charities who don't give all their money to charity. There are individuals who abuse charitable relationships. There are people who game the system to get more aid than they need. In these cases we have to take a look at how abuses fit into the larger life of the community and how the problems with these abuses balance with the larger achievements of the charitable system.

Thank you for a fascinating discussion!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016


We had a good discussion of hair. Sometimes hair is thought of as a simple thing. Do you have short or long hair? Hair is our personal style choice... but it's also more than that. It's a form of self-representation on both the personal and cultural levels, and as such, has a lot of complications.

Take for example the question of short vs. long hair. This is complex because it's associated with gender roles (long=feminine, short=masculine) and sometimes with religions (like Sikhism where people don't ever cut their hair). Starting with the gender question, you have cases like that of Felicia Day, who was attacked online after she got her hair cut short. Some people clearly think that short hair implies a rejection of men, and some go on to feel that women should be punished for such rejection (assuming of course that it actually is rejection and not just a personal choice). We do talk about some kinds of short haircuts as "butch," implying that they are short and masculine. Our gender presentation is an important part of our personal identities. For men there was the question of the military haircut vs. the Beatles haircut, which started out as quite scandalous even before the Beatles grew their hair all the way out long.

There's also the question of lack of hair. There is an entire industry based around bald-shaming. Patrick Stewart has spoken about how difficult it was for him to accept his baldness, which came on in his teens.

When my family went to Colonial Williamsburg, we encountered the role-players who spoke to us of very different attitudes about hair - in particular, shaving all your hair off so you could wear a wig. In the late 17th century, wigs were super-fashionable. If you were a girl, whether and when you shaved your hair for a wig was up to your father. Brian noted that in the UK, judges wear wigs, and it's a holdover from this era. Barristers sometimes wear the wigs in crown court. Class is definitely a factor involved in the decision.

In America, wigs can be worn for fashion or they can often be worn when people have lost their hair due to cancer treatment. There is definitely a baldness-acceptance narrative around chemotherapy, which is different from, but has some parallels to, the question of baldness as it's dealt with by men. In general, women who lose hair or who have thinning hair get much more shame and trouble for it.  In many cultures, a woman's hair is considered her crowning glory (in the context of male gaze!) That is connected with the idea of covering hair as modesty in certain religions.

Essentially, there are a lot of critical things at stake on our hair: personal identity, cultural identity, virility, attractiveness, and social standing.

Geisha have very specific hairstyles that are held over from the Edo era in Japan. These are not the same as Japanese hairstyles from the Heian period, when it was the fashion for noble women and their attendants to have hair that flowed all the way beyond their feet. It was also important in this time period to wash your hair on an auspicious day.

Sikhs are not the only group that doesn't cut hair. For them it's a religious observance. Some Native American groups don't cut their hair either.

Some hairstyles have to do with professions. The tonsure is a haircut associated with the historical identity of Catholic monks. The topknot began as a hairstyle of samurai in Japan, but is still worn by sumo wrestlers.

Different kinds of hair have different properties and can be styled in different ways. I mentioned the film Kirikou et la Sorcière because it portrays a community in Africa with a wide variety of hairstyles uncommon to straight-haired populations. Another story where hair has a special role is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, which just won the Hugo for best novella.

Hair can be high-stakes as a result of racism. Black people have sometimes been suspended from school or fired from a job because of wearing dreadlocks (there is an ongoing court case about this right now). There is huge pressure for Black women to straighten their hair in order to look orderly or "professional," but it's a double-standard trap. The hair becomes an excuse to enact racism. Words like "messy" or "inappropriate" can hide underlying racist motives.

I mentioned using hair in a couple of my works - first as a social distinction between aliens in Cold Words, and also as evidence of personal conflict in my novel.

In fiction, hair can be critical to your character.

Different genres can have more or less tolerance of description of things like hair and clothes. This is related to gender bias.

In the military and police, there is starting (gradually) to be more acceptance of different culturally based hairstyles.

Beards have become an issue in the Israeli Defense Forces because ultra-orthodox beards are permitted, but beards are not permitted except in that specific population.

Hair does not have to be a major plot point in order to be used to advantage in your fiction.

Thanks to everyone who attended! 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Invasive Species

Invasive species are species that travel, come into a new ecosystem, overly thrive and then damage the other ecosystem. We don't apply the term to species that travel and fail. Examples include rabbits in Australia, cats on islands who kill birds, goats, rats, and snakes, all of which have caused damage.

We did note that humans are the most invasive species at all. We are often the ones who bring damaging species into an ecosystem as we travel.

Sometimes invasive species are introduced purposely but have unintended consequences, as when cane toads were brought to Australia in an attempt to control the bugs in the sugar cane fields.

There are other instances when the travel of species is not considered a problem. I mentioned the Columbian Exchange, which caused potatoes, tomatoes, and cocoa to spread outside of the Americas, and diversified food without causing huge disasters.

Plants can be invasive. Kudzu vines, bamboo, and pampas grass are examples of problem plants. Eucalyptus trees were brought to America because they grew fast and people hoped to use them to make railroad ties, but they brought a soft-wood species rather than a hard-wood species. Now those trees are all over... but are generally not thought of as damaging.

When you bring a foreign plant into a new ecosystem you can get the "silent forest effect," which is where none of the local insects or birds are able to interact with the foreign species and so the ecosystem's diversity becomes suppressed. This has happened sometimes when forest-planting charities have planted non-suitable trees.

We asked, "Would we survive on another planet? Would our crops interact well with bacteria and fungi?" I mentioned the case of Chris McCandless, who was poisoned when he ate the wrong kind of grain in the wilderness of Alaska. Che suggested that we might not survive unless we terraformed from the ground up.

Whales eat krill which in turn eat phytoplankton, but if you try to remove whales from the web so you can use the krill yourself, you forget what the phytoplankton survive on, which is the fecal plumes of the whales.

Sometimes we don't realize what impact a species can have on its ecosystem, and only discover it later after it has been lost and then reintroduced, like wolves in Yellowstone. What would happen if beavers returned to California?

What if a species on another planet died out but could somehow be replaced by a species from our planet?

What if you introduce something invasive accidentally - should you bring something else to keep it under control? What kind of trouble would that creature cause? What kind of research might prevent the problems?

Two stories that deal with these questions are "Contaminated" by Jay Werkheiser (Analog) and the novel Archangel by Marguerite Reed.

As a group, we had seen instances of invasive species less often in fantasy in science fiction, though the phenomenon happened as soon as sailors would start landing on islands with things like goats that endanger tortoises, rats that endanger insect or bird species, etc.

The water buffalo is an invasive species in Australia. Australia has many examples of harmful invasive species in part because it is a (large) island that separated off from the other continents very early. People who traveled did so without any concern for people already living there, and even less for animals already living there.

In my current novella, I'm working with a transplanted species called haali (a flower bush), but it is not invasive, needing tending in order to survive. I mentioned how when I was weeding in my yard over this winter and spring, I left some areas wild in order to preserve the insect population of the yard. Morgan said she had deer in her yard!

There are wild parrots in Britain (more invasive) and a flock of parrots in SF that seems relatively stable. They affect the grape harvests.

Mint will take over your yard. Blackberries are a scourge from Northern California up into the Pacific Northwest, and gorse is a problem in Oregon.

We imagined what it would be like from a dragon's perspective, seeing humans as an invasive species. We also wondered what ecological effects would have cascaded from the genetic engineering of fire lizards into dragons on Pern.

If you took invasive species into fantasy, they might cause change in magic systems as well as physical ecology.

We saw invasive buzzy cute critters in My Little Pony. There were also green Smurfs.

Morgan suggested that it would be interesting to consider the introduction of magical species where there was no magic, which made me think if the changes in Jeffe Kennedy's novel world. You could easily see a magical imbalance grow out of that.

Thank you to everyone who attended! Next week, on October 19th, we'll be discussing Social Class and its values. Our next guest, Marshall Ryan Maresca, will be joining us on November 9th to talk about his latest novel. More on that soon!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Author Carrie Cuinn, Semiotics, and Worldbuilding without Visual Imagination

Author Carrie Cuinn joined us for a fascinating discussion. What would worldbuilding be like if a writer had no visual imagination? Carrie described to us how she had perceived herself as quirky adn different from everyone else, but only later realized she had a condition called aphantasia, which means she has no visual imagination. She is in fact participating in a study at the University of Exeter on this very subject. It's a more common condition than you might think.

So what are writing, and reading, about if you can't visualize? They are about meaning rather than images - and that brings us to the study of semiotics. Carrie notes that we should not trust Dan Brown to inform us on the subject. It's actually a school of philosophy, and one of her favorite sources is in fact Umberto Eco. Essentially, there is a language of iconography, which is how you put images and objects together.

Carrie introduces this concept by talking about Renaissance paintings. If such paintings featured small dogs, that would mean loyalty, for example. There was a deliberate symbolic significance to the inclusion of this image. She also encouraged us to think about the various features we associate with US images of the Virgin Mary, who is an icon archetype. It's about more than these simpler associations, however. The clothes (or hats) someone wears have meaning, etc.

Semiotics is culturally constructed and contextually based.

Often, Carrie says, people will write a story and give a person clothes or food but not think through the subtext.

Even the significance of an action like wearing a kimono to school will be vastly different depending on where the person lives, what kind of event (or not) she's attending, and what year it is.

When you're working in a secondary world, you have to consider two layers of semiotics: the secondary world semiotics, which are internally referential, and the real-world semiotics that the reader will be inclined to detect.

Ask yourself is something you include is appropriate to the context. Make sure you have knowledge about that context. Make sure you are saying what you intend to say.

Writing without visual imagination depends on you knowing the properties of an object, which you can do without seeing it with eyes closed.

Carrie says she only rarely describes people. She told us about a story she'd written where an editor asked her why the protagonist was a white male when everyone around her was a person of color. In fact, Carrie had written this character as a person of color appropriate to the context, but because she hadn't described the protagonist, the editor had filled in the identity of that protagonist with the cultural default. Internal point of view can remove you from the visuals of a character [my note: avoid mirror scenes!] quite a bit, but certain kinds of cues are needed by certain readers.

Carrie feels that with skin color, either none of it matters or it all matters - that we should describe light and dark colors with equal frequency. In context, objects and clothes also become very important. Carrie says she creates the semiotics of the secondary world, but if it runs counter to the defaults of our own world, she makes sure to explain it. She also told us about a workshop she was part of where a student had submitted a flash story involving the arrangement of dinner forks (fish, meat, vs. salad forks). Some people who read the story didn't look up the manners and rules surrounding the placement of silverware. They could enjoy the story, but those who took the time to look up those rules got more out of the story.

Carrie wrote a story where a weird owl appears - it's got long stork legs and a crown. In fact, it's a demon called stolas, who is a prince of Hell and has special knowledge in science and astronomy. She leaves it there as an Easter eggs. She says she leaves Easter eggs like this "in everything I've ever written."

Much of our knowledge - of symbolism, etc - is subconscious.

Carrie said when she watches movies it feels "like two people are speaking at the same time" because of the explicit messages of the dialogue and the implicit messages of the imagery. When she edits, she catches extra layers of mean (intentional or unintentional).

You may catch a lot subconsciously from a painting that comes from a familiar culture, like the French painting of freedom, but critics at the time had explicit knowledge of the significance of particular details of appearance, clothing, who is present, physical position, etc. in such a painting.

The more distant you are from the origins of an image, the more you will be inclined to overlay the meanings taught by your modern culture onto it. People who "discovered" Troy or Stonehenge did just this. The discoverers of Egyptian tombs didn't understand what they were seeing. They thought "Oh, how primitive," and only later did they realize this was language and culture from a different time period.

When you see ruins (in a story, a movie, or in life) you have history in front of you. You may not immediately know what it means, or which room was the kitchen, or what you did there. It's useful, as in Tolkien, if you have a three thousand year old person who knows exactly what it meant.

Carrie feels that food needs to be more of a quest, because people have historically done a lot of work to procure food. She also notes that if you find shells eighty  miles from the seashore, they may not have special significance, but may have hopped there via normal trade routes.

It's interesting to write a story where the reader knows the meaning of the symbols but the characters don't. That includes stories like Planet of the Apes, or The White Mountains, or anything containing ruins of things from our own time. (Of course, there are many other options, too).

You can apply archaeology to almost anything, even if it's relatively modern. Carrie told us about a dig that took place in Vinland, New Jersey on the old location of Welch's Grape Juice factory. Just a couple of things they learned were that the kitchen wasn't attached to the house, and that trash was buried in the back yard.

Carrie says she loves to yell at the show Ancient Aliens, because it's a great example of people overlaying their own interpretation of context and applying it. The people on the show ignore scholarly writings about the meaning of the things they are seeing, and just make things up. This is one reason to be very careful about research if you are, say, a white person from Chicago trying to write a story about ancient India!

Carrie pays attention to how people dress on the news, or on reality shows. Clothes can give hints about genre and character. She says in the genre of noir, a woman wearing a tight dress and sensible shoes is usually a secretary, while a woman with a tight dress and non-sensible shoes is usually a femme fatale.

Sometimes the people of a region will turn some important symbolic landmark into a tourist thing to attract money to the region. So a show like Ancient Aliens can help a region because they can help get the message out that the government needs to recognize the importance of a particular site.

Carrie has some semiotics-related links on her blog, as for example a semiotics primer for writers, part 1, and a semiotics primer for writers, part 2.

Consistency is important. The rules are yours, and if you know what things mean, your readers will start to pick up that meaning. The hard part is to figure out why it means this to you. It's a good idea to study a place, to talk to people in that place, and to read about the place. Write a draft, she says, and then edit it. Find knowledgeable friends and then listen to their advice. Carrie says, "If you mean to be offensive, own it," but if you hear from a friend that something you've written has an offensive meaning and that is not your intent, then change it.

Everything relies on context, and each person's context is different.

This is one of the reasons that academic writing dedicates time and words to defining the terms that they will use. It gives them a chance to refer back to the context of the meaning and try to establish shared context.

Every person who will read your story is from 1 to 6 degrees of separation away from our context.

One reason it's easy to offend people is because you don't know what you're saying. Watch international movies made by local people, she suggests. She recommends the first season of Cleverman.

Go through your manuscript and look for anything visual (there will be a lot!). Each one is an opportunity. Characters will react to those things, adding judgment to the situation.

Carrie, thank you so much for visiting the show to share your experiences and insights!


Friday, September 30, 2016

Come see me at Convolution!

I'll be appearing at Con-Volution: The Age of Monsters this weekend on Friday and Saturday at the Hyatt Regency SFO in Burlingame, California. Come and talk to me!

I'm going to try to schedule a reading, too, at some point, but that's not set in stone yet. I hope to see you there!

Here is my panel schedule:

Worldbuilding: The Monstrous Element

Friday 21:00 - 22:30, Parlor 2021 (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Including monsters and inhuman creatures in your fiction Worldbuilding.
Steven Savage, Juliette Wade (M), ElizaBeth "Lace" Gilligan, Melissa Snark, Garrett Calcaterra, Anne Bishop

An Aviary of Beasties

Saturday 12:00 - 13:30, Parlor 2021 (Hyatt Regency SFO)
The dragon and the pegasus are well-known to Western fantasy readers, but what other creatures lurk in the skies? The Manananggal of the Philippines, the Kongamato of Zambia, the Ahool of Indonesia, even the legendary Thunderbird of North America... Let's move past the common and explore the full range of airborne mythological creatures from around the world. Why are we so enamored with things that fly?
Juliette Wade (M), Gregg Castro t'rowt'raahl Salinan/rumsien Ohlone, Lex Rudd, Trish Henry

Fear of The Other

Saturday 20:00 - 21:30, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
 Horror from previous generations draws much of its power from the fear of the Other. In some cases the other is an unknowable being, a cosmic terror, but just as often it's not, referencing instead more mundane distinctions between us and them. How problematic is the use of the Other to engender fear? Has fear of the Other led to some of the challenges genre faces today relative to inclusiveness and equality?
Lillian Csernica, Juliette Wade (M), Garrett Calcaterra, Gregg Castro t'rowt'raahl Salinan/rumsien Ohlone, Sumiko Saulson


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hats and other headgear

I love a hangout where I can try on hats!

We had a good conversation. Hats can serve for protection from sun, rain and wind. They also can be fashionable. Certain forms of headwear have religious significance, signifying humility, or indicating that a woman is married. Bridal veils are a specialized form of headwear. There are also special hats that indicate one's status or occupation. Helmets are also a critical form of headgear.

We noted that some metal helmets were designed to be usable as washbasins or cooking pots.

Some forms of headwear indicate one's membership in a social group. Some, like bishop's miters, are meant to stand out and indicate a very different status.

There are also special meanings attached to certain kinds of headwear that would ordinarily just be considered fashion, as when people use the word fedora to indicate a certain type of attitude or behavior.

I showed off some of my hats. One of them is an Akubra, which is an Australian brand of hat felted from rabbit fur. It's very effective at keeping off the rain. Beaver fur was felted for similar reasons.

There were historical periods where just didn't go out without a hat. The 1960's back to nature movement did change that in the US.

A hat presents you the way you want to be presented.

A baseball cap maximizes visibility while maintaining shade.

Winter hats keep you warm to differing extents.

We wondered what the rationale was behind the propeller beanie, and guessed it was something fun for kids to play with.

We talked about the b'nai mitzvah, the round cap made up of triangles with seams. They can be made of suede or fabric, and you can buy them in bulk for special events like bat mitzvahs.

I shared an image of a number of different scarf-like head-coverings that are used by women of religious groups across the world.

We also talked about tricorns. In the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish, she jokes bout her main character losing hats.

We also talked about Sikh head coverings. Turbans take different forms but are apparently some forms of the religion require them for both men and women.

We talked about Mad Hatters, and the mercury that was used in making the felt, that led to the mercury poisoning.

We asked whether wigs could be considered a head covering. Depending on the time period, they were more common than natural hair.

We noted that many, many animals and birds have died for the sake of hat-making.

We spoke about the feather headdresses of Native American cultures like the Sioux, the Cree, the Cheyenne, and others. These and many other forms of headwear have very specific cultural significance, and shouldn't simply be adopted for fashion purposes.

We mentioned fascinators, those little tiny hats that sit askew on the head as a woman's accessory. They are ornaments, and often feature feathers and jewels.

We wondered whether hoods or cowls counted as headwear (but reached no definitive conclusion).

We also talked about an idea that grew out of the discussion of feather war bonnets, i.e. legitimacy in wearing a particular piece of headwear. Is it really your uniform? Do you belong in it? This question is very important and causes many problems in fiction (and reality!). Think, for example, about crowns - the wearing of crowns (as opposed to tiaras) is very restricted, and one's claim to the crown (literally and figuratively) must be legitimate. Even royalty do not wear crowns all the time because they are very heavy.

It was an enjoyable discussion. Thanks to everyone who came.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Traveler of Worlds

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro told us that he started out writing essays and reviews of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He's now a prolific author of short stories, and has published thirty stories since 2008! He says he likes to experiment in his stories, and to work from specific guidelines. Traveler of Worlds, which came out a week ago, is a book of interviews he conducted with author Robert Silverberg.

Because he has written in Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper fictional universes, I asked him what it was like to work in other people's worlds. He told us about a story he wrote for the The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes's Nemesis, and says it's impossible to learn all of the things that have done in the case of a world like Sherlock Holmes, because the world has been so mined by others. That means you have to have a specific approach. His was to reread the canonical stories that featured Moriarty, and to research the main ways  he's been portrayed, including novels and popular spins on Moriarty. Then he tried to come up with something really bizarre and make it look natural.

He said he was inspired by the Nathaniel Hawthorne story about a man who leaves his home and lives in a house nearby, watching how his own life unfolds without him in it. He redid it as a Holmes-Moriarty story, and says the plot arose from trying to make the two worlds work together. He asked "How does the story have to end?" and "What is the character's journey?" and the world portrayal arose from that. In his story, he imagined that all the stories about Holmes and Moriarty that occurred after Reichenback Falls were actually flashbacks (life flashing before their eyes) in the minds of the two characters while they were falling from the waterfall. That meant that Moriarty had created a world for himself, and aspects of that world had to show him that something larger was wrong.

In the case of a story he wrote for the Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper stories, he ended up making it science-fictional. Alvaro says that the commercial properties featuring Jack the Ripper are tame, and he wanted to get away from the legend and back to the brutal reality of this "nauseating character." He looked at newspaper clippings and articles from the period, as well as canonical stories and notes. He then blended this with an aspect of contemporary society he finds just as horrifying: the corporate interview. He says that he really connected with some recent articles which described the characteristics required for top corporate positions (like CEO) as corresponding closely with the characteristics of sociopaths and pscyhopaths. The story therefore featured different versions of Jack the Ripper murders, each from the perspective of a different sort of Jack the Ripper character - and [SPOILER!] these were all different people experiencing the stories as part of an interview process for CEO of a company. His intent was also to make readers wonder about how similar they themselves were to Jack the Ripper.

Alvaro is very good at creating conceptual mashups!

We then talked about his story, "WYSIOMG" which will appear in October in Cyberworld. The title is an acronym for "What You See Is Oh My God," bringing together the early concept of a graphic user interface with modern slang sensibilities. The story is a cyberpunk story. Alvaro says that there are many features of cyberpunk, such as tech, implants, cutthroat corporations, neon, and rain, that are mostly superficial, but that it's also important to include a degree of "stylistic audacity." He notes that postmodernism and cyberpunk arose at the same time.

The point of view he uses in this story is somewhat unusual. Alvaro says "worldbuilding is building the world as it is experienced by the character." His main character here comes from a poor background and was sold on using products which damaged his brain, something Alvaro does not consider a disability but a feature of his perspective, represented by his prose stylistics. He says that the story was inspired in part by a news story about villages in Spain being up for sale; in this story, the empty villages have been colonized by poor people who have found their way there from a worse place. He looked at genetic engineering, drones, and the use of information in the future.

I asked Alvaro to talk about the difference between character voice and narrator voice. The easiest way to identify narrator voice is if the story is not in first person - as in the Jack the Ripper story when the narrator was not first person and the reader is dealing with known events. The introduction of the consciousness of the character changes the voice. Alvaro says "everything betrays writer voice" on some level. He often thinks about the aesthetic he is trying to achieve in a story. If you look at writers from before the 20th century you often see longer sentences and formal language, so he used that in the Jack the Ripper story, but made style changes based on the four point of view characters. In the case of WYSIOMG, he used a cyberpunk aesthetic. There are many mentions of future technology, and the character's viewpoint uses run-on sentences, altered grammar, and mixes languages a lot. These stylistic features are meant to capture his multilinguistic background and also his brain injury.

Alvaro told us he was born in Madrid, so his use of Spanish in the story didn't require any research, but he did research on Brazilian Portuguese to capture that aspect of his character. Cyberpunk often uses existing words in a new way (including compound words) and I observed that internet language is also changing sentence structure.

Alvaro told us about a story of his in the forthcoming anthology This Way to the End Times, called "Prayers to the Sun by a Dying Person." This one required a lot of research because it was set in India as the future "crashes into the present." He said he looked deeply into linguistic questions, but also religion, culture, geography, rituals, etc. He takes the question of cultural appropriation very seriously and wants to use the material he learns in a way that is respectful yet innovative, and makes sense.

"Sometimes you spend the longest time on the smallest things," he said. He went back and forth over several drafts about whether to include a brief explanation of the word "ghat" in his first sentence, where the woman was sitting on a step by a lake. In the end, he took the explanation out. Alvaro says "get on with the story; just make it so the reader has enough."

I asked him about Traveler of Worlds, which has been available for about a week. Alvaro explained that he had been paired with Robert Silverberg for a project called When the Blue Shift Comes, where he wrote the second half of a piece with a very particular style that often makes direct address to the reader. Alvaro had to emulate that style "and have fun." The project went well, so Alvaro asked Silverberg to do a book of interviews about how he feels about things other than science fiction and fantasy. The key to successful interviews, Alvaro says, is making sure you can create a safe environment where someone feels they can talk about anything, and not to ask clichéd questions. It sounds like a really neat collection, and gave Silverberg a chance to talk about his early childhood as well as to analyze the work of some non-SFF authors. It sounds really cool.

Alvaro, thank you so much for coming on the show! Now, everyone go check out Traveler of Worlds...