Monday, March 18, 2019

Footwear (Parts 1 and 2)

This topic was so much fun that we gave it two hours! We came into it from the question of how worldbuilding drives footwear. Obviously, climate and geography are involved. We certainly have to get beyond the default fantasy assumption of boots. What other kinds of rugged footgear are there? We also talked about footwear behaviors.

Kat asked: do people take off their shoes as they enter a home? If so, those shoes must come off easily, and can't be exclusively-lace-up boots. Does a house have a place where you can sit to buckle or lace shoes? She remarked that she used to think of shoe removal as an East vs. West phenomenon until she learned about Western no-shoes-in-the-house culture in Finland.

Sometimes you need different footgear for school.

Roman lace-up sandals stay on. Geta come on and off.

Some boots lace and zip both, to let them be more flexible. Morgan said she remembers going out without her boots zipped to save time.

In heavy snow regions you can find snow boots, and stairs made of grillwork with holes to let the snow fall through. There can be snow scrapers beside the door. You can also add special traction apparatus to your boots to increase your safety on ice and snow.

Boat docks can have grooves to make sure people don't slip on them.

Your shoes can influence your gait. Some shoes encourage tiptoeing or small steps. Others encourage sauntering. Shoes can reflect social status.

Cliff mentioned that hobbits wear no shoes at all. It's particularly noticeable when you arrive in a place like Bree, where humans are wearing boots and hobbits seem in danger of being stepped on a lot. They would end up standing on tables with their muddy feet, though!

In WWI, boots were both protective and dangerous. Trench foot and gangrene caused people to lose toes or their entire feet. When the trenches flooded, people's feet would swell and they might not be able to take their shoes off.

What are snowshoes made of? What materials would be available for your people to make shoes with?

High heels used to be male footwear, but now they are predominantly female footwear. Certain styles of footwear are coded (like dominatrix boots). Shoes can indicate subcultures. Watch out if you think lucite platform shoes are cool looking, because they have been marked as street-walker gear.

Nurses wear particular types of footwear. Certain brands cater specially to them.

Kat talked about the problem of shoes not fitting our feet. Different populations might tend to have different foot size and shape, as the Dutch who are statistically tall with large feet.

When rental shoes are critical to participation in something like ice skating, roller skating, bowling, etc. shoes and their fit can become an access issue.

Paul remarked that we haven't always had Left and Right shoes; they used to be symmetrical.

In science fiction, creatures can have clawed feet that are hard to shoe (this happened in Star Trek, for example).

Cliff talked about the ritual of footwear that used to take place on planes: people would take off shoes and put on foot covers.

These days, shoe sizes are somewhat standardized. They are cheaper, but don't fit all. Custom shoes will fit, but you need a cobbler and the means to pay them.

Sometimes shoes are designed to create an impression that feet are larger or smaller, since culture creates pressure for smaller feet among women. This is only a piece of the larger pressures surrounding women and the expectation of delicacy.

Foot binding was an indicator of social class in a particular historical time period in China, but to ask modern Chinese or others about it now is a racial microagression.

We should not exoticize the pressure to constrict feet for delicacy: bunions on feet only happen when you wear confining shoes many hours a day, but here in the US they are accepted as relatively normal.

Cliff told us about a conflict of cultural expectations between himself and his wife. Debby was a ballet dancer, and had pointe shoes hanging on the wall as decoration, but Cliff had spent so much time internalizing the expectations of his sitar-playing circles, which say that shoes should not be near musical instruments, that he found it uncomfortable to have shoes hanging on the wall.

Kat said if you are worldbuilding about shoes, consider whether a home has a designated place to put on shoes. There generally isn't such a place in white American culture. In any culture which requires shoe usage to differ drastically between outside and inside, you will typically find a designated shoe-donning area. In Japan, schoolchildren line up at the start and end of school to use shoe cubbies like lockers. Cliff mentioned that he encountered a similar setup at the college where he studied sitar. Western architecture tends to lend itself just to piles of shoes, although as Morgan mentioned, some homes have mudrooms, especially in the Northeast. Even those rooms, though, don't always offer a place to sit.

People who will have to put shoes on and take them off all the time are more likely to have a long-handled shoehorn that allows them to put on shoes while standing. Shoehorns themselves are not as common as they used to be.

Cliff mentioned that shoeshine businesses used to be found on street corners and largely service men's shoes. If you are looking at shoe-shining, ask who is doing the shining. Is it lower-status people? Marginalized ethnic backgrounds? Children? In the past, children used to do the job of shoe-shining, at least in many parts of the US, but they were discouraged by child labor laws. In some cultures a job like this would be gendered, and in others it would not be. If a shoeshine business is in a male-centric culture, women can be discouraged from going there even though their shoes also need care.

How does your footwear link your climate and the way you walk? A particular type of shoe will be adapted to protect the foot from a particular range of temperature and moisture. That type of shoe may also constrain how a person can set down their foot while wearing it.

The European hard leather-soled shoe is not made for many environments. In particular environments it can be lethally slippery! It's good for sidewalks that are just a little rough, but not practical for mud, ice, or wet areas. It is often presented as an emblem of civilization, ideal for durability and traction, but the contexts in which this is actually true are limited.

What kinds of footwear do workmen wear? In Australia you can have elastic-sided boots, in England you'll have rubber boots ("wellies"), and in Japan, truck drivers will also wear rubber boots, but a cook will wear a particular type of white rubber boots. American workers often wear steel-toed boots.

Floridians will tend to underprotect their feet and wear flip-flops all the time (we heard a story about a welder wearing flip-flops!).

In Japan there is also a kind of boot worn by workers who must climb scaffolding. It's a canvas boot with a rubber sole and a separated big toe.

Shoes with a separated big toe can leave calluses between the toes. You could have a plot point where people were looking for a callus between the toes to see if a person was an insider (who wore insider's split toe shoes) or an outsider.

How often do you wear shoes? If you wear them a lot, your feet may be tender and soft.

Some shoe companies argue that letting toddlers use hard-soled shoes will incline them to flat feet. We weren't sure how true this was, but cultures do have many different beliefs about what kind of shoes one should wear for one's appearance and one's health.

There is no one kind of foot for optimal health. It all depends on what you will be doing with your feet. In some environments, flat feet are not necessarily a problem.

Cliff mentioned the shoes that are coded for children with lights and wheels. Some of us wanted them for adults, too.

Are you allowed to take a dead man's boots? Are they spoils of war? Are they haunted boots?

What kind of footgear should you wear on cobblestones?

Are there special types of ritual footwear? Yom Kippur forbids leather sandals because they are considered a signifier of high class, and you are not supposed to do things that indicate class status.

There can be a lot of social pressure to wear particular shoes.

Motorcycle boots are supposed to protect you from the heat of the motorcycle. There are firefighting boots. There can be magnetic boots. What is on your feet under your space suit? It may have more to do with culture than practicality.

Morgan noted that the TV show Bones makes a point of talking about the inappropriate footwear of the character Booth, asking why he's wearing fancy shoes in a muddy, wet crime scene. It's a reversal of the trope of criticizing women for the same reasons.

A lot of shoes are coded for gender. Shoe shopping is stereotyped as female.

Going barefoot is relatively normalized in Australia, while in the US there are signs reading "No shoes, no shirt, no service."

Regionally there are different words for the same footwear, like "sneakers," "tennis shoes," and "trainers." Then there are lots of shoes referred to by their brand names, like Doc Martens, Keds, Converse, etc.

At this point, our time was up and we felt like we hadn't finished our discussion! So we decided to resume two weeks later. For the purposes of not making my readers look around for the post, I'm combining the two sessions here.

Part 2

In this session we began by talking about orthotics, where you either have special shoes, or you put special inserts into your shoes in order to improve foot health or compensate for foot problems of various types (everything from low arches to legs of different lengths).

There are also special therapeutic boots that you can wear to protect an injured foot. These are bad in many ways, but better than a cast!

You can also get prosthetic feet and legs. These take various forms, including running blades, lifelike prosthetics, and art prosthetics, which can be very pretty!

Some footwear is designed to change your foot for a particular type of use. Ballerina pointe shoes have a structure designed to allow walking on the toes.

Much footwear is designed around a certain set of expectations about which of your toes will be longer. This varies, however. The Vibram 5 toe shoes assume you have a flat toe profile, and thus are only appropriate for people with a certain foot shape. Some people love those shoes, and some find stimulation between the toes to be uncomfortable.

Morgan noted that our footwear is seasonal, with sneakers or barefoot in summer and boots in winter. Kat told us she has a pair of Baffin island boots with a cuff which were designed for frozen mud, and are too warm for a great many weather conditions. It's valuable if you live in a snowy climate to have a variety of snow boots for guests who might not be prepared.

Kat pointed out that in Japanese, the word "ashi" incorporates all parts of the lower extremity from the hip down, though people can obviously refer to just the foot.

Cliff mentioned a fictional situation in Samuel R. Delany's Nova where spacers wore only one shoe so they could have a third hand.

Sometimes, animals can wear shoes, as when their owners are trying to protect their feet from heat or cold.

Sometimes, humans can wear animal-foot-shaped shoes, as when we wear flippers to improve our swimming abilities.

What if you need your shoe to grip? In the last session, we mentioned magnetic shoes. This time we talked about grippy shoes, including gecko shoes and gloves.

We talked about roller skates. These have taken many different forms. They started with metal wheels and clamps that would go over normal footwear, with a key to tighten them. Then they got vinyl wheels. Then they had a divergence between the rollerblades, which are fastened like ski boots, and the quad skates, which continued to have skateboard wheels. Quad skates are the only ones that work for certain forms of roller dancing. Now we are back to having clamp-on skates again, but with a different kind of technology.

Rocket boots are also a type of footwear.

Shoes can be designed to attach to leg braces or other kinds of medical support for the legs.

Roller derby has its own subculture of footwear. One of our discussants described it as a "badass feminist subculture with aliases." They use quad skates. The sport grew out of 1920's roller skate races, which in the 1930's moved onto racetracks.

Ice skates began as tie-on blades for shoes, and now they have become both complex and diversified. Hockey skates differ from figure skates in that hockey skates don't have teeth at the front of the blade, which are used in the jumps in figure skating. Long track speed skating uses clap skates, where the blade is only attached to the top of the skate at the very front, allowing a skater to raise speed by keeping the blade on the ice as long as possible. Henry Lien has used ice skates in fiction, in his Peasprout Chen world. He created a martial art that combines kung fu and figure skating. People in this world don't skate on ice, but on a material called "pearl." We all agreed this was epic footgear worldbuilding!
Folklore is surprisingly full of unusual footwear, including seven league books, winged sandals, the single-toothed geta of the tengu, red shoes that dance you to death, red hot iron shoes used as punishment, ruby slippers, shoes enchanted to be perfectly quiet, and fairy shoemakers.

People may distinguish themselves by not wearing shoes, as in the case of mendicant monks and mystics. Foot-washing may be a tradition when footwear lets in dirt.

Some people design special footwear to create a deliberately unusual footprint, like a cryptic footprint. These are less than plausible because they typically show no flexibility of the foot bed.

Wooden shoes have existed in many locations. In the Netherlands, they are called klompen. In France they are called sabots. People throwing wooden shoes to stop the working of machines gave rise to the term "sabotage."

Don't forget to ask if there are any special turns of phrase related to footwear! How do we talk about our shoes?

Gestures with shoes can be culturally important, as when someone threw shoes at George W. Bush, or when Kruschev banged his shoe on the table. What would be the significance of something like this in your world?

How we put on or take off our shoes can be important as an element of character-building. Do you toe your shoes off? Shuck them off? What, exactly?

Sneaker culture is a modern footwear-centered phenomenon. It's intense, creates a drive for increased fashion and consumption, and has its own community. What kind of social groups might be designed around particular footwear, or marked by footwear?

In Greece at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the guards wear special shoes with pompoms and do formalized marching.

Many dancing styles come with their own style of footwear, like ballroom dance shoes, jazz shoes, tap shoes, clogs, etc.

Kat mentioned "taxi shoes," which are shoes totally impractical for walking which people will wear if they intend to take a taxi from place to place in New York. She mentioned in particular "scrappy thin-soled high heel spike" shoes.

A shoe can give you foot habits.

Sandals, which we often talk about as though they are a single style of shoe, vary incredibly widely. They are "any shoe that shows your foot." Some people try to hide parts of their feet, such as "toe cleavage."

The wearing of Birkenstocks is a subculture. Teva had its own subculture for a while, when it was the only brand of wet/dry shoes.

What would happen to your shoes on a heavy-gravity planet? Would there be no high heels? What about platforms?

You can choose shoes that change your body's appearance, making you taller, or tightening your backside. These shoes can fit you to chairs and other things intended for taller people.

You can have fireproof shoes, or chemical-resistant soles.

There can be rules for color and style according to the season.

Are you expected to match your shoes to your other clothes? Is this gendered?

How are shoes gendered in your society? Are they?

Some people remove the heels from high heels and modify them into "hoof shoes" to create the illusion of having horse-, cow-, or goat-like feet.

Thank you to everyone who attended these two sessions and contributed your wealth of footgear-related ideas!

Don't forget, if you like the blog and the show, you can come support me and get extra worldbuilding goodies like links and topic prompts at my Patreon, here.

Video #1:

Video #2


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dr. Heidi Stauffer and Geology

It was an absolute pleasure to have Dr. Heidi Stauffer on the show to talk about her area of expertise, Geology. Our thought was initially that geology was underused in genre, but she had the insight that it can be overwhelming for people, and they don't often want to take that dive.

If you're really wanting to go deep into geologically grounding a story, Heidi recommends you start at the solar system level, at least for hard science fiction. It's fine also to start at the planet level. Many people make the mistake of having an entire planet have the same climate. Remember, even frozen planets differ at the poles and the equator. If you are working with fantasy, it's fine to start at the continent level. If your people have a concept of the whole world, it's a good idea to think about the planet. If your people think at the level of the country or kingdom, then the continent level is fine.

You have more control the closer in you go.

There is no problem with using known Earth climates. They would be statistically likely given the size of our universe, and the possibility of other universes!

Heidi was asked whether it works to say that on Titan, water ice is like bedrock. She explained that many people struggle with the concept that hydrocarbon liquid can behave like water. Titan is missing free oxygen. Earth's free oxygen came from life. If you want free oxygen on another planet, you must find a way to put it there. In fact, it's not great for living things, because it's highly corrosive. It caused one of Earth's mass extinctions.

You can look at atomic structure similarity if you try to hypothesized silicon-based life. It will however be "life unlike we've ever known."

Chemistry is important to apply to worlds. So are biology, ecology, math, etc.

Heidi's Ph.D. is in climate modeling, but she did traditional geology for her Bachelor's and Master's degrees.

Consider the scale you are working on, temporally and physically.

Heidi told us she TA'd the natural history of dinosaurs, which allowed her to teach people about body size vs. metabolism vs. gravity. These are a set of calculations that work one way for our planet, but would have to be recalculated on another planet. Big insects can only exist on high oxygen planets. A lot of paleo-botany hasn't been done, and we don't necessarily know what plants dinosaurs ate, which leaves us making educated guesses based on their physiological needs and the general features of the climate.

Small changes in a planetary/geologic system can have a domino effect.

You don't have to choose between science and story. Both are important. If you want to tweak the story science, you must do so plausibly. A hot planet can still have frozen water depending on its orbit.

The snowball Earth phenomenon had partly to do with planetary configuration and the life cycle of the star. Our sun was 25% dimmer at that point. In fiction, you could knock a planet a bit out of orbit, and when everything aligns, you get a heavy glacial episode.

Think about how to link the geology to the lives of your characters. What are the seasons like? This grows out of orbit speed and planetary angle. For example, what are things like on Mars? What would happen if it were 50% bigger? What if there were one less planet? Maybe there might be a planet where the asteroids are.

Start with known, established things, and work from there.

What if Venus orbited Earth? Venus right now is too hot and too corrosive, and our instruments dissolve before they can measure much. What if it were cooler? It did have plate tectonics once.

Kate remarked that Tatooine would have weird tides if it had two suns.

Heidi suggested that we look at the moons of Saturn and Jupiter for complex tidal effects.

If you put a civilization on a rocky moon around a gas giant, how would you see daylight? When might it be blocked by the planet?

Heidi suggests the NASA websites, the NOAA website, and the US Geological Survey for research purposes. is a good source where people deal with controversies and new research about climate. The Intergovernmental panel on Climate has summaries written for non-scientists.

PBS Learning Media website is a place where you can search by subject and grade level.

Think about maps and plate tectonics. Earth has layers that differ in density and rock type. The asthenosphere has a texture like silly putty: it's solid in the short term, but liquid in the long term. The rock plates rest on this. They are not like continents in an ocean, but like broken ice on a pond, all of them moving at once. They can move relative to each other in three ways:

1. Pulling away from each other.
2. Crashing into each other. When two plates collide, the one that is denser (the oceanic plate) is forced under.
3. Sliding past each other. This is called a transform fault.

Mountains are generally formed by number 2. This is how the Himalayas were formed. Number 1 forms ocean ridges, a mountain range on the abyssal plain.

These movements can change over time. The "young" coast ranges in the US were formed when the pate boundary was subduction rather than transform. Mid-continent mountain ranges can exist but usually are old and blunt.

A downgoing oceanic plate gets melted as it goes further down. The melted rock can rise up as volcanoes.

The Himalayas were formed when the Indian subcontinent broke off of Gondwana and slammed into the Asian continent. They are still rising. There are marine fossils on top of them! A spreading ridge by Antarctica causes this. New mountain ranges are high and sharp. Weathering will slowly wear it down like the Appalachians. The Hawaii emperor seamount chain is considered to be caused by a hotspot. We assume the hotspot to be stationary with the plate moving over it (otherwise the math is a nightmare). In Yellowstone, magma keeps pushing up.

In a possible twist, there may be the equivalent of mountain chains pointing toward the core of the earth.

Volcanic eruptions lead to increased sulfur and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lake Nyos in Cameroon is a crater lake with a volcano underneath. Carbon dioxide built up under the surface of the lake, and then the lake water overturned and the carbon dioxide flowed out into the surrounding area, wiping out every living thing including people in local villages.

The Long Valley Caldera by Mammoth mountain east of the Sierra Nevada has been monitored for decades. The idea for the terrorism alert level colors come from the volcano alert levels. They monitor carbon dioxide, ground motion, and earthquakes. A caldera forms when magma empties out of an area and the ground collapses.

Heidi recommends the movie/docudrama Supervolcano from BBC/Discovery channel. It can be found on Netflix and YouTube. (Not the one made by others).

Methane clathrates are substances where methane is enclosed in a crystalline structure with water. They contributed to the Permian extinction. An eruption of basalt that lasted for a million years filled a basin of sulfur deposits, releasing toxic gas and warming Earth, which was further contributed to by methane clathrates.

Geology is very relevant to daily life. It affects how your house is built, and where, and what you need to withstand shaking. Heidi has worked with natural hazard disclosure which includes things like how close you are to a fault, how likely the ground is to undergo liquefaction, whether you are in a flood zone, or in a dam break flood zone.

Thank you so much, Dr. Heidi Stauffer, for joining us! We had such a great time and continue to be curious about the effects of geology in daily life, so I hope we can have you back on the show very soon.

Today at 4pm Pacific Daylight Time, we will be joined on the show by guest author Vida Cruz! I hope you can be there.

Don't forget, if you like the blog and the show, you can come support me and get extra worldbuilding goodies like links and topic prompts at my Patreon, here.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Civic Duty

This topic arose after I had to miss a hangout due to being summoned for jury duty! In fact, I was not selected for the jury in question, but I found it fascinating to witness the process of jury selection, and thought it was worth discussing. American citizens are allowed to be called for jury duty no more than once a year, though it's possible for accidental address duplication to lead to people being called more than once. Removing such duplicates is fraught because it's tied to purges of voter rolls. Jury duty is one of the civic duties required in our democracy.

Cliff told us he had been a jury foreman. It's interesting to see people betray their desire to get off the jury, or to get on the jury, in the way they answer the question. Cliff brought up that military service is often a required civic duty. In Heinlein's Starship Troopers, it's a requirement for citizenship - something that gets called out by the movie of the same title.

Morgan noted that jury duty is a key part of our justice system. Whether you get a jury of your peers, though, depends on who you are. Some people are released from jury duty because it is a significant hardship to be so inadequately compensated ($15/day). This means that the people who pursue this duty tend to be people of financial means, which influences the perspectives held by jurors. The cost in childcare and lost wages for some people is too high.

Kat noted that the kind of people who end up being on trial are less likely to have a jury of their peers.

Cliff mentioned that the Peace Corps is a body intended to promote a sense of global civic duty. It too skews toward rich people. It's idealistic in some good ways but shuts out people of low socioeconomic status, and can be seen as "the good cop of Empire" or even as a secular missionary program. If you were worldbuilding, trying to create an organization similar to the Peace Corps, make sure to consider the consequences of power structures you create - negative as well as positive.

Should vaccination be considered a civic duty? It is roped into the capitalist system in a potentially unhealthy way because one must either pay for vaccination or indicate an inability to pay.

In some social systems, someone is assigned to your welfare so there is no need for self-advocacy.

In Ursula K. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven, everyone is given a Pharmacy Card, and if you are found to be abusing the card, you get assigned a therapist.

The United Sates makes civic duty difficult to do. Voting is a civic duty, and governments often take deliberate steps to restrict it. We may talk about the importance of civic duty, but the only easy one is military service, via the high school Draft for men. If everything were as easy as joining the military, we'd have a very different culture.

Countries that require mandatory service exist - but this service need not necessarily be military. Israel and Switzerland both require such service. You have options of doing other things rather than using a gun.

Kat told us that the one thing that tempted her to join the military was access to the Language Institutes in Monterey, where you can get intensive training in all kinds of world languages, and not be restricted to those most commonly studied.

The US Draft is run via the post office, where you give your name and address. Your eligibility for financial aid can be tied to this registry.

It's important to look at why we make it difficult to participate in civic duties. People who want to give to the community are often constrained, especially if they are not members of a church or incredibly rich. Camp counseling is one way to give service. Civic duty has fallen off as a cultural norm in the US.

Kat wondered if it was the Vietnam War that broke the national will to civic service.

To what bodies, organizations or institutions do we owe our service? This is a critical question to ask if you are worldbuilding. Is it your species you owe service to? Your planet? Your city-state? Your neighborhood garden? Some schools require volunteering. Others require donations.

PTO/PTA parent organizations that support schools play an important role, but they too are organizations for "parents of leisure," and concentrate resources at schools with parents who have time and money. They also hide the inadequacy of school funding.

This discussion links back to the question of charity vs. justice, which we discussed at a previous hangout. The US valorizes charity but it would be more broadly effective to provide economic justice. Even charity can be discouraged, as when people who feed the homeless are criminalized. You can be penalized for not conforming to inadequate government structures. You can't give food away; people use the food safety rules in bad faith to criminalize food giveaways.

What function is actually being served by the institutions we create? Is the world we are creating designed as intended? Or are we recreating things we haven't examined enoug?

In the US, we don't make it easy to be informed enough to make decisions. There are constant economic barriers to participation.

In Japan, sense of civic duty is highly encouraged, and kids even clean their own schools. This is very effective in getting people to feel responsibility for their own environment, but culturally would not be feasible in the US. Somehow, people with money would find a way to get out of it and put the burden back on others of low socioeconomic status.

In Australia, polling places are quite widely variable, and you are allowed to do things like hold bake sales and sell "democracy sausages" for people who have voted. The offerings at a polling place may be halal or otherwise different depending on the demographics of the surrounding area. This is not allowed in the US.

How many languages are on your "I VOTED" sticker?

Some people consider a heterosexual monogamous marriage and children to be civic duties.

Is buying or spending a civic duty? Could strikes or boycotts be considered bad for civic duty? Is there such a thing as civic withdrawal?

There is a special allotment system in England for community gardens.

Some cultures have turned it in to a civic duty to educate children. This was not always the case. Is churchgoing a civic duty? Is tithe considered a religious duty, a civic duty, or both? Some countries, like Germany and France, have tithe as a part of taxes - but now you are starting to be able to opt out of it.

What aspects of civic duty are locally driven? Is proper water management a civic duty for example? Is not overusing drains in thaw time a civic responsibility?

Is parenting a civic duty?

Culture clash can definitely influence civic duty because of differing expectations of behavior. People who grow up with different governments will be trained into different expectations.

What are the norms of personal interaction for using public spaces? Sidewalks? Roads? Can those be considered civic duty?

Kat told us how Japan has an intense recycling culture with lots of cleaning and sorting into various categories; in the US, some communities don't provide recycling at all.

Civic duties can be innovated. There was an anti-littering campaign in the 1970's that arose from environmentalism. It led to a decline in trash, and to programs like sponsoring a road for cleaning. There were ads with characters like Woodsy Owl.

What government wants to influence your behavior, and why? Australia has very stringent anti-smoking rules because smoking leads to drastically increased costs for the nationalized health care system. France has an anti-soda campaign.

Among the Amish, barn-raising was a civic duty for members of the community.

There was a Star Trek episode with warring planets that had developed to the point of dropping simulated bombs on each other, and it was your civic duty to be disintegrated if you had been "killed" by the virtual bomb. This asks the question: could death be a civic duty? Is it fair to ask soldiers to expect their careers to end in death?

This was a really interesting discussion. Thank you to everyone who participated. Dive into Worldbuilding will meet this week on Tuesday, February 26th at 4pm Pacific to discuss Footwear (part 2!). Just when you thought you couldn't get enough of shoes...

Don't forget, if you like the blog and the show, you can come and support me and get extra worldbuilding goodies like links and topic prompts at my Patreon.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ellen Klages and Passing Strange

Ellen Klages joined us on the show to talk about her novella, "Passing Strange," which appeared on as it turned out, precisely two years before our chat! The story is set in San Francisco in 1939, and includes magic. As Ellen said, "It's our world. I didn't make it up, but I did get it on the page."

I asked Ellen what had been the initial seed of this novella. As it turns out, the novella has a very long history! Ellen told us that she started writing a novel or a short story or something in 1977 when she was 22 or 23, and had just moved to San Francisco, and just figured out that she was queer. She ended up wandering around a lot, learning about Mona's and many of the other locations that appear in the novella. She did a lot of research and did what she described as cosplaying Haskel and Netterfield with her love of the time. She told us she thought it would be a novel. She had four scenes typed, and would read the scenes every few years and say to herself, "Damn, I should do something with that."

Then, years later, Jonathan Strand asked her for a novella for By that point, Ellen says, she had four or five folders full of notes and photographs put together from all her years of research. At that point she did 3 1/2 more months of research before writing. She read about a dozen books on Chinatown. She said she started there because it was "the thing I knew I had to get right." She filled eighty pages with notes, most of which didn't get used. One page, which she showed us on video, was filled with Haskel's signature. She explored the gay and lesbian historical archives about Mona's.

Three of the characters in the story, Babs, Polly, and Franny, have appeared in other works of Ellen's fiction. In "Out of Left Field," Babs and Franny appear as relatives of the main characters. Polly appears in "Hey, Presto!" and Franny in "Caligo Lane."

I asked Ellen why she included magic in the story, and she told us that honestly it was because the story would appear at, and she felt compelled to make it fantasy. "I would have viable magic if it killed me." The original scenes she wrote were straight historical. She had written a story about Franny and the origami magic earlier, so that magic was preexisting, but she knew Franny couldn't rescue Haskel and Netterfield with her magic because it's not her book. She had to figure out a way for Haskel to save them. She spent six week noodling stupid ideas in Google, including learning the name for pixie/fairy dust in 37 languages until she found "tunderpör," which is Hungarian.

The art that Margaret Brundage did for Weird Tales was a critical piece of research for the story, because that turned out to be Haskel's profession.

It took Ellen eleven months to write the story, following each piece to the next piece. She had lists of creepy Weird Tales adjectives, and was proud to tell us that she used forty of them in two pages at the end of the story. Initially she said she thought the whole thing would be written as pulp, but that wasn't how it ended up working out. She describes the story as being "like phyllo." It has forty or fifty different layers. She didn't want the research to shout, "Research!"

Cliff asked Ellen about how she chose what to feature, given that the past contains so many things that are familiar to us and so many that are unfamiliar. Ellen told us she doesn't explain very much about what is going on. She describes a lot of the 1939 World's Fair because it existed for two years and then was bulldozed. She went to the location of the fair to see views of the city so she could describe what the city looked like from there. A lot of it was just details tossed in like "used the pay phone in the luncheonette" which is not so alien as to need a lot of explanation. She says three percent of what she knows ended up on the page... otherwise it would have been a giant infodump.

Ellen was trying to stay under 40K words, the official novella length limit. When she had one chapter left to write, she discovered she already had 52K words. In the end, she had to cut 19K words out of it. That's an enormous amount! She told us that no whole scenes were removed, but a lot of unbearably clever dialogue had to go. She trimmed sentences down as much as she could, line by line, cutting all flab and repetition. She told us, "I tend to use 'so' a lot." She described it as like making a sauce. "You just keep reducing it." It gets smaller and more concentrated and the flavors are reduced to their essence.

Paul asked Ellen what draws her to this time period. Ellen says she is fascinated with the twentieth century, particularly with "stuff I just barely missed." She says she has no interest in the future because "it could be anything." Ellen says she has always liked antiques and old junk, and the smell of old books. She calls it "as close as you can get to time travel." "I like to write about places where I wasn't." She says she likes to look at a picture and peer around the corner. She has viewmaster reels of the fair in the 1940s in 3D. "The stuff that tourists want to see is not what I want to see."

I asked Ellen how the character of the art collector/pulp dealer Marty Blake came into the story. She said he came in very late. She told us that she's always imagined that Haskel looked like Lauren Bacall, and initially she wanted the frame story so that someone could say she looked like Lauren Bacall (this wouldn't have been possible in the time period, because Lauren Bacall wasn't known yet). Once she had the frame story, Ellen needed details for it. She read Dashiell Hammett continental ops books, and in both of the Chinatown stories, there was a basement with a hidden doorway. She wanted to do a version of this that would not be like a cliché. She also wanted to be sure that Helen could be as active as she was at age 100, so she found the story of a 100 year old Japanese woman who was a swimming champion.

Ellen had established that Helen would have the painting, but needed to figure out what she would do with it. Destroy it, obviously - but bringing in the pulp dealer allows her to talk about the history of the pulps. She wanted a sleazy guy, and had to drop the idea of him calling her Lauren Bacall because it worked better if Marty thought Haskel was a man. Ellen also asked herself why Helen would cheat the guy, and finally came up with the idea of her friend who had been ripped off, and Helen giving away the money as charitable donations and tips. She had to put the gotcha scene with Marty right at the end.

Apparently the frame story of Helen and Marty confuses a lot of people, perhaps because the novella has chapters and suddenly jumps into the past with a totally different set of characters. Ellen said she relied on her editors to say if it was too confusing.

Ellen loves the cover image for this story. She says it's one of the few times a book cover has been essential to the plot.

Pastels as an art form were chosen for her, because those are what Margaret Brundage worked in. They have a slightly fuzzy quality, and a sense of depth because their surface is not flat. When she did research on pastels she learned how fragile they were. In fact, Margaret Brundage's career ended when her publisher moved from Chicago to New York because it was so difficult to ship the pastel works without damaging them. This sent Ellen into researching medieval fixatives. She couldn't use varnish because it yellows and cracks. Then she learned about fish glue! At one point she had 3-4 recipes for fish glue, and tried to figure out how important it was to explain. "I could get 3 pages of notes down to 2 1/2 sentences.

Ellen says her favorite sentence is one that follows the scene where they eat raspberry rings, when Helen comes to deliver fish guts for the fish glue: "You know, most buildings only have the milk delivered."

Ellen imagines Netterfield as a very young Katharine Hepburn. Because she had Hepburn and Bacall as very clear images for the two characters, she watched five or six Bacall and Hepburn movies to get the cadence of their dialogue and use it in the story. She says she never reads aloud from scenes where Haskel and Netterfield are together because "I just can't switch" between the two voices which are so different in cadence. The two actresses formed a key part of the worldbuilding, which Ellen described as "laying a concrete foundation for myself." She's been thinking about these characters for 40 years, and says at twenty-three she would have loved to see a romance noir with Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn as the romantic leads. By the time she started worldbuilding, she could already hear the characters' voices in her head.

We asked if she had expected the story to be as successful as it has been. Yes and no, she said. When she finished her distillation (sauce-making), she was certain it was the best thing she'd ever written. She could pick up 4-5 pages without finding anything to change. After an incredibly messy process, it turned out to be the best ever. "You hope the editor won't go, 'meh.'" But the beta readers loved it and the ARC got a good review. Sometimes when things come out in January, 6 weeks later no one remembers, but in this case, people still remembered it and were talking about it at Thanksgiving.

In fact, "Passing Strange" has received seven or eight award nominations and has won three awards. It gave rise to the best year ever of Ellen's career! Yaaay! Ellen said at one point there was hardly any competition at the novella length, but now publishes 44 novellas a year, which has changed the game. Ellen told us the ego part of her thought "of course it will do well" and the writer part thought "no one will remember." But people did remember, and they are still talking about it two years later, which doesn't happen often.

Ellen tells us "I write slow. I love research so much more than writing." Writing is in third place behind research and editing. She especially hates first drafts. She writes longhand in a notebook, and then types it into a computer because she can't read her own handwriting.

She said when she was worldbuilding this she did some of it with actual visits to the locations, like Telegraph Hill looking out at Treasure Island at dusk. However, she also worked at home with her phone, iPad and laptop all open at the same time showing 3-d views out toward Treasure island. She said she "sat there doing the Vulcan mind meld" and then wrote a description. She said she did go to North Beach and eat raspberry rings, and walk around Chinatown and eat dim sum.

Ellen told us the top of the TransAmerica building was where the Montgomery block was, and that's where Haskel's studio is. She walked around the neighborhood a lot in 1977 and in 2008.

She said she knew Diego Rivera was at the World's Fair, and that Frida Kahlo had paintings on display at the fair but was coming in person later. She couldn't find out which Kahlo paintings were on display, though, and then on Ebay late one night she found someone selling the catalog of the art building from the 1939 World's Fair. She bought it, figured out which paintings were present... but the catalog was in black and white, so she then had to look up what the painting had looked like in color. That's research dedication!

Ellen also used the 1939 San Francisco phone book to find names of luncheonettes and laundry places.

She loves the cover art for the story. She was able to buy the original art, and keeps it at home.

What a treat it was to have Ellen on the show! Thank you so much for giving us your insights, Ellen, and thank you to everyone who attended.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Expectations of Age

Welcome back to Dive into Worldbuilding for 2019!

The first thing we did when opening up this discussion was remind people about the special deal that Dive into Worldbuilding participants can get with Writing the Other's upcoming Master Class. Register by January 27th and get $40 off with the code diveintowb!

We weren't sure as we began the discussion whether to talk about later ages or all ages, but in the end there was so much to grapple with that we focused mostly on more advanced ages.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that all expectations of age are cultural, and they differ not only based on culture but also on gender, race, and class, etc.

We talked about how people develop a sense that a birthday with a "zero" at the end of it was a big deal. Naturally, this is just an artifact of the decimal-based number system that we use. We talked about how in places where they use the East Asian zodiac, every twelve years is a big deal. Our expectations of how important a particular birthday is are built into us on the ground floor. Kat remarked that she feels personally that the zeroes hit her harder than the twelves. She noted that the convergence of the two at age 60 is really important in China, Korea, and Japan.

Cliff mentioned how in the Southern US there are behaviors expected of people interacting with older folk. Young people are expected to give deference to elders by calling them Sir or Ma'am. This is not so much a rule in the Northeast, Chicago, or California. Interestingly, this behavior can be racialized: Southerners who accept this kind of behavior toward them may object to it when they see it in other cultures. Race tends to trump age, as when African-American men were infantilized by calling them "boy."

Whenever you take a respect behavior out of its original context, you can run into problems. Some cultures make a point of trying to break down hierarchy. Some make a point of trying to avoid gender bias, and this can be a problem when the formal words we use are gendered.

In some cultures, hierarchy is built into the language on every level.

In some cultures, people in their 30s talking about feeling creaky and getting older is normal; in some it's considered silly given how young they are.

Until what age are people expected to have plasticity of thought? Is there an age beyond which everyone expects your ideas to have calcified?

How do we measure age visually? It's a tricky thing to do, for a number of reasons. One is that people our age in earlier eras often presented visually as older. The phrase "act your age" relies on a set of expectations drawn from a visual or behavioral assessment of someone's age, and is always incredibly loaded. "Age-appropriate dress" is also cultural.

Kat noted that in the Facebook photo posts where people shared themselves ten years ago and now, some of the people looked younger in the more recent photos. One idea was that we've gotten better at selfies. Another possibility is that when we are younger, we want to look more mature to project authority, and ten years later we may have crossed a threshold where we want to look younger to combat ageism. Cliff pointed out that his beard ages him by about 20 years - but there are advantages to being an older white male, and little incentive to change it. Reading other people's age also varies culturally and racially. The Asian markers of aging are different, such as the way the skin and fat are distributed on the face, and the way the musculature is arranged. Many of us have a eurocentrically normalized sense of what aging is: wrinkles around the eyes, wrinkling forehead, sagging skin, graying hair and skin. The age when these features hit is different in different populations. There are important implications of age-judging for social justice as well, because they change social expectations of behavior. For example, black kids are often judged to be older than they are and this leads to them being punished more harshly.

The infantilization of millennials is also interesting. Kat says it's connected to a set of expectations for adulthood that no longer hold. The birth rate is going down because there is no support for families either financially or in the form of leave. A lot of the hit pieces on millennials are based on the post-WWII expectations for white people. Generation X, meanwhile, gets overlooked or erased, or told they don't count. Generation X didn't get the same things the Boomer generation did because the Boomer generation voted against it.

Certain ages of people tend to get erased in the larger cultural context. In our underlying culture, we don't necessarily have disregard for the elderly, but the Boomers, who used the phrase "never trust anyone over 30," certainly did. As their large population ages, we see a lot of cultural concern focused on their issues. There is more media focus on aging now, and on aging women. Many millennials don't have the anti-aging bias.

We have lots of ideas about what it means when older men have relationships with younger women, but Millennials are not accepting it any more. What about older women with younger men?

The movie The Hunt for Red October is historically interesting. We talked about Das Boot as well, and looked at what is considered "old" in the naval setting. In Das Boot, the captain is 26 and considered ancient because he hasn't been killed yet. The army tends to capture a stratum between the ages of 18-26. In WWI and WWII movies as well, the "old man" on the battlefield is a very young man.

In Dungeons and Dragons, there are stat changes associated with aging. You lose strength and dexterity and gain wisdom. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone gained wisdom as they aged?

We talked about the wise old man trope. This is certainly embodied by wizards in Fantasy. When are old people portrayed as wise, and when are they portrayed as foolish or out of touch?

Stories often deal with mortality but they tend to deal with aging less often, at least in SFF. Do stories deal with aging more in the mainstream genre? Why? Do we assume that science will eliminate aging issues in the future?

The films Bubba Hotep and Cocoon deal with aging in different ways.

Che mentioned that Stephen King's Insomnia has a senior citizen character who is coping with arthritis pain.

Sometimes mobility or health issues in the elderly cause them to withdraw from public social interaction. Obviously, though, this is not exclusive to the elderly, as one can be disabled at any age. Automobile culture causes isolation if you lose the ability to drive safely. We speculated that driverless cars might keep older people and disabled people more involved in society. Kat said we need to have a more accessible society, but it seems the concerns of Boomers may lead to increases in accessibility.

Thank you to everyone who attended! Dive into Worldbuilding meets tomorrow, Thursday, January 24th, 2019 to talk with guest author Ellen Klages about her novella, "Passing Strange." I hope you can join us!


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Tade Thompson and Rosewater

I was so happy to have Tade Thompson come on the show! Rosewater is a book with a very interesting history. It was first published by small press Apex in 2016, and was a finalist for the Joseph W. Campbell award, and took first place in the NOMA awards for African works of speculative fiction. Tade said his initial plan was "I will  just make stuff and publish it wherever" but then he found he needed an agent because it was too much. He got an agent and sold the book to Orbit, which is why it's out again now.

Tade says he's not a big plotter. "I'm a pantser. I launch myself off into space and hope something will catch." At the same time, he says, "I rewrite really seriously."

I asked him about the genesis of the Rosewater concept, and he said he had the telepathy idea in 2011 after reading an article about conjoined twins who shared a brain and could hear each other's thoughts. He didn't want the telepathy in Rosewater to be hand-wavy, tough. He wanted an actual explanation, a conduit. When he asked himself why such a conduit would exist, the answer came out thusly:

"It was aliens."

Rosewater is an invasion story.

Tade told us that ideas on their own are not enough. He has to find the character. He said he wrote fifty thousand words before he realized he was writing in the wrong point of view. Some characters and events from this 50K words have survived in the final book, as backstory.

The character of Kaaro was based on 3 people Tade used to know. He's the right point of view to use because he can explore the entire idea.

Cliff asked if the 50K was canon. Tade said it was. None of the worldbuilding in it was discarded.

Tade gave us perspective on his view of himself as a pantser. "I don't dive in until I have thoughts for a long period of time." He says he doesn't start until he's already sure of where he's going, and the rules of the world. Generally, he says, he gets a character first and then builds the world around them. In The Murders of Molly Southbourne, he got the character first. In this book only, he got the wolrd first and then the characters. Any story must have both.

He describes himself as having a "video game mentality" in world creation. Not everything is rendered immediately. He follows the character and renders what is necessary. Once a character has seen it, it becomes real. Wherever the character goes, they are a kind of god, creating the world as they go.

I asked Tade why he felt Kaaro was uniquely appropriate as a point of view character for this story. He explained that Kaaro can be followed in first person, but because he can read minds, he makes us omniscient.

Other characters in the book were not Sensitive. In a book not about psychics this would be head-hopping.

Tade said that by making this choice "I made the reader also a mind reader." Kaaro himself is an unsavory character, and by following him, the reader is complicit. You have a bit of sympathy for him as he is affected by what goes on.

After drafting the book he made a network diagram of character links, showing who is connected to whom and why. The main character must have a link to most other characters.

Tade said, "My writing is exploratory." He wrote almost the whole thing before asking if he was in the right point of view.

I asked him how the telepathy works (SPOILERS!). Aliens have manufactured a fungi-like microorganism and seeded Earth with it over millions of years. This creates a network of organisms that connect to sense organs on the skin, and deliver the thoughts in the brain via the nerves into the air. This was how the aliens learned about Earth in preparation to invade. A side effect was that 1% of humans could access these data and extract data from people around them. Kaaro is the absolute best at it.

Rosewater is the name of a city that sprang up surrounding an alien biodome near Lagos, Nigeria.

Tade said the casual reader wouldn't notice, but he couldn't set a story "bang in the middle of Nigeria" because it would be too easy to create offense. Therefore he created a new city just outside Lagos. He restricted the language to Yoruba because "that's the language that I speak - I can make fun of my people if I want to." It's not just language, of course, but also culture.

Paul asked Tade how he acclimated readers to the environment. Tade explained, "I didn't want to acclimate them to it. I wanted to alienate them." Apparently this led to a massive fight with his editor. Tade doesn't think every aspect of the narrative should be understood. "If you're going to read a story about aliens... you cant understand everything."

I asked him if he knew the answers to things that readers would not be expected to understand. He said "I am God; I know everything. I know the color of their underwear..."

Characters, though, don't need to know everything. Tade leaves room for the reader to extrapolate because he says the best worldbuilding is in the reader's head. The writer must access that by giving hints for the reader to work with. "I will not put signs to everything." He wants to give just enough clues, and not talk down to the reader. That's the one thing that will make him throw a book across a room.

Kat asked, "Do you feel your own experience [as Nigerian, as POC] has colored the book?"

"It matters, definitely," Tade said. "I don't think a white person could write a book like this. My relation to aliens is completely different from what a white Englishman may have." The colonized people of our world are the only ones who have actually had contact with aliens in history - abducting them, experimenting on them, and taking their resources.

How a writer treats aliens reveals a lot about that person's subconscious. If you think alien hordes must be pacified, or if you think of them as not individuals, that shows what you think about people who are not like you. Even a "romp about aliens and space without politics" is political, because it shows that the author believes politics can be removed from a story, when it can't. Oppressed people acknowledge that politics is inextricable.

He said an annotated version of Rosewater would be larger than the book itself. All of us wanted to see it anyway!

Kat asked about the response Tade got from African readers. He explained that the African Speculative Fiction Society voted it for a best novel award. No one has written a negative review from an African perspective. Tade said he suspected it was possible that people might want to challenge him but have insufficient facts to do so, and so had chosen not to.

Tade told us he doesn't identify as a member of a particular group, and thus doesn't consider himself part of the Afrofuturist group. He says he's proud of being Black African, but "I don't see the idea of me being black as linked to being a writer." People are still finding the way to understand the word "Afrofuturist" and what it means. Meanings change over time. "I won't say my work isn't Afrofuturist." Tade is savvy about the history of the term, and thinks it helps critics put works in context, but wants to ask "Who does this definition serve?" He says he's not convinced it's a useful category for him and his work.

I asked Tade whether there was special research he had to do for this book. For most of the book, his life of experience was enough, but he said he did have to look up photosynthesis because our understanding of how it works had changed. He had already been following mycology because he's a doctor, and has to know how fungal infections work. He did use a book on caving and spelunking because some people explored in the alien.

Tade told us that his earliest career choice was that he wanted to be Spiderman. He prayed to God when he was little that he could grow up to be Spiderman, but explained that when he realized that wasn't possible, he figured the next best choice would be to draw him, and wanted to be a comic artist. But, he said, "You don't tell African parents you want to be a comic artist." He was interested in bodies and other things, so he went to medical school, but came out of medical school not knowing what to do. He used the throw a dart at a map method to decide what to do, and ended up going to Samoa. He was the only doctor on one of the four islands, and worked there between 1998 and 1999.

He says he has a feeling he will still write a graphic novel if he can find the right one to do, but he wants to give it the respect it deserves, and suspects he won't be able to do it without gutting one aspect of his current career.

Book 2 in the Rosewater series will come out in March. He has had all of it planned for quite some time, and gave outlines of his plans to Orbit all the way to the end of Book 3, but explains that this isn't the end of the Rosewater story, only a convenient stopping point. "I will never be a Robert Jordan," he says, because he can't write the same thing again and again or he gets bored. All three Rosewater books are done. He may come back to this storyline but he'll have to do something else first. "I will do it as long as I am interested." He says the writing will reflect the boredom of the writer. "We'll know when you phone it in."

Thank you so much, Tade, for coming on the show! Rosewater is a fascinating book, and I hope you will all have a chance to enjoy it.


Proxemics (~personal space) and Body Politeness

At the start of this hangout, we decided to use the word proxemics, as suggested by Kat who proposed this topic, instead of just "personal space." "Personal space" is a more limiting concept. Proxemics are systematic and can be studied. They are indicative of hierarchy and culture. We are trained in the ways to interact appropriately with our bodies. We develop specific expectations of boundaries and proximity.

There are plenty of linguistic and sociological stories of people being "chased" by someone who continues to step into their zone of personal space. Sometimes it's intentional. Sometimes the "chaser" just feels the other person is too far away to have a personal conversation with.

How close is the one-on-one distance for conversation? Is it the "I can touch you" distance?" Is it "I can touch your crossed arms"?

Kat pointed out that when we interact with shopkeepers, we don't usually think about how far we are expected to be from the counter. Do we need to stand far enough away that we can point to things under the counter? Should we be leaning on the counter? How about our interaction with merchandise? If we're buying fruit should we be able to touch it? There's certainly an unspoken contract of gentleness if we do, so we don't damage the fruit and then reject it. Kat told us about a New York shopkeeper who was horrified when she handled the fruit at the stand.

In passport lines, there is the counter with the passport checker, and then a line painted on the floor some distance away where the next person is expected to stand while waiting.

Where do you stand when in line for an ATM? Certainly far enough away that you can't look over a person's shoulder.

Cliff talked about how when you hail a cab, in the US you generally sit in the back seat, but in Israel it's considered impolite not to sit in the front.

People feel weird about being a chauffeur for their friends. There are different rules about where to sit in a car depending on what social group you are from. Working class will tend to put the men in the front and the women in back. Middle class will tend to put one couple in front and another couple in back. Upper class will have a man driving but seat him beside the woman from the other couple. And I mean, who puts two couples in the same car? Don't we usually take separate cars?

When fannish people hang out with friends, couples will often split up to catch up with the people they haven't spoken to in a while. It may look gender-segregated depending on the arrangement, but that's usually not the intention.

There is now legislation surrounding car seats and seat belts. When I had kids, I had to get used to driving while both of my kids sat in the back seat because of those laws. My personal rule would have been to fill the passenger's seat first and the back seat afterward.

Cliff asked how a self-driving car might affect seating. Initially there might be a need for a driver to be a backup, but eventually one might get to limousine or stagecoach seating style.

Coaches are fun because sometimes the driver of the coach bangs on the ceiling to alert people to what's outside.

What are the differences in social distance in rural versus urban areas?

Do people travel in litters with a footman? What are footmen even for (this was my question)? Kat explained that when you are traveling in a high carriage, someone needs to bring a set of steps so that you can step down out of the carriage in a big dress. A footman can also help with packages.

How close are servants allowed to get? Maybe very close, but then they turn away their faces or avert their eyes to create distance.

We often see "we must share the same air but I'm going to pretend you don't exist."

How do friends walk together? It's probably gendered. Is holding hands okay? What about arm in arm? Hip to hip? Arms around the shoulders?

Worldbuilders should think about what we are trying to convey with the way people physically interact, and what that says about ourselves. A narrator making comparisons can reveal a lot about themselves, and not just the characters.

What is adequate size for personal quarters? A rich person on a cruise ship may be impressed by the "tiny space" they have. Do we expect to have any of our own space? Should we?

Should you sleep sitting up? Standing? Curled up? How many people sleep in a bed? Paul mentioned how at one point the Three Musketeers were all lying in the same bed eating.

How do people in your world put space between genders? Do they?

When land folk go to sea, there's a big change in the use of space. What are the challenges if someone is disguised as another gender? Kat says there wasn't necessarily much communal nudity. Is menstruation an issue? Possibly not, since if you're not eating enough you may not menstruate.

Kat brought up the question of public and private spaces. If you are in a restaurant, are you eavesdropping on the table near you? Is this polite or not? Can you take an empty seat at a table partially occupied by others? The answers to these depend on many factors.

Do you get your own plate of food?

Do you get your own bunk or sleep in shifts?

If your aliens are arboreal, do they get to claim a tree branch as their own?

Cliff told us about World Out of Time, in which a 20th century guy wakes up in a new body in the future. There are no doors, living conditions are hivelike, and there is no privacy. The etiquette is not to look. It turns out that this was a test conducted by the people who awakened him, to see how he would react.

Did Frank Lloyd Wright design without inside doors?

Sometimes we run into stories where social rules are reversed in order to slap certain readers, or titillate readers. We have to keep in mind that the author may be aware of, or may manipulate, reader gaze.

How close can you be to people you are not interacting with? What are the rules of proximity in the subway? New York subway versus Tokyo festival subway?

How do people line up (queue)? There are different styles of waiting in a line depending on where you are. SF, Chicago, Tokyo, Beijing, Bangkok, India... Population and culture and deference rules interact.

How do people deal with others who are obviously homeless? How far do they stay away?

Kat pointed out that rules of standing in line include how much space to leave between yourself and the person ahead of you, how many people can stand at the window at one time. What about cutting or jumping in line? Can you leave the line and return to your same spot?

Cliff pointed out there are a lot of rules about who you are allowed to interact with. Can you ask someone for a cigarette or a light? These rules change over time. How apologetic do you need to be?

Having a dog is considered an icebreaker in social situations. So is pregnancy - people seem to feel it's okay to touch pregnant women when they wouldn't dare touch them if they were not pregnant.

Do less "representative" people have to spend time serving as ambassadors to their group? This is one of the reasons why POC safe spaces are so important. It's also why author/actor guests get green rooms to hide in. Some people feel entitled to enter POC space as a result of dominance and privilege, including touching hair and clothes. No matter who you are, velvet can be construed as an invitation to intrusion, as can flip sequins. What do people in your society construe as nonverbal consent to touch or otherwise invade space?

Children need to be socialized into proxemics rules. How do adults react to violations? How do they instruct?

How do you get someone's attention? Are you allowed to touch? Where?

Women and men in Judaism or Islam have a no-touch practice outside of family. What is verbally appropriate?

Kat said that gem traders have particular expectations of touch. How do you seal a deal with a handshake if you can't touch?

Greetings have all kinds of rules. Do you kiss? Kiss on the cheeks? Do you hug? Do you shake hands? How does a greeting differ when delivered to a stranger, a shopkeeper, a friend? How are the layers of intimacy defined? Do you touch? Maybe your language use changes - how?

Who is allowed to start a conversation?

How are children allowed to get attention? Touching? No touching? Do you poke? Do you clear your throat?

Different kinds of activities, such as dancing, have unique proximity and touch rules as well.

We discussed the "smart dress" project where women went to nightclubs wearing a dress with sensors that could detect where they were being groped. Data are useful to validate subjective experience but should not be necessary as proof.

Thank you to everyone who attended. This was a fascinating discussion.