Recognize Fascism, edited by Crystal M. Huff

Book Cover for The Death of All Things

The Death of All Things, edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson


Climbing Lightly Through Forests: A Poetry Anthology Honoring Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by R. B. Lemberg and Lisa M. Bradley

Storybuilding: A Ramble

I’m working on this story.

I have… nine tabs of reference material open, assuming I haven’t lost some somewhere, all of them about real-world culture and organization of the Marines (both US and Royal). That’s not counting the brief things I have opened, researched, and closed (“How would a Marine address their Navy corpsman?”).

Or the other things I’ve had open. Common world surnames, say, that’s one I keep having to pull up every time I get another speaking part. The aliens’ names are easier, there are only two of them in the platoon, and I can just make something up that’s in accord with their vocal apparatus. Trying to reach out for names that paint the suggestion that there’s a broad world full of human beings that contribute in the subtext, though, that requires some actual thought. And some thought, because just snagging ‘most common surname’ by continent or something is still lazy. Just a slightly broader lazy than before. But if the worldbuilding wants to include breadth of humanity it has to actually show it in the interstitial bits.

And then there’s more overtly political questions. I sit with this story, this story that I’m trying to root in a particular military experience, while proclamations are being made about trans people in the military, and I go, “… is there someone trans in this platoon?” Because that’s as conscious a decision as having women in the platoon, as having names for people that reach beyond European standards, and the odds are good that someone like Karou the hyenoid alien does not exist but I am damn sure that Chelsea Manning does. It’s easy to just grab the easy names, the assumed genders, the just-like-every-other-story bits, easy and lazy and anyway if it’s just like every other story why am I sitting and writing it in the first place?

And it goes on. Trying to articulate a plausible Space Marine ethos means spending a bit of time sitting with actual Marine expressions to try to figure out how that would translate, how to include it, how to express it in the story without sitting down and doing the “This Is What It Means” talk from people who are busy with their actual mission. It means coming up with story twists and angles that will let that actually show, rather than remain entirely invisible underneath the events. Which isn’t a different writing problem than questions of human diversity at all – it’s all about how to take the things that are true in the storyworld and make them visible and plausible.

I did a little mini-tweet-thread about this question of breadth of humanity, mostly talking about Cracked Pots, the novel in progress, but it holds here too. My gods, it’s full of PEOPLE. And figuring out the people means figuring out the things, the details that make them all real. All the effort into the little telling details and right moments.

This particular story is capped at 5000 words for the market I’m writing for.

Longer stories produce… notably more tabs.

1 comment to Storybuilding: A Ramble

  • Extant marines might not be as good a place to start as the kinds of special forces who get deployed from submarines; it depends on how magic-tech the spaceships are. (The Full Culture doesn’t need marines and you can’t do the maintenance; some place with mechanical airlocks is looking for a different psych profile than the Full Culture sort of setting.) They’re… different. And unfortunately really poorly documented.

    What’s the then-and-there construction of diversity? (There’s a Commonweal species where the creating sorcerer tried to tangle up a drive to work with reproductive desires because those are so reliable and strong; the result is a construction of gender on the basis of “creative” and “supportive”, quite orthogonal to sex. I’m a little scared of trying to write them in quantity.) But a future could easily have a disjunction with present expectations and have (reverted to) class-driven roles or something else entirely. It could also have much less inadequate medical tech; Culture or Delany’s :Titan: level medical tech would have to change how the whole subject of being trans is regarded.

    Other thing — this is a bugaboo, I in no way wish to imply you have even skirted this pit, never mind fallen into it — is what do you need space marines _for_? There’s a very narrow place between “I have a starship” and “I need people to fight”. So “Space Marine” might be much more getting people to agree to talk than fighting, but you have to show up armed a lot of these places or they won’t listen at all… Or you need people so the people you’re fighting will consider surrendering, it’s not like the murder-bots really need _help_ as such. Or the specialists in keeping the survey botanists alive. None of which fits ideally well with the way marines are structured in the present. (An institution determined to keep the force structured for a role it doesn’t have can be an interesting source of tension.)