Jo Walton (papersky) wrote,

Reflections on meme


I got 22 prompts, of which eleven were SF, five were fantasy and six were real world. Five of them went into worlds I had already, either because the person asking specified or because my brain did. (Two Tooth and Claw, one Turnover, one Poor Relations and one Serenissima.)

This means that for ten of them, I made up a world for the sake of the sentence. It would have been eleven, but on once case, the prompt was so overdetermined that there was nowhere to go with it imaginatively -- it wasn't a prompt so much as a synopsis of a story, so I just faked it.

Two of them got whole, if very short stories.

ffutures wanted the one where alien SF fans refused to believe in humans:

"If Tiptree could be a woman and Charles Brandon never existed then it's perfectly possible that the entire planet is a hoax," Queeglud said.

"You're being ridiculous." Ofins drew her globules together in distaste. "The reactivity of oxygen doesn't prove anything. And Tiptree's gender was only a small hoax. Nobody could have written all those books from a human perspective just to fool us. Why? Besides, I've had letters from SF fans on Earth. They send me their fanzines."

"I don't care how much correspondence you've exchanged with Claude Degler..."


Now this is a joke, and an in-joke at that, but it's complete at its punchline. You don't need any more of it. It's one note.

And so is the other one. ashnistrike wanted a cross-species Shakespeare troupe:

"I played Caliban last time," Jimmy protested.

"You were a great Caliban," Liu Song soothed. "And it made a great point about the subjection of the apes to humanity."

"But we already did that!" Jimmy swung back over his chair as he tended to in moments of stress. "This time I want to be Ariel."

"Sequo is going to be Ariel," Liu Song said.

"I don't mind," said Sequo from her portable tank. "An octopod Ariel was interesting, but as Jimmy said, we've done that. Why don't you let him be Ariel, and this time I'll be Miranda?"

Yatima, who was cast as Miranda, recoiled. "But wouldn't that mean having Prospero and Antonio be octopods as well?" she asked. "And Ferdinand," she added after a moment's reflection.

Liu Song resisted the urge to put her head in her hands as she realised the levels of unexamined prejudice she still had to deal with. "We will have totally blind casting!" she announced. "Everyone can audition for every part, irrespective of gender, colour or species."

That was definitely best, because that way when it came down to it, it would end up being Flipper's final decision.


The hard part of that was getting the names right. Names are very important. Names are a crucial part of worldbuilding. "Flipper" is the punchline there, telling the reader that the director is a dolphin without the text needing to stop and spell it out.

I did cross-species Shakespeare better with Cedric the Allosaur. And that's a joke too, just a slight little thing, all voice. I almost never write short stories and there's a reason for that.

The best two prompts were deor's and kateelliott's. Deor asked for: "The one with the abandoned dog and the alien that rescued him. You know, with the ferrets."

Why would anyone bring a dog onto a space station? A dog's not like a ferret, you can't train it to go down a little hole with wires and insulation. And it's not a canary that can tell you when the air's going bad. Well, a dog will tell you when the air's going bad I guess, but as it does it by howling, and as the howling is the same whenever anything is wrong, that really isn't very useful. Dr McMartin believed his kids wouldn't grow up human without a dog, and knowing the McMartin kids I can almost see why he felt he needed some extra help. Bo, who was a year older than me, was an idiot and Mei Ju, who was a year younger than me, was just plain mean. The dog didn't help humanize them much, at least, not at first. And the howling echoed through the ventilation shafts and made my ferrets uneasy and drove me nearly crazy. But I suppose it was all for the best, because without the stupid dog I'd never have made friends with the alien.

Now, that's the beginning of a story, and you can kind of see where it's going and it has a really solid voice, and what that is, straight up, is a Heinlein juvenile. That's the Kid Who Knows Best about to get tangled up in plot, with an alien and a dog. The kid's a girl in this particular case, in case you can't tell, because there wasn't any need to clarify gender in this paragraph, but it's still a girl, and I believe her name is Ariadne but she goes by Rad.

What's interesting is where I didn't go with that. "Alien rescues abandoned dog" is a sentimental kind of story, and it could take place pretty much anywhere. Julian May does it with Laika, and you could tell that story anywhere and do anything with it. It's the ferrets that gave me the spacestation and the way they are useful and the kid who looks after them and the whole thing. The ferrets are genius. I always say you need three things, and you don't know which three things.

Kate Elliott asked for Punic Space Traders, which is only one thing, but a very big one:

The Lady Ashteroth was the biggest and the fastest thing docked at Chang Station. There were rumours they got those kinds of speeds by wiring the pilots brains when they were babies, but Wardo knew you shouldn't trust rumours. The true word he had from his grandmother was that the Punics would do anything to shave a profit but once you'd made a deal with them they'd stick by it. By the letter of it anyway, he reminded himself. Babies brains, ugh. He realised his steps had slowed, and resolutely stepped out towards the waiting hatch. .

So I did a ton of research about Carthaginians when I was failing to write Our Sea and, in that fantasy novel I didn't write, the reason they sacrificed babies was because every so often one of them rose out of the fire and became a great winged cherub and protected the city. But they wouldn't do that in space -- and how would they have got into space, and what would they be doing there? I had to work out a whole really complicated universe to make this one work -- they're neo-Punics, and they don't sacrifice babies, but people still think they might. And then I had Wardo walking reluctantly towards that ship worrying about it, a kid with a grandmother he trusts, in a universe where pilots brains are wired. I don't know who he is or why he needs to get away but he has a voice and he has a world and if I kept writing him he'd let me know.

Again, note the names. We have four names there doing a lot of set up of backround -- Lady Asteroth and the Punics, then Chang Station which is pushing towards a Chinese future, (but with Punics in it) and Wardo, which is from Eduardo but isn't Eduardo, which would be a different kind of pull. Here's a kid with a futuristic future-Spanish name. So we have a pretty diverse future here already in this paragraph. And Punic Space Traders, of course.
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