March 29, 2015


The first time I saw this “Audi Q3 Off Script 15 2014 08”, it made me think of the hundreds of manuscripts I’ve sent out over the past forty years. According to my records, it’s been 937 since 1990. I’ve been writing seriously since I was about 20, so add another 500 or so subs to the 900, and you have a LOT of paper used in my quest for publication.

In the 1970s, those manuscripts were literally made of paper. They literally vanished into the mailbox – and most of the time, they returned by my own coin (or stamp as the case may be). I kept sending them. For months. Then years. Decades piled up and sometime in the next ten years, those decades will pile into half a century.

Is it worth it?

Through all those years, I’ve gotten rejections that ranged from cold and mean, to warm and effusive. The worst was a standard rejection: Xerox-copied eight to a page, then not cut on a straight line and tossed into the SASE without comment. Upside down. That was from a Christ-centered magazine. Full-page rejections ranged from a bewildering laundry list of things that might have been wrong with the MS but had no checked boxes, to the same kind of sheet with a check mark in front of “The manuscript was not suitable for us at this time.” Not particularly  encouraging, eh?

Is it worth it?

Some of the manuscripts were returned in such pristine condition that even the stamps on the return envelope were untouched and ready for reuse. Others had creases, tears, or random mark  and one even had a coffee ring on it and once, one even returned postage due because a stamp was obviously missing…

Is it worth it?

The rejections today have gotten shorter than most of the ones from the heyday of paper magazines and subs (except those tiny 1/8 page ones!) Most are polite, some brief to the point of rudeness, and still others make some effort at being personal – while still being short and rejecting me. In fact, I got one of those less than an hour ago. Even so, it’s still a rejection and while he notes that he looks forward to my next, that doesn’t make the reception any easier.

Is it worth it?

While the definition (often and mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein – for insanity might anecdotally be: “...doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results", without submitting the same manuscript over and over, we’d NEVER get published. One of my most recent manuscripts was submitted fifty-five times. Thirty-eight of those times was by me; one of those submissions reached the top of fifty of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition; the other seventeen times it was submitted was through the hard work of my agent, Karen Grencik. Our last, desperate attempt was to Canadian publisher, MuseItUp publishing. It’s scheduled for release Summer 2015; though I haven’t heard from them since the acceptance and I will freely admit here to being nervous about what’s going on!

Is it worth it?

I could simply and smugly answer, “Yep, everything was worth it.”

I could make up some kind of aphorism to answer as well, like, “How can you possibly ask that? It’s impossible to climb every mountain without breaking a few eggs!”

I could solemnly swear that it is eminently worth it.

I could also swallow hard and tell you the truth: I don’t know if it is worth it. I will never be able to reclaim the tens of thousands of hours I’ve spent writing – while seeing the publication of a mere ten percent of what I’ve written. I will never be able to reclaim the thousands of dollars I’ve spent sending manuscripts, taking classes, transportation, and computers, paper, ink cartridges, and electricity.

I can confess that there’s a thrill seeing my name in print whether online or in a paper magazine – but then going on vacation with my wife is a thrill as well. I can confess that to stop at this point would be extremely difficult – but then not eating a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts would be extremely difficult as well.

I would have to think about what I meant when I ask the question; what does “worth it” mean?

I DO know I will continue to write; I DO know that I will continue to send out manuscripts.

I’ll also ask one more question: If I asked William Shakespeare “Was it worth it?” what would he have said? Hemingway? Bethke? Czerneda? McMasters Bujold? I don’t know what they would say.

If you’re a writer, what would YOU say?

March 27, 2015

On Earth, there are three Triads intending to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is for the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads to build a physical wall. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Kashayla; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds.

“We had nearly fallen into stagnation when we encountered the Kiiote.”

“And we into internecine war when we encountered the Yown’Hoo.”

 “Yown’Hoo and Kiiote have been defending themselves for a thousand revolutions of our Sun.”

 “Together, we might do something none of us alone might have done…a destiny that included Yown’Hoo, Kiiote, and Human.” (2/19/2015)

Still in her humanoid form, Qap gestured, “One place is not far off of our straight-line path along this body of water.” We drove on a hill now, to our right, the ground dropped away to a wide river below. The Mississippi River.

“Why would the Kiiote maintain a medical clinic this far from the Cities?”

She shook herself, the way an Earth dog would. In Kiiote is was the equivalent of Humans shrugging. She said, “I do not know; it is not common knowledge, but I can smell the place on the air. Its marker is distinctive.”

I looked at Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (retired) – in my mind, Lt. Retired – and said, “Why would they have a clinic up here, Sir?”

I slowed the truck down to take a sharp curve. Winter still held on to our part of the world, so the trees were leafless. It was dark and the only apparent light came from some of the objects the invisible headlights of the truck hit. Instead of visible light, I was driving by some sort of sonar image projected on the windshield. It was working really well this far away from the Cities. Travel was most likely restricted, and no Human in their right mind would go driving around at night. They’d be targeted by the Kiiote or the Yown’Hoo in a nano. The far shore of the River was dark as well and it was cloudy, so there was no moonlight. Some light reflected from the clouds above and even though I was pretty sure it was freezing cold outside, it was warm in the truck. Lt. Retired said once I was on a straight-away again, “It’s probably not a real clinic. More likely a mobile surgical hospital.”

“A MASH?” Kayla said suddenly from the back.

Lt. Retired turned and exclaimed, “What do you know about that?”

Her voice took on the sharp edge of her Attitude response. It was one of the things I’d learned to avoid when I could. Retired didn’t know about it obviously. She said, "I'd been watching historical documents regarding the Korean Police Action. They led me to an ancient drama-comedy program." She paused. "I don't see that there's much humor in people killing each other, though, so I'm not sure what the comedy element is."

Lt. Retired was silent for a moment then started to laugh. At first it was just a low "ha ha ha", then it grew until he was slapping his knee and howling. Strange as it was, the Kiiote joined with him just then, the high-pitch yips of the young overlaying the deeper, song-like sound the adults made. We'd traveled nearly three kilometers and were slowing down as we reached a ferry river crossing. He'd calmed down by then and when I stopped the truck to wait for the ferry to come back to our side of the river, he wiped his eyes and said, "War is hell, kid. That's why it's funny."

"Was the war you fought funny?" she asked.

A dark silence fell over the group. No one moved. I'd started to figure out some things about Lt. Retired -- he was in active action against the Kiiote -- which had to be the place he picked up gelp. It didn't exist on Earth as far as I knew; it grew on Kiiote starships; Dao-hi, the Yown-Hoo Herd mother told stories (I was pretty sure they were tall tales) about the adventures of her ancestors. They hadn't always fought the Kiiote, she said. Sometimes they were explorers going to weird alien worlds. Humans had once been that way -- we were just on the verge of launching full-force into space.

Then the Kiiote-Yown'Hoo war dropped down on top of us. Xurf was an historian and usually kept his mouth shut, but said, "War is never funny. It is the stuff of lament and the gnawing of dry bones."
Lt. Retired said, "True -- but Humans find humor in everything."

The Herd Mother, Dao-hi snapped the tip of one tentacle -- her people's expression of irony. "Humans are a deviant Order. Most intelligences we have encountered have no sense of humor -- at least not in the way Humans uniquely express it."

"So there no aspects of your war with the Kiiote that you find humorous?" Shayla asked, incredulous.

Lt. Retired held up a hand for silence, then gave me another signal that clearly meant "slow down". I did, moving forward as the ferry slid across the slow-moving water. Shayla whispered, "Is this still the Mississippi?"

"Rum River."

"What?" Lt. Retired made a chopping motion. I could practically feel Shayla bristle. She hated when anyone cut her off. I figured it was because she held her personal advice in higher regard than the rest of us did.

"I'll have you..." she began as the night lit up in brilliant fire outside the truck.

March 25, 2015

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 67: Stepan Back Under the HOD a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters  and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (40,000 words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

The Disciple, Stepan’s estranged father, looked at Quinn. The very blue, young Artificial Human stood behind Stepan. The boy had shown up in the warehouse Stepan was converting into a community center and rooftop garden.
Scandalized Old Man Gillard exclaimed, “You aren’t a real person!”

Stepan shook his head, embarrassed, grabbed Quinn’s shoulder and said, “Come on. We have work to do.” They headed away from the Home Owner’s District without looking back.

What he didn’t see was his father, shadowed in the adobe’s window well, shake his head sadly and turn away. But just as the father had felt the son’s embarrassment, the son felt the father’s grief. It wasn’t enough to turn him back, but for just a moment, Stepan thought about returning; reconciling; talking. Quinn took that moment to tug on Stepan’s shirt and say, “They starin’.”

Stepan looked up, noticing the HOD again. The old woman who’d identified him as the Hero of the Faith Wars turned her back on him. She’d spent years on the surface, in a space suit and survived the measured insanity of a frontier. Add to the kind of craziness on any edge of civilization, men, women, and children of multiple faiths began to react to wild rumors about attacks, atrocities, and brutal slayings. Groups of young people banded together to protect worship times; even to escort individuals safely to masjid, church, synagogue, temple, centers, reliquary, gurdwara, and any other holy place of worship.

Hands that had been prepared to greet him when he arrive, sometimes curled into fists. There were muttered curses. Lots of, “Get out inti!” Stepan winced. The derogatory phrase came from the word, intron – referring to non-coding sections of the Human genome – that had been removed from the DNA of artificial humans.

“Get out of our town with that thing,” an older man said. Would they beat him bloody or toss him out an airlock? He wasn’t worried about that for himself. He was ready to die for his beliefs and certainly for talking to Quinn. But what about Quinn? They’d kill him for certain because he might not be as young a man as he looked. Artificial Humans were manufactured of blue flesh and blood. Their neither grew nor aged – they wore out. For all he knew, Quinn might have been an AH who lynched a dozen Human farmers in Heinlein Station, hanging them from a microwave relay tower to blow in the thin winds of Mars.

It took them to make it back to the trash pick-up shelter he and Quinn had come up in. Some people cursed Stepan openly. He shook his head. Quinn whispered, “We gotta go or they gone kill you.”

“They won’t…”

“People’s crazy when you ain’t what they think you is.”


“I look like a kid.”

“Are you?”

Quinn lifted the lid to the garbage chute, gestured down, and finally grabbed Stepan’s arm when something flew over their heads and clanged against the metal of the garbage area. Stepan jumped, and Quinn followed hard on his head as a roar echoed down the chute.

They slowed to a stop back where they’d started. The cover above was closed, so now no light shone down. Quinn sighed. “We’re back where we belong, then.” He looked up at Stepan and said, “I’m thirteen. Actual. I was made to look like this, but right now I AM this.” He took Stepan’s hand and led him back to the tracks. “We can catch the five and take it back near the Rim. We’ll have to walk after that.”

Stepan looked down at him and said, “You’re just a kid, then.”

Quinn snorted, wiped his nose on his sleeve, then said, “Yeah, I might be thirteen, but the stuff I seen’s gotta make me older…”

Stepan sighed, nodded, then squeezing his shoulder, said, “Yeah, son. It made me older, too.” He paused. “It made me older, too.” Another sigh, and he said, “Let’s get home, Quinn.”

March 22, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Looking Down On Athena” (THE AETHER AGE – Helios , Hadley Rille Books, 2010) Guy Stewart #15

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I stumbled across an advertisement in the discussion columns of the online writer’s group I joined a decade ago.

They were looking for people to write stories for an original “shared world” anthology. This was in the days before crowd funding and it was the project of a small, independent publisher.

The ad directed me to a website where they had posted a “bible” of the world, giving specifics of the conditions that bounded it. Specifically, the world was one in which the Christian Church never arose, Egypt and Greece never collapsed. Oh – and instead of vacuum, space is filled with variably breathable “aether”. Sort of like air, but not. It extends far, far into the area we call space in our world, but there, it is accessible with balloons and human-powered flight. Instead of ocean-going vessels, humanity invented “aether-going” vessels.

The idea intrigued me to no end – and it kicked the foundations of my personal beliefs in the teeth: “While the writer is free to explore the subject, we don’t see how a Christian cult could arise. The traditional religions of Greece and Egypt will be dominant. The worship of Zeus may have emerged as monotheism (there are Real World Fact hints that some did worship him in this way). Jehovah is only worshipped by whatever tribes of Israel might exist (and since this derived out of Babylonian polytheism, it is possible that some semblance of ancient Hebrew religion got started, but rather unlikely that it spawned ther est of the Abrahamic faiths as it did in the real world).”

For me, that was a challenge! I am a Christian and believe that my faith is more than just ancient cultures borrowing the myths of other cultures and cobbling together a religion to use to influence others and create wealth for a privileged few. I believe God can work in ANY way – and that he did.

So I set out to prove it – by working out God’s plan in this shared world.

In this real world, Egypt was at its height when God released the Children of Israel. The traditional Ten Tribes returned to the Promised land. But legends and tales have persisted for centuries that there were ANOTHER Ten Tribes that went in the opposite direction of what would become Israel. One of those tribes, was the Tribe of Dan which  headed deeper into the African continent and became the Ethiopian Church. In the world of Aether, I make the legends a fact. From that Ethiopian church, springs my main character, Berhanu Lexy. He is a victim of polio and he is a scientist – a poor scientist as he has no sponsor in Athens or Alexandria; but a scientist nonetheless.

Experience with bubonic plague in the Olmec Empire of what we would call South America leads him to the germ theory of disease – in our timeline, it was discovered by a long string of Europeans. In Berhanu’s world, germ theory has been well-established – but he has a theory that epitheatosos – invisible inflamers – are responsible for other diseases...

In Berhanu’s timeline, Jesus was both of the Tribe of Dan and came to save the world anyway. Berhanu is a Christian minority both in a polytheistic world of Egyptian and Greek gods and goddesses and an atheistic world of medicine. In the story, I manage to hint at the life of a man who is devoted not only to medicine, but to serving the Christ. I forgot to mention that there’s a bit of unrequited love in the story, too. And a preparation for a launch into the aether, but for me, that wasn’t the important part. I just wanted to get into the anthology.

When they took the story, I was thrilled. I didn’t “make” any money on it, but it was quite a bit of fun, and I’ve thought of extending the story (which is what I’d planned on doing anyway) and sending a story to ANALOG. But we’ll have to wait and see!

AETHER AGE: Helios is still available in its various formats,  Kindle’s the cheapest at $1.99. Get it here if you’d like:

March 19, 2015

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #70: July 29, 1946 series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

“I know. I’m trying to make us laugh,” said Tommy Hastings.

“Why?” asked Freddie Merrill.

Dripping wet and still shin-deep in smelly water and mud, Tommy looked up at the road and said, “‘cause I think the Socialists are still after us.”

“They can’t be! We left ‘em behind and wrecked their truck!”

“I’d guess not. That was them in another truck.”

“What do they want from us?” Freddie cried out.

"Not what they want from you, Freddie. It’s what they want from me. That want the picture. The one Ma has sitting in the cabinet in the kitchen. And the worse thing is that she don’t know that they want it. So when they get there, they’re gonna blast her away with machine guns and blow away Dad and June and Earl and then go in and take it anyway! So this will all be a gigantic waste of time and it’ll all be my fault ‘cause I wanted to go swimming at Lake Minnetonka!” Then he sat back down in the water and suddenly started to cry.

Freddie stared down at him, eyes wide. He stared for a long time; so long that he could feel the sun burning down on his head through his thin blonde hair. Finally, he managed to say, “Ain’t your fault what your Ma and Pa did when they was young. Plus, neither one is stupid. And those Finnish Communists ain’t stupid, neither! They ain’t gonna go down there, shoot up your folks and you sister and her boyfriend – he was in the Navy! – and figure that they’ll get away with it! So it ain’t your fault, and ain’t nobody gonna get  killed over a portrait, and the worse thing they’ll do is break into your house and try and steal the stupid thing. So we gotta get goin’ so we can beat ‘em down there and set it up so’s we can jump ‘em when they get there,” he paused, gulped air, and kept on, “Hey! We can let know Lars know and he can do a stakeout! They’ll get those Commie for sure!”

Tommy looked up at Freddie with bleary eyes. He stared at him for a long time before he finally climbed to his feet and said, “Damn straight, buddy! We gotta get down there before they do!” He scrambled up the side of the ditch, wiped a little bit of the mud from his face, and started off down the road. Freddie stood, staring after him. Tommy turned and called out, “You don’t think I can take on them Socialists by myself, do ya? I need my best friend with me to do, so come on!”

Freddie scrambled after him and pretty soon, they were walking down the road side-by-side, sometimes stepping back to let a car roar past; sometimes sitting in the shade of a gnarly tree growing alongside the road. The sun rose to noon then started its long, lazy summer slide to set. Suddenly Freddie said, “I’m itchy.” They walked in silence. He said, “I’m itchy in my privates.”

“I didn’t need to know that,” said Tommy. “But now that you mention it...” They kept trudging until Tommy said, “I don’t remember seeing any lakes.” He paused, adding, “I sure wish we could go into Minnetonka now.”

“There’s no other lakes…”

Tommy busted out laughing.


“We’re almost to Mille Lacs! It’s one of the biggest lakes in the state!”
Once they came across a roadside not far past the Creamery turn off. It even had a faucet and they were able to wash off the worst of the mud, then kept on. When they saw a little sign that said Malmo, they started to run.

When they saw the first glimmer of sunlight on water, they were off the road, through another ditch, and had started to peel off their clothes. The shore was rocky – but by then, they dove together and the cold water just ender the surface brought them both up laughing, screaming, and clean after days hiking on the road and swimming in muddy ditches.
It also brought a small group of men watching them from across the road…

March 17, 2015

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

Fantasy Trope: The Mundane World versus the Magical World (

A Library to rival the one at Alexandria is nearly done in the center of the Sahara in the Erg of Bilmah. The dark forces of America: Jersey Devils, Yuma Skeletons, Wampus Cats, Bigfoot, Headless Horsemen, Mosquitoes, Trickster Coyotes, Maids in the Mist and Pecos Bill and his legions have been unable to stop the mundane efforts of a young man in America as he makes his way to the Library with a powerful book of spells. It’s now us to the forces of the legendary Sahara: mummies, Ewaipanoma, monster scorpions, giant Desert Rattlers, raging sandstorms, the Kelb-el-Khela and an abiku sent to steal him before he gets old enough to stop him from bringing to book to the Library and locking it away for all time…

Na’Rodney Jones Castillo-Vargas Daylight Hatshepsut – known as Na’Rodney to his friends...when he had friends. He shook his head. He had a mission. He hiked his pack up on his shoulders. They’d escaped the dearrs outside of Ely. They’d eventually made it to what remained of the city of Duluth. Selling a first edition copy of Stephen King’s novel, CARRIE had gotten them enough to pay their way as they hitchhiked south to the future Vertical Village of Minneapolis St Paul

Angelique Mary Ozaawindib, longtime friend of his great uncle’s and now the bane of his existence, muttered, “I thought we were supposed to buy transportation south.”

“We’re going south. I think we should save our money.”

“That’s because you have a good pair of walking boots.”

“You could have brought yours. G’uncle had a pair of them in the shelter.”

She snorted as they crunched through pile of dried leaves. Farther north, where they’d started, the burned-out remains of the home he’d grown up in lay on the outskirts of Ely. Farther behind them, silent but obedient, his brother Payne – not really his brother, his second cousin or something like that, G’uncle Bruce had never been real clear on their relationship – had walked tirelessly. Na’Rodney shot a look over his shoulder. Angelique said, “He’ll be all right, Rod.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with him,” he said faintly. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was appear weak in front of Angelique. Not because he cared what she thought of him, but because somebody had to lead their group and it sure as heck wasn’t going to be Payne or Angelique! He said, “I don’t know where he got all those wild ideas about wampus cats, Pecos Bill, and...”

Though he’d been silent for miles, Payne spoke up now, “They’re all real, Na’Rodney! They’re out to get us! To get you! They don’t like the books you’re carrying. They don’t want us to go to the Erg of Bilma!”

Na’Rodney and Angelique stopped in their tracks and turned slowly to face Payne. He was looking at both of them. His eyes were wide; the pupils nearly black. Rod stepped back  to Payne, holding out his hands. “What did you say, Payne?”

“They don’t want us to go, Na’Rodney! They want us to go back home.”

Na’Rodney looked back at Angelique, then at Payne, “Payne. Listen to me. Bruce is gone.”

“When will he get back?”

“He won’t be coming back,” Na’Rodney said, hanging  his head. How could he make Payne understand?

Suddenly, Payne said, “G’uncle’s dead, Rod. I know that. But the things – the American ghosts and monsters – they don’t want us to go. They want to kill us.” His eyes grew wider momentarily, seemed to glow and abruptly a darker, deeper, gravelly voice came from his mouth and said...

Names: ♀ French, Hebrew, Ojibwe; ♂ African American, English, Mexican, English, Egyptian  

March 15, 2015

Slice of PIE: Science Fiction Families!
Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

Reimagining Families: “In a 2013 column for, Alex Dally MacFarlane called for a greater diversity in the way SF and fantasy represent families, pointing out that in the real world, “People of all sexualities and genders join together in twos, threes, or more. Family-strong friendships, auntie networks, global families... The ways we live together are endless.” Which stories centre non-normative family structures? What are the challenges of doing this in an SF context, and what are the advantages? How does representing a wider range of family types change the stories that are told?”

I’m going to jump on the last question first: “How does representing a wider range of family types change the stories that are told?”

As a school guidance counselor in the 21st Century, I deal with family constellations in almost every configuration and the one thing that remains constant…well, is the one thing that Tolstoy pointed out in ANNA KARENINA in 1887: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I’m not sure how many family types were represented on this panel, but I can speculate.
For the purpose of this exercise, there will be five panelists.

The first set would be families that actually raised each one of the panelists. Assuming no divorce, no deaths, and a traditional marriage, this would, of course, be five "normative families”. Five panelists, ten parents -- five male, five female.

But let’s say that every one of the panelists had a pair of biological parents who divorced. If you postulate that every one of the divorc├ęs entered a second relationship of some sort, you could have four different kinds of relationships for each person on the panel.

From there on, you can get creative, but let’s try to be realistic.

Five panelists, we’ll be conservative and say that three of their parent sets stayed married. (I KNOW the current divorce rate is 50 percent, but nobody's perfect and I always opt for the positive!) For the other two…well, there are a certain number of combinations, not to say the ages at which RE-combinations happened.

I’m going to put parameters on this and limit the years that there is profound parental influence: from birth to eighteen. That is NOT to say that your parents getting a divorce when you’re twenty-five won’t have a profound effect on your life; or one of your parents dying of cancer or a heart attack is NOT traumatic when you’re fifty-seven, but it will have a smaller effect on you then than when you’re fourteen.

So: five panelists; three normative families (mother, father, panelist and some number of siblings of some sort whether biological or adoptive). Let’s say one of those families is a normative divorce family: two parents, each remarried or in a significant relationship. Now we have ten individuals with which four of our panelists interact at various levels. To be creative…well, I’m not, I’m going to add a family that I have personally worked with.

In this non-normative family, there are six children under 18. The individual I know is one of the six. The individual’s father is a parent to four of the six. The individual shares mother and father with one of the siblings. The biological mother of these two is deceased. One of the children is a half-cousin/half sibling. Another child is a cousin. The fourth child is a step-sibling and no blood relation and the sixth is a child of the father’s current relationship and the fourth child's mother. The individual has relationships with ALL of the members of this family constellation. They are wildly variable and change all the time. The individual’s family is unhappy in its own way. The panel now consists of fourteen different adult "PARENTAL" relationships. The number of sibling/half-sibling/relative/step relationships is wildly variable and impossible to speculate on. The only way to look at those relationships is to interview and count. Add as well grandparents…

I think the reason that science fiction has not delved into “non-normative family structures” should be plain here: SF is a literature of ideas. The ideas require explanation. Sometimes pages of explanation.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to simply layer on a “speculative family” to a story!

You can’t write this sentence: “Before the ship took a hyper jump to the battle front, Keogathe [male name, Botswana] got a beamed message from his father’s wife’s child…” and then go on with the story! Well you can, but doesn’t that then defeat the purpose of creating non-normative family structures in speculative fiction? Tolstoy spent 864 pages writing about family structure in turn-of-the-last-century Russia. How many pages would it take to tell WAR OF THE WORLDS including the familial relations I described above?

I hope someone at that panel brought this up!