I’m Not Here to Write You a Small World

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I’ve been thinking about something. Every once in a while, a reader will object, with a tone of moral indignation, that they don’t like “PC” fiction (I think they mean “politically correct”; I don’t think they’re objecting to thriller novels about desktop computers) or that they don’t think I should be “forcing diversity” or writing “political fiction” or “ramming a message down their throat” or “rubbing a message in their face.” It’s always weird to me when a reader describes a fictional story with elements they dislike using metaphors for bodily invasion or assault, but that’s a topic for another time.

What I am thinking about is why there is a seemingly fundamental disconnect between these particular readers and other readers (including myself) who I write for. I think it has to do with how we have defined our communities – in religious terms, with who we recognize as our neighbors.

When I tell a science fiction story with Muslim characters, or characters with various ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, levels of physical ability, etc., these objecting readers think I am “forcing” these elements on them because what they have defined as their community does not include or welcome people who are different from them in these ways, and the presence of people different from them is seen as an invasion or violation.

But I don’t write the characters I write because I have a “message.” Or to be “PC.” Or to ram a character “down someone’s throat.” I write the characters I write because people in my community, people I love, my family and friends and colleagues – they inspire and are reflected in the characters I write. My characters are influenced by people I’ve known.

There is a 150-year-old Chinese gunslinger in a wheelchair in my current work in progress not because I want to rub diversity in a reader’s face, but because my daughter is in a wheelchair and she is as fierce as a gunslinger, and because several of my dearest college friends were from China (Yi and I used to stay up all night playing Starcraft; I usually lost), and because I think in a future scifi novel, people might live to 150.

And I wrote into Ansible: Season Three a love story between two bi women not because I have a “political” message in mind but because some people very dear to me are bi. And they have love stories. When I write science fiction stories about people marooned in alien bodies in which they never felt at home … I know people who live that experience, though their bodies are not literally extraterrestrial. That’s the scifi part.

To me, the presence of these fictional characters isn’t an invasion of the reader or an authorial intrusion that I have jammed into the story; their presence is just a given. These are people. Readers who object think that I am “adding” people into the fictional world that they don’t want there, and who they think I shouldn’t want there. Unwelcome people. But I’m not adding anyone to the fictional world. I’m just refusing to subtract people who are already IN the world we share together.

If I write a hijabi bi superheroine, I didn’t write her because I want us to be “PC.” I wrote her because I wanted to tell her story. It would be utterly exhausting to censor my fiction and shrink my imagined worlds and their casts of characters merely in order to accommodate the bigotries or discomfort of some readers.

If your own world is small, then good stories might be uncomfortable. And maybe need to be. Because good stories make our world bigger.

(But if it is truly too uncomfortable, there are so many stories out there that are written with smaller worlds inside them. Readers can go read those stories and inhabit those smaller worlds if that is truly what they want. But I don’t have any obligation to my readers to write them a smaller world. That is not what I do.)

Stant Litore

Something I Want to Say

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I have been told a few times recently that I cannot love God or serve God faithfully without condemning my LGBTQ+ neighbors, or without supporting policies and actions that threaten their rights, their lives, or their wellbeing. A few of my siblings in the faith believe that.

And I answer, “I think you are confusing me with someone who worships a small god. My God is not a small god. My God does not care about outward appearances; my God cares about the heart. My God is less interested in whether you squat or stand when you pee than with whether you love. I say ‘my God’ but he is not ‘my’ anything; I am trying to be his. I would be ashamed of owning a god, especially a small one. The God I love never told me to sit in judgment over my neighbor. He told me to love my neighbor, recklessly and deeply and without conditions, as he does.”

New From Stant Litore: Colosseums for Dinosaurs

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Look what’s here!

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Colosseums for Dinosaurs is an omnibus edition of all the dinosaur stories. It includes The Running of the Tyrannosaurs, Nyota’s Tyrannosaur, and The Screaming of the Tyrannosaur.

Once each year on orbital space stations, nano-engineered young women compete on the backs of dinosaurs in races as brutal and bloody as any witnessed in the Roman Circus 3,000 years before. Highly skilled and capable of superhuman feats, these gladiators live isolated lives—except for the resurrected beasts with whom they form their deepest bonds. Tonight, on the red sands of the arena and inside the hollow asteroid where the dinosaurs are grown, the secrets these gladiators discover will shake their entire world.

Join Livia Tenning (Egret), Nyota Madaki (Jaguar), and Mai Changying (Timberwolf) in Colosseums for Dinosaurs.

“This is a pulse-pounding story, a triumph of world-building – a story of gladiatorial combat and of bonds strange and transcendent. Without a doubt, one of the most enthralling stories I’ve come across.” – Samuel Peralta, The Future Chronicles

To Understand is to Stand Among

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I love the word “understand.”

It’s a very, very old English word, dating back to a time when the word “under” did not mean “beneath” but meant “in the middle of” or “among.” To understand a place, you must stand in the midst of it, looking around at everything there and being a part of it. To understand a people, you must stand among them, not outside looking in. It’s a beautiful word.

Our word “comprehend” is from the Latin. The verb, back when the Romans had hold of it, literally meant to seize or take something completely, to grasp hold of it and pull it to you. Prehendere is the same verb used for seizing criminals; it also becomes our English word “apprehend.” Over time, by metaphor, comprehendere came to mean seizing knowledge, approaching something that’s outside of you and taking it by force, taking ownership of it, taking it into your mind. A very Roman idea. To comprehend someone or something that’s outside of us, we approach them, take them, capture them, and own them in our mind. They are now a known quantity. In this way, the empire desires to “comprehend” the world.

But the Anglo-Saxon verb understandan meant … to stand in the middle of things and look around and see what’s there, which you can do because you’re in it and a part of it.

I really love the word “understand.”

We need more understanding in the world.

Stant Litore

(A shameless plug: If you would like more language nerding from me, please get the book Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, because you will really enjoy it.

You can find it here:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP)

Things I’m Excited For

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It’s stunningly expensive (and probably should be, as it represents twenty years of work), but it’s also exciting; Robert Alter’s new translation of the Hebrew Bible into English is scholarly and brings a lot more accuracy to the table than many existing translations: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BN5HWWX

What I am eager for that has not happened just yet is a full Hebrew Bible translation from a translator who is a woman or from a committee of women. As we saw when Marcia Falk translated the Song of Songs, when Anne Carson translated Sappho, and when Emily Wilson translated the Odyssey, centuries of male or majority-male translation committees can miss some pretty big things. (I am sure the notion that men sometimes miss “obvious” things will come as no surprise to any woman reading this post.) So I eagerly await the day when the number of biblical translators who are women grows.

Meanwhile, I am excited to dig into Alter’s translation as soon as I can afford a copy or secure one from the library. (Fortunately, many individual books or sets of books like the Torah or the Psalms are already available as individual volumes.) I want to see especially his treatment of the poetic texts.

For those who share either my interest in the Bible or my interest in language nerdery, I just wanted to share the news that this is out!

Stant Litore

Triceratops Traveling in Vast Herds, Vast

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Things I learned in the past year:

1. Triceratops traveled across the continent in majestic herds of hundreds of thousands, like wildebeest or bison, a flowing ocean of hide and horn;

2. There was once a species of crocodile that could gallop 40mph, and they snacked on dinosaurs.

3. In Finnish, poronkusema is a unit of distance referred to in some rural areas. It literally means “reindeer piss” and it describes the distance a reindeer can travel without urinating in the snow. The space between blotches of yellow snow is roughly six miles.

There. These are things you know now.

Also, come learn from my books. For dinosaurs, go for Nyota’s Tyrannosaur; for language nerdiness, go for Lives of Unforgetting.

(Get the books. Get the books. Get the books.)

Oh yeah, and:

4. Pumpkin toadlets (a species of tiny frog in Brazil) have a glow-in-the-dark skeleton. That is also a thing you know now.

Stant Litore

About that Gorgeous Cover

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People have been curious about the gorgeous cover of Lives of Unforgetting, the new book. The cover design is by Roberto Calas, and the art is by The Rustic Vegan, used with his permission; his photograph makes me think of being welcomed to a lovely meal with people who have stories to share that may not be the stories I expect. Thank you for joining me at the table! Make sure to check out the artist’s work on Instagram: www.instagram.com/rustic.vegan – it will make you both delighted and (I think) hungry.

And please get a copy of my book. I will be delighted if you read it and share word of it with others who would be interested. Lives of Unforgetting is here:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore