“Hubstitute Creatures” Annotations

Warning: contains spoilers


Scene 1

p. 84

Vivek Dhawan’s name means “knowledge messenger,” appropriate for his role in the story.

p. 85

I thought it was high time I started exploring more of Nashira’s life as a Hub scout, including some of her colleagues. I would’ve liked to feature more of her fellow scouts, but I had to keep things compact and still work in the necessary recaps and story setup.

“Attempted claim fraud” is Evdrae’s interpretation of the events of “The Hub of the Matter” (where Rynyan stole Nashira’s claim, though Evdrae clearly didn’t believe Nashira’s protests to that effect) and “Home is Where the Hub Is” (where Nashira was manipulated into repeating a pre-existing discovery). The bioweapon incident was in “Make Hub, Not War.”

p. 86

In the first draft, Nashira did sleep with Vivek in an attempt to distract herself from the memory of her night with Rynyan. The conversation with David happened in the doorway to her quarters while Vivek was eavesdropping from her bathroom. But I decided it would be bad pacing to follow a story ending in a Nashira sex scene with a story that more or less began with one, and that it made more sense for Nashira to find sex with a human uninteresting after her revelatory night with Rynyan. Also, giving Nashira a sex scene here would undercut the more important one later on.

David, of course, is recapping the events of the past two stories, conveniently for the reader and for the eavesdropping Vivek.


Scene 2

p. 87

Puk gai is Cantonese slang for an annoying person, a creep (literally “falling into the street”). “Gob” is Australian slang for “mouth.”

David’s “to tell me you weren’t alone” line is a holdover from the original sex-scene version of the previous scene. I kept it because it’s funnier in this version.

p. 88

“Rooted” is Australian slang for “screwed.”

I couldn’t resist the pun of having Tsshar literally hang from a lampshade while “hanging a lampshade” on the contrived coincidence that she has exactly what the story needs. (For those who don’t know, the phrase refers to calling attention to an implausible or absurd story point that you can’t really justify, winking at the audience and acknowledging awareness of the problem.)


Scene 3

p. 89

Much as Tsshar is based on my old cat Natasha, so Dr. Grriassh is based on a gray tabby who used to visit my apartment balcony, and whom I nicknamed Gracie.

p. 90

When Nashira says “It’s nothing we haven’t all seen before anyway,” she’s overstating a bit. David and Julio have not seen her fully frontally nude before this point, and I think Nashira and Tsshar are the only ones who’ve previously seen Rynyan nude (at the end of “Crooked Hub”), though it’s possible that David has at some point between stories (or while they were confined in the hotel suite in “Home is…”).


Scene 4

p. 90

I wasn’t sure if I wanted female Sosyryn to have permanently enlarged breasts. On Earth, most mammals’ and nonhuman primates’ breasts only fill out when they’re nursing young and are otherwise flat. (The leading theory is that human breasts are permanently engorged to facilitate the flat-muzzled shape of the human head; the tapering of the breasts enables infants’ nostrils to remain clear while they nurse. There’s another theory that permanent breasts evolved as a sexual display to attract mates, but that one’s more controversial.) In the end, I decided to keep Nashira’s Sosyryn anatomy fairly close to human for simplicity’s sake. She had enough changes to adjust to as it was.

Phantom limb syndrome is the tendency to continue feeling an amputated limb as if it were still present, because the neurons that transmitted its sensations to the brain are still firing, so the brain still perceives it as present. Similarly, Nashira’s brain is still receiving neural inputs that are translated into normal patterns, so it feels to her like she’s still in her own body, until she looks at it.

The neural intepreter software is itself a bit of lampshade hanging, a shortcut for what I’d think would be a very lengthy process of learning to move in a new body. Physical therapy, relearning how to use your body after a long period of inactivity, can take weeks or more, so you’d think adapting to an alien anatomy would take much longer. The justification here is that it’s an extremely advanced and ancient technology, so the designers have had thousands of years to solve all the problems and streamline solutions. Implicitly, the system also has language translation built in, though it can be overridden with effort.

p. 92

While both David and Nashira have had sexual partners of more than one gender, that doesn’t mean they have the same orientation. I’m certain that Nashira has never sought out a tryst with another woman, just occasionally said “Sure, what the hell” when a woman came on to her while she was in a receptive mood. What we saw in “Crooked Hub,” where she rebuffed Mayte’s repeated sexual advances, would be more typical. Nashira would consider herself heterosexual with rare exceptions, while David is bisexual or even pansexual. However, in practice, David is not only 6 years younger but rather more shy. Julio is maybe the third or fourth person he’s ever gone all the way with, while Nashira has had plenty of casual trysts. Thus, ironically, Nashira’s no doubt slept with more women than David has, although probably no more than once each.


Scene 5

p. 92

“Corona of Mass Transaction” is supposed to be a pun on “coronal mass ejection,” a phenomenon related to a solar flare in which a star erupts some of its atmosphere into space. It’s not a very good pun.


Scene 6

p. 94

The name equivalents, just for clarity:

  • David LaMacchia: Zyvyz Lymasa
  • Nashira Wing: Nysyra Vynyn
  • Rynyan Zynara ad-Surynyyyyyy’a: Dame Hruhnjihn Sanafh
  • Julio Rodriguez: Ghuiru Idroknel

I skipped coming up with Sosyryn clan names for David and Nashira, since I couldn’t figure out how I wanted them to work and whether a formation like Rynyan’s six consecutive Ys (the third is silent, remember) would be typical.

“Intermammary fossa” is a faux-medical term for cleavage. Literally, it’s the “between-breast hollow.”

Drawing mass out of a star to extend its lifespan is a theoretical process called “star lifting.” It would also provide abundant hydrogen fuel for fusion, and possibly other elements as well.


Scene 7

No notes.


Scene 8

p. 97

While I’ve always imagined the Dosperhag as being cephalopod-like and flimsy-bodied to explain their refusal to leave their low-gravity world, the idea of them being brachiating cephalopods was no doubt inspired by the 2002 TV special The Future is Wild and its companion book by Dougal Dixon, which postulated the far-future evolution of life on Earth. The conjectures for 200 million years in the future included land-dwelling cephalopods, notably a brachiating, intelligent one called the “squibbon” (squid + gibbon).


Scene 9

p. 98

I found it surprising that Analog’s editor Trevor Quachri felt the first draft of “Crooked Hub” needed rewriting to trim some of its sexual references—mostly pertaining to voyeurism, sexually frank flirtation, and fondling—while he was fine with this scene directly depicting sexual intercourse. The latter seems much more graphic to me. Perhaps it was because the descriptions here are mostly abstract and emotional, or because the bodies involved are nonhuman. Or perhaps it was because the deleted references in “Crooked” were less essential to the story and thus came off as gratuitous.


Scene 10

p. 100

Nashira’s scout number was previously established in “Home is Where the Hub Is.”

When I started writing this scene in which Nashira’s official file was read, I realized I needed to give her a full Chinese name at last. Typically, people from Hong Kong (and increasingly in Mainland China) have both a Chinese given name that follows their surname and an English/Western nickname, sometimes chosen at birth and sometimes later, that precedes it. “Nashira,” which is the Arabic name for the star Gamma Capricorni and means “bringer of good news” or “fortunate one,” isn’t even pronounceable in Cantonese, so she definitely needed another given name.

I’d established in my online character notes and in the Hub Space collection that Nashira was born the year after Hub contact, and her parents had chosen her name to express hope about the prosperity that contact could bring. I wanted her Chinese name to reflect that same idea. But the Chinese name of Gamma Capricorni, 壘壁陣三 (Lěi Bì Zhèn sān), “Third Star of the Line of Ramparts,” was too cumbersome. So I searched for something similar to “Nashira” in meaning and hopefully in sound. It proved easier to search online for Mandarin names than Cantonese ones, so once I found Mandarin candidates, I looked up the Cantonese pronunciation of their characters, then double-checked to make sure that the resulting name was actually used by Cantonese speakers. This last step ruled out at least one promising candidate.

I settled on the name 惠慶, which means “kind fortune” or “generous good luck.” In Cantonese, this is pronounced Wai-hing, with the tones wai6 (low-level flat) and hing3 (mid-level flat). In Mandarin, this is Huìqìng, sounding somewhat like “hwey-ching” with a falling tone in both syllables. Nashira’s surname is , pronounced “Wing4” (low-level falling tone) in Cantonese, “Róng” (rising tone, somewhere between “rong” and “zhong”) in Mandarin. It means glory/honor or to flourish/prosper. (Pronunciation guides with audio: Cantonese, Mandarin)

So her full legal name would be Nashira Wing Wai-hing (Nashira 惠慶), and it basically means “fortunate” and “prosperous” several times over, the irony of which must really grate at Nashira. Among Cantonese speakers, she’d go by Wing Wai-hing (though people outside her family wouldn’t use her given name much), but since she lived in and around Australia from age 11 onward, she got in the habit of going by Nashira Wing. In any case, the Hub Network computers probably turned up the fact that 惠慶 is pronounced Róng Huìqìng in the more widely spoken Mandarin dialect, and the suspicious Kmugnik misinterprets this as an alias. (Just for the heck of it, those same characters would represent Yeong Hye-gyeong in Korean and Vinh Hue Khanh in Vietnamese. In Japanese, the first character can represent the surnames Mie, Takaei, or Sakae, while the latter two characters spell the male given name Ekei.)

“Bringer-of-Good-News Airfoil” is a journalistic mistranslation that appeared in the interstitial material of Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy, making its Analog debut here. Clearly whoever did that translation assumed her name was “Wing” in English rather than . (That, of course, was because I hadn’t yet looked up the Cantonese meaning of her name at the time. I’m lucky it even exists in Cantonese.)


Scene 11

p. 102

My original long-term plan was to get David and Nashira together as a couple after facing various obstacles and romantic rivals, in the standard romantic-comedy formula. Once I hooked David up with Julio, my first thought was that in this story, Julio would get arrested on Dosp, sacrificing himself to allow David and Nashira to get away and clearing the board for them to get together (though with Nashira getting her own competing love interest first). But I realized that would perpetuate an unfortunate cliché of doomed gay relationships in fiction, and it risked implying that a heterosexual relationship was more “right” for David. Once I questioned that plan, I realized I’d been mistaken to assume that David and Nashira were meant to end up together at all. That was just the clichés talking. Once I really thought about it from Nashira’s perspective, I realized that David meant more to her as a best friend than he would as a lover. I’ve long believed that close friendship between men and women is a relationship that carries real meaning but is undervalued in fiction due to the reflex to portray every male-female relationship as a romance. That’s less the case now than it used to be, but it’s still common, and I’ve always wanted to tell a story like this, of a man and a woman on an emotionally complex journey to a deep and meaningful relationship that turned out to be a friendship rather than a romance (which is a process I went through with my best friend in college, so it has personal significance to me). I can’t believe it took so long for me to realize this was my chance to do that.

The possibility that Hub vectors could be initially random occurred to me fairly late in the game. I hesitated to use it, since it basically invalidates David’s entire mission, but it was a good way to wrap up the second trilogy, plus it gave Tsshar’s role in the story some payoff. Anyway, as Nashira says, it isn’t necessarily the final word on the question.

p. 103

David LaMacchia’s surname was always a nod to Don Quixote de la Mancha (while his first name is a nod to David and Goliath), but I never thought I’d come right out and reference that in the text. It fit the moment, though.

As I mentioned in the opening notes, I almost forgot the punch line I’d originally had in mind for this story. My original closing line was much feebler: “Oh, well, there is an upside,” Rynyan mused. “It means I get to try on the rest of my lingerie while it still fits!”

As it turns out, ending with a pun makes the final scene work essentially like a feghoot, a short (generally SF) story written for the express purpose of setting up a terrible pun in the last line. Isaac Asimov was a particular master of these. It’s amazing that the final business sets up the line so well when I didn’t even remember I’d wanted to end on that line. Especially since my original idea was that “until someone loses an I” was a reference to the loss of self and identity that the body-swapped characters went through. It has a totally different meaning in this context, but it still works perfectly.

Well, almost perfectly. It’s a bit contrived that Rynyan is the one to make the English-language pun, considering that “The Hub of the Matter” established that he relies on a translator implant to speak English. But it didn’t seem right for any of the other characters. It’s possible that Rynyan understands enough English to have figured out the pun, and knowing him, he’s probably been waiting for days to have the right opportunity to use it.

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