Well, just days after I made a post assessing my own work for its gender/sexual inclusiveness, we get a noteworthy piece of news from the makers of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond: The movie will establish in passing that Sulu has a husband and a daughter. The daughter is most likely Demora, a character established in Star Trek Generations, but the news everyone’s reacting to is that Sulu is married to a man. This is not being treated as a big deal in the movie, but it’s made quite the ripple in popular culture. The makers of Star Trek have been making noises about LGBT inclusion for decades, but they’ve never followed through until now. We got a few indirect attempts, the boldest being DS9’s “Rejoined” and its then-controversial same-sex kiss between Jadzia Dax and her former husband who was now in a female host — and the weakest being TNG’s “The Outcast,” whose attempt at anti-discrimination allegory was undermined by its heteronormative casting and its tedious preachiness at the expense of entertainment value. But the producers claimed they couldn’t figure out an appropriate way to include or reveal a gay, lesbian, or bisexual main character without it being overly preachy or self-conscious or whatever.
Which always seemed disingenuous to me, because a lot of other contemporaneous storytellers had already found the right way to do it, which was just to do it and not make an issue of it — to simply acknowledge the fact that LGBTQ people are already part of everyday life and that their relationships are no different than anyone else’s. Just write characters having relationships the same way you always do, but occasionally make their partners their own sex. This is how I and other Star Trek novelists have been approaching it for nearly two decades, ever since two of the lead female cadets in Susan Wright’s 1998 novel The Best and the Brightest (nominally a Next Generation book, but focusing on an original group of Academy cadets) were subtly established as being in a relationship, and ever since Andy Mangels & Mike Martin’s Section 31: Rogue in 2001 showed the Star Trek: First Contact character Lt. Hawk (who had been rumored as being gay but wasn’t shown to be onscreen) in a relationship with a Trill man named Ranul Keru (now a regular in the Star Trek: Titan series). I’ve done the same thing myself in a number of my books — indeed, in the past couple of Rise of the Federation novels, I’ve mentioned in passing that Travis Mayweather experimented with sexual partners of both sexes in his teens, and I’ve confirmed that Dr. Phlox is bisexual (as John Billingsley always believed him to be). So I technically beat the filmmakers to the punch with “outing” a canonical series-lead character, but only in the books, so it wasn’t definitive and hardly anybody noticed.
Anyway, the point is that including LGBTQ characters is something you can easily do just by treating sexual diversity as a routine part of life, which is what it actually is. That’s worked fine for me, and for my Trek Lit colleagues who’ve done the same. And we’ve seen similar casual inclusion in plenty of other media franchises by this point (e.g. Doctor Who, the DC “Arrowverse,” and Person of Interest), so it’s been frustrating that Star Trek, which made its name by being on the cutting edge of diversity and inclusive casting, persistently fell so far behind the curve on this count. So I’m very pleased to see that that’s no longer the case.
Some have questioned whether it was appropriate to make Sulu gay rather than some other character. George Takei himself has notably objected to this, saying it twists Gene Roddenberry’s original intentions for the character. But a lot of other notable gay voices associated with Star Trek have lauded the change, including Zachary Quinto, David Gerrold, and Andy Mangels. I think Adam-Troy Castro’s take on Takei’s reaction is cogent — that it’s more about an actor’s attachment to his long-established mental model of the character he plays than anything else. (We’ve seen other actors, like Dirk Benedict and Adam West, react poorly to reimaginings of their iconic characters.) After all, Gene Roddenberry was not reluctant to change his intentions. He was the guy who altered the Klingons’ appearance for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and asked fans to assume they’d always looked that way. Creators change their minds after the fact all the time.
And I agree with Simon Pegg’s explanation that it was a better choice to establish this as one attribute of a known character, one we already had an investment in and an image of, than to introduce some new person who would just be there to be “the gay character” and would probably never be seen again after the one movie. It’s not really inclusion if you continue to keep the core cast uniform and just “include” token characters on the fringes. That’s why the Supergirl TV series making Jimmy Olsen black was a better choice than introducing some new minor character to be “the black guy.” The Superman comics tried that with Ron Troupe, and, well, if you’re asking “Ron who?”, then that makes my point for me.
Also, it can be argued that the Sulu of the Kelvin Timeline (I’m so pleased to have an official name for the new movies’ universe now) doesn’t need to have the same orientation as the Sulu of the Prime universe. The Star Trek Chronology conjecturally puts Sulu’s birth in 2237, four years after the timelines split. So even if he’s genetically the same individual (which he doesn’t necessarily have to be, since he could’ve been conceived at a different time, like how Chekov is four years older in this reality), the hormonal and epigenetic factors shaping his pre-natal development could’ve been different, giving him a different orientation — like several of the Leda clones on Orphan Black (Alison is hetero, Cosima is lesbian, Sarah is at least situationally bisexual, Tony is transgender, etc.).
Honestly, we don’t even know for sure that Prime Sulu was heterosexual. By happenstance (or more likely because of racial prejudices that still linger today), Sulu was the one member of the main cast who was never given a romantic subplot. Leila Kalomi in “This Side of Paradise” was going to be Sulu’s love interest (hence her “exotic” name), but was then rewritten to be Spock’s and cast as a blonde woman. He was shown to be affected by the allure of “Mudd’s Women” and “The Lorelei Signal” along with all the other men in the crew, and in the extended cut and novelization of ST:TMP, he’s flustered and aroused by Ilia’s Deltan sex appeal — but it’s worth noting that those were all superhumanly arousing women, so it doesn’t prove that ordinary women would get a rise out of him. A lot of people strongly prefer one sex but are capable of occasional interest in the other.
I don’t count Sulu’s “fair maiden” reaction to Uhura in “The Naked Time,” because he was role-playing as D’Artagnan. Nor do I count “Mirror, Mirror” Sulu’s harassment of Uhura, both because that was another alternate version and because sexual harassment is more about power than attraction. (For all we know, Mirror Sulu harassed Chekov the same way when the camera wasn’t looking.) So that just leaves the somewhat creepy moment in “The Magicks of Megas-tu” where Sulu used the alternate dimension’s “magical” physics to conjure up an illusory woman that he tried to kiss. On the bridge. In front of everybody. Honestly, that’s just wrong on so many levels that I’m happy to ignore it. (I disregard the whole episode anyway. It’s steeped in the Hoylean continuous-creation cosmology that had already been discredited in favor of the Big Bang even at the time, and is now as archaic as a story about canals on Mars or dinosaur-filled jungles on Venus.)
Honestly, when George Takei first came out publicly years ago and I heard people say “So should Sulu be gay now?” I thought he shouldn’t be, because the actor and the character are two different people, and gay actors shouldn’t be typecast as only playing gay characters. But of course, Sulu is now played by a different, heterosexual actor, so that ameliorates it somewhat. And I can see the logic that, since Sulu is the only character who never explicitly had a heterosexual relationship onscreen, he’s the most likely candidate, even aside from who played him. Indeed, David Gerrold commented recently that he always read Sulu as gay.
Things get trickier when you bring the tie-ins into it, because a number of books and comics have shown Sulu in heterosexual relationships, including with Mandala Flynn in Vonda McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect (the book that coined his first name Hikaru), Demora’s mother Susan Ling in Peter David’s The Captain’s Daughter, M’Ress and Kathy Li in Peter David’s DC comics, and a Tokugawa-era concubine in the time-travel novel Home is the Hunter by Dana Kramer-Rolls. True, the books and comics have never had a single, uniform continuity, and the only one of those stories that’s really compatible with the modern novel continuity is The Captain’s Daughter (which I referenced in Ex Machina and Watching the Clock, and which established the characterization of Enterprise-B captain John Harriman that David R. George III has expanded on in several later works). That one’s kind of tricky to get around, given its importance. Still, I expect Sulu’s newly established characterization in Beyond will be reflected in how future novelists write him. As has happened in the past, any inconsistencies will either be glossed over or explained away. After all, anything else would feel like moving backward.
Yesterday’s Cincinnati Library Comic Con main event went reasonably well for me. I haven’t been feeling too well this weekend, but I wasn’t too sick to attend, and it was mostly sitting down anyway. I did have a bit of a problem when I pulled into the library’s mini-loading dock to drop off my books; I had a bit of trouble backing out of the tight space afterward. But I managed to get to the nearby garage and had an easier walk to the library without a bunch of books to carry.
I ended up selling ten books, six of them to my first buyer — who took one of everything except my one last remaining copy of X-Men: Watchers on the Walls, which I didn’t manage to sell to anyone else either. How sad that I couldn’t move an X-Men novel at a comics convention. I did sell off both my remaining mass-market paperback copies of Only Superhuman (aside from my personal copies, that is) and one of the hardcovers of same, though I brought ten of those. Ultimately I didn’t sell out of any of the seven titles I brought, though three were down to a single copy by the end (well, I only had a single copy of WotW to begin with). Still, I made a decent amount of money for one day, and donated 20% to the library, so that’s good.
I didn’t get around to meet many of the other guests, since I wasn’t up to moving away from my table much, but I did chat a bit with Eric Adams, a comics creator who’s met some of my Trek-author friends at another convention, and to the representative of a local Trek fan group called USS Aquila, who had me as a guest at one of their events a few years back. I also talked to a fan who said he’d been the one to inform Dominic Keating that his character Malcolm Reed had become a captain in the books, and that Keating was pleased to learn that, which was cool, since I was the one who made him a captain.
I also overheard while the con staffers ran a game show-style trivia contest for the guests, which went pretty well, except there was one mistake in one of the questions. The desired answer was “tribbles,” but the question asked what animals Harcourt Fenton Mudd peddled, rather than Cyrano Jones. (The only life forms Harry Mudd ever peddled onscreen were women.) And nobody caught the mistake, somehow. It’s odd — that’s the second time I’ve been involved in a convention trivia contest that made a mistake involving Harry Mudd. There was this one many years ago where the “correct” answer for Mudd’s full name was supposedly Harcourt Fenton Mudd the Third (I guess they were confusing him with Charles Emerson Winchester, or maybe misremembering his “Mudd the First” epithet from “I, Mudd”?). Oh, well — I guess if any TOS character is going to be consistently associated with misinformation, it would be Harry.
There were a bunch of cosplayers on hand, of course, including a guy in a pretty good Star Lord costume, and a couple of Ghostbusters that might conceivably have been the same pair I saw up at Cleveland ConCoction, though I’m not sure. There were a couple of people in TOS Klingon garb, including a replica of Mara’s costume from “Day of the Dove,” but they also had an Abramsverse-style Klingon face mask. At one point, a Stormtrooper stopped to look over the items on my table, and I asked him, “Are these the books you’re looking for?” They weren’t, alas.
The closest I came to cosplay: A volunteer gave me some mini-muffins with paper Starfleet logos on toothpicks, and after a while it occurred to me to stick one of the toothpicks behind my nametag (which was in a plastic sleeve on a lanyard, so I didn’t stab myself), so that I’d have a Starfleet insignia alongside my name. It actually worked pretty well, I think.
Anyway, it went pretty well overall, but it did take a lot out of me, and I haven’t been up to doing much of anything since. Which is too bad, because I’m in need of groceries. Well, I’ll try to get plenty of rest today.
A quick reminder that I’ll be at the Cincinnati Public Library’s main branch downtown this Saturday, May 21, from noon to 5 PM for the Cincinnati Library Comic-Con, which has a Star Trek theme this year. I’ll have assorted books on sale, including copies of Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code as well as Only Superhuman.
Okay, I’ve finally gotten around to doing my story notes and spoiler annotations for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code. I’ve also restructured the site a bit, combining the individual book entries for ROTF on the same page (which still has “a-choice-of-futures” in its URL, since I didn’t know if I should change that). Here’s the master ROTF page, and you can scroll down to find the general notes on LBTC and the link to its spoiler notes. (I’ve kept the original pages for Books 2 & 3 in existence so I don’t break any links, but I’ve removed them from the top menu.)
I’ve also added a section on my new Analog story “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” to my Original Short Fiction page. I’ll be adding spoiler notes for that story later.
This past Sunday, I attended the annual Ohioana Library Association reception for local authors at the Cincinnati Public Library’s main branch. Here I am accepting my certificate for Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic from Ohioana Hamilton County Committee chairman David Siders:
And that photo pretty much tells me it was a mistake to wear slacks without a jacket. Or maybe I need better-fitted slacks. My hips aren’t really that bulgy.
There was nominally an opportunity to sell some books here, so I brought a few paperbacks, but the sale didn’t seem as well-organized as last year, and I ended up instead spending the whole post-reception time talking with other honorees, local folks I’ve met at earlier book events and got to reconnect with here. So it was more satisfying socially than financially, but that’s fine. I’ll get a better chance to sell books at the same location on May 21st, when I attend the Cincinnati Library Comic Con.
Okay, the convention ended days ago, but I’m only now getting around to posting about it. Let’s see… My last panel on Saturday was about “Shaping the Short Story,” and I was hoping to pick up some tips on how to get better at coming up with short stories, but I don’t think I got the answers I was looking for. I think my problem is that my ideas tend to be big worldbuilding stuff that requires a longer format to explore. I think I’m better at coming up with ideas in universes that are already established and defined, like The Hub or Star Trek. Still, I got to hear from other authors on the panel, including another Analog author, Mary A. Turzillo. Afterward, I ran into Mary and Geoffrey A. Landis in the lobby, and we three Analog veterans hung out for a while in the con suite (a nice perk of the con, a dining area providing free food to guests).
On Sunday morning, I got checked out of my room before my 11 AM panel, “Best Worlds in SF.” I’d thought that would be a discussion of our favorite or most optimistic fictional universes, but apparently it was about “worlds” in a more literal sense, our favorite physical settings and the worldbuilding behind them. Geoffrey Landis was on this panel with me as well, and we both talked about our interest in real planetary science and how that could inform our fiction. There was also some discussion of the worldbuilding process, and I got to talk about The Hub and how pleased I am that its central concept is so simple and distinctive yet provides so many story possibilities growing out of its ramifications. Although that might actually have been in the short story panel the night before. They’ve kind of blended together in my memory.
(By the way, I’ve just discovered that the Internet Science Fiction Database lists my Hub stories under the series title “The Hub Gates.” I guess I can see why they’d think “gates” in terms of instantaneous interstellar travel, a la Gateway or Stargate, but I’m puzzled because I’ve never used that term for it myself — and there’s really only a single “gate,” the Hub itself. I’ve always thought of the series as just “The Hub.” Still, it’s neat to find out I have an ISFDb entry for my own original series. Though my main ISFDb page is in need of updating — it’s missing my non-Analog original stories, Hub Space, and my Star Trek Magazine articles.)
After the last panel, I spent an hour at the guest table in the main hall, trying to sell books, but that can be tough on the last day of a con, when people have spent most of their money already. Plus, I was kind of far from the other guests, since for some reason there was a live rabbit in a cage under the table and I had to move off to the side to avoid kicking it. So I was a little lonely. After that, I moved back to Author’s Alley for a last bout of giveaways and signings before the closing ceremony, and Larry Nemecek took that opportunity to interview me for a podcast. I think he said it was for Trekland, but there doesn’t seem to be a video up there yet.
So then I went off to the fairly brief closing ceremonies, and then I reclaimed my remaining books from the con staff — those from my own stock, at least, since we weren’t sure about the disposition of the remaining giveaway books. (That’s being worked out.) Anyway, it turned out that I didn’t need to bring both my boxes of Only Superhuman hardcovers, since I only sold 3/4 of one box worth. Still, I made a pretty decent haul, better than I’ve ever made at a single convention before.
And then the rough stuff began. First, I had trouble getting out of the parking lot. My car has been having problems accelerating after sitting overnight in cold weather; it takes up to a few minutes before I’m able to get the car moving to any useful degree, though it tends to clear up after that. I then had to endure a drive through heavy rain all the way to Detroit, and I wasn’t feeling too great after all the stress of the convention and lack of sleep, so I had to keep stopping to rest. Under other circumstances, I might’ve just found a motel for the night, but I wanted to get to Shirley and Harry’s home in time for the tail end of their “housecooling” party, as they called the gathering to commemorate their impending move out of their home of over 45 years. I got there in time to see cousins Barb, Mark, and Teddy before they left the next morning. It’s been a while since I’ve managed to see them, since I’ve had to miss the past couple of holiday gatherings at their home.
Unfortunately, their presence meant there was no room at the inn for me that night, so the plan was for me to go stay with Uncle Clarence. Which turned out to be a terrible plan, since getting there was a 40-minute drive through unfamiliar territory in the dark and the pouring rain. There were moments when I was driving on the freeway and could barely see the lane dividers, and it would’ve been so easy for me to have an accident. It was the most terrifying driving experience of my life. I should’ve just found the nearest motel to Shirley and Harry’s house, but I was too tired to think of it. I’m grateful to Clarence for letting me stay over, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the ideal choice in those conditions.
And I had car trouble again the next morning, this time with Clarence observing. He later called an automotive-minded friend, who suggested I might need the transmission fluid changed. Anyway, the car finally started moving, as it does, and I went back to Shirley & Harry’s for the rest of Monday. With things finally settled down and the weather improved, it was a good visit. There was good food and conversation, and we went to the local library and I checked out a collection of fun and zany Superman comics from 1958-9, the era when some of the most important elements from the Silver Age debuted, such as Brainiac, Kandor, and Supergirl. And I finally got a good night’s sleep on Monday night, so I was well-rested for my drive home Tuesday. The folks provided me with lunch for my trip, and also let me have a tea ball and a couple of mugs they no longer need.
The drive home was much nicer than my previous two long drives. The weather was great and I was feeling much better. I ran into a long traffic delay due to construction, but it was well-timed to let me eat lunch while traffic was completely stopped or inching forward, and it turned out to be a much shorter delay than the hour and forty-some minutes that Google Maps predicted. When I got home, I found a sticker on my door from UPS saying they’d tried to deliver a package from Simon & Schuster on the day I’d left for the convention — my copies of Live by the Code, of course, in an odd bit of timing. They’d dropped them off at the local bike shop, which I’d used once before to drop off a return to Amazon, so I guess UPS had it in their records as my preferred location. I picked them up the next day, combining it with a grocery trip. My car still seemed to be having some acceleration problems going up hills, so the transmission issue may be getting worse. I was going to take it to the garage then, but I decided I needed groceries first instead, and once I got home from that, I figured I’d wait until today. But today I had to do laundry, and was just generally too tired to do much else. So maybe tomorrow.
And hopefully soon I’ll be recovered enough to get back to that whole writing thing…
It’s near the end of day 2 of ConCoction, and I’m taking advantage of some downtime in my hotel room to post this. The drive up yesterday went okay, except for a few minutes’ slowdown due to construction near Columbus. It only took about two hours longer than Google Maps’ theoretical drive time, what with the stops I made for gas, rest, and lunch. So I made it here in time for the opening ceremonies, and in time to see my Uncle Clarence, who drove in from Detroit. That’s two conventions in a row where I’ve had a relative visit. Anyway, his stay was fairly brief, but he’s a man of few words, and I’ll see him again tomorrow when I go to visit Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry in Detroit for the last time (they’re moving).
The con staff got me all set up in Author’s Alley, and checked the books I brought for sale into their system so they could sell them for me when I’m away, a nice service. But I kept a stock of Only Superhuman hardcovers on hand to sell myself, and I’ve sold a decent number of copies today. I’m benefitting from the use of one of those credit card swiper attachments for smartphones, which I got for this trip, since on past occasions I’ve missed out on a few sales due to not being able to take credit cards.
The giveaway copies of the Rise of the Federation books showed up from Pocket as well, including Live by the Code, which I got to see for the first time in person:
Sorry, not a great shot. I’m not accustomed to taking “selfies.”
I was also given a gift basket by the con staff, including a box of specialty chocolates like these:
(And thanks to my new laptop, I’m able to upload these direct from my phone through the USB cable. Apparently this one has the right connection software built in, whereas I could never get it to work on my old laptop. On the other hand, though, I discovered today that the right arrow key on my laptop keyboard has come loose.)
I’ve also gotten to meet a couple of people with whom I have common professional ties — Larry Nemecek, who’s a big name in Star Trek nonfiction, and scientist/author Geoffrey A. Landis, who got his start as a professional writer in Analog the same as me, though he’s done considerably more since. So that’s been cool.
I’ve had a couple of panels that went pretty well. There was a panel at 11 PM last night on SF/fantasy heroines, and though there were barely more audience members than panelists, we had a good, lively discussion about writing women effectively, and then I and a few other panelists and guests just hung around the room chatting until nearly 1 AM. (It’s not like I was gonna get any sleep on my first night in a hotel anyway.) This morning we had an author showcase, and I had been planning on reading the first scene of Live by the Code, but I hadn’t found time to rehearse and I was afraid it’d be too long, plus the audience seemed more interested in Only Superhuman, so I fell back on performing a scene from that which I’ve done before, and which I had fun doing again, though I got so enthusiastic that I gave myself a headache. Then there was a panel on creating characters that I somehow ended up assigned to moderate without realizing it, and though I didn’t have many character-creation anecdotes to offer, the rest of the group made it a pretty lively discussion.
I’ve got another panel coming up shortly, then one more tomorrow morning. More to follow soon, I hope.