This is threatening to become a regular thing — I’ve sold my seventh story to Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Called “Twilight’s Captives,” it’s a novelette about an interspecies diplomatic crisis in which a tense hostage situation, created and complicated by a fundamental clash of human and alien values, threatens to spark an interstellar war.
Like my previous Analog story, “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad,” this tale is in my main original-SF universe; but it’s centuries further in the future and delves into humanity’s FTL interstellar era, a period that to date has only been peripherally glimpsed in my Buzzy Mag story “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” (and foreshadowed in my long-out-of-print “The Weight of Silence”). This is also only my second published story in that universe to feature sapient aliens, the first being my professional debut, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” way back in 1998. I’ve developed a number of alien races for my default universe over the years, putting a lot of thought into their evolution and culture and history, but somehow I’ve almost never managed to sell any stories that featured them (in part because I was saving the main ones for novels — a strategy I’ve been reassessing lately). But “Twilight’s Captives” introduces aliens of three distinct types, belonging to two major astropolitical unions. I’m glad I’m finally getting the chance to flesh out this underutilized aspect of my future history.
Like “Cislunar” and “Butterfly’s,” this is actually an older, unsold story that I recently took another stab at, emboldened by my success with those two. But this one required surprisingly little reworking to make the grade — just a little streamlining here and there and a stronger opening paragraph. Which goes to show how important a good beginning is.
The publication date hasn’t been set yet, but I’ll let you know when it is.
I just found out that The Trek Collective posted the cover to Department of Temporal Investigations: Time Lock on Friday:
It’s kind of abstract, but so were the previous covers. And this one’s based on an idea that’s hard to visualize. Another clock face would’ve been a bit repetitive, even though this is a story for which a ticking clock would be appropriate. Anyway, the blue is a nice change of pace from the red-orange of previous covers.
Here’s the blurb again:
The dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations have their work cut out for them protecting the course of history from the dangers of time travel. But the galaxy is littered with artifacts that, in the wrong hands, could threaten reality. One of the DTI’s most crucial jobs is to track down these objects and lock them safely away in the Federation’s most secret and secure facility. As it happens, Agent Gariff Lucsly and his supervisor, DTI director Laarin Andos, are charged with handling a mysterious space-time portal device discovered by Starfleet. But this device turns out to be a Trojan horse, linking to a pocket dimension and a dangerous group of raiders determined to steal some of the most powerful temporal artifacts ever known…
Time Lock will be released about a week from now, around September 5. You can find preorder links here at Simon & Schuster’s Time Lock page, and international links in the Trek Collective page linked above.
Sorry, folks, I lost track of how long it had been since my last post. Not that much has been happening that’s newsworthy, since I’ve been waiting for certain things to be approved or moved on by other parties. Fortunately, there’s finally been a bit of movement, so with luck, I should have a couple of announcements coming relatively soon. This is a relief for me in other ways, too, since it means there should be an improvement in my financial situation, which has been pretty tense lately. Although it’ll probably remain tense until at least next month.
On the plus side, the delay has left me plenty of time to work on my own original projects, including several short stories/novelettes. I just finished one the other day — I’m trying to revise and streamline it now, though I’m a bit stuck — and I hope to be able to move into another promptly thereafter. As a tease, I’ll reveal that my research for that just-finished story included a vintage Robert A. Heinlein story and the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera. Which has prompted me to do a binge rewatch of the two Marx Brothers DVD box sets I inherited from my father, one featuring all their Paramount movies with Zeppo, the other featuring most of their later films. I’ve had those box sets for years, but I’ve never gotten around to rewatching them until now. I’ve always loved the Marx Brothers’ absurd verbal humor and wordplay. They were unusual in combining both verbal humor and visual/slapstick humor, and doing both well. But Groucho and Chico’s contortions of language and logic are amazing to listen to.
Let’s see, I’ve also been getting the occasional DVD from the library. I rented Deadpool despite my misgivings about its violence and crass humor, because I’d heard it was really clever and funny otherwise. I thought it had some very funny bits here and there, and Morena Baccarin was luminous (though no way could her hair grow that long in just one year), but overall I could’ve done without it. Just not my style of humor. Also, perhaps prompted by my recent discussion of the Mako Mori test in my “Bechdel” thread, I decided to rent Pacific Rim again. It still holds up well, and it was interesting to note how many kaiju-movie tropes it touched on. The idea that the aliens were softening Earth up for invasion now because we’d polluted the planet enough to make it habitable for them is reminiscent of Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe. The use of helicopters to airlift the giant mechas to battle evoked the Millennium-era Mechagodzilla movies. And Mako was very reminiscent of the female leads in movies like Godzilla vs. Megaguirus and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. I felt the story was well-structured too, deftly using the mind-melding technology of the Drift as a way to drive the plot dynamics, establish character backstory, and provide a source of information about the invaders, all rolled into one. And of course I still love Idris Elba’s big speech.
Well, I just heard the mail arrive, so I should go. More news soon, I hope.
Sorry it’s taken me so long to talk about Shore Leave. It’s been a really exhausting week. Since money is very tight for me at the moment, I decided to leave early on Thursday and drive all the way to the DC area so I could spend the night with my cousins Barb and Mark. The drive took 12 hours, including rest and meal breaks, and I didn’t quite make it before dark. It’s a measure of how exhausted I must’ve been that I actually got a decent amount of sleep that night. I almost never manage to get any sleep on my first night in an unfamiliar bed.
(I almost had a copilot this time, though. My Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry just moved from Detroit to a DC-area retirement home, and their daughter Cynthia is still in Detroit trying to square away the rest of their belongings and arrange the sale of the house. The idea was mooted that I could drive up to Detroit and that together we could drive to Shore Leave and bring some of her parents’ stuff to them, whereupon she could visit me at the convention too. Unfortunately, she had a friend’s wedding to attend that weekend.)
Anyway, I was delayed a bit at the start of my drive when I heard an ominous knock-knock-knock sound from my right front tire once I got above 60 MPH. I pulled over at the first opportunity to check the tire, and it looked fine, so I figured maybe something had gotten stuck on it for a bit and had fallen off before I stopped. But then the sound started up again. So I found the nearest auto shop and asked if they could take a look. I managed to talk them down from “We can pencil you in an hour and a half from now” to just coming out to the parking lot to see if there was even a problem. It turned out that the mud flap sort of thingie in front of the tire had come loose from its anchor and was being blown into the tire by the wind at highway speeds. The clerk and I (mostly him) managed to patch it using a roll of “gorilla tape” I keep in the glove compartment, and although I’m pretty sure I tore the tape on the curb at the next rest stop, the sound didn’t recur for the rest of my trip. Maybe the tape covered a hole or altered the weight distribution just enough to change the flap’s aerodynamics. Anyway, it was a relief that the problem turned out to be inconsequential. And the auto shop guy didn’t even charge me, so I’m very grateful for his help.
So after 12 hours on the road and a decent night’s sleep in my cousins’ guest room, my first stop on Friday was the retirement home where Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry just moved, about a 20-minute drive from my cousins’ place. It’s a nice facility, strikingly similar in architecture and layout to the home my father lived in all too briefly, and they seem to be content there. They treated me to lunch, and I had a pretty good chicken salad sandwich. Then I set off from there to the convention. This time I had the sense to leave most of my luggage in the trunk until after I checked into my room, and fortunately my room was close to where I parked, so I didn’t have to lug it very far. Eventually I wandered out to the dealers’ area and ran into fellow Trek author and Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox, who’s usually the first person I run into at Shore Leave, and usually in the dealers’ area. (I walked right by him at first, then recognized his distinctive voice behind me while he was conversing with someone else.) We stood and talked for a while, but I was still pretty exhausted and hungry, so eventually we adjourned to the hotel cafe, where I got a sandwich and juice that I was charged exorbitantly for. We encountered a few other people while there and talked shop and the like.
I didn’t have any panels Friday, but I sat in on Greg and Marco Palmieri’s upcoming Tor Books panel (along with new Tor editor Jennifer Gunnels, who has a theater background, so they let her do most of the talking), then went on to the Meet the Pros autographing event. This time I brought copies of my old books to sell at my table, but the only ones I sold were three copies of DTI: Forgotten History. Still, I met a lot of fans and signed a lot of books.
Since I resolved not to spend hotel prices on food anymore, I just had coffee, a cereal bar, and an apple for breakfast, then walked over to the shopping mall nearby to get a sandwich from the Wegman’s grocery store’s deli. Luckily, I happened to have a refrigerator in my hotel room this year (they usually remove them for some reason, but this year was an exception), so I was able to save half the sandwich to eat on Sunday. I was really trying to economize as much as possible this trip.
Saturday was my big panel day. “Kick-ass Women Heroes” was a fun discussion, although there was one point I wished we’d covered more. We talked at one point about how both male and female comics characters tend to be stylized with male gaze in mind — female characters are sexualized, scantily clad, and objectified, while male characters are overmuscled, body-armored tough guys catering to male power fantasies. I asked the female panelists what a male character drawn for female gaze would look like, and the answers boiled down basically to “Chris Hemsworth” and romance-novel cover models. But the question I didn’t get to follow up on is that, if female gaze still favors big, muscular men, what differentiates them from the male gaze-oriented power-fantasy he-men of the comics? Is it the degree of exaggeration? Their wardrobe (functional vs. revealing)? Their attitude and body language? (I welcome replies in the comments from female readers.)
The “Superhero TV Scorecard” panel let us discuss a range of different points of view, because I started off gushing about how awesome Supergirl is and then another panelist insisted he found it unwatchable. Although the panelists and audience members were pretty civil about such differences of taste. The “World-Building” panel had fewer members on it than I expected — Peter David must’ve cancelled, and indeed I don’t think we encountered each other at all this year. Anyway, it was a nice discussion of the process of developing settings for fiction, gaming, and such, and I think moderator Stephen Kozeniewski did a very deft job directing the conversation and handling the audience’s questions. Then came the crowded “Star Trek at 50” panel, where we talked about our love for the franchise and our Trek memories, and fortunately managed to keep the conversation from getting sidetracked by the negativity about new stuff that often gets injected into Trek conversations by some fans. Although that can be a good opportunity to be informative. When someone questioned the idea of having to pay a monthly fee to watch the upcoming new Trek TV series on CBS All Access (which we’ve since learned will be called Star Trek: Discovery), the panelists were able to explain that the fee was for the entire streaming service and its dozens of old and current shows, and that you could just join for a month and binge-watch the whole series after it’s all out, or that you could wait for it to come out on home video a few months later. And I reminded folks that Star Trek has been used as the anchor of new broadcasting outlets before — Phase II was going to launch a Paramount-run “fourth network” before that fell through and the project evolved into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, ST:TNG was the first prime-time drama in first-run syndication and the beginning of a decade-long explosion of first-run syndicated dramas, and Voyager was the anchor show for the UPN network. Star Trek has always been about seeking out and embracing the new, after all.
Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to reschedule the “Upcoming Star Trek Books” panel, so it was still opposite the panel about the Smithsonian’s Enterprise restoration. We still got a decent-sized audience, though. All of my panels on Saturday were well-attended this year, without any cases of the panelists outnumbering the audience. I honestly don’t remember much about the panel, and I didn’t have anything new to announce that I haven’t already revealed, since the contracts haven’t gone through yet. I do remember it was interesting to have Scott Pearson on the panel, since he’s been copyediting a lot of our books lately (including the anniversary trilogy that Greg Cox, David Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore collaborated on) and it was interesting to get that perspective. Scott recently handled the copyedits on The Face of the Unknown for me, and I think he did a terrific job.
Saturday night featured the usual group outing to Andy Nelson’s BBQ for dinner, and I had my usual pulled turkey sandwich with cornbread and cole slaw on the side. I have the same thing every year because I only have it once a year; if I could dine there more often, I might try something different. Unfortunately, I’d had a bit too big a snack that afternoon, so I was pretty darn stuffed by the end of dinner. We usually eat outside, but it was too humid, so we reserved the large dining room for the group. It was my only big meal of the con, since I skipped the Sunday author breakfast; it’s just gotten too expensive, and this year I was trying to cut my expenses as much as possible. (As it turns out, the freshly made sandwich, two sides, and iced tea I got at Andy Nelson’s cost exactly the same amount as the boxed sandwich and small bottle of orange juice that I got at the hotel cafe the previous evening.)
Sunday was pretty relaxed; my only panel was a small one about e-books and how electronic publishing is changing the business. This time it seemed the panelists may have outnumbered the audience, but since we were all sitting around the same table, it was hard to tell which group was bigger. Sunday was a good day for talking business with other writers, and I did get some promising hints of future possibilities, although one prospect I was hoping to pursue did not pan out. I also spent my requisite hour in the “author chimney” at the bookstore table, signing books for passersby. They let me put out some of my own books to sell, and I finally moved a single copy of Only Superhuman, as well as selling a number of my books in their stock. I learned too late that I could’ve let them sell my books on consignment over the whole weekend and split the money with me.
I was hoping to get to talk to a few of the actor guests, but I was only partially successful. I did talk to Zoie Palmer a bit about Lost Girl and Dark Matter, and that was nice. And I talked a bit to Anthony Montgomery about what I’d done with his character in my Enterprise novels, but I think my timing was bad and he had other things on his mind. I also briefly exchanged hellos with John Noble as we passed in the hallway, but that was about it. I never caught a glimpse of Karen Gillan, whom I would’ve liked to meet.
After the con, I drove back to Barb and Mark’s, and we picked up Shirley and Harry and went to have dinner at the home of Charles, a family friend who’s an excellent cook. When I was helping to get stuff out of the car, I fumbled a bag of squash, bent down to pick up one I’d dropped, and keeled over onto the pavement. I had to sit there for a while to gather myself. I realized that the only things I’d eaten that day had been another bare-bones breakfast of coffee, fruit, and a cereal bar, a half-sandwich and more snacks for lunch, and a single tiny cheese snack when I set out for my drive. My blood sugar must’ve been critically low. So once I made my wobbly way inside, the folks got me some water and nachos to rehydrate while we waited for dinner. It’s a good thing I had such an appetite, since dinner was substantial. It was mostly stuff I’d never had before, with an Indian theme, including curried chicken, jasmine rice, spinach with tofu (substituting for an Indian spinach-and-cheese dish, I think) and lentils (which I couldn’t visually distinguish from corn, though their taste and texture were very different), as well as some of the squash we brought. I was hesitant about the curried chicken, since I’d gathered Indian food was very spicy, but this was quite mild. And when I tentatively sampled it, I not only liked it but found it inexplicably familiar. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of: amazingly enough, Cincinnati chili. It was probably due to the cinnamon and cumin. Anyway, it’s good to know that Indian food is something I might enjoy after all.
The highlight for me on Monday was my trip to the Air and Space Museum to see the restored Enterprise. Here she is:
By the way, that isn’t my hand in the photo.
And here’s a video I took, from my Facebook author page:
I was disappointed that I couldn’t get anyone to go with me (so there are no photos of me with the ship this time). Anyway, it was an amazing experience. It just looks so right now, and seeing it with the lights on was amazing. The restorers did a fantastic job. Seeing this object on TV for the first time as a child sparked my curiosity and started me on the path that has shaped my whole life, so getting to stand before it and see it restored to its original glory was like completing a pilgrimage. It was amazing. Maybe it was better to be there by myself, just me and my feelings about the ship.
I also enjoyed wandering around the rest of the museum — at least until I got hungry and had to go out into the Mall to have the peanut butter sandwich I’d brought — and geeking out over all the science and exploration stuff. I may do another, more photo-intensive post about it later. I also dropped by the American Museum of Natural History after lunch, but I was still too worn out to enjoy it fully (and I didn’t take pictures there). I found it odd that they included exhibits on African and Korean art and culture in a natural history museum, which is generally more about animals and plants and, well, nature. Wouldn’t something like the National Gallery have been a better place for the cultural exhibits?
Anyway, we dined with Shirley and Harry again Monday night, and I ordered a vegetarian “gyro” (which turned out to be a black-bean patty between slices of flatbread, with tzatziki sauce) and potato wedges, which turned out to be redundant since the sandwich came with chips. So I saved the chips in a takeout box to have on my trip home.
Said trip commenced Tuesday morning — not too early, since I was planning to take it in two days this time, and since I wanted to avoid rush hour on the Beltway. I briefly considered trying to make it in one day, but I wisely recognized that I was just too tired for that and shouldn’t push myself. Plus, the first day was kind of frustrating, since my phone GPS was acting up. It kept forgetting what route I’d selected and trying to redirect me toward its default route — and later, once I’d managed to convince it that I was going to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, for some reason it kept wanting me to detour through Pittsburgh instead of going straight through Wheeling to Columbus. At one point, just after I’d left the Turnpike on Tuesday afternoon, it dinged an alarm tone and told me to take the next exit. I blindly followed its instructions, thinking maybe it was an emergency detour around an accident, but I soon realized it was turning me around, trying to make me go back to the Turnpike and follow it to Pittsburgh!! Why, why, why??? By the time I realized that, it was too late, and I had no choice but to go backward a few miles and then use the next exit to loop back around to the westbound interstate. And I resolved not to blindly trust anything the GPS told me from then on.
So I ended up spending the night at a motel in Eastern PA, one I’d stayed in before on a previous trip (selected for because it was in the book of motel coupons I’d picked up at a rest stop), and then set out again Wednesday morning for a mercifully uneventful trip back home. I had a cup of rest-stop coffee late in the drive, so I was atypically alert when I got home and actually had the energy to unpack most of my bags pretty much right away. Although it’s taken me another few days to get rested enough to write and edit this post.
Anyway, it turns out that my economizing worked fairly well, but not as well as I’d hoped. I made enough money at the convention and saved enough on food and boarding that I’m only in the red by less than 70 dollars. Indeed, if I’d been able to make it all the way home on Tuesday rather than staying in a motel, I would’ve come out a few dollars ahead. Still, it was a mistake to try to save money by relying on snacks instead of decent meals. Both interstate driving and convention-going take a lot out of a person. Here it is a week later and I’m still not fully recovered. Still, it was worth it. It was a hell of a trip.
The final schedule for Shore Leave 38 has gone online:
Here are the appearances and panels I have scheduled, assuming I survive what looks like a rainy drive tomorrow:
Meet the Pros — 10 PM to Midnight, Hunt/Valley Corridor
The usual mass signing event. For a change this year, I intend to have copies of Only Superhuman and assorted Trek paperbacks for sale. I’m now equipped to take credit cards as well — I find I seem to be selling more books now that I have that option, so I though it would be worth mentioning.
Kick-ass Women Heroes — Noon, Salon A
Pretty self-explanatory. Also with Rigel Ailur, Joshua Palmatier, T.J. Perkins, Greg Cox, Mary Fan, and Jo Graham.
Superhero TV Scorecard — 1 PM, Salon A
The writer guests geek out about, well, superhero TV. Also with Russ Colchamiro, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, Susanna Reilly, and Daniel Patrick Corcoran.
World-Building — 2 PM, Chase Ballroom
Discussing one of my favorite subjects with Stephen Kozeniewski, Richard C. White, Michael Jan Friedman, Mary-
Louise Davie, Kelly Meding, Jim Johnson, and Peter David.
Star Trek at 50 — 3 PM, Salon A
Not to be confused with the “Star Trek: The Big 5-0” panel at 10 AM in the same room. That’s the fan-track anniversary panel, while this is the author track one (so you’d think we could’ve come up with a more distinctive name). I’ll be there with Robert Greenberger, Dave Galanter, Howard Weinstein, Paula M. Block, and Larry Nemecek, and I imagine some other folks will show up as well.
Upcoming Star Trek Books — 5 PM, Salon A
Discussing next year’s schedule with Greg Cox, Dayton Ward, David Mack, and Scott Pearson. Sadly, this is on at the same time as the “Air and Space Museum’s Enterprise Project” panel that I was dying to see.
Original e-Books/e-Novellas — Noon, Concierge Lounge
Discussing original-to-electronic work with Jim Johnson, Terry J. Erdmann, Paula M. Block, Richard C. White, Steve Wilson, and Jo Graham.
So basically I’ll be in Salon A a lot on Saturday, with a lighter schedule on the other two days.
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.
Over the past couple of years there’s been a lot of discussion about representation and diversity in genre media in various contexts, such as the debate over the past two years’ Hugo nominations, the importance of Mad Max: Fury Road, the excitement about the Wonder Woman movie and the frustration about the delay in getting female-led Marvel movies, and so on. It got me curious to see how well my writing measures up by one standard of representation, the Bechdel test. This is a metric popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel as a way of assessing how well women are represented in media — or, rather, of revealing how poorly they are represented in American movies overall.
A work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:
- It includes at least two named female characters…
- who have a conversation with each other…
- about something other than a man.
Now, whether an individual work passes the test isn’t necessarily an indicator of whether it’s feminist or portrays women in a positive light. The classic illustration is that Gravity fails the test while Showgirls passes. And certainly not every story has to pass it to be worthwhile; for instance, one of my favorite movies, 12 Angry Men, is an obvious fail just from the title. (There have been versions with women in the cast, but they’d still technically fail because all the characters are unnamed.) Its use, rather, is in the aggregate, to help assess how well or poorly women are represented in an overall genre or body of work. Which is why I plan to apply it to my whole body of published work, though it’s taken me a while to slog through the whole list.
Some of my shorter works would fail Bechdel due to not having enough characters overall, so it’s worth bringing in the related “Mako Mori test.” This test, named for the female lead in Pacific Rim, was conceived to fill the gaps in the Bechdel test for films like Gravity or Pacific Rim in which there’s only one significant female character, but that character is still presented in a strong and positive way, as an independent protagonist in her own right. The parameters for a work of fiction to pass the Mako Mori test are:
- It includes at least one female character…
- who has her own narrative arc…
- that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.
I don’t think this excludes the female character from supporting any male character at all — just that she have her own personal goal driving her, rather than being motivated solely by helping a man achieve his goals. Mako does support Raleigh as his partner, and vice-versa, but she has her own independent motivation and quest that would have still been present even without Raleigh being there.
So I think I’ll start with my original fiction, in publication order.
“Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”: Passes Bechdel. There are two human female characters, Captain Cecilia LoCarno and the bit player Zena Bhatiani. The AI Arachne identifies as female, and the Chirrn captain/prosecutor Rillial is “currently female.” Bhatiani and Arachne briefly converse about the possibility of communication with the aliens. Cecilia, Rillial, and Arachne converse about the disaster; Cecilia and Bhatiani discuss language; Cecilia and Rillial debate in the trial.
“Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele”: Fails Bechdel because there are only three speaking characters, two of them male. Passes the Mako test since Safira Kimenye is the central character and her actions in defense of the titular cybers drive the story.
“The Hub of the Matter”: Fails Bechdel, as Nashira Wing is the only female character. Mokak Vekredi is hermaphroditic but identifies as male, and Nashira’s conversations with him are about David LaMacchia. I think it passes the Mako test; as with Mako herself, Nashira’s storyline intertwines with David’s and supports his to an extent, but she does have her own independent agenda informing her actions, which is somewhat at odds with David’s.
“The Weight of Silence”: Fails Bechdel by having only two speaking characters, one male, one female. The female lead Monali Chen is the narrator and lead character, but her arc is halfway about rescuing herself and her copilot boyfriend and halfway about rescuing their relationship. But I think it’s more a case of him supporting her arc than the other way around. Call it a half score Mako-wise.
“No Dominion”: Passes Bechdel. Lead character Tamara Craig interviews a female witness about her female roommate’s attempted murder and about her research, though Craig’s male colleague participates.
“Home is Where the Hub Is”: Passes, though not by much. Nashira and female alien Commander Relniv discuss the discovery of a new Hubpoint, though David and Rynyan then intrude on the conversation. Nashira briefly converses with another alien later identified as female, but it’s about David, and the alien isn’t named.
Only Superhuman: Solid pass. Multiple named female characters have conversations on a variety of subjects. For example: Emerald Blair and Bast taunt each other during combat; Emry and Koyama Hikari discuss their work and Emry’s bionic upgrades; Emry and Psyche Thorne have numerous conversations about politics, philosophy, sexual ethics, and more personal matters (some involving men, others not); etc.
“Make Hub, Not War”: Limited pass. Andrea LaMacchia and Aytriaew briefly discuss the quality of the latter’s relief supplies; Nashira and Aytriaew briefly discuss another relief mission (and revisit the topic later with David and Rynyan participating). Solid pass for Mako, as Aytriaew has her own strong agenda driving the story.
The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing”: Barely passes first two Bechdel parameters, fails the third. Mostly a two-hander with a female viewpoint character, Mariposa, and her male love interest, like “Weight of Silence.” A conversation with an incidental female character named Kipepeo is only summarized and is largely about a man. Mako Mori-wise, same issues as “Weight.” Mariposa’s arc involves rescuing and relating to a man, but that’s largely in service to her own character growth. Comes closer to passing than failing, but I’m not quite sure.
“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”: Passes Bechdel. Has two named human female characters, Jaya Ramanathan and Lam Hang Bian, and a female-identifying AI, Athena. Bian and Athena have at least two confrontations in which the male lead also participates (though he joins belatedly in the first one).
So out of 10 published original works to date, only 6 pass Bechdel at all, most of them poorly. Of the remaining four, two definitely pass Mako and two ambiguously pass it. This is unexpected, since I’ve always thought I tended to write strongly female-centric fiction. Indeed, 7 of these 10 stories are told primarily or exclusively from the POV of their female leads, and two others (the first two) have dominant female leads whose actions drive the narrative but who are perceived mainly through the male leads’ POV. “Cislunar” is probably my most strongly male-centric story in terms of POV and character gender ratio, yet the story is largely shaped by its female characters’ agendas. Still, my female leads tend to be paired off with male characters rather than other women, and are outnumbered by men more often than I’d realized. (To be fair, though, I don’t have many male-male pairings to speak of either, aside from David and Rynyan in the Hub stories.)
In the aggregate, I’d say I come out ahead, but not by nearly as much as I expected. This is what things like the Bechdel and Mako tests are good for — to identify blind spots and unconscious habits that have been overlooked.
There’s also a strong but unintentional tendency toward heteronormativity in these works, with Only Superhuman being the only one that features a same-sex relationship between lead characters (although there is passing discussion of a casual lesbian dalliance between supporting characters in “No Dominion” and a brief allusion to Mariposa’s bisexuality in “Butterfly’s Wing”, and added material in the Hub Space collection establishes David LaMacchia as bisexual). I’m already working to improve LGBTQ representation in future stories.
Moving on to tie-ins, let’s start with Marvel.
X-Men: Watchers on the Walls: Passes Bechdel. Multiple female X-Men including Jean Grey, Rogue, Shadowcat, and Storm, plus other female characters like Val Cooper, the alien leader Poratine, and the new female students at the Xavier Institute. Lots of conversations on various topics.
Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder: I’d have to call it a fail. There are several named female characters who have conversations with each other, but all are about men, usually Spider-Man. There is one bit early on where one female student of Peter Parker’s makes a comment and another reacts to it with a wisecrack, but they’re both technically addressing Peter. So it’s only a 2/3 Bechdel pass. I don’t think it quite passes Mako; Mary Jane Watson-Parker has an independent narrative arc (drawn from the comics) involving her pursuit of a stage career, but it isn’t a major element of the story.
These results make sense, I’d say, since X-Men is an ensemble series with about an equal mix of male and female characters, while Spider-Man is a male-led solo series where basically every other character is there to relate to Peter/Spidey in some way. Again, it’s not necessary for every work to pass Bechdel; it’s more an aggregate assessment. And two works is too small a sample to get a meaningful aggregate result. Let’s call this a wash.
And finally Star Trek, again in publication order:
SCE: Aftermath: Passes Bechdel. Multiple named female characters, including Sonya Gomez, Domenica Corsi, Carol Abramowitz, and “Pattie” (P8 Blue), converse about the mission and strategies, though men participate as well. Gomez and female alien scientist Varethli have a heart-t0-heart.
DS9: “…Loved I Not Honor More”: Fails 2/3 of Bechdel and fails Mako. Only two named female characters (Grilka and Jadzia Dax), who do not interact and who are there to support Quark’s narrative arc.
TOS: Ex Machina: Passes, though not massively. Uhura, Reiko Onami, and Spring Rain discuss the latter’s past, goals, and physiological needs, as well as discussing Uhura and Reiko’s memories of Ilia. Also, High Priestess Rishala discusses politics and strategy with several named councillors of both sexes.
VGR: “Brief Candle”: Borderline pass. Captain Janeway grants a request from B’Elanna Torres. Marika Willkarah briefly debates with Torres whether a mission is too dangerous. (There’s also a scene where Marika and Torres both try to convince the Doctor to agree to a request from the latter, but they don’t talk to each other in that scene.)
Titan: Orion’s Hounds: Passes. Various interchanges, including: Melora Pazlar and Orilly Malar discussing the latter’s reasons for being aboard; Deanna Troi counseling Orilly (more than once); Deanna and the alien Oderi discussing the latter’s racial history; etc.
TOS: “As Others See Us”: Passes. Two female Sigma Niobeans, Admiral Deyin and Captain Nohin, have a lengthy discussion about an impending contact with native islanders. Deyin later has an exchange with the island matriarch.
TOS: Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again: Passes. Two female Payav, Raya elMora and Asal Janto, discuss their past friendship and current political opposition (though some men are discussed in connection with the political situation). They have a second confrontation later. Raya has another scene with her grandmother Elee and a young female protegee, Theena.
TNG: The Buried Age: Passes. Various interchanges, including: Stefcia Janos, Coray, and Xian Yanmei discuss how to enter an ancient ruin (with men participating); Kathryn Janeway, Stefcia, and Dr. Miliani Langford discuss how to penetrate a stasis field (ditto); Janeway and Ariel discuss rescuing more of Ariel’s people; Coray tries to recruit Ariel to her cause; etc.
TNG: “Friends With the Sparrows”: Fails 2/3 of Bechdel; there are at least three named women (Troi, Sofia Borges, Ambassador Denin), but they never converse. Not sure about Mako; Borges and Denin both have their own agendas, but narratively their arcs are in service to Data’s arc. I guess it depends on whether you define “supporting a man” in terms of a character’s intentions or in terms of her story function.
VGR: Myriad Universes: Places of Exile: Passes Bechdel. Vostigye Subspeaker Vitye Megon debates with Janeway and (separately) science minister Dobrye Gavanri about surrendering Voyager‘s crew to an enemy; Janeway converses with Vorta clone Kilana about a potential alliance; Annika Hansen convinces Janeway to let her take a risk; etc.
TNG: Greater Than the Sum: Passes Bechdel from the first page onward. T’Ryssa Chen wheedles Dawn Blair into putting her on an away team; Seven of Nine, Crusher, and Admiral Nechayev discuss Chen’s experience (with men participating); Miranda Kadohata clashes with Chen over her attitude; Crusher, Kadohata, Chen, and Jasminder Choudhury play poker (with Picard, La Forge, and Worf); etc.
TTN: Mirror Universe: “Empathy”: Fails part 3 of Bechdel. Christine Vale and Aili Lavena have conversations, but they’re primarily about men. Fails Mako, as they’re primarily there to support male characters’ arcs.
TTN: Over a Torrent Sea: Passes. Lavena, Vale, and Pazlar discuss the planet Droplet and its life forms (with males participating); Pazlar discusses their findings with various male and female crewmembers; Lavena and Pazlar privately discuss the squales (and then start discussing a man, Dr. Ra-Havreii); etc.
DTI: Watching the Clock: Passes. Teresa Garcia and Clare Raymond discuss being displaced in time; Garcia and Dr. T’Viss discuss temporal physics; Garcia, Pazlar, Ellec Krotine, and Lirahn discuss the Axis of Time; Agent Shelan speaks with a time-displaced Dina Elfiki and later with Jena Noi; etc.
TNG: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within: Passes. T’Ryssa Chen and Jasminder Choudhury interact repeatedly on Kinshaya mission; Crusher tries to reason with female rebels Velet and Dirin; etc.
DTI: Forgotten History: Passes, mainly just in the opening scenes. Garcia and Heather Peterson discuss Elysia (with one male, Ranjea, participating); Captain Alisov and Peterson discuss the subspace confluence; not much else.
ENT: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures: Passes. Various work-related exchanges among T’Pol, Hoshi Sato, and Elizabeth Cutler. T’Pol and Sato are later held captive together and converse about their situation.
ENT: ROTF: Tower of Babel: Passes. More T’Pol/Sato/Cutler; T’Pol debates with Boomer leader Freya Stark; Sedra Hemnask and T’Rama discuss their careers (with Archer participating); etc.
DTI: The Collectors: Passes. Jena Noi converses with colleague Jeihaz about timeline changes, and interacts extensively with another female character (spoilers!).
ENT: ROTF: Uncertain Logic: Passes, though not massively. Val Williams converses with security subordinates including Julia Guzman and Katrina Ndiaye. Devna and the Deltan woman Pelia discuss their cultures’ approaches to sexuality, but only briefly in connection with men. Maybe a few other brief bits.
ENT: ROTF: Live by the Code: Passes, though not massively. More Williams/Ndiaye in action. Two female Vol’Rala bridge officers, Breg and zh’Vethris, discuss recent events on Breg’s home colony. A few group discussions among personnel of both sexes. (I’d expected I could count the scene where T’Pol, Sato, and Cutler confront Orion merchant princess Gyrai, and the scene where T’Pol confides a secret to Sato, but in both, the conversations are about male characters.)
I can also confirm limited Bechdel passes for my next two Trek works, DTI: Time Lock (in which the featured female guest character has some discussion with two established female cast members pertaining to the crisis) and TOS: The Face of the Unknown (barely, through brief exchanges between Uhura and a guest character and between two guest characters). Time Lock strongly passes the Mako test, but I think TFotU is borderline on that one.
So out of 21 published Trek works so far and 2 more to come (wow), every one passes at least part 1 of Bechdel. Only 3 fail Bechdel as a whole, at least 2 of which also fail Mako. That’s about 87% success, a very good record. Arguably better, since all three fails are novelettes. There are a number of borderline passes, though.
It’s worth noting that on the whole, the passes generally involve book-original characters or series, the exceptions being in TNG (Crusher and Nechayev), VGR (Janeway, Torres, Seven), and ENT (T’Pol, Sato, Cutler). For the most part, the Trek shows are fairly male-dominated, and the strong Bechdel showing of Pocket’s tie-in line is largely due to the efforts of its authors to improve the gender balance. My TNG works benefit from drawing on female characters introduced by previous authors (e.g. Keith DeCandido’s Kadohata and David Mack’s Choudhury and Elfiki).
I and other authors have also tried to counter the default heteronormativity of the Trek franchise to date by incorporating LGBTQ characters. I’ve included same-sex relationships as “onscreen” events or plot points in at least four works (“Empathy” and ROTF books 2-4) and included significant or incidental LGBTQ characters in at least nine more, including characters inherited from other authors (such as SCE’s Bart Faulwell and TTN’s Ranul Keru — and Jadzia Dax, probably the only canonically bisexual series regular in Trek). So I think I’m doing moderately well on that score, though as with my original work, it’s something I’ve been trying to do more of in recent years.
I’m honestly a little surprised that I’ve done a better job passing the Bechdel test in my tie-in fiction (where I expected to be somewhat hampered by the male-dominated casts of the source material) than in my original fiction (where I generally gravitate toward female leads and perspectives). But I think maybe that’s an artifact of the relative lack of long-form works in my original bibliography. Short stories only have room for a few characters and relationships, and I tend to pair off a male lead and a female lead, or have two of one and one of the other. So I do well on the Mako Mori test, but I think I’d do better on Bechdel if I had more original novels. Even so, there’s room for improvement in some respects. Of course the goal isn’t to try to mechanically fill some quota in every story, but this kind of assessment is good for keeping overall patterns in mind and identifying areas that could use more emphasis or more variety. At the very least, I’ve satisfied my curiosity.