My Extended Death
—A serialized novelette from the worlds of the Human Legion—
Since 2002, I have been writing about the worlds of the White Knights and the descendants of the million human children that they demanded in the Vancouver Accords. Of these, I’ve written two non-human stories, first drafting My Extended Death in 2007, several years before I started writing what became Marine Cadet. When I wanted an allied but alien creature to blast away at in the training exercise that kicks off the Human Legion series, I soon realized that I didn’t need my cadets to face generic sci fi bugs because I already had an alien species from My Extended Death, and many pages of background notes that had fed into the novelette’s background.
The inspiration for writing about a hive creature came very much from the author Stephen Baxter at NewCon 2 in Northampton, England, who was promoting his excellent novel Coalescent with a talk about HG Wells and hive insects both real and in science fiction. In fact, he was so engaged by topics that obviously fascinated him that he barely mentioned his book. If you get a chance to see Stephen Baxter at a science fiction convention, take it.
I hit a problem and an opportunity right away because my aliens have no concept of gender – an idea that fascinates Pedro in the Human Legion books. Using gender pronouns made no sense to me at all, and referring to fleshed-out characters as ‘it’ was too cold and distant. So I used sie for he/she and ser for his/her. It wasn’t because I was trying to make some kind of political statement, it just felt the right way to get a little inside the heads of these aliens so I could tell the story from their perspective.
I’m not the first science fiction author to mess with gender pronouns in this way and not the last. In fact there was a fuss a year or so ago with a book called Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I haven’t read it myself, but apparently Leckie uses ‘she’ throughout and in a deliberately confusing way because the alien narrator doesn’t really get gender. Sounds like the author was trying to do something broadly similar to me, but I don’t think Sentwali would approve. If anyone tried to explain gender to ser, I think sie would be outraged to learn that someone had assigned a gender-specific pronoun to ser.
But that’s aliens for you 🙂
Tim C. Taylor — Jan 2015
Text (c) 2015 by Tim C. Taylor. All rights reserved. Alien insect image (c) bluecrayola / Shutterstock