Baby

One of the Writing-related groups I am in offered this writing prompt:

It was the first time the 17 year old Martin met a newborn baby.

This is what that prompt prompted me to write:

Baby

Baby. That’s what they called this smooth-skinned, wriggly thing. They’d presented it to Martin with obvious pride, which was unexpected, because the last time a wriggly hairless thing had entered the house – that one had been carried in by Martin, who’d found it in the garden- they’d screamed and they’d called it Snake and they’d grabbed the broom and swept it back into the garden.

To Martin, this new Baby appeared a lot more threatening than the Snake, because unlike the Snake, thBaby in baskete Baby made odd noises, smelled like sour milk and boasted a disconcerting number of flailing limbs. And yet, no one implemented the broom, and no one screamed. In fact, they cooed at this Baby in the high voices that were usually reserved for Martin. They also cooed at Martin and pointed the baby out to him. As if he’d miss it. Admitted, his eyes were not what they’d once been, but he still had a good sense of smell, and his hearing wasn’t that bad either. Right now, he heard: “Come on, Martin. Nothing to be scared off. She can’t hurt you. You’ll like her.”

Her? It was a her? And they wanted him to like this her? He sniffed the air. Still sour milk. And something else, too, something that reminded him of… of… No. It was gone. His memory certainly wasn’t what it had once been. But fine. If they were so convinced that this Baby was not dangerous, and if they so wanted him to inspect it up close, he’d do it. Probably a bad idea, he thought, curiosity killed the cat and all that, but he stood up anyway and moved on his stiff legs towards the Baby.

The Baby was in a basket on the floor, so that was familiar enough, and Martin peered over the edge of the basket at the writhing Baby, and he sniffed. Still sour milk, but so much more. How come he’d not smelled that earlier? Was his nose also in decline? There was the other smell, the one he couldn’t remember, and there was the smell of soft cream, and of body, and, most importantly, the familiar smell of them, of the loved ones who had brought this Baby home and who had encouraged Martin to approach it, and that smell was the sweetest of all, even if it came from this undersized, wriggling, not-a-snake Baby.

Martin pushed his rickety body up on the basket. One of them said “No, Martin!” but the other said: “Leave him. We are here, we can keep an eye on things,” and Martin was left to clamber over the edge of the basket, which hurt his creaking joints, and then to lower himself on a soft surface next to the Baby. The Baby made a little noise, but this time it didn’t frighten Martin, because the sound was cushioned by the sweet smell. Martin sniffed along the baby and found it had a nose, a tiny one, that could be licked, like Martin would often do with larger noses, and he understood that this Baby was indeed not a threat.

He lay down, sculpting his bony body to curl perfectly against the soft warmth of the Baby, and he inhaled deeply, that smell that he now did remember: the smell of his youth, his mother, his siblings. The smell of family, and of love. Martin closed his glaucomic eyes and started to purr.

 

Advertisements

Sex and Pronouns

blue 3d human face and shoulders

I’m writing a novel in which you are dead and your society is only vaguely remembered in a scattering of confused tales.

It’s a scifi novel. The characters in it are your potential great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren, take or leave a great or two,  and for several weeks now I’ve been pondering what to call them.

In my novel the concepts of sex and gender are of no more significance than, for example, a person’s height or ear-shape. That may be hard to imagine for most current-day humans. Consider the almighty fuss that commenced yesterday when it was announced that the next regeneration of Doctor Who will be played by a female actor. And the good Doctor isn’t even human! Still, I think we as a species are slowly detaching from this obsession with clearly defined sexes and their socially-allocated properties, so in my story-under-construction, the characters are no longer defined or limited by their physical sex. Most of them are still sexed in the old-fashioned way.  They’ve not evolved that far from us yet. Some, like the main character, are biologically female, others are male, yet others are hermaphrodites or any of the many possible variations of sex and gender in between and besides those first three options. And then there is a small, but distinguished group of genderless individuals: the unans.

The unans, being sexless, are not burdened by the primitive hormone-driven urges that plague their more sexually inclined contemporaries, and as such they are able to devote themselves completely to the pursuit of sophisticated goals such as science, spirituality and general poshness. Hence, the unans are seen -not in the least by themselves- as vastly superior to the gendered rabble.

I have a problem with them. I may be their creator, but as I am also a particularly primitive specimen of the above-mentioned gendered rabble, and I cannot decide how to talk about an unan.

The English language offers us the words ‘she’ and ‘he’ to refer to others in the third person, but there’s no commonly used gender-neutral third person personal pronoun. That is a bit silly, because all other personal pronouns are gender-neutral in English, but it is how it is.

If I were to be completely true to my novel-society, I’d ditch ‘he’ and ‘she’ in favour of a single sexless pronoun for everyone, regardless of their gender. That be the logical thing to do. But I, and also my potential readers, are living in the here and now, and we are so accustomed to reading ‘he’ and ‘she’ that to most of us, a different pronoun just doesn’t look right. I already managed to rattle some members of my local writers’ group by using an ungendered pronoun in my first chapter.
So in order to keep my novel readable I decided that for now I’ll stick with ‘she’ and ‘he’ for those characters who are (approximately) female or male, and ‘it’ for a few underclass citizens who are not considered to be quite up there with the actual humans.

But that still leaves the unans. No one in their society would dare refer to them with ‘it’ or even with a simple ‘she’ or ‘he’. Those words would not only be inaccurate, but they are also the Pronouns of the Plebs. The unans would never settle for that.

The singular ‘they’, which is often used in our current society, won’t do either. I just don’t like it. Utilising a perfectly good plural to denote a singular is confusing. Also, the characters in my novel might use the singular ‘they’ much like we do: for discussing an unknown individual, or an individual of unknown gender. Unans are not unknown and their gender is clear: there is none. The unans demand their own, classy pronoun.

I could make up my own pronoun, and I tried that, and it was rubbish.
I could use an existing gender-free pronoun from another language. I tried that too, but it was a bit too unlike English, plus I couldn’t be certain that I was using it correctly.
Alternatively, I could look up and use one of the many ungendered pronouns that have been invented for the English language. I did that too, and at the moment I use one of those: the pronoun ‘Ne’, as in:

The unan strode over the lane. Ne was tall and elegant, and nir clothes were made of the finest materials. Humble servants followed nem with nibbles, drinks, and blister plasters.

I’m quite pleased with this one. What do you think? Should I stick with ‘ne’, or should I use something else? How do you feel about using genderless pronouns in science fiction?

Gwithyas

I write novels and short stories, mainly in the genre of speculative fiction. A quick online search offers me the following definitions of this term:

1. Speculative fiction: a genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements.
2. Speculative fiction is a broad umbrella genre denoting any narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements; this encompasses the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, science fantasy, and superhero fiction, as well as combinations of the previous genres.

My first novel, which will be published later this year by Kristell Ink publishing, falls neatly in that category. It’s kind of horror, but not really. It could also be labelled paranormal fiction. Or even dark fantasy. At least, that’s what I think.

Obviously once the book is out I will announce that on this blog, with digital drum rolls if I can find any, and I hope you’ll buy it, read it, and enjoy it. If you do, perhaps you can let me know how you would classify ‘Gwithyas’- Door to the Void.

Here’s the ‘blurb’, and a glimpse of the cover art.

Zircon Gwithyas just wants to be a normal teenager, preferably one with a girlfriend. If you’re a spotty nerd with glasses as thick as jam jars, that isn’t easy.
It’s even harder when you live in a derelict manor on a haunted hill with a bunch of spooky eccentrics for a family, and the object of your affection is an irritable sword-wielding college student.
It becomes virtually impossible when you are dragged into a dark, chaotic semi-reality where your moderately-deceased ancestors expect you to save the world from a horde of grotesque demons with a fondness for torture.