N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.

Learn more.

On Fanworks

There’s been much debate in the blogosphere over the years about FANFIC: Threat or Menace?!?!?1! I haven’t participated in most of that debate, mostly because a) before four years ago, I had no “professional author” dog in the fight, and b) I was busy, mostly producing dogs for the fight.

But I also haven’t participated because my thoughts on the subject are fairly simple. I think fanworks = flattery + free publicity. I’m not going to limit things to fanfiction here, because the issue is really derivative art in general (including filk, fanart, fanjewelry, whatever), and I’m not going to go much deeper into it because lots of other authors have already said smart things on this issue, and I don’t feel like retreading the ground. Also because this particular ground has been paved for centuries anyway, so I’m not sure why it’s even an issue.

Yeah, I’ve heard the Marion Zimmer Bradley myth. Yeah, I’ve seen a dozen-odd Authors Behaving Badly over fanfic, defending their right to police other people’s imaginations with tooth and claw — I don’t agree with those authors, but if they want to draw a line in the sand over it, that’s their business. And yeah, I’m aware that the potential for litigation exists if somebody thinks I stole their idea, particularly in the area of fanfiction since writing is something I actually do. (Never mind that ideas can’t be copyrighted. I’m an American, and if there’s one right us Americans treasure, it’s the right to sue the pants off anybody for completely nonsensical reasons.) I’m also aware that people might do squicky things to my characters. But there’s a very simple way for me as an author to avoid the problems (if any) associated with fanfic, and that’s for me to ignore it. If you write it, don’t tell me. If you post it, don’t show me. If I blunder across it, I won’t read it. If you pull a Clockwork Orange on me and strap me to a chair with my eyes wired open while you flash it on a screen before me, I’ll pretend I didn’t read it. (And then I will probably sue you, at minimum.)

If we’re talking something other than fiction — say, fanart or filk — that’s less of a risk to me (if any). Frankly I have no talent whatsoever for visual art, sculpture, music, or anything else, and no interest in ever pursuing projects in any of those arenas, so I won’t actively avoid those… but. I also won’t go looking for them. Because fanworks are for fans, after all, not for me, and I know it can be a little unnerving to fan-creators when the author suddenly shows up in the comments, even if it’s just to squee. (And I do squee when I see something I like.) So if this is causing you to lose sleep at night, let me assure you: you don’t have to worry that I’ll go trolling the web someday, find your stick-figure drawing or experimental-theater script of the tentacle sex scene in 100K, and pitch an epic hissyfit. If I see it at all, I’ll probably just pull one of these:

Will Smith looking confused, caption: THE FUCK?

…and move on.

And that right there is pretty much all I can state as my policy on fanworks. Any questions?

Fantasy Fans: Where’s Your Outrage?

This is hurriedly written and unedited; gotta take Besame Mucho to the vet in a few. Apologies for typos/inclarities in advance.

If you didn’t know, something relevant to your genre happened last night. Beasts of the Southern Wild, a fantasy film I’ve been raving about, got nominated for four different Oscars — yeah, they didn’t win any last night, but getting nominated is still awesome. One of those nominations was for the film’s star, Quvenzhané Wallis, who also made history for being the youngest-ever Oscar nominee. She’s 9 years old.

Here’s the part that happened last night: half of Hollywood decided that it hated her.

The reasons for that hate vary. Some of it’s just… Hollywood, land of the unbelievably hateful people who tear each other down to build themselves up. (Where I come from that’s called bullying, and it happens most often in a schoolyard.) There’s a billion snickering comments and articles online right now about the fact that one of the Oscar winners tripped. This is a professional culture of 12-year-olds.

Well. Except. Most of the ones with power are old white guys. They just have the sense of humor of 12-year-olds.

Here’s some things they did:

Oh, and it wasn’t just Hollywood misbehaving. The better-known chunks of the feminist community got in on the act, calling her “disgusting” and “insufferable” in the comments. Those people are getting told by quite a few people, but just goes to show you that even (sometimes especially) feminists can be racist fucks.

And what terrible things did Ms. Wallis do to invite this kind of vitriol? Oh, just stuff like this:

Quvenzhané Wallis doing a little fist-pump in celebration.

Just be herself: talented, happy, pretty, and proud of her achievement. She didn’t misbehave, she didn’t snark at anyone the way winner Jennifer Lawrence did (and Lawrence was awesome for doing so, but it’s interesting how white girls can get away with being confident more easily than black girls. Isn’t it?). Ms. Wallis committed the crime of being confident while black and female. Hey, it happens to all of us, often starting around puberty; I guess Hollywood just decided to start the shaming and systematic tearing-down early.


So here’s the thing: I’ve seen a lot of outrage over this from folks on my Twitter feed, which includes a lot of people in the genre community. It’s heartening to see that. But I can’t help thinking that there should be a lot more outrage than I’m seeing. After all, a fantasy film just came very close to winning an Oscar for Best Picture — yet I don’t see the community even embracing this as a fantasy film, let alone leaping to the defense of one of our biggest stars. I wonder about that. Really, I do.

Here’s what I’d like to see: more people talking about this, in social media and other places. I’d like those people to unfollow The Onion, if they’re following it, and un”like” it on Facebook — because social media capital is valuable these days, and doing these small things is the equivalent of a boycott. You can also write the Onion and tell them what you think of this. I know people are looking up lists of their advertisers even as we speak, so when there’s a list of Onion advertisers to write to, I’ll add that to this post.

But aside from that, what I’d like to see is some good old-fashioned geek rage. I mean, seriously, ya’ll. Geek rage is an awesome and beautiful thing when it gets behind a cause of worth. This one’s worthy.

And I’d like to see it because I was this girl, once. Oh, not famous, but just that cheerfully focused on a goal — in my case, becoming a published novelist. And I’ve had my share of people trying to tear me apart for daring to want such a thing. Like I said, it happens to a lot of us. But a little support goes a long way.

ETA: Closed some open tags, linked to the article about the anon Oscar voter who said he wasn’t voting for her b/c of her name.

Daughter of ETA: The Onion has apologized.

Spoiled Niece of ETA: Apparently people are playing silly buggers, reporting me for spamming my own website. Apologies for the brief downtime, and hopefully it won’t happen again. Note: I hotlinked the “fistpump” gif because I can’t seem to get it to upload on my site. I got it from here, tho’.

Three Things Make A Post

Except I can’t count.

State of the NoJo: plugging away slowly on the UMSP still. The ash has begun to fall and the world is changing; this novel’s got a very eerie, surreal quality to it that’s making me wonder if I’ve got some latent horror writer inclinations in me somewhere. Diverted a bit to work on a short story in the 100Kverse; more on that later. Because…

The Killing Moon has been nominated for a Nebula!! I got the call about it this weekend, but had to sit on the news ’til the official announcement today. This is my fourth time being nominated (first was for a short story, second and third were for books 1 and 3 of the Inheritance Trilogy) and as I said on Twitter earlier today, it never stops feeling awesome.

Not sure yet whether I’ll go to Nebula Weekend. I love San Jose, but I’d meant to minimize my travel this year, since I’m not actively promoting a new book for the first time in forever. ::sigh:: Well, we’ll see.

Equally important to me: I have finally scraped out a little free time to read books again! Apologies to those of you who’ve sent me books to blurb, and whatnot; I just haven’t had the time. :( And as it is, I’m reading very slowly — basically only on my commute to and from work in the mornings, provided the train’s not too crowded and the subway preachers aren’t too loud. I also read a bit in the evenings, preferably in the bathtub — which, since a lot of my reading is via ebooks these days, actually puts another damper (ha ha damper get it) on my reading time. I should probably buy a waterproof skin for my S3. Anyway, just having the time to read at all is a big thing for me, thus the announcementizing.

Stuff I’ve enjoyed lately:

  • Kate Griffin’s Stray Souls, first in a new series set in the same universe as her Matthew Swift books, which you guys know I love. This one’s so many flavors of awesome. Sharon is London’s newest shaman, and she’s not quite sure what that means yet — so she uses Facebook to start the group “Magicals Anonymous”, assembling the most hilarious collection of magical misfits ever seen, to try and figure it out. There’s the hypochondriac vampire, the necromancer with self-image issues, the troll gourmand, the druid with allergies… individually they’re a bit sad, but together and under Sharon’s leadership they’re unbelievably awesome. I want to see a BBC TV series based on it.
  • Ben Aaronovich’s Midnight Riot, released in the UK as Rivers of London. Continuing my British urban fantasy kick — people have been recommending this one to me for a year, and I kept putting it off even though I had a copy, because I am apparently stupid. Holy shit this book is awesome — it’s a deeply creepy thriller, a police procedural that actually seems to have something to do with real police work, and a hilarious day-in-the-life story for the hapless young constable Peter Grant, who happens to be London’s newest wizard apprentice. He’s up against a magical serial killer, and the bureaucracy , and it’s not clear which is the greater threat.
  • After, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’m not plugging this anthology just because one of my short stories (“Valedictorian”) is in it, but also because I’ve finally finished reading it all the way through, and the stories in it are genuinely awesome. Seriously — there wasn’t a one that didn’t leave me thinking deeply or reverberating with emotion. Usually I consider an anth a good purchase if it’s got maybe 40 or 50% good stories; this is closer to 100%.
  • Not a book, but an old flame rekindled: Elfquest is back! A new adventure, drawn by Wendy Pini, is running over at BoingBoing if you haven’t been following it. They’re posting a page a week on Mondays, which is toooooorturous, but worth the wait.

Total sidenote: I discovered the whole Harlem Shake meme about 12 hours before the media declared it “over”, but this one from my cousin’s show is my favorite. Contains the actual Harlem Shake, at the end!

And that’s all the news that is news, here in Noraville.

From the Mailbag: The Unbearable Baggage of Orcing

Awhile back I got an email from a reader which asked, “When are you going to write some real fantasy, y’know, with orcs?”

This is a paraphrase, because I didn’t get the reader’s permission to quote (I asked, no reply). But I’d say it’s pretty accurate as to its tone and implications, since the email went on to explain that the reader really really liked me and thought I was a good writer, but hated the fact that the stuff I write is labeled “epic fantasy” when it doesn’t resemble Tolkien much. In fact, the reader felt that this was why my work has been less successful than that of other epic fantasy writers who do resemble Tolkien more. (There was a list of writers who fit this criterion.) So the reader, being helpful, wanted to suggest some things I could do to remedy this gaping disjunct. Just add orcs, a dragon, some runes and maybe elves to write them, shake don’t stir… instant bestseller. Oh, and it went without saying that I should at least consider writing a novel set in a nice comforting medieval Europeish setting — though of course the reader hoped I would still put my own “unique spin” on it.

There’s a lot of things I could say about this letter. So. Many. Things. But I’ll stick to the part about the orcs.

I have a problem with orcs. I’m orc-averse, you might say; even orcophobic. I know, I know, orcs are everywhere in fantasy; from Tolkien to Warhammer; by saying I hate orcs I invite the wrath of… well, the fannish horde. (Groan. Sorry.) But here’s something I want you to think about: what are orcs?

Seriously. In most of the fantasy works I’ve consumed, orcs are violent, mindless or less intelligent than human beings, brutal and thuggish and Always Chaotic Evil. But these are adjectives, not nouns. All mythological creatures have a real-world root. Dryads are trees + humans + magic. Mermaids are fish + humans + magic, or maybe porpoises + magic. Unicorns are deer or horses + magic, maybe with a bit of narwhal glued on. Dragons are reptiles + magic, or maybe dinosaur bones + magic – paleontology. So again: what are orcs supposed to be?

Tolkien gave several explanations for his orcs, and the one Peter Jackson built into his film adaptations seems to be the one most fans espouse: elves + bad magic. Elves themselves can be viewed as humans + magic, or humans + divinity as the case might be; find a Tolkien scholar if you want to get into the nitty gritty of that. Tolkien himself drew on European history and mythology, so there’s a number of possible sources from which he might have drawn the inspiration for orcs — like the old Norse nithings, and of course the scarier, grittier parts of Celtic faerie folklore. Bottom line: in nearly every iteration of orcs that occurs in fantasy, orcs are meant to be a warped mirror of humanity. They’ve got all the stuff that’s in humans — emotions, a degree of intellect, sometimes free will — but it’s all wrong. They’re corrupted by evil magic or environmental degradation or their own hubris. In some iterations orcs are sexually perverse, so we’ve got bad genetics to consider too. They are human bodies + bad magic – the essence of humanity, for whatever value that essence might hold: a soul, a mind, aestheticism, whatever. And therefore, in most fantasy settings in which I’ve seen orcs appear, they are fit only for one thing: to be mowed down, usually on sight and sans negotiation, by Our Heroes. Orcs are human beings who can be slaughtered without conscience or apology.

Think about that. Creatures that look like people, but aren’t really. Kinda-sorta-people, who aren’t worthy of even the most basic moral considerations, like the right to exist. Only way to deal with them is to control them utterly a la slavery, or wipe them all out.

Huh. Sounds familiar.

So maybe now you can understand why I’m not very interested in writing about orcs.

Now, I’m aware that there have been some attempts to reclaim or reinvent orcs as “just misunderstood” in the past few years, and I commend those efforts — although I don’t think I’ve seen one yet that really worked for me. I love the fact that for awhile, “orcing” became slang for SFF fans of color getting pissed off at authors’ racefails… but there’s a reason that slang caught on, and there’s a reason it was as painful as it was funny when we used it. It was a reclamation, but also an acknowledgement. Thing is, when orcs are pulled far enough from their European folkloric roots — or more modern associations with same, like Tolkien’s — I can enjoy them, at least for awhile*. Until I start to think about what I’m doing. Then I realize the whole concept of orcs is irredeemable. Orcs are fruit of the poison vine that is human fear of “the Other”. In games like Dungeons & Dragons, orcs are a “fun” way to bring faceless savage dark hordes into a fantasy setting and then gleefully go genocidal on them. In fiction, even telling the story from the dark hordes’ PoV, or explaining why they’re so… orcish… doesn’t change the fact that they’re an amalgamation of stereotypes. And to me, that’s no fun at all.

So if orcs are what’s necessary for me to be considered a “real fantasy” writer by some readers, then I guess both they and I will just be shit outta luck for the duration of my writing career. Oh, well.

* But the reason I liked Dragon Age: Awakening is because it interrogated the whole concept of darkspawn-as-mindless-horde as introduced in DA:Origins. The gameplay allowed for a real question as to whether these creatures — which in the DA universe are derived from sentient, free-willed beings tainted and controlled by a vengeful god — could have their own goals or want to be free of the compulsion that drives them. And the reason I liked Dragon Age 2 better than both previous games is because the darkspawn weren’t the enemy at all.

Gamefail bluescreen

Apologies, ya’ll. I know you haven’t heard much from me lately. Partly it’s that I’ve been busy; this is the time of year when my day job ratchets up, and since I’m still plowing full speed ahead on the UMSP, I don’t have a ton of spare brain. What little I’ve got has mostly been channeled into stress relief — hanging out with local folks, long meditative walks on snowy evenings, and among other things, gaming. But lately the gaming has been… shall we say, less than fun?
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Tis the Season

Awards season, that is. Now that 2012 has passed into honored and unlamented history — happy New Year, everybody — people are looking back and thinking about what was best in the year, what was worst, and everything in between. And because I keep getting asked about it, here’s what I’ve got that’s eligible for awards consideration this year. It’s not much, alas; writing novels on deadline plus working a full time job has made me a much less prolific woman of late.

Short Story

Although I had a lot of reprints published this year, there was only one truly new story. That’s “Valedictorian”, which came out in the YA dystopian anthology After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. 5700 words.


Both The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun were published in 2012 — one month apart, in May and June respectively, from Orbit Books. Given that they are, much like my Inheritance Trilogy, series books that nevertheless can stand alone, technically either or both could be nominated. But as I explained so some folks on Facebook who were discussing my eligibility, these books should not be nominated together as a single work, a la Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear which won several awards as a set last year. As I understand it, Ms. Willis originally wrote those books as a single unit and was asked by her publisher to split them; they really were one work. The Dreamblood books are two very separate stories that just happen to be set in the same world and feature the same characters.

Likewise, although both books could be nominated for awards, I’d rather not get into the habit of competing with myself — no more than I usually do, anyway — so if you gotta pick one, pick The Killing Moon, please.

“Best Of”s and Reviews

To help your awards thinking along, I’ve been trying to keep track of the various “Best of 2012” lists that the Dreambloods have been spotted on thus far. I’ve been sloppier about tracking reviews — hey, I’m busy — but as always, you can see the ones I’ve found here on Delicious. There’s also good reviews at those first couple of links below.

I think that’s all of them? Folks, if you know of any others, let me know in the comments.

…And on an unrelated but still awesome sidenote, SFF industry ‘zine Locus just did its “All Century” poll, looking at the Best Ofs not just of the past year, but of the 20th and 21st centuries. (Because when it comes to “best of” lists, Locus don’t play.) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms came in 18th in the ranking of 21st Century novels (so far), which was unbelievably flattering and humbling. Thanks, everyone who voted, for that unexpected holiday gift!

Consent is Sexy

Writer Beth Bernobich started this, after hearing complaints that it’s somehow unsexy to seek or confirm consent during sex (or during fictional sex). So far she and Martha Wells have posted examples of sex scenes showing clear consent, so I figured I’d join in. Three posts make a meme, and all that.

This one’s probably familiar to many of you; it’s from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Consent was an ongoing theme of the relationship between Yeine and the god Nahadoth, in part because Nahadoth actually can’t do anything to her without her consent, and in part because Yeine is effectively a master to Nahadoth’s slave and there can be no true consent in such situations. She could command him to do what she wants, although the results would likely be less than optimal. Nahadoth has managed to win a modicum of power for himself despite his enslavement by deliberately twisting the meaning of consent; he entices potential lovers to give him permission or bad commands, and he uses that to kill them. Yeine knows this, but she hopes — she believes, and belief is power when you’re dealing with gods and magic — that he won’t kill her. The consent that needs to be given in this case is multilayered.

Warning for sexiness!
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Holiday Gifts for Publishers

This is something I didn’t know about before I became a published author: it’s kind of traditional to give your publishers a gift at the holidays.

I followed tradition unknowingly that first year after the Inheritance Trilogy was contracted, because in my day job life I’m a career counselor and I know it’s always a good idea to give gifts to people you’re doing business with, or who are professionally valuable to you. But lest this sound mercenary, I also just genuinely liked the folks at Orbit, and wanted to show them how pleased I was to be working with them. So that year, the gift was some of the more… hmm, unusual… vintages from the Nashoba Valley Winery. I picked that one because I was still relatively new to NYC, after spending 10 years in Massachusetts, and the Nashoba winery had been one of my favorite hangouts while I lived there. Also, they had really good raspberry, pear, and blueberry wine, among other interesting stuff. And who wouldn’t miss a chance to give a bunch of book lovers dandelion wine?

The next year, weird combinations of chocolate were all the rage around that time, so I visited another fave: the Chocolate Bar, which sold these awesome spicy chipotle brownies. (Bacon brownies were also popular, but it’s always a little hinky to give pork products as gifts when you don’t know folks’ religious or dietary practices, so I decided against that.)

The following year I was at a bit of a loss as to what to give, but I’d just concluded the Inheritance Trilogy with a blowout launch party, the SLEEPOVER OF THE GODS (say it in a booming announcer voice). Since only Devi, my editor, had been able to attend the party, I decided to bring the party to everyone else, by trying to recreate one of the most popular custom drinks from the party, the Rummy Bear. So I gave everybody a combo bag containing one giant gummy bear and a small flask of good rum.

This year I’ve found something I again think is kind of interesting and unique, and which also serves my attempts to be a localvore and to support businesses hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, so I’m about to head off to Orbit to play Santa again. It also makes great cocktails. ;) I’ll tell you how this year’s gift goes over later!

“The Next Big Thing” Meme

Last week I got tagged by buddy Kate Elliott to participate in The Next Big Thing, a meme that’s been going around. I’m slow, so only just now doing it (d’oh). But this looks fun, so here goes. I think it’s meant to be filled out by someone who’s got a soon-forthcoming novel, but I’m going to treat this as a between-series snack and just talk about everything I’ve ever written.

Cutting for brevity!
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Fantastic Profanity

So today I’d like to talk about fantastic profanity — by which I mean not “really good” profanity, but “made up for fantasy and science fiction” profanity. Therefore this post will contain quite a bit of cussin’. FOR ART AND SCIENCE. You are warned.

There are some words that are universally vulgar, in my opinion. I only speak 1.25 languages — English and just enough of a few other languages to mangle them all magnificently — but in my vast experience I haven’t yet found a language that doesn’t treat either the act or the product of defecation as something rude/crude to talk about.* Nobody likes shit.** But several languages that I’ve thus far encountered seem to have no vulgarization for the act or various by-products of sex. Not being a linguist, I can only speculate as to the reason for this, but my guess would be that Anglophone countries tend to be kind of sexually regressive and repressed, so naturally “fuck” is one of our harshest epithets. We don’t like sex. Many other cultures think it’s no biggie, and they find other things to malign in their slang. So when I’m creating a new fantasy world, if I want to include a fantasyism for “fuck”, I have to pause and do some deep thinking about whether this is a culture that’s got some issues with sex. And if so, then I have to think about why they might have issues with sex. In Anglophone cultures, most of our hangups about sex have to do with religion; Christianity doesn’t like sex. That’s because Christianity enshrines Western cultures’ various forms of patriarchy as doctrine — in England, frex, sex was the means through which men historically passed on property rights to their sons. In order to know who their sons were, men had to control the source of those children, i.e. women, which meant sex with women had to be rigidly controlled. (Ditto sex with men, actually, though to a lesser degree, and any other forms of non-procreative sex. While I’m at it, it’s kind of remarkable how many cultures’ religions have made statements about sex with farm animals. But I digress.)

But in cultures where property can be passed to anyone, sex doesn’t need to be regulated to the same degree. An example is ancient Egypt (researched this while writing the Dreamblood). Granted, ancient Egypt’s culture changed lots over its 3000+ year history, but as far as historians can tell, Egyptians regarded all property as belonging to the gods. It was merely overseen temporarily by the Pharaoh and officials for the benefit of the whole community. …So, naturally, the Pharaoh and high officials owned most land, and everybody else paid those folks rent. However, among landowners, anyone — male or female, firstborn or other, relative or some random schmoe the landowner chose — could inherit their parents’ property. In fact there was a special “land overseer” or judge/official in most Egyptian communities who made sure property was fairly distributed, precisely to prevent arguments among the children/acquaintances of property owners. This might be why — as far as I can tell — the Egyptians did not have a vulgar word for sex. They also didn’t particularly care who fucked whom or how said fucking occurred; their lore is rife with lurid tales of marathon oral sex sessions, hilarious anal sex follies (well, hilarious for the people hearing about it), and sex contests to honor the gods. (Seriously. As a harvest celebration, villagers would sometimes imitate Nut and Geb: a chosen couple would lie beside the river, and the woman would kneel over the man. The man would then try, using just his penis and while lying on his back, to have intercourse with her — generally while his fellow villagers were looking on and laughing it up. I think the idea was to give the gods a good laugh, too.)

Which means that before I toss off a “frak” or a “frell”, I have to decide whether and why the people of this society have such a problem with sex that they’ve made a curse of it. How do they handle property? Is it especially important that men know which children are theirs? If so, how have they codified this — does their religion mention sex? Do they listen to that religion, mostly? And so on. I didn’t use “fuck” in the Dreamblood because that was based on ancient Egypt. In the Inheritance Trilogy, though, most of the story takes place in the patriarchial parts of the world (Amn-controlled or -influenced nations, which is most of the world). I imagine there was no “fuck” in the Darre language because the Darre were matriarchial, and a woman always knows who her children are; there’s no question in primogeniture. But the Amn are slightly patriarchial — once more so, though they’ve egalitarianized over the ages — and the remnants of that patriarchial past linger in their language. Moreover, I had to consider what curses gods would use, since they exist as another culture in this world. That’s how I came up with “mortalfuck”, which Sieh used in The Kingdom of Gods. Gods have trouble having meaningless sex with mortals; they can’t quite help sharing something of themselves whenever they copulate, and catching feelings as a result. Mortals are painful to love, though, because they will inevitably die. So although gods fuck each other with abandon — sometimes even the abandonment of form and flesh altogether — fucking mortals is an altogether different thing, risky and potentially devastating. Worthy of an epithet or two.

“Damn” is worse, though. Goddamn it I hate the word “damn”. Because the instant I want to use it, I have to stop and consider a fantasy culture’s beliefs about the afterlife. Do they have a Bad Afterlife Place to which people can be damned? Who does this damning, and why? Why is being damned such a problem? I mean, if the culture has an afterlife that’s full of ice cream and rainbows — or if they don’t believe in an afterlife at all — there’s no reason for “damn” to exist as a word. But since I come from a culture that constantly rants about the afterlife, my own language is deeply permeated with damnation, and that one slips out even when I don’t want it to. Every time I write a short story I have to do a scan for damns, because I always include them, and they don’t always belong.

In my novels I’ve gotten around this thus far by writing worlds that have a Bad Afterlife Place — the infinite hells of the Inheritance Trilogy, the shadowlands of the Dreamblood. Right now, though, I’m working on the Untitled Magic Seismology Project, and it’s a very different beast. In this world of frequent catastrophic seismic events, life is pretty damn (argh) harsh, so they regard death as a relief, not something to fear. And most cultures of this world don’t have much religion, in part because every few centuries there’s an Extinction Level Event that reboots society. Not much time to develop or syncretize beliefs. The majority of nations at the time of the story have been influenced by the oldest country in the world, a sprawling Romanesque empire which views Father Earth as god — and they hate him, because he keeps trying to kill them. There’s a bit of self-blaming cosmogony around this: they believe that some of their ancestors pissed off the earth by becoming too numerous. But for the most part they just think the earth is an evil dickwad who is and will always be the Enemy. So these are the curses I’ve come up with thus far:

  • Evil Earth (e.g. “Evil Earth I’m tired. Let’s get some rest.”)
  • Earthfires/Underfires (e.g. “The town… it’s gone.” “Earthfires, no…”)
  • References to earthquakes or volcanic activity — which they call “shakes” and “blows”, and which allows me to use “blows” for a similar-yet-different reason to the way modern English does. (e.g. “What a shitshake.” “Yeah, that blows.”)

But then I had to also consider what they would value in this world. Property’s not much of an issue; most parts of this world are essentially socialist, with a central authority in every community apportioning property in ways that will best-benefit everyone. This does cause problems in times of plenty and ordinary seasons, but it’s a lifesafer during the years-long volcanic winters, when nobody has the time or wherewithal to waste on arguments about inheritance or paternity. So if land doesn’t matter, what does? The answer I came up with was stability. This is a world in which people avoid coastlines (because of frequent tsunami) and faultlines whenever possible; only the poorest people are forced to live in such areas. The ideal community is built on good solid bedrock; the biggest cities are located at the center of a tectonic plate. And given that early metallurgy would not provide especially useful building materials — most primitive metals have relatively low flexiblity and are quite brittle — this is a society which values stone over metal. Most metal rusts, after all, and even wood was more reliable at certain points in our own world’s history. And since this is a world littered with the remains of past civilizations, it’s easy to see that certain kinds of building materials and techniques stand the test of time better than others. In this world no one spends a lot of time wondering why a past civilization died. They just note that it did, and they figure it’s best not to repeat past mistakes.

So they swear by stone and curse by metal. A kept promise is “stonebound”; an unreliable or unlikeable person is a “rusting [cockcrack/daughter of a moocher/son of a cannibal/etc]”. When Essun (the story’s main protagonist) is feeling especially creative or pissed off, she says “Rust it and burn it in the earth’s steaming hot ass crack”, and so forth.

…I’m having a lot of fun with this, if you’re wondering.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. You?

* If you know of a language that doesn’t have a vulgarity for shit, tell me.

** If you do like shit, don’t tell me.