Archive for the ‘Stray thoughts’ Tag

The ‘Alien Mate Trope’ Problem

I write science fiction romance, blatantly and unashamedly. But, if you’ve ever read any of my work, you might notice that all of the couples are human. All of them.

And the aliens are alien. They look a little like lizards/dragons/dinosaurs, or maybe squid, except with five arms rather than eight-arms-plus-two-tentacles. And we mustn’t forget the glowing rocks with their group intelligence that can correct human nerve damage.

None of them are Star Trek aliens (human actors with extra bits glued or painted on). They’re not hunky alpha males or females who happen to be blue. And there is, quite definitely, no cross-species romance going on, for two reasons that are kind of related.

Reason number one is the entire euwww factor. I don’t buy the theory of panspermia, because we’ve never found anything even remotely resembling life (except that one microscopic possible bacterium fossil in a Martian rock) anywhere but Earth. Even the Martian rock was found on Earth.

I’m a chemist by training, so you can talk about amino acids in the comets until you’re blue in the face and I’ll be able to show you exactly how a non-life process can create them. Furthermore, DNA as we know it only uses four of them, and only in the levo configuration.

If there was more than one biome on Earth, one that used DNA containing different base pairs than C, A, G, and T, or one that used some other method of protein encoding altogether, would we even know it was here? Would we be able to recognize it as alive? Have we even looked?

All of which brings me to this: If you’re not willing to do that with, say, a chimpanzee, then you shouldn’t be doing it with an alien. Euwww. Maximum squick.

Why not? Two consenting adults and all that. Well…remember the part about using different proteins made from different base pairs? What happens when a foreign protein gets into your body?

Assuming your body can recognize it as a protein, your immune system attacks it. That’s how immunizations work; we inject the protein coat of a virus to program the immune system for the real thing. Sometimes your immune system gets a little too excited and you have an allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction can kill you—the quickest way is through anaphylactic shock, where your throat swells shut and you suffocate.

That’s the second reason I don’t do human/alien romance: severe risk of death after the second kiss. As with all allergens, the first exposure doesn’t cause a reaction, because it programs the immune system to go into overdrive for the second exposure. Yeah, death by protein exchange could definitely be a problem, and I’ve never seen it considered in the Alien Mate trope. I guess it would be too much of a mood killer. Snort.

So, if you’re reading one of my books, all the couples are going to be human, or alien, but not mixed. Too dangerous…and much too squicky.

In unrelated but happy news, I just had my four-year checkup and I’m still cancer free. Yay!



Cutting 10,000 words of a work in progress designed to be 35,000 words long — because you noticed a plot hole the size of…a very large plot hole — is extremely annoying. Plus, the predicted high for today is 104F (40C) and 107F (damn near 42C–42C!) tomorrow.

To quote my cat: Do. Not. Want.

That is all.

Okay, okay, I’ve got one more thing: Kindness of Strangers (see paragraph one, above) might not get finished this month, but it will get close.

That is all.

Things that go bump in the night

I’m not a target market for most paranormal romance or urban fantasy books currently in print: There is no such thing as a vampire, and there is no such thing as a shifter (werewolf, dragon, yorkie, hamster — whatever you choose, it ain’t happening). Thus, I have a great deal of difficulty reading books with this sort of monster as a main character. Or in the book at all.

Why? Because of the physics and biology of the thing. Really, it’s the same reason nobody in my science-fiction books is going to have a romantic relationship with an alien. Ever. Bestiality makes me gag.

First of all, vampires are dead (the root of undead is dead; look it up). If you have a romantic relationship with a vampire, it’s necrophilia — euww…just…euww. Plus the fact that vampires are ‘immortal’ and they can create other vampires. Even if a vampire created one other vampire per decade, and that other vampire created one other vampire per decade, you get a geometric progression and after a while (it doesn’t matter how long of a while because they unlive forever), there’s nobody left to eat, just vampires. And then they all starve to, uh, death.

I realize this stems from the perfectly human desire to stay young and not die — I’m big on not dying, myself — but really, sleeping in a coffin and eating people (particularly when you don’t know where they’ve been and what/who they’ve been doing)? Sorry, I have other ways to accomplish the same thing that don’t strain my logic circuits nearly as hard.

And then there are shifters…sigh. Have you ever broken a bone? Dislocated a joint? Torn a muscle/tendon, heck, had a really bad cramp? They don’t go away in two seconds. Bones that snap and relocate themselves take weeks to reknit. Weeks. Sometimes months.

Do not let the word magic cross your lips in defense of this trope or you will be subjected to an eye roll — I’ve been practicing with teenaged girls, so my technique is almost ninja-class at this point. You will not survive.

The problem is in biology and organic chemistry; cells can only work so fast.

So a shifter will not turn into a wolf/panther/dragon/hamster/rhododendron for three nights in a row and then go back to normal for three and a half weeks, sorry. And if your bones, muscles and tendons start reshaping and rearranging themselves, you’ll be too busy screaming in incredible pain to be very menacing to anyone.

Plus there’s the whole mass factor–120-pound human female becomes a 70-lb North American wolf bitch. There’s 50 pounds of flesh missing in that equation. Or better yet, she turns into a 6-ton (12,000-pound) fire-breathing dragon! Where did the 11,880 pounds of scales, wings, talons and etc. come from? Dark matter? Insert derisive snort here.

All this rant is not against paranormal stories in general, but for pity’s sake, at least try to make them non-ridiculous. Have you ever come across phenomena you can’t explain? I have.

I live with a man who can tame any animal within seconds of meeting it; he once chittered at a feral rabbit on the VA medical center grounds and it started hopping to him. He wasn’t even speaking rabbit; it was the same noise he makes to talk to squirrels in our back yard. (It’s rather odd to wander outside and catch one’s spouse having a conversation with a squirrel, but I have done exactly that. That’s one of the reasons his blog name is Spooky Man.)

Not to mention the dogs, cats, bunnies, cows, llamas, goats, ferrets, and whatever else that have tried to follow him at the Western Idaho Fair. Spooky Man is not allowed in the animal barns unaccompanied.

Plus, I’ve got a ghost cat in my house — I have seen the black shadow of a long-haired cat flitting from one room to the other and we have no long-haired indoor cats. Even Tuffy, our long-haired outdoor cat (who refuses to become an indoor cat), has a Maine Coon-style outline, which doesn’t fit Ghost Kitty. Yeah, we named the ghost cat, which shouldn’t be surprising since I live with, well, Spooky Man.

However, I’m the one who scares away ghosts, identifies flying objects, explains magic powers (with string theory, but still…), and generally explicates the inexplicable. This is why I’m not a target market for paranormal romance and urban fantasy. If I were living the X-Files, I would be Scully.

Marroooo! The Cat in the Pack

I have a cat who, I think, thinks he’s a dog. I have another cat who will speak dog if Spooky Man asks him to.

What does this have to do with “Marroooo!”? Well, we took Stuart to the vet last summer with Hank the dog. And he discovered — again — that he doesn’t like car rides. We discovered what he sounds like when he tries to howl like Hank: Meeeoooow. Meeeooowww. Maarrroooo!

This is all backstory.

Tuffy, the outside cat, recently had to spend the night inside because Spooky Man was sure it was going to be Too Cold For Outside Cats. At four a.m., my darling man got up to use the facilities and Tuffy — wide awake because all self-respecting cats should be out catting around at four in the morning, thank you very much — meowed and chirped to go outside, please.

Spooky Man said, “Okay, you can go outside if you give me one ‘maroo’ and one ‘maroo’ only.”

Tuffy immediately said, “Maroo?” Yes, it was in the form of a question. A rather puzzled question, too, actually.

Spooky Man let him out. It took me 15 minutes to stop giggling and go back to sleep. This is the sort of reality you can never put in a novel because it won’t be believed.



A few years ago, the International Astronomical Union formally defined the term planet and reclassified Pluto. Instead of the last-discovered, smallest, coldest, and pretty much least of the planets, they decided Pluto is the first-discovered, innermost and one of the largest of the Kuiper Belt objects, a dwarf planet.

There was a gigantic uproar, because the media presented the change as Pluto being demoted from planet status. The truth is that Pluto wasn’t demoted, simply classified correctly.

The reclassification took Pluto from last, smallest, and least of the planet to first, possibly the largest, and innermost of a whole new class of planetary bodies — Plutoids. Just typing that word makes me happy. Plutoids: smile.

The Hayden Planetarium in New York, headed by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, was the first institution to notice that Pluto doesn’t really fit in with the planets, but until the discovery of actual bodies in the theoretical Oort cloud, we didn’t have anyplace else to classify it. But Pluto looks a lot like Haumea (2004) and Makemake (2005), not to mention Eris (2003), who started the whole mess.

Eris is a dwarf planet about the same size as Pluto, but apparently about 27% more massive, which would imply it’s denser than Pluto. It’s also quite a ways farther out, about 3 times as far away from the sun as Pluto. It even has a moon, called Dysnomia.

Eris (originally dubbed Xena) was considered the 10th planet in the Solar System for a few years, until that 2006 IAU meeting, when the world’s astronomers actually defined what a planet is (about time, people). They also defined dwarf planets, Plutoids, and Plutinos (objects which have a 3:2 orbital resonance with Neptune). It was a busy meeting.

And then the hate mail started, almost all of it from the US. Dr. Tyson received so much of it he compiled it all into a book called The Pluto Files, published in 2009 — which hit the NYT extended bestseller list.

We Americans love our Pluto, king of the underworld (and Mickey’s dog!), first among the Kuiper Belt objects, with two classes of solar system objects named after it. Now isn’t that more interesting than being a lowly planet?

Shar-Pei Tidbit

Spooky Man reminded me today that Chinese Shar-Pei’s are not a breed the Idaho prison system uses for its guard dog program.

One of the K9 folks once told him, circa 1994, “They’re great barkers. They sound ferocious.” (heavy sigh) “But they’re just too damned happy to actually bite anyone, even with training.”

I like that in a companion dog.

Vital Records vs Public Records

The “birther” thing came up again recently. I don’t really know why, because you can get a copy of that birth certificate on a coffee cup. One of my colleagues at the day job has one.

The whole controversy makes me twitch, because a significant number of people in the U.S. seem to think they have the right to possess a copy of the birth certificate of a perfect stranger. This tells me they have no clue that a vital record isn’t a public record, and they do not have any right to an unrelated citizen’s vital information.

My mother worked for the Idaho Bureau of Vital Statistics as a microfilm technician during the 1970s and 1980s. She converted century-old records of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and adoptions to the hi-tech record-keeping medium of the day.

As a result of mom’s esoteric job, I learned the difference between a vital record and a public record. A vital record is proof of identity. Nobody has the right to get a copy of my vital records but me or a first-degree relative. And both I and any first-degree relative have to prove identity by submitting a photocopy of government-issued ID, both front and back (and pay the fees), first.

The Idaho Bureau of Vital Statistics has no sense of humor, no good faith, and no direct contact with the public. You have to make a record request by mail, fax, or internet form (via a 3rd-party company that charges almost as much as the certificate fee).


This is the case even for presidential candidates who otherwise give up all rights to privacy. (By the way, neither presidential candidate for the 2008 election was born in the continental U.S.; John McCain was born on a military base in the Panama Canal Zone. Interesting trivia.)

Okay, this is where the political references stop, because the reasoning behind the confidentiality goes far beyond politics.

You can use a birth certificate to establish a new identity; you only need a birth certificate to get a Social Security number (I certainly had no other ID when I was six — mom got SSNs for all three of us; I needed one so she could put the car-accident settlement in a savings account). With a birth certificate and a Social Security number, you can get a driver’s license, a passport, and a life.

Posing as a family member to request the birth certificate of a person who died in childhood was a thriving activity in the 1970s. Most of the staff of the Bureau back then was devoted to researching every request to make sure it wasn’t fraudulent.

The confidentiality of vital records protects everyone born, adopted, married, or divorced in the United States. So be thankful there’s a difference between a vital record and a public record. It keeps Coneheads from ruining your credit.

Writing What I Don’t Know

Specifically, Japanese and Chinese traditional culture. I am working on a novel where the hero is from a space-faring culture based in East Asian cultural traditions and genetics, and the heroine is the equivalent of Japanese-American or Chinese-British. The more research I do, the more I find out exactly how much I don’t know about Japanese and Chinese culture.

I’m ethnically Irish, which means I have light hair, light skin, and round blue eyes. So, what do epicanthal folds feel like? Nobody who has them can tell me, because they don’t know what it feels like not to have them. At least I can figure out the hair — my mother had hair so vehemently straight it rejected poodle perms in about four weeks.

I’m culturally American, specifically Western American, which means I have one of the largest personal-space bubbles in the world. You get closer than four feet without a good reason and I’m going to be uncomfortable and backing away — just because of where I grew up.

Compare that to the Tokyo subway system, where they employ people to cram commuters into the trains with the personal space of, say, canned sardines. Shakiro (Our Hero) isn’t going to equate physical proximity with intimacy. Well, there goes that scene. He’s also part of the imperial security clan, which means researching the Samurai Bushido, the ninja/shinobi Oniwabanshu, and multiple schools of Chinese martial arts philosophy. Good stuff (Sun Tzu was fascinating), but still…that’s just the deep background of his world.

Because of my day jobs in technical writing and localization, I know that Japan has three different writing systems, one of which was co-opted from Chinese writing (kanji), one of which looks like Gregg shorthand (katakana), and one of which looks like a cursive version of Gregg shorthand (hiragana). And you read it from top to bottom, right to left. Yesterday, I had to look up the name of the Japanese short sword often used as a left-hand weapon by the Samurai class: wakizashi. Or at least that’s the Romaji for it (phonetic approximation using the Roman alphabet).

How would that shape someone’s brain? Does Shak trust written language at all? Would you?

It’s a good thing this is fiction, so I can make stuff up.

So Important to be Right

Recently, someone discovered that he (or she) had given me erroneous information during the course of the Evil Day Job and admitted the error with the words, “Oops, I lied.”

No, this person hadn’t lied. She (or he) had made a mistake. When did it become so vitally important to be right in our society that we would rather be known as liars than admit to a human error?

After all, they don’t send you to jail for making a mistake under oath, in a court of law. But there’s a word for deliberately withholding information or giving false information, and a recommended jail term to go with it. Perjury, however, seems to be preferable in ordinary workplace conversation than human error.

I’m not perfect, and I’m not afraid to admit that. I’ve also noticed that if I admit the error before anyone else can pounce on it to point it out to The Powers That Be, I don’t get into trouble. A simple, “Yup, I screwed up, let me fix that,” and we can move on. No confusion, no raised blood pressure, no finger-pointing. Done. Filed.

But, when someone else makes an error and starts trying to duck responsibility for being human, well. Then I have to pull out all my CYA files and protect myself. I’ve been trained well over the years, so I keep very good CYA files, and it annoys me no end when someone else tries to blame something on me that I didn’t do. They get both barrels, because I’m stubborn; I take enough blame for my own mistakes, thank you very much.

So maybe the difference between the people who lie (even accidentally) and the people who make honest mistakes is emotional maturity. But, really, is it so bad to be wrong once in a while? Wrong can be fixed. Lying, well, lying can be a crime. Just ask Bill Clinton how much trouble it can cause you. Ha!

On an almost entirely unrelated note, we’ve confirmed Sherrilyn Kenyon and Michael Hauge for Mayhem in the Grove 2011 (the conference formerly known as Murder in the Grove). The new website is scheduled to go live at the end of July, fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong. And then we’ll be able to open up the call for proposals Sept. 1.

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