Six days until Click!

Pre-orders are still available for my novel Click for another few days, until the official launch on July 26. You can use this link (see what I did there, avoiding using the name of the book?) to get in on the action early if you like. Remember, this is my wife’s favorite of my books, so you should absolutely be spending your money based on her preferences. 🙂

In other self-promotion news, lutherplaysgames.com is a thing now, and redirects to my YouTube channel, but if you’re going to click on one of the links in this post, do the first one. The YT is gonna be around for a minute, but the preorders are only available for another six days!

CLICK now available for pre-order!

And you can click– no pun intended– right here to make my latest book a part of your life. Release date is July 26, but why would you wait that long to buy it when you can make an impulse decision right now? This is my wife’s favorite of my books, so you should absolutely listen to her and go order it immediately.

I will be out of town all weekend, so updates are gonna be kinda sparse, but there’s already video content uploaded and waiting over at the yootoobz and nothing can keep me off of Twitter, so the dozens of you who plan your lives around my social media update schedule should be just fine. I will return Sunday, by which time I expect my body to be approximately 50% baklava and shawarma by weight. It’s gonna be a fine few days.

High-pressure sales tactics

I said it was happening, and yep, it’s happening: My novel Click is even as we speak being approved by Amazon’s fooferall machines and will be available for humans to buy in the very near future. Official release date is July 26, but it’ll be available for preorder soon, and as soon as the fooferall process concludes I will actually have a link you can click on to order it.

This isn’t even the official announcement post, really, because if it was there would be a link. This is like that card you get before a wedding announcement, that tells you there’s a wedding announcement coming and to hold a date, but somehow is not, itself, either the announcement or the invitation. This is just the announcement that there’s gonna be a book and that you should be prepared to buy it, if you like.

In other news, my YouTube channel is still out there and I’m still having fun with it, so you should go look at that and hit Subscribe as quickly as possible. Am I talking about it too much? Yes, absolutely– but if I don’t, no one will know about the great fun we’re having with Chicory: A Colorful Tale over there. And that one doesn’t even cost you any money! Go do it.

In other other news, the prophesied Second Child has entered the house, and I’m realizing as I’m typing this that I don’t currently hear any screaming, so either the children are both dead or they have gone somewhere without my knowledge, which seems like it could possibly be an alarming development. I don’t know where my wife is either, though, so maybe she’s with them.

(Thudding in the hallway)

Okay, I guess it’s fine now.

My sleep study has been canceled, because, I shit you not, my insurance company has deemed me “not sick enough” to require one, which … man, that’s a whole entire rant, right there, and I’m going to not bother writing the majority of it because the fact is I don’t think I have sleep apnea and not having to spend Thursday night in a hospital makes the rest of my week easier. Instead, at some as-yet-undetermined point in the future I have to do a home sleep study, and if you happen to know what the hell that might involve, let me know, because I haven’t gotten around to Googling it yet. Fact is I have got shit to do, and taking an entire night in a hospital bed hooked up to machines and pretending to sleep off my plate makes the chances that all the other stuff will actually get done a lot higher. Tomorrow’s tasks involve finding presents for my cousin’s two children, one of whom I’ve never met, and getting all of my video recording for the entire weekend done and out of the way. None of that can really start until the extra child is out of the house, and there may be a trip to the county fair in there sometime as well. I’m bringing my laptop to Michigan with me so I can keep up with bloggery, but if there’s anybody out there thinking hey, I would really love to write a piece to promote something for infinitefreetime on, like, no notice at all, let me know.

An announcement

You may recall that I have written books in the past.

My novel Click has been an exclusive for Patreon subscribers and people who buy it from me at conventions since its publication. It has struck me recently (and has been true for some time) that this no longer really makes any sense; my Patreon rapidly grew to sixteen followers and froze there– I don’t think I’ve added a single follower since the first month I was on the site– and I haven’t updated it in forever. Similarly, Covid has made cons impossible. So this means that this book, more or less by definition, is just sitting there, not doing me any good.

I’m going to continue to offer it as an initial reward to new Patreon people, but it’s losing its exclusivity in the very near future, as I’m going to make the ebook version at least available on Amazon. Right now the print version is being handled through someone other than KDP, and I need to figure out if they can play nice with each other, and the actual file (not the text, the file) needs some slight revision, so I don’t have a release date just yet– but probably in the next few weeks. I will, of course, let everyone know immediately once I have a date; there will likely be a short pre-order period before the book actually launches, but I’ve got to get the leg work done first. I’m telling you now mostly to force myself into accountability, honestly.

On gender and worldbuilding

This is not a review of Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit, or at least I don’t intend to tag it as one. That said, it’s as close as I’m going to come, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I thought about the book by the time I’m done writing anyway. And we should definitely take a moment and stare at that outstanding cover, which is the best thing about the book.

Also, note that the two silhouettes at the top are both pretty gender-neutral, as that’s gonna be a thing.

Let’s talk for a second about how we assign gender to people we haven’t met. Typically this is a thing that happens so fast as to be nearly automatic, to the point where if we aren’t able to immediately assign someone to “male” or “female” it’s immediately noticeable and, for a lot of people quite stressful. (I’m leaving the discussion of whether that’s okay aside, for the record.) But here’s what we do: a quick visual scan for secondary sexual characteristics, right? Prominent breasts, facial hair, hips, then things like clothes and hair length, and sometimes we’re in situations where one thing will trump another. I can’t be the only guy in the world who used to have long hair and has been addressed as “ma’am” by someone behind me who hadn’t seen my face yet, and not one of those people didn’t immediately change their mind and get apologetic the second I turned around and they saw my beard. Never-not-once did anyone think “Wow, that lady has a beard!” Similarly, as a fat guy, while I’m not exactly proud of this, the fact is I’ve dated women with smaller breasts than me. Nobody’s ever looked at my chest and decided I was a woman.

Transgender and nonbinary people have become a lot more broadly socially accepted in the last few years, and the notion of asking people what their pronouns are (or explicitly noting them in, say, an email signature, or a sticker on a name badge) has become something that people are much more likely to do now. This is what happens when those secondary sexual characteristics fail us; sometimes we misgender people, and people making their pronouns clear from the jump has become a good way to avoid making that mistake. There’s still no good way to visually identify someone as nonbinary, though, because people who are nonbinary may still initially scan as feminine or masculine (and people who do present as ambiguous aren’t always nonbinary) so if someone uses they/them as their pronouns (or anything, really, other than he/him/she/her) there’s no immediate way to find that out other than asking, if the person doesn’t do something to make it clear to other people.

In my Benevolence Archives, elves are nonbinary, to the point where displaying visible secondary sex characteristics is viewed as a birth defect. Elves use xe/xir as pronouns, and everyone just knows that, because that’s how elves work. How do elves reproduce? Dunno, I haven’t decided yet. But I decided early on in building the universe that each of the major races would approach gender roles and gender differences a little differently as a culture. For elves, it’s irrelevant. Other cultures range from dwarves, which are a strict matriarchy, to the strict patriarchy of the ogres, to the slightly softer gender role differences of gnomes and humans.

One more side path, and then I’ll circle back to Winter’s Orbit. Feel free to pop over to this post about Sarah Gailey’s novella Taste of Marrow real quick. In short, my main issue with Gailey’s book was one character, named Hero, who uses they/them pronouns, and it becomes very clear over the course of reading the book that Hero is not so much a character as a little game that Gailey is playing with their (Gailey also uses they/them pronouns, although I don’t think they were doing that when Marrow came out, which makes me wonder if I should go back and edit it) readers. Hero is never physically described at all, either by their clothing or their body, and Gailey goes so far as to make sure that Hero never has to talk to anyone other than the core group of characters so that there is never a situation where someone might meet them and guess at their gender. Making things somewhat more annoying is that the book is set 100 or so years ago, making everyone’s open acceptance of whatever is actually going on there slightly less realistic than the central story tenet of the book, which is cowboys riding hippos.

I’m happy to read books with trans or nonbinary characters. And this isn’t so much a complaint about “I don’t know what’s in this person’s pants!” as I have no idea at all what this character might look like, and that’s annoying. Give us something! Nonbinary characters shouldn’t be in your book just so that you can have one character that your audience is endlessly digging for clues about just to figure out how to picture them.

(This can be tricky, of course, and I’ve also read books that made sure you knew characters were trans by doing things like having scenes where a trans woman character more or less loudly announces I SHALL NOW GO URINATE WITH MY PENIS IN THE LADIES’ ROOM, which also sucks because it’s character development via bludgeon. I have a minor side character in BA who I have known was gay since the jump but it’s never made it on the page because I’ve not been able to come up with a way to make it not sound forced in. But that’s a separate conversation.)

So. This book.

Winter’s Orbit began in a way that caught my attention immediately. The book begins with the Emperor (note: male form of the word) summoning her grandson and commanding him to marry a man whose husband has just died, because it is essential that this bond of marriage between the two families be maintained. In going over the grandson’s qualifications for said marriage, he is described as “not gender-exclusive.”

As first five pages go … yeah, my attention was captured pretty quickly. And finding out a few pages later that the two main cultures in this book both identify gender by, effectively, clothing accessories was, if nothing else, not something I’d seen before. One planet, if I’m remembering correctly, identifies men with wooden jewelry and women with crystal jewelry, and if you’re not wearing either you’re nonbinary and use they/them. The other planet apparently uses knots in scarves as a gender identifier, to the point where one character doesn’t recognize a knot and has to be corrected by another when he misgenders someone.

At one point the main character is asked about his ancestry, and he names two “primaries,” and then says for the rest of his genetic mixture the person asking would have to go check his records, so while this is the only detail we get about childbearing (and there are no children whatsoever in the book) one can assume that giving birth is no longer something that half the population is expected to do.

You may already see my problem. In this book, use of “he” or “she” tells you absolutely nothing about what someone looks like, and not only that, there’s not any correlation between gender and societal role– the Emperor and at least one general are both “she,” for example, and suddenly “not gender-exclusive” makes more sense than “bisexual” might have, because in this world there’s no connection at all, as far as I can tell, between someone’s body and their gender. So this book is getting a lot of attention for gay representation, but there’s actually nothing to let us know that Kiem and Jainan both have penises, or more to the point, since they both identify as male, that there’s any concept of homosexuality that can be mapped to this world in the first place. In fact, having read the book, I think there are a couple of hints that Jainan has XX chromosomes and a body we’d call a woman’s; he is described several times as smaller than Kiem, has long hair, and– more telling– there is a scene where he takes his shirt off in front of Kiem and Kiem turns around to give him privacy, which seems slightly unlikely if there aren’t female-presenting breasts under that shirt.

The book explicitly talks about their skin color– both are shades of brown, with one darker than the other– and Jainan’s long hair comes up a couple of times, but other than that they are given no physical description at all. They actually have sex at one point in the book without the author giving any details about what they’re actually doing. I don’t expect this book, which is YA, to flirt with being porn or anything like that, but … come on.

For that matter, if you’re going to posit a world where physical characteristics don’t tell you anything about a person’s gender, relegating those to external pieces of jewelry or knots in scarves, for crying out loud, and where different genders don’t have any particular societal role … why are we still bothering in the first place? What, precisely, makes Kiem a “he” other than that the author is calling him that? What does “he” or “she” even mean in this world? Can Kiem change jewelry tomorrow and expect people to start calling him “she”? Is there any societal weight at all to one’s choice of gender? How does nonbinary even make sense as an option when your gender doesn’t actually, like, do anything? In our society, saying that you don’t buy into the male/female dichotomy has some implications. In a world where gender is meaningless, what does nonbinary mean?

How do you tell someone’s gender if that person is naked?

Do people with uteruses still get pregnant? Clearly this one character has tons of different contributors to his genetic makeup, but he’s royalty; is that true for commoners as well? If we’re still doing political marriages, does viability for producing offspring matter, or can any two people create a child?

The book gets into none of this, which I find immensely frustrating, because frankly the implications of this simple decision about how gender works are the single most interesting thing about the book to me. And that’s a damn shame, because if you’re going to make fiddling with gender a part of your worldbuilding, you owe it to your readers to explore the implications of what you’ve decided to do. And that’s before we have to carefully avoid giving any useful description of anyone in the book– it goes without saying that no one ever has facial hair, for example– so that your setup can even work.

I don’t think it’s asking for much to expect authors to put as much thought into their worldbuilding as the reader will within the first fifteen pages. I dunno; this piece is 1800 words or so long so maybe I’m displaying some sort of hangup on my part, but c’mon. Do better.