Consuming Fire UK Cover Reveal + Head On Gender Thoughts

First, hey, look: Here’s the UK cover to The Consuming Fire!

Ooooh, pretty.

Bella Pagan, my Tor UK editor, writes about it here, and specifically does a shoutout to cover designer Lisa Brewster for her work. Which pleases me: Always give credit where credit is due, I say.

Also today, a piece I wrote on writing Lock In and Head On protagonist Chris Shane is up on the Tor/Forge blog, specifically about what it’s like to write a character when you’ve decided that you don’t know their gender, and how the universe of Lock In/Head On has an impact on how its characters think about gender, politically and otherwise. Go check it out.

33 Comments on “Consuming Fire UK Cover Reveal + Head On Gender Thoughts”

  1. Your description, in the Tor article, about gender, goes beyond what you said in your book tour in support of “Lock In” (Hi, Brookline Booksmith). I think that’s because you’re talking more about gender in a community where gender need not be significant. Some theories, for example, emphasize power so that the dominant (in our society, often those who identify as male) dictates how the weaker (in our society, often those who identify as female), and that a struggle exists over that power between these “haves” and “have nots.” (Your references to the fact that gender issues need not be bipolar captures, I think, an opportunity for a larger discussion.)

    So your piece brings in perhaps what will become the central issue in stories about Chris, that of gender; you’re sneaky enough that you’ve investigated complicated topics before, whether of identity or of mercy, in the second and third books in the first arc of the “Old Man’s War” series.

    This could be cool. Writers such as Joanna Russ and Roger Zelazny, among many others, have looked at the fluidity of gender in the context of a bipolar context. So what will people do in that community where others like Chris commune? Will those who identify as men fall back on our society’s traditional gender arrangement, investing power in men? Will the opposite be true for those who identify as women? Or (and this is my guess about where you are heading), what happens in a realm whether gender can be distinct and historical, like man/woman, or nonexistent. Others have done this before; so, what do you have in mind for us?

  2. I don’t have much of an opinion as to my gender, and people gender me differently based on how they read me, and I am fine with this. I thought it would be annoying, but actually it’s sorta fun, and it also shapes my understanding of how I relate to specific people a bit sometimes.

    I am sad to report that I was originally confused because my brain thinks “Chris” is an unambiguously-male name, even though I have known at least one female “Chris”. (But my brain’s inability to process gender reliably is sort of memeworthy among people who know me, so.)

  3. OK, not sure why this question popped into my head, but what the heck: English is one of the least gendered languages on the planet. How do the foreign language translations maintain Chris’ gender neutrality? I imagine it must be harder, if not impossible to do?

  4. It is indeed something that comes up. We basically inform the translator that Chris’ gender is not specified and then more or less say “okay, have fun!”

  5. Ignoring the content of this post entirely to say that ‘Bella Pagan’ is an awesome name and sounds like the protagonist of a great adventure novel.

  6. Other people have probably said this before, in better ways, but…
    The fact that, at least in Lock in, Chris does not experience misogyny, coupled with the fact that the setting isn’t THAT different from the real wold, makes it hard for me to buy into the no-gender/unknown gender thing. Not experiencing misogyny is male privilege, so Chris reads as a guy.

    I am here for having that reading subverted or muddled in Head On though!

  7. @Nanani, I think you’re oversimplifying. Lock In‘s society has had about 20 years to cope with the idea that people–many more people proportionally than in our society–come across as un- or ambiguously-gendered. Also, y’know, extrapolating a future from the present, one could take the optimistic view that the trend away from misogyny will continue. Also also, Chris doesn’t present as either male or female, so is treated as “default”–which by definition precludes misogyny. (The fact that “default” equates in your commentary to “male” is kinda on you, not on Chris.)

  8. Sarah Caudwell wrote four very amusing murder mysteries in which the gender of the brilliant detective, Professor Hilary Tamar, is never revealed. As you know, this involved some pretty fancy footwork.

  9. If I could, I’d write a 400 page book just to entice a really great artist to create a cover for it! (Of course the contents of my book too would be totally awesome!)

  10. I think there’s likely a big difference in the gender assumptions of those of us who read the books as print vs. those who come to it via audiobook. I imagine that hearing it narrated tends to lead one to assume the character has the narrator’s gender.

  11. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

    [Stopped. Folks, the Head On commercial joke is SUPER OLD by now — JS]

    And dude — two days? Some of us work for a living.

  12. “I am sad to report that I was originally confused because my brain thinks “Chris” is an unambiguously-male name, even though I have known at least one female “Chris”. (But my brain’s inability to process gender reliably is sort of memeworthy among people who know me, so.)”

    I kind of concur since I don’t know a lot of ladies going by Chris, and also the BMX biking kinda coded as male. So I didn’t notice the gender neutralness at first then had to go back and check. If Chris had been named Jamie or Taylor or something really neutral, maybe I might have. But I think it’s cool. Chris has been threeping since age three, so of course gender isn’t an issue for them. (I do wonder on the racial issues though. Doesn’t seem to come up for Chris like it does for Marcus, but folks should know what race Chris is likely to be.) I think the more gendered Haden’s folks (well, not Cassandra!) probably grew up with gender as a factor in their lives before they got sick, so it might be more of a thing for them.

    This is A Thing that concerns me about anyone who wants to turn this world into a film, though. Would any film company be okay with keeping Chris gender neutral, and if so, how would they do it? I’d love it if the entire film was shot Hardcore Henry style (uh, sorry for bringing that movie up but it’s an example) like it reads in the book, that’s about the only way I could think of pulling it off. I don’t know if any movie company would want to do that though. It’s probably hard to cast a “star” that way too.

  13. @jenfullmoon Chris’s father is identified as black in the story, so Chris is at least mixed race.

  14. In mandarin Chinese, the third person pronoun is “ta” and is gender neutral. Don’t think there is a gender specific pronoun.

    On the other hand, words for family members can be more gender specific than english. The word grandmother doesn’t exist. It is 2 different words, one for mothers mother, and another for fathers mother.

    Language is weird.

  15. I have to say, I prefer the UK covers.

    As for Chris’ gender, I would love to have a female friend read the book and tell me how she reads Chris. When I read Lock In, it was before I knew you specifically made the character non gendered. I read Chris as male. Sadly, non of my female friends or relatives read Scalzi. Many of my male friends do, (After I insisted they all read Redshirts.) and they all assumed Chris to be male as well.

  16. Right, I was just wondering if Chris gets affected by being black in the same ways that Marcus does, or if it’s something that just gets “ignored” when you’re threeping.

  17. Presumably in the context of Lock In, any decision to keep Chris’s gender unknown to the general public would have been taken by their parents since they were a celebrity as a child? Which makes it an even more interesting decision. (Alternatively, they didn’t keep it secret, and everyone in-universe knows it – or at least their assigned gender as a child, since adult Chris may identify differently -leaving the reader more ignorant than all the characters in the book. )

  18. I suspect race also gets ignored when ‘threeping’. I read Chris as male, and I think it’s because the book’s author, ie, Scalzi, is male. To me, even his women can sometimes have a male ‘tone’ to them, so a character that isn’t specifically gendered I would tend to read as male. With Anne Leckie’s books – who also writes non-gendered – I experienced her characters more as neutral.

  19. @susan5660: In the Ancillary Justice books, I found myself reading most of the characters, including Breq and Anaander Miaanai, as female (probably just because Leckie uses female pronouns) but Seivarden as male. I think there was a direct hint that Seivarden was male at some point, though I may be misremembering; but Seivarden also often acts in a manner that codes as male in our culture–there was a sort of sulky macho petulance there.

    A similar pattern continued through the rest of the books–I’d think of most of the characters as women except for one or two who seemed to be male. But those judgments were pretty arbitrary and could have been completely wrong.

  20. Occasionally the Ancillary Justice characters are shown speaking languages with overt gender markers; in those passages, Seivarden is coded male. (Though Breq admits to being bad at reading gender.)

    Preserving/concealing (ethnic or gender) identity while threeping is a tricky concept. Code-switching is a thing even in today’s society–lots of people talk or dress one way at home and quite differently at work. With a threep, there could be nothing but behavior to judge on, so code-switching would be even more effective. In a threep, nobody knows you’re a dog.

    Or not. I’d bet a lot of threep models, or customizations, are specifically popular among certain demographics. IIRC there were a gang of hoodlums with pimped-out threeps in Lock In; surely people would “dress” to fit their crowd just as surely as they do in our society.

  21. I wonder if Chris as a male name vs a female name is regional; I’m in NJ, and everyone I knew named Chris growing up (80s/90s) was a female – usually short for Christine; more rarely Christina.

    I read Chris Shane as male originally (I’m a cis female), because the author is male. This is typical for me though; if a character’s gender/name is ambiguous, I tend to default them to the same gender as the author. Listening to the ebook versions by Amber & Wil, I easily switch my mental picture of Chris’s gender to match the narrator.

  22. @Logophage: And Anaander Mianaai quite likely has no fixed biological sex because she has many bodies–whereas any Breq has is just an accident of the ancillary she happened to be left with.

    When reading Lock In I read Chris as male, even though most of the Chrises I’ve known have been women, probably for no deeper reason that because I’m male and John Scalzi is male.

  23. Here’s a thought – would the gender of a Hadens’/locked in person matter less if they were stricken before the onset of puberty? Since they never really confront their sexuality (or do they?) how much does the whole question of gender really matter?

    Back when I was a boy, I knew I was male, but until I started noticing girls, it didn’t matter much. Does it matter to a locked-in-as-a-juvenile?

  24. Dana, working from your thought, what about someone who suffered from Hadens before reaching a level of cognitive development where the child hasn’t yet grasped the concept of sexuality?

  25. The bit about some people deciding Chris’ gender reminded me of some friends of mine having the exact same reaction to an anime I wanted to show them called “Kino’s Journey,” which often sees comparisons to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince.” The gender of the main character, Kino, is deliberately ambiguous. After watching the first episode , I found that all my female friends assumed Kino was female, and all my male friends assumed Kino was male. That made me smile.

    A few notes about this that someone might find interesting. First, I am normally someone who prefers to watch dubbed anime (that’s a whole different long discussion that I won’t get into). But in this case I found that the English dub ruined the gender ambiguity aspect of it because the English voice actor came across as very obviously female to me, while the Japanese actor remained ambiguous.

    The other thing is that I understand that *written* Japanese isn’t gendered, but there is gendered *pronunciation* of words. In fact, a friend of mine was taking some beginner classes in Japanese, and at one point some Japanese girls laughed at him a bit because he was apparently using traditionally female pronunciations of words. My understanding is that in “Kino’s Journey,” Kino uses male speech patterns.

    I’d highly recommend “Kino’s Journey” to pretty much anyone, by the way. The original 2003 show is a truly excellent little 13-episode series. I understand that there is a new 2017 series out that I didn’t know about until I Googled it just now. I’ll have to check it out!

  26. I assume everyone knows Chris’s gender except the readers because of celebrity publicity. I think “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” at birth, even if later on things became more ambiguous.

  27. @Matthew

    FYI, Anaander is using clones of the same body, if memory serves.

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