Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

A Glossary of Hazardous Cooties in Science Fiction

Monday, October 21st, 2013

This post was originally published at Book View Cafe.

It’s dangerous out there, people. There are risks involved in reading the wrong sorts of science fiction, and while advice and counsel is available around the web, the time has come for a concise glossary of the most common debilitating parasitic memes, most frequently referred to as “cooties,” that are known to infect vulnerable readers. Knowledge is power. As a writer who has risked association with ALL listed varieties, I felt compelled to share my observations and experiences.

This book is known to contain the following varieties of cooties: girl, hard SF, military SF, male protagonist. Read with caution!

This book is known to contain the following varieties of cooties: girl, hard SF, military SF, male protagonist. Read with caution!

Found in: science fiction written by girls
Who’s at risk? boys
What happens if you catch them: possible loss of manhood generally through exposure to romance and excessive clothing descriptions; moderate risk to self-image in cases where female characters are not competing to win attention of male characters; possible nausea when female reproductive issues (non-coital varieties) are involved; in general, subversion by the alien female.

Found in: science fiction that attempts to extrapolate from known science
Who’s at risk? girls
What happens if you catch them: possible loss of womanhood with severe risk of personality collapsing into cardboard, resulting in long-term loss of emotional empathy. Occasionally associated with right-wing conversions.

Found in: science fiction about military service; rarely: found in association with Hard SF cooties.
Who’s at risk? girls and boys
What happens if you catch them: possible loss of empathy for those outside your unit, frequent development of might-makes-right approach to problem solving; reduction of color vision—in worst cases even shades of gray are lost.

Found in: science fiction with a female protagonist
Who’s at risk? boys
What happens if you catch them: Little-to-no risk has been found with the “kick ass” variety of female-protagonist cooties. For risks of other varieties, refer to the listing for girl cooties.

Found in: science fiction with a male protagonist
Who’s at risk? girls
What happens if you catch them: effects vary greatly. Some male-protagonist cooties are benign, some induce a severe allergic reaction. The most potent induce a hallucinogenic state wherein the victim comes to feel empathy for the alien other.

Warning: some science fiction is known to be infected with multiple species of cooties and should be considered especially hazardous. Read with caution!

A Writer’s Internal Dialog

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

DAY 1: You really need to write a new short story. Don’t get anxious about it. It’s not going to be that hard. It’s the second in a series, after all. You know the protagonist and the story world. So just figure out a plot!

Yeah, okay. But I think today I should work on the website.

DAY 2: You really need to do some work on that story.

Okay, okay! I’ll do some brainstorming. Some random writing. That’s good, right? There! That’s like a thousand words, with ideas and everything! Good enough, for now.

You only spent an hour on it.

And your point is?

DAY 3: Go do some more brainstorming on the story. Develop those ideas you had yesterday. They’re good!

They are good. And random writing isn’t too hard. I can crank up my word count easily this way. Hold on, I need to check my email. Hey, I wonder if anybody responded to my post on facebook? Hey look, I’ve done two hundred words already. Only eight hundred to go. Why don’t more people talk to me on twitter? I am too working. How about if I set an alarm to go off ten minutes from now, and I won’t stop writing for those ten minutes, no matter what stupid ideas I type! Huh? You want me do another ten minutes?

DAY 4: Okay. You’ve got a lot of useful ideas from your brainstorming sessions. Now you need to put together a coherent backstory, so you understand what’s going on.

Can I write by hand?

Whatever works.

Okay, I’m writing by hand.

Are you done already?

DAY 5: That was a pretty good job bringing together the back story, and you’ve got a good grasp of the plot. But there aren’t any scenes. Let’s just see what happens if you try Write-or–


Write-or-Die. It doesn’t matter what you write, just get some words down.

Okay, okay! There! Thirteen hundred words – though they’re not the right words.

Better than nothing.

DAY 6: Time for you to start the actual story.

I tried. I’m not getting anywhere.

Try this: break it down. Write out a goal, a theme, a concept, and then a short plot summary.

Uh, okay. Maybe I can do that…

Hey, it’s been a while. What are you doing?

I’m writing the story! As soon as I started on the plot summary, it just happened! I found myself writing the story, with scenes and everything! 2700 words!


They’re not the right words.

Never mind.

DAY 7: Okay, you’ve got all the parts figured out, you’ve got everything you need to pull together a solid draft. Go for it!

I don’t feel like writing today. I AM trying! There. I did the opening. That’s the hardest part, right? And it’s enough for today.

DAY 8: Let’s pretend yesterday didn’t happen. Today you’re going to sit down and make this story real—

Leave me alone! I decided to take my laptop into a different room and now everything’s working. I know what I’m doing. I’m into it…

There! I’m done! A solid draft and it’s good! Whoa … did nine hours just go by?

Congratulations on finishing the draft! Tomorrow, you revise.

Why Science Fiction Short Stories
Are Really Hard to Write

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Your assignment: write a science fiction short story set off Earth, in another time.

Your story should do the following:

(1) Present to the reader an unfamiliar storyworld that is internally consistent and coherent, including an implied past and future.

(2) Present to the reader a specific setting within this storyworld, making sure it includes unfamiliar yet reasonably plausible technology.

(3) Utilize two or three unique and interesting characters. If not human, describe both the general and specific appearance of these characters, as well as their origin and biology. Please avoid caricature! If human, you need only describe your characters’ specific appearance, relying on the reader’s knowledge for general principles. In either case, communicate your characters’ motives and personalities in a manner relevant to the mood and tone of the story.

(4) Develop a fast-paced, action-packed story arc suited to the motives and personalities of your well-developed characters and utilizing the story’s plausible technology as an essential element. Be sure there is an external plot: something must happen. Equally important, include an internal plot: your primary character should have an issue or two to overcome!

(5) Include a theme that adds layers of meaning to your story.

Your assignment should be accomplished in 3000 words or less. Bonus points are awarded for stories achieving levels of “cool,” “awesome,” or “mind-blowing.”

A Paragon of Efficiency

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

1. Sit down at laptop, ready to work.

2. Realize mouse is still upstairs. Go get it.

3. While upstairs, check email on desktop; process some photos; look for a file; realize file is on laptop.

4. Go downstairs to get file from laptop.

5. Realize mouse is still upstairs. Go get it.