A ban on Anglo-Saxon character names?

Captain_KirkAs a fan of science fiction for lo these many years, I have long been dismayed at the critique of science fiction that states there are too many Anglo-Saxon characters with Anglo-Saxon names. Why dismayed? Because these critiques are always in English— the Anglo-Saxon language— and reference science fiction in English.

It only stands to reason that the majority of people who read science fiction in English are deeply comfortable with Anglo-Saxon character names. In England it is because most of the people are ethnic Anglo-Saxons. In America, it’s more because Anglo-Saxon names are so common— even though often those Anglo-Saxon names belong to African-American people.

In the days of the pulp science fiction magazines, editors wanted authors to use Anglo-Saxon names for their characters because the reading public identified with such characters. In fact, many of the authors adopted Anglo-Saxon pen names.

But time marched on. After World War Two, when African-Americans and Asian-Americans served their country so well, and many American men had gone overseas to fight and thus become more aware of other parts of the world, change was inevitable. Non-Anglo-Saxon names, and characters, were more accepted by readers.

Many people think of the television series Star Trek (the original series) as having broken a lot of barriers when it came to having a multi-cultural character group. But the captain— very much the main character in that version of Star Trek— was of Anglo-Saxon origin. In fact, of the three main characters of the show there were 2 and 1/2 Americans— Kirk and McCoy were Americans and Spock’s mother, Amanda was also.

The Enterprise did have a variety of other characters and had amazing diversity for the time. But they wisely didn’t expect the average television viewer of the day to accept a non-Anglo-Saxon as a lead character.

But today things are very different. Instead of being plagued by old-fashioned outright prejudice, we have the kind of new-age prejudice that calls Star Wars ‘racist’ because Darth Vader is wicked and he’s black (?). OK, he’s not really black, but he wears a black outfit.

Audiences today would accept an Asian or African or Pacific Islander as a starship captain and identify with the character. But for those people who still have a touch of Anglo-Saxon in their genetic makeup, and who have the misfortune to be ‘white’, there is a little discomfort. When we see someone of a non-Anglo-Saxon background, we wonder if they would judge us harshly because of our evil ancestors. We identify a bit more with characters that might have a bit of Anglo-Saxon blood, and so are ‘evil like us’. And we are comfortable with Anglo-Saxon names that we don’t have to put our tongue on backward to pronounce.

University liberals would probably love to declare a full ban on Anglo-Saxon names and Anglo-Saxon characters. But they would be saying that IN ENGLISH. And as long as we have fiction in English, there will be fiction readers who would like to have Anglo-Saxon characters as part of a happy mix including every current type of human and a double serving of interesting aliens.

See that place up on the top of this blog post where you are invited to rate this blog post with one to five stars? For experimental purposes I’m asking each person who reads this post to give it 1-4 stars. If enough people do it, maybe it will create a black hole or something.

A writer’s cat

Karina and ElberethGuest Post by Karina L. Fabian, author of Mind over All.

Like Nissa, I’m a cat person. For 19 years, we had a calico named Elbereth. My husband named her for the Queen of the Elves because she had pointed ears and attitude. Of course, the reason we got her was because she came into the house one day, uninvited, crawled onto Rob’s chest, and purred while doing the happy claws thing. She may have had attitude, but she also knew whom to schmooze.

Elbie was a military cat, meaning she traveled with us as we moved from state to state for my husband’s Air Force career. She lived in seven states in the course of her lifetime. In Wyoming, she was an indoor-outdoor cat. Despite being declawed in the front, she could still climb trees and scale a six-foot fence. In Colorado, we lived in the prairie, so she had to stay indoors for fear coyotes would get her. In Rhode Island, she was an apartment cat. This past year, she’s lived in two rooms of the house, plus the garage, thanks to a cat-chasing dog and the fact that she was getting incontinent.

She’s dealt with four kids and five dogs. When she was a kitten, she would entice the kids to chase her, even whacking them if they got distracted. However, if she wanted to be left alone, she’d escape to the plant shelves above the doors. We never had plants up there, just space for her. She never got along with the dogs, though she managed a detente with most. Our latest, Marley, however, thought she should be his personal chew toy. More than once, he’d caught her and scared me half to death.

Always, she was a writer’s cat. She used to sit in my lap when I wrote, relax behind the screens when it was chilly, or hang out under the desk when it was warm. I had a pillow just for her on my desk, but when she was spry, she preferred the back of my chair. If I laid down to work on editing paper copies or to write on my laptop, she settled on my chest or my hip, making sure I didn’t move until I had gotten some work done.

She was with me when I started my first novel, Mind Over Mind, and she was with me when I finished that trilogy, Mind Over All. She’s also been there for the intervening books, articles and stories, sometimes watching over me, sometimes nudging me to give her the attention she deserved.

July 17th, I came home early intending to work on the book tour for Mind Over All. Elbie took a few steps toward me and collapsed. She spent the next few hours in my lap, too weak to move while I alternated between typing, petting her and watching her breathe. Finally, with restless motions, she told me she wanted to lie on the floor. She crawled under my desk and about an hour later, died there, in her favorite spot, listening to the sound of the keyboard clicks.

I’ll miss my kitty, but I’m thankful for the time we had together. She was truly a writer’s cat.

Karina L. Fabian, Writing Fiction, Faith and Fun
One Mind – Many Worlds

 Mind Over All

When two planets are set to collide, Deryl must use his psychic powers to stop Armageddon and save his home.

Info Link: http://karinafabian.com/mind-over-all/

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Over-All-Novels-Book-ebook/dp/B011LSN6BE

Video Trailer Link: http://youtu.be/Ca4Mtf9vMeo


Hi! It’s Nissa. I’m really grateful to Karina for contributing a guest post to this blog. I have not read Mind Over All yet, but have read the first book in the series, Mind Over Mind, and enjoyed it. I’ve also loved her Neeta Lyffe Zombie Exterminator series and the DragonEye P.I. series which features Vern, a private eye character similar to Sam Spade, except Vern’s a dragon.

And in case any readers thought Karina’s cat story was a bit too sad, here is a picture of a kitten in a boot.

This kitten's name is Little Stranger since his birth mother abandoned him and he was raised by another mother cat who had 5 tortoiseshell kittens (all girls). Little Stranger is now a grown up tomcat.

This kitten’s name is Little Stranger since his birth mother abandoned him and he was raised by another mother cat who had 5 tortoiseshell kittens (all girls). Little Stranger is now a grown up tomcat.

Tanith Lee (1947-2015), Novelist and Poet

Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee

A rose by any other name
 Would get the blame
 For being what it is –
 The colour of a kiss,
 The shadow of a flame.
 A rose may earn another name,
 So call it love;
 So call it love I will,
 And love is like the sea,
 Which changes constantly,
 And yet is still
 The same.
Poetic excerpt from Tanith Lee’s ‘The Silver Metal Lover’.
I must confess, I was never a Tanith Lee fan. I’ve always been a picky reader and tend to stick to authors I know until I’ve read everything. But I might have become a fan of Tanith’s. I know she was on a list of authors to read if you like Marion Zimmer Bradley (which I do, obsessively), and I’ve recently discovered that she wrote lesbian fiction under the name Esther Garber, even though she wasn’t a lesbian. At one time, when I was not a Christian, I read quite a bit of lesbian fiction. So I could have been a Tanith Lee fan— and perhaps I still will become one, once I start reading her work.
I found out about Tanith Lee’s death from a post at Poet’s United.   According to Rosemary Nissen-Wade, who wrote the post, Tanith Lee was a poet but her work was hard to find online. She has poems scattered throughout her books. I don’t know if Lee ever published a book of her poetry or whether her poems were published in poetry journals or science-fiction/fantasy magazines that publish poems. But I believe that even if her poems were only published embedded in her fiction, she is still a poet.

Tanith Lee’s web page: http://www.tanith-lee.com/

Tanith Lee at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanith_Lee

Tanith Lee obituary at SFWA: https://www.sfwa.org/2015/05/in-memoriam-tanith-lee/

Tanith Lee Tribute at Poet’s United: http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-living-dead_29.html

Writing with Scrivener

scrivenerNot long ago I got a tip from an internet friend that the writing software ‘Scrivener’ was on sale at Amazon.com. Since it was at a good price and for a change I had a bit of money I didn’t absolutely need for survival, I picked it up. And now I have to learn Scrivener.

I have owned writing software before. Some of them turned out to be some would-be writing teacher’s method of teaching you how to write the One Correct Way. Even if such software had worked for me, I doubt I’d want to go through that process for each book I wrote.

Scrivener, as I understand it, has a reputation of being useful to real, published writers, no matter what working methods they happen to be using.

I have been watching YouTube videos that purport to explain how to use Scrivener, and I’ve read an ebook on the subject from Amazon.com. I’m beginning to pick up some ideas on how I can use Scrivener in a way that’s compatible with how my mind works.

I’m doing an experimental short story using Scrivener. Well, I don’t know that it’s going to end up a short story. I’ve heard that once Stephen King sat down to write a short story and ended up writing one of his longer novels. I’ve done something similar. Attempting to write a haiku, what I ended up writing was a sijo (a Korean style of poem, longer than a haiku).

Today’s writing work was mainly setting up some background. The story is set on a colonized planet, and the central group of characters are ‘rigeros’— ‘cowboys’ who herd large lizardish animals called ‘rigords’ (REE-gourds).

Getting the rigords to market at the right time in order to bring back needed supplies to get their people through the coming winter is essential. But when the rigeros discover some women and children abandoned in the dust prairies, they must either leave these innocents to die, or not get their animals to market in time to get supplies to their people before winter.

While the setting for this world is taken from a ‘Terran Empire’ setting I’ve used before, this particular planet and the cultures of the main characters in it are wholly new, and so much needs to be created from scratch.

I’m hoping to keep this story to short-story length— but since I have to do a good bit of worldbuilding for this one story, I kind of suspect that ultimately a novel will result. But I’m hoping to keep THIS story at short-story length (under 7,500 words) or at least novelette/novella length. The full novel can result when I’ve written an additional short story–>novella featuring the same main character dealing with the problems created by solving the problem of the first story.

If there is any interest in this blog post, I might share some of the specifics on how I happen to be using it for my story creation process. I think I’ve got some ideas that even less-weird writers might be able to use.


Ancient Roman References in The Hunger Games

Hunger GamesI didn’t get very far into The Hunger Games before I noticed it: ancient Roman references everywhere! Perhaps not surprising since author Suzanne Collins is said to be ‘Roman Catholic’ (which could mean anything from ‘faithful Catholic’ to ‘angry anti-Catholic’.) Ancient Rome is alive in the minds of Catholics even more so than Evangelicals/Protestants, since we Catholics are more likely to seriously study the Early Church, or to hear it mentioned in homilies or Catholic books. For those of you who didn’t grow up with your nose in a Roman history book, here are some references you may have missed.

Panem – That’s the name of the country in which The Hunger Games takes place. It comes from the Latin for ‘bread’. In one of the books it’s mentioned clearly that the name ‘Panem’ comes from the phrase panem et circenses, meaning ‘bread and circuses’ (‘circuses’ meant sports such as chariot racing and gladiatorial games, not our circuses). I can’t imagine any country naming itself that, can you? Particularly since at the very beginning, the few survivors of whatever-all destroyed the United States probably had very little in the way of panem and no time off to enjoy circenses.

The Capitol – It sounds, the way the Capitol is spoken of in The Hunger Games, as if the whole of Panem was designed to service that one city. It was the same with Rome— it sounds as if the world served one city during the Roman empire. In fact, ‘Rome’ also included the surrounding agricultural land that made the city possible, and in the centuries after the founding of the city, there were Roman citizens in many places other than urban Rome. Logically, the Capitol in The Hunger Games would have included a whole Capitol ‘district’.

Roman Names – The citizens of the Capitol have names taken direct from ancient Rome— Cinna, Seneca Crane, Caesar Flickerman, and Castor and Pollux.

Tesserae – In ancient Rome, tesserae (singular: tessera) were little tags used for various purposes. One type of tesserae served as tickets to public entertainments, including gladiatorial games. In The Hunger Games, tesserae are allotments of food that a young person from the districts can sign up for, if they are willing to put their names in for the Reaping extra times.

The Games – In ancient Rome, their bloodsport, the gladiatorial games, started out as a funeral custom— a wealthy family would order two of their slaves to fight to the death at the funeral of their family member. The blood shed was a sort of replacement for the rejected practice of human sacrifice which earlier cultures practiced at funerals. Romans rejected customs of human sacrifice, and that was one reason they were so appalled by the Druids, who burned human beings alive in large wicker baskets. In The Hunger Games, the Games were a long-term punishment for the rebellious Districts. And just as a successful gladiator got money and fame, the winner of the Hunger Games was promised riches for life.

One thing that is not a parallel with ancient Rome is the matter of religion. Rome kept order by creating a national religion of revering the genius (guiding spirit) of the current Emperor. Christians, who would not burn incense to the emperor, were for that reason condemned to death in the arena— for refusing to be ‘good citizens’.

In The Hunger Games, it seems that the authorities of Panem have achieved what dictators of Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China only dreamed of— the obliteration of all religion. Not even in the Districts is there any trace of hidden people of faith, or even of remembered folk-hymns. It is all bleak, hopeless, and rather impossible to credit— unless you take into account that books that have no religion sell better to the officially-atheist American government-run schools.

For the writer who bothers to learn history, ancient Rome is an excellent source of inspiration for world-building of many kinds. It is a culture distinctively different from our own, and yet it contributed much to our world.

For Christians, knowing about ancient Rome is essential to understanding the world of the New Testament. I remember that reading Robert Graves’ ‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Claudius the God’ helped me a lot in my college level New Testament courses at Fresno Pacific College. I discovered that Graves’ work, though they were novels, were very much based on the existing ancient sources.

After reading some basic books on Rome, the Christian writer might consider learning about the Early Church Fathers. These are the writers of the very earliest preserved Christian materials other than that in scripture. Some of these works, like the Didache, were considered by some to be scripture before the Church defined the official Canon of the New Testament.

In my own vast supply of Works-in-Progress that are not making enough progress, I have one world in which stray Romans went across a barrier between worlds, found themselves trapped, and build an enduring culture. This idea predates my reading of The Hunger Games, but has changed considerably based on ideas I had reading The Hunger Games. (Being contrary, my world is more of a ‘what if the Capitol were mostly in the right?’ take on the whole thing.)

So, what about you? Are there any fictional works inspired by ancient Rome that you really enjoy? Have you ever written a Roman-influenced story?