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February 17th, 2014

At Boskone this past weekend (which was, as always, delightful and much too short; I only got to see a tiny number of the people I wanted to see) a couple of events collided in my brain…

One was the panel I was part of on Saturday morning about science fiction set in our own solar system; the other a panel I heard later that day on “Characters and Characterization” that included Steve Miller
(of Liaden series fame).

The point I wanted to make in the first panel was how hard it is for science fiction to communicate the idea of different gravity… few books make me really feel the lighter gravity of Mars or the heavier gravity of some other alien planet.
The point that Steve Miller reminded me was of one of my favorite characters in the Liaden series, Theo Waitley.
Consider this passage from Fledgling; (it is under 250 words, so I can quote it here). The scene is on a large commercial space liner; the point of view is one passenger, Cho, observing the group of professors including Theo’s mother. Theo, who is a awkward 14-year-old, is a part of the group:
The group burst into the corridor ahead of her, their talk filling the space with echoes. Cho took a deep breath in protest of the hubbub, and stood to one side, watching.
The first into the intersection was the halfling, skipping lightly through the change of the gravity field at the lock boundary as if she were born to such things. Behind her, one of the elders tripped, and bounced sharply against the wall. The halfling turned, one hand extended --
"Theo, please don't..." a woman's fine voice said, perfectly audible beneath the elder's loud exclamations. The halfling – Theo – spun deftly on one toe, removing herself from danger as the elder staggered, colliding with the other side of the passage, barely keeping her feet, her lamentations increasing in volume and degree…

[one page later] …Cho glanced aside to discover the ignored halfling – winsome Theo -- amusing herself with the gravity nexus, leaning playfully forward, allowing the field to keep her upright...
"Theo, surely that's not safe!" Chair snapped.
"But I'm not having a problem, Professor Hafley," Theo said, holding her arms out at side, as if gliding on a placid breeze.  "It's like leaning into a wind!"
The thin, young face was almost impish with the joy of her play and it took Cho's best effort not to laugh.
Excerpt From: Fledgling, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
I love this passage on several levels. First of all, the sense of play really contrasts the young teenager with the older professor types. Second, if you know the story, in fact this is a vital plot point — Theo, whose clumsiness was a major plot point up to now, is without realizing it growing into her body, and is actually developing out of her awkward stage into someone who indeed “born to such things”… as we will eventually learn.
But it also succeeds in letting you feel gravity in a way I haven't seen often. (Not, of course, different planetary gravity.)

(added in edit: you can download this book for free from the Baen site here. Beware, it is a gateway drug!)



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