For Your Awards Consideration (And also Story Notes for Everquest)

Nebula awards nominations opened yesterday! If you’re a full or associate member of the Science Fiction Writer’s Association of America, you can make nominations. It takes absurdly few nominations to make the ballot: word on the street is many years only around ten nominations is enough. So if any of you people want to nominate one of my stories for a Nebula PLEASE FEEL FREE.

I have a number of eligible stories this year:

  • In a year when Elon Musk was at the Elon Musk-iest he’s ever been, my short story “The Leader Principle” (my take on the classic Heinlein short story “The Man Who Sold The Moon”) was particularly apropos. It came out in the January / February 2020. It’s about a charismatic billionaire who tries to sell the public on going to Mars and about the weird and off-putting way his personal life appeals to his followers’ misogyny.
  • My short story “I Didn’t Buy It” is coming out this month in Asimov’s. It be good short story, but it’s not gonna win any awards, let’s be real. It’s just a fun tale about a woman who falls in love with another woman’s robot.
  • I had two short-shorts published. One “I am here in, some sense, to destroy you” in Daily Science Fiction. This story is pure fever dream that I wrote five years ago as an exercise for an MFA workshop. And another, “One of the less horrible of the many dystopian futures visited by the Time Traveler” appeared in Nature. Neither of those are gonna win awards either!
  • And finally, “Everquest” appeared in October’s issue of Lightspeed. It’s about a boy-appearing person who exclusively plays as a girl-appearing person in a video game, and how he grows up, puts aside the video game, and is miserable! Then magic happens.

I think “Everquest” is the one you should nominate, if you’re gonna nominate one of mine. “The Leader Principle” is a great story, but it just doesn’t have the juice. So I thought I’d also put down some story notes here for Everquest. I’ve only done these features irregularly over the last ten years, but I currently have up story notes for the following stories:

Story Notes

  • “Everquest” was published in Lightspeed #127 (October 2020)
  • Read it
  • Listen to it
  • 5000 words
  • Science Fiction but also maybe Fantasy
  • Rejected twice before selling
  • According to my notes I started it on May 1, 2019 and finished on Feb 1, 2020. God knows what I was doing for all that time! Feels like a long time to write a story
  • Accepted on April 1st, 2020
  • If it’d been rejected that would’ve been my 1715 short story rejection

First Lines

Gopal knew before he booted up the game—a Christmas present from his dad—that his character would be some form of elf or human, because the other races were all ugly, and he didn’t play games to be ugly. And he knew too, although he didn’t say it, that his character would be a girl. He always played girls online, although he’d be ashamed if anyone knew it, precisely because it played into the online belief that most girls in most games were “really” men, fat and acne-ridden, sitting in their underwear, hands down their pants, leering at that wood elf ass in those hot little leather shorts their avatars wore, and “catfishing” dudes online, pretending to be women to get some sick pleasure.

Other Notes

Clearly, the story comes from a very personal place. I played Everquest, which was a first-generation massively multiplayer online RPG, for about four or five years, starting from the day it came out, when I was about 12. After a year or two, I started playing exclusively female characters. From the beginning, I always pretended that I was a girl in real life too. It was never a conscious decision, just something that I did, and it wasn’t something I really even thought about. I guess I possessed shame over it, but really it existed in a wholly separate walled-off part of my life.

I tried in this story to capture that sort of unconscious quality. The main character never thinks, hey maybe I’m trans, and that’s what’s happening. Instead it’s all about feelings. They feel something different in the game. They like that feeling. They’re drawn to it. But they don’t have a name for what it is. Even now, I’m not sure that feeling has a name, or that it’s fully encapsulated by the transgender identity. In my fiction I try in general, often unsuccessfully, to dig beneath the stories that characters tell themselves and get into the loam that nourishes identity. So much of our experience is unconscious or half-felt or repressed, and it’s only in retrospect that we understand much of it (on a sidenote, Proust’s understanding of this is part of the genius behind In Search of Lost Time). But whereas Proust felt that we can only truly live life in retrospect, I don’t agree. I think the first go-round has value too. And I think our stories and our memories don’t fully capture the things we felt on the first go-round.

Other things I tried to capture: I was a phenomenally bad Everquest player. I never got past level 24 despite spending thousands of hours in the game. Everquest was extremely punishing: you lost hours of progress each time you died, and it was possible to lose all your gear too! When I was a kid I don’t think I really understood that it was possible to have strategy and get better at game. I mean I knew that on some level, but I was just so uninterested in ‘getting good’. The whole competitive aspect of games left me cold. Now when I play games, I’m always min-maxing, looking for the best gear, learning new techniques. But this is a relatively recent development for me. Back then I just wanted to immerse myself.

As a result I’d say I was a much worse than average EQ player. A friend of mine in high school got into the game years and years after I did, and he maxed out the level cap in under a year! I was appalled.

Not captured in this story: for some insane reason I played on Everquest’s PVP server, where players could kill each other (which they couldn’t on most other servers). This meant that you’d quite frequently just get ganked by some jerk. I never enjoyed killing other players or even tried to; I just felt like the PVP server had more character than the others.