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The Kindly Ones

Oct. 15th, 2012 | 10:37 am

Crossroad Press has released another of my backlist titles, The Kindly Ones. It’s still one of my favorites, one where I feel I made some breakthroughs as a writer, and I think the world-building is still some of my best.

“Orestes was a cruel world, cold and inhospitable. Its first colonists were castaways from a crash landing, cling to survival through the institution of strict socio political controls. Over the generations life grew somewhat easier, but the code of honor remained. Misdeeds and errors were paid for with blood.

At one time all miscreants were executed. Now a social death is imposed. Every Oresteian city has colony of “ghosts”: ostracized citizens who must survive, somehow, without help from the living.

But galactic civilization is spreading and Orestes is in its path. The old ways are under scrutiny. And though the Oresteian aristocracy will fight for the status quo, they have not reckoned on the power of a thousand ghosts.”

This was always a hard book to write blurbs for or to do a cover — and I very much like what Crossroad did here — because the first person sections, the ones narrated by Trey Maturin, deliberately conceal Maturin’s gender.  (Nor is it revealed in the third person sections, told from the points of view of the other main characters, ex-Peacekeeper Leith Moraghan, her friend and eventual lover Guil ex-Tam’ne, or the holopuppet actor Rehur, which was technically a lot harder to do.)  Baen Books, the original publisher, did a good job with both the cover and the promotional material; the Science Fiction Book Club, who published a hardcover edition, were… less careful.  The first dust jacket confidently declared that Trey was a woman, and the cover art followed suit.  When I complained, I was told that the SFBC staff had just assumed I’d forgotten to say one way or another, and had taken a poll among the staff members who’d read it to come up with the majority opinion.  This was 1987, and somehow asking the author was deemed too difficult.  They did change the dust jacket once the problem was pointed out, but some copies shipped with the original wording.

When I wrote the novel — 25 years ago — not stating Trey’s gender seemed to be the best way to make people think a bit about gender in a book that wasn’t really about gender and sexuality.  The fracture points of Oresteian society are very different, based on their own history and current economic situation; neither gender nor sexuality were contested issues, and that was not the story I wanted to tell.  But after I’d written 40 pages without telling, and without having meant not to say — having written 40 pages in which there was no reason to clarify the speaker’s gender because it was irrelevant to everything Trey was doing and feeling — it seemed worth the effort to continue.  Pretty much everyone who’s talked to me about it has an opinion, some people very strong ones, and I will say this — nobody’s been wrong.

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