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Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Interview with Jean Vignaud

At a table in a hole-in-the-wall pub with a good view of the exits

J C Steel: I like the location.

Jean Vignaud: Try not to describe it too well, I would like to come back. My partner tells me you have some questions.

JCS: I heard you like Chinese take-out. How did you come across that?

JV: Take-out is one of my favourite things of this century. When I was born one had to travel to eat differently, and the experience was not always…positive. If you are trying to put the Frenchman at his ease by asking about food, be assured: I am quite relaxed.

JCS: In fact, you’re rolling a cigarette. You only do that when you think I’m going to ask questions you don’t want to answer, but I notice you never smoke them.

JV: Science has discovered many miracles. Among them, unfortunately, that smoking is not good for you. Not something for vampires to be concerned with, but for me, yes.

JCS: So there are some things that you miss about being a vampire?

JV: Ah. The end of the small talk. As the junkie misses his high, there are things I miss, having left the night. Cristina tells me you are fortunate, and have never encountered a vampire. Do you think, once this book publishes, that that happy state will continue?

JCS: I will quote you a great British author, Terry Pratchett: ‘…no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences.’

JV: A wise man.

JCS: I think so. Not a very popular definition of freedom in this day and age, as it happens. What’s your take on consequences and personal responsibility?

JV: I believe that my actions are my own. Who else should I blame? God?

JCS: You’re religious?

JV: I was raised a good Catholic, but according to that religion, vampires have no soul. Therefore, the only judge I need to satisfy is my own conscience.

JCS: Renouncing the chance to live forever sounds like a penance.

JV: …I fear I have not had enough rum to have that talk.

JCS: The first Pirates of the Caribbean. I understand you were an actual pirate in the Caribbean for a time.

JV: Pirates is such a generic term. In this day and age I would wear an expensive suit and gamble with other peoples’ money.

JCS: So you would equate stock-brokers with piracy?

JV: Let us say…in my day, if a man stole your money, the expectation was that you would try to kill him. Today, the expectation is that you elect him.

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Debriefing / *Classified 1Nebula*: Captain Jannat Slainer, Exploration and Development branch

Officer in Charge: Captain, state your identification and rank for the record, please.

Captain Slainer: Jannat Slainer, ID FPA-ExDev 2380567, Scout Captain second class.

OIC: You understand and accept that this briefing, due to the nature of the information, will be classified to Nebula level, and discussion of any facts concerning your latest mission would constitute a level one breach of security resulting in loss of rank and privileges?

Capt. S: I do.

OIC: You and your crew were the initial contact with the humanoid population of Intelligent Life Found, 276/5346, Satellite IV. Per your report, your crew identified widespread biological and sociological anomalies resulting in a temporary withdrawal from the planet surface. Please elaborate in your own words.

Capt. S: There were no Abilities at large on the planet. No latent telepaths, none of the usual borderline empaths working with animals, no reports of people who see the dead or start fires. Given that the incidence of mental Abilities in standard deviations of humanoid is over 30%, we were concerned.

OIC: You also noted widespread presence of personal weaponry on the planet. Your report didn’t indicate that this was a primary concern.

Capt. S: It’s extremely common, in primitive cultures. Often seen as a symbol of sexual prowess.

OIC: Indeed. In any case, you and your crew briefed the contractor hired to…

Capt. S: Get shot at, sir?

OIC: …establish initial tolerance in the population. Yes. What were your impressions of this contractor?

Capt. S: …competent, sir.

OIC: I understand, Captain, that the Cortii are a sensitive subject. However, this briefing is not optional. Your full report, please.

Capt. S: *sighs* They sent a commander. Cortiora Khyria Ilan, of Wildcat Cortia, out of Corina Base. Black hair, green eyes, some scarring visible left cheek, both hands. A palm-width taller than I am, looked as if she weighed a little less. Intelligent, excellent memory, extremely high tolerance for stimulants. A very strong Ability. I’ve never met an IESRO-reg before, but quite possibly she would qualify. They put a double-squad of Interstellar Close Combat Specialists around her, and she looked…amused. She spent most of four days taunting them when she got bored.

OIC: And her interactions with your crew?

Capt. S: Professional. Clearly had to translate some of the questions she needed answering into terms we understood, but did it politely enough. Even though getting her full attention could be…powerful.

OIC: Elaborate.

Capt. S: Every so often, it felt as if she forgot to…hide what she was. Meeting her stare or drawing her attention could freeze any of us in our tracks. I put it down to her Abilities.

OIC: You think she was exerting Ability on you without your consent?

Capt. S: No.

OIC: Very well, Captain. You also attended her debriefing at the end of her mission on the surface. Your impressions of the Cortiora at that point, please.

Capt. S: She’d been severely injured, mentally and physically. She declined medical assistance, but permitted a medical scan as part of the debriefing. Beyond that, she presented as suffering from a severe level of Ability over-exertion.

OIC: You went on record earlier as stating that you believed her to be an Ability of unusual strength. What, in your estimation, would cause that level of injury?

Capt. S: Nothing I would survive meeting, sir. I have no idea. She implied that it had been caused during a meeting with the heads of the religious organisation of the planet. As I reported, this planet apparently has an Ability-backed religion based on Elemental symbolism. They had previously declined to meet with any of our people. The Cortiora reported that she was…invited to participate in a religious ritual that included the use of drugs.

OIC: You hesitated, Captain. Please clarify.

Capt. S: *pause* Bluntly, sir, I believe that they broke her. Somehow.

OIC: And yet you failed to put this observation on-record, Captain.

Capt. S: It has no basis in verifiable fact, sir. Instinct, if you like.

OIC: So your professional opinion is that the Cortiora lied to us during her debriefing.

Capt. S: No, sir. While I don’t doubt, given our relative rankings, that she could lie to me and hide it from me, I had no impression that anything she actually said was in any way untruthful.

OIC: So you were unaware of her official recommendation that the Interspecies Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation should be involved in the planet’s entry negotiations at the earliest opportunity?

Capt. S: I was not aware, sir.

OIC: What are you impressions of that recommendation?

Capt. S: That the Cortiora very likely is IESRO-level, and that she believes that the Abilities she encountered are a serious threat.

OIC: Indeed. Thank you, Captain.

*Notes on file indicate follow-up/urgent, regarding the psychological stability of Captain Jannat Slainer, Interviewing officer believed that at some level he felt obligation to the Cortiian operative.

 

Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation

Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation

What is the Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation?

Perception is strength. ~IESRO doctrine

The Federated planets Alliance definition says that it’s ‘an organisation of allied species focussing on the training and control of certain categories of mentally divergent sentients’.

In actual fact, the Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation, better known in humanoid space as the IESRO, is something more like a Star Chamber for entities gifted with mental Ability.

At the highest level, it’s controlled by the Satai, the most Ability-heavy species in civilised space. Because the Satai out-gun every other known species on a purely mental level, they can’t be lied to, and they can’t be evaded. This gives the IESRO the ability to absolutely guarantee the accuracy and ethics of anyone they register. The Satai took on this role voluntarily; in human terms, they have a species aversion to a lack of order, and they see abuse of mental Abilities as a disturbance in the energies of the universe.

On the opposite side of that, the IESRO is only concerned with Abilities powerful enough to merit their attention. While humanoid populations show an average 31% incidence of individuals with some discernible trace of Ability, one of the highest for any known species, only 0.8% of that demographic falls into a range to be eligible for IESRO registration. Compared to the Artan, where an average 8% of the population carry the genes for Ability but 28% of the entities showing Ability are eligible for registry, most humanoids don’t figure on the IESRO’s scan.

At the most basic level (and the only one the Satai are concerned with) an Ability is IESRO-level if they can interact with Abilities of the other species without having a stroke. The more official wording has it that ‘to be IESRO-eligible, an entity’s Abilities must be of a strength able to survive interaction with other species’. That’s the only criteria. As humans are fond of warning signs, the Federated Planets Alliance government has come up with an elaborate testing and ranking system to help humans with Ability determine how likely IESRO registration is to be fatal to them.

Practically speaking, the IESRO is also one of the highest legal authorities. An IESRO-registered and certified Ability’s reading of a public figure or an accused criminal is guaranteed to be accurate by the IESRO – because a registered Ability whose statement is disputed can be telepathically read at any time by a Satai. Oddly enough, very few public figures or accused criminals in humanoid space actually opt to have their minds read by and IESRO-registered humanoid.

Someone’s about to ask ‘quis custodiet‘, and the answer is that indeed, no-one aside from another Satai can guarantee the honesty of a Satai. However, while as a species they’re demonstrably capable of withholding information, several millennia of evidence indicates that when they do make a statement, it’s invariably been accurate.

While the field of comparative psychology struggles to fully understand and translate what makes other species react the way that they do, study indicates that for a Satai, the only known completely telepathic species, lying as humanoids know it may not be possible for them. While a Satai can understand and explain the concept of saying something that is not factually accurate, actually doing so themselves appears to beyond them on a hard-wired level.

The IESRO show up early on in Wildcat Cortia’s career. No-one’s entirely certain what their interest in the Cortia is, aside from its (very) uncharacteristic proportion of high-level Abilities, but out of the twenty-five riders originally in the unit, eight were IESRO-eligble, and most of them were registered, including Khyria herself.

Social stereotypes and why they need burying

Social stereotypes and why they need burying

Society takes itself so damn seriously. There are such a lot of unwritten rules (see also ‘stereotypes’). Sometimes you just need to wear assless chaps and a suit jacket and walk on your hands for a bit. Do something the bastards don’t agree with, it’s good for society as a whole.

This thought came to mind when someone followed my Twitter feed (I know, awesome, right?).

This particular account was for a women’s self-defence organisation. Very laudable, I fully approve of women learning to kick ass. However, this account had a banner image of this determined-looking young woman with a clenched fist stretched out in front of her, the other one resting up on her cheekbone, and immaculate make-up. The sports bra was a nice touch, too. It was very scary. (No, I’m actually not being sarcastic. Bear with me again – I’m about to explain why it was scary.)

Making a fist is important. Doing it wrong means you go all Clint Eastwood on someone and damage yourself much more than their manly jaw (broken hands are not fun. Believe me). This chick was show-casing the how-not-to of fists.

Stretching your fist out as far as you possibly, possibly can is also a really crappy idea. It’s a really crappy idea because it means you’re off-balance, which means all your mugger has to do is grab your arm and yank, and there you are all spread-eagled on your ass for them.

Having a guard up between your head and incoming, on the other hand, is a great idea. However, if your guard hand, all fisted up, is resting on your cheekbone, it’s fundamentally not going to work. Ever seen those little desk ornaments, where there’s a row of suspended ball-bearings, and you can drop the one on one end down and the ball on the other end flies up and away due to transfer of momentum? Similar principle.

How not to fight

‘Cos everyone fights in their undies…

Basically, this women’s defence group’s set-up made me think of all the reasons that every female fighter I’ve ever trained with has put up with years and decades of being patronised rigid, usually by both genders.

Partner up with a male? “Oh, but I don’t hit women!” (Top favourite response I ever heard on the mat to that bit of chauvinistic crap was “That’s fine, I have no problem hitting men.”.)

Get asked by a friend what you do for fun? “Oh my, but surely you can’t enjoy that very much? I mean, women can’t fight, it’s so…violent!”

Listen to that kind of nonsense for a while, and you must either develop a very fuck-you attitude to social stereotypes (you saw that awesome response I quoted, yes?) or you get discouraged and move back into line, and a stereotype gets propped up a little longer.

“Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.” ~ Sir Terry Pratchett

So yes, that particular Twitter account made me groan and pound my head on my desk a little bit; not because I object to women learning to fight (quite the opposite), but because it propped up every single damn stereotype about female fighters while purporting to train women to be all independent and badass.

A truly great banner image would have been a woman who actually knew how to close her fist, standing as if she meant to do some damage, and wearing a top that wouldn’t result in her flashing someone if it got grabbed sparring. I’d have followed like a shot. Retweeted, even.

INTJ personalities as writers…and characters

INTJ personalities as writers…and characters

The Myers-Briggs INTJ

Variously known as ‘the Masterminds’ or ‘the Architects’, INTJ personalities are the third-rarest personality type in the human population (2.1%), and the rarest type for women (0.9%).

What’s my Myers-Briggs personality type?

Because INTJs value facts and logic above all else, they’re lousy leader’s followers. Tell an INTJ to do something that they deem to be stupid or illogical, or feed them a line of BS, and you lose their interest and respect immediately. They’re also generally heavily introverted (there’s the ‘I’ for you), and when forced into a social situation, loathe pointless small-talk above all other unholy perversions. It tires them, it bores them, and they’d much rather be alone with their thoughts (‘T’) or a good book.

There’s also a strong correlation between a high IQ and INTJ, so chances are your INTJ acquaintance may not be Einstein, but they’re very likely in the 115 IQ points and up segment of the population.

To complete an INTJ’s social alienation, they’re also highly intuitive (‘N’), meaning that from their earliest memories (usually starting around age 2), their brains have been storing bits and snippets of observation, fact, and fiction like a magpie in a silver shop, and anything you say or do will be unconsciously run against all this stored data and meet the ‘J’ (judgement) part of the personality type.

The INTJ writer

…actually, writing meets almost all the criteria for an INTJ to deem it shiny. It’s a highly solitary pursuit, it requires research, it requires attention to detail, and it requires having your ducks in a row.

INTJs are analytical (fine, yes, we could stop at anal) and objective, which means that whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s going to be researched, structured, and probably have a sting in the tail. They may not bother to simplify their thoughts very much, which can lead readers to find their work complex, but by and large, it’s liable to be worth the effort.

INTJ writers include Isaac Asimov, Jane Austen, Stephen Hawking, and Jean-Paul Sartre. My source posits Robert Heinlein as well, which would make me happy since he’s one of my favourite sci-fi writers. I actually loathe Jane Austen with a passion, but I do understand I’m in a minority there.

The INTJ character

Because this type is so rare, and not in the least touchy-feely, a lot of writers either avoid this type altogether or try to write one and fall wide of the mark. INTJ female characters even more so, not least because the norm is not to challenge social stereotypes so far as to discomfort the audience, and a female INTJ needs a knight in shining armour like a fish needs a bicycle.

I put it to you that INTJ characters are worth the effort to research, if you don’t happen to be an INTJ or know any to ask, and I say this because they make great cliché-disruptors for a story-line. They’re not always nice people. They will always do what they think is the most logical thing to do. They will always be somewhere in the background, watching, thinking, and judging. Your basic INTJ, by most standards, is an arsehole. They’re also highly effective, intelligent arseholes who are physically incapable of forgetting and only have a nodding acquaintance with the concept of forgiving.

Your assassin-scout-mage character is a great INTJ fit, as is the sneak-thief or the evil vizier. You may also find the occasional paladin in the bunch, but as a rule INTJs are too pragmatic to make a heroic last stand unless it’s actually going to work. They make fantastic mercenaries, evil geniuses, and lone wolves.

One of the best INTJ-type anti-heroes I ever read was Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of Lymond. He describes (The Game of Kings) himself as being perceived as a mountebank: “Versatility is one of the few human traits which are universally intolerable. You may be good at Greek and good at painting and be popular. You may be good at Greek and good at sport, and be wildly popular. But try all three and you’re a mountebank. Nothing arouses suspicion quicker than genuine, all-round proficiency.”

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