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Future, Fantasy, and Fashion

Holy shit, Riker. Wow.

Holy shit, Riker. Wow.

For Christmas, my wife got me the DVD set of every Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ever made. This was both unwise of her (she is going to be watching a lot of Star Trek now) and extremely kind (it’s amazing how much I miss that show). It has also made me keenly aware of how the show began airing in 1987, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the clothing worn by its civilians. Whether it’s Wesley’s ridiculous sweaters (seriously, kid, why do you constantly dress like a coffee-shop dwelling Maine hipster?) or whatever the hell thing Riker decides to wear off duty, everybody looks the stupidest they possibly could in clothing made from fabric. You suddenly understand why anyone in their right mind would want to join Starfleet – their primary color unitards are actually quite fetching by comparison.

But it’s the Future! Fashion Changes!

This is the common riposte here. In the 24th century, fashion has changed significantly and, therefore, the things they wear look strange and silly to us. The suit and tie, for instance, would likely look silly to people of the 18th century, western dress seems foolish to eastern eyes, and so on and so forth. Fair enough.

We should not and cannot forget, though, that works of science fiction and fantasy exist for and are created by modern society. It therefore follows that our modern cultural concepts of fashion have great influence, even if only subconsciously, on the clothing our characters are depicted as wearing. Even when we consciously deviate from it, we are deviating for a purpose. In Star Trek, it seemed as though the choice was made to make everybody’s clothing look comfortable and functional – a nod to the newfound utopian society that the Federation stands for, wherein social class and, therefore, status-as-image is a thing of the antiquated past.

Tyvian Reldamar would rock this collar. He would rock it so hard, I tell you.

Tyvian Reldamar would rock this collar. He would rock it so hard, I tell you.

Likewise, if I were to tell you that the fashions of my own fantasy setting, Alandar, are inspired by the clothing of the 17th-19th centuries in Europe, that is an admission that I’m discussing a society where status is deeply ingrained in clothing almost to the point of absurdity. Elaborate dress is important here on a variety of levels, and if I’m going to do the setting justice, I need to have some concept of what those levels are and how they are conveyed.

This, incidentally, is difficult work for someone not inherently concerned with fashion or clothing, such as myself. Indeed, I would say that I am far from alone in this regard: many men, and many of them geeks like myself, show only cursory awareness of fashionable trends, what they mean, how they are important, or why we should pay attention to them. My sense of style is primarily motivated by what I feel comfortable in (and what my job requires of me), and I give only scant attention to others in this regard. Tyvian, though, is quite the opposite – he judges people by their clothing regularly and incisively, to the point where he can judge a man’s prospects by the stitching in his doublet. Writing him in his world requires an attention to detail I typically overlook in my daily life.

Futuristic? Check. Badass? Check.

Futuristic? Check. Badass? Check.

As much as I might be alienated from the fashion world, I have to admit it has great power over how we see and understand others, even if we don’t comprehend or recognize that power ourselves. Accordingly, when creating fantastic or futuristic worlds, we need to be aware of two things: how fashion is understood in the world we’ve created AND how the real world will interpret that fashion. Let’s face it, it is difficult to take any of the civilians in Star Trek TNG seriously; they look like bozos. You meet a guy who’s supposed to be a gritty, self-reliant mercenary captain and he’s dressed like the owner of your local yoga studio, ‘intimidating’ is not the mood that will be expressed. It doesn’t matter how much you want to talk about ‘fashions changing’ and ‘their world isn’t like that’ – the effect of sartorial aesthetics is beyond your power to overcome, dear storyteller.

Even if we don’t care how we dress ourselves, we can’t ignore our characters own fashion decisions. At least not always. Clothing tells stories every bit as much as words do.

Writing Updates!

wizard_bookAs an addendum to my last post this week, which referred to a couple acceptances at various magazines, let me give you good folks a few specifics, more or less. Working under the assumption you care one way or another about my writing career, of course.

Update #1

My story “The Great Work of Meister VanHocht,” accepted by Stupefying Stories a couple months back, is nearing publication, potentially as early as September.

Update #2

My story “Dreamflight of the Katatha”, accepted in Deepwood Publishing’s Ways of Magic anthology, is slated to get edited sometime in September, as well. Hopefully the book will be out a month or two after that. This story deals with the world of Nyxos, which I am in the process of developing for a potential novel and more short stories in the future.

Update #3

I landed my short story “Partly Petrified” – a Tyvian Reldamar tale involving a heist gone wrong and a haywire wand of petrification – for publication by Sword and Laser in their upcoming anthology. Also good stuff.

Update #4

Now for the really big news: I landed my story “Mercy, Killer” with Analog Science Fiction and Fact just last week. For those of you who don’t know, Analog is one of the oldest and most prestigious short fiction markets for scifi in the business. Stared in the 1930s as Astounding SF, Analog has discovered folks like Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Anne McCaffrey, and Frank Herbert. They’ve won a mountain of Hugos over the years and the Campbell Award is named after their original editor. Getting a story in there is tough and I’m immensely pleased that I pulled it off. It means a lot. It means that, on some level, I do in fact know what I’m doing.

It may be a few months before any of this stuff actually makes print, but fear not – I will gladly be tooting my own horn about the whole thing when it happens.

On top of all that, I still have two novels (The Oldest Trick and The Rubric of All Things) under consideration by Harper Voyager, a host of short stories submitted to various markets, large and small, and I’m now about 2/3s of the way through a new novel, Lych, about a Russian lych hiding out in Boston’s South End and how a nosy medical student blows his cover and causes untold mayhem. Anyway, things proceed well, and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. There is, of course, nothing else I would rather do.