Birds & bees and kissing in trees

Supers. Sex. Let’s have the talk.

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a superhero comic book,  ever watched a Marvel movie or a DC-based television show, you must have wondered. How would it work for a speedster f’rex? Or for the invulnerable and super-strong? How do Superman and Lois Lane get it on?

Some books and shows tackle the subject head-on. So to speak. The book So Not A Hero and Jessica Jones season 1 come to mind. Vividly. The Superman question has been the subject of several famous essays, including this one by Larry Niven. It’s even an official TV Tropes entry.

The world in Rough Passages doesn’t have superheroes except in its graphic novels. (Yes, those exist.) But roughly 5-10% of the population over the age of 45 undergo a powerful metamorphosis of some kind, so that “um, how?” question does come up. <nudge-nudge, wink-wink>

In my world….

People develop phenomenal psychic or elemental  talents, others grow fur or scales or tails, and many more deal with altered hair, skin, or eye color. The psychological impact alone can be shattering. Physical changes play critical roles in personal identity, not to mention relationships intimate and social.

And looking at the bigger picture, it’s hard in this world to argue about the validity of transexual identity, f’rex, or whether atttraction to the same sex is natural or no.

Sexuality changes are common enough that everyone knows someone who knows…etc.  Oh, yeah. It isn’t common, but it happens. Go to bed with external plumbing, wake up with internal. Or vice versa. Or BOTH. In working order. Or neither. Does sexual preference change with plumbing or even with minor externals like skin or hair? Does identity? No…or yes, or maybe…depending on the individual.

Just as in our world, those lines can be blurry and cross–and “acceptance” debates have been high profile for far longer than in our history. This is not to say stigma and shame are gone. Or discrimination. Far from it. Visibility doesn’t resolve problems. Sometimes it feeds confrontations between those with conflicting beliefs. (and from conflict arises drama, and drama becomes story. But I digress.)

Other considerations: pornography, the sex trade and fetish communities have all developed quite differently than here. At first glance these things might not look much different from the ones in our world, but rollovers bring whole new options to the sexual smorgasbord.

The upside to all this physical variety is that more people can find willing partners and develop satisfying emotional bonds. There are new horizons to explore. If you can imagine it, someone somewhere is doing it. The downside? Not all those partners are interested in the people interested in them. No one wants to be treated as an object. Sexual violence and its attendant legal definitions, issues of consent, and a number of other tangles are all present, with twists as unique to that world as the changes of rollover itself.

All the variety also means someone somewhere is charging for it and/or recording it too. Lucrative (and some places even legal) employment options abound for those who can act a little and have talents or traits that would require special effects in this world. Those who regenerate in minutes,  those who cannot feel pain, those who can breathe underwater, those who have “animal” parts…there’s an audience for everything.

People change. Human nature doesn’t.

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Yes, But What Do They Eat?

Life in a super-powered world gets complicated. Speculation is an entertaining playground. Yes, there are big questions to answer, but I prefer to ponder issues that would affect people’s daily lives.  What kind of house paint would work for people who exhale acid gasses? How would the fashion industry cater to scales and tails?

Then there are the scientific conundrums. Elena is five feet tall.  Jack tops eight feet. Amy stands twelve foot-plus. They’re all humanoid, and that’s a problem. If they’re all built on the same framework of bone & sinew, supplied by the same nerve impulses and fueled by the same basic digestive system, the math doesn’t work. Physics and biology both shake their heads and say NOPE. Human bodies don’t scale up well.

And yet, no one would need proof that it works. They see it. They live it. So there’s no reason to explain in detail how joints have to be designed to support that much weight, how musculature would attach, etc, etc, zzzzzzz.* It isn’t story fodder. Oh, sure. Someone in Rough Passages America studies it. Someone is doing a thesis. But wouldn’t be a daily challenge to life, and I’m not writing about puzzled, frustrated scientists right now.

Other mundane details make fabulous story elements. Here’s one: how does someone as big as Jack or Amy survive in a modern world? What do they eat? That’s a point I addressed because it would be an unavoidable problem and a potentially funny one.

Research proved it wouldn’t be easy. Vegetarian animals have to spend up to 80% of their time fueling their bodies off nutrient-poor, high fiber food. And think of the elimination. Not a fun way for a civilized sentient to live.  Going with the carnivore model, we can look at tigers (which are roughly Jack’s size) and we find they burn through 8,000+ calories a day of nutrient-dense meat. And that’s on a lifestyle that sees them lounging around doing nothing 14-16 hours a day to conserve energy. Again, not a sustainable way of life in the modern human world.

My big T-series powerhouses have to be able to act and work with normal human soldier. So what do they  eat? Short answer: nothing and everything.

Under average circumstances their bodies are fueled by the same power that made them roll over in the first place.**  They channel and store that energy at a cellular level on instinct. Ah, but when they need more than they can tap from the environment or pull from their body’s reserves? Then their digestive tracts can break down pretty much anything at the molecular level as effectively as a blast furnace. They convert the resulting energy directly to cellular energy or mass as needed.

How?  Well, they don’t know, so I’m not telling. Ha.***  But think of the entertaining aspects. They don’t have to eat a lot normally. But when they do eat, they’ll eat whatever’s handy. A side of raw beef.  Rocks. Driftwood. Newspaper.

Why do I come up with ideas like this? Blame my analytic background. And the opportunities for humor.

That’s the best part of worldbuilding for me. I hope you enjoy the results as well.

Want to see T-series powers in action? I recommend you try my Rough Passsages Tale   Nightmares. Only 99 cents, and available for iBooks, Kobo, Nook and of course Kindle.

There. Mandatory book plug done. Happy reading.


Notes:

*  I can provide examples if challenged. I do the research. Animals as big as Amy have existed throughout history–even bipedal ones.  Cave bears, anyone? So it could work.

**there’s a whole ‘nother post full of authorial hand-waving on that topic.

*** I do have an explanation. It ties into the whole basis for what made the world change back on First Night,  but it gets into the snore-bore explication zone fast. And I steer clear of that quagmire.

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Real slang for an imaginary world

My fantasy world characters toss around a lot of jargon and slang specific to their reality.I love constructing their everyday lingo. I do thousands of hours of language and historical research and write thousands of words in background notes before I settle on the words and phrases my characters use to describe made-up events, issues, and concepts.

And then I don’t explain any of it. Why do I let readers flounder  if I’ve gone to the trouble of constructing origin stories for my slang?  In a word: cruelty. (just kidding!)

I do it because these words are as normal for the characters as TV or cool would be to us. No one I know wastes time explaining how cool means good, or that TV is short for TeleVision. Conversations full of concepts like  rollover and acronyms like DPS can be overwhelming, but they also make the actions and interactions feel real.

I do provide as much context as a scene allows, and I’m not above using the New Guy trope to shoehorn a little background into the narrative. I draw the line at sacrificing flow and rhythm to hammer raw data onto the page.

This is a blog, not a story, so have at it. Here be some slang terms and their straight-up definitions. Like any glossary it’s self referential. Entries use words that are in other entries. Enjoy. And if you have words you think someone in Rough Passages would use, lay ’em on me in the comments.

  • Arsenal: a combat-trained squad of bangers
  • Banger: anyone with a dramatic destructive power. R’s and P’s in the higher power tiers, telekinetics with
  • Burnouts: those who develop powers at puberty rather than middle-age. Few live past 20. Those who do are usually bangers and often end up in law enforcement “special needs” units.
  • Carnie: a rollover with major physical manifestations. See also: geek, pistol.
  • Cherry bomb: female burnout
  • Crow: female middle-aged rollover with threatening powers
  • Dip: from DPS, the abbreviation for Department of Public Safety, the federal bureaucracy responsble for R-factor testing, education, and all other rollover-related issues.
  • Dollie: female rollover with innocuous or attractive powers
  • Early-Onset: the official term for pubescent rollover
  • Flare: a power surge that accompanies a rollover exercising their abilities. Invisible to the eyes of nulls, but an auroral glow can be seen by some rollover types and appears on some visual recording media.
  • Joe/Little Joe:  male rollover with superhuman powers but otherwise normal appearance.
  • Midlife Monsters: obsolete nickname for USMC Mercury Battalion
  • Monster Buff:  fan of all things rollover-related. Many buffs keep extensive lists of rollover variant types they’ve ID’d “in the wild.” They scour public record information for likely rare variants and share data with other buffs. Clubs meet to swap sighting information, plan sighting trips, discuss the faults of the designation system and argue over validity of each others’ IDs.
  • Monster Marines
  • Null: someone with no powers/someone whose R-factor blood test is negative for rollover potential.
  • Pigeon: middle-aged or older female DPS employee.
  • Pistol: someone whose rollover power is more like a disability, likely to suicide
  • Poz: from positive. Someone who tests positive for the blood factor that proves them vulnerable to rollover.
  • Punk: rollover with human appearance and minor powers
  • Pyro: pyrokinetics and anyone else with rollover powers that cause booms
  • Rollover: a metamorphosis that hits some middle-aged people and leaves them with superpowers and/or dramatic physical changes.
  • Roll cool/Roll hot:  Hot rollovers develop their full active abilities in minutes or hours. For the first few years after the phenomenon began occurring, hot rollovers were the only kind anyone knew existed. In recent years cool, slow rollovers are becoming more numerous.
  • Rouster: military personnel charged with assisting the DPS in policing the powered population.
  • Series: official ability designation. First letter indicates primary disruption type, scaled 1-0 with 1 indicating the highest power manifestation, sub-categorized by additional letters within each series.
  • Slag: an insult term for particularly animalistic carnies.
  • Teke: Telekinetic
  • Torpedo: militarized water elemental or anyone with.
  • Whistle bait: 
  • Willie-Pete: a pyro who loses control and self-immolates.

 

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Superpowers = super tricky

Continuing my explanation of the letter-number-letter system that defines superpowers in my Rough Passages fantasy world. Part 1 discussed the primary powers. Onward to the rest of the dirty picture.

II: Power ratings

  • A rating is only meaningful within a power series. There’s no attempt to compare the “power” of, say, a B1 rollover who can see through foot-thick lead walls to the power of an R1 rollover who can measurably move a continent, or a W1 who can create a point-to-point teleportation gate big enough for a truck to drive through.
  • The number is assigned through a comprehensive set of objective tests. Results are compared to collected historical measurements, providing a consistent and impartial result.
  •  1 indicates the strongest manifestation if the designated ability series, a rating of 0 means practically no sign of the ability indicated by the primary series letter can be detected.
  • The change in power between rating tiers is even, but the rollover population distributes unevenly into the space. This, like primary series designations

III: Variant designation

Every power series has an alphabet’s worth of variations, far too many combinations to detail in a simple work like this. Before databases, the catalogues required multiple bindings, like an old encyclopedia set or the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. The early inclusion of additional letters to define powers was a white flag of cataloging surrender by the system’s creators. Here are some of the complexities:

  • Multiple abilities are more the norm than the exception, and some power series show more variation than others.
  • The variants are all series dependent — the same letter means different things connected to different primaries. J stands for “jump” attached to a W teleporter, meaning altitude control, but it means a medium weight restriction when applied to a W telekinetic, and something entirely different when attached to each of the assorted B sensory powers.
  • Each primary variant series has its own letter/number set of deviances, and some of those have variances.
  • Series and variant assignment still relies on subjective observation and human judgment as much as hard data.

 

All in all this a lousy cataloging system, but its limitations stem from its origins. The people who designed it never expected it to be permanent. Picture the poor doctors, police, doctors, firemen and air raid wardens tasked with organizing the thousands–even tens of thousands–of hysterical, confused rollovers on that first, dreadful night in the summer of 1943. Those first responders were working in total ignorance and facing a bewildering array of symptoms. An inspired few created quick-and-dirty rules of thumb to triage their charges as quickly as possible. Accuracy and precision were not priorities.

It worked well enough to be imitated and implemented on a international scale before anyone with more sense could protest. The military and the scientific community adapted the flawed template to suit their needs and stamped it with their own flourishes, and the newborn Department of Public Safety chiseled it into the stone of bureaucracy.

It’s unwieldy, and no one likes it, but unlike the Metric system (adopted by the US in 1969 and finalized in 1976 in this world) no one has come up with anything better yet. Or to be precise hundreds of excellent proposals have been offered up, but none have been effective enough to justify the upheaval and expense of changing now.

People being people, amateur cataloguers keep their eyes peeled for rare rollover types as diligently as any birdwatcher works on an Audubon life list. Trainspotters have nothing on monster buffs.

More on slang like that later. Another time. Remember, if you enjoy it, put a like on it.

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Labeling superpowers: a tricky trick.

Today I roll out the first of two posts about the superpowers system in my fantasy series, The Rough Passages Tales.

Those who might develop special abilities are known poz, for positive R-factor potential. If they “roll over” from potential to active in middle age, the Department of Public Safety assigns their new abilities a letter-number-letter classification. The first letter designates their primary ability, the number gives an idea of their power level relative to others with similar abilities, and the second letter indicates any number of assorted variations or secondary characteristics.

It’s a lousy system, but there are reasons for it persisting despite its flaws. I’ll get to that in a bit. Below you will find a list of the major power classifications developed by the Department of Public Safety.

I: Series Designations:

  • A: not used. This letter is reserved for designating secondary variants. It indicates a pure specimen of a particular primary power. For example: someone classified P1A has pyrokinetic powers in the top power tier, but has no secondary powers (telekinesis or air control are common) and no physical characteristics distinguishing them from non-powered people.
  • B: Perceptive powers like enhanced senses, inexplicable ability to sense specific traits or conditions. The variant letters for this series narrow down the nature of the perception.
  • C: The slang term “carnie” refers to any rollover who exhibits a radical change in physical appearance. Physically deviant individuals who exhibit other powers are assigned to that series, with a variant indicator. Individuals assigned to a primary C-series designation are bascially furry, scaled, or feathered people. (See also: S-series, T series.) This Hazardous Variant tables for C’s runs several hundred pages long.
  • D: Doctor. Individuals who can cure—or cause—disease or injury by laying on of hands or by proximity or any number of other ways laid out in the variant listings for this series. Most of the higher power-class rollovers in this series can heal and harm at will.
  • E: Projective empaths and manipulative telepaths. Not as rare as the general public believes. Sequestered on discovery and treated as deadly threats until certified safe by specialized F-series pyschics.
  • F: F for fortuneteller. Precognition, telepathy, receptive empathy and telepathy, and clairvoyance that isn’t tied to a sensory element—most of the typical psychic powers. Why F? The first psychic identified was a precog, and by then someone had already assigned P, T, and E to more obvious, common, and dangerous powers.
  • G: Gaia. Second-rarest series. If it’s alive, a G-series can affect it in some way. Most G’s do not survive the rollover transformation, falling prey to the overwhelming and distorting effects of their own powers.
  • H: H for hydro. Water elementals.
  • I: not used. (yet) Too easily confused with H or lowercase L
  • J: from jockey. Animal and/or plant control and/or communication
  • K: from kryptonite. A rollover whose power negates other powers. Usually specific to another power series which would be indicated by the variant letter.
  • L: not used yet. See I
  • M: not used. W got assigned first.
  • N: Nature-related powers that don’t fall into any other designation, including air-benders and weather-workers.
  • O: not used yet. Too hard to distinguish from zero.
  • P: Heat and flame elementals without a concurrent earth manifestation. Various manifestations of pyrokinesis.
  • Q: see O.
  • R: Earth-movers, magma-summoners and other stone or seismic-based powers.
  • S: S for superhuman. Enhanced strength, speed, senses, or any combination of the three. Also used as a variant letter for carnies who are also super-strong etc.
  • T: see also carnie. T from troll. Various manifestations of skin/ height/ muscle/ weight/ strength /hormonal changes. Most have enhanced senses, all can boot their strength, speed and regeneration to enhanced levels under stress.
  • U & V: not yet used
  • W: W from weird. Telekinesis and teleportation in a variety of forms from personal and passenger movement or translocation to portal opening and summoning things/people from a distance.
  • Y: Like A, reserved for describing variants
  • Z: Elevated R-factor detected, but no power develops. The rarest of primary designations, only discovered/added after the blood tests for rollover were invented.

Additional letters — or doubled ones– are often assigned for cataloging precision, but they are rarely noted outside official paperwork. (think of the extra 4 digits in a zip code)

DPS staff with personal agendas or quotas to fill can bend definitions like pretzels to justify putting particular power manifestations into designations, and the whole set-up is vulnerable to misuse. Annual scientific conferences hold high-powered discussions about the need to revamp the whole system, but no one has come up with a better one yet.

More on that in the next post (LINK HERE!) along with a primer on power ratings and variant letter designations. For now, that’s a wrap. Don’t forget your coats, and remember to tip your server.