My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Benjanun Sriduangkaew to talk about how the power of War relates to Scale Bright.
My superpower is an intense interest in war.
Strictly on the page, I hasten to add. Recently, I pitched a story idea like so: ‘Deep Ones meet Little Mermaid, told as military fantasy’. I think the editor liked it(?) and seemed pleased that it wasn’t quite like anything else pitched so far. A good thing, yay! On the other hand, I discovered that I might have a problem; usually, one thinks Little Mermaid and the idea of red-haired Ariel tends to come up first thing — not so much, ah, military fantasy. If by remote chance you have read my short stories, you will find war present in many of them, and there is probably a reason most of my SF tends to be read as military.
Even more than love or family, conflict seems to me to be a human constant. I can easily imagine far futures where there is no limit on romantic love, gender expression, or other matters of identity and self. I can – and have! – reimagined mythical figures under the same terms. But ask me to imagine a society without conflict, humanity without war, and I’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything outside of cartoons, and I wouldn’t be able to write something like that without it achieving a cartoonish caricature quality. That’s not to say it is impossible; I’m sure that with extensive consideration this can be done – Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire includes a pacifistic culture (though I understand they end up facing war anyway) – but I would have a beast of a time creating something like that myself, though I hugely look forward to how a pacifistic people adjusts and adapts to the prospect of impending, large-scaled armed conflict where their enemies have no qualms about crushing them, pacifism or not. (I also found the thoughts that went into this culture, the Dhai, fascinating; they have a history of enslavement, and once free of that, they went on to build social mores where ‘every individual had absolute control of their own humanity’ and the worst punishment available is exile, being severed from community).
The closest I came to this idea was writing a culture that makes a collective argument that humanity isn’t destined to expand and wage war; they do this by refusing to expand and conquer, but they have also developed weapons and defense technology to a point where they outpace other cultures on their planet, and a significant portion of their adult population is trained for combat. This is a response to having been almost exterminated once, and they are the opposite of pacifist: they respond to threat or attempted aggression with immediate, genocidal force. Probably not the healthiest way to do it, but they also have considerable power, yet refuse to use it to subjugate and dominate. Not perfect, granted.
To my writing process in general, this interest in armed conflict is extremely helpful! War is a stressful, extraordinary situation, and it tends to force characters into a position where they must be their best or their worst in order to survive. It makes for interesting places to take my characters and my worlds, and I hope it makes for interesting reading as well. It’s a narrative impetus so powerful it might as well be a superpower, and it’s absolutely fantastic for giving me story ideas.
Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes fantasy mythic and contemporary, science fiction space operatic and military, and has a strong appreciation for beautiful bugs. Her short fiction can be found in Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Solaris Rising 3, various Mammoth Books and best of the year collections. She is a 2014 finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
About the book:
Julienne’s aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon. They teach her that there’s more to the city of her birth than meets the eye – that beneath the modern chrome and glass of Hong Kong there are demons, gods, and the seethe of ancient feuds. As a mortal Julienne is to give them wide berth, for unlike her divine aunts she is painfully vulnerable, and choice prey for any demon.
Until one day, she comes across a wounded, bleeding woman no one else can see, and is drawn into an old, old story of love, snake women, and the deathless monk who hunts them.