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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on The Hero With A Thousand Chances - Less Wrong

63 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 July 2009 04:25AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 July 2009 07:13:34PM 15 points [-]

Ha! I tried doing that, the generator came up female... and I realized that I couldn't make Aerhien a man, and that having two "hers" and "shes" would make the dialogue harder to track.

Sometimes a random number generator only tells you what you already know.

(FYI, I was in an airport at the time, so I decided to close my eyes, look in a random direction, open them, and see what gender the first person I saw was... and even though they were both female, I then realized I had to discard the result.)

Comment author: Alicorn 31 July 2009 07:54:50PM *  0 points [-]

Why couldn't Aerhien have been a man? Were you that committed to the "perfect eyelash" line? Would having a dead spouse be an uncompelling backstory for a male character?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 July 2009 09:14:46PM 12 points [-]

Uh... I have to ask, at this point, if you've ever tried your hand at writing fiction. Some characters are male, some characters are female, some can be either. The hero might have been either-able. Aerhien wasn't. She is the wise female council leader, not the wise male council leader. Galadriel and Elrond are not interchangeable. And besides, she was female in my mind and that's that.

Comment author: kess3r 01 August 2009 03:04:40AM 9 points [-]

What I want to know is if any of them are black.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 August 2009 05:30:59AM 3 points [-]

I honestly haven't the vaguest idea. In the beginning I was visualizing Aerhien as having pointed ears, which made her light-elvish, but I decided against that. Generally I don't give my characters a color unless they need an ethnic background.

Comment author: Tiiba 02 August 2009 06:08:39AM *  7 points [-]

Make her octarine. That would be eminently appropriate.

Comment author: Aurini 02 August 2009 07:19:29AM 6 points [-]

You know when it comes to racism, people say: " I don't care if they're black, white, purple or green"... Ooh hold on now: Purple or Green? You gotta draw the line somewhere! To hell with purple people! - Unless they're suffocating - then help'em. ~Mitch Hedburg

Comment author: Alicorn 31 July 2009 09:20:44PM 4 points [-]

Yes, I have. I guess you just didn't communicate the essential female-ness of Aerhien very effectively (at least to me), because it didn't seem to me like it was very important to what limited character development she got.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2009 10:55:14AM 1 point [-]

I guess you just didn't communicate the essential female-ness of Aerhien very effectively (at least to me), because it didn't seem to me like it was very important to what limited character development she got.

The background story that was alluded to came across quite clearly. Not only did the character emerge sufficiently that a sex change would have felt awkward, it left me grasping for the tantalising details that couldn't quite be fit into the short story format.

Comment author: woozle 01 August 2009 02:16:38PM 5 points [-]

The question of "what gender is", when you strip away the purely anatomical, is a topic of great interest to me.

It seems to me that while Aerhien's gender wasn't essential to the story, there were certain aspects of her personality that hinted at it (and I'm not talking about the eyelashes) -- but I wouldn't go beyond that; if she had been written as male, I don't think I would have sensed any incongruity.

Without further biasing the discussion by mentioning what I think those personality aspects might be, I'm curious to find out what attributes other people thought made her essentially female -- among those who hold this position, that is.

Comment author: lucidfox 30 November 2010 12:04:42PM 1 point [-]

"Essential" in what sense?

Are we arguing about some Platonic "essentials", in that fictional characters "actually exist somewhere"? I believe that the fictional characters were formed in Eliezer's brain as representations of certain archetypes (such as, as he noted, the "wise female council leader") that he felt best represented the characterization he was intending to give them.

It doesn't mean the story wouldn't work if the characters were given different genders or other different characteristics. It means that the author would find it unfitting to his semi-conscious concept of the story and its fictional setting, which is unknown to us except for what's revealed in the text, and is necessarily richer than the text. Or at least, I generously assume that this is what Eliezer was arguing - that "she had to be female" meant "I believe she worked best as female as the representation of my character role concept", not a postulation of some fictional Platonism.

Comment author: eirenicon 31 July 2009 08:18:14PM 2 points [-]

Why couldn't a man dip his perfect eyelashes?

Comment author: Alicorn 31 July 2009 08:21:54PM *  1 point [-]

He could. I just would have been surprised to see it mentioned in a story. It's rarely considered to bear mentioning in a work of fiction if a male character has perfect eyelashes and happens to bat/dip/flutter them, unless this is used as a way to lampshade some stereotypical notion of effeminacy.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 August 2009 04:17:57PM 7 points [-]
Comment author: SilasBarta 01 August 2009 05:55:38PM *  0 points [-]

And for the part of that story that would not sit well with feminists (1) , check out this excerpt :

The Confessor held up a hand. "... Do you know there was a time when nonconsensual sex was illegal?"

Akon wasn't sure whether to smile or grimace. "The Prohibition, right? During the first century pre-Net? I expect everyone was glad to have that law taken off the books. I can't imagine how boring your sex lives must have been up until then - flirting with a woman, teasing her, leading her on, knowing the whole time that you were perfectly safe because she couldn't take matters into her own hands if you went a little too far -"


"Um," Akon said. He was trying not to smile. "I'm trying to visualize what sort of disaster could have been caused by too much nonconsensual sex -"

Interesting discussion follows in the comments.

(1) ETA: Or me, or most people in general.

Comment author: CronoDAS 31 July 2009 08:07:09PM 1 point [-]

My guess is that Aerhien was inspired by a specific character from another story.

Rick Cook's "Wizard's Bane" has Shiara the Silver; that was a neighbor that came to mind when I wrote Aerhien.

Either that, or Eliezer simply liked the name. But, yeah, that's a good question.

Comment author: billswift 08 October 2010 10:57:31AM 0 points [-]

Actually, I was reminded of the immortal empress in Harry Turtledove's novel "Noninterference".

Comment author: [deleted] 02 August 2009 05:13:55AM 0 points [-]

I'm surprised - I hadn't expected that you consulted, then disregarded, the Random Number God.

It's your story, of course - but I note that Charles Stross got away with having multiple female characters and virtually no male characters (other than love interests and cardboard authority figures) in the first few Merchant Princes novels, and inversely for innumerable other authors. Of course, Stross could distinguish his characters by referring to this one or that one as an assassin princess (there are several of those, but the main character is not).

Also, I'm surprised that there have been so many other comments about Aerhien's gender, but not about the hero's - the "perfect eyelashes" line jumped out at me, but not as much as the fact that the "smart guy who figures out what's going on" was a guy.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 August 2009 06:38:17AM 6 points [-]

I hadn't expected that you consulted, then disregarded, the Random Number God.

It's also worth noting that the nameless hero started out male, and Aerhien as female, on account of those having been the applicable genders in the dream - this is a dream-inspired story, my first. I consulted the RNG to try and reassign the hero's gender but discovered almost immediately that it would have been awkward.

The dream originally occurred from the hero's perspective, btw, but from a writer's standpoint it was obvious that the main character couldn't be the hero.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 August 2009 02:07:23PM 0 points [-]

from a writer's standpoint it was obvious that the main character couldn't be the hero.

At least, not without changing the tone of the story to something resembling StarkRavingMad's Boatmurdered updates.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 05:42:38PM 3 points [-]

My girlfriend also says the "perfect eyelashes" line gave her an ick reaction, which made me realize that the phrase is a cliche - associated from textual memory, not visualized. I've edited that line.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 August 2009 05:38:00AM *  2 points [-]

I've written fiction with highly intelligent female characters, thank you. Not published, but written, yes.

(And while we're on the topic, I've written, though not finished, fiction in which the main character is female, the hyperintelligent characters are female, and female characters talk, to each other, about something other than a man, with no lesbian overtones whatsoever between any pair of them. Thank you.)

Comment author: brian_jaress 02 August 2009 09:34:45AM 2 points [-]

Does that make it harder to have them share your ideas? I suspect that irrelevant (to the story) similarities and differences between the characters and the author affect the process, even more than the relevant ones.

It could explain why you rejected the results of random selection. Her purpose was to see your ideas from the outside, and the relevant difference that she didn't share them needed some irrelevant differences to prop it up.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 August 2009 02:03:27PM 0 points [-]

My apologies if my comments seemed accusatory; it's hard to bring up this kind of issue - which I think is fairly important - without sounding confrontational. I should mention that I found this story to be excellent, and I learned a new way of looking at things, that rarest of treats. I just noticed that Jeffreyssai, the ultra-badass Confessor, and the nameless hero were all male, and considered it sufficiently interesting to ask about.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 August 2009 04:51:12PM *  1 point [-]

Jeffreyssai and the Confessor are obtrusive, explicit rationalists - I've already written about that writing problem of mine, which is my own problem as a writer.