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Alicorn 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: 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".