The Harpoon Gun…

With every writing project, long or short, I try to explore some new facet of my craft. That might be wall paper, it might be Voice, it might be a new Theme. With the most recent novel, Fairchild, I was pushing the envelope on what we might call truly Hard Science Fiction.

It is a new novel, in a new universe, one I spun up for a story bundle in which I got invited to participate. (see earlier blogs for more details about the timing and stuff.) The theme of the bundle was Extreme Sports SF.

For me, that meant Dani as an extreme athlete, doing the sorts of crazy stunts that rush junkies do to skirt the edge of death. Things like surfing 30 meter tall waves, or Class Stupid whitewater, or running marathons on Earth’s moon, or BASE jumping.

Things where mistakes mean death, not just embarrassment.

In this particular story, she’s flying a shuttle while also wearing her free-glider, a body suit with a built-in low-grade life-support system and flying squirrel membranes. She’s got air, heating/cooling, and electronics, and expects to be able to live in the suit for days at a time. Her own portable spaceship, if you will. Useful, when your shuttle suddenly dies mid-flight, at low elevation, in the middle of an electrical sand storm.

The situation got me to thinking about long-use space suits. Science Fiction tends to kind of skip over all the bio-break bits. You might see a character eat, if it advances the story, because lots of good things happen between people over food or booze. However, you almost never encounter the rest. (Exception: the gratuitous shower scene in many 80’s and 90’s SF movies, just so the hot, female lead could be seen topless, but I digress.)

At Worldcon this year (after I had delivered Fairchild, mind you), there was a panel on such things, and they listed all the sorts of bio-break things fantasy and SF hand-wave away. And suggested some interesting themes and scenes where you could incorporate them in your next story.

Here’s a thought experiment on personal waste elimination: Tomorrow, keep a running score of all the times you go to the bathroom, from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep. More than you thought, huh?

Now, imagine you spent that entire time in a body suit. You’d have to be “plugged” into at least two different systems to process everything, and those systems would be radically different for boys and girls, due to the nature of the plumbing in front. (We’ll presume the rear system can be generic, for now.) The processing will be the same, but the attachment mechanism would have to be different, and pretty customized for the wearer. And we’re not even talking about the skin layer that absorbs sweat.

Now, let’s go one extra step. Because I could, I wanted to explore a woman having to deal with all the usual crap, plus that time of the month. (This topic required interviewing Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) extensively for timelines and stuff. Hopefully I got it right. I am assuming that since both First Readers are females, they would have corrected me if I didn’t.)

One could presume that in a distant future, there would be a shot a woman could get, or an implant, or something, that would completely suppress her monthly cycle. We’re on the verge of it right now, and every female I’ve asked would be all over it, right up until the point they were ready to start a family. And this is not just a birth-control device, but a “I don’t have to bleed messily for days every month? Sign me up!!!” device.

Sign them all up.

But, as with all things medical, there will be some people for whom it does not work. Most, but not all. Dani is one of the unfortunates. She still has to have a period every month.

How utterly barbaric…

Now, couple that with a life-support body suit. One intended for hostile environments, or outer space. You can’t just take it off, when you reach the point where the egg passes and the uterine lining gets ready to follow it. No, you would have to have a system for handing it.

We discussed a number of options, she and I, from vacuuming, to bidet, to whatever. As the resident expert, she figured that a simple cotton-based tampon would probably be the most effective, most elegant, simplest mechanism for dealing with the mess. But you’re in a sealed environment.

Solution: The Harpoon Gun, as Dani likes to think of it.

You need to add a very small, specialized, air lock-type device to the groin area of the female body suit. The Harpoon Gun gets loaded like a crossbow (or a springbolt, in this particular instance), and locked into the airlock. Normally, I would expect this would be done by the female while lying down on her back, but I’m not trying to design it for the engineers here.

Activation would entail deploying the tampon through the inner airlock, and positioning it correctly internally, while maintain the cord back out through the air seal for manual extraction at a later time. Thus: harpoon gun.

I’m sure it will have a much more boring title, and a variety of trade names, when we get to that point, but Dani’s kind of a goof, and she’s under a tremendous amount of stress, and wondering if she’s going to die on this planet. And she’s got to contemplate using the harpoon gun in the field, which just fills her with unmitigated joy (sarcasm warning).

So when was the last time you encountered the messy, biological bits of your daily life in fiction? When was the last time the bad-ass chick in plate mail had to strip nearly bare in order to deal with a similar situation? When was the last time you included even a thought along those lines? I try to, because it makes my characters more alive for me, making them more human.

For example: Jessica Keller, considering getting more coffee, but realizing that at this point in the day, it will just make her have to go pee, and she’s not in the mood to get up and deal with people or the world.

We are all human (well, you understand). We pee, we eat, we poop. There will be farts in deep space. The gratuitous sex scene in zero-gravity will require an effort to clean up the mess. (And probably a variety of interesting tools.)

We edit out these sorts of things, not (just) because they interrupt the flow of the chase (presumably), but because Americans have a tendency to be extremely squeamish about all things biological or sex-related. You can mow down hookers in your car, or shoot people by the score, but you show one boob and the world might end. And the suggestion that a character might actually pee seems almost pornographic to some people.


Science Fiction is an exploration of what might be, given a set of assumptions about the way the world will change between Point A and Point B. Worlds and cultures change. You can make it more real for your readers if they get to experience the full range of emotions with your characters, and not just the near-failures at the end of Act One and Act Two, nor the climatic final battle. All the little things in the middle.

Extreme Sports athletes still need to fart, you know. Keep that in mind.

On other note, before I forget again: The fourth Jessica Keller novel, Goddess of War, is now available for pre-order on all the usual places. Delivery date is October 11, Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. And I’m already well into book five: Flight of the Blackbird, which will come out sometime in the late spring, I think.

As always, lemme know your thoughts on things. I enjoy the conversation, and usually learn things.

shade and sweet water


West of the Mountains, WA