It is women’s history month, and the zeitgeist eye is turned this year toward women in tech. The past year has been amazing for this movement, and deeply satisfying for me as a video game developer who has been waiting for this kind of awakening for a very long time. That’s what it feels like: the world waking up to the vast untapped potential in half of our species. And yet, as I listen, I find myself wishing it could all be a little less polite.

The efforts to make environments welcoming and inclusive and to create safe spaces are wonderful and needed. They are acts of peace and beauty. But they are one half of the equation, and somehow the half that gets all the attention, because it is nice, because it is well behaved, because it conforms to our pleasant ideas of how good girls should act. It tells us that we can keep our ideas of polite and neatly dressed ladies and still pursue the dream of women engineers, women game designers, women programmers. And maybe in an ideal world that would be true. I want it to be true, and I believe that someday it will be. But I also believe we are doing our young people a disservice if we tell them that the world has to be welcoming in order for them to succeed.

Even if the office environment welcomes women, the technology will not, because technology isn’t welcoming. It might appear so to consumers, but that is because it has been hammered into shape, coaxed into decent behavior, had as many edges sanded off as we can afford to sand.

I was fortunate to be exposed to computers from a very young age. I can’t actually remember when I first made something using one. But I do remember when it got hard. I was fifteen and making webpages so that my online friends and I could tell stories in a fantasy world. When I made those pages — at that time a very technical thing — it wasn’t because someone made HTML a safe space for me. It was because I wanted that website so damn bad that I was willing to put up with all manner of nonsense to get it. And that, by and large, is how technology works. It is not easy. It is not friendly. It is not welcoming. It’s clunky and difficult and imperfect and beautiful. It is command line, not start button; it says break me.

If you get frustrated and give up because you are not welcomed, you are never going to make it. And so this is what I would tell my brilliant young colleagues: you are so, so welcome to this strange world of power and mechanism. It is going to resist you. But that resistance is what will make victory sweeter. It is what will make cooperation more powerful. It is why we need your minds and your hearts. Come on in, and be ready to fight.

This readiness and willingness to fight for what you believe in is more complex than we like to consider, and that might be why we so hesitate to spotlight it. It goes deeper into our perception of what constitutes good behavior.

My parents gave me many gifts, but the gift from my father that I treasure most is skepticism. He taught me to question everything — as much with his own cranky behavior as through deliberate instruction (sorry, Dad). He, like Carl Sagan, believed that it was his civic duty to question, to challenge. I have come to regard this attitude as not only practically helpful in my life but as a thing of extraordinary beauty: a notion that we as human beings can hold the world to a higher standard. That it is in fact our duty to do so, it is what we do as a species, the thing that — if anything can — defines us as more than animal. We question. We build. We change our world.

And so the will to fight begins, or dies, very young. It dies when you tell your little girl to be quiet and well-behaved. It dies when pretty and sweet are how we praise and opinionated is how we chastise. It dies when a girl is called bratty and argumentative where a boy is brave and strong-willed. It dies when you compliment nice and condemn difficult.

Our girls need to be difficult because the world is going to be difficult for them. The world is difficult for all of us — that’s part of what makes it amazing. Technology can be especially difficult. I wouldn’t be in it if it wasn’t. In education today, grit and tenacity are two words you hear often, values we talk about instilling in our young people as predictors of success in life. Cultivating these values exists in direct opposition to creating a padded environment that always welcomes, always invites, always asks.

I would be one of the first to tell you that the often toxic Silicon Valley world needs to become more welcoming to women if it wants to survive. It needs to do that just to achieve a certain basic bar of decency and to continue to be a place where I want to work. But the work of bringing young women into technology only begins there. And it disturbs me to hear us so often beating that drum of inclusiveness while we simultaneously build a world that puts children in racing lanes and pushes them to perform, but only in a certain way. Excel, we say, but stay in your lane. Achieve, but only within this approved set of activities. Check these boxes to go to college. Pass this test. Play this instrument.

We can get young women into STEM careers. We can inspire and encourage them. This is a fantastic thing. We can make workplaces more civil and inclusive. This would materially make my life better. But if we don’t change the on-rails experience of education, if we don’t foment rebellion in the hearts of our young women, how can we say we’re preparing them for the world? When they go from one rigid institution into another, when will they learn to innovate? When will they learn to disrupt?

Parents, please grow your girls to be difficult. Grow them to challenge. Grow them to fight.

We need them.

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Crossing the Streams: win a bunch of books!

by Erin on February 19, 2014

Hi folks. Well, I think I’ve set an official record for gaps between blog posts, but if you’re still there, look for that to change Real Soon Now. The game, she is afoot, you might say.

I have a couple of short stories recently escaped into the world: “The Glittering Boy from Norieda” is in By Faerie Light from Broken Eye Books, and “Stormrise” is in Kaiju Rising, the Kickstarter-funded giant monster anthology.

Since you may have clicked through to this post for the word “win”, here’s what you’re looking for:

The very fine Ari Marmell (fellow Pyr alum and one of the few I would consider genuinely qualified for the oft-overused title “raconteur”, especially if he would consider the variant “ratconteur”) contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I’d be interested in participating in his second “Crossing the Streams” massive book giveaway. It works like this: several authors will post about this contest and will give away two books on their own website. A third book will go into a huge giveaway pile composed of books from all of the participating authors, and one of the winners from the individual contests will win that pile.

Each of the contests is a little different. For mine, I’d like to know your favorite species of hummingbird. Show your work, please, and leave a comment on this post. I will borrow a mechanic from Ari: one winner I will select based on the answer to this question, the other winner will be selected randomly. And again, both winners will also have a chance of being selected super-mega-ultimate winner, and receiving All the Books.

To find the other contests, click the links below — and check out some new speculative fiction while you’re at it, why don’t you?

For my part, should you win, the books you can choose from include:

And now the authors:

Good luck!

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A super quick post from down here in San Diego! I have been at the incredibly amazing Starship Century Symposium — but more on that later.

I will be at Mysterious Galaxy this SATURDAY at 2pm! If you’re in the area I hope you’ll come and say hello!

And congratulations to Jennifer Adams, who won the Windstone and Shield of Sea and Space giveaway! There will be more giveaways this summer as I think of things you all might like. ;) If you have suggestions, drop me a line!

Hope that you all have a great weekend. :)

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Back in 2006 I wrote an essay about the origins of girl geekdom in my life and how influential my mother had been in my eventually going into technology. It was later published in the spring 2007 issue of Shameless. It’s a goofy piece, and a little nostalgic now looking back at it through the lens of the recent amazing leaps forward with programs like Girls Who Code, Girls in STEM, and Women 2.0. You were ahead of the curve, Mom — as usual. :) Happy Mother’s Day.

The Geek in Disguise

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to you one of the most powerful hidden forces of our time. I speak of a silent sisterhood, an ineffable affinity, a culture shrouded in a mystery wrapped in an enigma, so secret that the members themselves may not be aware of what they are. I speak, of course, of the camouflaged chix0r, the masked mechanatrix — the geek in disguise.

Oh yes, verily I tell you, they are all around us, and always have been. Adelaide Cabete, doctor, activist, and first ordained female Freemason? Total geek. And let us not forget that the programmer of the first computer was not a man, but the vaunted Ada Lovelace. Searching through history, the inquisitive mind finds them everywhere: What about Rosalind Franklin, who decided to become a scientist at fifteen (despite her father’s desire for her to be a social worker), wrote a university thesis on “The physical chemistry of solid organic colloids with special reference to coal and related materials”, and later went on to provide critical photographic evidence on the structure of DNA? And Mary Anning, discoverer of ichthyosaurs? Even the enigmatic Emily Dickinson, with her inexhaustible obsession with words and penchant for dreams, has the traces of it; when the geek is in you, it is inescapable.
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As I write this, I am on an airplane to California, traveling with my boss — video game developer, CEO, mother, geek par excellence — to pitch a new project to three Los Angeles publishers. I am a game designer, a career some would find at the very fiery heart of geekdom; just to the right of Dungeons & Dragons(tm), slightly left of Linux administration, poised at the apex of toy and tech — there lies my profession. When I was a kid my friends used to mock my obsession with the Commodore 64, but now I fix their PCs, and tolerant sighs have turned to envy.

In our current age a woman can wear her flash drive on her sleeve and win social capital, but it wasn’t always so. Before it was culturally acceptable for a girl to debug C++, pioneer geek women asserted their right to ones and zeroes all in a row. My mother, now a senior manager for Computer Sciences Corporation, brought home a 286 when the only other kids in my class to have computers in the home were a couple of comfortably outcast Trekkies. And it was from her influence, not my father’s, that the term ‘defrag’ entered my vocabulary before I was ten years old.

Yet even for my mother, the heart of her geekiness lies in a tireless pursuit for a better way to do things, a sense of eternally young idealism, not merely a lust for high tech toys. Her love of gadgetry is a love of efficiency, of building tools that allow us to do more, experience more, and accomplish more with this brief mayfly’s season that we spend on Earth. From my father I learned scholarship and a fascination with the sciences, but not a week went by in my childhood when my mother didn’t have another idea for a great invention or a better way to do things.

I was thirteen years old when she took my grandparents, my brother, and me to Disneyworld. We purchased one of those ticket package deals — the type where one ticket gets you into three or four parks. We all went to Epcot, but my grandparents stayed behind for a couple of trips to the other parks, and this created a desynch when we all went to the Magic Kingdom; we were two tickets short, even though my grandparents still had many entrance tokens on their tickets. Mom to the rescue! Rather than purchasing extra tickets, she shunted my brother and I through with my grandparents’ tickets, got a hand stamp, then went back outside and escorted my grandparents back in with a second run on their tickets. At the time I thought of it as merely clever (a classic sort of logic puzzle) and perhaps a bit mischievous, but I recognize it now for what it was: the relentless pursuit of efficiency. My mother was defragging Disneyworld admissions.

Yet geekhood is not about technology alone. It has its roots in something truer, deeper, and more complex — the vision that we can make the world a better place, and the passion to pursue that vision with vigor and clarity of purpose. For what is ‘geek’ if not an unquenchable thirst for perfection? What is a gadget, or even a computer, if not a shortcut on the path toward fast accomplishment? At the end of this road is a world where there is no hunger, no thirst, no privation, and no disease; a world where we find balance with nature and time to pursue the mystic higher reaches of our minds’ potential. The eyes of a geek are locked on this world.

To be a true geek is also therefore to have a dauntless idealism. There is another American subculture famous for this, and similarly not always well regarded — the hippies of the 1960s. To this day, though she might not easily admit it, my mother owns a pair of beaded leather moccasins, and for a time was as hippie as they come — with an attitude that shaped the person that I would become in adulthood.

There is a kinship between geeks and hippies that often goes unrecognized. Once while walking to class with my college boyfriend (local alpha geek), I was stopped by a puzzlingly exuberant security guard who swore that my companion and I were the spitting image of Janis Joplin and Paul McCartney. (Aside from our long hair [mine has not been cut above my waist in years] and my green peasant shirt, we weren’t — and were quite confused, touched also with the mild effrontery that comes from being socially assigned to the wrong subculture. Don’t get me wrong, I love hippies — but I owned a Starbucks Visa at the time, an act that probably forever disqualified me from true hippiedom.)

If you asked the average geek, you would probably find that my experience was not uncommon, especially for the bearded and longhaired male set. In this transition period where geeks have not yet established visual recognition in the social sphere (most normals probably picture actors from The Matrix when you mention the word ‘geek’, but no geek I know is so obsessive about their wardrobe or appearance; leather trenchcoats are great and all, but who can justify the expense when the World of Warcraft expansion is so shortly forthcoming?), the mistake is easy to make. And not just on the street. Ask them, and you will find that most geeks cherish the environment, resent the Establishment, and boast eclectic tastes in music. In the great social taxonomy, geeks and hippies are common descendants, for they share a philosophical vision. And vision — an unflinching dream of excellence — is what ‘geek’ is all about. No wonder, when she did enter the corporate domain, my mother gravitated toward technology — the thing that, if anything does, will deliver our dreams of utopia. In her path she has been a pioneer; professional, visionary, technophile — mother, daughter, and friend.

And so here I close, with the parting suggestion that there is a little geek in all of us, and women over time continue to shed their camouflage. Deeper within the realms of gadgetry and efficiency, previously perceived to be the domain of the masculine, we see a higher ideal: elegance; symmetry; intricacy. And these could not be more female; ‘geek’ is sleek and sexy in our present age, and thus we will see more women, as Nietzsche may have put it, becoming who they are, led by pioneers who expressed these aspects of their personality bravely when society found them distasteful. As with all such things, they did so because they knew it was right, and of late the world agrees. Onward, good companions, to a bright future!

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HAS BOOK (Shield of Sea and Space Release Day)

May 7, 2013

Happy Tuesday, everyone! And it is happy indeed, being May 7th and therefore Shield of Sea and Space‘s release day. I’ve just returned from Portland, where I met 250 (!) totally amazing young people who had built games at the Oregon Game Project Challenge. It was an extremely moving, exciting event, and I hope to […]

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May 25th @ Mysterious Galaxy, Journey @ Polygon, May 4 @ OGPC

April 19, 2013

That’s a lot of at signs! Thinking calming manatee thoughts at everyone on this chaotic end to a chaotic week. The promo cards have arrived, so you know what that means: time to move some books. The spectacular folk at Mysterious Galaxy have invited me back to launch Shield of Sea and Space, and that […]

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Not so “genius”, Apple

April 14, 2013

I wanted to be writing about ♥♡♥ THE PULSE POUNDING HEART STOPPING DATING SIM JAM ♥♡♥ tonight, but instead I am writing about this. It is entirely possible — quite likely, even — you should go and play Jurassic Heart instead of reading it. Made your choice? Okay. There’s a first time for everything. Before […]

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Shield of Sea and Space cover art! On shelves May 7, 2013!

March 13, 2013

Happy Wednesday! My blog is behaving a bit oddly, so if you’re seeing this post, it has been coaxed into cooperation at least for the moment. And with that, I give you: Click to enlarge. Cover art for Shield of Sea and Space, the third and final volume in the Chaos Knight trilogy (being that […]

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Amazing Things

March 8, 2013

Hey folks — a quick update here from San Diego. First: thank you to everyone who donated to Marc’s GDC trip!! We’ve had an angel come in and cover the rest of the cost, so I’m thrilled to share that Marc will be able to go to the entire show on an All-Access Pass. More […]

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Operation Launching Eeyore: Help Me Send an Amazing Game Professor to GDC

February 25, 2013

Hi folks. Hope you’re all having a great February. A coincidence inspired me to write this: I heard about GDC’s great “share your GDC story” contest and Marc’s lack of a GDC pass on the same day. This led to the writing of this piece and a gofundme to raise money to send Marc to […]

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