Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson on depicting gender in John Scalzi’s next audiobook

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Next month, Audible will release the recorded version of John Scalzi's upcoming novel Head On, a sequel to his 2014 thriller Lock In. Like Lock In, but unlike most audio editions, this release will come in two versions: one narrated by Star Wheal: The Next Generation, and the other by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Amber Benson, who are popular storytellers of audiobooks
In LockIn and an accompanying novel Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome, Scalzi describes a world facing a unique medical crisis: a global flu pandemic that killed millions of people and left a small subset of survivors suffering a condition known as Haden's syndrome, which left them completely conscious, but paralyzed, or "locked" in their bodies. Following the event, the United States began a lunar-shot program to help the so-called Hadens interact with their environment and developed a system through which they could pilot robotic bodies called Threeps, nicknamed after Star Wars & # 39; C-3PO. Some Hadens also buy the services of people called Integrators, who can allow Hadens to take charge and control their bodies. Lock In follows a character named Chris Shane, a new FBI agent charged with solving a murder committed by an Integrator, or more likely, an unknown Haden who controls him.
When Scalzi wrote Lock In, he made the creative decision not to reveal Chris's genre, creating a character that readers could read as masculine, feminine, or neither. He explained that he did it as a writing challenge, and realized that in this world, the genre might not be easily distinguishable for a Haden who uses a robotic body. Chris grows up with Haden Syndrome, which means interacting with the outside world through a series of easily interchangeable machines, which can be presented in different ways to the general public.
In Scalzi's next novel, Head On, Chris has returned with a new case, this time investigating the death of a Haden playing a particularly violent sport known as Hilketa, in which players try to tear off the head of a robotic limb. an opposing team. Audible released a pair of audiobooks for Lock In, and with Head On about to hit the stores, he is returning Wheaton and Benson to tell another couple of issues, highlighting the fact that Chris could be male, female or not binary.

Benson told The Verge that this approach is particularly important in 2018. "Framing things within the lens of an attributed genre, it comes with a complete set of rules," she says. The first time he gave voice to Chris in Lock In, he went into the story without knowing Scalzi's decision, but he took it up, noting that he had previously read a series of mysteries with a neutral protagonist regarding the genre. "I discovered that talking to people about it, they do not realize, and I think most people make a guess."
"I think we're living at a time when the genre is becoming more and more fluid," he says. "There are more non-binary ways of looking at gender, personally, I think the idea of ​​what it means to be masculine, feminine, some kind of combination, or not binary, is created by the society in which we live." She says that traditional definitions and assumptions have begun to change. "These kinds of stories are ways to change that conversation, to make it a better place for people to be who they are," says Benson.
Wheaton agreed and noted that it is extremely rare for two storytellers to work on the same story. He told The Verge that he did not think the character in the novel had a genre, and that although it is likely that people assign one to Chris based on the version of the audiobook they are listening to, he does not think it is especially important for the history
By its nature, audio narration adds an additional layer of information and context to the listener, and the publication of the genre versions of the book changes the way listeners will approach it. "When my voice is attached to the character," says Wheaton, "I think the listener probably feels like a man, whereas when Amber reads it, he probably feels that the character is feminine." But because John [Scalzi] specifically never generated the genre, I chose not to include Chris in the genre. "Benson explained that the two versions help defy the inherent assumptions that readers bring to the character." We have a set of parameters in which we place characters according to their gender. And when you read it, I hear the character in my head, so I can imagine that it's disconcerting when you listen to an audiobook and it changes your sex. "
More authors have been openly considering the role played by the genre in science fiction. Ursula K. Le Guin explored in particular the genres beyond the typical male and female binary performances in The Left Hand of Darkness of 1969. More recently, in the Imperial Radch series, Ann Leckie describes a society in which she / he is the default pronouns. Other authors, such as Mike Brooks in his trilogy Keiko and R.E. Stearns on his space station Barbary Station, similarly represent non-binary characters. The main audiences are becoming more aware of gender representations in popular culture, as exhibitions like Amazon's Transparent have boosted the issue, while highly visible figures and political decisions have sparked debate throughout the world. country. Novels such as Head On inform the discussion by questioning the representations of individual characters and making readers aware of their own internal bias.
Wheaton says he does not see Head On as a job that is particularly related to the broader gender considerations of the United States, but says: "We are at a time when as a society we are willing to see gender as a construction, [and]] I think it's wonderful that in that context, with this story, we're not experiencing this narrative character through the prism of gender at all, we're experiencing them through their intellect, personality and relationships. "

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