Hey everybody! My young adult space fantasy novel Victories Greater Than Death is just $2.99 in all of the ebook formats right now, which means it’s a great time to get it for the teen (or adult) in your life. To celebrate, I wanted to share a scene from the end of the book — very minor spoilers ahead — which got cut purely for length reasons.
I’m actually kinda sad this particular scene got cut, because it really brings full circle Tina’s identity crisis. Tina, for those who haven’t read Victories yet, is an alien who was hidden on Earth as a baby, disguised as a human and placed with a human mother. Throughout the novel, she’s trying to find out about her alien heritage from Riohon, the other Makvarian on board the Indomitable, and she keeps grappling with what it means to be a native of a planet she’s never visited. And so here’s the scene where she gets together with Riohon and another Makvarian, a thont (member of a third gender) named Antoy, and they perform a ceremony that means she’s come of age:
Crewmaster Antoy brings out a bowl made of some kind of dark stone, with a million crosshatched scars on its surface. “Put your feet in this. Take your shoes off first,” se tells me. I do what se says, and se pours some warm thick liquid into it.
“Are you going to give me a pedicure?” I ask. On the other side of the room, Riohon snorts with laughter.
“This is one of our rites of passage, back home. It means that you’ve reached adulthood with honor and grace.” Antoy throws some tiny wriggly creatures into the bowl and they swim around my feet. “This ritual is usually done by a thont, though not always. So you’re lucky I’m here.”
“We don’t have this where I’m from,” Riohon says. “But we have other ways of celebrating the same thing.”
Antoy laughs. “Thanz is from Nant, in the northeastern shelf region. They do everything weird there. I’m from the biggest city on Makvaria, Typfid, in the middle of the great southwestern archipelago.”
I look at the sharp-toothed creatures swimming around my bare feet and ankles. “Are they going to bite me?”
“Probably not. Try to hold still, just in case.” Se laughs again, and hands me something, which I mistake for a candle at first. But there’s no wick, just a big fancy star-shaped flower made out of golden cloth.
“Thank you for doing this,” Riohon says to Antoy. Then he turns to me. “I realized that I was never going to do a good job of explaining about our culture, because you’re the first person I’ve met with Makvarian ancestry, who wasn’t just born and raised there. I was talking to you the way I would an outsider. I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s okay.” I smile, even though I still feel like I should be apologizing to him, not the other way around. “We were both kind of busy, too.”
“Plus it’s really hard to generalize about a whole planet, without it sounding like a bunch of platitudes.”
“Every culture on Makvaria believes different things,” Antoy says. “The main thing we all have in common is that our main diet requires a lot of cooperation.”
“The meat-spores and things,” I say.
Se nods. “Everyone works together, or nobody eats. One of our big cultural figures, who’s famous all over the planet, is a woman named Winrish. She was a mystic, or an athlete—whatever you call someone who wins a lot of games. And everyone on the peninsula was invested in her victories, so they all had a meltdown when she announced she would only eat as much as the hungriest person in the community. People tried everything they could think of to get her to eat more.”
“Except for the obvious thing,” Riohon says, “making sure nobody else went hungry.”
“They eventually got it. People still speak her name all the time today,” Antoy adds.
“She sounds badass.”
“She was.” Antoy puts a bit more murky liquid in the bowl, and the many-legged creatures perk up. Up close, ser jawline looks kind of male, but ser round, smooth face is feminine.
What’s the difference between Winrish starving herself to force everyone else to think about the needy, and me facing danger by myself, so my friends can stay safe? I still don’t get it.
“Tina Mains.” Antoy puts ser hands on my shoulders. “You’ve come a great distance, you’ve seen generosity and deception, and you’ve faced up to change with an open heart. You’re a child of Makvaria, even though you’ve never set foot there. And now, your community—” (Se gestures at serself and Riohon) “—recognizes you as an adult. Go forth and be amazing.”
Se lifts my feet out of the bowl and takes the flower thingy away. I don’t feel any different, except my insecurity about what it even means to be a Makvarian has shrunk a teeny bit.
“So what do we do now?” I ask.
“Usually?” Antoy laughs. “We get drunk. I have some Yuul sauce that I’ve been saving for a good occasion.”
I look at Riohon. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Uh, the last time I drank that stuff, I… it was really bad.”
“Small sips this time,” Riohon says. “You can’t argue with tradition.”
They hand me a cup, and I mostly just stare into it, watching the foam take the shape of a group of islands, like that archipelago Antoy mentioned. Even just breathing the fumes makes my head spin, but also leaves me feeling warm and kind of introspective. So I’m an adult now? And a fully fledged Makvarian? Both of those things sound great, except I still have no idea what they mean.
Top image: Ines Możdżyńska
The new, posthumously-released Prince album, Welcome To America, is as good as you’ve been hearing. It’s defiantly political, urgently relevant to the moment we’re living through now, and a total blast. I guess he would have released it in 2011, a year after his album 20TEN, but decided to shelve it. What’s weird is, he then waited until 2014 to put out another album, at which point he released two simultaneously. We’ll never know why Welcome didn’t get put out when it was ready, but I’m glad we get to listen to it now.
On Sunday at noon PT, I’m hosting an in-person outdoor reading featuring Jasmin Darznik, Michael Warr, Emily Willingham, Jadie Jang and Barbara Jane Reyes.
My book Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories comes out on August 17. It’s just what it sounds like: a guide to using your creativity to get through the worst shit the universe has to offer. (Such as the past couple years we’ve been living through.) On Aug 17, I’ll be in conversation with Maggie Tokuda Hall at Green Apple Books on the Park — you can attend in person, or via Zoom. The following day, August 18, I’ll be in conversation with Charles Yu for Porter Square Books (via Crowdcast).