Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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More Cover Art

Yes! Because we totally need a “Best Michael Whelan Cover” category!

Only there are so many, many great Whelan covers, how can you choose? We have at the moment specific votes for Rawn’s dragon cover on SUNRUNNER’S FIRE:

And the one for Friedman’s BLACK SUN RISING is certainly great:

Though it’s a real shame so much of the art is covered up by that big black square. And for me this one is overly stylized. Or maybe I mean overly formal. That straight-on pose, I don’t know, it’s not my favorite way to pose the figure. Not that I think a pose needs to be active. I don’t mind that. But it looks to me just like this guy is in fact posing for a heroic painting by some famous painter, and I’d rather have a pose that suggests the artist caught him in a moment of his actual life.

Of the three Whelan covers mentioned in the comments, my favorite is this one:

I love the exuberant quality, the flung-wide arms that seem to embrace the whole sky. I haven’t read the book. In fact, I haven’t read any of these three books. Are they good enough to match their covers? (Not that I need more books on my TBR pile.)

But of all Whelan covers ever? Cherryh has some GREAT Whelan covers — on her Chanur books and on her Foreigner books. Any I love Whelan’s covers for The Dragonrider of Pern series. For dragon covers, I would vote for those. But overall? From all possible Whelan covers? I vote for the Little Fuzzy covers, including this one:

I just think the Fuzzies look wonderful. It’s so hard to make teddy bear aliens look real, but I think Whelan pulled it off. Cuter than Cavailer puppies and carrying those keen little spears! Cute, and yet they might actually be competent to survive in those woods. BTW, though I really enjoyed H Beam Piper’s original Little Fuzzy books, and Ardath Mayhar’s contribution from the Fuzzy point of view (Fuzzy Dreams, I think was the name), I haven’t read Scalzi’s recent re-telling of the story. Which is unique in my experience; has anybody else ever retold an older SFF writer’s story? How did that even come about? Anyway, I have no urge to read the Scalzi version, unless some of you have and you think it was great?

Also, while on the subject of covers, I found these two non-Whelan covers interesting — one was mentioned in the comments of the previous cover post and the other I own; I was struck by how similar they are.

and

I love both of these covers. But is there a thing where you MUST put red flowers in the upper right if doing an Oriental-ish cover? Girl with sword and flowers? Of course red is supposed to draw the eye.

Also, in case you see the covers and fall in love and wonder about the book? I haven’t read STORMDANCER (is it good?), but KATANA isn’t bad. It’s got some very nice snappy dialogue, but I found it a little disappointing. This may have been caused by inaccurate expectations. It’s sold as girl-gets-possessed-by-spirit-of-Samurai, and while this is accurate, I had in my head the idea that we would see this fabulous culture clash between a modern American teenage girl and the possessing spirit of a traditional older male Samurai warrior. No. The possessing spirit is that of a young female Samurai warrior. Not only was I disappointed, I slammed into the idea of a young female Samurai warrior with total disbelief and never recovered. But I can see how YA readers might like it better the way Gibson wrote it.

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Recent Reading: SRB

So! All done with Sarah Rees Brennen’s Demon trilogy.

It’s been interesting to hear peoples’ varying opinions about these three books, and interesting now to compare my own reaction with theirs.

I thought the first book, THE DEMON’S LEXICON, was very strong and it is still my favorite. This is because of Nick. I’m just so impressed by Brennen’s use of his point of view. Remember that Nick has a very circumscribed range of emotions. He’s certainly, um, unique, when it comes to protagonists. I can see why some readers might find him hard to like as the point-of-view character, but I thought he was fabulous. One of the things that makes this book so fascinating is that the reader gets the subtext that Nick misses, and one reason the book works so well is that the really strong sibling relationships come across so vividly even though Nick misses so much of the normal interaction among the other characters.

People who love this book should definitely think about finding a copy of Dan Wells’ I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. There are definite similarities between Brennen’s emotionally limited protagonist and Wells’ sociopathic main character. Presenting a character like that as a convincing good guy takes nerve! Both Brennen and Wells really pull it off splendidly.

The second book, THE DEMON’S COVENANT, is also really good and it might be my favorite sometimes, if I’m in the right mood. The pov character is Mae, of course, and she works extremely well as a protagonist. I honestly don’t think Nick could have carried off another book, plus of course the protagonist needed to be someone who did NOT know about the details of the ultimate plan, because it was important for Brennen not to give too much away to the reader.

I did think Mae was stupid about a couple of things. I can see how she would deceive herself about Seb, but honestly, she should have realized instantly what Nick’s greatest fear actually had to be – obviously it would be losing Alan; obviously nothing else could come close.

On the other hand, Mae could definitely be clever about most things, and I loved her attitude in general. Check out this passage – it really captures Mae:

“I wasn’t distracted,” Mae said. “I was just, uh, thinking about something else.”

She had been thinking about something else all day. It was all well and good to decide she was going to save someone, but she didn’t have the first idea how to go about doing so. Everything she could think of ended up sounding like the modern equivalent of a single knight saddling up his horse and going on a quest to rescue a princess – very brave and showy and all, but unlikely to actually work.

If Mae had been a fairy-tale knight, she would’ve brought an army.

“What were you thinking about?”

She glanced from the passenger seat to Seb and his gorgeous profile at the wheel, feeling a flash of guilt. Gorgeous profiles should not be ignored like this.

She gave him her best smile. “Armies.”

“Uh, joining one?” Seb asked. “Not the career path I would’ve expected you to choose, but okay.”

“Leading one,” said Mae.

“That does sound more like you,” he admitted, and smiled at her sidelong.

It sure does! Mae had more of her mother in her than I think she recognizes or would be comfortable with. And speaking of that, her mother is a GREAT secondary character. I love how Brennen made the mother into a real character in this book.

I thought the ending of the first book was amazing; I thought the ending of the second was also strong but a bit more predictable. Though I admit, the ending of the first book would be hard to beat. I was not sure I believed in Jamie’s actions at the end of the second book.

Now, I was sort of expecting Jamie to be the pov protagonist of the third book. Of course Brennen couldn’t do it that way, because in the third book Jamie knew too much about the wrong things and she had to try to hide some of that stuff from the reader. One problem for me with the third book was it was pretty obvious what some of that stuff was.

But the main reason I didn’t like the third book as well as the other two was the lack of on-stage time for Jamie himself. He made me laugh in the first two; I was sorry we saw so little of him in the third.

Like here in the first book, shortly after we meet Jamie and Mae:

[Nick says] “. . . A few people in this world are born with a certain amount of magic, but they don’t grow out of it. They either learn to control it and keep it a secret forever, or they try to do something with the magic. Which means that most of them become magicians and call up demons. It’s the safest and easiest way to get more power, but there’re also rituals with the dead, and –”

“Rituals with the dead,” Jamie repeated in a faint, stunned voice. Nick turned and looked at him coldly. “I mean,” Jamie said, and swallowed, “how interesting and not at all creepy! Please go on!”

Or here, when Jamie’s offering to help (dyslexic) Nick with his homework:

“So we could go over some stuff together,” Jamie persevered. “We’d be in the same class. It will just be homework. Everyone has to do homework. Maybe sometimes I could read the assigned books to you. Auditory learning helps a lot of people with reading problems. And it would help me remember as well!”

Jamie looked up to see how this sales pitch was going, and frowned some more.
“And if I help you with schoolwork,” he continued in a small, reluctant voice, “it would be great if you could help me with . . . self-defense.”

“You want to learn how to use knives?” Nick asked. He might have dwelled on the word “knives” an instant too long.

Jamie flinched. “Absolutely,” he said. “Instruments of brutal death? I’m very keen.”

Or right at the end of the second book, when Nick gives Jamie a knife:

“A knife, Nick?” he asked piteously. “I feel so betrayed.”

“It’s a magic knife,” Nick said. “I made it myself.”

“I don’t want to seem ungrateful when you have given me this thoughtful, homemade, and totally terrifying gift,” Jamie told him. “But you can’t imagine that I’m going to use it.”

So in the third book, when we very seldom see Jamie, and when we do he is mostly putting on an act, well, it’s a loss, that’s all.

The third book, THE DEMON’S SURRENDER, is from Sin’s point of view, of course. (Cynthia’s her given name, for those who haven’t read it.) At first I found that disappointing because I’d expected to have Brennen show us Jamie’s pov, but Sin is actually a really good protagonist. I loved the way she developed as a character, and – this isn’t really giving much away – I REALLY loved the way it worked out between her and Alan. Because Alan is pretty amazing, though I know I’ve barely mentioned him, and I get why it didn’t work between him and Mae, but he really needed and deserved to have things work between himself and somebody, and Sin will really suit him. She is pretty darned good with masks and roles and presenting herself the way she wants people to see her, and that does make her just about perfect for Alan.

But, having said that, you know what else I really appreciated about this whole trilogy? That the most important relationships are not the romantic relationships; that they are sibling relationships instead; and that the parent-child relationships are also really important, although they get relatively little time on screen. The most profoundly touching scene in the whole third book, for me, was the one when Sin showed up on her father’s doorstep with her little brother and sister. And in the second book? The bit where Mae rescues Jamie from embarrassing himself at the club? That was great, too.

So, the things I had trouble with – Jamie’s act when he was with the magicians, which I thought was too transparent; the thing about how he got himself free, which I didn’t really believe; the way he was willing to forgive all the magicians, which I thought was a stretch for some of them in particular – yes, those were things I had trouble with, but since Sin was the main character and Jamie was by no means the focus of the story, I did very much enjoy the third book.

I do agree with some commenters that making Sin the protagonist and keeping the pov limited did force Brennen to go to some trouble getting Sin into places where she could overhear important conversations, and this strained credulity, but thus it goes with a limited pov! Yes, it was awkward, but it’s hard to see how Brennen could have done it better.

Overall a really strong trilogy, and now I have yet another author to keep an eye out for.

Also! The short stories here , well, I could have done without the ones from Gerald’s pov — honestly, don’t care — but I LOVED “Nick and Jamie Go To The Movies” — so if you haven’t read that one, why not go check it out? And thanks again, Mary Beth, for the link!

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Cover Art Faves

So yesterday I happened to see this post at Into The Hall of Books. It’s always so interesting to see what covers other people pick as their favorites — especially when you can’t imagine what they see in a particular book cover!

THE NIGHT CIRCUS cover doesn’t do it for me at all. Nor does that edition of THE HOBBIT. Nothing cartoonish is likely to appeal to me, though sometimes I like stylized. For me, the only one of those five that stand out is the RAILSEA cover; I like that one. Evocative and interesting and not at all generic. I like the one for GRAVE MERCY, but to me that one is fairly generic: Girl With Weapon. But I like the swirly dress.

So naturally I went down and looked at covers in my library. Naturally picking just five is really really really impossible, but if you think about covers in categories, it’s a little easier. Or at least it is for me.

My favorite for YA Girls is this one:

I like the way the girl is standing with her back to the reader; I like the blasted landscape; I like the city rising up in the distance. For YA covers with girls, I think this one is really outstanding — evocative and artistic and it would make me want to read this book even if it wasn’t by Dan Wells. Though since it is, I’d have bought it no matter what the cover looked like.

I must admit that if I was picking a Beautiful Girl cover, I might very well go for HOUSE OF SHADOWS, but I don’t necessarily want to pick one of my own covers. And besides, I am resisting the urge to do Beautiful Woman / Beefcake Guy categories. Instead —

For Dragons, I pick this one:

To me, this dragon looks ambiguous. Is he menacing the woman? To me, he looks like he might be protecting her. The stance of the man in the background contributes to the effect, because he’s not racing forward — he’s standing back and looking down at the scene. Of course if you’ve read the book, you know how suitable this ambiguity really is. I really love this cover!

For Creepiest, this is my pick:

I’ve come near buying this one just for its cover, but in fact I haven’t got it and haven’t read it. Anybody else read this one yet? Because if it’s good, I’ll pick it up in a heartbeat!

For Most Beautiful, I’m tempted to declare that THE FLOATING ISLANDS beats them all! But still resisting the urge to name my own books, I pick this one:

For Cleverest Concept, I pick a mystery I have on my TBR pile but haven’t read yet:

For Best CJ Cherryh cover, it’s a tough choice, because she’s had some GREAT artists do a lot of her covers. But I just love this one:

And for Best SF Cover Ever, it’s a REALLY tough choice, but . . . um . . . if you twist my arm and MAKE me pick one, I might go for:

Cover art is important to me! I have some books on my shelves that I’d discard except that I really love the cover. What are some of your favorite covers? If you’ve ever bought a book just because you loved the cover, what was it? It counts if you bought a new edition of a book because you liked the new cover better than the old! (I confess I’ve done that!)

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Recent reading

So, yeah, kinda decided to take a week off and read books instead of write ’em. I think this weekend, when I’ll be home and not traveling, will be a great time to do the final revision of my WIP. I can just start at the top and go straight through fast and I think that will be a good thing. Plus, it means I have an excuse to stop for a week! And read books! By other people!

So I re-read TROUBLED WATERS by Shinn because I wanted a nice comfortable book. Yep, I still love that book!

Then I finally (FINALLY) read a book by Sarah Rees Brennen, whom I know some of you really love, so her book THE DEMON’S LEXICON had been filtering up toward the top of the TBR pile for a while.

I really enjoyed it! I’m sure that’s not a surprise. Have you all read it? I loved the first paragraph:

“The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.”

Okay, I’m hooked — that’s a great couple of sentences. This is excellent book to think about “starting with action,” in a good way. Also, the dialogue is so snappy and clever. I really admire a writer with a gift for dialogue.

I loved the protagonist. Nick is so interesting! He is an emotional cripple, and of course with his personal history you can see why. Or you think you can. And then you turn out to be wrong. Did anybody see that coming, the thing about Nick? I admit I did not, although Brennen certainly plays fair and you can see she dropped plenty of clues. I hope my saying this is not going to spoil the surprise for anybody who hasn’t read this book. I am trying not to give the important twist at the end away.

I loved all four main characters — I loved Mae and Jamie, I loved Alan and Nick. I really enjoyed have the older and younger brothers both take on the role of protector, in different ways and for different reasons. What a tough job Alan’s had all these years! But then, what a tough job Nick’s had all these years, too. I really feel for them both. Brennen did such clever things with relationships all the way through this book. All the relationships not only feel real, they are genuinely touching. I really appreciated the ending.

Particularly because I also just read a short story collection by Ted Chiang called STORIES OF YOUR LIFE, and frankly a story with an ending like “Hell is the Absence of God” should come with a warning label. (The stories are all very good, though — I would read more short stories if they were all as good as this. Unless they often had endings like “Hell is the Absence of God.” Then, not so much.

Anyway, back to Brennen! I’ve got the second book on my TBR pile and I plan to start it tonight. I just ordered the third one, so I expect it to arrive Friday — just in time for me to read it before starting the final (well, final for now) revision of my own book.

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Non-fairy-tale retellings —

A post by Leah Cypess here. Cypess wrote MISTWOOD, which I’ve sort of meant to pick up because I’ve heard good things about it, but I must admit I haven’t read it yet. (Has anybody else? I’d be interested in your opinions.)

I definitely enjoy retellings, fairy tale or otherwise, and in fact I’m pretty likely to go read the original classic in order to properly enjoy a retold tale. Here’s one Leah didn’t mention, probably because it’s not new:

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn is a Jane Eyre retelling. It’s very good! Amazingly true to the original, while being quite different in its details. I will never love Jane Eyre the way Shinn does, but I read it for the first time solely because I was going to read Jenna Starborn. Obviously I am a better person for reading the classics, so Shinn did me a favor by (finally!) making me read Jane Eyre.

Of the ones Leah Cypess mentions . . . I’m not sure I’m up for another Eyre interpretation, but wouldn’t the dystopian Persuasion be interesting?

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Excitement!

No actual writing type of work got done this weekend. But it wasn’t my fault! I was tired!

It was a show weekend — the second of, let’s see, eight this fall, I think. Last year I wasn’t showing, but this year I am. The points are good, there are many more majors available, and I would love to finish championships on some of my girls quick before the points are recalculated next May. My friend Deb is entering some of the same shows so we can boost the entry numbers and help each other at ringside. We each showed three girls at the previous show — it was MAD and we will never show that many again without lining up [A LOT] more help. In advance. There are all these exciting moments where you suddenly need to take three dogs in to compete for winners and you’re grabbing just anybody from ringside and handing them a leash and an armband and saying “Just keep her pointed in the right direction! Try to get her to look happy! You need to be second in the line! Run!”

And then off the bewildered dog goes, spinning in circles to keep her real owner in sight, wondering who this total stranger is who’s trying to feed her liver. This does not make a dog look her best! So, a little too exciting.

In general no one wants to hear the point system explained, so I won’t explain it, but! Kenya won her first major this past Saturday! Yay! Hurrah! Go Kenya! There were ten girls entered and all but one were quite nice and several were VERY nice and my Kenya won! (Someone else won on Sunday.)

This is Kenya’s first win photo; I haven’t got her current win photo yet but this one from last year will give you an idea:

This picture was at a small show and she only got one point. Saturday’s win was much more important! She is now for all intents and purposes halfway to her championship! Because you can pick up single points anywhere, but majors are not easy to come by.

Anyway, it’s not just a matter of showing up in time for your class. Even after bathing the girls on Friday, all morning Saturday AND Sunday was taken up by touching up feet and ears and tails and flattening coats and trying this volumizing cream on Kenya’s ears and that perfumed oil on Adora’s back (yes, really, it makes the ruby’s coat shiny, a very nice effect, not artificial looking at all). So what with one thing and another, I just didn’t even turn on the computer. But I felt bad about it!

Well, sort of bad about it. Actually, I was listening to SNUFF by Terry Pratchett while driving, and I must admit that this led me to re-read bits of NIGHT WATCH when I got home, and I was not very inclined to work on anything. And I really was too tired anyway.

I’m going to join Audible this week and download a lot of Pratchett’s books for the rest of the show season driving. Starting with the rest of the Sam Vimes ones. Almost makes me look forward to those long drives! There are lots I’ve never read because I’ve honestly been saving them for this exact purpose, and now with Audible I don’t think it will be too expensive.

So, anyway, the only part of the revision left is the hard part. I mean deciding whether there needs to be a touch more romance (yes) and putting it in; and deepening the character arcs and all that sort of thing. So you see why I am not keen on doing it while in a partial coma. I would LIKE to put it off till this weekend, when I will actually be home because I’m not showing this weekend, and I can do one marathon session and get done with it. But I may tackle it tonight if I feel too guilty to take a whole week off.

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A good idea whose time has come . . . and gone

I’m leaning toward declaring my support for this idea — the idea that it would be better if physical bookstores didn’t have subsections for different fiction genres, but just shelved all fiction alphabetically by author.

It won’t happen, of course, but what if it did? Sure, you’d spend more time browsing past romances / horror / literary fiction / and more romances while you looked for the fantasy novel you want, but

a) time browsing in a bookstore is certainly not wasted;

b) discovering that stuff outside your genre sometimes looks appealing might well broaden everybody’s reading experience;

c) it would sure discourage treating literary fiction as a special elevated category of fiction.

All three of those effects look like features rather than bugs to me.

On the other hand, how long are physical bookstores going to be important, anyway? And would anybody at all find it helpful or pleasant to “browse” online? I don’t see how. I even think the categories at Amazon are almost 100% useless — DOES anybody ever just browse through the no doubt infinite offerings under “fantasy books”? Surely not. Surely everyone searches strictly by author?

“Browsing” for me means looking through the SFBC mailing to see what’s out and reading blogs to see what’s good, and that sure limits my view of what’s out there. The only things that generally expand my horizons as a reader is getting sold on a book outside my normal range by a fantastic review on a book review blog, or getting hooked by a well-written hook on the SFBC mailing.

Of course, I can’t really browse in a physical store because the nearest said store is an 80 mile trip, one way. I do miss browsing sometimes! One of the very few disadvantages to living in the country.

How and where do you all browse? Or notice books usually outside your range?

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Recent writing —

Just in case you’re wondering.

The first cut? That took the book down to 116,000 words, still very high, but way less than the 146,000 I started with. I’ve never cut whole chapters before. Wow. There they go: chapters five and six in their entirety. That was an odd feeling. I saved ’em in case later I want to go back and see what was in there and if anything should come back.

Now I’m plugging holes. I had several places toward the end where it just said in bold AND THEN SOMEONE DOES SOMETHING and then I went on. Time to figure out what happened there! Actually, I have now figured this stuff out, so it’s just a matter of writing the necessary scenes. I’m altering part of Ch 19, taking out one minor character and putting in a different one and sorting out the main character’s flow of action. This is not too painful. Writing new material is always easier than revising stuff.

Later this week, I’ll look at my notes (I have 23 brief notes) and fix continuity issues; also, very important, I need to put in something of a romance subplot, even it’s going to be minor, and deepen character arcs for both main characters.

I expect to wind up with something like 120,000 words. Rather than cutting again at that point, if I can only get to the point where I think the character arcs work, I think that’ll be the time to send the ms off to my agent and get her input.

All this is slowed down because a) I admit I’m not very keen on revision, and b)the fall show season has started and I’m showing most weekends. Kenya got reserve winners this past Saturday and again Sunday, and while it is better for your ego to get second place than nothing, it would be BETTER TO WIN. Oh, well. Every weekend is a new show! (Two or three new shows, actually, since each day is a separate event.) Wish me luck! I will be listening to lots of audiobooks as I drive to shows! Currently I’m 3/4 of the way through SNUFF by Terry Pratchett.

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By Popular Request!

Okay, one request, but sometimes that’s plenty!

Here’s my list of animal behavior books written for a popular and semi-popular audience. This list is biased toward books published some time ago; remember I got them all or almost all back when I was in grad school.

Innocent Killers, by Hugo van Lawick and Jane Goodall. It focuses on Cape Hunting Dogs, golden jackals, and spotted hyenas (one of the VERY FEW mammal species where females are dominant, and a GREAT species to think about when designing a new species for your SFF novel!).

Here Am I — Where Are You, by Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology. It focuses on graylag geese, which have this really great system of very intense male-male friendships, very interesting.

Mongoose Watch, by Anne Rasa — dwarf mongoose, another species where females are dominant to males; a very interesting, highly social species.

Elephant Memories, by Cynthia Moss — African elephants, and really outstanding.

Portraits in the Wild, by Cynthia Moss — well-presented, accurate brief observations about lots of the large East African mammals.

The Man Who Listens to Horses, by Monty Roberts is really interesting and engaging and also gives a nice picture of wild horse behavior as well as training methods based on natural horse behavior.

Almost Human, by Shirley Strub — savannah baboons. Stupid title, but the book is good.

Baboon Mothers and Infants, by Jeanne Altmann — savannah baboons

Primate Societies, by Smuts et al — prosimians, tamarins and marmosets (another female-dominant species), New World monkeys, colobines (the forest leaf-eating monkeys and langurs), cercopithecines (the macaques and so forth), baboons, gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimps, bonobos.

Peacemaking Among Primates, by Franz de Waal — and lots of other titles; highly, highly recommended for chimps, bonobos, gorillas particularly. de Waal is a wonderful writer.

Wolf: The ecology and behavior of an endangered species, by L David Mech

The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson, for how dog’s are really wired psychologically

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Beckhoff and Goodall, because that’s a great book on a really neglected aspect of behavior.

Dolphin Societies by Karen Pryor and Kenneth Norris

Cetacean Societies by Mann et al, for bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, killer whales, and humpback whales, and let me just mention here that I just got this one, that I’ve been reading it this week, and that killer whale behavior is SO WEIRD. You know what? In some populations, both male and female offspring stay with their mother for their whole lives! Which is called male-female philopatry, in case you’re interested. You know how many other mammal species do that? Right: zero. This never happens! Figuring out what ecological factors encourage and allow this unique system in killer whales is the sort of thing that can really add depth to your own SFF species and world. Also, you won’t believe the parallels between common chimps and bottlenose dolphins, and between sperm whales and African elephants. Why do we see such convergent behavior? Again, because of ecological factors which are more similar than first appears.

And if you want to have a female-dominant species? Well, take a look at what creates that system in spotted hyenas, dwarf mongooses, and tamarins, and you’ll have a much better chance of designing a species where that system makes since.

Remember all the time that behavior depends on ecological pressures and that you can’t have a female-dominant species unless ecological factors are pushing behavior that way.

Enjoy!

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