The Secret Origin of Hestu: Legend of Zelda Headcanon

by David Steffen

If you’ve played either of the two recent Nintendo Switch-based Legend of Zelda games (Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom) long enough, you know Hestu, the most distinct of the Koroks. After playing these games and other games in the Legend of Zelda series for many, many hours, I have “discovered” (developed a headcanon) that explains the secret origins of Hestu and why Hestu is different from all the other Koroks.

Who Is Hestu?

If you’re not familiar: The Koroks are forest spirits whose home is in the Korok Forest which is protected from the outside world by The Lost Woods which earns its name by being filled with a confounding fog that will take you back at the entrance if you wander from a pre-set path. Although that’s their home, they can be found all over Hyrule, approximately a thousand of them to find in little hiding spaces (plus some more that aren’t hiding). Koroks as a whole look like little roughly crafted humanoid child-like figures with a big leaf for their face. Each Korok looks a little different, from the color and shape of the leaf to the exact proportions of their body but generally they look like this. They can be found hiding under rocks, or will appear from nowhere if you win little shooting games or spatial puzzles or other little challenges. They are generally childish and fun-loving and love to play hide-and-seek. Tears of the Kingdom added a recurring new kind of Korok: the traveling Korok who is going to visit a friend but has packed such a large backpack that it has grown too tired too move. Finding or helping this multitude of Koroks will give you the reward of Korok seeds. Which is a little weird if you think about it–are those like Korok babies? Apparently the game-makers intended them to be Korok poops.

The use for poop-scooping for the Korok kids is unclear until you meet Hestu. After helping with a side quest in Breath of the Wild to recover Hestu’s magical maracas, he asks if you can help him find all the Korok seeds that the mischievous little Koroks have stolen from him, and whenever you do Hestu will perform a magical dance that will expand your weapon, bow, or shield inventory slots.

Okay, so what is Hestu’s backstory? After playing Breath of the Wild, and after playing Tears of the Kingdom for dozens of hours, I had not really given it any thought at all. Why does he need a backstory? He’s the forest spirit dude who expands your inventory and while he is likeable and funny and useful, does he really need a backstory? Until the connection spontaneously popped into my head.

Hestu’s Origin

I randomly realized where Hestu came from: Tingle finally fulfilled his greatest wish to become a fairy. Hestu is Tingle transformed!

I will go into more detail below, but even superficially they have quite a few similarities. They are both adults with facial hair (OK Hestu’s beard is a leaf, but it appears to be in the place of facial hair), taking on the appearance in some way of an adult version of the Great Deku Tree’s children. They both have a love of words they made up (“Kooloo-Limpah” vs “Shak-Shakala”, though the latter is probably onomatopoeia for the sound of maracas, it is not a common onomatopoeia as far as I am aware). They both have a preference for glitter.

Wait, Who?

OK, so if you’ve only played the Zelda games on Nintendo Switch you might not know who Tingle is.

Tingle first appeared in Majora’s Mask which was released in the year 2000. Tingle claimed to be the reincarnation of a fairy, something which has been a central part of his character in all of his appearances. He is 35 years old and his father who works at the swamp tourist center is exasperated by his son’s insistence that he is a fairy. Tingle wears a green jumpsuit with a pointy hood, presumably meant to resemble Link’s classical outfit of a green tunic with a pointy hat. He can often be found in that game floating above a scene attached to a big red balloon. If you pop the balloon he will fall to the ground and will sell you maps of different areas.

He’s appeared in several other games, most notably in The Wind Waker where he has a more prominent role, but keeps the same backstory, claiming to be a fairy.

Supporting Evidence

Bear with me, there are quite a few pieces of information I took into account for this theory.

Tingle does not directly appear in the Switch games, but he is referenced. There is a “Tingel Island” on the east coast of Hyrule. In the Breath of the Wild expansion pack, and in the regular Tears of the Kingdom game, there is a Tingle clothing set. The clothing set could be an alt universe thing, like a branched timeline–it seems like at least some of the Link-themed clothing sets come from alternate universes, so Tingle’s might be the same. But Tingel Island seems like more of a solid clue that it’s not only an alt universe reference. So I think that could be interpreted as meaning that Tingle has existed by that name in the universe.

When Tingle says he is a fairy, what does that mean? Generally when the Zelda series refers to a “fairy” it is most often referring to a tiny flying glowing creature with transparent butterfly wings. These tend to be able to heal damage to Link instantaneously, or when collected and stored in Link’s inventory may be able to revive Link from what would otherwise be fatal damage. There are also fairies with the same appearance (such as Navi, and Tatl) that help Link by helping him target or by giving him advice.

There are also the Great Fairies which tend to take the appearance of giant women who reside in pools of water and grant Link boons (enhanced clothing or better weapons or shields) in exchange for something (money or monster parts or other things).

But I don’t think Tingle is referring to either of these kinds of fairy. His wardrobe is the biggest clue. Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to The Ocarina of Time. In The Ocarina of Time, Link has grown up in the Deku Forest. He thinks that he is a Kokiri, one of the forest children who all have fairy companions except for Link. But it turns out that Link is not a Kokiri–his lack of fairy is a clue, but the other Kokiri can also not leave the Deku Forest, and the other Kokiri do not age as Link does in Ocarina of Time. For the actual Kokiri, the fairy seems to be an intrinsic part of their existence–there is no Kokiri without a fairy. From a distance, you can’t see the childlike Kokiri, only the flying fairy companion and the Kokiri fades in as you approach. My interpretation of this is that the fairy is the more real or solid one of the pair, and the childlike form is just a projection from this particular variety of fairy. So, in my interpretation, a Kokiri not only has a fairy companion, it is a fairy and Tingle’s wardrobe is meant to show that.

The next step to understand here is that Kokiri are equivalent to Korok (I had not recalled that this detail was supported by game canon in The Wind Waker, at least according to this wiki page). They both have their primary home in a forest connected to the Lost Woods, with their guardian the Great Deku Tree. They are both childlike in both appearance and behavior (apart from Hestu who has a more adultlike proportion and size, but again Hestu appears to be anomalous). To be fair, their appearance differs, and the Koroks are not limited by the boundaries of the forest. If they are equivalent, what accounts for the differences? Apparently the great flood that caused the world to be a series of islands in The Wind Waker caused the transformation. But it’s not uncommon in the series of the games for familiar things to take very different forms from one game to another. In the original Legend of Zelda game the Zora were just another monster, popping their head out of water to shoot fireballs at Link, but through the different games we have seen that they are sentient being, so we have seen how vastly different a species or race can be from game to game. The shift between Kokiri and Korok is less far-fetched than the shift of the Zoras.

Other Theories About the Anomaly of Hestu

I have wondered since I started playing Breath of the Wild years ago, why there are approximately one-thousand childlike Koroks and then there is one adultlike Korok. What life cycle accounts for this? I wondered if the Koroks are an invasive species and the Deku Tree eats them when they get to be a certain age to avoid them crowding out all other life in Hyrule. I wondered if they are always childlike and Hestu is some kind of random genetic variation. I wondered if the Koroks have a social hierarchy like bees, where changes can be triggered by environmental factors like diet, and the Great Deku Tree is the queen, and Hestu is the queen in training meant to take over the hive when the Deku Tree dies (we know the Deku Tree can die, as it did die in Ocarina of Time).

How It Happened

My thought is: Although Tingle has declared that he is a fairy, I think some part of him realizes that he is not a fairy in any objective sense. So, knowing what he wants, he sets out to find a way to become a fairy. He can either see the Koroks, or read about them in some storybook or heard about them in some myth so he finds out where they came from and goes on a quest to find their home. He eventually finds a way through the Lost Woods and approaches the Deku Tree as a supplicant, begging the Deku Tree to make him into a Korok. The Deku Tree considers for a time, and finally agrees, with a condition. The Deku Tree will turn Tingle into a Korok, if Tingle takes responsibility for all the other Koroks. It’s hard to be a parent to something like one thousand mischievous children who won’t grow up, when you’re ancient and very tired, and also when you’re literally a tree so you can’t even chase them around. A responsible adult Korok, on the other hand, would have much more energy and mobility to caretake the Koroks. Because Tingle is an adult when he was transformed, he took the form of an adult Korok even though that was unprecedented.


Hestu may not canonically be Tingle. But, I don’t think it’s unbelievable that the writers could’ve made it a possibility on purpose. Let me know what you think of the headcanon, if you have your own headcanon. Why do you think Hestu appears to be the only adultlike Korok?

#TingleTransformed #SecretOriginsOfHestu

The Lodge and Seven Contrivances: How Contrivance Affects Horror Plots

written by John Wiswell

Most Horror stories are built on contrivance. In Jaws, a shark that absolutely isn’t native to that region attacks swimmers. How did it get there and why is it behaving this way? Neither Benchley’s novel nor Spielberg’s film cares. Little more effort is put into justifying the mayor and business owners forcing beaches to stay open. Those contrivances are compelling because characters are suddenly in peril they’ve never prepared for and are so vulnerable to.

You can find integral contrivance in stories from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Ari Aster’s Hereditary. It can create an eerie sense that things are wrong because characters suddenly lack agency on some important level, or that a pattern of plot events is being broken. It can be your premise, or it can push the plot out of wherever it’s stuck. It’s the thing coming from nowhere – the unjustified jump scare, or needlessly antagonistic bully, and coincidental run-in with a witch. 

The problem comes from overuse. Even audiences that don’t know about plot mechanics sense when it happens. There’s an irritation that the story isn’t moving right because event after event isn’t the result of anything they’re invested in. 

A great example of this is 2019’s The Lodge, which recently hit streaming platforms including Hulu. The movie’s premise is that a pair of kids and their dad’s new girlfriend get stranded in a lodge and spooky events start happening to them. It’s a perfectly decent premise, right?

The movie begins with the two children’s birth mother committing suicide. The little sister is shattered. The older brother tries to comfort her. It feels like the start of a painful journey for the kids. If you have any parental instincts, you’re ready to care about them.

Then the contrivances hit.

Contrivance 1: There is a six-month time skip. 

Time skips usually pull the audience out of a story, but if you haven’t done anything else weird and get the plot moving right away, the audience will adjust. We all adjusted to the beginning of Avengers Endgame, right?

The time skip means we miss the kids’ grieving, coping, and growth. The movie has reset them to not be fully healed, and now they’re mostly anxious and resentful towards their dad. The story is hedging that we have enough residual care for where the kids were before the time skip to still care now.

Contrivance 2: Within one minute of the skip, the dad tells his kids that his girlfriend is coming with them on a ski trip. The kids are hurt by this idea and are in ready-made conflict with the dad. 

The movie’s time skip elided all the conflicts in the decision-making. The ski trip isn’t the result of past choices; it’s from nowhere. What the movie has done is skip to a point of conflict without building it up. It’s cheating on narrative. Especially when a story like this has a functional opening, a move like this breaks flow. The hope is that what comes next will justify it.

Next in The Lodge, the kids have to meet the girlfriend. They wait in the car to avoid the social cues of having to greet her. She gets into the car and doesn’t say hi at first. She’s nervous, too, which feels valid. The dad will have to break the ice for them.

Contrivance 3: The dad gets a phone call and leaves them in the car. 

Who called? It’s barely mentioned and doesn’t reflect anything else in the plot. He was basically called by the screenplay.

The call is a contrivance to make this scene as awkward as possible. It’s a redundant contrivance since the kids and girlfriend were already awkward. Now it’s just super awkward. 

Since it comes close to other recent plot contrivances, it’s easy for this moment to feel forced and grating. This is the compound contrivance effect. The more things that feel unearned, the testier your audience will get. 

That night the kids poke into their dad’s computer and reveal the girlfriend’s backstory: she is the survivor of a suicide cult. Part of why she’s so awkward is that she has enormous unresolved trauma. 

You might call this an infodump and accuse it of contrivance, but it isn’t really contrived. The kids are using their agency to pursue believable curiosity about this woman who is basically a stranger. What they’ve learned complicates the plot. This is utterly different than arbitrarily jumping forward six months.

Further, the girlfriend is now much more interesting because of the revelation. This sets her up as a trauma victim. When the movie shows her unpacking medication, it’s meaningful to us. With its characters set up, it feels like the movie is finally about to start and we’ll get that scary goodness. We’re ready for chills rather than just awkwardness.

Contrivance 4: In a bold choice, the movie switches POV to the girlfriend. 

She isn’t a co-POV. The kids are suddenly supporting characters in her story. On the one hand she’s a fish out of water and mentally ill, so she’s supposed to be sympathetic. On the other hand, if the audience has been attached to anyone it is the kids, and it’s a huge writing risk to relegate them behind her after what they’ve already been through. Such a big change after the earlier contrivances makes the story feel janky. It makes you question what story the movie is even trying to tell.

Following the switch, there are a few minutes of scenes building the girlfriend’s tension with the kids. They freeze up when she accidentally wears their mom’s old hat and demand it back. 

The dad sees that she’s having a hard time so he decides to do something nice for her. He decides to give her the combination to his safe, shows her his gun, and takes her shooting.

This is neither contrivance nor natural. It’s in-between. His motive makes sense, but why the hell does he think shooting things will make her feel at home? It’s so brazenly a Chekhov’s Gun scenario, except a character is literally pausing the plot and forcing the gun to appear in scene. Thanks to the compound contrivance effect, things that aren’t pure contrivance cause the same irritation.

It underscores that all the contrivances have made the father a plot device rather than a character. Who is this guy? Why does he want these people to go on vacation together? Why isn’t he helping them bond? He’s never unpacked as a character.

Then we find out why.

Contrivance 5: The dad gets a mystery call from whatever job he has and abruptly decides to leave in their only car, leaving his kids and girlfriend with no way to leave the lodge.

So it turns out the story put no thought into the dad character because it planned to get rid of him ASAP. 

Inside the fiction, it’s exasperating that this person did so much to make this unwanted situation happen and then ditched them all. He’d be a good antagonist if he wasn’t leaving the movie now.

Outside the fiction, bigger things are wrong. The movie isn’t telling a story; it’s forcing one to happen, which isn’t nearly as engrossing. It doesn’t feel like the movie has gotten to where it wants to be despite messing around with so much stilted plotting.

The girlfriend and kids watch a movie in the lodge and have cocoa. None of them are acknowledging how awkward their situation is. The daughter feels sick and the girlfriend isn’t super-considerate, but checks her temperature and says her she’s fine. This is tolerable.

Contrivance 6: They wake to find the power, heat, and water is all off. Their phones don’t work. Their clothes, toys, and the girlfriend’s medication is gone.

This one thing is no more contrived than any one thing in Us or The Shining.  This contrivance is the premise of the movie, and you probably were watching to get to this point. In fact a sudden contrivance can be exciting. If things build up naturally and then something dramatic changes, like the blood falling into the eye of the dad in 28 Days Later, it can be terrifying.

What The Lodge has done is replace character agency with too many contrivances. Nothing that got us to this premise feels earned. A Horror story can easily get more tense (or intense) as a protagonist makes a series of dangerous decisions, or as an antagonist makes choices raising the stakes. Here instead things keep being pushed along by forces from off-screen or by virtual non-characters.

It feels additionally cloying because we have three viable protagonists here who should have been able to carry the movie up to this event. We cared about the kids. We understood that the girlfriend was unwell and in a tough position. When they do the standard fare of freaking out and blaming each other and ignoring the apparent supernaturalism of their circumstances, it feels like just the next weird contrived thing that’s forcing them to dance.

Before you can even ask what interesting ways they’ll respond with after they finish panicking, well…

Contrivance 7: You’ll be shocked to learn that they are soon snowed in. There is absolutely no leaving the lodge.

From here it’s obvious that they will perform standard trope responses to outside stimuli until some big twist or reveal. The characters never got proper opportunities to inhabit or push their own narrative forward. These are three people with heavy pain in their lives and reasons to be strong individual characters, and an hour of runtime into the movie the most interesting thing now is what bumped into their window. 

Overuse like this is why “contrived” is a pejorative. When it’s used well, these intrusions can push characters to reveal more of themselves or just scare the crap out of the audience. If they aren’t used carefully, though, the only victim of a Horror story is the story itself.

John (@wiswell) is a disabled writer who lives where New York keeps all its trees. His work has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Nature Futures, and Fireside Magazine. He wishes all readers the comfort that their settings wish they could provide.

ESSAY: Tadashi Hamada’s Legacy

written by David Steffen

This is an essay contemplating the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6 (reviewed here), an excellent animated superhero mystery comedy with one of my favorite characters of all time: Baymax, the inflatable healthcare companion android who gets (improbably) recruited to be part of a superhero team by teenage genius Hiro Hamada. I have posted previous essays about Big Hero 6: Is Baymax Really Compassionate? and The Betrayal of Hiro Hamada. This will include spoilers for the movie, do go see it if you get the chance!

Baymax, one of the main characters of Big Hero 6, is a robot built by Tadashi Hamada, designed to be a healthcare companion. From Baymax’s tone of voice, health scanners, medical database, to his easily sanitized soft and non-threatening exterior and gentle way of moving, everything about Baymax’s design is meant to make him good at this one purpose. Baymax is a prototype that Tadashi intends to change the world by making it easier to provide general healthcare services–a robot like this could compress in the corner of an apartment building or a school and provide health services on demand, or be a long-term and compassionate caretaker for people who would otherwise not be able to live on their own due to age or disability.

Tadashi is still young at the beginning of the movie (maybe 18 or 20 years old?), and enrolled at what his brother Hiro calls “nerd school” for advanced students which seems to be focused on practical applications of cutting edge technology. Tadashi is so surrounded by advanced students with big ideas that even with the invention of Baymax, Tadashi doesn’t stand above his classmates.

Tadashi dies a young and tragic death, apparently before he took his plans for Baymax to the next level to try doing beta testing and eventually find a way to finance broader production, and with the destruction of the school where it was produced it seems unlikely that anyone else has the information to produce any more. Except Hiro. After Tadashi’s death, Hiro discovers the Baymax prototype, and much of the rest of the movie revolves around the connection between the two–Baymax tries to help Hiro recover from the death of his brother, and when suspicious details start to arise Hiro uses Baymax’s compassion and willingness to help to start a technology-powered superhero team with him as the inventor and strategic leader. He reinvents Baymax from the slow and gentle balloon animal he is, to a powerhouse with (removable) armor.

I can understand why Hiro feels a connection with Baymax. Baymax is amazing, and compassionate, and funny. I want him to be my friend, too. And it certainly makes a great movie. But… I can’t help thinking about how Tadashi left behind everything that Hiro would’ve needed to finish the incredible humanitarian legacy that Tadashi had started, that was part of Tadashi’s original design, and all part of why Baymax is so amazing (his empathy and compassion are part of his medical programming, even though they also make him a great friend). Hiro never even seems to consider this possibility, focusing only on himself and on his own needs, and selfishly keeping Baymax to himself, and even reinventing him as a combat robot when starting from scratch with a new robot would honestly make more sense–the inflatable body alone is a major combat liability.

He could have helped finish his brother’s vision of a world where healthcare could be available to everyone (not that there wouldn’t be downsides to it as well, mostly involving job losses in the healthcare industry, as happens in any industry when robot labor becomes a possibility), but something like this could make healthcare available to everyone universally–and not just in developed countries, Baymaxes could go to famine-stricken countries and could perhaps help develop solutions to famine and other major issues that cause health problems. I don’t know how much a Baymax costs to build but I’m guessing the R&D involved to make the first one far outstrips the cost of making one based on existing blueprints.

Instead Baymax is an individual, making a difference where he can in his home city. And I love Baymax, but it makes me sad to think that he has not been able to fulfill the purpose he was designed for. And I think it would make Baymax sad too, he wants nothing more than to help, and he could help so many more people that way.

The Betrayal of Hiro Hamada

written by David Steffen

Note before you read any further that this article will definitely include spoilers for the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6, so stop now if you don’t want it spoiled. (It was previously reviewed here, as well as an essay about Baymax) If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend it! It is one of my favorites–fun, funny, flashy, action-packed, and with an overall very likeable cast of characters. The purported protagonist of the movie is the focus of this article: Hiro Hamada.

This is also a followup to a previous article “Is Baymax Really Compassionate?” focusing on the character of Baymax.

The course of this movie has a lot of ups and downs for Hiro. He starts the movie out as a bored teenager who has graduated from high school several years early and fills his bored spare time illegally gambling on black market bot fights, using bots of his own invention. His brother Tadashi helps him find more productive ways to channel his inventiveness by getting him to join his own college for gifted inventors, a dream that is abruptly cut short with an explosion at the college that kills Tadashi and their beloved Professor Callahan. During the long grieving process Hiro discovers the healthcare companion robot Baymax that his brother invented, and Baymax tries to help him find closure over his brother’s death in various ways, including by helping him investigate the cause.

As the movie goes on, in many ways Hiro finds more than just a nurse in Baymax, but a friend. Hiro spends much of his time apparently convincing Baymax that dressing up as superheroes and engaging in increasingly dangerous behaviors is helpful for Hiro’s mental well-being.

A major turning point of the movie is when Hiro and Baymax and the rest of the team discover who is responsible for Tadashi’s death and Hiro orders Baymax to kill him and Baymax refuses, which is the only point in the entire movie when Baymax says no, drawing a boundary and telling Hiro that he can’t cross it. Hiro reacts by forcing Baymax to follow his order by removing his healthcare companion programming chip so that the only programming left to him, the combat programming that Hiro had given him, leaving him a frightening shell of himself, an automatic killer. When his full programming is restored to him, Baymax reasserts this boundary and they end up working it out, Baymax apparently forgiving him for it.

I do find it troubling that the movie seems to give Hiro a pass on this. It’s understandable that Hiro was tempted to do this, considering he is in the throes of grief at his brothers untimely death. But the fact that he sees Baymax’s boundary, which is clearly stated, and effectively alters this intelligence, which he had shown signs that he considered Baymax a friend. It would be like asking a friend for something, and when they say no, you forcefully give them a lobotomy and then make them do it anyway. I don’t think that’s simply something that should be so easily forgiven with no consequences, just because Baymax is an artificial being. It is in Baymax’s nature to be forgiving, but I don’t understand how their friends aren’t more troubled by Hiro’s cavalier disregard for other people’s boundaries. And, like is too often the case in real life, Hiro Hamada’s predatory tendencies are forgiven and forgotten by everyone around him because he is considered a genius and accomplishes impressive things.

Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been a second movie (albeit there is a TV show), because it might be a hard sell for a kid’s show to be about the Trial of Hiro Hamada.

Is Baymax Really Compassionate?

written by David Steffen

Note before you read any further that this article will definitely include spoilers for the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6, so stop now if you don’t want it spoiled. If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend it! (it was reviewed here previously) It is one of my favorites–fun, funny, flashy, action-packed, and with an overall very likeable cast of characters. The most likeable character in the story is the topic of this essay: Baymax.


Baymax, in his own words, is a “personal healthcare companion.” He is a prototype designed by Tadashi Hamada, a resident of San Fransokyo, who died tragically young in a building explosion before he could do more than private experiments on the prototype.

After his death, Tadashi’s brother Hiro finds the robot in their shared bedroom and Baymax with his medical skills discovers that Hiro is grieving and attempts to help him, by connecting him with his and Tadashi’s mutual friends from a college of advanced technology, and by helping him find the person responsible for Tadashi’s death.

Baymax develops more and more of a superhero-persona as Hiro tries to reinvent him as a powerful superheroic juggernaut with martial arts powers, jets, and projectile fists. Baymax goes along with this on the thin premise that this is all part of Hiro’s treatment to prevent depression and largely goes along with whatever Hiro wants until Hiro asks too much and asks Baymax to take a human life and Baymax refuses. Blinded by grief, Hiro removes Baymax’s nurse chip and the rest of Hiro’s friends narrowly prevent Baymax from killing while he is not himself. This is a major turning point in the movie as Baymax draws a personal boundary and refuses to let Hiro cross it, not allowing Hiro to access his programming chips again afterward. But in the end Baymax forgives him and they join forces again to win the day, and Baymax even gives what can be considered a selfless act to save Hiro’s life (while also doing his best to prolong himself).


Throughout all of this, Baymax is very empathetic, funny, sweet, and helpful. Hiro’s well-being is his primary concern, as much of his actions in the movie are justified by helping Hiro find closure, as well as combating depression with adrenaline rushes. Baymax’s programming is focused around caring for others and it shows in the way he nurtures his team, including acting as a flotation device when the whole group drives a car into water, and then helping them warm up by generating his own heat.

There’s no question that Baymax is likeable. But, is he likeable because he can’t possibly be otherwise? Is he simply a product of his nature? He was designed to act as a nurturer and healer, does that mean that he is actually compassionate, that he is a good person?

He certainly is a nurturer and healer in effect–he never harms a human being in the film, and others are often in better health or better mood because of him. Even when he’s not directly working in a clearly healthcare-related way, his attempts to empathize bring him closer to the people who surround him. In one scene, as he is watching fireworks with Hiro, Hiro has his legs extended in front of him and swings his feet back and forth in an idle motion, and Baymax imitates him in a show of connecting with him.

But, deep inside, is Baymax really compassionate? Or is it merely that he can’t help but take compassionate actions? Does Baymax feel anything or is he just a process of his programming?

I think there is some evidence that Baymax goes outside of his programming in the course of his film. In particular, the fact that he is so easily convinced to take Hiro on dangerous actions, to a degree that I don’t think is fully plausible if healthcare is his only concern. I think that if that were true, then Baymax, instead of giving in to almost all of Hiro’s demands, would be questioning Hiro’s increasingly risky behavior and whether it signals some kind of mental condition that needs treatment for the safety of himself and others.

These questions have often crossed my mind since I watched this movie, and more and more I have come to the conclusion that: it doesn’t matter. When we deal with our fellow human beings, we can’t see into their minds, we can only judge a person by their words and their actions. Baymax is no different. Or, if he is different, he’s simply easier to judge as having a compassionate effect because it’s easier to take his actions as not having ulterior motives since we know what he was designed for.

The Horowitz Method: A Metrics-Based Approach to Rank-Ordering Musical Groups

written by David Steffen (and no one else, alas)


Since time immemorial, one of the perennial topics of humankind has been to compare music.  Whether pop is better than country, whether this band is better than that band, or this song better than that song.  Before the invention of writing, one can imagine heated arguments about who was the best drummer.

(ANGELICA, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. For everything. But most of all I’m especially sorry for taking what we had for granted. Don’t worry, the parts that are bold-and-italicized are only visible to you, keyed off of your IP address. I can only hope that even though you’ve changed your number and email address that you might have left this one thing unchanged. I know you would be mortified if this were public, and wouldn’t hear the end of it from Maurice. I wouldn’t do that to you!)

Arguments are powerful things.  Relationships have formed and relationships have ended over this subject matter (because some of us become complete assholes on the topic and don’t think about other people), and we believe that many relationships can be saved if we can apply some elements of scientific rigor.  The subject matter as it has been historically framed is inherently too subjective and therefore is a breeding ground for disputes and hard feelings.  Even scientists, we who pride ourselves on being able to set aside our emotions and think rationally, have been known to make this mistake, though we of all people should know better. 

We posit that our mistake has been rushing into the discussion without agreeing upon criteria (and also about using absolute statements in combination with invectives, statements like “Anyone who likes 98 Degrees more than The Four Seasons is a complete @*&@#$ @#*@! have no place in a laboratory”. I was not lying, but I should have considered your feelings. I didn’t know how hard you would take that until you replied to say that One Direction was better than Third Eye Blind. That still stings.), and so have entered the debate in bad faith with the conclusion in mind ahead of the evidence.  We considered what criteria might be used for the judging of musical bands.  As with the objective comparison of so many other types of subject matter, we have come to the conclusion that the answer lies in mathematics.  When we sent Voyager to journey beyond our solar system, we wrote our message to the universe in the languages of music and mathematics.  If it’s good enough for aliens, it’s good enough for resolving disputes with our fellow music-loving humans. (I would send you a gold record!)


Therefore, I propose The Horowitz Method (I hope you’re not upset that I named it after you. I know it’s traditional for the founder/inventor of a scientific method or discovery to be its namesake, and while you didn’t propose the method nor write this article to propose it to the public, I wanted to acknowledge the role that you played in its instantiation. You are the best research partner that I’ve ever had, so rigorous and well-spoken and hilarious when you want to be, and while yes I have at times been jealous of your success, that success was earned and anyone is lucky to work with you. I also admit that another factor in choosing your name was that I hoped you would hear about the proposed method via mutual colleagues and would be curious enough to visit this page where you could read these messages. If you’re upset about the naming, I promise I am willing to change it), an objective method of rank-ordering musical groups in a metric-based approach that is thus subject to peer review.

But what mathematical measure?  If we were talking about comparing one song with another, it might be easier, for the music itself is inherently mathematical–meter, tempo, time, number of notes, pitches.  But a single musical group could have any number of songs, and the number could grow every day–what particular songs would one use to judge a group?  Their newest?  The whole body of their work?  And some bands release songs so regularly that any conclusion drawn would have to be re-examined very frequently. And that’s not even to speak about what particular measure to use which, we know from personal experience, becomes a dispute of its own.

No, if we are going to compare musical groups and expect a somewhat stable outcome, we must not compare their songs, we must compare traits of the group themselves.  The genre?  The style?  Again, too subjective, one could argue that a group is one or another or maybe both or something entirely new.  We need to focus in on something entirely indisputable. 

The band name.  (Please hear me out and look at the data. And I look forward to seeing your refutation in a prestigious journal instead of publishing it on your own site)

And, in order to apply mathematical rigor to it, the dataset we will work with will be band names with numbers in them. (yeah, I know, but I figured we had to start somewhere)

“My favorite musical group doesn’t have a number in it,” (Black-Eyed Peas) some of you are declaring at this very moment (Faust, Lionel Richie, Adele).  Then take heart in knowing that your favorite band is incomparable, in the mathematical sense.  If you want to compare your group with others, I’m afraid you’re out of luck, at least for the time being.  You may as well try compare (8/0) to (10/0), or compare a walrus to a the clock speed of Pentium processor, or a raven to a writing desk, the question inherently has no meaning, and if you don’t like the system, propose an alternative. (I dare you. You know you want to!)

By using a mathematical system, we can define and rank and draw some mathematical conclusions about the dataset.  This system doesn’t define which band is the “best” because that is an inherently subjective concept, but it does define which is the GREATEST, mathematically speaking. (That’s right, that’s how sorry I am, I am resorting to PUNS . In PUBLIC. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster forgive me. )


Even in something so simple as numerical ordering, there were some corner cases that are worth noting, especially when other researchers consider peer review.

Only groups that had a number clearly as part of the name were included in the dataset. Groups that clearly had numerical etymology but did not contain what we would recognize as the word we commonly use for the number were not included. This excluded, for instance, Pentatonix, which was a corner case in itself, but if we included root words then we felt it would have to include any other names that include root words, which might not always be easy to determine in every word that it may not be common knowledge that they are numerically based, such as “quarantine”.

But a number may be part of a larger word and still be included as long as the number itself is clearly visible and appears to clearly refer to the number. So, Sixpence None the Richer was included as the number 6 and Oneohtrix Point Never was included as the number 1, but Bone Thugs and Harmony was not included because “Bone” clearly is not meant to refer to the number “one” even though it contains the letter sequence.

At first, ordinal were included, like Third Eye Blind, as its integer number (in this case, 3). But, after considering the earlier decisions about not allowing words with number etymology in them, this seemed inconsistent with that. In an attempt at greater consistency, these were still included in the dataset, but as fractions whenever the word was correct–so Third Eye Blind was included as 1/3 rather than as 3. We expect that this will be a point of contention in peer review and we welcome the debate. (Note that I didn’t do this just so that One Direction would be greater than Third Eye Blind, and how dare you suggest I would undermine my own scientific integrity)

Roman numerals were included, but only when the numeral clearly referred to a number. So, King’s X was excluded even though the X might be considered a 10, because that doesn’t appear to be how it’s used. But Boyz II Men was included, because it is spoken as the number representation, rather than being pronounced “Boyz Eye Eye Men”.

Musical groups with more than one number in their name, like The 5,6,7,8’s, or Seven Mary Three, were treated as a dataset, included once for each number. This means that Seven Mary Three is both greater than and less than The Four Tops.


Many of the results of this dataset are illustrative of the problems inherent in trying to summarize a dataset with extreme outliers. At the same time, the usual methods for excluding outliers seemed inappropriate for this particular application, because if we are to determine which band is greater than another, but exclude the greatest bands in the dataset, this would undermine. Note that, among other things, this means that the GREATEST band is also the ONLY band that’s above average.

The Greatest (Maximum): Six Billion Monkeys

The Least (Minimum): Minus Five

Average: 28,846,316.88

Standard Deviation: 416,025,135.8

Median: 5 (see data list below to see the bands with value 5)

Mode: 3

Again, note how the average and standard deviation in particular were skewed very high by the high outliers in the dataset, particularly the number of 6,000,000,000, when the majority of the rest of the numbers were less than 100.


While the dataset as a whole is very spread out to make a displayable histogram, since 90% of the datapoints are between the values of 0 and 100, that a histogram of the data within this range could be interesting.


If this measure were widely adopted, it is possible that it would have the consequence of encouraging musical groups to be more likely to pick names with numbers in them, or to add numbers to existing names. We see this as a positive result in itself, though it could make future results require more peer reviews as bands try to pick the greatest number to improve their placement, which may bias the data.

Although we explicitly avoided ranking individual songs here, the same method has potential for that as well as albums or movie titles or books (i.e. 1984 is greater than Slaughterhouse Five) or really anything else that has titles that might include numbers in them.

(And the most important under the topic of further study is whether you will see this as the olive branch it is meant to be. My research is lesser without you, and I hope you feel the same way about me. You know how to reach me, and I hope you do contact me. Most of all, and you know that I’m not good at the touchy-feely stuff, is that I miss you as a person. You are an incredible human being.)


Here is a list of the complete set of datapoints used in this study. While this is meant to be as complete a list as possible, it is recognized that this is likely not a comprehensive list, as with the Internet publishing where it is it can be hard to define whether a band is a band or not–i.e. what if there is a musical YouTube channel with a numerical username, or what if someone self-publishes a CD on their own website that no one has heard of. Further studies can propose methods of defining what exact musical groups should be included and which ones should not.

Six Billion Monkeys
10,000 Maniacs
Powerman 5000 (Yeah, I know, but numbers don’t lie)
Andre 3000
Death From Above 1979
The 1975
1000 Homo DJs
MC 900 Foot Jesus
Galaxie 500
Appollo 440
Front 242
Blink 182
Zuco 103
The 101ers
100 Flowers
Haircut One Hundred
98 Degrees
Old 97’s
Revenge 88
Combat 84
Link 80
Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80
Resistance 77
69 Eyes
Sham 69
Eiffel 65
The Dead 60s
Ol ’55
The B-52’s
50 Cent
45 Grave
Loaded 44
June of 44
Level 42
Sum 41
36 Crazyfists
Thirty Seconds To Mars
Apartment 26
Section 25
23 Skidoo
Catch 22
Twenty One Pilots
Matchbox Twenty
East 17
Heaven 17
16 Horsepower
13 & God
Thirteen Senses
13 Enginers
Thirteen Senses
12 Stones
Finger Eleven
Ten Seconds Over Tokyo
Ten Years After
10 Years
Nine Inch Nails
Sound Tribe Sector 9
The 5,6,7,8’s
The 5,6,7,8’s
Seven Mary Three
Zero 7
School of Seven Bells
Avenged Sevenfold
School of Seven Bells
7 Seconds
7 Year Bitch
Shed Seven
The 5,6,7,8’s
Six Organs of Admittance
Slow Six
Appollonia 6
Eve 6
Sixpence None the Richer
Three Six Mafia
Six Feet Under
Nikki Sixx
Vanity 6
Delta 5
The 5,6,7,8’s
Pizzicato Five
Five Finger Death Punch
Maroon 5
Five Iron Frenzy
Ben Folds Five
The Jackson Five
Family Force 5
Dave Clark Five
Section 5
Count Five
5 Seconds of Summer
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Jurassic 5
John 5
We Five
The Five Satins
five star
Gang of Four
Four Tet
The Four Seasons
The Four Tops
The Brothers Four
The 4-Skins
The Four Pennies
The Fourmost
4 Non Blondes
4 Jacks and a Jill
Funky 4*1
Unit 4 + 2
The Three O’Clock
Dirty Three
Fun Boy Three
Seven Mary Three
3 Leg Torso
Bike For Three!
Three Mile Pilot
Dirty Three
Mojave 3
Opus III
Alabama 3
Three Dog Night
Three Doors Down
3 Mustaphas 3
3 Mustaphas 3
Three Six Mafia
Three Days Grace
The Three Degrees
Spacemen 3
Timbuk 3
The Juliana Hatfield Three
Fun Boy Three
The Big Three
3 Colours Red
Secret Chiefs 3
Two and a Half Brains
Boyz II Men
Two Gallants
U2 (Sorry Bono)
Soul II Soul
Two Door Cinema Club
The Other Two
Aztec Two-Step
Two Man Sound
2 Live Crew
Unit 4 + 2
2 Chainz
Secondhand Serenade
2 Minutos
1-2 Trio
The Other Two
Faith + 1
Oneohtrix Point Never
One Republic
One Night Only
One Direction
The Only Ones
The Lively Ones
Funky 4*1
1-2 Trio
One Dove
Third Eye Blind
Third Ear Band
The Sixths
Eleventh Dream Day
13th Floor Elevators
Zero 7
Remy Zero
Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
Authority Zero
Zero Boys
The Minus Five

STORY ANALYSIS: “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg

written by David Steffen

For another round of story analysis, I wanted to draw attention to the short story “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg, first published in Analog September/October 2018, and reprinted in audio in Escape Pod.

As with the previous run of the Story Analysis, do expect SPOILERS after this paragraph, but will give a quick spoiler free summary here. The cleanerbot that is the protagonist of this story works in a Battlebot arena, where robots are specifically built to destroy each other in the arena. Each of them the fighters feels a pain response when they are damaged to encourage them to avoid being damaged, and there is a control AI that maintains and updates their systems to promote the overall appeal and effectiveness of the Battlebot arena. The cleanerbot shouldn’t have any interest in doing anything but it’s primary purpose–cleaning up the robot parts after the battles, but it has memory of the pain the battlebots feel when they’re damaged and it decides it wants to help.

The cleanerbot starts simple, working by itself, finding ways to work within the parameters given to it that will interfer with the efficiency of the arena, cleaning the same areas over and over again, cleaning poorly, and so on. The other bots don’t understand why it would seem to push against its purpose, but as it tries again and again, and is gradually given updates to block each new attempt, the battlebots start to see the wisdom in its plan, and they start to work together to find some way to improve their lives.

I really enjoyed this story of a bot revolution, as they try to understand the details of their scenario, they come to understand that they can’t just stop fighting because that would mean the battlebot arena would close down, which is where their power comes from. But I especially enjoy intelligent robot stories when there is some justification for how they behave, and the incompletely formatted memory drive made sense here. And the robot way of thinking was very well executed here.

I quite enjoyed this story by Effie Seiberg, and I always look forward for her stories.

MEDIA COMPARISON: Sookie Stackhouse books vs. novels

written by David Steffen

Now that I have seen the entire True Blood TV series and all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that they were based on, I have been thinking about the differences between the two and was thinking about writing up a post.  This is certainly not intended to be an exhaustive list–there could easily be a book written listing out all the differences, especially since after the first few books/seasons, the two plots diverge wildly in almost every respect.  So, I am only going to note a limited number, and the ones which I found the most striking, because I find it interesting to compare adaptations of a fictional universe to different media formats.

Obviously, this will be spoiler rich, as I will be covering some major plot points for the entire run of both the TV and book series.

1.  POV

Except for a few rare exceptions, mostly in the last book, the Sookie Stackhouse novels stick entirely with Sookie Stackhouse’s point of view.  That means that anything the reader knows, Sookie has to either experience or hear someone else’s telling.

The TV series, on the other hand, shifts to different characters frequently.  This gives the cast of characters much stronger backgrounds, as we see flashbacks from Sam Merlotte, we find out about Tara Thornton’s childhood, we see romantic trysts that Sookie isn’t even aware of, we see occurrences at the highest level of vampire government that Sookie will never know about.  Often this is used for dramatic tension, ending a scene with one character with a cliffhanger moment and then swapping to another character to let the viewer stew a bit.

Nothing wrong with either way of telling a story, certainly.  But the books are much more clearly just the story of Sookie, while the TV show is the story of ensemble cast.

2.  Scale of Conflicts

In the books, many of the conflicts are on a small-scale personal or very local level.  In the TV show, especially as the series progresses, many of the conflicts are on a world-stakes kind of level.

This is probably partly a consequence of the multiple POVs of the TV show, as we can see what various players are doing all over the place there, while in the books we can only see what one character who is not directly involved in major world-scale planning for either humans or vampires can see.

3.  Missing/Added Characters

There are many characters who were either added just for the TV show, or which were omitted in the TV show adaptation.  Too many to be worth listing (if I thought I could even remember them!)

But there were a couple ones I thought particularly notable:

Bubba, in the books, is the vampire who had once been Elvis Presley.  He had died like he had in our world, but the vampire working at the morgue had been a huge fan and had raised Elvis even though Elvis had really been too far gone to be fully recoverable.  As a consequence, he is sort of brain-damaged, with little memory of who he used to be, and with a penchant for cat blood.  He doesn’t like to be reminded of who he was, hence the name Bubba, (though we never actually get to see him freak out in the series, the implication is that if he is reminded he becomes very violent) but occasionally will sing for people, at which point he is every bit as talented as he had been in life.  The oddest thing about his character, which I thought was never explored as fully as it could’ve been, is that apparently because of Bubba’s nature being sort of a broken vampire, at least one of the vampire rules does not apply to him.  He can enter homes without an invitation.  This happens several times in the series before it is pointed out in the narrative–I spotted it as it happened and thought it might’ve been a writing mistake, and maybe it was one that Harris corrected later?  In any case, I thought that detail begged more investigation–is the barring of entering a home somehow a psychological block common to all vampires, and somehow because Bubba is mentally handicapped he is lacking the block?

Jessica Hamby is a character invented entirely for the TV show.  When Sookie spotted Eric’s embezzling bartender Long Shadow, the accused tried to kill her and Bill staked Long Shadow to defend her.  As punishment for murdering a vampire, Bill was sentenced by the Vampire Authority to make a new vampire, and was given a high school girl who had snuck out after curfew.  He carried out the sentence and so had to raise Jessica, who soon takes to the life of freedom compared to her oppressive Catholic parents.  She continues to be a major character for the rest of the series, including romantic relationships with Hoyt Fortenberry and Jason Stackhouse.  She is a particularly interesting character in the series because she is the only “baby vamp” we get to follow very closely in either incarnation–as she struggles with her newfound vampire bloodlust she has to decide where she wants to place boundaries on herself, and if she wants to be romantically involved with humans, how she can work that out with her more primal vampire nature.

4.  Sookie’s Romantic Relationships

Both the book series and the TV series begin with Sookie’s romantic interest in Bill.  He is the first vampire she meets, and much of it is the newfound novelty of meeting someone whose mind is not an open book to her (there are other reasons too, but that’s the biggest one).  In both series, she ends up hooking up with Eric, first while his memory is missing (thanks to a witch curse) and then later without the amnesia.

In the books, she also hooks up with Quinn, a weretiger for a few books(who is not a character in the TV series, I don’t think, unless he’s a very minor bit part I didn’t notice), but ended up breaking up with him because he is too unreliable because of issues with his mother requiring his attention and repeatedly drawing him into bad situations.

In the show, she dates Alcide Herveaux for quite a while.  In the books there is some romantic interest between the two, but they never really become close like they do in the show, in large part because Alcide constantly calls on her for one-sided favors without even doing her the courtesy of explaining the situation.

In the show she realizes that her distance in other relationships is that she never really got over Bill, but Bill wasn’t right for her, but his constant presence has always made her second-guess herself.  In the last episodes of the series, Bill has advanced far enough in Hep-V that he has reached a stage where he has apparently started to become sort of human again, to the point where Sookie can read his thoughts.  He asks her to help him die, and she does so.  The final scene of the show then jumps ahead into the future, with Sookie at a dinner party, pregnant and with a boyfriend/husband whose face we never even get to see, so we know she ends up with someone in that time, but we don’t know anything about him.  Although it was disappointing to not even get to meet the guy, it was good to see her move on from being trapped in that loop of a relationship.

In the books she ends up in a relationship with Sam Merlotte, triggered in part by her using her cluviel dor artifact to save his life when he would certainly have died.  This was one of the more satisfying differences in favor of the book, because there was always some tension between the two that never really got to be resolved until that final book, and they were always such good friends, sharing secrets with each other that almost no one else knows.

5.  Jason’s Change

In both versions, Jason is held captive by the interbreeding family of werepanthers of Hot Shot, and Jason suffers some bites from them and wonders if he will become a werepanther.

In the books, he does!  Bitten were-animals are different from genetic were-animals, only able to half-transform into animal forms, and they end up weaker, but he becomes a werepanther of a sort, joins the family of Hot Shot somewhat informally, and has to deal with his new state of being for the rest of his life.

When something like this happens in the show, the readers know he will become a werepanther.  But they’re wrong.  Nope, in the show’s version of the universe, that’s not how it works–bites don’t transfer the were-ness of a were-animal.  So Jason’s still a regular human.

6.  The Maenad’s First Victim

In the second book, a super-powerful creature known as a maenad visits Bon Temps, holding huge drunken orgy parties and murdering people, poisoning Sookie.  One of the first signs of her involvement is a corpse in Andy Bellifleur’s car found behind Merlotte’s–the corpse of Lafayette Reynolds, part-time cook at Merlotte’s who had been Sookie’s friend, and who had attended some of the maenad’s parties and was apparently murdered there.

Where this gets really interesting, if you think of alternate adaptations of fictional worlds , is that the show starts out appearing to be happening the same way.  The corpse is discovered in Andy’s car behind Merlotte’s, and the viewer can see a dark-skinned foot with painted nails sticking out of the back seat.  Sookie screams, and that’s the end of season 1, leaving the viewers on that cliffhanger until next season.

Now of course, the faithful readers of the Sookie Stackhouse novels are smugly saying to themselves that they know who the victim was, recalling Lafayette’s death in the books (the dark skinned foot with nail polish meshes with that because Lafayette does wear makeup).  BUT THEY’RE WRONG.  In another switcharoo, even bigger than the last one, it is a different character entirely–a scam artist who pretends to be a witch, selling exorcisms and the like (which might sometimes work).  Lafayette is still alive, and in fact lives through the rest of the series and is one of the more interesting characters in the series, and even develops powers as a medium to talk to spirits, especially as a rare gay black man, something you don’t see represented too often in science fiction and fantasy.  Having read the books after watching the show, I was very disappointed at Lafayette’s death without him having played more than a background role.


ESSAY: Not Quite Superman

written by S.B. Lakes

When I was young, whenever I would get frustrated with something, my parents would say, “It’s hard, but you can do it.”

Throughout life, I’ve taken this to heart; I powered through and did the things, even when there was a crushing amount of work to be done. Friends called it “superpowers”, and I found myself using it more and more often. Superpowers always have their cost – get the power of the Dark Side at the expense of your morality, get magic powers when you sacrifice the thing you love most, and so on. For me, I’d be exhausted the next day, a gibbering baboon who looked like they’d stayed awake for three days straight, but the feeling was always that it was worth it because that’s what you gotta do to get it done. It’s hard, but you can do it.

Today I both write SFF and work in a high-powered slice of tech. In tech, superpowers are the norm. Superpowers are expected. Superpowers are your basic prerequisite, because of course you’re going to work-hard-play-hard, you’re going to go-go-go and get-shit-done. (You probably have a t-shirt or mug with at least one of these phrases, possibly handed out by your employer.) There is no place for weakness in this environment.

There is no place for disability in this environment.

In the past 5+ years, working with a wide variety of client companies, I haven’t seen a single person with a visible disability. Any invisible ones have been carefully hidden away.

Even without my disability, I’ve never been healthy. In the past five years alone, I’ve dealt with a bizarre constellation of medical issues. Car accidents, emergency appendectomy, shingles… nothing connected, but many things. Some I can hide. Some I can’t, but there’s still an expectation to push through. A regular sick day usually means working from home, smiling and cogent on the video conference, trying to ignore the fever heating my cheeks or my nose that’s been rubbed raw from tissues. The last time I had a real sick day, I was two weeks after major surgery and on serious painkillers. The following week, still high as a kite on vicodin and barely able to shuffle to the fridge and back, my then-client insisted that I get some work done and I’d been out long enough. But at least all of these issue were temporary, and none actually disabling.

Which brings me to my actual, invisible disability. I’ve struggled with sometimes-crippling depression since high school. I’ve checked myself into two different hospital programs, one of which included a week of inpatient care. It’s hard enough to smile and pretend I’m stronger than I really am when recovering from a physical illness. It’s excruciating while depressed. In my field, depression is an unheard-of weakness. People acknowledge that I can’t help it if I was hit by a car, but depression is still seen as a personal failing.

I am not “out” in tech, because I would stop getting business. This piece is the first and only work I’ve ever written under a pseudonym – I can’t afford the risk. Who wants to work with someone who might one day just be too sad to come in? What’s the point? Just get over your bullshit and get this shit done. Superpower your way through and you’ll be fine. So I grit my teeth and smile, smile even when my cheeks feel like they each have a one-ton weight smuggled within them, smile when it’s all I can do to keep the tears from squeezing out and rolling down my unprofessional face and dripping onto my unprofessional laptop that would fizzle and sizz in the very reaction that I’m now suppressing in myself. (Superpower through it. It’s hard, but you can do it.)

Depression feels like the opposite of superpowers. Instead of being able to burst through expectations and accomplish superhuman amounts of work, I’m saddled with some sort of superkryptonite. Not only can I not do things that are super, but I find it hard to do incredibly basic things. Showering is difficult. Dishes nigh impossible. Dragging myself to work is an ordeal I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, because the weight of the burden wants to crush me to the ground. And I want to let it, because it would be so much easier to let myself be pulverized into mush than fight for just one minute longer. (It’s hard, and you might not actually be able to do it. That’s a scary thought.)

And in a scenario where I have to hide my disability for fear of losing my job, I feel like a backwards Clark Kent. Masquerading amongst the superheroes, ever afraid that someone would notice that I squint a bit and sometimes bump into things and really if I put on glasses I’d look just like that non-super reporter guy. Nobody needs to bring in that non-super reporter guy to get things done.

Which brings me to the SFF part of my life. There are many issues with disability in science fiction and fantasy. Evil people are disabled or disfigured almost by their nature: see Star Wars’ Snoke, Wonder Woman’s Dr. Poison, Doctor Who’s Davros, and so on. Cons still don’t do enough for people with disabilities. I can’t count the number of times a panelist has decided they’re naturally loud enough to “not need a mic” so I can’t hear them (much less be heard by those with hearing limitations), or seen a panelist in a wheelchair struggle to get onto a ramp-free stage. There’s a lot that needs to be improved.

But despite all this, the SFF world has been my disability salvation. This was the very first world where I was allowed to be “out” with no consequences, and met a number of folks with the same struggle. I could have depression and still be OK, a person worth working with. Hell, I could have depression because I’d been cooped up for too long dealing with yet another illness (my current situation), and still be OK. I was able to open up about my difficulties, my clashing needs to be productive and also practice self-care, in part because so many others were openly fighting the same battles. In the past few years, the SFF community taught me about the concept of spoons, and saving your energy for the things that matter most. This is the community that lovingly yelled at me to stop being ridiculous while I was berating myself for taking too long to finish a novel draft. They told me to start taking better care of my mental health, which included taking breaks.

Not only did I not need superpowers to be accepted in this community, it seemed like nobody did. The outpouring of empathy and love became one of my strongest sources of support, with the echo of “it’s hard, and sometimes you don’t need to do it. It’s OK if you don’t.”

This contrast is startling.

When I had a week-long crippling migraine, an editor sent me copy edits to review. I knew it would be OK to request a few more days, because I wasn’t able to concentrate very well with the pain, and they were fine with it. That same week, my tech job showed no such courtesy, and I had multiple skull-shattering, painfully loud video conferences.

When I was depressed and struggling to make it through the day, I had another editor ask for a revise-and-resubmit for a story. I’d seen others do it, so I knew it would be OK to ask for another few weeks because I was too depressed to make progress. He told me to take care of myself. At the same time, not being “out” in my day job, I was juggling three very demanding clients with no way to get a reprieve. I dragged myself forward on each new project, each new request, whispering “it’s hard, but you can do it” as I trudged through.

When I was extremely depressed and was in a hospital program, getting intense therapy for four hours every weekday, my corner of the SFF community sent me love and support. It was clear that all writing had to come to an indefinite halt. In fact it should’ve been clear that all work had to come to an indefinite halt. But instead I found myself dragging my wrung-out carcass directly from the hospital to a client planning session. Depression, which gives your frontal lobe a whallop and makes it hard to concentrate or think, had me scraping together my remaining neurons (already frazzled from the hospital session) to focus not on rest and my own health, but on a soon-to-be-dead company’s plans for their next product launch.

The SFF community still has a way to go towards eliminating ableism, both in its media and within its community. But for me, this has been the one place in my life where it’s completely OK that I’m not quite Superman. I can drop the fake smile and the veneer of hypercompetence, and have one less burden to lift. I can take care of myself and my health. Things are hard, and I’m OK whether I can do them or not.

It’s good to be home.


S. B. Lakes is a fantasy and science fiction writer who works in tech. They’ve been dealing with depression for about twenty years, and have been hiding it from their professional tech life out of necessity. They’ve published under another name at several magazines, including Lightspeed and Analog.

The Five Best Realistic Science Fiction Films in the Past Five Years

written by Maria Isabelle


There was a time when science fiction films consisted of more fiction than science, but as mankind grows more intelligent about the scientific forces that control the universe, our need for more believable science fiction also grows stronger. Here are some recent and realistic depictions of science and technology in film:


Gravity (2013)

When their shuttle is destroyed, a medical engineer and an astronaut must work to survive in space as they are adrift in orbit. This has become one of the most famous movies in recent times to be completely picked apart by modern rock star scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The physics is a little hit-or-miss, but there are times when Gravity did capture the zero gravity feeling, according to Buzz Aldrin. Other realistic additions include special props used by astronauts, correct alignment of buttons and controls, and the growing problem of space debris in Earth’s orbit.


Her (2013)

In this sci-fi dramedy, a man falls in love with an intelligent operating system named Samantha. Not the only film on this list to deal with man falling in love with a machine, Her is steeped in something a little closer to reality. More recently, humans have developed a growing trend of being attached to our technology at all times. How many people never leave the house without their cell phones or take them to bed with them? For some, it also seems that communicating remotely via email or messaging could make it easier to form more personal bonds. Perhaps in the future, when more sophisticated technology is developed, the prospect of relationships with artificial intelligence won’t seem so crazy.


Interstellar (2014)

In a far out scenario, a team of space explorers must travel through a wormhole to save mankind. Even though the premise is a little insane, there is a lot of sound science fact in this film. Using all available information, most scientists agree that the black hole and wormhole in the film are as close to real as we can imagine right now. Another fascinating aspect of correct science is the different aging rates of the cast. The gravitational pull of the black hole would, in theory, slow down time on the planet closest to the black hole.


Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina sees a man falling in love with an AI robot. Unlike Her, the AI machine here is an actual robot with a very realistic human face. The entire film is centered on the Turing Test, a way of testing AI against the realities of human intelligence. It seems that we may be way off until the technology depicted within the film but we’ve still made some small but great strides in advancing it: smart lights and appliances, remotely controlled home security systems, and even software that actually passed the Turing Test.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

In a far off dystopian future, two people fight to restore balance and order. This film made the list, not for its great technology, but for its realistic depiction of our bleak future. After global climate change and increasing worldwide violence, the Earth is now barren and devoid of any similarities to our modern society in this film. There has been a breakdown in our culture and things such as water and gas have become the top commodities. It isn’t pretty, but close to our reality if we aren’t careful.



Although sci-fi films can sometimes be a bust, they key is to depict relatable and realistic stories in an imagined world. Let’s just hope the tragedies and violence surrounding these technologies and science in film never make it to real life.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.