Jul 06, 2022 9:35 PM
ozytopians classify fiction after interworld contact
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When the news came of interuniverse contact, the censorship bureau immediately threw a party, because they knew what this meant: alien fiction! From completely novel literary traditions, completely uninfluenced by Ozytopians! New tropes! New genres! New visions of beauty! 

Nela had, of course, applied for the Alien Fiction Censorship Bureau, along with an estimated 95% of liturgy monks. (80% of the remaining had intended to apply for the Alien Fiction Censorship Bureau, but failed due to executive dysfunction.) Her resume was excellent: she had spent fifteen years at the Censorship Bureau, ten of them working with tricky classifications, where she was three standard deviations above the mean with regards to how many of her decisions were overturned on appeal; she had afterward spent five years on liturgy, where she had written three well-regarded hymns and two books of daily reflections. 

Nevertheless, she had screamed loud enough that her neighbors issued a noise complaint when the email came saying that she was chosen. 

She sits down to her first day of work with eager anticipation. 

Her opinion, of course, wouldn't be decisive, not for something like this. Each book was sent to ten random readers, to estimate interrater reliability; only if everyone agreed would a book be issued a nihil obstat*, much less an imprimatur.** The primary purpose of the Alien Fiction Censorship Bureau was to teach monks about the kind of books that aliens wrote, so that they could come together in committees and form preliminary guidelines from an informed point of view. 

Before any sort of multiverse fiction trade happened, the other worlds had of course been informed of the handful of things that were No Seriously Completely Illegal in ozytopia (weight and calorie numbers, instructions on how to commit suicide or acts of terrorism, etc). Authors had been asked not to send books that didn't follow those rules (although of course they were welcome to censor weight and calorie numbers). One thing they planned to learn was whether the aliens could be trusted to follow instructions about this. Nela didn't expect to be vulnerable, though. She had no eating disorders. The Adjusting To The Existence Of Aliens Committee, Monk Reallocation Subcommittee had repurposed the screenings normally used for doctors and nurses, to determine if your suicidal and homicidal ideation was rare enough that it was safe for you to have a medical education, and Nela had passed with flying colors. (It was too bad she threw up at the sight of blood, really.)

What alien books are there for her to read?

*A book must have a nihil obstat to be available on the public Internet or in bookstores. To obtain a book which wasn't given a nihil obstat, you must specially order a paper catalog, attaching proof that you are over the age of sixteen. Of course, these days they are also available behind VPNs. 
**An imprimatur indicates that a book is considered educational, morally improving, or otherwise the sort of thing people Should Read. There is a website with all imprimaturs listed, alongside a spoiler-free explanation of what you would learn from the book in question. 

[If you enjoy this thread, you may also enjoy "the invisible dragon in our garage is impermeable to flour."]

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A book about how the existence of a small number of adventurers with various magical powers would affect medieval military tactics, written by a PhD in medieval military history. Would you like a chapter that is just an infodump about how teleportation magic affects supply logistics? Well, you're going to get that chapter. Battles are described sufficiently carefully that a dedicated person could map it out with a sand table and miniatures; an appendix implies that this is an intended way to enjoy the book. There is an extensive bibliography. The author wrote a program to simulate correct population dynamics so everyone has a statistically accurate number of siblings.

A book about merchants using faster-than-light travel to trade between planets. The orbital mechanics are flawless and described in loving detail. One chapter is just a journal article explaining how faster-than-light travel could in theory be compatible with known physics; a footnote explains that this has of course passed a top physics journal's standard peer review process. The main character is a fourteen-year-old who has just enlisted on the merchant ship; it's a bildungsroman. However, this is at least twenty percent an excuse for the main character not to know much about supply chain logistics, so other characters can explain it to them at great length. An... auxiliary book? sequel?... explains how the author's worldbuilding has caused changes in how supply chains work in our timeline. 

A book about how an extremely hot girl was taken as a sex slave by aliens and raped repeatedly. She enjoys it a lot. There is an appendix explaining the aliens' reproductive biology. 

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"Hot girl getting raped" is denied a nihil obstat, that's not even in question. The kinksters are going to enjoy their first alien porn. Nela enjoys some hot-girl-is-a-sex-slave-of-aliens pornography herself, and she finds the reproductive biology worldbuilding fascinating. 

... ...The other two books get an imprimatur? Nela guesses? They're certainly educational. She marks them as teaching about (respectively) "military history, military strategy and tactics, medieval history" and "physics, astronomy, economics, logistics" and adds a note that alien psychology may make the information not generalize to the Teachingsphere. On second thought, can they contract with a nonfiction publishing company and get a factchecker to look at these? It's not fraud to sell fiction that isn't fact-checked, like it is with nonfiction, but she thinks it's going to be valuable to readers to know whether they are educational about the Teachingsphere or just about the Topherverse. 

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A young but talented female chemist is interested in her brilliant and mysterious colleague, but when she asks him out he swears her to secrecy and confesses to being a vampire, ageless but capable of surviving only by drinking human blood. He is unwilling to let himself get close to her while she is mortal, but refuses to turn her into a vampire for fear that the thirst will drive her to murder, as it once did to him. She accepts his self-imposed isolation, but declares a quest to create a synthetic blood substitute. She spends ten years researching in secret from everyone except the vampire (ten years in which they move from colleagues to friends to best friends as the vampire admits it's better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all), and eventually succeeds. They kiss, he turns her into a vampire, they reveal their existence to the world and make everyone immortal and have an extremely fancy wedding.

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A doorstopper novel about a newly oathed Committed of Truth having a handwaved physics lab accident while there as a witness to the experimental results, and landing in an alternate universe where being committed to tell the truth is a serious liability. He wins over a local girl after she's initially incredibly suspicious of him because sliders are rare and sliders who aren't just pretending that they have to tell the truth as a thin tactic to make their lies believable are rarer, but he sticks to his oath through dangerous situations and she realizes he means it and helps him navigate the world in which they find themselves. They manage to send his family a letter but he does not go home.

A children's book about talking big cats (anthropomorphic enough to eat sandwiches and manipulate objects manifestly designed for human hands, but not enough to wear clothes); the protagonist is a tiger, and goes to a demystification program to get tours of factories and offices and see how performers practice and prepare backstage and stuff like that. It's a long book but each chapter is quite short.

A nonfiction memoir about someone's deconversion from an animist sect, driven by her frustration about how all the spirits supposedly around her were not in fact capable of good faith negotiation like a normal person and in fact if she wanted her disk reader to work she had to take it to a repair shop, which wasn't even owned by an animist, and force it to; in fact if she wanted her house clean she had to clean it, not ask nicely; in general if she wants stuff to happen correctly she has to think of inanimate objects like things and not like spirits. Describes her gradual reconciliation with her family after she suffers a long period of alienation because of being reactively allergic to all their propitiation rituals.

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A novel about two members of the same artists' salon during a civil war, whose ideological loyalties place them on opposite sides, falling in love; it's an epistolary novel told primarily via the fiction and poetry the two lovers write although there are also occasional full-color oil paintings (the author notes in the acknowledgements that they got a visual-artist friend to paint them). One of the lovers dies at the other's hand in battle in the second-to-last chapter; this is conveyed by the use of the color red in the subsequent art and poetry by the lover who killed them. (There is, fortunately, an appendix explaining the cultural references and subtext to aliens who might not pick it up, written just for export. It's two-thirds the length of the book.) 

A video game about three mecha pilots in space in which mecha battles are a metaphor for flirting and sex, which is occasionally interrupted by characters getting out of their mechas to have literal sex; each mecha pilot is a member of a different faction in the three-way war for the future of humanity in the solar system. The game goes into the worldbuilding on mechas, which establishes that mecha battles never kill or even injure, but Neptune weapons can and do. There are three possible endings, in which each of the respective factions wins; in all three, the three pilots live together and are in love. The backgrounds are painted in watercolor (except for scenes that take place outside of the mechas, which are instead rendered in different mediums depending on which characters are present) and every scene has subtle aesthetic variations depending on which pilot's perspective you're playing from. The soundtrack won several awards. 

A novella about vampires which is a metaphor for domestic partner abuse. You are not supposed to root for the vampire at any point but xe is charismatic and the blood drinking scenes are, in addition to being moderately gutwrenching in their depiction of the fed-on partner's inner conflict, sexy as hell. 

Another novel, this one with a large ensemble cast, about cyclical abuse and how traumatized parents create traumatized children and this can fuck up people's relationships for the rest of their lives. Almost every emotional plot beat is conveyed via a flower language common in the author's country. (Again, there is an appendix explaining this flower language, although this one isn't for aliens it's for people reading who aren't from said country.)

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Firstplanet

Did the vampire sign off on this quest to create a synthetic blood substitute or did the chemist do this on her own without the vampire's explicit consent or even over his objections?

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The vampire is very supportive! He had given it up as impossible and resigned himself to stealing from blood banks, but saw the promise of her new research direction and helped test the prototypes. There's a touching hurt-comfort scene where he has an adverse reaction to one of the proteins and she has to do first aid and then when the danger is over they mutually freak out and reassure each other. (This incident inspires them to brainstorm better safety practices, and all future experiments are done first on vampiric mice that drink mouse blood.)

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Firstplanet

Cute! Good!

The vampire book does display appropriate relationship skills: taking no for an answer, expressing your devotion in a prosocial way like scientific invention instead of an antisocial way like cutting yourself or stalking people, a mutually supportive relationship, and not causing people you love to do bad things like commit murder. She also approves of the safety practices. However, it doesn't get an imprimatur because very few of the things people do in this book they could reasonably do in real life. Scientific research is generally done by teams, not individuals. People couldn't exactly model themselves after it. 

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Genre: Bildungsroman (+Realistic Fiction) (+Conflict: Self v. Self) Content Warnings: Executive Dysfunction >70th percentile, Detailed Portrayal of Self-Esteem Issues, Detailed Portrayal of Intrusive Thoughts

This one is about a teenage girl who desperately wants to be an ICU nurse but cannot reliably perform tasks which those around her occasionally observe to require much lower executive function than being any kind of nurse; she spends much of the book struggling to reliably perform a set of household chores which have come to represent her difficulties in her mind, culminating in a nervous breakdown at the climax of the book, after which she spends a lot of time in talk therapy coming to terms with her limitations and her options. She spends part of the time she is dealing with her frustration experiencing the urge to self-harm, which she resists. Her problems are at one point exacerbated when she overhears her parents commenting on how if she just set her standards lower then she would be fine, which she resents and resists. 

 

Genre: Educational Fiction (Educational Subspecification: Mathematics) (+Exploratory Worldbuilding) Content Warnings: Detailed Portrayal of Crises and Crisis Handling

This one is about a pair of engineers in a science fiction setting who have to fix the space station they live on using a lot of technology that is postulated to exist, the workings of which aren't gone into excessive detail about but the mechanics of working with which are; they use complicated calculus to determine what the problem is and how they should fix it, and probability theory to determine how likely various possible solutions are to work, and various other fields of math to handle other aspects of the situation, and also to solve non-crisis-related problems during slower parts of the book. It is mentioned offhand at several points that the two engineers are queerplatonic metamours both married to a botanist but the botanist doesn't get a lot of screentime and the book focuses much less on the romantic aspects of the situation than with the engineers' friendship and the space station crisis.

 

Genre: Romance (+Erotic) (+Fast Burn/Slice of Life) (+Realisticoid Fiction: Divergent Culture and Psychology) (Content Warnings: Kink-related-events/practices-that-would-be-extremely-problematic-if-implemented-in-real-life, Attraction to Minors, Implausible Psychology

This one would be a pretty vanilla romance if it weren't for the fact that one of the participants is a twelve-year-old who divorced his parents and moved in with an older woman. The woman is a teacher at a prestigious university; the twelve-year-old is on basic income and spends most of his time not involved in sex-and-romance related pursuits doing amateur digital art; the difference in status is never brought up as a point of tension in the relationship, although the twelve-year-old occasionally has to resolve frustration around his partner's more demanding schedule. 

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Green

Does the book about the newly oathed Committed of Truth discuss in detail the Committed's responses to moral dilemmas, ways of resisting temptation, or reasoning about unexpected edge cases which develop when you are in an out-of-context situation?

...can they get a factchecker on retainer, actually, the children's book about demystification is cute and good but Nela can't decide whether to give it an imprimatur because she doesn't know if factories work the same way in the Teachingsphere. (There do seem to be fewer noise-canceling headphones.) Actually, it should probably get an imprimatur anyway, even if it's not accurate for the Teachingsphere it'll teach them things about different ways that people can be and how the aliens work. But Nella wants to know which of these she should recommend it for. She also tentatively wants to mark it as recommended for intellectually disabled people. It's condescending to recommend children's books for intellectually disabled people, and usually against policy. But there seems to be a real shortage of intellectually stimulating books written by aliens for intellectually disabled people, and it'd be doing them a great harm to completely cut them off from all the alien knowledge. (Several of the alien species seem to not even have intellectually disabled people.) There can at least be a plain-language translation. 

...while she's at it she's going to email the noteskeeper for Committee For Interworld Trade, Subcommittee For Media, Subsubcommittee for Written Fiction and ask him to ask the Topherverse to send over everything they've written aimed at intellectually disabled people. Surely they have something. This is a basic thing societies are supposed to provide. 

Nela marks the animist book with an imprimatur about ten percent of the way in. One thing she hadn't realized about there being universes with false religions is that people would write books about coming to realize false religions were false. (She guessed you got this a little bit with immigrants, but it's not like polytheism was a proper religion anyway; the nonexistence of the gods is a fact taught the same way that they teach that stars are actually very far away.) She writes a gushing review of the book recommending it to anyone who wants to understand what it feels like from the inside for their entire worldview to be incorrect and to overcome social pressure to believe in things. She stops just short of suggesting that books of this genre should be required reading in Virtue class, although she definitely thinks it. 

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Malachitin 

The novel about lovers on opposite sides of a war straightforwardly gets a nihil obstat without an imprimatur. It isn't going to teach you much of anything-- the odd style of telling the story makes that basically impossible-- but no one behaves especially badly given their circumstances. It is hardly like there are going to be any wars in the Teachingsphere for people to kill their lovers about. She makes a note that they might want to give books an imprimatur for being an unusually good representation of their cultures; the amount of explanation this book has suggests that it would be particularly appropriate for people who want to learn about Malachitin. 

The mecha pilots in space game is very pretty and Nela enjoys it a lot. She marks it as nihil obstat without imprimatur. What is it with Malachitin and stories about lovers on opposite sides of wars. This is an odd thing to have so many books about. 

The vampire novella does not get a nihil obstat. It is long-established precedent that, if something is depicted as very sexy and glamorous and also Bad Actually, it does not get a nihil obstat. That's how you get criminals being very cool for the first 95% of the movie and then defeated by lame, boring investigative monks in the last 5%, and that is how you get people who think it is a good idea to commit crimes. 

The cyclical abuse book gets an imprimatur for its excellent depiction of how traumatized parents create traumatized children. It is very realistic and psychologically accurate, according to Nela's understanding of how trauma works. It will be validating to people with parents who shouldn't have had children, and help people with good parents empathize with the struggles of those who are less fortunate. (It also made Nela cry, and she has a certain tendency to give imprimaturs to books about abuse which make her cry.)

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Yes, the Committed of Truth spends a lot of time dealing with that sort of thing; sometimes he has to respond to something too quickly to muse on it much beforehand but usually does a postmortem when he has a minute and wants to assess the quality of his oath adherence.

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A rambly cowritten story about a planet with castes that is mistreating one of the castes and the travails of this one family and the people they confide in as they try, desperately, in a way that could destroy them all if discovered, to nudge the arc of history towards justice at a critical juncture.

A middle-grade nonfiction demystification book about engineering bridges; the careful textbooks which measure are represented as helpfully color-coded and well-organized, and every step of building a bridge is touched upon, though it doesn't specify exactly where e.g. the steel girders they order come from, just what specifications they have to order them to.

A long-running TV show available in broadcast, dense, and padded formats depending on whether you want the fight scenes and atmospheric shots and isolated plot-irrelevant jokes and metatextual fake advertisements and surplus seconds of anything else the trimmers had their eye on removed so you can just blitz through the core story, or if you want all of that and also stuff they cut for broadcast length included. It's about the future people of Green sending FTL spaceships out to make contact with other species, mostly though not all lower tech, having lots of alien-of-the-week diplomacy conundra interspersed with alien-of-the-arc diplomatic conundra interspersed with alien-of-the-series precursor ruins research project. Also ensemble drama. Lots of that.

A musical about ten generations of a family that breeds a particular kind of dog (it takes care of sheep - like, mostly it herds them, but it can also detect if they're sick or parasitized or injured, and be trained to assist with shearing (there's a number about how the dog would certainly do it itself if it had hands and a character who gets sidetracked trying to invent a device that will allow that despite handlessness).

A graphic novel about a little boy trying to find a teacher he likes enough to put up with school happening upon a person who washed out of actual teacher school due to executive dysfunction and limited energy but clicks with him really well; he winds up going over to her house all the time and shadowing her and asking her questions and eventually convincing his parents to pay the tuition budget to her. It includes a lot of the educational conversations and since it's a graphic novel they're accompanied by helpful visual aids, though it doesn't cover any single topic in much depth.

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Maggieverse

The bildungsroman gets a nihil obstat. Nela is kind of confused by the decision to make the nervous breakdown occur at the end of the book rather than the beginning; surely the time in talk therapy (which seems to be some alien form of spiritual direction) is the interesting part? But if people want to read about other people having trouble coming to terms with their limitations and then hitting bottom, that seems fine to Nela. Aliens have different approaches to a lot of things. 

What is it with aliens and books that are secretly textbooks. Is there some kind of pent-up desire for secret textbooks? Are these going to fly off the shelves? She gives it an imprimatur and is the first person ever to tag a book as getting an imprimatur for calculus. (She is secretly smug about this. She has always wanted to originate a tag. It isn't actually more impressive than working in the Alien Fiction Censorship Bureau to begin with, but it is important to make sure that you're grateful for all the good things in your life and not let a single extremely good thing displace all the merely very good things.) She sends a note that they should also request educational fiction aimed at intellectually disabled people from the Maggieverse. 

Nope, no nihil obstat for the romance with a twelve-year-old. Come on

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A fantasy novel set in a world in which powerful and dangerous magical constructs periodically appear, causing significant destruction. Their appearance is semi-predictable but preventing them requires taking action against the source of a given construct several hundred years before they actually produce a construct, although it is generally safer and easier to destroy a construct-source than to fight an appeared-construct. Fighting the constructs and destroying the construct-sources both require a specific and rare form of magic; the bulk of the story involves weighing tradeoffs between destroying existing constructs and destroying sources-of-future-constructs. In the climax of the story the protagonist sacrifices kemself in a magical ritual that increases the frequency at which people are born with the necessary type of magic, thereby solving the issue of having insufficient mages.

Another fantasy novel, this one set in a world where everyone has some sort of minor magical talent. The protagonist of the work is a terrorist attempting to assassinate various owners of livestock farms out of a philosophical conviction that raising animals for slaughter is wrong even if they have nice lives; a significant part of the story involves te attempting to figure out how to use tir magical talent (the ability to manipulate sound waves) to do this. Te is ultimately arrested, and the book concludes with tem using tir power to broadcast an impassioned speech about how even if te spends the rest of tir life in prison, te believes the tradeoff was worth it. The person submitting the book includes a note, attached to the very beginning, saying that they aren't sure how far Ozytopian laws surrounding instructions on how to do terrorism extend, and that while the book doesn't contain instructions that would be usable in the real world it does technically contain lots of instructions for how to do terrorism if you have magic powers. The submitter says that they are very sorry if that's still a violation of the rules and that if it is a violation of the rules Ozytopia should please just let them know and they won't do it again.

A setting sourcebook for a tabletop roleplaying game, describing the history and current state of the world. The sourcebook contains extensive discussion of how the magic present in the setting affected historical trends, technological development, and everyday life. 

An anthology of short stories, each of which involves a character using some form of limited time travel to save a historical figure from their preventable death and bringing them to the present day. Most of the stories in the anthology place a heavy emphasis on values dissonance between the rescued historical figures and the present day, in which all of the characters are given the chance to articulate their perspective (though in some cases it is clear which side the author falls on). 

A science fiction webcomic involving an alien anthropologist with lampshaded-Suspiciously Similar Biology to humans impersonating a human teenager and enrolling in a human school in order to collect data on humanity. The story appears to be humorous, though many of the jokes about schools are easy to miss without context. 

A historical fiction novel set roughly five hundred years in Tree's past, discussing the attempts of a (real) scholar attempting to prove that another (real) scholar's work was in part fraudulent. A significant part of the work is devoted to the protagonist's attempts to determine whether the work is fraudulent, not-fraudulent-but-sloppy, or whether in fact the protagonist is wrong (although the protagonist is clearly assuming throughout the work that they are not wrong). Other major subplots include: the protagonist mourning the death of rir eldest sibling while simultaneously struggling with complicated feelings about the fact that ae died in an assassination attempt on two members of the de-facto rulers of a neighboring city, the surviving member of which is a major supporter of several of rir friends' scholarship; several background political debates on a war that seems to be going on nearby; and a handful of sex scenes in which rem and rir spouse attempt to conceive a second child while spending the entire time miserable about it. An attached cultural-context guide notes that everything about the story is consistent with the current state of knowledge about the events in question, but notes a few specific places where the narrative in the story conflicts with the current leading hypothesis (though not with an alternative reasonably-plausible hypothesis) and several more places where the story just completely made up details that could be true but probably aren't.

 

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Four different attempts by different translators at translating a certain epic poem into Teachingsphere language, with accompanying notes on which ones chose to keep the original poetic form and which ones chose to adapt to local poetic forms and why; one gets the sense that there was a pretty heated discussion about which way is better. (The original is also included but it's legitimately fairly difficult to translate and the actual translations got out ahead of the half-finished annotations-in-depth which are included with it.) The poem is about an ancient king who did, like, so many atrocities, but in a really badass way, and then a fed-up peasant with magic powers lit him on fire and he fell in love with her and began the slow process of deciding to do fewer atrocities because atrocities are bad and also his wife keeps threatening to light him on fire again. The scansion and the psychological depth are both exquisite, but the logistics are often very handwavy in a mythologized sort of way.

Extremely well-researched historical fiction detailing the life of a high priestess of the River Kingdom who, by contrast to most high priestesses of the River Kingdom, did actual politics instead of spending all her time managing the movement of water. One gets the impression that the author wishes they could spend all their time managing the movement of water; lovingly detailed descriptions of River Kingdom plumbing and water management take up a solid third of the book, intermingled with plenty of inner monologue from the high priestess and lots of interactions with very well-fleshed-out side characters. An appendix carefully distinguishes side characters for whom there is historical evidence (and what that evidence covered) from side characters the author made up (and the census data and contemporary sources from which they extrapolated those characters' likely traits).

Porn about masochists with access to magical healing is its own entire genre but here is a widely acclaimed example, in which a [sadist who lives by themself in a castle they designed and built using magic] (this is a two-word phrase in the author's native language) gets an unexpected visitor and falls in love with them despite being sort of shaky on this whole 'human interaction' concept. Neither of them has much of a clue how to pursue a healthy relationship, but they are both highly motivated to figure it out, and they make it to the end of the book having successfully reinvented most of the basics from scratch and settling into a life together full of art and luxury and wholesome, loving, extremely gory sex. The climactic scene involves the introverted-sadist-architect breaking into tears about how much they love their partner and needing to be wrapped in blankets and snuggled until they calm down. The two of them are the only characters in the entire book, unless you count the introverted-sadist-architect's house as a third character, which you very well might given how much screentime it gets.

A crossover between the settings of three other popular works of fiction, but written in such a way that all the colliding settings successfully explain themselves to each other so the audience doesn't need to be familiar with the originals to follow the plot. Two of them are masqueraded magic systems that turn out to exist in the same surface universe, shocking both societies to their core when the collision is revealed; the third is an alien planet, whose attempt at first contact is what ends up breaking both masquerades. The worldbuilding is impeccably well-thought-out, the characters are all richly detailed and deeply alive, and the politics is sort of an afterthought.

A duology of very long fantasy novels, which turn out to be collectively about 40% appendix by pagecount. The appendices cover worldbuilding, conlangs, and a set of six different detailed maps of the world, each from the perspective of one of the major nations involved in the plot, all of which have subtle disagreements with each other on matters such as which landmarks are important, what they are called, and who owns them. The plot consists of a ragtag yet lovable ensemble cast, thrown together by circumstances beyond their control which accidentally leave them the only people in the world capable of saving it from a cataclysmic threat, having breakdowns about how they're not ready for this and then going ahead and doing their best anyway. In the end, they pull it off by the skin of their teeth and with rather more casualties than any of them are comfortable with. The second volume has a long denouement consisting mostly of our heroes leaning on each other and their friends and loved ones to help them cope with all their realistically-described trauma once the crisis is over; the last chapter concludes when they're all psychologically stable again and leading healthy, thriving lives, and the epilogue shows a bittersweet scene of the six of them holding a private memorial ceremony together ten years later, after which they are going to attend a massive celebration being held in their honour on the anniversary of their success.

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A long, meandering slice-of-life novel about a younger and an older woman who end up in a relationship. The story starts when they first meet; the younger woman, a teenager at the time, is attending some sort of after-school improv club specified to be in the Upper Underworld*. The older woman runs the salon where the improv club is hosted, who introduces herself as fully integrated obligate-Chaos; she doesn't have a house in the Lawful Surface world at all, and sleeps behind the bar in her salon, spending most of her time putting on theatre performances. The story covers a fifteen-year period, during which they slowly drift into a pleasant and low-friction but gradually more serious romance. At least three-quarters of the novel by wordcount doesn't involve the partners interacting directly at all, and details their lives separately. The younger woman graduates from the local equivalent of high school, does some specialized education in supply chain logistics, happens to meet and impress a young entrepreneur running some kind of computer-related startup in a different part of the Upper Underworld, ends up semi-accidentally as one of the early founders, and spends five years frequently traveling all over the world. (The details of the computer-related startup products are skimmed over; the various challenges involved in their supply chain logistics and accounting practices are shown in loving detail.) Meanwhile, the older woman, by now in her forties, is starting to develop a fledging Lawful personality, who is apparently based on a character written by the younger partner in some sort of ongoing collaborative online fiction/improv/roleplay project they've done together. She decides to register as a specialized foster parent for traumatized children, and takes in a series of teenagers, whose life challenges are also described in much more detail than any of the romantic interactions between the two partners. The novel ends when the younger partner, having amassed a substantial pad of investment income from her equity in the computer startup, decides to buy the Surface land directly above her partner's salon and build her dream home. The pair have a long conversation about whether to legally get married, but eventually concluding that their relationship is based more on Chaos than Law, and settle into domestic life with the most recent fostered teenage siblings, who they decide to adopt. 

 

A very confusing novella that seems to be set in the Underworld but may or may not be entirely a dream sequence or possibly a psychedelic drug trip? Various physically impossible and absurd events happen to the teenage protagonists, who are trying to make their way to a fabled Spring of Eternal Memory** but keep encountering stranger and more ridiculous obstacles. The writing style changes over the course of the novella, going from colorful but otherwise normal prose, through various formats of poetry and verse, and eventually trailing into pictures with only the occasional word. At the end, it seems like the protagonists learn that the Spring of Eternal Memory was inside of them all along. Probably? It's actually kind of hard to tell what's happening plot-events-wise by this point. 

 

A hard science fiction novel about a colony ship traveling to another world, discovering that their intended destination planet already has intelligent life, and making contact with the local aliens. There are several different sapient and nearly-sapient species; in the the dominant one, "individuals" are actually made up of colonies of eusocial insects. There are also sulfur-breathing worms that live in undersea hydrothermal vents and communicate via electrical signals, and a species with an incredibly complicated life cycle that involves both an amphibious froglike larval form and an enormous flying adult form. (A surprise twist is that the 'adults' are actually made up of multiple larva combining, with their brains literally growing together and merging.) Most of the book is about the biology research team with the colony ship figuring out how to communicate with these vastly different lifeforms – it involves a lot of extremely detailed biology notes and clever experiments – and then mediating a brewing war between the eusocial-insect-colonies and the flying adults of the third species. All dozen or so of the researchers are named and fleshed out, which actually adds up to several dozen names-and-personalities given the frequency of multiplicity that Bicameral seems to take for granted. There are some minor social conflicts and romantic flings between various pairings of the Chaotic personalities, one of which leads to a chapter focused entirely on social drama caused by one of the researchers having an unnamed Chaotic personality that her usual Lawful self was unaware of. There's a glossary. There are maps and geological survey data and every other chapter is in the form of scientists' notes; the characters all write papers in different styles with widely varying polish and formality. The appendices include copies of all of the scientists' tables of data and the statistical analysis done on language samples from the aliens. 

(If Nela is interested, there's apparently a sequel about to be published! The teaser blurb in the back says that this one focuses on the physics team with the colony ship, and some sort of intrigue related to the moons around one of the outer gas giants in the star system.) 

 

 


*Cultural translation notes explain that Bicameral is divided into two separate societies – the Surface which has a normal government and schools and trains and such, where most of the important work of civilization is done, and the Underworld, which is officially exempt from rule of law and where most people present as the 'Chaotic' sides of themselves, often but not always fully-fledged separate personalities. The Upper Underworld, closer to the surface, runs on strong local social norms and is usually quite tame and safe. 

**An added footnote specifies that this is mythological, and was included in a very well-known fantasy series from fifty years ago. 

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This one is a secret textbook about spatial physics; the preteen protagonist develops magic powers for no readily apparent reason, and as her parents are running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out what the fuck is going on, she experiments with her new powers and discovers that her abilities are directly based on her knowing what she's doing. She learns a lot about vectors and angular momentum and circular motion. Her parents, to whom she has explained how her abilities work, freak out a little when they find her with a book on celestial mechanics. The author seems to have at least a minor aesthetic obsession with parabolas. The book ends with the magic preteen picking up a book on biology and opening the cover as she dreams of making everyone immortal; it's heavily implied that this is a sequel hook. 

 

This one is about a woman getting abducted by secret magic beings and gang-raped, ending up pregnant with a secret magic baby and figuring out how to use the baby's magic without harming it and going back and burning down their secret magic rape hideout. The second half of the book is mostly the woman interacting with her adorable magic baby. Like the MAP book, it's got content warnings all over it for problematic kink. 

 

This one is set in a world where everyone is magical beings who have a very specific body type which is probably the author's fetish; it includes bird wings and bug eyes and unconventional arrangements of body fat. The book is about a boy and a nonbinary magical being spending about the first third of the book in will-they-won't-they relationship development and then the latter two-thirds being adorably romantic together and supporting each other as they work through their personal issues. 

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An intricate collection of what might be called poems, although they often push the boundaries of the form, about the empty void before any life existed being lonely and bored and suffering and wanting to have something to hold onto. It creates the burning suns, and decorates them with planets, and wants to see something move on the planets, and creates storms and unstable rings and eventually life, and the life also suffers and also strives and also creates. It's subtextually about cycles of violence but also someone was really into the beauty of nature.

A slice-of-life comic about someone who really likes snails. Or maybe about the snails, a bunch of snails living in various terrariums and aquariums, many of them drawn in striking colors or with unusual shell shapes. They have various needs that their keeper has to help them meet, and they escape and go where they shouldn't be. It's all extremely cute and chill and includes many facts about various species of snails.

A novel about exploring alien ruins. The aliens are assumed to have committed collective suicide, and the astronauts examine the ruins through the understanding that they were an intentional memorial. They find samples of alien text, the shorter of which are reproduced in their entirety untranslated in a conlang created by the story's author, and they work on translating them, a process which is shown in detail. As the characters pick up more of the alien language, the reader is assumed to also pick it up and when the characters use alien words they're not always translated. Eventually, the characters discover that the aliens died of a pandemic, and didn't believe it was their time, and were afraid, and left a cache of eggs in suspension just in case. There is not a dictionary in the back only because the dictionary is in a companion volume along with a short story set on the alien planet when the aliens were alive and another document ostensibly written by the aliens and presented in the conlang.

A fantasy octet (you can tell it's fantasy or historical fiction because it has gender in it) in a setting where war is profitable, peace is not profitable, and everyone is violent and status-obsessed. Various visionaries try to come up with new, better ideologies, all of which are described in loving detail as if the author were really trying to sell the reader on all of them, even though they're mutually incompatible even just with each other. They win people over, but end up mostly turning into new warring factions that sometimes engage in intrigue instead of outright war. One of the visionaries encourages everyone to create art so beautiful that it makes their lives worth it, but eventually becomes so disillusioned with his own jewelry that he comes to believe he was wrong and nothing can make his life or anyone else's life worth it. He commits suicide, in such a way that he has time to realize that his death is so beautiful that it makes his life worth it. He's unable to tell anyone, though, and dies in aesthetically pleasing anguish, upon which he discovers that there is an afterlife and it's crushingly empty and boring and he can't affect the living. He journeys through it looking for other people, and this plotline is interspersed with the living trying to figure out whether his death was murder and killing one another over it. Someone is so furious about his supposed murder that she assassinates several people, takes over an entire kingdom, and tries to force everyone in it to value each other and also themselves. The ensemble cast does war and intrigue and eventually everyone including the dead person teams up to unravel the mysteries of life, the afterlife, and the supernatural, and then reshape it all to suit their tastes better. It ends with the cast looking forward to existing for as long as they want, which for more than half of them is an indefinite amount of time expected to be very long.

A slice of life young adult romantic comedy intended to help people figure out how to navigate adult life, which goes into extreme detail on all sorts of things that could possibly be taken for granted. The leads, neither of whom has a gender, move in together and get along horribly and move away from each other and then coauthor a novel and eventually assert that they will probably love each other forever. Along the way they have hilarious mishaps trying to do things that adults need to learn how to do.

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A spacehistory-romance-tragic novel (it is marked as such on the cover, along with an elaborate code specifying what fanfiction you are allowed to write about it and how, which appears to be a universal feature of Aevylmarcher novels) about how three people (a persecuted aristocrat, a time-traveler from the past and a scientist/schemer) try and fail to fix a horribly flawed and tragic culture, the aristocrat carefully working within its evil and arbitrary rules, the time-traveler lying to achieve power so she can use it to improve the system, and the scientist/schemer openly defying the rules and trying to reinvent morality on her own, who end up in a complicated love-dodecahedron with each other and with several other equally tragic characters. There are no sex scenes on page but lots and lots of characters being unhappy about how the decisions they're making For The Greater Good are ruining their love lives. Over the course of the story, all of the protagonists are destroyed by the compromises they make and thereby come into conflict, and at the end they all fail and the society continues unfixed. The culture is apparently post-apocalyptic; people paying attention may notice that the pre-apocalyptic culture was also post-apocalyptic. Also there are multipage spaceship battles, most of which seem to exist primarily so characters can make agonized moral choices during them; an author's appendix at the end explains that everything is a melded adaptation of six different adaptations of an ancient legend theoretically based on history, and spends several pages on detailing all the inspirations; The cultural translator's appendix adds several more, including an explanation of the variety of the default-standard-fictional-setting-with-spaceships that they are using and how the spaceships do not technically violate the laws of physics but also would not work.

A scheme-war-smartpower-tragic novel about how a horrible but very likable person builds a city-state, the flaws in the form of government of the city-state he builds, and how these flaws (stemming from his deep psychological dysfunction) result in a civil war which kills off essentially the entire cast, him first. The setting appears to have a set of rules of alternate physics that are never explained, because every character on the story knows them already, and exist solely so there can be very creative fight scenes. Packaged with it are six different spinoffs about how random supporting characters (mostly survivors, but not all) have cheerful low-stakes adventures in the setting after the events. A cultural appendix explains that this is selected as an example of a very common genre, and wants to know if they should package spinoffs for other novels, too.

A happyending-fluffpower-adventurer novel about a cheerful, funny protagonist with magic superpowers wandering around a world full of evil monsters, rescuing people and getting into adventures with his sidekick, an older woman from a high social status situation who immediately abandons it for the opportunity to have adventures. They are pursued by agents of a law-enforcement-organization (its name is an elaborate pun in the original) trying to catch him to punish him for laws he breaks on his adventures, who are portrayed as better people than he is, but less cool. Halfway through it turns out he's responsible for the existence of the monsters, and it genre-shifts into a grim tale of him attempting to muster the strength of character to redeem himself while the two leads build a relationship (largely in nearly-incomprehensible subtext) which is made more difficult as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged son; at the end, he redeems himself, both relations are rebuilt, he saves the world, and the story immediately ends.

A historicaldisrespect-gameworld-scheme-government-bitterending novel, which opens with an introduction explaining that 60% of the profits of the book are donated as ethics offsets to pay for writing disrespectfully about historical figures the author approves of, and than an elaborately detailed map of the geography of a fictional region. In the plot itself, about two of the world's top players of a historical-warfare-board-game (the rules of which are specified in a cultural appendix; everyone in the story is assumed to know them) are pulled into a fantasy setting that resembles the history that inspired the board agme except with a complicated magic system that resembles the rules of the board game. The two are good friends but have different feelings about who should have won the original war, and so they scheme their way to power then carry out the war against each other using their superior knowledge of the future and its technology, while simultaneously dealing with faction members on their own side (all of them as richly psychologically detailed as the protagonists) who don't trust the travelers from an alien universe. Everyone acknowledges that the war is extremely terrible throughout and should not be happening, but nonetheless all the battles are elaborately detailed and full of glorious heroic duels and complex military maneuvers, and most of the plot dwells on them. It continues, roughly evenly balanced, until one of the protagonists is murdered by a lieutenant with a personal grudge letting the other win a decisive battle; the story then ends with two more chapters of peace negotiations while the armies maneuver, and the successful conclusion of these negotiations is written as the climax of the novel. There is a very annoyed authorial appendix about how the two leads are not romantically involved and it is disrespectful to the author to write them as such, followed by the cultural appendix explaining the rules and another explaining the historical events the story is based on.

Every one of them is divided into chapters that open with quotes from popular music, most of which music is adaptations of adaptations of adaptations of work from several hundred years ago, and all of them are written in a terse style that puts them about forty percent the length you'd expect for that much plot, even in translation, and all of them end about two pages after the climax of the novel. Also, about half the cast of each novel is male and about half the cast is female, and it's usually hard to tell which is which unless the language you're speaking in specifies.

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A story set at a multiversal conference for instances of the same famous fictional crime-fighting duo from thirty-two different fanfictions, at which they have to find and subdue the pair from a grimdark AU who are trying to kill off the others, plus the original material and the thirty-two fanfictions for context. Before and during the mystery there's a lot of conversations about the subtle (or occasionally massive) psychological differences between the alts; a subtext guide at the end explains the history of various interpretations of the characters and which of the fanfictions were originally in conversation with each other. Some of the thirty-two fanfictions are full of porn, which usually involves fairly intense dominance and submission content; which member of the duo is the dominant one varies by fic and sometimes by scene within a fic. In the grimdark AU that the murderers are from, the relationship is significantly asymmetrical even outside the sex scenes and straightforwardly abusive; it has its own entire paragraph of content warnings and the massive crossover fic is carefully written not to require more knowledge of its events than can be acquired from a summary.

 

A series of short stories set on a Mars base, featuring a series of debates about how to prioritize various pieces of base infrastructure. The first entry ends after all arguments have been heard but right before the final votes are counted. The second entry in the series is set five years later and has two versions picking up after each possible decision with which the first one could have ended, each of which in turn ends with a vote; this goes on until the last one in the series is set on sixteen heavily diverged versions of the base. It has a lot of textual musing on how the choices you make determine your options later, and a lot of mostly-subtextual musing on how the choices you make shape your view of yourself which influences your future choices.

 

A terraforming puzzle game in tabletop and PC formats, with rulesets for three locations in Firstplanet's star system (Hotplanet, Redplanet, and Bigplanet-Icemoon) and four levels of extra rules that can be added for realism or removed for speed and simplicity, plus dramatic novelizations of a couple of narratively satisfying playthroughs. It's basically a secret textbook.

 

A translated historical drama from over five hundred years ago, set over five hundred years before that, in which the monarchs of two kingdoms marry for reasons of state, gradually fall in love, and then the political winds shift and the viewpoint character betrays and murders the love interest to ensure the security of the viewpoint character's kingdom. The two protagonists and several supporting characters get a lot of psychological detail and have a lot of philosophical and ethical disagreements in which all sides are convincingly pitched and internally consistent but pretty horrifying from a human-flourishing perspective; the book comes with a stamp of approval from a prominent scholar of the relevant period saying that while these specific events didn't happen, the cultural and economic context is very plausible. There's also a note specifically for the censorship board that Firstplanet definitely doesn't have these particular fucked-up governments or ethical philosophies right now and that the author would specifically prefer that this book not get published if it's expected to be so popular it gives people a skewed view of what present-day Firstplanet is like.

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Green

Excellent. Nela issues an imprimatur to the book about the Committed of Truth, with a note that it discusses moral reasoning and avoiding temptation with a particular emphasis on oathkeeping and honesty. 

There is a major character in the caste story about the planet with castes who is implied to have done terrorism. Nela is not really sure about how she feels about this; in context, the terrorism is certainly sympathetic, but you don't want to be encouraging people to commit terrorism because someone is doing atrocities. They already have enough of a problem of that with the foreign-aid caravans. The situation in the caste story is different, but ultimately she's worried that this is too much up to individual judgment for her to be comfy recommending it. She eventually decides to deny it a nihil obstat, but expects that this is going to be a major topic of discussion when they talk about creating guidelines. 

Why is this non-memoir nonfiction book in Nela's files? She sends it to the much smaller Alien Nonfiction Censorship Bureau, the purpose of which is to check that everyone followed guidelines about terrorism and stuff. 

How do people behave in the ensemble drama in the long-running TV show? Does it depict stalking, abuse, rape, harassment, etc as being romantic or glamorous or otherwise the sort of thing that people should do? Is the diplomacy accurately depicted? Do they see people using emotional regulation techniques to handle their feelings about complicated diplomatic situations?

The musical gets a nihil obstat. Nela is charmed by the number about the dog wanting to shear the sheep if it had hands. 

Awwwww, the graphic novel is cute. She imagines this as a wish fulfillment fantasy for the students who would really like to be able to have a different teacher, but unfortunately are stuck with the teacher they're assigned; it's difficult to match everyone with someone their personality meshes with. She doesn't mark it as educational because it lacks depth. 

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The TV show does not depict any of those things as being romantic or glamorous, though there are routine plotlines where alien species have, for whatever reason, different needs and cannot abide by human-normed rules about those things (among others). The diplomacy doesn't seem very accurate to the Teachingsphere but it does hold together internally. Coping mechanisms seem to be less called for than usual but stressed characters will do things like VR extreme sports or venting to their partners about it.

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Green

The TV show gets a nihil obstat. Green in general does seem to have a lot of imprimatur works; they should consider importing more fiction from it. 

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Tree

Is the story about powerful and dangerous magical constructs a metaphor for something, or do they just have a bunch of philosophical discussion about something fictional? Nela is kind of puzzled about whether magical rituals that require a person to die technically count as suicide-- this isn't something that comes up in Teachingsphere books much-- but eventually issues it a nihil obstat on the grounds that magic doesn't actually exist in real life and conceptually it's really more like working in a foreign aid caravan in a dangerous area. 

No, no, no, absolutely not. No nihil obstat for a book about assassinating owners of livestock farms for raising animals for slaughter. Some people need to eat meat for medical reasons, and they haven't invented artificial meat yet. The author seems nice, so Nela writes back a note saying that it is publishable in the Teachingsphere but it seems likely to inspire people to commit murders, and if people commit murders because of the author's book they won't be allowed to publish anything in the Teachingsphere again. This isn't a no-- the Teachingsphere takes freedom of speech very seriously!-- but it seems like the sort of thing the author might want to be informed of, in case they didn't want to inspire murders. 

...She also suggests that the guidelines be clarified to say that physically impossible terrorism is not considered to be a legal violation. 

Setting sourcebook gets a nihil obstat and a referral to the Board Games Bureau, who will play it and see if the rules also get a nihil obstat. Nela hadn't thought that this was a real problem. Before first contact, mostly the Board Games Bureau distinguished between games that get an imprimatur and games that don't. But the Kellearth game of "Diplomacy" has been outright banned for likely causing people to commit murder? So that is apparently a problem that happens now?

Time-travel short stories gets an imprimatur for values dissonance and helping people to understand what it feels like to be totally wrong about ethics. This is something the Teachingsphere always struggles with: it's so easy for people to go "well, I would very simply not be wrong.'

Science fiction webcomic gets a no nihil obstat. Nela is not precisely sure, given lack of cultural context, whether that is sexual harassment but she has decided to err on the side of safety here. 

Oh, that historical novel is really cool. Nela likes it. She gives it an imprimatur for detailed and accurate descriptions of the scientific process, nuanced political debates from other worlds, and (if they decide that this is the sort of thing that gets an imprimatur) teaching people about aliens. 

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Grapeverse

No nihil obstat for the epic poem. Lighting people on fire is not an appropriate way to deal with someone wanting to commit atrocities, even if they get better from it. 

The book about the high priestess of the River kingdom gets an imprimatur for... historical plumbing and water management? Nela guesses? Conditional on the factchecker confirming that this is in fact how historical plumbing worked in the Teachingsphere, but Nela thinks it must be, because historical plumbing and water management can't be that different across worlds, even if some of them have magic. She has originated a second imprimatur tag! She also really appreciates the work of the historical-fiction factcheckers in other worlds. She writes a note to a publisher suggesting that maybe they should get some of their factcheckers to factcheck historical fiction novels and podcasts, the aliens seem to really like it and Nela personally would find it very interesting. 

Imprimatur for the porn about masochists with access to magical healing. Nela really likes the detailed, gears-level description of how healthy relationships work! Starting with two people who have absolutely no idea allows you to have a very clear description of the basics without coming off as condescending or like people are thinking too much about things that they should just have down cold. It also lets you explore why certain relationship skills are important! An excellent book. Highly recommended. It is an excellent change from the one that thinks that the correct way to help people learn relationship skills is to light them on fire. 

Colliding-settings world gets a nihil obstat assuming that no one lights anyone on fire to teach them relationship skills in the progress.

Imprimatur for the fantasy-novel duology given its excellent description of trauma recovery and coping with breakdowns about having a task that you're not ready for but you have to work on anyway.

...It is kind of weird that all of these excellent books were produced by the world that also thinks that lighting people on fire is a good way to solve relationship problems. Nela writes a note suggesting that they import more books from Grapeverse but only, and this is important, if they don't involve torture as a solution to relationship issues.

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