The best thing about my character Zatell is that she looks more like a stuffed toy than a heroine. But if you need something done―or if you cross her―you’ll quickly learn what she’s made of. And it ain’t polyester stuffing.
In my humorous sci-fi series, The Webrid Chronicles (Green Light Delivery and the newly released Blue Diamond Delivery), there are no humans. This allows me to be endlessly inventive with the physical traits of my characters. A big, hairy Yeril named Webrid happens to get his moniker and mug on the book covers, but he couldn’t get anything done without his two constant companions. I think of them as co-stars. One is a female half-Maranacky named Zatell.
You know that image we have of the spec-fic heroine: a sleek form in armor (or spacesuit), fearlessly wielding her sword (or laser gun) in defiance of societal preconceptions? Yeah, well, that’s not Zatell. Thirty little hand/foot limbs radiate out from her spherical head/body. Her face is marked with shallow craters, a trait that ends up being crucial in Blue Diamond. She “walks” by cartwheeling from limb to limb, and has a lot of trouble sitting in ordinary chairs. As to the armor, she says at one point, “I don’t really wear clothes.” When conditions require a spacesuit, she needs a round one with thirty tiny armholes.
Although she doesn’t look the part, Zatell is a heroine by all three standard criteria: her brains, her brawn, and her bravery. For example, there was the army of horrifying Slof-Borogin. This is an emaciated species with poison goo as bone marrow. Killing is so natural for them that they typically make a living as merchant soldiers, murdering their foes by stabbing them with their boney hands and injecting them with deadly fluid.
I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that there’s a major Slof-Borogin attack in the middle of Blue Diamond Delivery. Notice I said in the middle. Webrid and his friends survive and continue with their quest, but only because Zatell invents an ingenious means of defeating the Slof. She also takes the lead in battle with them, despite her shrimpy, odd physical arrangement. After she sets her plan in place, she’s able to use her two main physical strengths: cartwheeling and slapping. Her radial alignment and all those little hands, combined with a ferocious spirit, turn her into the worst weapon the Slof have ever faced.
In everyday life, Zatell uses her multiple hands to great effect, despite the teasing she sometimes gets for looking silly. She can work the controls of a rocket, type on a computer keyboard, and slap Webrid upside the head simultaneously. To be honest, she’s a tad cantankerous and loves to level her favorite epithet (“ya hoongofl!”) at whoever is annoying her at the moment. I think that weakness for petty conflict makes her adorable.
But in extraordinary circumstances, she rises above it all and can be exemplary. Fighting the Slof was brave, sure, but it’s nothing compared to the courage she shows later in the novel. She finds herself in a position to save her whole solar system, if only she’s willing to make a very frightening sacrifice. She’s my Zatell, and of course she does what’s needed.
Anne E. Johnson lives in Brooklyn. Her short fiction can be found in The Future Fire, Shelter of Daylight, and many other e-zines and anthologies. Her series The Webrid Chronicles is published by Candlemark & Gleam. You can learn all about Anne at her website, http://AnneEJohnson.com.