Monday, April 28, 2008

Nebulas, Day 3 Part 2 and Day 4, Belatedly

As I write this, I am finally home and very bleary, not having been able to sleep for days due to partying, caffeinating, aviating, and general keyed-up excitement.

I did not expect to win this Nebula, Best Novella for "Fountain of Age." I genuinely did not. But it happened.

The Nebula banquet was very well-run this year. During the pre-ceremony cocktail party, I met Michael Chabon, who is unpretentious and charming, even in the always difficult position of both being a celebrity and not knowing anyone at the party. Once we all filed in to the banquet room and sat down, Joe R. Lansdale, toastmaster, kept the audience roaring with Texas tall tales. That man can really spin 'em. John Moore, emcee, was his usual elegant self in black tie.

Ardath Mayhar, author emeritus, gave a warm, homespun speech, the only literary acceptance speech I have ever heard that featured much discussion of compost toilets. Michael Moorcock, accepting his Grand Master Award, recapped the history of SF, especially the changes brought about by the New Wave. Michael Chabon, winning for Best Novel, said that he had read SF as a boy, loved it, and in writing The Yiddish Policeman's Union, "I am coming home." (I have not yet figured out how to insert pictures in my blog, but here is the URL for one of me and Chabon, courtesy of Mary Turzillo: set-72157604761416813/

I had not prepared a speech. But I had a secret weapon: the black lace handkerchief. Sheila Williams had given me this object over twenty years ago, to sob into gently when I lost a Nebula that I was then nominated for, and I have carried it to every Nebula since. So I carried it up to the dais and talked about that. Sheila was having a very good night: Karen Fowler's "Always," also published in Asimov's, won for Best Short Story. Sheila sat at the Asimov's table between me and Karen, exclaiming, "My girls!" We felt like preppies with a happy headmistress.

The other winners were Ted Chiang, Best Novelette for "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," Guillermo del Toro for Best Script for Pan's Labyrinth, and J.K. Rowling for the Andre Norton Award for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. None of the three were present to accept in person.

At the post-awards party, I played pool against Kamela Dolinova, possibly the worst pool match ever played in public. I lost, despite being ably coached by both Jack Skillingstead and Steve Gould. Nothing can make a klutzy, drunk, elated Nebula winner perform a decent bank shot.

The next morning, after a too-early breakfast, I got the shuttle to the airport, riding with Barry and Jean Longyear. We discussed movies. Barry said that when he first saw the script for Enemy Mine, made from his award-winning novella, he offered to write the movie company a different script for free if they would only not film that one. They declined.

Flight to Atlanta, six-hour layover in the airport -- yes, six hours -- then home just before midnight. And here I am up at 7:00 a.m., blogging. (why?) The Nebula is being shipped, a lovely service on the part of the Austin committee that saves juggling one more thing on an airplane.

I leave this morning to visit family -- bad, inescapable timing -- and will resume blogging on Thursday. Meanwhile, thanks to all who sent congratulations.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nebulas -- Day 3, Part I

This morning was the Asimov's Reader Awards, combined with Analog's AnLab awards, at a buffet breakfast in the Omni hotel. Editor Sheila Williams presented the Asimov's certificates first. Since none of the winners were present, the rest of us accepted for them, reading speeches emailed to us by the rightful winners:

**Best Novella: "Recovering Apollo 8," Kristine Kathryn Rusch, accepted by Connie Willis.

**Best Novelette: "Dark Integers," Greg egan, accepted by Geoff Landis, who said that Egan does not exist but is really an AI.

**Best Short Story: "Tideline," Elizabeth Bear, accepted by me.

**Best Poem: "The Dimensional Rush of Relative Primes," Bruce Boston, accepted by Mary Turzillo.

Then Stan Schmidt presented the AnLab awards. And the winners are:

**Best Novella: "Murder in Parliament Street," Barry Longyear, who accepted for himself.

**Best Novelette: "Quaestions Super Caelo et Mundo," Michael Flynn, who gave his acceptance spech in Latin.

**Best Short Story: "The Astronaut," Brian Plante, who was not present.

**Best Fact Article: "The Ice Age That Wasn't," Richard A. Lovett, who accepted in English.

All throughout brunch I kept wanting to steal one of the really cute cream pitchers, but the very moral Connie Willis would not let me. Scott Edelman, however, was willing to help in this heist, had I actually carried it out.

More later, after the major festivities.

Nebulas -- Day 2

Nobody turned up in the breakfast room, so I ate breakfast alone, which suggests that (1) people sleep later than I do, (2) they all found somewhere else to get breakfast, or (3) nobody eats breakfast anymore. However, this solitary meal was the last time I was by myself for the next eighteen hours.

Registered, and met SFWA's new president, Russell Davis, with whom I had coffee. He wants to put SFWA on a more orderly basis, which it could certainly use. Russell also talked about his experience working on the Transformers movie, in which the initial script had Megatron crashing on Earth because this star-faring being was "surprised by gravity." Ah, Hollywood.

Found the hospitality suite and spent time talking to people there and drinking yet more coffee, which amounted to so much caffeine I felt I could levitate. This was followed by lunch with Beth Meachem, my editor at Tor. We talked about my book coming out in December, Steal Across The Sky, for which today was "launch day." That's when Tor assembles all its sales reps, marketing people, ancillary rights people, etc., and pitches the winter schedule to them. First, writers pitch concepts to editors; months or years later editors pitch books to the sales force; the sales force pitches the books to book sellers; the book sellers pitch titles to customers. A perpetual game of horse shoes. The break-even point for a hard cover is, roughly, sales orders of 4,000, with a 60% sell-through.

I took a walk around Austin with Jack Skillingstead; this is an area with lots of funky little shops, restaurants, and coffee houses. I resisted the impulse to get a tattoo.

Next came the "pin ceremony," in which all nominees were handed pins and certificates, followed by a mass autographing session that was more a chance to socialize than anything else (it included a bar, that always useful aid to socializing). I talked to people I haven't seen in years: Karen Joy Fowler, Bruce Sterling and his exotic wife Yasmina, Scott Edelman, Maureen McHugh, Texas local and Nebula organizer, John Moore. It was fun.

Pinned, certified, and slightly drunk, I went to dinner. We had a large group: Mike and Margie Flynn, Russell Davis, Connie Willis, Jack Skillingstead, Cynthia Felice, Joe and Gay Haldeman, Sheila Williams, and I. Conversation was so good that the last, hard-core group was still there four hous later. Connie and Jack argued about William Randolph Hearst. Joe discussed his graphic novels. Everyone discussed death (which sounds morbid but was not). During much of this dinner, a huge thunderstorm raged outside, lighting up the stories-high glass wall in eerie flashes, crashing with thunder, pelting the roof with rain. The reflections of cars on the glass glided by, stories above street level.

After this some people went on to the SFWA hospitality suite but I, on East Coast time and past midnight, went to bed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nebulas -- Day 1

I arrived in Austin after day-long travel -- it is impossible to get nearly anywhere directly from Rochester. The flights were uneventful, which is exactly what you want flights to be. In Austin I was dazzled by what looks like full summer: trees in complete leaf, summer flowers in bloom. In Rochester, up until a week ago we still had piles of dirty snow.

The Nebula hotel, the Omni downtown, is gorgeous. The rooms circle a central atrium twelve stories high, and glass elevators take one up and down with a full view of the lobby and indoor restaurants. Not for anyone afraid of heights. I remembered from that New Yorker article (see previous blog) that no elevator has gone into free-fall since 1945. And kept on remembering it.

I had a drink with Jane Jewel, SFWA's executive secretary, who said this is a small Nebula: about 150 attendees. We decided this was due to the economy and to the distance from both New York and L.A. She told me that Michael Chabon, nominated for The Yiddish Policemen's Union, will be here Saturday, as will Michael Moorcock, who is receiving the Grand Master award. I thought he lived in England, but it turns out he divides his time between England and Texas, which must be some sort of culture shock.

Late dinner with Jack Skillingstead, after which we tried, and failed, to find the SFWA party. Which may have been over by that time anyway. Tomorrow, the bulk of the attendees arrive and programming begins.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ian McEwan

I've just finished reading Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, a book I picked up because I had loved his Atonement. Saturday is a different sort of book. Halfway through, I was getting impatient because it seemed that not much had happened, and such events as had occurred, seemed random and not tied together. And this even though I have a high tolerance for slow pacing.

But then about three-quarters of the way through, McEwan began to weave his tale more tightly, and by the end, it was brilliant. Everything fit. This is a book about, essentially, life itself. Henry Perowne is a neurosurgeon who has it all: sterling professional reputation, strong marriage, riches, wonderful kids. But he lives in London in 2003, and the membrane is thin between his life and violence: street violence, the violence brewing in Iraq, the violence built into mis-copied genes. Henry slides temporarily through that membrane, and it deepens his sense of the fragility of all the good things in his life, not in a Pollyanna-ish way but in a richly complicated manner. One reviewer called this "a mature look at our world," and it is.

Read this book. And thank you, Craig, for recommending it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Galleys and Poodles

Author galleys are the last stop before a writer relinquishes a book for good. Having the author, as well as the publisher, go over the galleys serves a very useful purpose: The author cannot then scream about typos, since he or she had every chance to catch them. On the other hand, the publisher risks having the author begin to rewrite on the galleys, with higher costs to then have the pages reset.

I am resisting this impulse as I go over the galleys for my novel Dogs, due out in July from Tachyon Press. My hope is to finish correcting the proofs before I leave for the Nebulas in Austin, on Thursday morning. The galleys are pretty clean, as these things go, but I see a lot of word choices, sentence structures, and even scene arrangements that I wish I'd done differently. Too late. To quote a popular cliche, now the book is what it is.

Dogs is about a mutated virus that affects dogs' brains, turning even sweet-natured pets into killers. The major characters are an animal control officer who must cope with a town full of suddenly dangerous dogs plus their baffled, furious, terrified, or resistant owners; and a female ex-FBI agent who suspects there is more going on here than at first appears. One of the pleasures of writing a book like this is getting to put in all the real dogs one wishes -- much more satisfying than including real people in novels. In Dogs, I found roles for my toy poodle, my agent's Bernese mountain, a friend's beagle, another friend's ancient cocker spaniel, and a huge, 180-pound Newfoundland I encountered in the vet's office. "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of publishing..."

Or something like that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Eeriecon -- Day 3

This morning I had two breakfasts at the con hotel. The first was with Robert Gissing, also an early riser, who explained how to smelt iron ore in your microwave. The second was with Joe and Gay Haldeman. Gay explained that Mikhail Baryshnikov, whom she saw dance recntly, can still do barrel jumps and still looks sensational shirtless.

One panel this morning: "My Shorts Are Getting Longer," which was supposed to be a panel about turning short stories into novels. And it was that, at least until Carl Frederick stopped proceedings dead by explaining how and why he always writes sitting on a saddle. It improves his posture, which in turn, he says, improves his prose. Also, "The stirrups are important."

Driving home, I got a speeding ticket on the Thruway. I was, indeed, going 78 in a 55-mph zone, but I was passing. However, I won't fight this ticket in court. It's a small price to pay for all those useful explanations.

Eeriecon -- Day 2

The day began with breakfast with Canadians: James Allen Gardner, Caro Soles, Robert Gissing. We discussed, among other things, the fate of eastern Canada and upper New York State if global warming models go as expected. We will be among the "winners," as it were -- a longer growing season, enough rain, and the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. Which the western states and provinces are already eyeing greedily. I wrote about this in my novel NOTHING HUMAN, and so was very interested in the Canadian viewpoint on the topic.

Then came six hours of programming -- six hours! I was hoarse after:

** a panel on killing off your characters -- why? when? The conclusion -- in so much as we had one -- was that it's more acceptable to readers to kill off characters than to kill off dogs and cats. I can vouch for this, since my July novel from Tachyon, DOGS, ran into some publisher rejections because "the content would be too offensive to dog lovers."

** a panel on constructing aliens. Joe Haldeman offered that it's very difficult, perhaps impossible, to horrify any more with your aliens: "MEN IN BLACK ruined that." Carl Frederick said that in order to discover what vowels his undersea aliens would favor, he tried sticking his head into a basin of water and talking there.

** a two-hour writing workshop led by me and Jim Gardner. I talked about story construction; Jim talked about point of view and voice; we then took questions. This went well, although the Q&A part, like every other writing Q&A, ended up less about craft than about finding an agent.

** a reading. I read "Art of War," from THE NEW SPACE OPERA. By now my voice was raspy. Listeners were tolerant.

** a popular Eeriecon panel, What Line's Mine? This involves twelve writers seated at the front of the room. A con committee member, having done assiduous research, reads a line from someone's work, out of context and usually fairly bizarre (i.e., "Bring on the squirrels!") All panelists then hold up a sheet of paper with the name of the writer that they think wrote the line. Points are tallied. You lose twenty points for misidentifying a line you yourself wrote, although Joe Haldeman, Rob Sawyer, and I were all guilty of this. Edo van Belkom, as always, lost. Carolyn Clink, as always, won. Lines involving bicycles were always Joe's. I still don't think I wrote the line attributed to me.

After all this, dinner at the Red Coach Inn was welcome. Joe and Gay, Rob and Carolyn, Carl Frederick, Caro Soles, Jim Gardner, David De Graff, and I had a leisurely and fun meal. Astronomy and telescopes were discussed. Toasts were made. Wine was drunk. Since it was nearly 80 degrees, the walk back to the hotel past Niagara Falls was lovely.

Parties followed, at which I put in a token appearance, but it was a long day and I am not much of a late-night person. Also, there was drumming. Much very loud drumming. Perhaps it was welcoming the long-delayed spring.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eeriecon -- Day 1

Eeriecon is a small con held in Niagara Falls, NY. Driving along the Niagara River to the hotel was a surreal experience: temperatures of 75 degrees while ice floated in the river, moving faster and faster as it approached the rapids leading to the falls. After checking in, I had dinner with whomever wandered into the dining room, which turned out to be three writers, two physicists, and a partridge in a pear tree. Then on to the first panel of the con, billed as a "Free For All."

And it was. Eight panelists: GOH Joe Haldeman, me, Josepha Sherman, Jim Garner, Rob Sawyer, physicist Dr. David Stephenson, poet Carolyn Clink, and the irrepresible Carl Frederick, who has accomplished the interesting feat of setting the genome of the fruit fly to music. He did this by assigning notes in the key of C to the principal codons. When the music went up on the ANALOG site, there were so many hits that the site crashed.

Question from the audience: "Carl, why did you pick the key of C?"

Rob Sawyer: "Because it's so elegans!"

Nothing like a little biological humor to keep a panel interesting.

Next came a session in the bar, with Carl, Jim, Caro Soles, and Robert Gissing, during which many bad jokes were exchanged.

At a party held by Buffalo SF fans, my Blackberry became locked (who knows why) and an entire room full of techies described how to unlock it, until finally one method worked. David DeGraff, an astronomer from Alfred University, explained how it came about that his entire university went into lock-down because some students had been playing zombie hunt with nerf guns. Since nerf guns are made of sponge and tend to be blue or green, this was not easy to grasp. Apparently you had to be there.

Then a party in the con suite, and so to bed. The only problem with that was the party in the next room. The very loud party in the next room. Ah, well ... it's SF.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


This is not the blog from Eeriecon, not quite yet. This is about elevators. The current issue of THE NEW YORKER includes a fascinating article about those conveyances; I wish I had read it before I sold my story "Elevator" to Jonathan Strahan for ECLIPSE 2. But since Eeriecon, like all cons, will feature overcrowded elevators jammed with barbarians and space soldiers, these tidbits seem appropriate. Reassuring, even:

  • The only documented free-fall of an elevator (not counting 9/11) occurred in 1945, when a B-25 bomber flying in fog hit the 79th floor of the Empire State building. The elevator plunged 75 floors with one person, the attendant, aboard. The car landed on several thousand feet of cable, a hydraulic buffer, and a pillow of air pressure compressed by the speeding car in the shaft. The woman survived.
  • Twenty-six people die in elevators in the USA every year, nearly all of them installers or maintnance workers.
  • New York City has 58,000 elevators, which make 11 billion trips each year.
  • The Otis Elevator Company claims that, world-wide, its elevators carry the equivalent of the world's population every five days.
  • In most elevators built since the early 1990's, the door-close button does not work. It's there to provide passengers with the illusion of control.
  • Current technology cannot provide a hoist rope longer than 1700 feet; longer and it becomes too heavy for safety. That's why in very tall buildings you must switch elevators to go to the higher floors.

The hotel for Eeriecon is only four or five stories; I tend to take the stairs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hugo nominees

I am still reading my way through the Hugo nominees, and I'd like to recommend Greg Egan's "Glory." It starts with a dazzling section explaining in careful detail faster-than-light, untraceable starflight. This is all the more dazzling because the section is very much an expository lump, which I tell my students to not begin stories with, and yet it's so inventive that the exposition works. Then the story introduces characters, spins their passions and problems, and ends with a moving decision.

Do read this one.

My next blog will be from the pre-Eeriecon Roundtable in Buffalo, at which Joe Haldeman, Anne Bishop, Josepha Sherman, Jennifer Crow, and I will hold forth on...what?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gender and Awards

I understand (second-hand, since I don't surf much) that there is some concern out there in InterNet Land that the Hugo ballot features only four women nominees this year (last year there was only one). As it happens, gender distribution of SF writers is something I keep track of. Here are the figures from the 2007 SFWA Directory:

Male names: 58%
Female Names: 35%
Other: 7% (These people are unknown to me personally and are using initials, have unisex names like "Pat" or "Terry," or have non-English names which I don't know the usual gender for).

Now, the awards record. From 1977-2007, there were:

Female Hugo winners: 35
Male Hugo winners: 93

Female Nebula winners: 57
Male Nebula winners: 70

So women are under-represented for Hugos and over-represented for Nebulas. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Do any of you?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Craft, Art, and SF

My short story collection from Golden Gryphon, Nano Comes To Clifford Falls and Other Stories, is out, and so is the first review, Gary Wolfe's in Locus. Mostly favorable, the review uses my collection as a springboard for a discussion of craft, art, idea, and characters in SF. Wolfe's central point -- or what I take to be his central point, it's a complex discussion -- is that I do well at "craft," sometimes rise to "art," but have few new SF ideas and employ time-honored settings and tropes mostly mechanically.

I think this is fair. I don't have the dazzling ideas of a Bruce Sterling or Charles Stross, and that aspect of SF has never been important to me. How characters interact with the future, what a radical change in setting or technology does to the fabric of human interaction and to a person's sense of his or her place in the universe -- this is what I've aways loved best about all literature. Wolfe is right in saying that the heart of most of my stories could be recast in a mundane world. SF is to me a means of highlighting aspects of human nature, not an end in itself.

This raises a question, though, about the other aspect of my SF career: teaching. Currently I'm writing a critique for Virtual Clarion, an on-line workshop affiliated with Clarion in San Diego. The story I'm critiquing is the opposite of my own preferences: a military SF story focused on ideas. When I critique this sort of approach, whether for Clarion or any other class, I must be very careful to see the story the author wanted to write, not the one I would have written with the same material. It's not always easy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How Many Words?

Last night my SF writing class resumed at Writers & Books. For seven of the eight weeks of each term, this is a critique class, but the first week we get organized and then do some sort of exercise. Last night we had critiquing practice by attacking an old, unpublished, very bad story of mine. I wrote this thing thirty years ago, before I had any idea what I was doing, as in: What is a point of view and why is it nice to have one? When I say "very bad," it's not false humility. The class slashed away merrily.

But afterwards I got to thinking: How much do you have to write to take yourself from bad amateur to pro? Of course it varies with the writer (I understand that Robert Silverberg sold his first story). But is there some sort of average? Fred Pohl wrote that it takes a half million words to become good, but that seems high to me.

More interestingly, what can the aspiring writer do to shorten that apprenticeship? Only two things occur to me. First, get reliable feedback, which my students are doing, -- or at least I fervently hope that's what's happening in class week after week. Second, read a lot of SF or fantasy or whatever you're hoping to write. Too many of them, alas, are not doing that.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tiptree, Again

I finished the Philips biography of Alice Sheldon, and then I reread a bunch of Sheldon's stories. God, she was good. But Julie Philips' summation of some of them surprised me. Consistently I found that the weakness of the bio was Philips' sweeping statements unbacked by either examples or explanation, and this was particularly true about the stories. The all-female future of "Houston, Houston, Do You Read" is described by Philips as "neither happy nor free," and search as I might, I found nothing in the story to support that statement. And the protagonist of "The Women Men Don't See," Don Fenton, is described as "likeable," which I really didn't see.

I suppose this personal reaction is a necessary part of literature. It's also the reason we have, say, contests like the Nebulas. But it makes me wonder what readers are seeing in my two contenders, "Fountain of Age" and "Safeguard," that may be completely contrary to what I see there. Or put there. Or tried to put there. I like Max, that old reprobate, but maybe others find him repulsive or tedious.

The author, like the deceived spouse, is always the last to know.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Anatomy of a Story

While waiting to hear the fate of my YA proposal, I wrote the first draft of a short story. Writers typically have two kinds of reactions to first drafts. One: Fueled by enthusiasm and accomplishment, they think the story wonderful and brilliant and destined for some Best of the Year. Or, two: They hate it.

I'm the second kind of writer. But I think this story has a problem that goes beyond my usual post-partum literary depression. This one, tentatively titled "Unintended Behavior," is an idea story. I still like the idea, but the characters strike me as stereotypical. I usually do my best work when I start with an idea embodied in a character ("Fountain of Age," "Beggars in Spain"), and lesser work when I start with a naked idea ("The Rules"). "Unintended Behavior" features a pair of over-used characters: controlling and verbally abusive husband and long-suffering, victimized wife. Not good.

But there's much in the story I like. So I could 1) give the plot to a different pair of deeply enmeshed characters: two sisters, perhaps. The problem is that no relationship is as deeply enmeshing as marriage except for parent-child, and that will not work for this story. Or I could 2) try to modulate both characters, making the husband less villainous and the wife less victimized. Or, 3) I could keep the characters I have but reverse the gender roles, which might be interesting. It has to be done well, though, or it will just look like a lame attempt to reverse gender roles.

I don't know yet which I will do. But that's this week's assignment: wrestle with my story's Unintended Behavior.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Smelling, Smoking, and Science Fiction

Genetics fascinate me. Do we do what we do because the behavior is programmed into our genes, because we are culturally conditioned, or because we choose to act that way? Any sane answer has to say "All three." But it's the genetic component that interests me.

A new study at Northwestern has demonstrated that people remember odors more specifically, more quickly, and with greater urgency when introduced to the odors in conjunction with electric shocks. This may have been very useful when we were both predators and prey on the savanna; we could sniff trouble coming. Researchers at the Houston Cancer Center have tentatively identified genes which seem connected to a predilection for nicotine addiction. Not only are people with this genetic combination more likely to smoke, if they inherited the genes from both sets of parents, they have an 80% greater chance of contracting lung cancer than do smokers without the gene.

Writers, other studies consistently say, have a greater tendency than the general population to depression, mood lability, and general mental instability (hold the jokes, please). Is this, too, genetic? And taking it a step farther, is there a genetic component to the urge to write itself? If so, it would have to be indirect, since writing is a learned, rather than instinctive, behavior.

But then, so is smoking. We may have genetic predispositions, but we are amazingly adaptable. How else to account for, say, con masquerades?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Playing With Words

Yesterday the mail brought an SF magazine with a story of mine in a Slavic language I can't identify (Romanian? Czech?), and the June Asimov's with a story of mine that I can identify, "Call Back Yesterday." The title is from Shakespeare, that great repository for authors out of titular inspiration. This, combined with the paperwork for changing phone companies, got me thinking about words.

I am getting a different company for my "land line." Usually, names for things become shorter over time: "wireless connection" becomes "wi-fi," "ocean liner" becomes "liner." But my phone, which when I was a kid needed only one word because only one possible object could fit it, has now become a two-word descriptor, "land line," as other choices came into being (i.e., "cell phone"). Similarly, "egg donor mother" wasn't needed before surrogate pregnancy; before that, "mother" covered it all. And SF introduced the "Earth year" as a standard galactic time measure among planets with different rotation periods.

So what other current terms could, in the future, need additional descriptors when more choice is available? "Home body," when one can pour one's consciousness into a different body? In "Mirror Image," I used "human standard" to describe the symmetrical, four-limbed, air-breathing body that my characters return to after temporary sojourns in other, manufactured bodies suited to various planets' gravities and atmospheres. How about "starter body," on the lines of "starter marriage" -- also a term that didn't exist fifty years ago?

This could be a fun way to generate SF stories!