Friday, December 18, 2009

I've Been Tuckerized!

So I came across I new, interesting term today. Thanks to Wikipedia, I found an immediate definition, and I wanted to share it with all of you who enjoy words (see Tuckerization Wikipedia article below). And now I have the right word to use with a friend who recently killed me off in one of her novels. It's good to know these things when you're in a pinch and your avatar character is getting killed off. (See, Jules, I've been tuckerized!)

Tuckerization is the act of using a person's name in an original story as an in-joke. The term is derived from Wilson Tucker, a pioneering American science fiction writer and fanzine editor, who made a practice of using his friends' names for minor characters in his stories. For example, Harry Harrison's To the Stars character: "Old Lundwall, who commands the Sverige, should have retired a decade ago, but he is still the best there is." Sam J Lundwall is a well-known Swedish science fiction publisher and writer, as well as the godfather of Harrison's daughter. A tuckerization can also be the use of a person's character or personal attributes with a new name as an in-joke, such as Ian Arnstein in S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time trilogy, clearly modeled on his good friend Harry Turtledove, albeit an alternate history Turtledove.

Many science fiction authors auction off tuckerizations at science fiction conventions with the proceeds going to charity.

In most cases, tuckerization is used for bit parts, an opportunity for the author to create an homage to a friend or respected colleague. But sometimes an author will attach a friend's name, description, or identifiable characteristics to a major character, and in some novels nearly all the characters represent friends, colleagues, or prominent persons the author knows. When this happens, tuckerization can rise to the level of a Roman à clef. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle have done this at least twice:

  • Inferno, in which about half the people the main character meets are famous people.
  • Fallen Angels, nearly everybody who assists the effort to return the "angels" (astronauts) to orbit is either a well-known fan (Jenny Trout = filksinger, author, and political activist Leslie Fish), a friend of Niven & Pournelle (Dan Forrester = Dan Alderson), or somebody who paid (through donation to a fan charity) for the privilege of appearing in the book. In this case, it can be argued that the first and second categories are not true tuckerizations, since the individual's real names are not used (however recognizable many of them may be).

A similar effect is seen in Niven's collaboration with David Gerrold, The Flying Sorcerers; all the gods are well known science fiction or media personalities (Ouells = H. G. Wells, Rotn'bair = Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry), etc.

One of the earliest tuckerizations was between Robert Bloch and his mentor H. P. Lovecraft: Bloch's story "The Shambler From The Stars" (1935) featured a Lovecraft-inspired character, who was gruesomely killed off. Lovecraft replied in kind with "The Haunter of the Dark" (1936), whose characters included one Robert Harrison Blake (who had the same address as Bloch), whom Lovecraft killed off in an equally horrible fashion. After Lovecraft's death, Bloch wrote a third segment, "The Shadow From the Steeple" (1950), in which the events of the first two stories are further explored. In the early 1930s, before Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the comic-book superhero Superman, they wrote and illustrated a fanzine story, "The Reign of the Superman," featuring a super-powered villain. This story includes one of the very first tuckerizations: a character named after Forrest J Ackerman. More recent examples include the many science fiction and military novelists whose names are borrowed in the Axis of Time by John Birmingham, and the Lachlan Fox thriller series by James Clancy Phelan (eg Birmingham gets it in FOX HUNT).

Related to it is redshirting, where the character named after the real person is killed in some way. Many authors consider tuckerization and redshirting interchangeable; 'redshirted' characters do not necessarily die.

Tuckerization should not be confused with the inclusion of living or deceased real persons in fiction, either as major or minor characters (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro in Warday, Forrest J Ackerman in various novels, etc.).


  1. Cool that you've been tuckerized, Kirk. Now wouldn't that be super weird and freaky if the real you died the way your redshirted character died in a book?

  2. I think it's awesome you were Tuckerized. Congrats, Kirk!

  3. What an honor. I want to be Tuckerized. Somebody get on it!

  4. That would be weird . . . it sounds like a story Edgar Allen Poe would write . . . or maybe Stephen King.

    What's funny is I've seen Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson do the charity fundraiser tuckerization, where you buy chances in a lottery to get your name in books. Not a bad idea at all--although I'm not sure how I'd feel about doing it just for extra profit (instead of for a charity).

    L. T. and Linda, if you guys get tuckerized make sure you get reincarnated as a person with grand wealth or power or some such benefit. A tuckerized burial doesn't hold a candle . . . ;)

  5. I love the term. And I love that you've had the privilege.

    So what about self-tuckerization. Is that a form, or would you just call it narcissism?