Normally, I do not take up space explaining my books or answering questions about them. They are meant to speak for themselves, or not at all. If there are jests or allusions to other authors in my work, these are spoilt if I need to amplify them.
And, frankly, my books are patterned after the kind of book I like to read: lighthearted escapist fare, full of action and fury, with relatively little pondering of deep issues with which anyone would take issue.
Of course, the weasel word there is ‘relatively.’ Try as I might to keep it light, a certain amount of ponderous philosophic profundity tends, entirely without my consent, to creep into my work from some hidden hemisphere of my brain. Here I can only throw myself on the blind hope that my beloved readers will be kind enough to tolerate the flaw.
However tolerant the readers are, it is possible that this unintentional profundity obscures the plain meaning of my books, and the inattentive reader might take away a meaning the opposite of my intent.
The fault in such cases is of course mine for being unclear. While it would be more dignified and noble, no doubt, merely to endure the opprobrium my unclarity has summoned up, I confess that a certain base commercial impulse, namely, the desire to sell books, requires that I make a token protest in those few cases where the inattentiveness assumes cyclopean proportions.
A reader, whose name for courtesy’s sake I withhold, put forward this opinion about my humble work THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA:
“Some of the early bits with the variant humans were interesting, but they turned out to be kind of stereotypical when they got more screen time. Also, apparently they were all innately evil because they didn’t adhere to monogamous Christian 1950s-small-town-America values.”
I think this is a misreading of the text.
Indeed, the very opposite is the meaning of the work, had only I been able to make the meaning clear enough.
I would like to think that this one reader is alone in his interpretation, and to assure any other readers that, if you read with eyes unclouded by hate, you will see what the point of the book actually is.
Unseemly as it is for an author to have to explain his point, I myself am sometimes curious as to what an author had in mind, and should there be a solitary reader out there curious about my work, I am happy to embarrass myself before all the rest of the incurious world to satisfy that solitary fellow.
So instead of describing where or how the misreading went wrong, let me explain something about my personal writing process, and give you a peek behind the curtain to show you how a professional writer makes his auctorial decisions. It is, of course, like watching sausage being made, so the delicate-souled reader is advised to keep his fond illusions intact, and read something else.
For the solitary reader who remains, I can tell you that the short answer is that mostly you steal your ideas.
But for a longer answer, let me explain your humble author decided to frame the story, establish the plot tension, and what philosophical purpose, if any, was behind the depiction of the variant human races.
But first, for those of you not familiar with my book, allow me to explain the conceit, and tell you who the variant humans are.
In THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA the seven survivors of mankind’s sole expedition to an alien artifact called the Monument return with a plethora of scientific secrets gained from the study of the big, dumb object.
The Monument was designed by an alien super-civilization to be read by any sufficiently advanced race, to overcome all barriers and boundaries between different forms of communication, no matter what the semantics, biology or psychology or history of the race who stumbles upon it.
Hence, in the prologue to the message (which covers one pole of a small moon) the alien glyphs spell out in detail all the secrets of billions of years of study in semantics, biology, psychology, and history. Study of these secrets solves what to humans are insoluble metaphysical and technological problems concerning the mind-body relation, how to use genetics to sculpt psychology and hence to shape social forces, and how to predict history or foreordain it.
The Hermeticists (so the survivors of the expedition call themselves), armed with these scientific wonders, return home to an Earth which is, thanks to relativistic dilation, grown strange to them. The Hermeticists use knowledge at first to defend themselves, and then to conquer the world. But their ultimate aim is wider than mere conquest: they are engaged in ‘The Great Work’ which is to design a next step of human evolution, to produce the Man Beyond Man.
Their reason is simple and awful: the Hermeticists know that their meddling with the Monument stirred an ancient and unsleeping watcher at the star Epsilon Tauri, and triggered a trap. For the Monument is not a friendly First Contact message but an intelligence test with lethal consequences for the world who fails. The Jupiter-sized machine intelligences swarming the Hyades Cluster intend to enslave any race which, by crossing the interstellar gulfs of space to examine the Monument, proves itself advanced enough to be useful to the inhuman, unknown purposes of the Hyades Domination.
The Hermeticists fear that the Hyades will obliterate any race which proves itself not useful, and suspect that the Monument was meant to lure to itself a race considerably older and more intelligent than mere homo sapiens.
The Hermeticists conclude that the posthuman future of man must be one of submission to thralldom, servitude beneath the indifferent and remote masters lightyears away, or else extermination. Everything must be sacrificed to the Great Work.
One of the sciences learned from the Monument’s mathematical hieroglyphs is Cliometry, which is basically the Psychohistory from Isaac Asimov’s FOUNDATION or the cliology from Mike Flynn’s IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND; that is, predictive history.
In this universe where faster than light drive is impossible, the invaders are not due until the Twelfth Millennium or thereabouts, as far in the future as the Mesolithic and Epipaleolithic periods are in the past. On the cosmic scale, the Hermeticists do not have much time to evolve mankind to a race superior enough to be the least worthwhile serf of the interstellar domination.
In the opening chapters of THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA we see Ximen del Azarchel, the Master of the World in exile, offering to each of his five loyal posthuman henchmen a thousand years a piece to do with as he will to shape the race, evolve humanity to the next stage of posthumanity, and play history like a harp.
But there is one member of the expedition named Menelaus Montrose, gunslinger, erratic genius, and all-around jerk who is not willing to allow the future to be a future of serfdom for mankind.
He is a member of a despised minority (he is an English-speaking mestizo from Texas, where the other Hermeticists are purebloods of ancient Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan families, or nobles from Uruguay and Brazil) who went mad during his attempt to read the Monument; ergo the others are unwilling to heed his warnings or hear his dreams of liberty. He also has bad grammar and picks his teeth with a Bowie knife.
Montrose and Del Azarchel are also romantic rivals for the hand of the expedition’s captain, the world’s first posthuman, Rania Galatea Grimaldi. She is smarter than the both of them, but she has departed into space to range beyond the rim of the galaxy, to M3, where the civilizations thrive that are to the Hyades as the Hyades are to Earth, archangels as far above angels as angels are above men, there to demand the freedom of mankind’s most remote descendants, and to prove that we are a starfaring race.
By their draconian laws, the cold and remote intellects at M3 must manumit any slave race which shows it can serve the long-term purposes of galactic evolution better by being free. A fractious and warlike race like Man is one it may not seem at first can be trusted with cosmic equality to these higher powers and more ancient forms of post-biological life.
For reasons which do not bear close examination, your humble author also thought it would be amusing if the Ship’s first captain, and the man who funded the expedition, were a sovereign prince of the tiny country of Monaco. This allows his daughter, Her Serene Highness Rania of Monaco, to be an official space princess. (It goes without saying that the arch-democrat Texan Montrose and she do not see all things eye-to-eye.)
So how does this translate from an abstract situation to a story?
Most stories to be written–I speak only of my own writing habits here, and others do things differently–most of my stories start with an idea or a visual image.
Most authors I know keep a handy dandy notebook in purse or pocket where he jots down the ideas and images which are grist for the mill. The writing process consists, for me, of stringing together the images in a logical sequence.
Since I like simple adventure stories, I usually make the sequence something like a fencing match, with each move having a tactical purpose: the hero makes a thrust or feint toward his target, the villain makes a countermove to parry and riposte, the hero makes a counter-parry, and so on.
Most stories are made up of a collision of two or three ideas. You can tell a story is bland when it only has one good idea but then does not make anything of it.
If I may be bold enough to criticize writers clearly better at our craft than I, I would say that FOUNDATION by Asimov is a bland book, since it only has a single idea stringing the separate short stories together, the idea of “Let us set the Fall of the Roman Empire in space, but have the encyclopedia-writing monks in the monasteries who save civilization be guided by an advanced science of predictive statistics, so that everything is mapped out by fate, and there is no way to fail.”
SECOND FOUNDATION on the other hand is not a bland book but a rich one, because here a second idea is introduced at right angles to the first, creating a collision and a tension: “What if the Seldon Plan for the Second Empire were derailed by a mutant psionic power, the power which could change human reactions to events, and hence render history unpredictable? What if the infallible plan failed?” Now that is an exciting idea, thickly spiced with possibilities.
Let me use another example, this time from my least favorite and my most favorite Heinlein novels.
STARSHIP TROOPERS is a book I adore for reasons that do not here concern us, but it is a book based on a single idea, with no plot and darn little character development. The idea is when an individual infantryman of the future commands firepower greater than a modern platoon, including nuclear weapons, what are the social implications? How can he be trained to be trusted with so much power, and to use it for the honor of the regiment and the good of the group?
Much as I like it, I have to call TROOPERS a bland book. Despite being allegedly controversial, at least among those who controvert plain common sense, the actual science fictional speculation in the book is remarkably tentative: Heinlein proposes a social custom (military service as a prerequisite for citizenship) no more unusual than what the Roman practice was not long ago, or the Swiss today.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND is a book I abhor, for reasons that do not here concern us, but it is the collision of several ideas, not the least of which is whether a man raised from birth by Martians is a Man or is a Martian. Add to this is a cops-and-robbers story about a corrupt government attempting to exploit the innocent Man from Mars, a tale about a naive genius who does not think like a human quickly learning about human nature and human laughter, and Swiftian satire on those favorite Western institutions, monogamy and monotheism. It is a rich book.
In my case, the first idea was one I stole from a book I have not read, MAROONED IN REALTIME by Vernor Vinge. I don’t know what the story is about, but I heard of the basic conceit: a technology called “bobbles” allows for a perfect time status, where anything inside the action of the force field is immune from all events. A group of castaways from different periods in history wake onto an apparently empty Earth in the remote future, and seek to discover what has become of mankind.
Brilliant idea! Doff your cap to Mr. Vinge! Don’t tell me how it turns out, because I have not read the story yet, and I frankly did not want to read it before I wrote my own version.
Authors like H.G. Wells (THE SLEEPER WAKES) to Robert Heinlein (DOOR INTO SUMMER) have dealt with the idea of cryogenic suspension, or suspended animation, where a character, a Buck Rogers or a Rip Van Winkle, sleeps and wakes to see the astounding changes the future brings.
Usually this is used as a springboard merely to put the reader into the future with a character with whom the reader identifies, and to whom Wilma Deering can explain things that would need to be explained to a man from our time.
Only a few authors, such as Larry Niven (A WORLD OUT OF TIME) or Alan Steele (A KING OF INFINITE SPACE), dealt with the practical danger that the future people, feeling no sense of obligation to their increasingly remote ancestors, would enslave them upon waking rather than welcome them, or would loot their suspended animation coffins rather than leave them intact, leaving untouched any gold or goods the slumberers (not wishing to be thawed out into a life of penury) might have buried with them.
So I tried to puzzle out that safest way to store your body while you slept.
Option one: you can trust to the government to look after it, or some other long lived private institution. Menelaus Montrose does this in an early stage of history called the Cryonarchy, where the control of the suspended animation tombs is the core of the political power of the ruling caste (all of whom are Montrose’s remote inlaws).
You can try the longest-lived institution of all, which is the Catholic Church. Their famous reverence for relict and boneyards and preserving the lore of the past could be turned to preserving their sleeping ancestors as an act of charity.
(No one will believe this, but I had that idea long before I converted. It just seemed a natural extrapolation of human behavior based on non-PC, that is, non-revisionist hence non-lying-ass, history.)
But even the statues of Ozymandias crumble away in time. The other options are trying to make the machinery entirely self-contained and self-sustaining, which you can do if you are a posthuman super-genius in a make-believe story, and have access to antimatter and geothermal energy, and so on.
And the other option is to hide your tomb site underground, and to set traps, which the old Pharaohs used as a method to discourage tomb looters.
This led to the collision with my second idea. Menelaus Montrose, keeping himself in suspended animation, has to bury his facilities under pyramids and mountains, ring them with defenses, and develop such a hardcore reputation for extraordinary disproportionate retaliation against tomb looters, that even generations or civilizations, centuries or millennia later, no one is willing to meddle with his tombs.
Montrose has to emerge from underground to murder anyone who tries to rob him or his clients, even if the tomb-robber is a superhuman Hermeticist, each man the master of his own millennium, and father of a whole race of super beings.
So the second idea was that, as the sleepers from various ages entered the tombs for various reasons and slept, various unsleeping guardians would stand watch. I selected the Knights Hospitalier (The Sovereign Military Hospitalier Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (and, in my yarn, of Colorado)) for their longevity and general reputation as medieval badasses, excuse me, I mean as doughty men of renown and chivalry (you do know that the word chivalry is just fancy talk for a badass, don’t you? A polite badass. Rudeness is weakness).
But also standing watch would be the invisible host of myths and legends that would have to grow up around the tombs of the slumbering knights as eons passed.
So the story had to be framed as one of those black-and-white movies about a Mummy being disturbed in his pyramid by insufferably scoffing English archeologists while Ardath Bey in his fez utters unheeded warnings and the native boy cowers in terror, and death and carnage eventuate.
My plan was to write a mummy story where the mummy is a good guy. In this case Menelaus Montrose, posthuman genius and generally trash-talking roughneck, is not recognized when he is dug up by the archeologists of the far future. He is thrown in a pit with the other thawed slumberers from the different eras and eons of mankind, all of whom are impressed into a work gang. The people from the past are enslaved to dig up other people from the past.
It would make a great module for Dungeons and Dragons, or for Traveler, or something, because the work slaves have to dig into a malfunctioning buried facility that is armed and patrolled with death-traps and ancient weapons from the forgotten technologies of five prior civilizations, and the archeologists are trying to dig up a legendary figure some think real, and others merely legendary.
Meanwhile the legendary figure is actually standing among them, itching for a cigarette, listening to them talk, and uttering the dire warnings of Ardath Bey which the archeologists ignore.
Except they are not really archeologists. Nothing is what it seems.
The collision of the third idea was, as most ideas of most authors turn out to be, based on either an irritation or a challenge issuing from another book from that author’s youth.
I happen to believe CHILDHOOD’S END by Arthur C Clarke was a rebuttal to OUT FROM THE SILENT PLANET by C.S. Lewis which was a rebuttal to FIRST MEN IN THE MOON by H.G. Wells, which was an elaboration or variation on FROM EARTH TO THE MOON by Jules Verne. But I am not sure.
That one solitary reader for whom I write this article can rest assured: THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA is deliberately intended by the author to be something of a variation, or even a rebuttal, to certain science fiction author’s ideas with which I disagree, or which, at the least, I think not presented convincingly.
Let us take FOUNDATION, for example. The conceit there is that the Second Foundation, discoverers first of the predictive science of history, and later, for no apparent reason, discovers Way Cool Mind Powers, could guide the galaxy through the Dark Ages with something like a Soviet Five Year Plan for the economy writ large. And then, having saved the galaxy from the scourge of barbarism, the human race would all live happily ever after under the soul-crushing absolute rule of the Imperial family, the Praetorian Guard, the Senatorial clans and their clients, not to mention the Mandarins of the Second Foundation who can control history itself, and your brain. Whoop-to-do, fun.
(Why is the reader supposed to root for these guys? Sign me up with the Mule.)
What is wrong with this idea, or, at least, it seems wrong to me, is that the members of the Second Foundation are still human beings, still as filled with powerlust and ambition and sentimentality and selfishness as any other human beings, despite knowing a science to predict the future.
Was there no one, not a single scholar on the Table of Master Psychohistorians, who had a sentimental liking for Bel Riose, and wanted to make him Emperor, or have him win a victory over the First Foundation?
Was there no Psychohistorian disgusted with the falsehood of the Church of the Galactic Spirit, that half-baked version of the Priests of Mota from Robert Heinlein’s SIXTH COLUMN (or, earlier, from John W Campbell’s ALL) who wanted to turn history along a more honest line?
Was there no Psychohistorian in the group who wanted to pursue his own theory of how to organize the future to avoid the commercial crassness of the Traders or the corruption of the Mayor of Terminus, and saw a possible shortcut to obviate the later civil war? Not one?
All the scientists, all the scholars, all the academics, all the spies and pollsters and psychiatrists and sociologists and all the huge apparatus of guiding the history of every planet of every star in the inhabited galaxy—they were all in agreement with every element and nuance of Hari Seldon’s first rough draft of his plan?
And there was no second draft, no grad student of Hari Seldon, no Jung disagreeing with his Freud, no Trotsky clashing with his Lenin?
Was there no elf in Middle Earth who ever kicked a bunny?
With these questions in mind, all save the last one, I wanted to do a version of Foundation more to my taste, where there was one pro-democracy Psychohistorian among the crowd of pro-Imperialism history-planners.
Donald Kingbury — an author whose genius I admire and whose work I strongly recommend — had a similar idea in his PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS, but he did something cleverer than I.
Instead of having the two factions of Psychohistorians muddling through history and snarling each other’s ebbs and flows of statistical events, in Kingbury’s book the Pscholars merely run a psychohistorical extrapolation of the possible outcomes of their duel, and the losing side concedes defeat without actually inflicting any chaos on the real history of real planets. They settled the psychohistorical conflict with psychohistory.
My characters are not so civilized and chivalrous as that, and besides, the Galactic Empire had no external enemies in Asimov’s story or Kingsbury’s, whereas my characters do.
So that was the story frame: a mummy story wrapped around a mystery set again an dueling psychohistorians yarn. Archeologists are digging through ever older strata of human history, provoking the vengeance of a mythical “Judge of Age” whose condemnation can obliterate a civilization, and who is said to be the guardian of the Tombs as well as the oldest being interred deep in them.
He is from a mythical place called “Texas” of which it is dimly recalled that it is a place one dares not “mess with.”
Then I copied an idea from Dan Simmons — another author whose genius I admire and whose work I strongly recommend — who, in his HYPERION, has the several characters each tell their own tale in their own voice, and from their scattered stories the reader pieces together the full vast picture of events beyond human ken.
I do not mind stealing from him, because he stole the idea from Chaucer. My scruples do not allow me to steal from those august and pure authors who never steal and who are completely original, like, say, James Joyce. Indeed, let us all agree never to steal any ideas from him.
The Archeologists interview each of their thawed prisoners to discover what the generations know of the origin of the Tombs, what the revenants have seen of the Judge of Ages or the legendary Knights in power armor who are said to guard the forbidden coffins buried over the treasures and arsenals of past ages.
And, again, not one of the revenants is actually what he seems.
So, finally, we reach the crux of the matter. I had to invent enough posthuman races, variant humanities, enough attempts to force mankind to the next step of evolution, to give some weight to the conceit of what is basically a transhumanist arms race.
Instead of making them up at random, I based them off of a specific progression in human history and psychology which leads to slavery, because the point of what the evil psychohistorians in my yarn were trying to do was to break the human spirit before the aliens arrive, so that Man would submit to them, and live, rather than prove recalcitrant and useless, and be slain.
The steps are loss of ambition in the Sylphs; which leads to loss of reason in the Witches; which leads to loss of empathy in the Chimerae; leads to loss of chastity in the Nymphs; which leads to the loss of the sense of man as more dignified than the animals in the Hormagaunts; which leads to a loss of individuality in the Locusts; and, in the Melusine, this leads to a telepathic serfdom, a helotry of each thought and memory, far more terrible than any merely physical slavery ever endured.
The progression, put in simpler terms, runs from sloth to envy to wrath to lust to gluttony to avarice to pride.
And, of course, not being entirely without a sense of humor, or a sense of what it means to be human, I based the variant races off of other science fiction writer’s notions of what the various advances in human nature would be like. And, being impish, of course I made a slightly or hugely satirical version of these other writer’s conceits, none of which I found entirely convincing.
At the risk of spoiling all the surprises, let me tell that one curious reader who has read this overlong account this far — in case you ever have to write an English paper on it or something — what the actual author was actually thinking when I made up each race. (English majors are still free to ignore what I say, because they don’t care about what the author’s actual intent was anyway, not modern English majors, at least.)
The first race is the Hermeticists themselves. These are a take-off of the Science Council or rule by panels of experts one might see in Buck Rogers or in Isaac Asimov’s LUCKY STARR juveniles.
As an intellectual, let me tell you that the idea of having intellectuals run anything is just stupid. Ask the people who suffered under the rule of the Mandarins in China. I modeled the linguistic quirks and special terms of the Hermeticists after those of the Gnostics, who are a religious version of the same dumb idea that smartness is better than goodness.
But, as I said above, the most pointed dart of my satire is directed against the Psychohistorians of Isaac Asimov’s FOUNDATION. If there really were men who controlled history, and started wars we mere humans were helpless to stop, or exterminated races, and did the other things history did, they would be bad men. Nay, they would be pure-quill top-grade fourteen-caret vermin, and proof once again that tyrannicide is the most glorious crime a man can commit.
Next are the Giants. This idea was partly based on Poul Anderson’s STARS ARE ALSO FIRE; where one of the artificial subspecies is a bulge-headed Intellect whose neck is pierced by the additional nostrils need to super-oxygenate the bloodstream that feeds the larger brain. In Poul Anderson’s story the Intellect is a creature of pathos, never able to keep pace with his small biological brain with the “Sophotects” or machine intelligences that can augment themselves at an ever accelerating rate. I made my Giants loyal Catholics merely to annoy the bigots who pretend intelligence is mutually exclusive with faith, rather than fed by it.
The Sylphs are hollow-boned nomads who dwell in zeppelins and have an unduly easygoing attitude toward life. These are taken, almost without change, from the race of ‘Floaters’ who appear in a rather obscure novel, THE SHADOW MEN by A.E. van Vogt (aka THE UNIVERSE MAKER). My only contribution here was to give them a clear and desperate reason to be nomadic, and a reason for their tragic sorrow.
The Witches are a Swiftian satire on every form of science-worshiping treehugging neopagan buffoonery I could imagine, or I had seen in real life, or had read in an Ursula K LeGuin story about oxymoronically peaceful anarchists (specifically, the Anarri in THE DISPOSSESSED). As the title of Mrs LeGuin’s story unwittingly reveals, my Witches are perfect exemplars of envy, creatures who feel dispossessed because they do not control the fruits of the labor of others.
But for my story I also added what I thought was an interesting science fiction speculation. What if a pharmaceutical were discovered that halted the aging process, and tripled or quadrupled the human lifespan? And what if it only worked on women?
The male Y chromosome, after all, can be regarded as a damaged X chromosome, so it is not inconceivable that a genetic treatment could be found which works only on the sex with the undamaged chromosome pairs. What happens to monogamy when one partner is fertile and nubile throughout the lifespans of two or three of her mates?
I propose that this would lead to a female-dominated society, and one which, lacking monogamy and stability in child-rearing, would be no less warlike and dunderheaded than a male-dominated one, but have somewhat less honor and chivalry and considerably less honesty.
(Lest I be misunderstood, I am proposing not that a woman-run world would be any better or worse than a man-run world; I am proposing that a polygamous society in the future would be as civilized as other polygamous societies in the past, which do not grace the pages of history with notable examples of their compassion in thought and directness in speech.)
For the specific purposes of my novel, I held that the Roman Catholic Church would diminish, and when her influence passed away, the metaphysical basis for a scientific world view would diminish as well—a degeneration we have already seen overtake the fine arts and the humanities, and is making inroads into the once-objective but now politically-influenced scientific institutions.
There are other historical examples of science retracting into obscurantism once in lands where Christian metaphysical thought and moral norms regress (Lysenko in Russia, Nazi race-science in Germany, the general backwardness of Byzantine nations conquered by the Mohammedan). Here I paint a picture of what all science would be like once all branches of learning were all treated like climatology by the eco-scaremongers.
Next, the Chimerae are humans whose genes are mingled with those of various animals, to produce a race of Spartan ferocity, with all the horrific social and legal norms one expects from unapologetic eugenicists. These are frankly my satire on Heinlein’s idea of the militarized society from STARSHIP TROOPERS.
While I have no problem myself with the idea of limiting the vote to veterans — I don’t see why cowards get to decide issues of public weal, like when we go to war and how to punish crooks, and I don’t see that the government has much honest role in life outside those two areas — I am agog that Heinlein did not even make a passing nod in the direction of the idea of how easily this idea can be corrupted. The Roman Empire was not exactly a bastion of civic virtue during the days when citizenship could be earned by military service.
The Nymphs who follow them are the satire on the Heinlein’s idea of an orgiastic hedonism from STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.
People without self-control in any area, but especially in the sexual area, people who just betray their mates and abandon their children, simply cannot pass along their heritage to their young and cannot maintain a technological civilization, or much civilization of any kind. Civilization requires work which requires self-discipline. I had to make the Nymphs considerably less heedless than the Water Brothers of the Church of All Worlds to make them something I thought could plausibly exist. But, I am sad to say, there are plenty of modern “activists” of various activities best not mentioned in mixed company who talk like Nymphs. Indeed, I had to tone down the one direct quote I used from a sexual libertarian, to make my sex-crazed character sound neurotic rather than psychotic.
The Hormagaunts are Larry Niven type organleggers from his Known Space books. There is no satire meant here: I thought Larry Nivens’ idea was realistic and horrible, and I happen to believe the rumors out of China that they are even now practicing their ghastly anthropophagic trade. The name comes from Jack Vance, which I intend here as a solemn homage. In Jack Vance’s THE KILLING MACHINE, a Hormagaunt is said to be a creature no longer human, which lives by absorbing other men’s lives. The look and feel of the Hormagaunts comes from a Japanese anime called SUPERNATURAL BEAST CITY, which I cannot recommend to anyone with a weak stomach.
The Locusts are the Slans from A.E. van Vogt’s book of the same name. The idea I mock here is their attempt to guide mankind peaceably into extinction (as Keir Gray would have it) ends when they themselves in turn are successfully guided into peaceably extinction by a race higher than themselves. SLAN is a favorite book of mine, but the idea that the higher race would just wipe out their parent race, peacefully or not, out strikes me morally idiotic.
I also use the Locusts as a way to question, if not to mock, the idea from Joe Haldeman’s FOREVER PEACE that radio-telepathic contact with the minds of the enemy would produce peace automatically. As if wars are always misunderstandings, and never caused by fear, greed for gain, or love of honor. No lawyer in any divorce court will tell you that intimate knowledge of an enemy’s mind automatically produces goodwill.
The Melusine are the Silkie from A.E. van Vogt’s book of the same name. In that book, the Silkie each one are forced to marry one of the Special People, who are telepaths able to monitor them for criminal thoughts. I have a similar telepathic totalitarianism here. Like the Imperialists of Asimov’s FOUNDATION, I was aghast seeing how casually Van Vogt in THE SILKIE describes an utterly horrible situation of absolute unfreedom (the Silkie are not allowed to select their mates and not to raise — nor to see — their own children) and has not a single character voice any slightest objection to it, nor puts anything in the story explain how humans could live under such in human conditions.
I expect that anyone familiar with my opinions of these authors knows that I have picked my favorites, my absolute all-time favorites, to hold up to gentle satire. No disrespect but instead considerable devotion and honor is intended. If I can get one reader of mine to read one of these other authors, but particularly Poul Anderson, or A.E. van Vogt, my satire serves a nobler purpose than satire.
In each case, except for Niven and Vance, the author makes the same assumption that human nature can be changed for the better, and that men will be good if they live under a good system of laws and customs.
Contrariwise, I say that men will always be men, and some men will make hell into paradise on earth, and some men will make paradise into hell on earth, and some men will just make a mess.
We are not the kind of race that a little meddling with our genes or our customs can cure or can curse.
Then I did the clever thing I had hoped my readers would catch: I made at least one member of these terrible races with their terrible customs into heroes and heroines, each in his own way.
I am expecting my readers to have at least some admiration for the Lacedemonian discipline and devotion of Daae the Chimera, and to see the humor in their allegedly soft and submissive Lady Ivinia who, like a Spartan dame of yore, is more ferocious than her men.
I hope the readers like Kine Lars of the Gutter for his utterly unselfconscious braggadocio.
Me, I love these guys.
I am hoping most readers will be charmed at least in part by Mickey the Witch, aka Melechemoshemyazanagual the Warlock of Williamsburg, who is funny, brave, and resourceful, and is more than he at first seems.
I expect some readers to be impressed with the selfless altruism of the Locusts, and amused at the selfishness but impressed with the unyielding independence of the Hormagaunts.
I am even expecting readers to come to love Preceptor Illiance, that petty, pedantic, fussy little deadpan sage with an unexpectedly brave and decent heart.
The Blue Men have a monastic austerity to them which even their enemies should admire, albeit, like all philosophies, theirs has limitations and drawbacks, not the least of which is a temptation to indulge in utilitarianism (which is just a fancy name for sacrificing the weak to the many).
To be sure, Illiance is a bad guy at first, but this is not the last book in the sequence. My idea here was to make a character in the same position as Uncle Iroh from AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER.
My biggest worry was that I had taken this step too far, that I had made the heroes from these various variant forms of humanity so likeable, so loveable, that readers would in disgust think that I was advocating living under the social systems designed by evil Hermeticists to break the human spirit.
I was afraid readers would think I was advocating Chimerical eugenics or militarism, Witchy mysticism, Nymphlike hedonism, and so on, because in each case I show the good as well as the bad of these ideals.
That is not the point at all. I am pointing out that evil social systems cannot break the human spirit. You will find good people even in the worst of worlds.
Now, if that was the point I was trying to make, you can see why I am disappointed (well, actually I am aghast to the point of giggles) that someone could read this book as if I were condemning not just some people are irredeemably evil, but everyone who is not a stereotyped suburban Bourgeoisie from one decade of human history.
Indeed, the parallel with Uncle Iroh is telling. I seem to recall a psychotic episode in the fever swamps of the Left when the movie LAST AIRBENDER by M Night Shyamalan came out.
The objection was made that the cartoon people of entirely imaginary races (who do not exist, because they are make-believe) were being played by the actors and actresses whose racial ancestry to four generations back did not agree with the latest Aryan theories of race purity. Or something like that.
The group accusing other people of racism were people who judged men on the color of their skin rather than by the content of their character (or, in this case, the quality of their acting). In other words, the accusers were the real racists.
The accusation was not meant to be believed: it was a ritual accusation, a meaningless word-noise like the honk of a moose, meant merely to tell other members of the Politically Correct herd that the herd was strong.
One particular objection was that the Fire Nation people, who, in the cartoon are red-eyed and brunette, were evil bad guys; and they were being played by actors of Persian ancestry, who are non-Caucasian; and that to have non-Caucasian actors play bad guys is racist.
To this objection, the only proper response is unprintable, and is forbidden by the Ten Commandments, if not by the Sermon on the Mount.
A response too gentle to be proper might be to say, first, that Uncle Iroh and Prince Zuko are good guys by the end of the story; and, second, anyone not familiar with the story should shut his shouting-hole; and, third, Persians are Caucasians, indeed, the Caucasus mountains are in Persia, which makes the Persians more Caucasian than Englishmen; and, fourth, we in the civilized West do not need to carry an Ahnenpass or certificate of racial purity to say what degree of non-white blood we must have before we can be permitted to play certain roles, Othello or Hamlet or Macbeth, without being Moorish, or Danish, or Scottish.
On a lesser scale, we see the same thinking — I use the word loosely — here. The accusation being leveled is being leveled not at my book, which hardly merits the attention of an insult, nor at me, who merits less. It is being leveled at the notion of civilization, of Christendom, of decency.
As for me, I love my characters, and it would hurt my feelings, if we Houyhnhnms had such primitive things as feelings, to think some poop-flinging yahoo thinks that I portrayed my characters as evil, much less irredeemably evil. Of course he does not actually think that. The moose is merely honking because I am not a member of the herd, and he can sense this.
Irredeemably evil? My characters, the children of my imagination? The whole point of the story is that they are not.
This is a story of redemption. The foes from each era of history, hating that ancestors whom they supplanted and fearing their usurpers who supplant them, overcome their parochial hates and tribal prides, and work together to seek their freedom.
So the tale is also, in fact (and I forget to mention this last idea in collision) a prison break-out story, complete with guard dogs and barbed wire fences. Again, not everything is as it seems, and there may not be an out to break out into.
And that is how the story was formed.