Monday, February 6, 2012
An Update to an Old Post: What is "The Termite Queen" All About, Anyway?
I first discussed "The Termite Queen" way back on October 19 -- I think it was the third post I ever put on this blog. I figure that since that time a few more people have become interested, so I'm going to re-post it, with some amendments and additions.
First off, I need to say that this morning I sent off another (high priority) email to the holder orf Evangeline Walton's copyright, since it's now been eight weeks and I've heard nothing. If I have to pay an expediting fee, I will. So I'm hoping (keeping my fingers crossed, so if I make a lot of typos this morning, you'll know why!) to be able to publish the first volume of "TQ" by this weekend!
The novel is really a hybrid. It can't be called anything but science fiction, since it's laid in the 30th century when interstellar travel is common and the appearance of extraterrestrials (big birds and lemus) passing through space ports and walking around university campuses excites very little comment. And there is quite a bit of science in it, but it's not hard technical science. There's a small amount of fictional physics (necessary for interstellar travel) and some fictional technology, but otherwise we're dealing with entomology and other biosciences, a bit of planetary science such as the geology and ecology of the Shshi planet, and areas of study like anthropology and linguistics that share characteristics of science, social science, and humanities.
The novel also presents a future history of Earth. I personally don't enjoy dark, dystopian stories (although I do have one of those lurking in the back of my brain). In my version of the 30th century, Earth has outlived its dystopian period -- the Second Dark Age, which began in the 22nd century and lasted until the 25th. How Earthers managed to pull themselves out of the depths is discussed in "TQ" and you can also see the Page on "My Future History" which is an excerpt from v. 1.
However, this novel is also a love story, which is sometimes seen as incompatible with science fiction. (Cf. the "Farscape" series, however.) Lately I've begun to believe that (no matter whether they are male or female) thoughtful, educated readers, the kind I hope to attract, will not be put off by either the giant bugs (which have very little "yuck" factor) or the love story, which is of the sophisticated, rather "comedy of manners" variety. What I like to write is a human story -- one that deals with the same subtleties of human relationships, philosophies, and events found in mainstream fiction -- which happens to be set in an unusual environment, distant in either time or place or imagination and gaining a new perspective thereby. And when I say "human," I mean intelligent lifeforms (hereafter known as ILFs) no matter what planet they hail from and whether they happen to be bird, mammal, or insect. The !Ka<tí have a word for that: khokék, a cumulative term for all the intelligent species of their own planet (and by extension all other planets).
So my heroine, Associate Kaitrin Oliva, falls in love with Griffen Gwidian, the entomologist leader of the expedition that has brought back a specimen of giant termite from a planetary survey mission. About two-thirds of the story deals with their relationship. Prf. Gwidian is a handsome man whom women find irresistible and he has a sizable reputation around campus as a womanizer. However, he proceeds to fall in love with Kaitrin. She is a strong-willed and stubborn young woman and she does everything she can to resist him, but in the end she succumbs. They end by getting married aboard the interstellar ship Featherlight (a Bird ship) as they are heading back to the planet 2 Giotta 17A to try to make first contact with the termite people.
Griffen turns out to be much more complex than Kaitrin thought at first; he seems to be harboring a dark secret, as if he had done something in his youth that he needs to be forgiven for, but he seems incapable of expressing the nature of his guilt. Furthermore, Griffen finds the termites and their planet to be unnerving; he is a specialist in extraterrestrial beetles and has never been involved in a first contact situation. Kaitrin is a risk-taker and he develops an irrational terror that she is going to get herself killed. He begins to sink into a state of psychological instability.
Meanwhile, the Shshi story is developing. Civil discord is brewing in the the fortress. The Alate Mo'gri'ta'tu, the Keeper of the Queen's Holy Chamber, resents the power of the Alate Seer Kwi'ga'ga'tei and takes advantage of the panic induced by the arrival of the Sky Monster, which slaughtered one member of the fortress and abducted another. He conspires to assassinate the Holy Seer and recruits the aid of the fortress's aging Warrior Commander, Hi'ta'fu the Unconquered. Hi'ta'fu is irate and insulted because the Seer summoned an outland Champion -- the same Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head pictured here -- to fight the Sky Monster should it return, and so the Commander is ripe to fall prey to the Chamberlain's subtle insinuations. The evolution of this plotting (which turns into open civil war) and the inexplicable instability of Prf. Gwidian finally crash together in a disastrous climax, after which the off-world team has to return to Earth and attempt to come to terms with their experiences.
To learn more about the nature and culture of the termite people, go back to my blog post for October 26. I'll just add here the final paragraph of that post:
One further remark: In the chapters of "The Termite Queen" where Shshi are shown from their own point of view, I tried to come up with a style that would provide contrast with the human story. I settled on writing it as a dramatic script -- writing a play, as it were. It didn't seem right to put in lots of wordy description when you're dealing with blind creatures whose dwelling consists of mostly unlighted underground chambers and corridors. So we have dialogue supplemented by minimal stage directions. We also have soliloquies. It was very easy to fall into a kind of Shakespearean formality and rhythm. I used a lot of Shakespeare quotations as epigraphs for the termite chapters. The villain Mo'gri'ta'tu is quite worthy of comparison to Cassius or Iago. In fact, as I was writing these parts, I humorously referred to my big bugs as "my Shakespearean termites"!