Thursday, April 4, 2013

New 5-Star Review of The Termite Queen!

       I want to thank Chris Brown for the following review. Mr. Brown is a familiar member of the conculture/conlanger community.  See his collection of tales called Theatre of the Mind, which I reviewed.  I think he really "gets" my intentions for The Termite Queen!  The book fails for any reader who isn't fascinated and compelled by the character of Griffen Gwidian, and it also fails if the mythic implications of the ends of Parts 3 and 4 aren't recognized.  And if you aren't entertained by Kaitrin's narration of the Cyclops episode for the Queen  and her entourage, something is the matter with you! LOL

       Here is the review:
The Champion and the Seer Receive the
Speaking of the Dead
       First, I would largely concur with what Mr Urquhart says of Termite Queen (in his reviews of both volumes).
       Lorinda J. Taylor does indeed take us on a wonderful literary sci-fi adventure. It is not a typical "technology" based story she tells. There are certainly advanced trains (on Earth) and space ships that take us between planets and advanced sciences; but the story is not about those things. The technology is there, but doesn't take center stage. Taylor gives just enough description of this far future world, its technology and history to set the stage; then lets her characters act out the story. It really is the story of people -- humans and off-worlders alike -- engaged in the whole gamut of sophont existence. From the highs of the quest for new knowledge to the depths of jealousy and hatred of what is not understood, Taylor gives us a well and rather tightly woven web of story. 
       I am definitely nòt a fan of romances, but even so, I found the story of growing and deepening love between Kaitrin and Gwidian to be a most compelling one, and Taylor was certainly able to hold my interest throughout the ups and downs of this part of the story. Taylor certainly demonstrates how a love story can be more than satisfyingly written without having to rely on the crutch of over-worked sex scenes as its only means of conveying the story. I even found Kaitrin's post-adventure quest to understand Gwidian to be a rather compelling story in and of itself. I think I read the last third of the book in one sitting -- perhaps if for no other reason than to at last understand this Gwidian -- initially a bit of a snoot, and always a bit standoffish, but also somehow desperately in need of love. 
       For me, the most interesting story line was the doings of the Shshi -- the Termites -- themselves. How human, and yet how other! Taylor deftly shows us a people who are both highly instinctual in their behavior, as one might expect of social insects, but also very intelligent and capable of overcoming the strong bonds of instinct. We see the extremes of absolute faith and sense of duty contrasted with base desire for power and authority, as embodied in the struggle between the Seer and the Chamberlain. Both truly believe they are working for the good of their people, but the one seeks to do the will of the Termite's nameless mother goddess, while the other seeks to serve his own will by throwing the whole place into a cunningly planned coup. The result (good wins, by the way!) might be predictable, but as we read, this outcome is anything but secure and indeed could have turned out rather differently at any number of points along the way.
       The whole of the story is also high and sacred myth retold. We find nods to the Mabinogi, classical Greek myth and the New Testament as well. Of the former, some aspects of Gwidian's life mirror the old Welsh tales. Kaitrin's retelling of the Polyphemus episode from Odyssey for her Termite audience is a real hoot and requires a good bit of cross-cultural gymnastics. Always a bit of an enigma for Taylor's 30th century, post-religious, humanistic and generally agnostic humans, the Nameless One -- the Creator as she is known by the Shshi -- and her communion with her Termite children comes across very well from the Termite perspective. Here we find several nods to the New Testament, including the sacramental nature of the Termites' nectar and how the goddess describes humans as 'not knowing what they believe'; and thus she must resort to vaguish signs to communicate with them rather than the more direct visions she uses with the in many respects more innocent Shshi. It struck me as an interesting parallel to the teaching of Jesus that one must go to the Heavenly Father "as a child" (i.e., with innocence and openness) and this pretty well describes the Shshi vis-a-vis the Mother. They have a kind of innate openness and innocence and acceptance that I think humans lack. Very nicely done!
       Altogether, I'd say that both volumes of Termite Queen constitute a good read and I highly recommend it.

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