Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Little Laboratory Work; a short story

The following story appears on the Third Sunday Blog Carnival for June 17, 2012!

[My inspirations for this piece came from the following articles in Natural History Magazine:  “The Longest Winter,” by Gabrielle Walker (April, 2003, pp. 44-51; about the “Snowball Earth” theory of the Cambrian Explosion); and “A Plenitude of Ocean Life,” by Edward F. DeLong (may, 2003, pp. 40-46; about how Archaea and planktonic microorganisms are much more abundant in the oceans than anyone had realized)  I retained some notes at the end regarding how I got my names.]

A Little Laboratory Work

by Lorinda J. Taylor

       … a large room containing the work stations and equipment of the scientist …the transparent ceiling reveals a dark sky densely strewn with stars, whose light is caught and concentrated in luminous wall panels …  A door opens and someone enters …
       “Crescent, is that you?  Glad to have you back!  How was the conference?”
       “Amusing, as always!  The University never fails to put on a good show!  But it’s nice to be back in familiar territory!  Sorry I was a little late getting here.  I stopped home to check in with Nifti.”
       “She was fine when I saw her at the lattice-ball tournament.  She won three matches and hit her intersections 32 times – more than any other competitor!  Did she tell you about it?”
       “It was all she talked about!  I don’t think she missed me much!”
       “Oh, I can’t agree with that!  I was there and she mentioned a couple of times how she wished you could have attended because she has never performed better.”
      “Well, it’s a shame, but she is old enough to understand about my work – how important it is.  I’ll be sure to view the transimages with her.”
       “So did you learn anything at the conference that made it worth the waste of time?  Must have seemed odd not to be making a presentation.”
       “A relief, really.  It allowed me to focus on what others had to say instead of worrying about how I was going to be received.  It was the same old group, displaying the same old cantankerous dichotomies.  At one extreme, the reactionaries – at the other, the progressives like myself.  The cosmic physicists, who think everything should be left alone and merely observed, versus us molecular biologists, who believe nature ought to be actively improved and enlarged.  The Noli Tangerines vs. the Revolutionaries!  And then there is always that gang in the middle that I call the Tinkerers … those old-line life scientists who have very little imagination and prefer to simply fudge along cautiously the way they have always done.”
       “I suppose it’s too much to expect reconciliations.”
       “Definitely!  Mimito, I couldn’t keep myself from speaking out.”
       “Was that wise?”
       “Well, everyone knows where I stand.  I found old Afarinand’s harangue so annoying that I stood forth and said that if she had her way, either chaos would prevail or change would be obliterated, and that it was up to us bioengineers to make sure neither of those things happens.  Then Kaihanga, whom I rank among the Tinkerers although she likes to think she is progressive, said that certainly change was necessary but that my approach was far too extreme.  I countered by asserting that being innovative didn’t mean forsaking careful thought and appropriately documented research.  We live in such a fragile environment that simply abandoning it is out of the question, but we daren’t just loiter along in infinitesimal steps, either.”
       “Oh, I quite agree with you, Crescent!  You know that!”
       “Of course I do!  But I think I’ll go check out my creatures.  They are a little like my offspring, you know.”
       “You’ll find them in good order.  I made sure of that!”
       … presently …
       “The little characters are coming along swimmingly!  Ha, ha!  Swimming is all they know how to do!  I want to set up some fresh experiments on how they react to varied exposure to different types of radiant energy – determine if anything has changed while I was gone.”
       … later …
       “Everything looks good!  I also ran analyses on their response to increased levels of carbonic acid in their culture medium and to abrupt alterations of temperature, and there were no surprises.  If everything continues to proceed at this pace, I should be ready for the field trial long before it’s scheduled!”
       “Oh, that reminds me!  You have a message from Metod about the target area.”
       “Curses!  Let’s see here – what does the Division Chief have to say now?  … Well, we’ve been over all this before!  ‘We continue reluctant to authorize the utilization of Target Area 3075/444-3, which is demonstrating characteristics that limit its suitability, to wit, a tendency to be subject to radical climate shifts.  We strongly suggest that you search out a target area with a lower incidence of tectonic activity.  Your work is too significant to throw it into an environment where the probability of life-failure is high …    Humbug!  I’ve factored all those so-called flaws into my calculations!  In fact, they’re the main reason that I selected this area!  But these obstructionists simply aren’t willing to concede that my hypotheses could have any merit!”
       “I have to say – I can see some grounds for Metod’s position … ”
       “Mimito!  Even you?”
       “Now, don’t take it like that – you know I’m your biggest advocate!  That’s just it – I’m really in awe of your work, Crescent.  What if it does fail?  The characteristics that you’ve engineered into your lifeforms are so difficult to achieve that you haven’t been able to grow many of the creatures.  That means that you will have to implant the whole colony in order to have any chance of success.  With nothing in reserve, you would have to start from scratch if they die out.  Likely you would not get permission for that.  Then what will happen to your goals?  How will life suffer?”
       “It’s not going to fail!  If ice does come to dominate the target area (and I’m positive it will), it won’t last forever, and these creatures are structured to withstand all kinds of extremes and to flourish under conditions of radical change.  Really, you’re becoming a bit too much of a reactionary yourself, Mimito!”
       “No, I protest that statement emphatically!  But I’m not the genius that you are, Crescent.  I haven’t passed beyond photosynthetic slime mats.  I suppose I must admit to being one of those old-line biologists you were talking about … one of your Tinkerers, if you will.  I can’t grasp the long-range prognosis the way you can and I don’t have your innovative imagination.  I’ve always said it:  if you can pull this off, you will be the leading candidate for the next Zibentak Prize.”
       “Well, I’m flattered.  You’re a good friend, Mimito, and I apologize for my testiness!  And I assure you that I mean to do everything possible to prove all your fears unfounded!  But now I suppose I’d better get down to work and formulate a rebuttal to Metod’s cavils.  It must be Area 3075/444-3; I investigated literally thousands of locations and, in spite of her complaints, it’s the perfect place to test my theories.  Maybe I should just threaten to abandon the project altogether if the University doesn’t go along with what I want.  No – better not do that!  They might take me up on it!”
       … a great while later …
       “Mimito, I’ve got it at last!  All my reasoning and nagging and heckling have finally paid off!”
       “They’ve authorized Target Area 3075/444-3?  Crescent, I’m thrilled for you!  When can you make the implantation?”
       “As soon as I can get my project inserted into the light transference schedule.  The area is in a pretty obscure sector, so special transportation is required.  But it can’t be very long now!”
       “We’ll have to celebrate!”
       “Nifti and I are going to the Social Hall tonight for some dancing.  Do you want to come along?”
       “I won’t be in the way?”
       “Of course not!  It’ll be Nifti who does all the dancing anyway.  I’m getting a little old for such flitting around.”
       “Well, that makes me feel good, since we’re the same age!  But I guess I’d better accept your invitation.  I hate to think of you sitting alone while she is out capering.”
       … The Social Hall, lit by floating balls of luminescent gas …
       “Isn’t she beautiful, Mimito?  So graceful …  It really was worthwhile taking the trouble to have an offspring.  At the time I was rather grudging about how it distracted me from my work, but now I’m glad.”
       “I believe it was the experience of propagation that gave you some of your ideas, Crescent.”
       “Oh, maybe a little.  You ought to try it.”
       “Oh … I don’t think so.  It’s not my style.  I’ll just remain bound to my piddling little experiments with the slime mats.  But, Crescent, I’ve always wondered what your opinion is about something and somehow this seems like an appropriate time to ask.  About the old deity thing … ”
       “The deity thing?  You mean, that theory that an Almighty Power sits off somewhere and manipulates our lives?  You’re surely not serious!”
       “Well, nobody can really prove what came before … you know, before the First Burst … or what will come after everything drifts back into the dark … ”
       “And I suppose our University is just a speck in that Power’s culture dish, and that Power itself is just a thought in some greater Power’s mind, and so on to infinity!  No, I think we are what is, Mimito – we and the control we exert over our environment.  That’s the truth as I see it, and it quite satisfies me.”
       … Mimito may smile and nod agreement, but in her soul she is not sure …

*        *        *
       … the Great Hall of the University, set among glowing dust …
       “Fellow members of the University Assembly, colleagues, friends:  I greet you all!
       “I could declare that I never expected to be standing before you accepting the Zibentak Prize for Significant Contributions to the Development of Life, but I will not make that statement because it would be a falsehood.  I always had great faith in my hypotheses and I knew that if I could prove them, honors would follow.  And time has justified my faith and verified those hypotheses – that if the life-codes of certain photosynthetic microorganisms could be manipulated so as to confer the abilities to withstand the extreme conditions of volatile planets and to adapt rapidly to environmental change, a process would be set in motion that would result in a biosystem that differed from anything ever envisioned.
       “Target Area 3075/444-3 was one of those locations where a previous generation of cosmic physicists sought to create a closed atmospheric and hydrological system during their investigations of the interactions of gravity and matter.  Their work with satellites of Star 3075/444 succeeded admirably in the case of the geologically dynamic third planet, although it failed in the case of the smaller fourth world, which lost its electromagnetic field too soon.  Hence, the planet under consideration provided a good area to test the earliest experiments with corporeal lifeforms; its oceans were long ago successfully cultured with archaic sulfur- and nitrogen-converting microorganisms and then with chlorophyll-bearing slime mats. 
       “However, as with most of our experiments, the resulting biosystem remained stagnant.  So I set about infusing its oceans with my engineered microbes and then I waited for certain climate changes to take place.  And just as predicted, the shifting of this active planet’s tectonic plates nudged its continents into an equatorial alignment that ensured a universal freezing of the oceans.  The rampant volcanism, however, provided open holes and undersea hot spots that gave my extremophiles just enough edge to allow them to endure.  Several subsequent intervals of melting and refreezing took place before the continents drifted once more into a configuration that permits the maintenance of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.  Now the ice is retreating toward the poles and the seas have been boiling with carbonic acid reactions – quite an interesting sight!  The elevated carbon dioxide levels have allowed my lifeforms, along with a few of the planet’s original microorganisms that managed to survive the ice, to burgeon and release a huge burst of oxygen gas into the atmosphere.  
       “The scattered configuration of the continents should persist for hundreds of millions of the planet’s cycles – long enough to ensure that the target area remains a suitable natural laboratory in which my theory can be further tested, or rather, where the results of the introduction can be monitored.  The newly enriched oxygen atmosphere is providing a protective shield against certain hostile stellar emissions, and the content of dissolved oxygen in the oceans is increasing.  Within this positive new milieu my lifeforms are diversifying and adapting quickly.  They have already begun to form a multitude of distinct organic forms and even cooperative multicellular creatures with specialized parts … and they are reproducing prolifically – one of my foremost goals!  A few are beginning to take advantage of this new fecundity by abandoning photosynthesis and acquiring their energy from the process of engulfing fellow organisms, utilizing the abundance of dissolved oxygen to metabolize their corporeal content.  Yes, you may shudder, but it seems that a variety of life a step removed from dependency upon radiant energy is in truth manifesting itself!
       “But the most remarkable feature observable in these phenomena is that the changes are taking place entirely on their own!  Those organisms that are especially adept at transforming themselves to utilize new resources grow larger and more dominant, while less able varieties cease to exist.  Before now, the potential of evolution as a sculptor of lifeforms was only a controversial theory, but now it may be emphatically stated:  The theory of evolution had been conclusively proved!  The lives of us Shapers in the University’s Biodiversity Program have just become immensely easier!  No longer will it be necessary for us to tortuously craft every molecule of every minute creature, only to fall into despair as we watch 95 percent of our endeavors fail.  My persistent labor has yielded far more than the successful results of a single experiment.  It has produced a whole new method by which biodiversity may be created!
       “I cannot accept this honor without acknowledging the work of those prodigies who came before me, who first conceived the possibility of corporeal, carbon-based life and then engineered it into reality.  My contemporary colleagues also deserve my gratitude, especially my friend the Shaper Mimito, whose successes in refining the action of photosynthesis in chlorophyll-bearing organisms are at the foundation of my advances.  I would also like to thank my offspring Nifti for her patience with my single-minded devotion to my task.  She herself is now studying to become a Shaper of Life, and I expect great things from her a few million cycles into the future. 
       “When that future comes, I would hope that we can all hover together above the laboratory world called Target Area 3075/444-3 and view the consequences of the handiwork of the Shaper Crescent of Galactic Division #3075 of the 9th Parallel University.  Perhaps we will observe beings there that are something like miniature, corporeal versions of ourselves:  with brilliant minds that speak to one another … with ten limbs and seven eyes … with fleshed offspring budding profusely all over their integuments … evolved in the image of their Creators!  And yet perhaps no such outcome will occur:  time may reveal to us something entirely different – even more incredible and totally unforeseen.  Can any prospect be more exciting?  It is what makes the kind of science that we practice more rewarding than any diversion ever devised by any of us supreme beings since the Burst first spawned us.
       “And then there is the possibility that one of us (perhaps my offspring – who can say?) will venture to carry these achievements farther yet – to contrive ways of implanting seeds of this new evolutionary life-system on less receptive worlds, or even to produce corporeal lifeforms that can endure outside the nurturing milieu of water.  Perhaps one day creatures will be able to absorb dry oxygen and glide across the barren rock as easily as we Shapers dance through the void between the stars.  Perhaps novel ways of engineering life from elements other than those we have come to call organic will make the most intractable of matter throb with life!  Likely by that time I will have slipped back into the starlight, but that does not make the possibility any less exhilarating to me! 
       “And so I conclude with a challenge to you all – forge forward!  Do not idle in self-satisfied complacency!  Strive to make us Shapers worthy of that appellation that some of us believe to be our due:  the Omnipotent Masters of Creation!”



This was written in August of 2003.
In English “crescent” derives from the Latin crescere, to come forth, grow, akin to creare (see create).  The word “create” is from Latin creare, from IE base *krī, to grow, cause to grow, cf. cereal.
In Maori, Kaihanga is Creator; Atua is God.
In Hungarian, Creator is teremto.
In Finnish, to create is luoda or laatia
In Farsi, Creator is âfarinande, while Creation is âfarineš
In Sanskrit, one word for to create was mimita
Last but not least, in Beowulf a word for Fate, Creator, or God is Metod.
Zibentak is adapted from Sieben Tag, German for “Seven Day,” thus the last division of creation.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Do I have any WIPs?

       As I attempted to write a comment on a post on Catana's blog "Tracking the Words," I decided her topic "WIPs and Productivity" would make a good basis for a blog post of my own.  She describes a method of writing where the author keeps a backlog of story ideas, outlines, and beginnings and draws on that whenever she gets burned out on the current opus.  As usual I seemed to be the odd person out because this isn't how I work at all.  In the first place, I'm not a good multitasker -- I start something and I finish it before I go on the next thing.  I can't really pay attention to more than one story at once.  And then for about 12 years I wrote without any intention whatsoever of publishing -- I wrote just because I loved what I was writing.  So I have this big backlog of stuff ready or nearly ready to commit to print (next up -- "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head," which I've decided to turn into 6 volumes in order to avoid publishing another weighty tome like v.2 of "The Termite Queen."  On that subject see my second blog, which is being dedicated to the "Labors" series).
         But I've decided that I do have WIPs -- I just never called them that.   I have notes for an essential concluding novel in the "Labors" series, and I have separate documents of Story Notes for two other works.  One will be called "The Dark Leopards of the Moon" (quoted from a poem by W.B. Years, fortunately in the public domain); this narrates later events in the life of Kaitrin Oliva and uses "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" as a centerpiece.  The other picks up a minor character from "Termite Queen" and details that character's life, particularly as it relates to Kaitrin Oliva.  It's to be called "The Hard, Bright Crystal of Being," from an poem by Conrad Aiken that unfortunately is under copyright, so if I use that title, I may have to work on one more permission (groan!)
     And then I have a catch-all document called "Story Notes -- Proposed Tales," which includes ideas for a piece about the culture of the termite people (the Shshi) 2000 years into the future, when they have developed technology and are about ready to take to space themselves.  Another story would retell "Huckleberry Finn" with Shshi characters.  Then I had a vague idea about a device that records dreams holographically and allows people to enter parallel universes through those holograms, like a portal (I may never write that one -- sounds too much like "The Lathe of Heaven" and possibly other creative pieces I've run into.)  The most important story is about the author of the Mythmaker drama "The Valley of the White Bear" that's mentioned in TQ; it would be my only dystopian novel and would make it necessary for me to actually write that drama.  That would be  tough because "The White Bear" is supposed to be one of the greatest and most influential pieces of literature ever written and I don't know if I'm up to that task!
       And then there is a wickedly satiric and rather ambitious treatment of Old and New Testament myth, in which a race of "gods" (intelligences so enormous that a galaxy is like handful of dust to them) uses the multiverses as an experimental laboratory.  I actually wrote a rather obscure short story on this theme; it took off when I read an article on the snowball Earth theory of the Cambrian explosion (I might publish that story on this blog sometime; it's called "A Little Laboratory Work"). 
       The long treatment has a working title; it comes from Exodus 33:23 (KJV), where God hides Moses in a rock and covers Moses with his hand as he passes by, because no man can look upon the face of God and live -- "And I will take away mine hand and thou shalt see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen.” So I was thinking of entitling my satiric treatment "The Back Parts of God."  Boy, will I get in trouble!  By the way, I looked at the translation in the website called Hebrew Bible in English and the translation reads as follows:  “I will take away my hand and thou shalt see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”  A good bit more dignified, but it loses a little bit of its humorous potential!  Probably the term "back parts" didn't carry the same suggestiveness in the 17th century as it does today!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Of Poetry and Epigraphs, Part 2

       I'm finally getting around to completing the epigraph analysis that I began in a previous post.  Before I begin, let me say that I've now been able to insert the missing Robert Graves in Volume One, so anybody who reads it in any format from here on in will have the epigraphs the way they are supposed to be.  And all formats are now available -- see the sidebar for information.  Note particularly the two-volume bargain you can get at Barnes & Noble if you want the print edition.

       Part One of this post covered mostly the initial section of "The Speaking of the Dead."  In Part Two, the tone continues to shift and becomes more ominous. We are no longer dealing with mundane life on Earth, we are dealing with things that happen in mysterious outer space.  So we get a new metaphor: the sea. As Griffen himself says at one point: “The sea – interstellar space … When have they not both been dangerous?” So the first chapter begins with "The Boatman is out crossing the wild sea at night" from Tagore's "Fruit-Gathering." I might note that as Part Two begins, Kaitrin and Griffen are still in the courting stage and she asks him to read poetry to her.  Several poems are included in the text and these not only contribute to the courtship, they also bear a relationship to later events and to character development.  The sea metaphor is reinforced in the first chapter when Prf. A'a'ma bursts out with Wordsworth's sonnet "Where lies the land to which yon ship must go?"
       The sea metaphor persists as the relationship of Kaitrin and Griffen continues to adjust itself, again with a certain ominous implication, first in lines from Tagore's "On the Seashore":

They build their houses with sand, and
they play with empty shells.  With withered
leaves they weave their boats and
smilingly float them on the vast deep.
Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.

This suggests a fragility and an innocent obliviousness in the relationship the couple is building and reinforces the "space equals sea" metaphor.  As they weave their plans, they float them on the "vast deep" of the future.  Additionally, the denizens of this space ship are on the verge of a shore -- the sandy beach that is an unknown alien world. So this quotation perfectly fits the status of the plot at that point.
       The sea metaphor picks up again with an even more ominous twist in the quotation from Dylan Thomas (in Thomas the sea often symbolizes death, eternity, the afterlife, the vastness of time ... ): 

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

       Finally we get the last two lines from Tagore's "On the Seashore: "The sea plays with children, / And pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach."  Here we again see th sea-beach that is the alien planet, but its welcome has become a gleaming of pale teeth within its smile.  Just what does this alien landfall have in store?
       This chapter (Chapter 11) was originally the final chapter of Part Two, but I moved three chapters from Part Three back to Part Two in order to bring in more of the termites, give a better cliffhanger, and to shorten the second volume slightly.  Hence, in Chapter 14 a new metaphor is introduced, one which will be pervasive throughout Volume Two: the dark bird.  Reflecting Kwi'ga'ga'tei's final prophecy, we get a collection of portents from Shakespeare's MacBeth, ending with "The obscure bird / clamored the livelong night." 
       Dark birds and night birds -- ravens, crows, owls, etc. -- can symbolize death, otherworldliness,  mysteries and magic (but also wisdom and intelligence).   We will see the dark bird again in two of the three quotations from Dylan Thomas' "Especially When the October Wind ... " that are used on the chapters of Volume Two where Kaitrin and Kwi'ga'ga'tei are learning to communicate.  (That poem is one of my favorites of all times!  It's about how the poet produces his own word-art and also about his sense of his own mortality.)
       The first quotation ends with the line "By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled bird" (the final line of the poem).  What a wonderful, densely packed, meaty image that is!  We get the sea -- always suggestive of eternity, and in our case of the void of space -- blending into the dark bird (other lines read: "By the sea's side, hearing the noise of birds, / Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks ... ").  Here it is the speech of the bird that is dark; the poet hears the bird of death calling in his own poetry.  The poem is basically pentameter (five feet to the line, with a lot of metrical variation), but  the rhythm of this line shifts suddenly; it's loaded with heavy syllables (I would scan it as tetrameter, as follows):  "By the SEA'S | SIDE HEAR | the DARK | VOWELLED BIRD -- we have anapest, spondee, iamb, spondee.  I'm sure some of you poetry scholars out there might argue with my scansion, but the point is that the heaviness and the stretch of the syllables emphasizes the darkness and the ominous weightiness of what is happening.
       I will stop here because I don't want to reveal anything about Volume Two that you shouldn't know at this point.  Suffice it to say that the dark bird metaphor persists throughout the rest of the book, although the ominous suggestiveness of the epigraphs changes to a more intimate and personal tone in Part Four.  Later on, after people have had a chance to read the whole of "The Termite Queen," I may return to this topic and discuss more of the epigraphs in the second volume.  I hope this little essay will encourage people to examine the application of the epigraphs and perhaps even stimulate some interest in poetry in people who have had no such interest previously.  Poetry is truly an amazing art form.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Publishing Update

       I'll now announce something most of you already know: "The Termite Queen: Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing" has been published in paperback on CreateSpace.  It's available only on Amazon at the moment, but I'm hoping that after it appears on Barnes & Noble, a set of the two volumes together will be a real bargain over Amazon, because the two will cost approximately $34.00 on Amazon (that's without shipping chgs) and ought to come to about $25.00 on B & N (Volume One is $10.43 right now, and if your B & N order comes to $25.00 or over you get free shipping.)  I'll keep everybody informed about that -- watch for updates in the sidebar text.
       However, it's still necessary to read v.1 first, because it really is a single story in two volumes, not a discrete novel with a sequel.  I've finally been able to re-publish the Kindle and Smashwords versions of Volume One with the proper Graves epigraphs included.  And Smashwords now has no "autovetting" errors, so it ought to qualify for the Premium list.  That would mean it would appear on B & N for Nook, and on the websites for other e-readers like Kobo (and can still be purchased through the Smashwords store).  The Smashwords versions will never be as good as the Kindle, because some of the symbols of the Bird language will show only as question marks (we lose Prf. A'a'ma's charming warbles, alas), but still, the text is all there.
       And I'm working on getting Volume Two ready for Kindle and (simultaneously this time) for Smashwords.  I should probably have those available by this weekend.  Then those of you who prefer the e-version will be able to buy both volumes at the same time if you wish!
       And now I'd better get back to working on that formatting so I can meet that deadline!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Of Poetry and Epigraphs, Part 1

       As I've been formatting the text of "The Termite Queen: Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing," I've been thinking about the epigraphs and wondering whether the people who have read Volume One have been paying them the attention they deserve. I did a post called "The Use of Epigraphs in Literature" way back on 11/20/2011 but I want to elaborate a bit more as to how the reader ought to approach those little chapter adornments. Their symbolic value becomes increasingly important as we move into Volume Two.
       "The Termite Queen" is really all one novel (just too long, unfortunately, to publish in one volume).  Therefore, it was constructed to have four sections:
Part One: Earth: Inception
Part Two: Space: Consummation
Part Three: 2 Giotta 17A: Dissolution
Part Four: Earth: Absolution
As you can see, the effect is circular -- we begin and end on Earth, bookending a voyage  into space and a period of adventure on an alien planet. 
      I should begin by mentioning the overall epigraph for Volume One.  Did you even notice it was there?  It consists of the opening lines of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan":
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ...
       Could there be a better description of the termite fortress and its environs?  I must confess that I actually modeled the arrangement of the fortress on the description in this poem!  There is a hint of irony here: one does not usually associate termites with a dreamy romantic "pleasure dome," but such a perspective enlarges the scope.  And then the second volume begins with the four concluding lines of "Kubla Khan" (if I had published the book all in one volume, I would have added those lines to the above): "Weave a circle round him thrice / And close your eyes with holy dread / For he on honeydew hath fed / And drunk the milk of paradise."  And that I will not comment on at this point.
       Part One is just what it says:  Inception.  Everything begins here; the premises are set up, the motivations delineated (or intimated), the characters introduced.  Therefore, the epigraphs aren't quite as complexly symbolic as in later sections. 
       We have those pertaining to the dying termite Ti'shra, taken in mock heroic fashion from Milton's "Samson Agonistes."  This is carried over into Part Two, when we glimpse the conclusion of Ti'shra's story, so a total of four chapters use epigraphs from "Samson." 
       Six chapters in Part One and two in Part Two utilize quotations from William Congreve's comedy of manners "The Way of the World," which eerily mirrors the progression of the romance between Kaitrin Oliva and Griffen Gwidian.  But then the nature of the relationship changes; it's no longer a comedy as much as a mystery.  What really is going on here?  We know what Kaitrin is thinking because she is the POV character throughout all of Volume One, but we begin to realize that we have no idea what is going on in Griffen's head.  The tone begins to shift in the concluding chapter of Part One, where the epigraph is Thomas Randolph's "A Devout Lover."  We remain in the same period as Congreve (early 17th century) but here we envision sexual love as having a mysterious spiritual significance.  Perhaps this prefigures something to come.  Who can say at that point?
       As for the rest of the chapters of Part One, Tennyson's "The Eagle" serves nicely to introduce Prf. A'a'ma, the avian extraterrestrial, who "clasps the crag with crooked hands ... in lonely lands ... " (in this case the perching bar on a terrestrial train, a whimsical application).  "Hamlet" furnishes a reference to the speaking of ghosts, as it will again in the second volume.   When we glimpse the culture of the Te Quornaz (the lemur people), who have something of a classical-style culture, with "Roman" villas, vinyards, local overlords, we see them dancing and cavorting in the guise of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn": "What men or gods are these?  What maidens loth? / What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape? / What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstasy?" 
       The two chapters where Kaitrin is solving the puzzle of the termite language draw on Biblical references that seem to me to need little explanation: "In the beginning was the Word" (Kaitrin couldn't solve the puzzle without the creative impulse of "real" words) and then when she presents her ultimate solution: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (at that point Ti'shra becomes real -- is brought to life through the medium of language).  Similarly, the quotation from Robert Graves' "The Song of Blodeuwedd" (unfortunately omitted by necessity in the ebooks purchased by some of you) reflects not only Kaitrin's and Gwidian's discussion of the Mabinogion myths in that chapter -- it also shows the human Gwidian's growing effect on Kaitrin: "I was spellbound by Gwydion ...  " (he is bringing her to sensual life).
       When we first meet the members of the expedition, who are from all the intelligent species that make up the Confederation of Four Planets, we get "Alice in Wonderland":  the dance of whitings, snails, and porpoises, lobsters and turtles, reflecting the diversity of the lifeforms present in the room.  And finally, in the chapter where we get a glimpse of an actual termite queen, endlessly producing life in the darkness, we get another Robert Graves quotation (again, missing in the ebooks to this point), this time from his wonderful work "The Greek Myths," depicting the Orphic view of the creation of the universe -- "a goddess ... was courted by the Wind ... and laid a silver egg in the womb of darkness."  This links the actual termite queen to  the ominous thing we have only glimpsed to that point: the Shshi's Great Creatrix, The Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name.  What is a termite queen, anyway?  A symbol of the endlessly creative female principle!   What else could it be?
       I'll suspend this discussion at this point and continue with another post on this topic over the next couple of days.

Added later: If you enjoy this post, see Poetry and Epigraphs, Part 2.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Publishing Update, 5/11/2012

       Yesterday I uploaded the text for "The Termite Queen: Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing" and completed the cover.  This morning I'm still awaiting the approval, after which I'll order the proof copy.  I can't see any reason why it shouldn't be satisfactory, so you can expect the paperback edition to appear within two weeks (CreateSpace is very slow in sending out orders).  It will be a relief to have Volume Two available -- I thought I would never complete that final edit! 
       I have a number of projects on the table.  I'm still waiting to hear that A.P. Watt (holder of Robert Graves' ebook rights) received the check I sent them; I don't actually have permission to publish his quotations until I know they got the payment.  I had to mail it to the UK, and they promised to let me know when they received it.  Once I hear about that, I'll upgrade the Kindle version of "The Termite Queen, Volume One" to include the pair of omitted epigraphs.  I also want to upgrade the epigraphs on the Smashwords version and make one more try at satisfying their rules for inclusion in their premium catalogue.  Once both of those things are done, I'll probably run another special on Volume One.
       Then I'll have to start working up the ebook of Volume Two, but that's still some time in the future.  I hope some of you who bought Volume One earlier are reading the novel and looking forward to its gripping climax!  If you can't wait, you can always buy the paperback!
       In the meantime I intend to take some time to work on a few blog posts and maybe a book review or two.  I'm been neglecting blogging because of the formatting.
       So stay in touch!  Everything comes to those who wait, the wheels of the gods grind slowly, and all those other cliches!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Worker Termite Face

Note at 10/25/12: People seem to really like this picture! If you want more go here, where I just posted a whole bunch more microphotographs of termites. 

I was moved to put this picture on my blog after viewing Trick Slattery's "Termite Rider" drawing at
Way back when I was doing termite research, I ran into the picture below and I found somebody who had made a T-shirt with this very image on it.  Naturally, I had to order one.  It was one of those, "so ugly it's cute" moments!  (Note the moniliform [beadlike] antennae.)