Sunday, April 17, 2016

Heroes, Fathers, and Mothers

Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head
The greatest epic hero in the galaxy!
     In a recent blog post by E. C. Ambrose, Kylo Ren and the Question of Parental Succession, she discusses how fictional children cannot become heroes in their own right until their parents are gone and they have nobody to rely on but themselves.  I found this to be an interesting premise and it got me to thinking about the heroes in my own books.  It also made me wonder if the same thing applies to female heroes -- are their heroic capabilities suppressed by their dependence on their fathers, or their mothers, perhaps?  And what about male heroes and their mothers?  
     I'm a big fan of Xena: Warrior Princess, so that character immediately came to my mind.  She never knew her father, as I recall, but her mother certainly played a big part in her development.  Xena engaged in much evil activity before she became a hero, and that might have had something to do with her father, whom her mother killed in order to protect her daughter. Furthermore, her father might have been Ares -- a problematic possibility, since Ares is Xena's love interest.  But aren't most Greek-style heroes fathered by a god?  So the situation can get quite complicated.

      Now to my own books.
     In my signature novel, the 2-part Termite Queen, I have a heroine and a hero.  Kaitrin Oliva has a close relationship with her mother and doesn't know who her father is because she is the product of artificial insemination from a sperm bank.  I don't think her relationship with her parents has anything to do with the strength of her character -- she was born to do great things, and her mother nurtured her in that direction.  She had a step-father, but he is dead by the time our story starts.
     Griffen Gwidian, our "hero" (or anti-hero, a term I'm sure would suit some of my critics better) is another kettle of fish altogether.  The loss of his parents did nothing to make him a hero -- in fact, it prevented him from reaching his heroic potential.  It took a lot of experience to drive him in the direction of heroism.  And that's all I can say without spoiling the plot.
     However, I don't feel The Termite Queen is a good example, because it isn't fantasy; it's realistic science fiction with a literary feel.  So what about my termite series, The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head?  We definitely have Greek-style heroes here!  Ki'shto'ba and a few other heroes are said to be offspring of the King (read Zeus) of the Shshi's Mother Goddess.
     Termites don't have parents in the traditional sense.  They all have Mothers, of course, whom they revere their whole lives, and they have male progenitors, but they are expected to live lives apart from their "parents."  In some cultures the Mother has more than one King, so the offspring may not even know who their father is.  Is'a'pai'a (the Jason character) lives the early part of its life not even knowing which home fortress engendered it, so in a sense Is'a'pai'a is an orphan.  But once Is'a'pai'a discovers the story of its past and its destiny, it is catapulted into full-fledged hero status (a Champion, as the Shshi call it).

     Now to two of my other books (actually WIPs, since neither has been published yet).  Robbin Nikalishin in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars is a hero for the modern world -- eager to perform heroic deeds and capable of great things but often totally inadequate in dealing with his problems and tormented by events in his life that he can't wrap his mind around.   His father, whom his mother divorced when he was eight, was a poor example of a man.  Robbie never saw him again and he always rejects his father as a role model.  It is Robbie's mother who has the greatest influence over him, and even after she is gone, he is tormented by things he can't understand.  Perhaps the concept does apply that a hero never reaches his potential until he is orphaned, because ultimately Robbie gets his act together, overcomes his inadequacies, and achieves one of the greatest heroic acts in modern life -- making first contact with extraterrestrial intelligent life.

       And finally the WIP I'm working on right now:  Children of the Music.  This piece is much more in the traditional fantasy mold, laid in a constructed world where two branches of humanity come together in a disastrous confrontation.  One of the peoples could be considered traditionally heroic -- a barbaric horse-people composed of clans of male warriors and their retainers and women, some of whom are Priestesses and Seeresses of their sacred tree.  The other people are meek, peaceable shepherds and farmers who don't even have a word for "murder" and for whom Music represents all that is Sacred.
     I made Nebet an orphan.  He is the seven-year-old boy who plays such an important role in the first section of the book,   He isn't a hero except as a symbol, but still I find it interesting that I used the orphan aspect.  (Actually, I had a prosaic ulterior motive, which was to keep Nebet a little separate from the rest of his family so he could get left behind at the end.)  Daborno, Chieftain of the invading Clan of horse-people, is also an orphan, but his father remains Daborno's own hero, someone to be emulated.  Unfortunately, Daborno never completely rises to the challenge of becoming a hero in his own right.
       Interestingly enough, the second part of Children of the Music (laid 285 years later) opens with the death of the father of Horbet and Ondrach.  It is the orphaned younger brother Ondrach who must rise to a semi-heroic status, making decisions and confronting dilemmas that are not natural for his pacific people.  He would have never done what he did -- rebel against his people's way of life -- if he hadn't lost his father.  And in an interesting parallel the Chieftain Cumiso and his own younger brother Sembal have also just lost their father when the section opens.  Cumiso is not much of a hero in anybody's book, I fear, but again it's his younger, scholarly-minded brother who achieves a status much closer to heroism.
The Madness of Ki'shto'ba
(alternate cover for v.3)
     After considering all these points, I think I have to conclude that I never write about heroes  in the traditional sense of somebody like Superman, who goes about the world doing good, fighting on the side of the right, performing superhuman feats, and gaining glory.  I suppose that's why Xena appeals to me -- all heroes should have their dark side.  I'm more interested in those dark twistings and turnings that go on in the human mind.  Ki'shto'ba is the closest to a traditional hero that I've ever written and even the Huge-Head has feet (or claws) of clay, sinking into madness at one point and committing murder just like its counterpart in my Greek sources, namely, Hercules.
       I'm going to conclude with a quotation  from a later part of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, where Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, who is suffering from PTSD after a space disaster where he lost a third of his crew, is giving a speech on the occasion of being awarded Earth's highest honor, the Crimson Ivy medal.

     “Now, I’m no philosopher, gentlemen and ladies, and I’m no expert at formulating philosophical definitions.  But it seems to me we ought to take a few minutes to contemplate what makes a human being a hero.  And it seems to me that a hero is somebody who reacts with courage in an impossible situation so that a positive outcome is produced. ...
      “But there’s a downside to any definition of a hero – it has a corollary, so to speak.  It’s not enough that a hero win – a hero inevitably has to lose something.  He has to lose something and react nobly in the face of that loss." ... 

     Robbie elaborates at length as to why he himself isn't a true hero, but I think I've said enough for my purposes.  By Robbie's definition Griffen Gwidian is a hero, and so is Kaitrin Oliva.  My Champions in the Ki'shto'ba series are heroes, and so is the small boy Nebet and his grandfather Leys, and so is Ondrach the Siritoch shepherd.  And certainly Robbin Nikalishin and certain other characters in MWFB fit that definition. as well.
      So it seems I do write about heroes after all.                                                                                                                                 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Political Correctness: How Do You Handle It in Your Writing?

     “Bend to the reed’s tune – sing a new song.”

The Siritoch were made to endure and the Epanishai to strive. 
When two such peoples are driven together, 
which one has the most to lose? 

     I've now been through Children of the Music twice, correcting the scanning errors and making a list of all the names so I can consider whether I should change any of them.  For those of you who might have forgotten, Children of the Music is the 30-year-old story that I'm working over for publication. I'm considering putting the passages quoted above on the back cover.  The first line will be the epigraph of the book.   

     I'm liking this book better and better, but I need an opinion on one aspect of it (well, really on two aspects).  The gentle, pastoral Siritoch, who have no word in their tongue for murder, have dwelled alone in the Land between the Mountains and the Sea for longer than memory, and now they are being invaded by a different people -- a fierce tribe of horsemen and cattle-drovers who are themselves fleeing an even more barbaric foe and who don't take kindly to finding that the land they have been seeking is occupied by sheepherders.  And they have no aversion to murder and pillaging.

     Both sides see their adversary as demonic beings.  And so I have a chapter in which the wise women of each tribe reject this, saying, "For they are men."  Now, when I was growing up, way back in the dark ages of the 1940s and 1950s, before gender equality became such a big deal, I was taught that terms like "men" or "mankind" or "he" could legitimately be used as collective nouns or pronouns subsuming both sexes.  That made perfectly good sense to me.  It's just a convention, after all -- one I still had no trouble with when I wrote this story in the late 1970s.

      Let me give you some examples in the story -- first the Epanishai:
“Rashemia, I didn’t intend for this morning to go as it did.”
“Nor I.”
“Even you – even you failed.”
“Do you think I am not human? After all these years you could think that?”
Her bitter candor vaguely surprised him.  “Did you really believe the holy wood would mean something to them?”
“I hoped.  They are men, Daborno.”
“But they frightened you.  Dare I say that? You were human enough to be frightened – even you.  Perhaps they are not men.”
“They are men!”  Rashemia struck her fist into her palm, hunching her shoulders.  “And, yes – 1 was afraid! Their music is inexplicable! It comes up as if – from deep water – or out of the wind.  It says things in some language older – older than the trees.  By Aftran, I yearn – I yearn to understand it!”

And now from the Siritoch's perspective:
“There is no being prepared – can’t you see that?”  Himrith had gathered herself up, clenching her hands in the wool.  “Oh, Narlach ... Parnom ... fleeing can’t save Thran! The only course is to wait and hold to the things we know – and – and – perhaps when they come back, we – and they – will understand!  For they are men, my son – I could see human trouble in their eyes.  If they are men, they are not evil!  No more evil than those winds and clouds and the grass that flourishes and fades.  For there is a third choice – I have only just seen it!  We have a third choice: to stay and not to die! And if we put enough faith in the Music, we need not fear these men, for all their giant horses and their knives and their loud voices.” 

Now I could substitute "humans" or "people" for "men."  Try reading it with those substitutes.  I just think the impact is lost.  "Humans" and "people" are both weak words with a feminine rhythm. (Are we going to have to get rid of the terms "feminine and masculine rhymes"?  Just wondering.)  "For they are humans."  "For they are people."  Just lacks the punch of "For they are men!"

So what's your opinion?
Are you so offended by this use of the word "men" 
that the story will be ruined for you is I leave it as is?
Would you enjoy it more if I used "people" or "humans"?
Tell me!

 And one other thing along the same line.  The Siritoch refer to the Epanishai as "aliens."  I don't know why I used that term instead of "strangers" or "outlanders" or some such.  I wasn't into science fiction in those days, so I wasn't thinking of the connotation of somebody from another planet.  This one I really may change because I've come not to like the term "aliens" -- it's come to connote humans ("men") from a country not your own, and I prefer to reserve it for extraterrestrials or else to eliminate it entirely.  I wrote about that once before here: You Say Alien and I Say Extraterrestrial.

     (Sorry -- still no artwork for this story!  I'm working on the cover, but it's a long way from being finished.)