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Categorizing the reading experience: a second look

May 22nd, 2015

Okay, so, here’s a completely different way of categorizing books by how you respond to them. Again, sticking strictly to nonfiction. I thought of this different system because of a comment Sherwood Smith made in a recent book review, where she commented that there is a “thread of kindness” running through the novellas of Tales From Rugosa Coven by Sarah Avery, a comment which caught my eye because it immediately made the book sound more appealing.

So, how about these categories:

1. Books with an underlying “thread of kindness.” There is a warmth to the story, let us say; a generally positive feel to the book because characters — both primary and secondary, maybe antagonists as well as protagonists — show traits such as, in no particular order, honor, courage, kindness, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and so forth. And, of course, because the good guys win. Take, oh, The Death of the Necromancer. I think of it because Nicholas is a ruthless bad guy, except not really; Ronsarde is his antagonist, except not really; Reynard is acting the part of a wastrel but is . . . how did Ronsarde put it . . . “sound as a young horse.” Etc etc. Other than the necromancer and his people, only Rive Montesq is a real bad guy. And the bad guys lose, lose, lose.

Mind you, endings don’t have to be saccharine. Even ambiguous could work, but probably only ambiguous-in-a-good-way, so to speak.

All of the books I really connect with emotionally fall into this category.

2. Books where at least some of the characters are sympathetically drawn and at least reasonably likeable, but their efforts to save the world and/or become better people go nowhere. They flounder around — or maybe act decisively — but they don’t get an actual happy ending. If there is a really evil character, that person may wind up winning at the end of the book. If not, then the most important likable character may wind up committing suicide. The underlying message of the book is that you just can’t win against the force of human greed, stupidity, selfishness, etc. Here I’m thinking of Joe Abercrombe’s First Law trilogy and especially the related work Best Served Cold. Also of mysteries like Tana French’s In The Woods. Also of literary works like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna. Oh, another example: Jack Chalker’s Flux and Anchor series, where the ultimate conclusion is that the best decent people can do is create a bubble universe and shut themselves away from the rest of humanity, which can then go to hell without them having to watch. I read Chalker when I was a kid, and I still remember first realizing what it looks like when the universe is set up so the good guys can’t win.

Books like these can be brilliantly written, but quality of writing doesn’t matter: I loathe them. I finished all of the above books, but these days I definitely, definitely take a more emotionally distant stance toward a book like this as it begins to show signs of going in that kind of negative direction. Then, when it concludes in some awful way, I write off all other books by those authors forever. Them and me: not sympatico. At least, not in an author/reader way, I expect they’re all great people if you know them personally.

3. Books where all the characters are horrible. What could possibly come to mind here but Gone Girl? These are not books I would finish. I guess the underlying message of such a book could be perceived as People Are Ugly and Life Is Ugly. Both Ana and Thea found Gone Girl “compulsively readable.” Not that I’ve tried the book, but I’m almost positive, based on my history as a reader, that I would find it eminently resistible.

So that’s a quite different axis for readability from the familiar/unfamiliar setting axis and the single protagonist/lots of protagonists axis. At this point I guess I could set up a three-dimensional system on which to rate books according to their personal appeal; quite possibly a rating that would work for almost no one else in the world, but hey.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 22nd, 2015
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Closing for maintenance

May 21st, 2015

Just a note that sometime in the near future you may see this site go down for maintenance. That will be a scheduled site redesign and everything will be okay. Everything should be back up and running in short order, though tweaks may continue for a bit.

Under-construction

Just wanted to let you know this was coming up.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 21st, 2015
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Recent writing: well, that was unexpected

May 21st, 2015

So, last week I re-read the 100 pp of my current WIP (The White Road of the Moon, a YA for Knopf) and started moving ahead with it and it was all going fine. In fact, I started to see how I might be able to avoid dividing the pov, which would be excellent, since the book is complicated enough without that and I’m afraid it’s going to way overshoot the length I would prefer and sticking to just one pov would definitely be better. If I do that, it will be only the second book ever that I’ve written with a single pov protagonist. Interesting if that is starting to get easier and more natural for me.

Anyway, out of the blue I suddenly had this great idea for a story set after Pure Magic and before the third book (Shadow Twin), with Ethan as the pov character — Ethan kind of gets short shrift in the novels — so I thought what the heck, that wouldn’t take long. So I wrote that and it didn’t take long, two days or so, and all was well. The story actually sets up an important detail for Shadow Twin and clarifies a plot issue that was bothering me.

But then I unexpectedly had a serious urge to write a story set AFTER Shadow Twin — which, remember, isn’t written yet, so it is a bit ridiculous to mess with short stories set after that. Yet . . . I’ve had that story in my head for a while and it was kind of getting obtrusive. This is in spite of the fact that I actually am kind of keen on my official WIP and was not trying to avoid it.

FINE, I said, IT WON’T TAKE LONG. Well, that short story turned into a novella. 58 pages, a hair over 18,000 words. The pov is divided between Ezekiel and a character you haven’t met yet. Took four days (which is pretty darn good for 58 pp, in fact).

Now. Now I am going back to The White Road.

Incidentally, the cover artist says she is pretty sure she can finish the cover for Pure Magic this month. I sure hope so. Next time I am going to want a firm delivery date in the contract.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 21st, 2015
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Popular books by the state they’re set in

May 21st, 2015

Via a link on Twitter, I happened to find this interesting graphic at Goodreads: The most popular books set in each state.

And my state, Missouri, is . . . Gone Girl. Well, well, well. You know, this review by The Book Smugglers means that there is zero chance I will ever read this book. Or see a movie based on it, or whatever. I mean, listen to this from Thea: “A brilliantly written and plotted mystery, a miasma of wretchedness and hate; a book that I devoured but deeply, utterly abhorred.”

And then Ana, who fairly often lays out a problematic theme with a particularly vivid turn of phrase, said, “It is possible to argue that the one of the main themes of Gone Girl is its thoughtful examination of marriage difficulties; or to question how well two people can really know each other or allow the other to know you and, unfair expectations. The problem is: the novel cannot possibly be indicative of all marriages or a heartfelt exploration of this theme because NOT EVERYBODY IS A VINDICTIVE PSYCHOPATH OR A WHINNY MAN-CHILD WITH SOCIOPATHIC TENDENCIES. Unless you know, you want argue that one can never know who one has married because maybe, just maybe your husband/wife is planning RIGHT NOW to fake-kill themselves and frame you because you didn’t wash the dishes after dinner that one time. SO you know, BE CAREFUL. This means that the book only really works on its own microcosm of darkness.”

And I was all, well, okay, then, no need to try this one.

But the book is set in Missouri. I guess that means Missouri bookstores tended to carry it? And maybe many people like books where both protagonists are horrible, nasty people?

Anyway, my vote for coolest state on this basis is Connecticut. At least, I think Connecticut is that little blocky green state that has From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler. That is a way, way cooler choice.

Most of these books I haven’t read, of course. Coolest title of them all: The Weight of Silence. I don’t know, that title just really appeals to me.

Anyway, it’s an interesting selection that includes both older and surprisingly new titles from a wide range of genres. You should click through and see if you’ve read your state’s Popular Book.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 21st, 2015
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The experience of reading

May 20th, 2015

So, I’m curious. I know what I read — I mean, I’ve kept actual track for several years, so I really do. So I know I read a lot of different genres. But just stating the genre tells one almost nothing about the book. So let’s break down “what you read” a little differently for a change. How about these categories, and then let’s look again at breadth of reading taste:

1. Adventure stories that are tightly focused on one or a couple protagonists, in a setting that is more or less contemporary. Examples that I’ve read so far this year would be, oh, I don’t know, let me look at my reading list. Okay, SEVEN DAYS OF LUKE by DWJ. And CUCKOO SONG by Hardinge. Personally, I like this category, but not as much as the stories with a more secondary-world kind of setting. Urban fantasy and paranormals might work in this category depending on how much the setting departs from a real-world contemporary setting.

Also: Non-adventure stories like the above. I don’t read a lot in this category, but Florand’s romances fit the bill. My guess is The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher will also fit in this category, but I’m not sure because I haven’t read it — it just came out. It’s on my Kindle, though, and I hope to get to it this year some time.

Also: Mysteries in a contemporary setting. I do read mysteries, though not a lot so far this year. I read A VEILED ANTIQUITY by Rett MacPherson recently. (It was okay.)

Also: All the same categories in a familiar historical setting. Those Regency romances by Theresa Romain, I like those. Maybe Gillian Bradshaw counts for me. Classical Rome and Greece feel familiar to me because of her books, mostly. The Death of the Necromancer counts, too, because the setting feels familiar.

And one more, a big one: Adventure stories with one or a couple protagonists in a secondary-world setting that feels familiar. The stories draws on a so-called “normal” fantasy setting; or one or another of the “normal” types of SF setting. Or a post-apocalyptic or zombie types of novels, that’s the same because again those are settings that the reader is basically familiar with. There’s no need for the author to explain to the reader that zombies eat brains; this is assumed from the start. I read a ton of adventure stories with settings that draw on normal tropes. MISTWOOD by Leah Cypess, for example. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by MR Carey. WRITTEN IN RED by Anne Bishop. INFINITY HOLD by Barry Longyear.

All of the above have a huge advantage: the setting may be different enough to be fun and interesting, but it is familiar enough that I can get drawn into the story easily. I would say that all of the above are meant to be read — or at least, I read them — as immersive experiences. You — or at least I — fall into the story. (Everyone generalizes broadly from one example. At least, I do.) (As the joke goes.)

2. Stories with settings like the above but lots of pov characters. These are harder to get into and stay in because you’re kicked out every time you switch from one pov to another. You can get back in, but it’s harder. It’s *work*. That being so, the story is necessarily less immersive. That’s fine if you’re not reading for an immersive experience, but it’s not likely to be as appealing if you are. I can and do like stories like these — RANGE OF GHOSTS by Elizabeth Bear and a lot of other epic fantasy; LEVIATHAN WAKES by Corey and other epic SF. But not as many, not as often. I can get awfully tired of the epic style of writing and quit in the middle of a series. I mean, that’s not unusual for me, actually, stopping in the middle of an epic. That happens to me with Daniel Abraham, say, and speaking of Daniel Abraham, I never went on with the LEVIATHAN WAKES series even though I like the first book quite a bit. (You probably recall that James S A Corey is a pen name for the collaborative writing of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.)

3. Stories with difficult settings. Settings can be more or less difficult. WHEEL OF TIME THE INFINITE by Martha Wells has an unusual setting, but I would say that it is unusual in usual ways, so to speak. Her setting adds to the pleasure of the book without making it noticeably more difficult to fall into the story.

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, with its unfamiliar diction and strange, uncomfortable names, and unfamiliar ultra-formal ceremonial lifestyle, is clearly harder for some readers to get into. Or look at A COMPANION TO WOLVES by Monette and Bear — again with the names, and then they are trying to bring to life a culture that feels — and is — quite unfamiliar.

But we see an even higher difficulty level with some SF. A lot of SF is all about the worldbuilding. A DARKLING SEA by Cambias, to take a recent example. RINGWORLD by Niven to take a much older example. Those can offer something of an immersive reading experience, but the setting makes it harder to fall into the story. This is not a criticism; just an observation. In my opinion, a brilliant but unusual setting is going to interfere with the reading experience for some readers, and the more unusual the setting, the more it will interfere.

THE GOLDEN AGE by Wright is a perfect, perfect example. One protagonist, just one. I even like Phaethon and agree with him and want him to succeed, now that I know more or less what is going on. But the setting is so difficult. You have to pay attention to it every minute.

It’s brilliant, don’t get me wrong. Wright did an amazing, amazing job of worldbuilding in this series. But you can’t take your eye off it for a second. There’s something brilliant around ever authorial corner. It’s tiring, figuring out what’s important and what’s just clever-but-not-important detail. It’s work, figuring out the social role everybody’s playing when the author isn’t drawing on normal tropes. It is, oh, let’s say, anti-immersive. The idea of falling into the story is laughable.

I like it. But, yeah, I am not in the core audience for this trilogy. People who enjoy intellectual games would love this more than I do. You know who else comes to mind? Quite different but similar in terms of the reading experience: Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. Granted, Robinson is a brilliant stylist as well as an amazing worldbuilder. Wright isn’t quite that good. (But then, hardly anybody is that good.)

So, setting aside nonfiction, I read fantasy and SF and mysteries and historicals. And some romance, and certainly UF and paranormal. And zombie novels and postapocalyptic stories and dystopias. But what I mostly read for is the immersive experience of the story, and nearly everything I read falls into that category, including 100% of my favorite stories — which does not entirely overlap with the stories I most admire.

How about you? Do you find these three basic categories holding true for your reading experience? If you wouldn’t describe your favorite books as stories you “can fall into,” then does that category even make sense to you? How would you describe your reading experience?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 20th, 2015
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Recent acquisitions:

May 17th, 2015

So, what with one thing and another — mostly comments here, also various posts here and there around the book blogosphere — I have picked up a good handful of books this month so far.

The one that wound up at the top of the pile is THE GOLDEN AGE by John Wright — thinking of the discussion about utopias. I have actually started reading it. In fact, I got 60% of the way through it and had to call my brother and ask, “So, this has a happy ending, right? Right?” Because at the moment the protagonist has been backed into a pretty dreadful corner. I’ll have more to say about it later, no doubt, but take a look at just the prologue to get a taste of this universe:

THE GOLDEN AGE by John C Wright

It was a time of masquerade.

It was the eve of the High Transcendence, an event solemn and significant that it could be held but once every thousand years, and folk of every name and iteration, phenotype, composition, consciousness, and neuroform, from every school and era, had come to celebrate its coming, to welcome the transfiguration, and to prepare.

Spendor, feast, and ceremony filled the many months before the great event itself. Energy shapes living in the north polar magnetosphere of the sun and Cold Dukes from the Kuiper belts beyond Neptune had gathered to Old Earth, or sent their representations through the mentality, and celebrants had come from every world and moon in the solar system, from every station, sail, habitat, and crystal-magnetic latticework.

No human or posthuman race of the Golden Oecumene was absent from these festivities. Fictional as well as actual personalities were invited. Composition-assisted reconstructions of dead or deleted paladins and sages, magnates and philosophers, walked by night the boulevards of the Aurelian palace-city, arm-in-arm with extrapolated demigoddesses from imagined superhuman futures or languid-eyed lamia from morbid unrealized alternatives, and strolled or danced amid the monuments and energy sculptures, fountains, dream fixtures, and phantasms, all beneath a silver, city-covered moon, larger than the moon past ages had known.

And here and there, shining like stars on the active channels of the mentality, were recidivists who had returned from high transhuman states of mind, bringing back with them thought-shapes or mathematical constructions inexpressible in human words, haunted by memories of what the last Transcendence had accomplished, feverish with dreams of what the next might hold.

It was a time of cheer.

And yet, even in such golden days, there were those who would not be satisfied.

How about that? Also, here are tiny snippets from the beginnings of the other books I have most recently picked up. A lot of them . . . in fact all of them . . . look, on the surface, more approachable than THE GOLDEN AGE.

THE PLAYER OF GAMES by Iain Banks

This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game. The man is a game-player called “Gurgeh.” The story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game.

Me? I’ll tell you about me later.

This is how the story begins.

Dust drifted with each footstep. He limped across the desert, following the suited figure in front. The gun was quiet in his hands. They must be nearly there; the noise of distant surf boomed through the helmet soundfield. They were approaching a tall dune, from which they ought to be able to see the coast. Somehow he had survived; he had not expected to.

It was bright and hot and dry outside, but inside the suit he was shielded from the sun and the baking air; cossetted and cool. One edge of the helmet visor was dark, where it had taken a hit, and the right leg flexed awkwardly, also damaged, making him limp, but otherwise he’d been lucky. The last time they’d been attacked had been a kilometer back, and now they were nearly out of range.

Then the flight of missiles cleared the nearest ridge in a glittering arc. He saw them late because of the damaged visor. He thought the missiles had already started firing, but it was only the sunlight reflecting on their sleek bodies. The flight dipped and swung together, like a flock of birds.

CORSAIR by James Cambias

Captain Black the Space Pirate sat on a king-sized hotel bed in Thailand and watched for his next prize. The names on his real passport was David Schwartz, but it was Captain Black the Space Pirate who had five fan sites on the Web and at least as many highly secure law enforcement sites devoted to tracking him. He was the absolute gold-anodized titanium pinnacle of the techno-badass pyramid. He was twenty-eight years old.

On his laptop screen he saw a tiny bright dot rising above Mare Smythii on the Moon: a booster carrying four tons of helium-3. A treasure ship worth two billion Swiss francs on the spot market. It was a Westinghouse cargo from the Japanese-Indian-American base at Babcock Crater, on course for the Palmyra Atoll drop zone. “Ship ho, me hearties!” David whooped.

His pirate ship lurked at the L1 libration point, balanced between Earth and Moon. Officially it was a “Lunar resource satellite,” which was true in its own way, and the owner of record was a perfectly legal company incorporated in Eritrea. David uplinked to it through a commercial antenna farm in Northern Australia and set up a burn that would match speeds with the helium payload just after it finished climbing up from the Moon and began falling toward the Earth.

Having done that, Captain Jack the Space Pirate went out for lunch.

“Next of Kin” by Dan Wells

I died again last night.

His name was Billy Chapman, found in a snowbank in the streetlight shadow of a parking garage, and when I drank his memories, his death became mine. I remembered stumbling out of the bar, into the biting cold, through a thick haze of booze; I remembered slipping on the ice and the sudden, sharp pain. I remembered all thirty-five years of Billy’s life: his job and his boss and his car that didn’t work and his wife Rosie.

Oh, Rosie. He loved her more than anything in the world, and with his memories, now so did I. And neither of us would ever see him again.

SWORD by Amy Bai

Merry we’ll meet till the tides they all turn
then dance with the blades as the shadows return

Children skipped and sang an old nursery rhyme in the parched air of the late afternoon. Their shadows fell strange in the slanting light. In the shadow of an oak thick with age, a girl crouched glumly on her heels, drawing aimless lines in the dirt with a battered practice sword. She was noble, this girl, a scion of the great House of Cowynall, whose oak it was: the oak and a great deal more. The silver locket at her breast declared it even if her patched dress did not.

Sing we a new song, for sadness and woe,
kings and queens all shall the darkest road know –

The children, passing under one another’s linked arms, stared at her and interrupted themselves with whispers. The girl never spared them a glance. Only someone who knew her very well would have marked the way her gaze held them always in its periphery, how her face tightened when a gust carried their words across the yard.

Raise shall the earth and the heavens shall fall,
fire can guard from what water can call…

It was the most senseless thing she had ever heard. Why couldn’t they sing “Skip to the River” or some other silly rhyme?

There you go. Interesting mix, isn’t it?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 17th, 2015
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Bambi again

May 15th, 2015

Here is the follow-up post to the one on Felix Salten’s BAMBI. This one looks at Disney’s film.

I really had no idea about the making-of issues. I mean, what kid thinks of that when watching an animated flick? The movie is there, you watch it, the scene on the ice is cute, the end.

Of course Walt Disney could not possibly make a kid’s animated film that matched Salten’s rather grim book, for lots of reasons. But in this post, Mari Ness goes into details about why not from multiple dimensions, including the lack of a real plot:

But both [earlier films] were unified by an overreaching plot or theme: with Snow White, escaping the evil queen and marrying Prince Charming; with Pinocchio, becoming a Real Boy; and with Fantasia, creating visuals for music. Bambi: A Life in the Woods has none of that: it’s a work that follows Bambi from year to year, philosophizing about violence and death along the way, but without a central goal beyond survival, or an overwhelming plot beyond the ever present menace of the hunters. And, of course, a high death count.

Yeah, no kidding. Also, spoiler, Mari Ness REALLY DISLIKES THUMPER. Makes me glad I only ever watched the film when I was too young to notice much other than the cute animals. I don’t even remember Bambi’s mother’s death in the movie. Maybe I blocked it, because from the description in this post, it was pretty grim, ending with poor little Bambi alone in the snow.

Incidentally, one note: Mari Ness says she doubts Bambi could fight off two dogs. There is not much reason to doubt this, actually. Roe deer are small, but if they are anything like our whitetail deer, then you can bet they can be aggressive and dangerous. People today mostly feel that animals are harmless and that herbivores are totally harmless. This is not actually true.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 15th, 2015
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Pure Magic: update

May 15th, 2015

I need to tell you all:

The cover is taking a bit longer than I had expected. I’ve asked the artist to give me a definite date, and I will pass that on to you all when I know. In the meantime . . . I’m sorry for the delay. Believe me, it’s killing me to wait. I feel like this:

tumblr_md4jtcWjrn1qjy72go1_500

I hope you all do, too. But I hope it won’t be much longer.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 15th, 2015
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Oh, check out this photo contest —

May 14th, 2015

This is from the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.

Lots of the photos are well worth a look. My favorites are 5, 8, 10, and 16.

5 and 10 particularly hit me in the “The World Is Really In A Fantasy Novel” kind of way.

8 and 16 are terrifically serene.

I might pick 16 if I had to pick just one. Or 10. Aargh, how could you choose?

The funniest for me is 9, because it reminds me so much of this picture of one of my dogs as a puppy:

3Pippa12-05

Pippa was just seven or eight weeks here. (She is now nine years old.) She actually has tons of color on her, but in this picture, turned toward the camera that way, she vanishes in the most adorable way, except for her cute little head. Uh, maybe I’m sounding a little too gushy?

Anyway, click through if you have a minute and pick out your favorite picture.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 14th, 2015
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Writing sociological SF

May 14th, 2015

I’m not *actually* working on my SF novel just at the moment. Actually, I have two started, both sociological, each in a different universe, but of course I have to pick one to work on first, and the choice was easy, since it’s the one that both Caitlin and my brother want me to work on first. But since it came up, let me talk about what I personally mean by sociological SF just a little — at least, when I’m talking about my own stories.

Both my started SF novels are definitely sociological. Or you might say psychological. Or you might REALLY say, they focus on behavior and they are written from an evolutionary perspective, because that’s what I am most interested in. This is a topic that SF, but not fantasy, really lets you play with.

Let me just add that I’ve had a really fun time with the first bit of both my SF novels, but for right now let me focus just on the one I’ll be working on first. Of course it doesn’t have a title, titles come dead last for me. I’m thinking of it as “the turun story” because “turun” is the name of the important alien species.

It’s slow because I’m having to design a lot of the details as I go — there’s a ton of vocabulary to develop and get familiar with, for one thing, and every time I take a break, when I come back to it, I have to re-familiarize myself with all of that. Actually there are two major societies I’m working with: one purely human and one turun-plus-human. These two societies are completely unfamiliar with each other when the story opens, and I’m switching back and forth from one to the other. That means two different sets of vocabulary, two different styles of visual settings, two different kinds of technology. Two very different societies.

So it’s slow even though I have an excellent big-picture idea of the backstory, a decent idea of the overall plot, and a good grasp of the basic social and psychological structures I am working with.

Now, I don’t know how other people do it, but I design alien species from the deep instincts up. It’s pretty cool. This species is based loosely on African elephants, though now that I’ve said that, get that physical picture out of your head because they look completely different except for being big. But a few million years ago, their ecological niche was very similar to the elephant niche, so their deep instincts are very similar as well. Of course they are fully sentient and technologically advanced. They have a lot of *history* behind them as well as a lot of ecology. But their instincts are not the same as human instincts, and CJ Cherryh is right: when you hear the word “instinct” you should think of emotions, because instinct is not what you *do*, it is the feelings that prompt you to do stuff.

Think of your kid, those of you who are parents. Think of how you felt when you first held your baby the day he or she was born. You do not protect your child because he or she shares half your genes. I mean, sure, that may be the ultimate evolutionary reason, but the proximate reason — the *real* reason, if you will — is because of that feeling. You don’t protect other people’s children because back when humans used to live in small hunter-gatherer communities everyone was more or less related to all the children. Well, you do, but the real reason you protect other people’s children is because of how you feel when you see them in danger, an instinct that has carried through to the present day, when you probably share no significant genes with most children you see.

And of course when you’re talking about complex people, you also get instincts that spill out all over everything, which is why people can have similar parental feelings about dogs and cars and whatever. You, being human, have human emotions all over the place. Plus instincts interact with and compete with other instincts, which we see when mothers throw their kids out on the street in order to make up with their new boyfriend. That is a perfectly natural behavior, which is why we need to add a moral dimension on top of nature in order to be civilized, so that we can declare that that kind of thing is indefensible and contemptible.

Anyway, so forth and so on, the whole soap opera dimension of human behavior, utterly lacking from, say, insects, which is why entomologists seem to come up with such reductionist theories of behavior even if they study the most socially complex bugs*, but that’s another story, never mind.

Anyway. A sociologist goes to a foreign country and looks around and says, Wow, all these people are so different! But an ethologist goes to a foreign country and looks around and says, Wow, look, people are the same everywhere! This is because an ethologist doesn’t compare one human society to another and focus on trivia like differences in personal space. Instead, an ethologist compares humans to other species and focuses on deep instinct.

Here are some of the behaviors that arise from the deep instincts that humans possess, though since instincts do interact and compete, you will find individual cases and whole societies where important instincts have temporarily gone underground. Plus you do seem able to brutalize people in such a way as to destroy some of their normal instincts, as we see when ISIS militants behead infants.

A lot of these behaviors are basic to primates, by the way. So:

Humans move closer together when they feel threatened by anything outside the group.

If there is a generally positive relationship between them, then humans tend to approach people who have threatened or hurt them, trying to resolve the conflict. It is the person who feels hurt or afraid who wants to resolve the conflict, more than the aggressor.

Humans move toward new things that appear in their environment. They want to touch things and investigate with their hands. Children put things in their mouths.

Humans lean forward, speak more loudly, and repeat themselves when they feel frustrated.

Humans avoid having sexual relationships with agemates they grew up with, even if such relationships are socially approved. We see this clearly in societies were unrelated children are reared together, such as on an Israeli kibbutz.

Humans generally support their kin against unrelated people.

Men tend to form friendships with other unrelated men men and then support each other as though they were related. (This is very unusual, btw.)

Women tend to form friendships with other unrelated women and then support each other as though they were related. (This is also very unusual.)

Humans tend to form moderately to very stable relationships with unrelated people of the opposite sex, especially if they have children together.

Humans protect their children. Don’t think this has to be the case in every possible intelligent species; it doesn’t. Look how James Cambias handled his Ilmatarans.

Human groups tend to be led by older men.

And so on.

There are important points where humans and elephants are similar, but here are a few points where African elephants differ from humans:

Adult males are fundamentally solitary.

Adult males do not form stable relationships with females or other males.

Males don’t experience significant breeding success until they are in their thirties at least. Females strongly prefer older males.

Males experience musth, intervals during which they are very aggressive and sexually active.

Groups are led by older females.

Groups consist of related matrilines and their calves. Juvenile males are forced out of the group.

An ecological difference: adult elephants have almost no natural enemies. Humans are a natural enemy, though, having hunted elephants with spears since the stone age. And lions can and do kill elephants — especially young male elephants, who are not generally protected by any adult bulls that might be around. Even so, compared to humans, elephants were historically far more safe from predators once past a certain age. Adult females were just about as safe as males. This has to have produced a very dramatic psychological difference in how elephants viewed the world, at least prior to horror of the modern ivory trade.

A physical difference: In humans, males are bigger than females, with a good deal of overlap. But in elephants, males are MUCH bigger than females — about twice as big — with no significant overlap once adult.

Okay, now. Turun share all of characteristics listed above for elephants. How do you suppose all that plays out when your species attains full sentience and develops complex civilizations and a high level of technology? Do you see any major differences between turun psychology and history and human psychology and history? I sure do. Mine get to be real, since I’m the one writing the story.

Now add a small number of technologically primitive humans from a lost colony to an advanced turun society and stir briskly. What do you suppose will happen? Remember how H Beam Piper handled the introduction of fuzzies into human society? That’s pretty much what I’m doing, but sort of in reverse and all hauled into the backstory.

Wait a hundred years and add an outside enemy. NOW what will happen?

Now add sudden contact with the original human population. Right there, that’s where my story opens. The backstory is huge and radiates forward into the current story in very important ways. But don’t worry, I don’t dump all the backstory on you in a massive prologue. I just know a lot about it myself. You’ll get to see the parts that are most important to the story.

*I know that honeybees are not true bugs. I am aware that true bugs are Hemipterans and bees are Hymenopterans. Just wanted to clear that up if you wondered.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on May 14th, 2015
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