Almea as an allegory

Posted by Panu Petteri Höglund on 5:31 8/8/01

In reply to: (none)

Dear Mark, after reading your "millenium rant" and other political writings, I feel interested in Almea as an allegory of your political, ethical and philosophical views in general. It is always risky to ask the author himself to interprete his own work; but I must confess I learnt very much about myself by writing my own abortive attempt to write a conlang-inspired fantasy novel. (The conlang and the conciv, or concult, conceived for the novel still exist; I consider making the language - Radaz - accessible on my webpages, as soon as I get fluent in it again; the extant corpus is very limited for the time being.) I wonder, what for example the ktuvoki stand for. What is the part of human experience (meaning "humankind's historical experience") you had in mind when you designed the ktuvoki? If I may be horribly vulgar and easy: can the ktuvoki be equated (facetiously speaking) with Hitler and Stalin, or with big business, or with Dubya? What is the thing in American society that "feels like a ktuvok" to you?

Mark responds:

In a sense, they're a good example of the dangers of allegorical readings. :) The ktuvoki started out as your standard fantasy-world evil empire. But I grew increasingly dissatisfied with standard evil empires (omnipresent in fantasy and s.f., especially that intended for children), and with the Manichaeanism behind them. So I tried to reinterpret the ktuvoki in biological terms. The result is that from a human point of view, they're evil; and yet from a biological point of view they're not evil at all, merely a rather unsocial species that uses slave animals as a status display.

If there's a connection to my political views, it's that I like to understand rather than simply condemn. Not that I won't condemn. :) But I think we have to know what's really going on in order to effectively act. E.g., to take a Nixon or a Reagan (or, from the other side of the aisle, a Clinton) as simply Satanic is, to my mind, lazy and foolish. What makes them the way they are? Human beings almost never consciously embrace evil; what assumptions or attitudes do they have that, in their minds, justify what they do? (Once we know, it doesn't mean that we stop resisting them; maybe it allows us to resist better.)

In Almean terms: the Almeans don't have the biological point of view about the ktuvoki, but a theological one. That's perfectly good (indeed, perhaps ideal) for resisting their physical and political threats. But since it's ultimately wrong, it's no good for solving the problem once and for all-- unless they simply killed them all off. If they understood their biology, they might at least consider other options.

If you've read Niven & Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye, the issues may seem familiar. In my experience (arguing in rec.arts.sf.written), s.f. fans rush to the theological point of view, and want to exterminate the Moties. And Niven & Pournelle have stacked the deck with some bad biology to make this a compelling viewpoint. But I don't like it. If genocide is bad for human races, why is it OK for alien species? (Of course it's possible to imagine horrors so insidious that they're impossible to live with. But that's horror, not reality. Aliens should fit what we know from biology about predation and virulence.)

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