Guest Post: Exploring the Fantasy Creatures in KnownEarth with author A.M. Justice
I’m handing over the blogging reins to friend and fellow author A.M. Justice today. You might recognize her name as her awesome book A Wizard’s Forge was released on September 19, which I was so happy to share here!
We have a few things in common with our fantasy worlds and one of them is creating unique fantasy creatures and races to populate the worlds of our stories. That and we both have a base in science that leaks into how the magic of our worlds function! So of course, I think Amanda’s book and world is awesome, and her writing is stellar too. I highly suggest checking out her book!
Which brings me to one last thing before I hand over the blog to Amanda. Guest posts and recommendations like this are one of the ways to combat the glut of books I mentioned in my post on Amazon e-book sales. With 5 million e-books on the horizon, author’s can’t just rely on Amazon’s fabulous algorithm to send readers our way. Reaching readers outside of Amazon’s impressive backlog of e-books through guest posts is a great strategy.
Now over to A.M. Justice!
It’s Not an Elf, It’s a Kragnashian
“A what?” you ask? One thing I love about writing speculative fiction is getting to make stuff up. I earn my living as a medical writer, and in that business, every statement must be backed up by documented evidence—in my day job, I never get to make up stuff. This suits my analytical nature, because I like knowing how things work in real life. But I also love reading and writing fantasy. Anything with magic, strange creatures, or talking animals piques my interest. Yet even while reading high fantasy, I always wonder how the fantasy world works. Tolkien—a master of world-building and inventor of the concept of secondary belief—crafted a robust backstory starting with the bible-like Silmarillion to explain where elves, dwarves, and humans came from. The explanations are mystical, not scientific, but that’s OK because Middle Earth’s ecosystems function the same as our own—I know exactly what Sam is talking about when he longs for spring’s first strawberries. I love Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series too, but I’ve got nagging questions about the world. If Westeros frequently experiences winters that last for decades or longer, how do ecosystems, starting with plants that need regular growing seasons, survive? There are an awful lot of forests with pretty tall trees north of the wall, and if the trees die off in a 10-, 20-, or 100-year long winter, they aren’t going to grow back within a single human lifetime. Martin never explains this, but I wish he would (if he has somewhere, somebody let me know).
Biology plays a big role the Woern Saga, my science fiction–fantasy series that launches this month with A Wizard’s Forge. The story involves the descendants of marooned human space travelers who live on a world they call Knownearth. Over the centuries, advanced technology has disappeared, while telepathic powers have developed in many people. A few, known as “wizards,” have telekinetic powers as well. The lack of tech and the presence of supernatural powers put the fantasy in my scifi-fantasy epic, but the world’s creatures are pure science fiction.
These creatures form the dominant indigenous civilization on the planet, and they dominate the human-alien interactions as well. Here’s what AWF’s protagonist thinks when she first meets one:
“Shrinejump,” Vic breathed, her eyes rising to huge triangular heads and bulbous eyes. She’d walked upon the woolen Kragnashians woven into the carpet of her room; she’d seen pictures of them in books, read about their stature and strangeness, but the actual sight of them shivered down her spine like a forgotten memory. The creatures sweeping toward them stood at least three times as tall as Drak, sported elaborate tattoos on segmented thoraxes and abdomens, and bore powerful mandibles large enough to grasp a trooper and snap her in half. “Holy Shrinejumping fuck,” she said aloud. The carpet in her room showed people fighting these creatures.
Inspiration for the Kragnashians came from the 1950s film Them! and similar movies featuring giant, scary insects that I used to watch on TV when I was a kid in the 1970s. I hadn’t read or seen Heinlein’s Starship Troopers before I came up with the Kragnashians, but readers will see parallels in the size and intelligence of Heinlein’s big bugs. Early in my professional career, I also copyedited an entomology journal, and I learned a lot about insects. Unlike Earth insects, the Kragnashians have internal skeletons because an exoskeleton couldn’t support the weight of a creature that size, and well-developed circulatory systems to deliver enough oxygen to their robust neurological tissues (big brains need a lot of oxygen). Like Earth insects, Kragnashians hatch from eggs, and live as larvae for a while before undergoing metamorphosis, at which time their brains become capable of learning. Culturally, they’re ruthless traders who will commoditize any and everything, including their own larvae and products they manufacture from their body parts. Slotaen, an antibiotic and anesthetic ointment distilled from Kragnashian blood, is a source of great wealth for human merchants. The Kragnashians also control access to the Woern.
The source of Knownearth’s wizards’ telekinetic abilities is a microscopic parasite called the Woern. (These creatures are not even mentioned in the first book, A Wizard’s Forge, because Vic doesn’t discover how her power works until Book 2.) In humans, the Woern feed off neurochemical signals and confer telekinesis. People can acquire the Woern by drinking from the cistern where they grow naturally, by exchanging body fluids with an infected person, or from their infected mother while in the womb. Woern infection is usually fatal; most people die within a few days or weeks. Those who don’t die right away are usually beset by severe migraines, followed by insanity, unless they learn how to control their Woern, and even then most wizards die within ten years. However, as with any infection, a few individuals are immune. There are human carriers, who harbor latent Woern and show no signs of infection. There are also a very few people who gain the benefits of telekinesis but don’t suffer any debilitating effects.
I came up with the Woern because I wanted a biological rationale for Vic’s power, so a neurological parasite seemed like a good idea. Real life inspiration for the parasite’s effects and mode of transmission comes from the Lyme disease spirochete and sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, herpes, and HIV. (Mind you, none of these earth-bound pathogens can be contracted by drinking them.)
These creatures are another intelligent insect species and also play an important role in Knownearth’s economy. They live in Knownearth’s mountains, and one group has a long-standing treaty with the Weavers Guild in which the erin appear once a year to have their wool-like carapaces shorn off. I haven’t explored (ie, made up) why the erin do this, except that one of the original human settlers gave her life to make the agreement possible. The erin are mentioned often in the Woern Saga, but they have yet to make a live, onscreen appearance in any of the material I’ve written.
The inspiration for the erin is, quite simply, mountain sheep.
Knownearth’s third intelligent species is a type of tree. The cerrenils are indigenous to a vast forest that covers most of Latha, the country where most of AWF takes place, and they are not only sentient, but able to move. No one has learned how to communicate clearly with them, but the trees can sense human emotions and they can and will offer protection or cause harm to the humans who live among them—often for mysterious reasons. They have the peculiar trait of losing rigidity in their limbs at sunset, when their branches essentially turn into vines, making them look like thick-limbed weeping willows—or long-haired women. In fact, their night-time resemblance to women with long messy hair underlies their central role in Knownearth’s mythology, in which cerrenils are the “mothers” of humanity. The trees are also able to cause hallucinations and affect people’s dreams. In Latha, every youth undertakes a vision quest the summer of his or her seventeenth year to commune with the cerrenils and determine their role as an adult in Lathan society.
The inspiration for the cerrenils came from Tolkien’s Ents and Frank Baum’s Fighting Trees, as well as scientific evidence that the individual trees in real-life forests send chemical signals to “talk” to each other. I conceived the idea for the cerrenils before the movie Avatar came out, but the neural net connecting Eywa to the rest of Avatar’s native inhabitants certainly helped me clarify in my own mind how the cerrenils might communicate with each other and Knownearth’s other inhabitants.
And don’t forget
Remember if you comment here, you might win a free copy of 50 Blog Posts for Attracting Readers! Themonthly giveaway on my blog continues! I will put the names of anyone who leaves a comment from now until the end of October in a hat and draw a winner. Just say hi, tell me what your are writing, give me post ideas, or respond to the post — any comment counts!