Friday, 19 February 2016

Shadows of the Apt: A Few of My Favourite Things

"It was a Fly Kinden war."

I love these six words. Hidden deep in War Master's Gate, they sum up pretty much everything about the Kinden that became my favourite. I had expected one of the Inapt races to fill that spot, I'm not the most Apt person, most science either baffles or bores me, and I'm much more interested in people and 'soft sciences' than I am Physics etc. In the earliest books, the character I liked most was Salma, closely followed by Tisamon. They both had style, grace; and were deadly on the battlefield. Both reminded me of Michael Moorcock characters, and took my back to my teens, reading the narrow paperbacks filled with the adventures of Elric, Corum, and their ilk. The fact that the Spider society seemed to have been modeled, if only slightly on the Melnibonean culture added to my affections for the Inapt, and I was honestly surprised when I encountered the Kinden that became my favourite.
The Flies.

The first Fly I remember reading about is Taki. Aviatrix, maverick, all round cool girl. I fell in love with her a bit, adoring her attitude and the fact that she was as devil may care as they come. The character grew with every appearance too, the author investing her with more than enough character to keep her interesting even after the initial conflict was over. Her eventual fate is so in character for her that I winced, too able to see her making the decision.

What surrpised me was that the other Flies in the series also wormed their way into my heart. Laszlo, introduced in the Sea Watch became another favourite, reminding me (as so many of Tchaikovsky's characters do) of a roleplaying character. He seemed so lively, so full of life, something I came to associate with the Kinden in general. They were such a difference to the dour Inapt, the stolid Beetles and scheming Wasps. The accounts of their tendency to change with the breeze, going with whoever was in charge (while at the same time making sure they go their own way) seemed to have an honesty and practicality that the other Kinden lacked. Going back to the concept of a Fly Kinden war, they seem to naturally fit the niche of guerrilla warriors, of saboteurs and spies (though Laszlo's attempt at a career in espionage is admittedly a disaster).

The other thing that caught my eye was that the Flies had only recently become Apt, something I found fascinating. In part I found it interesting that their essential nature had not changed, though its hard to envisage them as anything other than freewheeling, almost bohemian types. Even the existence of Fly academics doesn't dilute that aspect of their nature to me.

I confess that after the Flies, I do have an enduring affection for the Mantis, I like, and pity, them in a way. Their loss of touch with the world, as it moves on and they cling to traditions, their barbarous magic; even the fact that they have been pawns for one group after another, touches me. I like their seriousness, the fact that alone of the Kinden they don't seem to have a sense of humour. Above all I like the admission late in the series that they have set up strictures so constraining nobody can live up to them. It's refreshingly honest and a lovely critique of a fictional culture. I suspect that in part its my love of Elric that motivates this love, the fact that I like things that are a bit straight faced, even when they are, well, ridiculous.

Returning to Tisamon, he who is far too serious. I felt his arc was fascinating, and liked that he was redeemed after death. I liked the fact that he had given in to his desires for 'the enemy' and that though he valued his daughter, he was also partially ashamed of her, because of what he had done. That complexity was a wonderful thing to see and I hope I can write it into my own work. I liked the fact that he ran the gamut between the man and the Mantis; it was an interesting insight into the world of the Kinden and how they operate that such a distinction could be made. His nobility, tarnished as it was endeared me to him.

In terms of the world, which I'll go into more when I write the World Building blog post, I very much liked the Commonweal, and would like to see more of it. Aside from the fact that it feels a bit more Medieval than the rest of the world, with castles and so on, I liked the culture Tchaikovsky built up in the Dragonflies, from their dancing to their attitudes towards hunting and war. It was a lovely way of adapting the things they could do to the world (something he's been good at doing throughout).

I also, again from Heirs to the Blade, enjoyed the admission by Maur, an Inapt necromancer, that she preferred sex with Apt men because they were more straightforward. It wasn't anything more than a nice moment, but it seemed to capture something special, even if it seems to underline on one level the masculine/feminine divide of the Apt/Inapt split, adding 'man simple, woman complicated' to it.

Wasp culture and architecture is also fascinating (seriously at this point I'd happily read a 'guide to the world of the Kinden'), which again draws from a different culture, different sense of right and wrong. I liked the fact that so much of the Wasps' ambitions was based on the fact that if they didn't focus outwards they would fall to fighting each other. While I don't condone sexist societies, it was interesting to see one so thoroughly sexist as the Wasps, if only because this sort of culture seems to have grown quite rare in Fantasy (we're  a far cry from Middle Earth's attitude to women, even in the more traditional cultures you see in modern books). Admittedly the Empire are the bad guys, but there is a distinction between the Empire  and the individual Wasps - when female members of the Kinden are shown; change being forced through a punishing war and the advance of technology, they are able to hold their own.

This brings me to the last thing I want to talk about: change. I like the fact that the work constantly evolves, growing all the time, societies change and develop. Even Khanaphes, which has stayed the same for thousands of years shows signs of being forced into change by the end of the series. Sexism breaks down, the masters of the past come out of their centuries long strop, the clannish Ants set aside their differences. This, in effect, is what makes it feel like  a living, breathing world. Unlike others it doesn't just sit in stasis; things change and grow. And that's glorious.

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