Monday, April 21, 2014

The Valley of Thorns: A 5-Star Review!

Back Cover, The Valley of Thorns
Feel free to print this!
       The prolific Marva Dasef (her Amazon Page) has now read and reviewed all three volumes (to date) of my series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  She gave this one 5 stars, and she doesn't dole out that many stars regularly.  If you want to read something of hers, I recommend The Witches of Galdorheim (see my review of the first volume, Bad Spelling).
       I'm not too worried about the spoilers, because if you recognize the medieval epic on which I based this story (and I've talked about that elsewhere), you'll know the outcome anyway.
Now here is Marva's review of The Valley of Thorns:

       Given that I read and enjoyed the first two volumes of this epic series, I had no trepidations jumping into the third volume of the story of Ki'shto'ba and his doughty band of companions.
       Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer (equivalent of a bard or story teller) having invented a written form of the termite language narrates the tale. In the first volume (the Battle for the Stolen Mother), we find Di'fa'kro'mi as an elderly person narrating the story to his scribe. Occasionally, Di'fa'kro'mi breaks out of the narrative to explain a few things to the scribe which were not directly observed by the Remembrancer. I liked these sections since the first person narrative would obviously not cover events where Di'fra'kro'mi was not present.
       In this volume, the companions travel to the Marcher lands where a war is on-going with another tribe of Shshi. The dispute is over religion, a common reason for war. Since Ki'shto'ba's twin, A'zhu'lo had become attached to the Marcher overlord, the Huge-Head reluctantly joins the Marcher side. Going into the Valley of the Thorns to aid a Marcher outpost, the war heats up. A truce is proposed, and the opposing Shshi even say they will switch their method of worship of the Great Mother in accordance with the Marcher beliefs. Unfortunately, it's a ruse with one of the Marcher generals becoming a turncoat.
       The subsequent battle when the traitor is discovered is bloody and vicious. Ki'shto'ba had been leading the way out of the Valley of the Thorns leaving its twin in the rear guard, which was totally destroyed.
       The death of his twin drives Ki'shto'ba mad and it ends up killing innocents in the heat of his insanity. This parallels the story of Hercules' madness and murders for which he must atone with the 12 labors. In the earlier volumes, Ki'shto'ba had already been set on the task of performing 12 wonders.
       I'm going on too long here and possibly introducing too many spoilers, so I'll end the description of the events (maybe I should be a Remembrancer myself).
       Again, I highly recommend this epic story. There are three volumes more according to Ms. Taylor. I will meet them head on and, hopefully, not be driven mad in the process of following the complex names, titles, objects, and places served to the reader in the Shshi language. By the end of the tale, I might very well have a working vocabulary of the marvelous con-lang (constructed language), Ms. Taylor has so carefully developed.
       Definitely start with volume 1 of the tale (you might also want to take on the Termite Queen first since Ki'shto'ba is first introduced in that series.
       Amazingly complex, yet solid storytelling. And, yes, I got misty-eyed at the death of A'zhu'lo. Is that a spoiler too?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cover Art for Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear

Progress Update!
Front cover
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Back Cover
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       I've finished the front and back cover for the fourth volume of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, and here they are! 
       I've also finished the black-and-white map for the paper-back and I've posted it on the tab MAPS along with the maps for all the other volumes. 
       In case you haven't read v.3 yet, here is the descrip-tion of v.4 from the end matter of that book:
       As Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head and its Companions venture into the lands of the At’ein’zei (People of the Root), they encounter the Ninth Companion, an eccentric Alate named Bu’gan’zei who practices a strangely hypnotic type of word craft that is totally new to the questers.  He has visited the legendary Mountain of the Glorious Root seeking a deceased friend to whom he was exceptionally devoted, but he failed in his attempt to extract her from the World Beyond.  Bu’gan’zei agrees to guide Ki’shto’ba and its friends to the Mountain, where the Champion can seek resolution for its guilt and where the personal quest of Is’a’pai’a Gold-Seeker will finally begin.  
After several exciting adventures with the monsters and giants of the Mountain, as well as new prophetic pronouncements by the resident Seer, the Companions again head south.  Near the At’ein’zei fortress of Ra’ki’wiv’u they encounter the Tenth Companion, an Intercaste Warrior with a bizarre story all her own.  In order to win her friendship, Ki’shto’ba (with Za’dut’s unsolicited assistance) must prevail over her in the Warrior Games during Ra’ki’wiv’u’s annual festival.  At that same festival, Di’fa’kro’mi takes part in a Remembrancer’s competition.
       This light-hearted episode is a welcome relief after the stressful events under the Mountain and soon the Companions are ready to set out for Yo’sho’zei lands, where Is’a’pai’a can learn its true destiny and where the sea is no longer a distant dream.
You can check out all the books in the series at Amazon and at Smashwords.  The publication of v.4 is getting closer all the time!

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Life of Hercules: The Final Six Labors

Hercules and Antaeus (1690),
by Gregorio de Ferrari
Wikipedia (public domain)
See Labor No. 10

Third of a series.  Here are the first and second posts:
The Life of Hercules: Birth and Childhood
The Life of Hercules: The First Six Labors

     In the previous post, I discussed how Heracles was forced to perform twelve labors as a kind of penance for killing his own children under the influence of madness.  My Heracles stand-in, the Shshi (intelligent termite) Champion Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, also suffers an episode of madness, but the onus of performing Twelve Wonders comes to it for a different reason, which you can learn about if you read v.1 of the Ki'shto'ba series, The War of the Stolen Mother.
       Following up on the previous post, I'll list the final six Labors of Heracles and comment on whether and how I used them in my series.  Not all of them are suitable for adaptation to a termite culture.
       7.  The Cretan Bull.  A fire-breathing bull was ravaging Crete (possibly the one which sired the Minotaur) and Heracles was constrained to capture it.  He took it back to Eurystheus, who set it free because Hera wouldn't accept it as a sacrifice (gave too much glory to Heracles).
       I didn't use this Labor at all.
       8.  The Mares of Diomedes.  Possibly based on a coronation rite in which women in horse masks killed and consumed the sacred king at the end of his reign (see Robert Graves, Greek Myths, under The Eighth Labor).  The savage mares of Diomedes were carnivores and Hercules fed Diomedes himself to them, then captured them while their appetite was sated.  Prettty gruesome tale.
       I didn't use this one, either.
       9.  Hippolyte's Girdle.  This is a story of the Amazons; Heracles had to bring back the girdle of Ares, which was worn by the Amazon Queen Hippolyte, as a gift to Eurystheus's daughter. 
       While this makes a good story, it has absolutely no bearing on Ki'shto'ba's quest.  However, in v.6 of the Ki'shto'ba series you will encounter a strangely aberrant termite society consisting entirely of female Alates.  I'll talk about that in a later post.
       10.  The Cattle of Geryon.   This is a vast Quest epic in itself, with Heracles travelling into the world's Far West to steal the cattle of a monstrous creature named Geryon.  Cattle raiding is rampant in the culture of ancient peoples, including the Celts; men bought their brides at the price of so many cattle.  Once Heracles gets the cattle, he ends up herding them all over Africa and Europe, having adventures all the while.  It was during this journey that Heracles is said to have opened up the entrance to the Mediterranean (the Pillars of Hercules, or Gibraltar).  He also encountered Antaeus in Libya.
       I made some use of details from this myth.  First, I endowed the termite planet with a long and narrow inland sea much like the Mediterranean.  Ultimately the Companions will reach the outlet of that sea (in the seventh volume, which I haven't written yet).
       And I made intense use of the myth of Antaeus.  I'm going to quote Wikipedia here: "[Antaeus] would challenge all passers-by to wrestling matches, kill them, and collect their skulls, so that he might one day build out of them a temple to his father Poseidon. He was indefatigably strong as long as he remained in contact with the ground (his mother earth), but once lifted into the air he became as weak as other men."  You'll have to read v.4: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear, if you want to know how I applied this. 
       11. The Apples of the Hesperides.  Heracles had to go on a second journey to bring back fruit from Hera's golden-apple tree, which was tended by the Hesperides and located either at Mount Atlas or on an island again in the Far West of Earth (undoubtedly the Apple Island of Robert Graves's beautiful poetry).  Atlas lived there as well and the Hesperides were his daughters, conceived before he was set the task of holding the celestial globe on his shoulders.  Hera suspected the Hesperides of stealing some of the apples, so she set a dragon-like creature called Ladon to twine around the Tree and guard it.  Altas also built a great wall around the garden where the tree stood, to protect it from a prophecy that a son of Zeus would steal all the golden apples.  Heracles arrived, and after killing Ladon with an arrow over the wall, he offered to relieve Atlas of his burden for a brief time if he would fetch the apples for him.  Atlas agreed, but upon returning he told Heracles he would take the apples to Eurystheus himself.  Heracles told him he would agree to that if Atlas would allow him one moment to put a pad on his head.  Atlas (apparently not too sharp-witted) complied, resuming the globe, whereupon Heracles scurried off with the plunder.
       It's also said that it was during this journey instead of in the cattle-raiding episode that Heracles encountered Antaeus.
       I used elements of the golden-apple myth, but I twisted them around to my own purposes.  The Quest of Is'a'pai'a of the Gwai'sho'zei (Water People) involves finding the Golden Fungus, which fills the role of the Golden Fleece (the termite planet has no mammals; furthermore fungus is a chief foodstuff of all Shshi, even the woodeaters).  But the Golden Fungus can also stand for the Golden Apples; both are fruit of a type.  And the fungus grows on the root of a primordial tree (the World Tree, in effect) and I set a Ladon-stand-in to guard it: Yak'roit'zei, the Coiling Guardian.  It isn't a dragon and it doesn't have a hundred heads, but it's equally fierce and dangerous.  Think ... giant centipede!  Ki'shto'ba doesn't kill Yak'roit'zei, however, and the Golden Fungus proves elusive.  To find out what does happen, you'll have to wait until v.4 is published.
       I didn't include Atlas in my adaptation.  It's just a little too incredible to conceive of Ki'shto'ba holding up the world!

       12.  The Capture of Cerberus.  The very last Labor contains the requisite visit of the epic hero to the Underworld, the Place of the Dead.  Heracles was charged to bring the dog Cerberus up from Tartarus.  During this daunting task, Heracles met the dead hero Meleager, who agreed to allow Heracles to marry his sisten Deianeira.  I mention this only because of the later repercussions in Heracles's life.  Heracles had many adventures in the Underworld, but ultimately Hades permitted him to capture Cerberus if he could do it without using weapons.  Here is a pertinent quotation from Robert Graves's Greek Myths (Section 134, The Twelfth Labor: The Capture of Cerberus):
       "Heracles ... resolutely gripped him by the throat -- from which rose three heads, each maned with serpents.  The barbed tail flew up to strike, but Heracles, protected by the lion pelt, did not relax his grip until Cerberus choked and yielded."
       Again, I must remark that the termite planet doesn't have any mammals, so I had to make my Cerberus character a reptile.  And Ki'shto'ba is great at wrestling.  Furthermore, he doesn't need a lion pelt, since Shshi Warriors are protected by their own very thick chitin shell!
       I'll have more to say about the journey into the Underworld in my next Hercules post.  Meanwhile, here is my drawing of Ki'shto'ba contending with No'dai'dru'zei, the Monster of the Pit.

Ki'shto'ba and Bu'gan'zei enter Mik Na'wei'tei'zi
(Place of Holy No-Seeing, the Underworld)
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