Saturday, December 12, 2015

Life of Hercules: Addendum - Four Twins

Last (really truly!) of a series. Here are the earlier posts:

I haven't done a mythology post since last May when I discussed the death of the Champion Hercules. Since then, I've written the seventh (sequel) volume to my series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head. It deals with the end of the Quest for the Golden Fungus, which takes place after the death of our own Champion Ki'shto'ba. Similarly, Hercules left the Quest for the Golden Fleece before it was finished.
In my post entitled In a Writing Funk I discussed the Medea problem, and then in a subsequent post Feeling More Upbeat I talked about my resolution of it.  So there is really only one rather obscure mythological subject that I use in my books that I have not investigated here on my blog. It involves the tale of the Four Twins.
In the series, I introduced my version of Castor and Polydeuces (called the Dioscuri, or Sons of Zeus) and mentioned them in my post Life of Hercules: Argonauts. The other pair of twins, Idas and Lynceus, who also sailed on the Argo with Jason, finally turn up in the sequel volume. The name Idas means simply "of Mt. Ida," so I named his equivalent Ki'ta'kwai'a, which means "of her (i.e. the Mother's) mountain." The name Lynceus means "sharp-eyed" (like a lynx, obviously), but I couldn't use that meaning because Shshi Warriors don't have eyes. But they do have a sense of smell, so I ramped up the olfactory sense in my Lynceus equivalent and named it Hai'tof'il'a, which means "smells keenly."
One member of both twins was supposed to be the offspring of a god and the other, of a human father. Polydeuces was considered the son of Zeus, and Idas, of Poseidon. Rather than get too involved in that sort of thing, I made both my sets of twins to be offspring of the Highest Mother's King.  Thus, Ti'a'toig'a and Ti'a'gwol'a are called the Shin'ki'no'hna (simply Offspring of the King) and Ki'ta'kwai'a and Hai'tof'il'a are called the Shin'no'no'gwai'zei (Offstring of the Sea [King]).
In Greek myth, the two sets of twins were bitter rivals. Castor and Polydeuces began it by stealing the two women that Idas and Lynceus were betrothed to.  Later they patched up their differences and went on a cattle raid together. In order to divide the spoils, Idas proposed an eating contest. They quartered a cow and determined that whoever should eat his quarter quickest would get the largest part of the spoils. But Idas cheated, bolting his own portion and then helping his brother consume his. They then drove the rest of the cattle away.
Castor and Polydeuces pursued them, seized the cattle, and then hid in a hollow tree to await the coming of their rivals. But the sharp-eyed Lynceus caught sight of them and as they rushed down, Idas threw his spear at the tree and transfixed Castor, killing him. Polydeuces rushed out and speared Lynceus, whereupon Zeus intervened and struck Idas dead with a thunderbolt.
This is all according to Robert Graves' Greek Myths. He presents some variants of this tale, but in all the versions, it is only Polydeuces who survives. He and his twin had been so close that he grieved mightily and prayed to Zeus not to let him outlive his brother. But it was not fated that he should die right away and was instead given immortality. This he refused unless his brother Castor could share it. Ultimately the image of the twins was set in the stars as the constellation Gemini, and they were made saviors of ship-wrecked sailors, with the power to bring favorable winds. Robert Graves further states: "In response to a sacrifice of white lambs offered on the prow of any ship, they will come hastening through the sky, followed by a train of sparrows."

To learn how I adapted all this in The Buried Ship at the End of the World, you will have to read the book (although it's best to start at the beginning of the series). The sequel is finished and formatted for publication, but I don't plan to publish it until early in 2016. I'll keep everyone informed!

Buy my books at

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Scientific Paper on Extraterrestrial Giant Termites

Cladogram for Xenoisoptera
Click for larger view
       As some of you may know, I'm working on the sequel volume to The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  At the end of v. 6 I was forced to leave a great big loose thread hanging, and while it was a logical end for the quest of Ki'shto'ba and Di'fa'kro'mi, Is'a'pai'a's Quest for the Golden Fungus wasn't finished. Now I'm getting close to publishing the sequel and I'm considering adding an appendix with the following material.  However, as I've been revising the material, I've decided it's rather anticlimactical and I would rather let the book stand as a simple narrative.  It's also probably lacking in sufficient expertise on my part to be convincing as a scientific document, although I'm rather proud of the taxonomy and the cladistic chart.  So I'm going to publish this pseudo-scientific material here.  I would love your opinions, either in comments or direct to me on Facebook or Google+ or by email or wherever.  I would especially like to hear from those who have read the basic six volumes.  Would you like to see this material at the end of v. 6?  (Warning: the following may contain typos or inconsistencies, since I haven't fully edited it.)  

Appendix A: Taxonomy, Phylogeny, and Cultural Development of Xenoisoptera

by Prf. Kaitrin Oliva

The evolutionary process of the Shshi peoples on the planet G. Gwidian was never significantly interrupted by catastrophic extinctions, permitting several discrete species of intelligent lifeforms to evolve in an orderly progression.  These ILFs all belong to the suborder Megalisoptera of the order Xenoisoptera (G. Gwidian). 
Two additional suborders have been proposed by the Taxonomy Board – Microisoptera, represented by several species of rabbit-sized isopteroid NILFs (all weakly jawed mandibulate nasutoids) existing in isolation on the southwest continent, and Archaeoisoptera.  Both represent important evolutionary asides in the progression between what must have been an Earth-sized proto-isopteroid (now extinct) and the present-day Megalisoptera. 
Archaeoisoptera has been observed in a single holotype designated, called the z’ya’ge’ses’tze| (ancient cursed or evil ones) by the Yo’sho’zei and encountered twice by Ki’shto’ba and its Companions during the Quest (see v. 2 The Storm-Wing and v. 4 Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear).  A mountain reconnaissance team during one of the later expeditions to G. Gwidian salvaged a carcass of A. giganticus.  Genetic evidence indicates it is either an atavism or a nearly extinct vestige of an early branch on the isopteroid evolutionary tree.  The evolution of the z’ya’ge’ses’tze| appears to have favored size and aggressiveness over intelligence, vision, and speech; in this suborder the development of the lobes of the xenoisopteroid brain designated the cerebrum sapiens and the lingual ganglia appears to have been suspended at a primitive stage.  Encountering such a creature might be comparable to an Earther’s suddenly meeting up with a carnivorous australopithecine twice as big as the near-extinct terrestrial primate called the gorilla. 
Megalisoptera is distinguished from other suborders first of all by its size, which can range from as small as 60 cm. in length in the Tender Subcaste of the Northern Nasutes (the smallest species) to the large and heavily built Da’no’no Shshi Warriors, which average about 130 to 140 cm.  Our giant hero, Ki’shto’ba, measured in at 153 cm. and Twa’sei probably was something like 80 to 85.  Archaeotermes probably grows to three meters, twice Ki’shto’ba’s size.
Secondly, Megalisoptera possesses unique double digits on their front claws, with joints and musculature that allow their bearers to grasp objects and perform delicate manipulations.  They may lack an opposable thumb, but they do not lack “manual” dexterity!  By contrast, Microisoptera possesses segmented but jointless single tarsi on all legs, and in Archaeotermes the forelegs are tipped with long, powerful, almost crab-like pincers.
Thirdly, the brain of Megalisoptera is evolved for reasoning, self-awareness, and language capability; and the compound eyes and visual cortex of the Alate are unique among all known insectoid visual structures.
All the isopteroids of G. Gwidian possess the fontanelle that distinguishes higher terrestrial termites, but the presence or absence of a functioning frontal gland is one of the features that differentiate the families of Megalisoptera.  In Xenomacrotermitidae, to which our Shum’za and Da’no’no Shshi belong, the gland is vestigial in all but certain Worker Subcastes.  By contrast, Warriors of the true nasute family Xenonasutitermitidae (Sa’ti’a’i’a’s people) possess fully developed, acid-spraying nasi, and the family Brevirostritermitidae (that is, termites with short rostra) are nasutoids, having Warriors with mandibles as well as frontal glands that expel varying types of defensive secretions.
Other distinctions among the families involve feeding requirements, configuration of the gut, length and shape of various body parts, etc.  I refer readers to Appendix B if they are interested in the details of these traits. 
I must confess that the methodology employed to differentiate among families and species involves a combination of hard science with hearsay.  The Shum’za have been well studied; the specimens acquired during the late Prf. Griffen Gwidian’s first visit to the eponymous planet have been picked over and analyzed ad nauseum.  He was the first scientist to recognize and describe the separate species that Di’fa’kro’mi and Ki’shto’ba represent.  He originally gave the Shum’za (or Little-Heads) the tentative name of Xenotermes giganteus, but he was honored posthumously by having that species renamed Xenomacrotermes gwidiani
Ki’shto’ba’s taxon has been designated X. magnus.  Prf. Jana Lindeman had a chance to inspect the internal structure of this species when we were given permission to observe the work of the Charnel Hall during my first visit to the fortress of To’wak.  (Shshi have an amazing knowledge of their own internal anatomy, arising from their practice of dismembering and consuming their dead).  Prf. Lindeman’s observations as well as DNA comparisons have confirmed a close phylogenetic relationship between the peoples represented by Di’fa’kro’mi and Ki’shto’ba.
The inclusion of a second genus (the Desert Shshi, Hesperotermes siccus) in the same family as the Shum’za and the Da’no’no Shshi is more problematical.  To this point no scientific team has ever made contact with this xenophobic people, so without DNA evidence or any hands-on or even visual inspection we have to rely on the reportage of Di’fa’kro’mi.  He was a trustworthy observer, but he never bothered to make a careful count of the number of his hosts’ belly segments! 
It is possible to construct a strong case for placing H. siccus in the same family as X. magnus.  Both display certain similar external features, namely, basic mandible shape, a long antenna, a flattened pronotal shield, the presence of similarly configured cerci, and the absence of a developed nasus.  However, there is an argument to be made for placing the genus of the Desert Shshi in the southern family Brevirostritermitidae.  Mandible configuration is similar to that of the Marchers and the loss of a functioning nasus in the Warrior caste could be an environmental adaptation (to prevent fluid loss). 
Cultural phenomena in themselves (such as the practice of cultivating Little Ones for their honeydew) might indicate social contact between species but would have no direct bearing on evolutionary relationships.  However, the religious beliefs and language of the Southern Nasutes and the Wei’gwai’mi Shshi suggest a lengthy interaction between the two peoples.  Di’fa’kro’mi’s observations (and I interrogated him thoroughly on the subject) indicate that Wei’gwai’mi Shshi speech is a dialect of the Southern Nasute sublanguage.  The secretive desert religion, of which little is known, may display characteristics that link it with cave worship than with the religion of the sky.  I would personally favor classifying H. siccus with Brevirostritermitidae until there is more conclusive scientific evidence, but the Interplanetary Board on Cladistics and Taxonomy has seen fit to insert it along with the flatlanders in Xenomacrotermitidae.
The family of Xenonasutitermitidae (true nasutes) includes only one known species.  Their Warriors possess stubby vestigial mandibles and rely entirely on acid spray for defense.  I was privileged to spend much time among these Northern Nasutes during my third visit to G. Gwidian; they are a peaceable and cooperative people and actually allowed Prf. Lindeman to dissect one of their dead amid hovering Charnel Workers and under the watchful observation of Alates.  Therefore, our knowledge of this species is quite complete.  I recommended to the Board that the Northern Nasutes be named Longirostritermes lindemani, but they elected to honor me by conferring the name of Longirostritermes olivai.
The family Brevirostritermitidae (the “short-beaked” mandibulate nasutoids of the south) encompasses two genera and three species, one of which includes three subspecies.  The Northern Nasutes warned me against visiting either the Marchers or the Sta’ein’zei, and so we do not have indisputable DNA proof of the position of the Shkei’akh’zei on the phylogenetic tree, even as is the case with the Desert Shshi.  However, the full development of the nasus and several other anatomical features (several of my informants happened to remember the number of their belly segments) convincingly link them with the southern nasutoids (a suggestion that would probably kindle considerable wrath in the True Believers on both sides of the dispute!) 
I did, however, spend time among the At’ein’zei and I also visited the Gwai’sho’zei, where I was privileged to encounter some Yo’sho’zei individuals.  Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for any hands-on examination of any of these peoples, but our scientists were able to acquire dung samples and duff from fortress floors, ensuring a reasonably accurate DNA evaluation.  This, supplemented with visual, cultural, and linguistic observations, has enabled us to credibly determine taxonomic relationships among the southern peoples.  There is no doubt that the At’ein’zei and the Sta’ein’zei are the same species.  They speak a mutually comprehensible language and are able to interbreed but diverge considerably in culture because of their long separation by geographical features.  As concerns Gwai’sho’zei and Yo’sho’zei, their speech is nearly identical and their cultures are closely entwined.  They are considered subspecies of Longignathotermes maritimis, the long-jawed, coastal people, and might have the ability to interbreed if a taboo against such a practice had not arisen in earlier times.
I never made contact with the third subspecies of L. maritimis, the Yus’thaim’zei (People of the Western Islands).  When Prf. Allen Whitfield flew to the End of the World in 249, he never landed at any of the island fortresses of the Yus’thaim’zei, and all of the Island Warriors who had joined Is’a’pai’a’s expedition had died.  However, he was able to take samples from Nei’ga’ta’tzi, the Yus’thaim’zei Mother of Mor’gwai’chet (she was eager to help him advance his “knowledge-magic,” in fact).  He also took DNA from Lo’swai’pai’zei, who is a hybrid of the Gwai’sho’zei and the Yus’thaim’zei.  It has been established beyond doubt that these two peoples are subspecies of L. maritimis
I should mention that flyovers in the delta regions of the river Lo’krin’zei yielded glimpses of a variant species of long-jawed Shshi whose Warriors clearly possessed horns on their heads (reminiscent of the mysterious creature who did battle with Lug’tei’a in the Valley of Thorns).  However, we never landed in that area and have no information on that people.
The Order of Megalisoptera appears to have evolved from a single prototype that developed in the period when tectonic processes were beginning to drag the southern and northern continents apart.  More investigation is needed to determine exactly where this took place, but it is likely to have occurred in the southern areas of the nascent northern continent and possibly east of the present day Southern Sea.
DNA analysis indicates that the proto-isopteroids were probably true nasutes that developed a mandibulate nasutoid branch at a time when the planet had a wetter climate.  Both branches began to diffuse to the north, east, and west, adapting to their environment as they went.  It is unknown if they ever spread into the southern continent; if so, they must have become extinct in that increasingly arid region.
As the plains regions lost their forests and dried into savanna, some of the nasutoids evolved into the Xenomacrotermitidae, losing their intestinal protozoa and the defensive function of their frontal glands.  With lignin becoming scarce in that ecosystem, they became fungus farmers like some of the terrestrial counterparts, supplementing their diet with cytoplasmic material such as flowers, fruits, and leaves, and by the “honey dew” produced by their domesticated formicidiforms.  They are very well adapted to their environment and today are the most numerous and widespread of the species.
The true nasutes managed to survive with the fewest adaptations by keeping to themselves and avoiding conflict with their neighbors.  They have retained their intestinal parasites and are perhaps 98% lignivorous, never adopting fungus farming, although they will occasionally consume some cytoplasmic foods.  The nasutoids, on the other hand, kept their protozoa and remained dependent on lignin as a primary food source, while increasing their survival chances by becoming omnivorous and both farming and gathering fungus, fruits, and leaves.  As a group they are the most warlike of the different species, each of which evolved weapons-grade nasi with specialized functions.
Archaeotermes giganticus is apparently fully carnivorous.  None of the advanced species evolved carnivory, even though they supplement their protein intake by consuming their dead.  However, the Desert Shshi (Hesperotermes siccus) are known to eat the flesh of reptiles, most likely developing this trait out of necessity in their hostile ecosystem.  And the Intercaste Thel’tav’a, who was reared by A. giganticus, flourished on a flesh diet and taught Za’dut to like shellfish.  This is evidence that the Shshi are highly adaptable to the environments in which they find themselves.
 As both the nasutes and nasutoids followed the shrinking forests northward and westward, they were cut off from the south by the rise in sea level that produced the Southern Sea perhaps 100,000 years ago.  The migrants became more and more densely packed into the forested areas, with nowhere to expand except into the cold uplands.  Hence they evolved an increased tolerance for both high altitudes and cold weather, with a lower “chill-coma” point than their flatland cousins. 
Inbreeding contributed to the preservation of mutations and so to a rapid differentiation of species.  The southern nasutoids in particular developed a xenophobic temperament and a secretive, often bellicose culture.  By contrast, the denizens of the open plains developed the custom of roaming far afield in the search for fertile alates and habitable land, thus discouraging the perpetuation of eccentric traits.
The true nasutes probably migrated from the south at a very early time, retaining their identity even as they were continually pushed farther and farther north by subsequent waves of migration.  Before the forests receded to their present limits, the Northern Nasutes must have ranged widely over the plains, staying in contact with their flatland kin longer than did the nasutoids.  The Shshi’s oral history fades into myth in a span of years not much longer than the two-antennae count of the Shum’za, which is thirty-six.  However, my comparative studies of Shshi languages, religion, and folklore indicate that the tribes of Di’fa’kro’mi and Sa’ti’a’i’a share more common cultural ground than either does with the mandibulate nasutoids.  The Creation Myths of the Little Heads and the Northern Nasutes are quite similar.
It was the prototypical Marchers who undoubtedly followed closely on the tails of the true nasutes as they moved northward.  They speak a dialect that is closely related to the language of their Northern Nasute kin, reinforcing my theory that they spent much of their history in contact with the Shrin’ok Da’vra, or even living intermingled with them.  The loss of forestation and the pressure of continuing migration finally squeezed both the Northern Nasutes and the Shkei’akh’zei into their present restricted homelands.
From a genetic standpoint, the Northern Nasutes are the oldest species, preserving more archetypal DNA than any of the other peoples.  However, the language of the Yo’sho’zei (whose name appropriately enough means the “Ancient Ones”) appears to have remained closest to the unified ancestral speech.  The many myths of the Yo’sho’zei are especially complex and diverse, with a dark and pessimistic quality that is rare among the plains dwellers.  Perhaps this preservation of root forms derives from living for centuries separate from the rest of the Shshi population.
Although the myths of every people may incorporate demons and other types of spiritual entities, all species are monotheistic and worship a nameless mother goddess.  She is recognized as a sky-goddess among the plains dwellers and the Northern and Marcher Nasutes and as a ground-dwelling deity among the Shrin’ok Da’wai, who inhabit the regions south of the Valley of Thorns.  We know very little about the goddess of the Desert Shshi, but she appears to be much more abstract and universalized.  Among the three subspecies of Longignathotermes maritimis (known collectively to the rest of the Shi world as the Shei’kwai, or people living Beyond the Mountains) there seems to be a dichotomy in the mother goddess.  They worship both a Sea Mother but also a Cave Mother (all known as ta’ta’wa’tze| (literally, the very female not-created one).
The Mother’s King, which is almost nonexistent among Di’fa’kro’mi’s people and plays only a limited role among the Da’no’no Shshi, assumes a more significant role in the South.  Among the Shrin’ok Da’wai and the Shei’kwai, the Mother may have many Kings, some of whom she devours and some of whom she sets over particular aspects of her creation; thus we have the King of the Dead (Wei’tei’no’hna) , the Sea King (called Guoi’me’uh’hma’no’
tze in the maritime language), the enchanted King called Kya’hma’no’tze (First King) in the tale of Ju’a’a’mu’a Spear-Puller, etc.

The ur-nature of the principal deities is purely speculative, but one would expect an ILF evolving from mostly blind, ground-breeding creatures of the darkness to worship forces that developed in the ground.  Perhaps migration into regions of vast open skies and the growing ascendancy of the eyed Alate Caste among the plains dwellers played roles in turning the concept of deity outward and upward.  And for peoples who live on the seacoast and have learned to build boats and navigate the oceans, viewing the Great Water as a source of divine creation makes considerable sense.
In the light of all that we know, no one can deny that the Shshi constitute an intelligent lifeform, however primitive in technology or “non-human” in form and behavior.  Evolutionary and cultural biases predispose Earthers to accept primatoid peoples like the Te Quornaz, the Morlasa, or the Chu-sneians (green hair notwithstanding!) as closer to ourselves.  And our affection for avians makes us consider a human-sized eagle skilled in oral speech more acceptable than a “repulsive” giant bug that can reason, suffer, and love but not communicate in a familiar way.  Let us hope that the works bequeathed to us by Di’fa’kro’mi the Remembrancer in the Earth-year 242 (old cal. 2997) will deepen our perceptions and help us to accept with more humility the awesome diversity of the universe.

Appendix B: Outline of Taxonomy, Order Xenoisoptera (G. Gwidian)

[Note:  In thirtieth century parlance, if the name of a terrestrial taxon is duplicated for an extraterrestrial organism, the prefix xeno- is applied.  When an Order has been identified on more than one extraterrestrial planet, the name of the planet is parenthetically affixed.  The designation of the “race” in the Shum’za language and its translation into Inj appears in parentheses following each species name.]


Archaeoisoptera:  one species, Archaeotermes giganticus, identified from a single holotype.
Microisoptera:  five tentatively identified species on the Southwest Continent
Megalisoptera:  three families, seven identified species.  Distinguished by its size (taking all Castes into consideration, individuals range between 65 and 150 cm.); double-clawed front tarsi jointed for grasping; the presence of a uniquely efficient compound eye in the Alates; and a large, highly evolved brain.

Families and Species of the Suborder Megalisoptera

I.  Xenomacrotermitidae (non-lignivorous and primarily fungivorous, lacking wood-digesting intestinal flagellates; frontal gland in soldiers vestigial and embedded; pronotal shield flattened; labrum broad and triangular with rounded tip; antenna at least 18 segments; hindgut short and not coiled; 11 abdominal segments; front tarsi have 4 jointed segments; labial palps, 3 segments; maxillary palps, 6 segments)

A.  Xenomacrotermes gwidiani (Shum’za [Little-Heads])
(soldier mandibles moderately elongate, sickle-shaped and crossing in dorsalview,
nearly edentate, snapping; 18 antenna segments; cerci lacking)
B.  Xenomacrotermes magnus (Da’no’no [Very Large] Shshi)
(soldier mandibles short, slightly bowed upward and parallel, one basal crenation,
biting or slicing; 18 antenna segments; cerci present, 1 segment)
C.  Hesperotermes siccus [i.e. western, dry] (Wei’gwai’mi [Desert] Shshi) [disputed
(adaptationally carnivorous; soldier mandibles short, slightly bowed upward and
parallel, large marginal teeth, biting or slicing; slender antenna, 20 segments;
cerci present, 1 segment; frontal gland vestigial in soldiers with visible pore, no
nasus; gut conformation and number of belly segments undetermined)

II.  Xenonasutitermitidae (95% lignivorous, possessing wood-digesting flagellates; true nasute with drawn-out tubular nasus and acid-producing frontal gland; soldier mandibles reduced to stubs; thorax attenuated in relation to abdomen, with narrowed pronotal shield; labrum narrowed and crenate; 15 antenna segments; hindgut long and coiled; 12 abdominal segments; front tarsi has 3 jointed segments; maxillary palps, 5 segments; cerci lacking)

A.  Longirostritermes olivai [i.e., long beaked] (Shrin’ok Da’vra [Northern

III. Brevirostritermitidae (natively lignivorous, but adaptationally herbivorous; presence or absence of wood-digesting flagellates undetermined; mandibulate nasutoid with cone-shaped rostrum, pointed or blunt; thorax attenuated in relation to abdomen, with pronotal shield strongly curled upward; labrum narrowed and apical; 15 or fewer antennae segments; gut configuration undetermined; 12 abdominal segments; front tarsi has 3 jointed segments; maxillary palps, 5 segments; cerci lacking or vestigial)

A.  Brevignathotermes tenax [i.e., short-jawed, sticky] (Shrin’ok Kei’akh
[Marcher Nasutes])
(soldier mandibles short, relatively straight and parallel, two molar processes on
each mandible; narrowed pronotal shield; 15 antenna segments; moderately
pointed, cone-shaped nasus and frontal gland expelling sticky chemical; cerci
B.  Longignathotermes cruciform [i.e., long-jawed, crossing] (Shrin’ok Da’wai
[Southern Nasutes])
(soldier mandibles elongate, relatively straight and acutely cruciform, may  taper
and/or be slightly hooked or S-shaped; pronotal shield of reduced size;  15 antenna
segments; sharply pointed nasus and frontal gland expelling a  gaseous poison;
cerci lacking)
C.  Longignathotermes maritimis [i.e., long-jawed; coastal] (Shei’kwai [Beyond
the Mountains])
(soldier mandibles highly elongate, edentate; pronotum has upturned shield
abutting the head; 10 antenna segments, with pedicel extended; bluntly pointed
nasus with acid-producing frontal gland; vestigial cerci)
i.  Subspecies Longignathotermes maritimis rectus [i.e., straight] (Gwai’sho’zei
[Water People])
(soldier mandibles straight or slightly bowed downward in lateral view)
ii.  Subspecies Longignathotermes maritimis aduncus [i.e. hooked]
(Yo’sho’zei [Ancient People])
(soldier mandibles twisted and crossed, sharply bowed downward in lateral
view; abdomen marked with a latitudinal stripe)
iii.  Subspecies Longignathotermes maritimis Hesperus [i.e. western]
(Yus’thaim’zei [People of the Western Islands])
(soldier mandibles straight and moderately bowed downward in lateral view;
shorter than Gwai’sho’zei mandibles)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Feeling More Upbeat -- and a Cover Reveal!

The White Bird leads Mor'gwai
through the Wandering Rocks
(Click for larger view)
Back Cover, with Map and
Illustration of Is'a'pai'a and Krai'zei
(Click for larger view)


       I've finished the first revision of The Buried Ship at the End of the World, the sequel to the six-volume series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  I expect to publish it within a couple of months, so I thought I would reveal the cover art.  I've also done the two maps for the paperback and the colored version for the back cover, but I haven't put them up yet on the Map page.   This will be the cover unless I come up with something better.  The problem is not to give away too much of the plot of either this volume or the sixth volume, so subject matter is limited.  Comments are welcome!
       I was pretty disgruntled when I wrote the blog post back in June,  but things have gotten a little better.  I finally figured out how to adapt the horrific Medea story -- it's still horrific, but more in keeping with the culture and the inhabitants of the world in which I laid it. The style and tone are different from the other six volumes in the series, but that makes some sense since it's not written by Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer.  After all, intelligent termites are just like humans-- no two authors write exactly alike! Besides, we have a different narrator in this book. I like the story pretty well, better than I thought I would when I was writing the early chapters.
       But I can't help being a little sad.  I won't be writing any more books about this particular cast of termite characters and I'm going to miss them so much!  I've pondered several different takes -- a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, even a retelling of Huckleberry Finn, all in the context of the termite culture.  And then there is the possibility of a story laid several thousand years into the future, after the Shshi have become high tech and are about to fly off to the stars themselves.  In the meantime, The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars beckons.  So what will I do next?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

New Five-Star Review of Revenge of the Dead Enemy


 Five Stars to John Clifford for a great review
of v.6 and the whole series!

       This is a review of the whole series, including the the prequel, The Termite Queen.  All of the best of all of the great epics from Ur to Iceland in one smooth flowing story, with a lovable cast of heroes, many of whom play surprising roles once you think you have them pegged from one epic, and a cast of villains both thoroughly detestable and occasionally pitiable. All the themes are here, all the feats, and yet the stories are fresh and exciting. Pretty amazing for a story about a group of intelligent termite of various species, but they are social creatures with all the problems that entails and so super human (termite?) responses are called to meet them. And those efforts have all too human consequences for termites as well. So the epic flows on in a natural (though, for those involved, a foreordained) way from feat to feat. And yet, alas, we end with one path finished but another begun and dropped. I have not yearned for the next step, a new epic built on this, so much since the latest volume of Song of Ice and Fire, more so even than Harry Potter. But it is in the works!

What writer wouldn't relish being compared to
The Song of Fire and Ice?
See this review and two other 5-star reviews 
of this book on Amazon
and also view my books on,

And watch this blog for a cover reveal on the sequel volume!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In a Writing Funk - and a Question That Needs Answering

Looks just like me!
       I've been working for some time now on writing the sequel to the series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  Anyone who has read the entire series (and unfortunately that isn't very many people -- you all don't know what you're missing) knows that while a number of things are satisfactorily resolved by the end of v. 6, the Quest for the Golden Fungus isn't finished and there are a great many loose ends flapping around.  I feel I owe it to my readers to write the remainder of the Quest and tie everything up.
       My problem is, I've written probably half of it and still have no inspiration for that book.  It's like I wrote myself out with v. 6 and when I lost some key characters, the remaining characters went flat.  I can't even get interested in Is'a'pai'a, who was such a well-developed and likable character throughout the original series.  Once Is'a'pai'a became the main Champion, it just turned blah.  And I miss Di'fa'kro'mi's voice.  I think I figured out a decent POV character, but it just isn't the same.
       I also have difficulty with the Medea character.  Medea really was pretty unsavory in the myths.  Here is a quotation from Wikipedia concerning what happens when Jason and Medea return to Iolcus to confront Pelias:   
       "While Jason searched for the Golden Fleece, Hera, who was still angry at Pelias, conspired to make Jason fall in love with Medea, who Hera hoped would kill Pelias. When Jason and Medea returned to Iolcus, Pelias still refused to give up his throne. [According to Robert Graves, Pelias has killed Jason's mother and father also.]  So Medea conspired to have Pelias' own daughters kill him. She told them she could turn an old ram into a young ram by cutting up the old ram and boiling it in magic herbs. During her demonstration, a live, young ram jumped out of the pot. Excited, the girls cut their father into pieces and threw him into a pot. Having killed Pelias, Jason and Medea fled to Corinth."
       It's hard to see ending the book with an adaptation of that.  My Medea character may be devious, but I can't see Is'a'pai'a being duped into allowing something like that to happen.  In The Wood Where the Two Moons Shine, Is'a'pai'a had sworn to allow Wei'thel'a'han (the Pelias character) to live if the Golden Fungus is brought back and Pelias swore to leave the fortress's Mother in peace.  But yet if I concoct a "they all lived happily afterward" ending, it seems too facile and certainly doesn't pay homage to the myth.
       However that may be ...
       I hit my peak of writing between 2000 and 2010.  I went from the end of the Ki'shto'ba series to The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, then got bogged down in that humongously long piece, and finally threw in the towel and started self-publishing in 2011.  I really haven't written anything new since, because I had a big backlog of material.  For two or three years I was enthusiastic about the promotion part of things, but now I'm fed up.  It doesn't seem to matter what I do -- very few people wants to read my books, so what's the point of fussing with everything?
       You may say all this is the result of chemotherapy and that may be part of it.  My arthritis has also gotten worse, and the chemo and enforced inactivity seems to have affected my muscle endurance, so I haven't yet gotten to where I can even take walks the way I used to enjoy doing.  I've been striving for a couple of blocks a day, but that's about as much as I can manage.  Of course, I don't drive any longer, so I can't go anywhere without transportation.  If, for example, I wanted to arrange to visit my college library and maybe take some of my books to give to them for their collection, I would have to go in a cab or else hire an aide to drive me.  And I can't lug armloads of books any more.  I lugged plenty in my life as a librarian, I can tell you!  So I have a lot of problems that keep me from doing promotional activities like book signings or attending conventions (I never travel).  I keep marketing on social media, over and over to the same people.  How do I find new people and get them interested?  My books really deserve to be read!
       Any suggestions?
Would you like to see a tragic ending to the series?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Life of Hercules: The Hero's Death

Tenth (and last) of a series. Here are the earlier posts:
The Early Adventures in the Quest for the Golden Fleece

Nessus, Heracles, & Deianeira
Black-figured hydria, 6th c. BC, Louvre

       The following utilizes the text of Robert Graves' Greek Myths:       
       Herakles had many women and other wives, but his most important liaison was with Deianeira.  Deianeira was considered the daughter of Oeneus and the sister of Meleager, but she was really a daughter of Dionysus.  She was courted by the River God Achelous, who often appeared as a bull or a bull-headed man, and the prospect of marrying him revolted her.  Herakles was also in contention for her hand and he fought Achelous and won the battle, snapping off one of his bull's horns (I used this, in much adapted form. in The Storm-Wing, when Ki'shto'ba fought the lightning reptile and broke off his horn).  Thus Herakles acquired the hand of Deianeira in marriage.
       They had four sons and one daughter, including a son named Hyllus.  The children that the mad Herakles killed, however, were from a different wife, Megara.
       There is no denying that Herakles was never faithful to Deianeira.  One day in crossing a river, the Centaur Nessus offered to carry Deianeira across on his back while Herakles swam.  Instead, Nessus galloped off and tried to violate Deianeira.  Herakles heard her screams and pursued, shooting an arrow through Nessus's breast.
     For revenge, the dying Centaur told Deianeira that he would give her a charm to ensure Herakles's faithfulness -- that she should take blood from the wound, mix it with olive oil, and seal it up in a jar, then later on apply it to one of Herakles' shirts.  This she did without telling anyone.
       Later, when Herakles was preparing a thanksgiving sacrifice for a particular festival, he sent the courier Lichas to Deianeira for a fine shirt and cloak.  Deianeira was being forced to live in the same household as one of her husband's mistresses, and so at this point she availed herself of Nessus's love charm, impregnating a piece of wool in the mixture and rubbing the shirt with it.  After the clothing was dispatched to Herakles, she flung the piece of wool into the courtyard and to her horror watched as it ate into the pavement, causing red foam to boil up from it.  Realizing that Nessus had deceived her, she dispatched another courier, but it was too late - Herakles had already donned the shirt.  Herakles' arrow had infused Nessus's blood with the poisonous blood of the Hydra and this caused Herakles to burn with hideous fire.  As he ripped off the shirt, his flesh came with it, exposing the bone.
       Unable to find relief, Herakles raged across the countryside and killed the unfortunate courier Lichas, who was not at all at fault, by flinging him into the sea, where he became a rock of human shape, known as Lichas even to this day.  Then Herakles sent for his son Hyllus and asked to be carried away to die in solitude.  Meanwhile, Deianeira killed herself either by hanging herself or by the sword. [Here is a minor irritation - I know I read somewhere that another alternative death for Deianeira was by flinging herself off a cliff, but can I find that now?  Doing a little checking, I discovered that in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Deianeira threw herself off a cliff, but I never watched those early episodes.]
       Hyllus assured the vengeful Herakles that Deianeira was innocent, so Herakles forgave her and shared only with Hyllus Zeus's prophecy: "No man alive may ever kill Herakles; a dead enemy shall be his downfall."  Herakles then lay down on his own pyre and ordered its kindling.  Lightning bolts came from the sky and reduced the whole pile to ashes.
      Zeus then took Herakles' spiritual remains up to heaven (apotheosis), made him one of the Twelve Olympians, and persuaded Hera to adopt him (unlikely scenario!) by producing him from beneath her skirt.  He was then given Hebe in marriage, and he became the porter of Heaven while his mortal phantom stalks Tartarus, still looking like the shaggy earthly hero we all know well.

       Those of you who have read the six volumes of the Ki'shto'ba series will see the quite ingenious connections that I was able to draw between Herakles and my own more peaceable and humane Champion.  One plot problem lay with the sexual motivation, since termites feel no such thing as sexual jealousy.  They do, however, experience the desire for revenge and the instincts of compassion and forgiveness.  I won't spoil the final volumes of the series by giving any additional explanation.

       This concludes my series on the Life of Hercules.  However, I may supplement it with some additional myths which apply to the sequel volume (yes, there has to be a sequel volume, to tie up loose ends), so stay tuned.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Another Great Review by a Reader Who Is Making His Way through the Series!

Click for larger view
Click for larger view
        Adam Walker recently reviewed The Valley of Thorns, v.3 of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head. New Review of The Valley of Thorns.  Now he has read his way through v.4, Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear, and put up another fine review on Goodreads.  It's short but to the point!  Here it is!

       Once more we follow Ki'shto'ba Huge Head and his companions through their adventures, this time even into the Underworld! In this volume we meet two more of the Companions; both of which are delightfully quirky! Oh and Za'dut continues to get himself and everyone else into all manner of trouble through his too-clever-by-half schemes. I'm really looking forward to seeing what develops as young Is'a'pai'a begins *its* quest entertwined with that of the Huge Head. Lots of good laughs here! Another success of Ms. Taylor and her termites!

       So my only comment is, why aren't more of you reading your way through my absorbing epic series?!!  You're missing out!  Don't be scared -- the big, bad termites don't bite Earthers!

Purchase my books at 
All other Amazon venues

Friday, February 20, 2015

New review of The Valley of Thorns (v.3, The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head)

Current cover
Alternate cover, not used
Adam Walker, one of my best supporters, favored me with another great 5-star review, this time of The Valley of Thorns.  Here it is!

This third installment in the Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge Head series continues with the Herculean epic motif, but like the previous volume, which added in elements of the Beowulf, this volume adds elements of the Medieval French poem, the Song of Roland. Ms. Taylor, once again pulls off a wonderfully entertaining tale, blending elements of two Human stories which have endured for centuries while transposing and transmuting them into a form completely suited to her extraterrestrial termite heroes. Though much shorter than some of the other volumes in this series, this one manages to pack in all the elements I have loved in previous volumes--humorous asides, the snarky interplay between the narrator and his scribe, the machinations of the little worker Za'dut, and the interplay of the various friendships among the Companions--but this volume manages to add a few more elements--an epic list naming the warriors and their deeds before the great battle, betrayal, madness and vengeance, and regret and loss. Ms. Taylor managed to make me cry over a fictional termite, a termite for heaven's sake! I have enjoyed all the volumes of the Labors thus far, but I believe this is the best one yet!

See all the Goodreads reviews for the book here.

And of course you can buy all my books at Amazon (and all other Amazon countries), 
at Smashwords

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Life of Hercules: The Early Adventures in the the Quest for the Golden Fleece

Ninth of a series. Here are the earlier posts:
Here is a drawing nobody has ever seen before.
Click on it so you can read the caption. Those who
have read v.6 will know what is happening.

       Robert Graves writes (section 149 of his Greek Myths):  "Heracles, after capturing the Erymanthian boar, appeared suddenly at Pagasae, and was invited by a unanimous vote to captain the Argo; but generously agreed to serve under Jason who, though a novice, had planned and proclaimed the expedition."  Even so, in my retelling of the epic, Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head yields the captaincy of the Quest ship to Is'a'pai'a. 
       And the first adventure in the Quest occurred on the island of Lemnos, where a year earlier the men had quarreled with their wives and taken foreign concubines.  In revenge, the Lemnian women murdered all the men, except the King, whom his daughter Hypsipyle (meaning High Gate) decided to spare, but only by setting him adrift in an oarless boat.  When the Argo appeared, the women made a decision to welcome the men and take them to their beds with the purpose of breeding a new and stronger stock.  They didn't tell the Argonauts the whole truth, saying only that they had been ill-treated by their husbands and so had exiled them.  Hypsipyle claimed Jason for her own.  Although Jason proclaimed that he would have to finish his quest first, the crew lingered, engendering many children.  The Quest might have ended there, except for Heracles, who was guarding the ship.  He finally strode angrily into the city and drove all the crew back to the Argo, after which the Quest resumed.  As a footnote, the King survived his oarless journey and was cast up on the island of Sicinos.  When the Lemnian women learned that Hypsipyle that spared him, they sold her into slavery, or she may have been abducted by pirates (now there is a tale in itself!)
       So how can this be adapted to a sexless termite society?  Well, if I tell you too much about that, it will ruin part of v.6 for you.  Suffice it to say that the name of the Mother of the island fortress of Thai'no'no'gwai is Pri'rak'vit'ta'tzi, which does mean "High Gate Mother"  And the society is composed entirely of female Alates.  How can that happen, you say?  You'll just have to read the book!  It forms a really exciting couple of chapter!
       After that, the Questers came to the realm of King Cyzicus, a good and noble ruler who became great friends with Jason. However, in a very sad event, as the Argo was sailing away from the King's realm, a storm blew them back, and, not knowing where they had landed, the Argonauts got into a fight with defenders, and Jason killed his friend Cyzicus.  You will find this sorrowful and ominous event portrayed quite accurately in my version, even to the dedication of an anchor stone.
       It was at this point that something happened that caused Heracles to leave the Quest.  Heracles had a companion named Hylas, whom he loved dearly.  Here is what Graves has to say about their relationship: "Hylas had been Heracles' minion and darling ever since the death of his father, Theodamas."  Of course, the implication was that they were lovers, an unremarkable relationship in ancient Greece.  At any rate, Hylas had set out to fetch water from the pool of Pegae on the island of Mysia and never returned.  Heracles was frantic, but all that could be found was Hylas' "water-pitcher lying abandoned by the pool side."  It seemed that "Dryope and her sister nymphs of Pegae had fallen in love with Hylas, and enticed them to come and live with them in an underwater grotto."  Heracles didn't reappear the next morning and finally the ship left without him.
       Heracles never found Hylas and ultimately resumed his own life, "after threatening to lay Mysia waste unless the inhabitants continued their search for Hylas, dead or alive."  And a touching after-note: "For Heracles' sake, the Mysians still sacrifice once a year to Hylas ...; their priest thrice calls his name aloud, and the devotees pretend to search for him in the woods."
      Here is where I did some conflating with later events, and if I tell you too much about that, it will seriously damage the impact the story, so ... I will proceed to the next adventure ...
      The Argonauts landed next on an island ruled by the "arrogant King Amycus, a son of Poseidon."  The King believed himself to be a great boxer (he used gloves studded with brazen spikes) and he was always challenging visitors to boxing matches.  If they declined, he would fling them over a cliff into the sea.  Polydeuces (one of the Dioscuri) was also an award-winning boxer and after a prolonged bout was able to defeat and kill Amycus in spite of the fact that the King used less than honorable tactics.
       So now you know why it is Ti'a'toig'a who fights the battle on the Cliff of Fear instead of Ki'shto'ba.  And since termites don't box, I made it a wrestling match.
       The Argonauts next encounter Phineus, a Seer who was blinded by the gods for prophesying too accurately.  He was also plagued by Harpies, who kept flying over his table, snatching the food and fouling it with their excrement.  Phineus refused to prophesy for Jason unless the Argonauts got rid of the Harpies for him.  After the Harpies were driven away, Phineus proceeded to give the Argonauts advice on how to navigate the remainder of the journey to Colchis, warning them of the Symplegades, the moving rocks in front of the entrance to the Bosporus that clash together and crush ships.  Jason defeated them by sending out a dove (or a heron) and following it through the maze.
       No mention is made at this point of the Cadmus's dragon's teeth that grow into Warriors when planted, but I introduced it here.  The story of Phineus and the Harpies grew into one of the most complex and moving sequences of my version of the myths.  And the Argonauts had many later adventures that I have omitted or that will be utilized in the sequel volume (if I ever get it written!)  I myself am not completely sure at this point how I'm going to adapt some of them.