Sunday, November 2, 2008

IAG Author Interviews - An Interview With Ana Darcy, Part 2

(Part 2 of Al Past's Interview with Ana Darcy, of Distant Cousin)

6. What is the native wildlife on your planet? What is the climate on your planet? (DS) 7. Ana, I understand you don't have dogs on your home planet - what do you think of them? (RH)

The Others did an impressive job of selecting a planet similar enough to Earth that humans could live there, after a period of adjustment, to be sure. Thomo's surface area is 1.4 times the size of Earth's, yet the planet's mass is only 1.2 times as great. Our gravity is slightly more, for that reason. It has a molten iron core, like Earth, and tectonic movement in the plates on its surface (and also earthquakes and volcanoes). Our atmosphere has a little less nitrogen, and a little more oxygen, than Earth, and we have no problem with carbon dioxide in our environment. There are nine continents totaling a little less than Earth's land area. That means we have considerably more ocean area, which influences our weather systems. Our poles are cold and our equatorial areas are warm.

The range of our climate is slightly more extreme than Earth's: the poles are colder, the deserts are drier, and the vegetated areas are more concentrated. We have large, temperate plains, good for agriculture.

There is a range of wildlife not unlike that of Earth, which seems logical to me. Biologists speak of "niches" which animals have evolved to fill, and our wildlife and plant life fill them much as they do here. At the same time, our animals and plants are not the same. I am not an expert, but I can say that all are based upon similar biological processes: cells, chromosomes, and DNA. Again, though these are only similar, and your biologists are busy studying the differences.

RH has asked about dogs, for example. We do not have dogs, in the form of canis familiaris. Yet we do have animals you would say were dog-like. The biggest of these is a wolf-like creature the size of a horse. They are hunters, carnivorous, and very clever. They have large fangs for capturing prey, paws which can seize small animals, and rows of spines down their backs. Thomans have populated three of Thomo's nine continents and finally cleared them of these creatures, and other dangerous animals. (They exist unmolested on three of the other six continents.) Our folklore and our cultural memory accords these beasts great importance. Mentioning them is a sure way to frighten young children! On Earth, I had to overcome my ingrained fear of your dogs. It turned out that acquiring a pair of sweet, young puppies helped me adjust. But I still do not like most other dogs.

I cannot begin to catalog our animals and plants. Suffice it to say that there is a wide range of herbivores and a smaller number of carnivores. A visitor from Earth would be most impressed by our larger herbivores, much larger than elephants, and our sea creatures, which encompass a similar range. A biologist could devote many careers to studying our tiny creatures. Our equivalent of your insects are even more diverse than Earth's. I can't begin to cover the microbes, which have caused us more trouble than any other life forms. They may account for my own robust immune system!

8. Who were the most important leaders on your planet? (DS)

Oh, dear. That would be like listing the most important leaders on Earth! But, now that I think of it, I suppose that would be possible. However, the list would either be very long, or very incomplete. Allow me to mention only a few, if you please. The first important Thoman leader was from Second Generation. His name was Unskett. The Others, you see, didn't understand about tribes. They transferred members of four different ones, which was a big problem. Unskett was a Counselor, not a Warrior, and his skills at compromise and accommodation enabled everyone to work together, just in time to avoid extinction. That skill has characterized Thoman tribal society ever since. Today, my Uncle Rothan, Thoman Ambassador to Earth, has found his abilities at negotiation helpful in resolving several conflicts here on Earth. These skills fall in a direct line from Unskett.

In the 13th Generation, Ferent, an early Thoman scientist, founded a system of schools to preserve and increase our hard-won knowledge. Most of Ferent's ideas are still in effect on Thomo: beginning education early, with an emphasis on practical knowledge, including science and mathematics. Education is just as important as health care in our system, and as costly.

Hleryn, in the 15th Generation, built on the works of Ferent and established libraries for the new works that were written down. These institutions were, and still are, associated with our schools. He also fostered the transcribing of our legends and epics, and began cultivating the arts, which continues today.
There were many other notable leaders in dozens of areas in the succeeding hundred generations. I'll mention just two. The first is Tereis Debergh, in the 19th Generation. Women were always important since Thomans were so few, but she was the first to actually lead a tribe. (Note that by her generation we were numerous enough to require surnames.) Many women followed, and today women head nearly half the tribes of Thomo. The second, and I must beg your pardon for this, is my father, Heoren Darshiell, of the 160th Generation. He was Chief of Clans when the first signals from Earth were detected. This news set off great excitement among our people, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the effort to launch the voyage of discovery that I was privileged to undertake. He brought our people full circle. Whatever happens in the future, whoever reigns, that will perhaps be our greatest achievement as a people.

9. What do you like (and dislike) most about the cultures on Earth? (RP)

Such a good question, and so difficult to do justice to! First, consider the culture of Thomo: we have art, we have music, we have religion, we have literature and cooking, we have nearly every basic category that is found on Earth. But on Earth, you have thousands of cultures, each with its own art and music, literature, all with their own subdivisions, and if that weren't enough, cross-contacts between them! Thousands upon thousands! Learning about and experiencing this richness has been a delight for me. If the day comes that Thomans visit Earth in numbers (and I hope it will), some Thomans might be overwhelmed by all the complex diversity. If they are, I hope people here will try to understand.

I have seen, in fact, that many people of Earth are similarly affected. People of different nations, different religions, people who speak different languages, are sometimes regarded with suspicion, distrust, or worse. While most wars seem to have been fought for economic reasons, these cultural differences often play a large role as well. This is unfortunate. Education is one way to increase understanding and eliminate the discomfort.

Also, Thomans are by nature a collective people. We live in families, clans, and tribes. We think of ourselves as members of groups, and act in the interests of the group--not always, but generally. Most of Earth's cultures value the individual as much as, or more than, the group. I confess I have found this attractive. In some ways, I did not fit in perfectly in Thoman society. I fit better here. But at the same time it seems a shame that there is not more concern by individuals for the welfare of their own groups, for other groups, and for people as a whole. Indeed, it seems that most of the environmental problems and economic inequalities the planet is facing today are at least in part attributable to that lack. There should be a better balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of groups.

One more feature that I feel two ways about is money. Thomans do not have a money culture. The notion of "capitalism" is not something we would readily understand. We have stores, for example, but they tend to contain items that people want. No one will make and market something hoping that many people will buy it. We do not have advertisements. But again, I must admit that I love shopping here. The diversity and sheer delight of discovering something useful I had never thought I needed is thrilling.

Many people here seem to feel that money is more important than people, but I do not. I think people are more important than money. Whatever we think, it also seems obvious that our peoples have much to learn from each other!

10. Why did you marry that slug, Matt Méndez? (NW)

My editor thought I would not want to answer this question, but I do. Thoman marriages are often arranged, particularly when the parents have wide responsibilities within their clans. The wishes of the betrothed are seldom considered when clan politics are involved. I was never comfortable with this. I longed for a husband who was also a friend and a partner, and who would place our family first in his heart. Matt and I were attracted to each other before my renown distorted people's perceptions of me. He was so kind and patient, allowing me time to adjust to a new way of being, without his even knowing why I had to do it. Having a husband who is my best friend and who is totally devoted to our family is much more important to me than having a man who is a great warrior or hunter, or who has high status among his peers. There is no word in Luvit for "soul-mate," but that is what my husband is to me. I consider myself blessed.

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