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Judith Tarr

Polygamous Space Horses: Considering Equinoid Sexuality

In the comments on the last SFF Equines Post, as we were discussing the logistics of spacefaring equinoids, Noblehunter had some most intriguing questions.

It would be cool for another post on the more complicated aspects of equinoid society. I get that we’re extrapolating from horse biology but it seems that a space-faring species will have a more complicated relationship with their instincts and basic biological drives.

Are there queer horses? Would there be a drive for gender equality? Resistance to the idea of herd over individual? What does horse religion look like? How far can we use human conflicts to model equinoid ones?

Just exactly the sort of questions I like to ask when I’m worldbuilding. So, let’s tackle a few of them over the next few columns, and see where they lead us.

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Pride and Persistence: Andre Norton’s Gryphon in Glory

The sequel to The Crystal Gryphon doubles down on stalwart Joisan and damaged Kerovan. Oh, is he damaged. He’s so damaged he won’t even let himself be married to his own wife.

As the story begins, the survivors of Ithkrypt are settled in the Abbey of Norsdale, but Kerovan is gone. Joisan leaves the redoubtable Nalda in charge and goes looking for him.

She’s making a choice here. Duty to her people is one thing, but her priority, first and always, is her husband.

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Imagining Space Horse Culture: Stallion Security Forces and Badass Mares

Last time on SFF Equines I talked about the logistics and mechanics of a spacefaring equinoid race. Commenters were extremely helpful in recalling examples from the genre, though it was generally agreed that intelligent equinoids, as opposed to centauroids, are rare in science fiction. Probably the most intelligent equinoids of all appear in classic satire, the Houyhnhnms of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Which may be science fiction in its way, but it’s very much of this Earth.

I have to say I liked the suggestion about prehensile tails for allowing equinoids to perform fine manipulations, build machines, and so on. As for equinoids who partner with other species to do this—either primates or insectoids—and how they would communicate with their symbiotes, I’ll point out that spoken language on the human model is not the only possibility. Telepathy might be an option, but there’s also subtle modifications of movement and body language (compare the language of bees), some form of writing or exchange of symbols, and even combinations of sounds, though equines aren’t constructed for the intricacy of human speech. There might be something done with arrangements of objects, combinations of colors, a sort of Morse code tapped out with hooves—and since horses can understand other forms of communication than their own, including human speech, a sort of macaronic conversation might be possible: equinoids tapping or dancing, symbiotes speaking or clicking or rubbing their wings together. The possibilities are endless.

What about the culture behind whatever language our equinoids might speak (dance, perform, tap, write, draw)? What kind of people would they be?

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Heart and Souls: Andre Norton’s The Crystal Gryphon

I’ve jumped the line a bit on the publication order of the Witch World novels after completing the Tregarth sequence, because The Crystal Gryphon has always been my favorite of the Witch World novels. I just had to see if the love was still there.

I’m delighted to report that it is. Kerovan remains his damaged but sweet and honorable self, and Joisan shows even more depth of character than I remembered. I’d go as far as to say that for me, along with Moon of Three Rings, this is one of Norton’s best.

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Horses in Space: Evolving the Equinoid Alien

When I first got to thinking (as one does) about horses in space, I had in mind Earth horses traveling on spaceships and living on alien planets. There’s another side to them however, if one is a science-fiction fan, and that is the idea of the equinoid alien.

Writers have based their aliens, iconic and otherwise, on any and all species of terrestrial creatures, from lions to lizards (and dinosaurs) and even saguaro cacti. But horses have tended to make their way into space with few modifications, and I haven’t seen or heard of any spacefaring sentients based on horses.

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Reparations and Redemption: Andre Norton’s Sorceress of the Witch World

With Sorceress of the Witch World we reach the end of the series-within-a-series starring the three Tregarth offspring, with special bonus wrap-up of the story of Simon and Jaelithe. Finally, having followed the brothers and their adventures, we come to the youngest and the only daughter, Kaththea.

Kaththea, as I’ve noted in previous posts, is the real center of the triad.

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The Final Equine Frontier: Ponies! In Space!

Horses in space? It would seem like a nonstarter. Large, fragile hooved animals with difficult digestive systems and a need for significant real estate in order to develop their muscles and bones properly—and that’s supposing there’s gravity to work with—are poor candidates for interstellar travel. Even supposing we find enough earthlike planets to support earthlike fauna, how are we going to get them there?

Still, there’s something about a horse.

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From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera

Every year or two, someone writes another article about a genre that women have just now entered, which used to be the province of male writers. Usually it’s some form of science fiction. Lately it’s been fantasy, especially epic fantasy (which strikes me with fierce irony, because I remember when fantasy was pink and squishy and comfy and for girls). And in keeping with this week’s theme, space opera gets its regular turn in the barrel.

Women have always written space opera.

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Series: Space Opera Week

War and Hell Dimensions: Andre Norton’s Warlock of the Witch World

In Warlock of the Witch World, the second Tregarth sibling, Kemoc, gets his turn in Norton’s trilogy-within-a-series, and carries on the story begun by elder brother Kyllan. Kyllan is settled in the Green Valley with its Lady, Dahaun, and the age-old conflict the triplets revived when they came over the mountains is now a full-blown war. The Valley is in serious danger.

It’s council of war time. The Valley has had to call on every possible ally, including a man of the Old Race called Dinzil, whom Kemoc hates on sight—while Kaththea has exactly the opposite reaction. Kemoc realizes (and everyone points out) that he’s probably just jealous of the man who has come between him and his sister, but he can’t stop feeling that there’s something wrong with Dinzil.

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Did You Ever Hear of a Talking Horse?

After a reread intended simply to jump-start a post about humans learning from horses, I can’t stop coming back to C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. Last time I reacted to the errors in the horse’s instruction of the boy, which spun off into a riff on the deplorable depiction of the Talking Mare, Hwin. That horrifies me more every time I think about it.

Lately I’ve been chewing over the question of horses (and animals in general) and human speech. I never liked talking-animal stories, but I never really understood why. Now I believe I do. [Read more]

Triple Threat: Andre Norton’s Three Against the Witch World

As I carry on with my reread of the Witch World books, I’ve come to realize that I don’t remember the plots of these books at all. I remember the characters. I remember who pairs up with whom. But the details of What Happened? Total blank. So it’s been like reading completely new books inhabited by characters I remember more or less clearly, but whose adventures add up to, “I know they all survived because they’re series regulars, but that’s about it.”

That sensation is particularly acute with the stories of Simon and Jaelithe’s three children. Each book stands more or less on its own, but they fit together so closely that the effect is straight-up fantasy trilogy. Events that are left open-ended at the start of the first in the series are resolved by the end of the third, but meanwhile, each protagonist gets to tell his or her individual (but interlinked) story.

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When Gender Bias Extends to the Animal Kingdom: C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy

All I remembered of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy before yesterday when I sat down and read it again was the part about the horse teaching the boy how to ride. That was going to be the subject of this week’s column, with reference to Col. Alois Podhajsky’s My Horses, My Teachers, and a rumination on the horse as teacher. That’s still on my list for Columns I Want To Write, but as I read the book, I went off in a different direction.

The book has serious problems for modern readers—the racism hits you right in the face on the first page—but it’s also rather less accurate on the equestrian front than I’d remembered. That dratted Suck Fairy, it splurts all over the damnedest things. Nevertheless, there’s still some good in it, and the idea that a human can learn riding from a horse makes perfect sense, if you know horses.

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Webs Within Webs: Andre Norton’s Web of the Witch World

In the second novel in the Witch World saga, the story picks up not long after the end of the first volume. Earth native Simon Tregarth and his witch, who has revealed to him that her name is Jaelithe, are now married, and Jaelithe has apparently accepted the loss of her powers—the inevitable consequence of sex. She is no longer a witch and no longer carries the jewel of her office.

Simon meanwhile is now March Warder of the South of Estcarp. The other key couple of Witch World, Koris and Loyse, are betrothed; Koris has become Seneschal and Marshal of Estcarp, and he and his love are living in Es Castle, far away from Simon’s headquarters. The political situation is as fraught as ever; the evil Kolder have been defeated but are not gone, and the rest of Estcarp’s enemies are still going strong.

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So How Does a Centaur Eat, Anyway?

This is entirely the fault of the staff writers. Also, the weather. I take no responsibility for the consequences.

So they were all a bit loopy from the latest blizzard, and got to talking, as one does, and shortly thereafter, I received the following:

Our staff writers were just debating how centaurs work (it’s been a long, slushy week, in our defense!), and how, for example, they would eat: do they have horse stomachs or human stomachs?

And here was I, in equally terrible but diametrically opposite weather–the heat had truly gone to my evil little head. I pondered for exactly three and a half seconds before concluding that that is a very good question. A very good question indeed.

[A Disquisition on the Alimentary System of the Centaur]

Beyond the Siege Perilous: Andre Norton’s Witch World

In Witch World we have one of the great portal fantasies of our genre. Simon Tregarth, World War II vet fallen on hard times, finds himself on the wrong side of the wrong side of the law. The bad guys are coming for him, and the only escape is through death—or through a mysterious magical portal guarded by the equally mysterious Dr. Jorge Petronius. It’s none other than the Siege Perilous of the Arthurian canon, and for the small price of everything a man owns in this world, he can be transported to “that existence in which his spirit, his mind—his soul if you wish to call it that—is at home.” There is a catch: The door only opens one way. There’s no coming back.

Simon is desperate. The bad guys are coming. He takes Petronius’ offer.

At that point the Fifties-style Mob thriller ends, the Arthurian echoes die away, and the real genius begins.

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