content by

Judith Tarr

Human and Equine: Meeting Halfway

This is a segue of sorts from the Space Equinoids thought experiment, back toward terrestrial horses and the humans who live and work with them. I often call my horses Space Aliens in horse suits, and refer to them as aliens in the pasture. They’re very much their own creatures; even humans for whom they’re nothing but sports equipment or transport will have to understand the basics of equine psychology. Horses are just too big, too strong, and too self-willed to take for granted.

No matter how dominant the human, the horse still outweighs him, and horse instincts and psychology will rule unless the human finds ways to work with them. As the adage says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

[You can, however, ask him to do so.]

Edged Weapons, Time Travel, and the Unexpected: Andre Norton’s Trey of Swords

Trey of Swords is not actually a novel. It’s a micro-trilogy: three interlinked and consecutive novellas. The viewpoint character of the first two is Yonan, son of a Witch of Estcarp and a Sulcarman, and the third novella is narrated by his lifelong crush, Crytha, an untrained but powerful witch.

The chronology is interesting, because it happens shortly after Three Against the Witch World, while Kemoc and Kaththea are off dealing with the events of Warlock of the Witch World. Eldest Tregarth triplet Kyllan plays a role, and he and Dahaun are very much an item, but the other two are busy elsewhere. I kind of enjoyed seeing Kyllan from the outside, and watching him be competent and in charge, though of course Dahaun rules.

I did not remember this one at all.

[Read more]

When Humans Met Equinoids: First Contact with Space Horses

We’ve been building a spacefaring species of equinoid for a while now, but one thing we haven’t done is introduce the human element. I’ve had that in the back of my mind, as I’m sure many of you have. Now it’s time to see what might happen if our doughty space explorers of both species happen to meet.

I’ve got my own ideas about how that would play out, but there are so many options. I hope people will weigh in in comments with what they think would happen. So, I’m leading off, with what I hope will be the catalyst for some nice, chewy exchange of ideas.

[Read more]

Werecats and Moon Magic: Andre Norton’s The Jargoon Pard

After the slog of Year of the Unicorn, The Jargoon Pard reads as if Andre took readers’ criticisms of first book, thought carefully about all of them, and wrote a better, tighter, stronger book. I was surprised to find I really liked it. I devoured it in an afternoon, and was actually sorry when it ended. When I first started rereading, I hadn’t remembered much except the title—I’m a sucker for unusual words—and a vaguely positive vibe about the book. As I got into it, I remembered more and more, including the fact that I enjoyed it a great deal the first time I read it, too.

This is a sequel to Year of the Unicorn, though that’s not immediately obvious. The structure by now is familiar. Our young, usually male protagonist tells his life story from birth onward. This time we’re told that our hero is named Kethan and he lives in Arvon. He’s the heir to one of the four clans, Redmantle—which points right away to the previous novel, in which Herrel is the rejected offspring of a lady of that clan and a Wererider who won her by magic and lost her after the child was born. Herrel was raised in the Redmantle keep of Car Do Prawn until he came into his Were heritage; then he went back to his father.

[Read more]

The Sacred and the Equinoid: Horses, Spirituality, and Space

This part of the thought experiment is going to be tough, because if it was hard to set aside human assumptions about sex and violence, the ones about religion can be downright intractable. Just as it’s a given that sex must be an obsession and mass violence must be inevitable in a sentient species, it may be argued from the (Western, patriarchal) human model that every sentient species must worship some sort of god.

But is it a given?

[Read more]

Dreamscapes and Nightmare Magic: Andre Norton’s Year of the Unicorn

Year of the Unicorn is one of the first Witch World novels, published in 1965. From the perspective of 2017, it fits into the larger picture in interesting ways. It was the third book of the series to be published, after Witch World and Web of the Witch World and before the trilogy-within-the-series featuring the Tregarth triplets, but reading it after the Gryphon books clarifies quite a few details.

This is the story of war orphan Gillan, who came to High Hallack on a ship of Alizon. She has no memory of her past. She was first adopted by a lord of the Dales and his lady, then after they died in the war, Abbey Norstead took her in.

When the novel begins, the war is over.

[Read more]

All for One and One for All: Horse Herds in Space

One of the comments on the last post in this series of thought experiments wondered if I was projecting from terrestrial horse behavior to equinoid aliens. I replied that that’s the point. That’s what science fiction writers often do: they look at terrestrial species and extrapolate their biology and behavior into alien species.

At the same time, there’s a persistent assumption that equinoid sexuality has to be analogous to the human version. That every species will always have sex on the brain, the way humans do. That’s projection, too, and I don’t think it works with a species based on equines.

[Read more]

Always Coming Home: Andre Norton and A.C. Crispin’s Gryphon’s Eyrie

As I (re)read the works of Andre Norton, I’ve made a decision not to include the collaborations—Norton wrote enough solo books to keep me going for quite some time to come. I’m making one exception, and this is it. Partly because I love the solo Gryphon books so much and could not resist reading the conclusion of the saga, and partly because the collaborator, Ann Crispin, was an old and dear friend, lost to us much too soon, and I love her writing. Call it an Executive Decision.

I quite like the combination of Ann and Andre. We have Andre’s half-ruined world with its striking combination of ordinary humans, mutated humans and nonhumans, good and bad magic, and bits of high tech among the swords and armor. And we get Ann’s warm heart, her horse knowledge, her clear eye for human quirks and foibles.

[Kerovan is still his damaged, severely self-image-challenged self.]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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?

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]