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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tough Travels – Bugs

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: BUGS

BUGS - Not in the Tough Guide but it should be. Let’s all find anything creepy or crawly, big or small, six legs, eight legs, or more. Bugs, bugs, bugs.


It's one of the longer series on my TBR pile, but Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt caught my eye precisely because of its insectile component (particularly the Wasp Empire). If, like me, you've yet to dive into the series, just check out this excerpt from the secret histories of the Moths - “An age ago, before all records, before metal was smelted, before writing began, the great insects came . . . There were those amongst the people of that time who reached out, until they could touch the essence of the insects, the perfection and the ideal that shaped them. They stole the merest spark of that power, and took it within themselves, and spoke to the insects in their own language. This was the first Art. These were the first Kinden. All others despaired and died.”

It's been a long while since I read it, but I'm pretty sure it was A Man Rides Through (Book 2 of Mordant's Need) by Stephen R. Donaldson that had some epic insect horror. There's a scene in the book where a very creepy, very unsettling sort of assassination attempt takes place, orchestrated by zombie corpses reanimated and controlled by a horde of cockroaches squirming around inside. The plan is, once they've found their target, they erupt from the zombie corpse like a volcano of six-legged insanity, overwhelm their victim, and literally consume them. I don't remember a lot about the series, but that scene most definitely sticks with me.

The original Riftwar Saga from Raymond E. Feist had a very interesting insect aspect. The cho'ja were a hive-mind alien species from the Tsurunuanni Empire, on the other side of the Rift, who followed the commands of their Queen into battle with the inhabitants of Midkemia. They were warriors with shiny black exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and multi-jointed limbs that could wield tools and weapons, and which had the added protection of razor-sharp ridges running along the edge of each arm. Their eyes were multifaceted, like an insect, but their faces were largely human. While they're portrayed as monstrous killing machines during the Riftwar, we see a more civilized side of them later on in The Empire Trilogy with Janny Wurts.

Another selection from the towering TBR pile is China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar (a standalone sequel). What caught my attention in the former is the Slake Moth, a giant moth that feeds on human consciousness, leaving its victims mindless husks. Apparently, they're also the source for an addictive drug, which is the only reason anybody could be stupid enough to bring them into the city. In the latter, it's the island of sentient, intelligent humanoid mosquitoes known as the Anophelii that intrigues me. The men, apparently, are relatively harmless, gentle souls who flit around feeding only on nectar and pollen. The women, however, have been described as voracious, ravenous blood-eaters who can suck you dry in the blink of an eye.

Next we have the Priest-Kings of Gor from John Norman. The Gor novels are too often dismissed as nothing more than bondage-fueled fantasies, but they're actually quite clever and imaginative. Something of a hybrid between the pulp fantasy of Robert E. Howard and the sci-fi adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs, their contribution to today's trope is the giant, hyper-intelligent insectile race that's responsible for bringing Tarl Cabot (and other various humans) to the planet of Gor (Counter-Earth), and for keeping Gor primitive by monitoring and eradicating any attempt to advance weaponry or technology. The Priest-Kings are an ant-like race, communicating by scent, with a single Queen standing apart from an all-male race.

Finally, we have one of my absolute favorites, the leaches from Brian Lumley's Vampire World trilogy (an epic fantasy offshoot of his Necroscope saga). In his world, vampires are men and women infected with a symbiotic leech-like parasite that puts great demands on the host in terms of feeding on blood, but bestows inhuman strength, speed, mental control, and mind-boggling metamorphic abilities. Each leech produces a single egg in its lifetime, with its human recipient becoming one of the most powerful (and dangerous) Wamphyri around. The leeches themselves lack intelligence on their own, but have an instinctive drive to seek out and bond with a host. All but immortal, these symbiotic beings known as Wamphyri are the most monstrous, most malevolent vampires I've ever encountered in literature.

9 comments:

  1. And STARSHIP TROOPERS too, I've translated that one for my country and there are tones of bugs in it :)

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    1. I immediately thought of Starship Troopers myself, but tried to steer clear of sci-fi.

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  2. Oh wow, I haven't thought of Brian Lumley in a long time! I read the Necroscope trilogy a long time ago, maybe it's time for a reread:-)

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    1. Such an awesome series. I still remember how stunned I was with the sheer evil of the first volume . . . it was like nothing I'd ever read before.

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  3. The slate moths don't show up in The Scar, but there are some giant mosquito women. The nicest thing about Shadows of the Apt is the first four books make a very complete story, then the series continues on. So it isn't as intimidating as one would think.

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    1. Good to know - you're right, 4 books aren't near as intimidating. :)

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  4. Nice going with the Riftwar Saga - that would never have occurred to me!
    Lynn :D

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  5. Nice job sticking with only fantasy! I wish I could do that, but my list would be much shorter. LOL at your description of the Gor books as bondage-filled fantasies. That's what my husband says too, but he's read all those books so I guess there's gotta be something going for them.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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  6. I can't decide if the Slate Moths make me want to read Mieville's work more or less...they've definitely got a weird appeal!

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