Title: Of Beasts and Men
Tagline: A social science-fiction dystopia about a Librarian’s quest to save humanity from her people.
Author: Anike Kirsten
Genre: Social science fiction, dystopia, hard science fiction, cyberpunk, and biopunk.
Other Formats: Kindle
ISBN: 970-0-620-743-662 (paperback)
Publication Date: February 26th, 2017
Price: R200 ($14.99).
Trim: 10.67 x 17.52 cm
- Amazon: http://getBook.at/BeastsAndMen (Paperback)
Diane Donovan – Recommended Reading, Donovan’s Literary Services:
With its social and political insights, Of Beasts and Men is a different kind of sci-fi drama, blending hard science with a societal focus rarely seen in the genre. It’s recommended for leisure readers who want a healthy dose of philosophical and social reflection in the course of their adventure stories, and features a compelling, thought-provoking story of morality, alien and human origins and experiments, and the crossroads of ethics against the backdrop of humanity’s world-changing drives.
When the Great War of the revolt against humanity ended, the High Council swore to keep the truth hidden for the sake of peace. For centuries, that peace is maintained through ignorance and oppression.
Until humanity fights back.
As worlds collide, somewhere between Diaspora by Greg Egan and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, a new dystopia emerges in a far-off future. Gliese Libra, a Librarian of considerable power, is pulled into the final war between humanity and its oppressors. Along with Albert Hollows, a human and forerunner for the Insurgency, Gliese uncovers truths of her race; truths of their planet and their biology. Through battles of identity, conviction, manipulation, blackmail, and privilege, Gliese must find the key to ending the next Great War before mankind is eliminated.
Follow Gliese’s story as she battles with herself and the oppressors, to overcome her conflicts of identity and guides humanity to salvation.
Nothing is as it seems
A science-fiction novel about a Librarian who overcomes social indoctrination to save humanity from annihilation, Of Beasts and Men follows the story of Gliese Libra, a Librarian with the ability to materialise and project the images of her imagination; in a world where books are the main social, cultural and economic commodity. Gliese is pulled into conflicts against her will between the Insurgency and the High Council. Her experience drives her into darkness and she persecutes actively against the oppressed humans, derogated as beasts.
She discovers the truth of the biology of the Majoris such as herself, projection, oppression, and origin of their world: Andrometre. Armed with this forbidden and lost knowledge, she sets out, determined to fight the oppression, shed light on the people’s suffering, and redeem herself by aiding humanity in their quest for equality. Gliese’s efforts lead her to discover the world from which both the Majoris and humans originated; where humans created the orcyform (organic cybernetic lifeforms) for the twisted purpose of terraforming the new construct planet.
Anike’s favourite character in ‘Of Beasts and Men’.
“Uncle Sigma is probably the most intriguing character to me, I don’t even know what’s really going on with him. I had to keep reading his character sheet for his scenes while writing, but that info kept changing. He has a mind of his own and isn’t one to share his motive or reasonings.”
Gliese Libra in three words.
“Narrowing a complex character into three words is tough. I’d say, she’s stubborn. She’s definitely stubborn to the end. She’s lonely; her Learning doesn’t leave much room for relationships — friendship or intimate. She is easily confused, despite her overwhelming knowledge in several topics. If something is revealed and opposes her understanding of a subject, it flips her world around, and she reverts to childish behaviour until she can make sense of it. Gliese is, therefore, in three words: stubborn, lonely, confused.”
‘Of Beasts and Men’ time-line.
“Technically, I started working on ‘Of Beasts and Men’ in June 2016, when I wrote the first prompt that started the idea. But I’d say I actively began with the story in September that year, where I brought all the prompts together, plotted it out and figured which could stay and which had to go. November hit, and I used NaNoWriMo to push myself into creating a complete first draft. From the first scene to publish date, I worked on it for about eight months.”
“Growing up to my dad’s collection, mostly of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, it was inevitable that I would read sci-fi. From as young as I can remember, I’ve been captivated with Asimov’s works. His mix of hard and social sci-fi helped develop an early understanding of the world, which I believe, sculpted a critical mind, thirst for knowledge, and influenced a large portion of my life. Two works stand out as great influences: The Rest of the Robots, that further expands on notable robots in Asimov’s universe; and his short story, The Last Question.
Asimov’s characterization and story-telling inspired my writing process. Characters are central to my work, and determine the outcome of the story. I begin forming their basic personality profile, then skip to developing the plot and major sub-plots, and return to my characters to model them further based on how they react to circumstances, which serves to further the plot in return.
In ‘Of Beasts and Men’, I started off with the idea of Gliese, who was created as a role-play character for an online Murder Mystery game. Her basic profile was summed up as a librarian, socially withdrawn, curious, wore loose clothing, and was not human. She developed into a stronger, but two-dimensional, character when I put her in scenarios based on prompts from a writing group I joined. The basic plot developed until I outlined how I wanted the story to progress.
I decided to make all those prompt scenes into a novel, and added in the purpose of the story. ‘Of Beasts and Men’ soon flourished into a novella about a non-human protagonist in a world where books are the major social and economic commodity. Gliese is armed with the ability to manifest her imagination, and uses this untrained skill to further her goals. As a member of the Majoris race, she’s oblivious to the oppression of the humans (derogated as beasts). When confronted with information of it, she denies and actively works against the efforts of the Insurgency; a group who fight for the liberation and equality of humanity.
As seen with Gliese, ignorance — especially willful ignorance — can be dangerous in the mind of the wielder of a weapon. She finds herself in the dark, convinced of her actions, until she’s directed to a powerful piece of evidence. She fights it but the scales inevitably fall from her eyes. Realizing what she has done to the humans, she seeks to correct her actions and aide the plight of humanity toward liberation. During her quest, she discovers truths about the world that paints a dystopia of social and racial injustices.
Gliese comes to learn about the origin of her race and its creators, one of whom want nothing more than to be rid of the humans. Desperate to have them off of his world, he guides Gliese to the key to humanity’s liberation. What she doesn’t know is that his help has an ulterior motive that might spell the end of the human race.
The characters are more than just protagonists; they have dark sides to them. While their intentions seem good to them, the consequences of their actions speak to contradict them. I wanted to create characters with hidden truths that people can relate to, sympathize with, and understand. They are real in their personalities and reactions. It was difficult to incorporate these less than preferable traits, but with research into psychology and observing the raw reactions of real people, I was able to draw up a mind-map for each character. I don’t think of them as villains; each character has their belief in what they’re doing is right. It serves to highlight how easy it is to cast prejudice and ignore outside perspective when introduced to people with contradicting beliefs and actions.
Like my characters, their world is influenced by real-world social issues. Andrometre’s society is based on the perceived utopia of the privileged. I chose literature as the commodity, to represent the large gap in real-world literacy; the lack of resources and access to knowledge in the underprivileged that make up the majority of the population. An issue otherwise unknown to the privileged of the world.
Such as in the real world, Andrometre’s society actively and discreetly oppresses those it deems unworthy, through the limiting of career opportunities and access to resources that improve quality of life. In Andrometre, despite the technology available to create automated systems, humanity is forced into the menial and undesired jobs those systems can easily take care of. As with the real-world, there are exceptions in the careers of humans. Some do gain desired occupations in positions of influence. This, however, is deliberately implemented to keep the veil of oppression from falling.
The oppression of humanity also serves to keep the truth of the Majoris hidden. I didn’t want to make them aliens, and initially began by making them cyborgs. The Majoris, originally called orcyform in the story‘s history, were born through one of the prompts that began the story. I was still not satisfied with that idea and began researching into genetic manipulation.
The origin that the High Council kept hidden for so long, was the fact that the orcyform are mutated humans but what sets them apart is the symbiotic material that was manipulated into the orcyform ancestors. This material is an organic metal extracted from an alien organism called Xenodrymis. The extract itself isn’t alive, but several alien species of bacteria live in it, and they mutate DNA. The bacteria lives off of the nutrients of the host, and humans are a source of several nutrients the alien plant can’t provide. The humans who experimented with it, were able to engineer the material’s bacteria and mutate the host DNA to form several integrated implants within the host’s body using the organic metal, along with metals found in the human body.
The bacteria were engineered to survive in the process of the host’s reproduction in order to infect each new offspring. Through the presence of the bacteria and its effects on genetic disorders, some orcyform suffer from Beta Thalassemia, a blood disorder that causes anemia. This disorder is why Gliese has a pale complexion, aching joints, and a heart murmur. The bacteria feeds on, and thereby hinders the absorption of, folic acid, which leads to a cleft lip and sometimes palette. It also stimulates some regressed DNA that triggers the increase of bodily hair, along with increased androgen production. With the bacteria still carrying DNA from their floral hosts, and its ability to integrate its genetic material with that of the host, this hair is fur that is similar to those on plants. Chlorophyll and pheromones are also present in the orcyform body, which causes the blue undertone of skin and the ability to recognize another orcyform by their scent.
Projection in the Librarians is possible by a specialized modification to the bacteria in the Xenodrymis, that manipulate the organic metal to form an implant capable of manipulating gravitons (a theorized particle responsible for gravity) and photons. It interacts with the brain to create conditions for the projection, somewhat similar to the process of a 3-D printer. The projections are holograms that can interact with matter thanks to gravitons that lend it mass. The implant creates a magnetic field which bends the particles to the desire outcome.
The Majoris culture has its roots in an equestrian-based society and while the symbolism of horses is no longer of significant importance and is instead a tradition above practical application, the presence of the symbolism remains in society. Instead of live horses, they use machines that look like horses. Their technology is at a standard that makes these machines out-dated, but it isn’t harnessed to full potential for political reasons, mostly to facilitate in keeping humans oppressed.
The science and pseudo-science in the story are, quite possibly, on the top of the most difficult aspects, but emotion and irrational reaction were the most challenging to incorporate. The majority of my research was dedicated to human behaviour of an introverted empath, and rational thinking in cases of trauma and panic. A portion of that research concentrated on studying people of socio-economic and racial privilege, specifically how they reacted to less and underprivileged people. Most of the cases showed an inability to recognize underprivileged issues, and a lack of sympathy (in turn, a lack of equity) due to the inability to view a situation from a perspective that conflicts their own. The chapters that deal with this were the most educational.
The chapter in ‘Of Beasts and Men’ that I particularly enjoyed writing was where Gliese discovers Herta’s journal, revealing how the orcyform came to be. It was challenging to get Gliese to believe it; she’s critical, and kept insisting it was a piece of fiction. To get her over the initial denial reaction, to the irrational thinking, and finally to the deduction of the journal’s validity that made Gliese believe it’s true while leaving the reader sceptical of it, was thoroughly enjoyable. I spent days just on that scene; cursing at it, and arguing with Gliese in her stubborn denial. I think I rewrote it four or five times.
It was with that scene that I learned how difficult it was for either side to see the other’s point of view, much less to understand it. Where both sides only see their points, and the bad points of the other view, a lot of conflict, tension, and resentment (turning into hatred) arises, and solutions to social issues become harder to implement. This conflict of interest makes it difficult to develop and execute a plan of equity, leading one or both sides to resort to more extreme actions that would either secure their own interests, or tear down the other’s. Both seem to cater toward an establishment of dominance, and in full turn-around, the oppression of the other.
I wrote this story in the hopes of casting light onto the injustices placed on people of colour, those of low socio-economic status, and of women, by telling the story from the perspective of one who is privileged in some aspects, yet oppressed in a few others.
The themes continue in my future novellas, with varying messages. Of Constructs and Men is the next title, which focuses more on the objectification of women and how their rights can be taken away at the discretion of those in seats of power. The story revolves around Letitia Dube, whose son was taken away shortly after birth. Her quest to get him back leads her to the discovery of genetically-engineered soldiers, experimented on since infancy, and plans for war with the Alliance. Her hand is forced and she carries the burden of stopping a war that would tear apart the Alliance, and would expose the star systems to the Trade Collective; a conglomerate of highly capitalistic businesses that strip systems of every resource, and have no issues with slavery.
Of Kingdoms and Men, along with Of Invaders and Men, will follow in 2019 and 2020 with similar social sci-fi themes.”
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