Friday, 28 June 2013

An Interview with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Part 3

Part Three – Translation Nodes and the Granda Node

Question:  Helena Puumala, what gave you the idea for the translation nodes in the Kati of Terra series, and especially the cantankerous old Granda Node?

Answer:  Well, the translation nodes were my response to the problem of language barriers among alien species.  I didn’t want to go down the mechanical translation device route, so I decided that my translation devices would be living organisms.  The translation nodes are posited to be small conscious nuggets of the Brain Planet.  The Brain Planet is an intensely curious planetary organism which wants to learn all it can about the galaxy in which it resides.  To that end, it developed a symbiotic relationship with the various human and other sentient species, providing nodes which augment their hosts’ brains, particularly in the matter of the knowledge of existing  languages and the rapid acquisition of new languages.  In return, it learns about the galaxy and its inhabitants, when the nodes go back to the Brain Planet.  This arrangement is a longstanding one, which developed in the distant past.  Currently, the Star Federation mediates the arrangement.  This is one of its most important functions, but by no means the only one.

Question:  Most nodes just reside in an individual’s nervous system, augmenting various perceptual and cognitive abilities, but the Granda Node (who by the way, is a great character) is different.  How does that work?

Answer:  In general, a Granda has a personality and a consciousness that allows it to interact with the host, as a separate entity within the host’s mind.  Granda Nodes develop this by living for many lifetimes among other sentient species, as they tend to assimilate some of the host characteristics the longer they are away from the Brain Planet.  Only a very small proportion of nodes choose to do this - nobody knows why. 

Question:  It sounds like that could be uncomfortable at times, for the host if not for the Granda.

Answer:  Yes indeed, as Kati learns very quickly when she escapes from the slave spaceship, the Granda having been “accidentally” implanted in her nervous system.   The Granda becomes something of a foil to Kati.  Where she is somewhat na├»ve and innocent, it is cynical and of a somewhat criminal disposition.  It has spent several lifetimes on the fringe worlds, mostly shuttling among the low-lifes and criminal elements of these planets.  But nodes, even Granda Nodes, are dependent on the host’s nervous system, and therefore must accept the decisions and direction of the host mind, being in a distinctly subservient position.  Though Granda Nodes can be awkward for the host, they also are very knowledgeable and talented, so the benefits of a Granda generally outweigh the drawbacks.

Question:  But Kati’s Granda Node makes more than one attempt to have the final say in their relationship, especially when dangerous weaponry is in view.  How does Kati handle its “bad boy” nature?

Answer:  Basically, she just has to be on her guard not to let it stealthily take control.  It’s not easy, but she gets better at it as time goes by.  The first incident comes as a shock, when she senses the Granda’s obsessive blood lust and its fascination with dangerous weaponry.  She has to struggle to stay in charge, all the more so as she is an abductee from distant Earth and is therefore entirely unfamiliar with any of this.  The Granda is not above trying to take advantage of that fact.  Fortunately Mikal is no stranger to nodes in general, and as a Star Federation Peace Officer he certainly knows about Granda Nodes and their various proclivities for good and ill.  So, that helps Kati to deal with the situation.

 Question:  And the Granda doesn’t care much for Mikal because of that, does he?

Answer:  No, he considers Mikal to be an interfering pacifist, and a wimp to boot.  But he eventually comes to understand that the Peace Officer is very capable of handling himself in difficult and dangerous situations, even to the point of using non-deadly force when necessary.  The Granda develops a grudging respect for Mikal, though he would have preferred Kati to have fallen in with a James Bond type agent, once he learns of that character via Kati’s memories, which he can access.  After all, the Granda loves weapons and gadgets.

Question:  That brings up the tricky point of the Granda sharing Kati’s mental space, while she is in love with Mikal and all that implies.  Things could get awkward.

Answer:  To a node, love and sex are just more intellectual information about human beings to report back to the Brain Planet.  Emotionally, the Granda is something like a pre-adolescent boy on that score, who just has no interest in romantic interactions.  With a mental shrug, he departs the scent for more interesting contemplations when things heat up between Kati and Mikal.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the Granda eventually personifies as a monk, in Kati’s visualizations of it.

Friday, 21 June 2013

An Interview with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Part 2

Part Two – Science Fiction and the Paranormal

Question:  Helena Puumala, I sense that you enjoyed the deer that ambled across our path, a few minutes ago as we walked through the park?

Answer:  It was interesting that the deer crossed our path at the same time as a car went by on the road next to the walking path.  Some people speculate that this is a natural behavior of a young male deer, showing off his fitness to any female deer in the area.  But it was so casual about it, that it was as if it had a sixth sense that that particular car (and we) didn’t actually pose a danger.

Question: So, a sort of deer ESP?

Answer:  Why not?  If people can have sixth sense, then why can’t animals?  Of course if you believe ESP is impossible for human or animal, then we are back to the show-off deer explanation. 

Question:  ESP plays a significant role in the Kati of Terra series, as well as the Witches’ Stones series, both of which you will continue to write.  Is this primarily a literary device, to carry a story forward in interesting and unusual ways or do you have a belief in it in the “real world”?

Answer:  I have had enough odd experiences of my own, and have heard enough stories from people that I know and trust, that I take it for granted that ESP exists.  But of course I am also using it as a literary device in my novels, as it allows me to give my characters greater range and scope for adventures than would otherwise be possible.  It’s a fairly common literary device in science fiction – think of telepathy in Star Trek or the Force in Star Wars, for example.  But it probably doesn’t hurt my writing about it, that I take it seriously, as a reality as well as a literary device.  

Question:  What about the Planetary Spirits in Book 2 of the Kati series?  Do you see these as other worldly or as just another way that nature might express sentience in our universe?

Answer:  I would say both.  I don’t see a contradiction.  As Shakespeare said, there are more things under heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.  Why couldn’t there be sentient organisms much larger than ourselves that evolved differently than how human intelligence evolved on Earth, yet shared many of our mental characteristics?  We still haven’t figured out how our own consciousness emerged from wherever it emerged, so it seems to me to be both foolish and arrogant to discount such possibilities.

 Question:  Yes, I suppose even a fairly hard-line materialist couldn’t deny that.  Plus, the Planetary Spirits made great characters, especially my favorite, the Ocean Sister.  Did you have a favorite?

Answer:  No, I liked them all.  But Ocean Sister was a lot of fun, with her turbulent and erratic, but playful personality.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

An Interview with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series

Part One – Kati and Mikal’s relationship

Question: So, Helena Puumala, what inspired you to come up with Kati of Terra, the character?

Answer: I wanted a feisty young heroine, someone that young women especially (but also people of all ages) could look up to and emulate in some way. But I also wanted her to be someone who had experienced significant difficulties and obstacles in her life, so that the reader could identify with her. I wanted to avoid a victim mentality, but also to make sure that she had realistic character flaws, as we all do. Thus, Kati’s early, foolish marriage, which left her with some cautions and unease about intimate relationships.

Question: Mikal has a somewhat similar backstory, in as much as he too had a failed marriage. Did you plan that, or did the characters just evolve that way?

Answer: It’s a bit of both, actually. Mikal is a few years older than Kati (but only a few), so I wanted him to have at least as much life experience as Kati had, as far as relationships are concerned. I thought that would make him a more appropriate romantic and adventuring partner for Kati.

Question: So that puts Kati and Mikal on a more or less equal footing, in terms of life experience. Generally speaking, you seem to follow that pattern in other aspects of the two characters. For example, Kati has some natural ESP talents, as well as a flair for improvisation, while Mikal has training and experience in law enforcement, and a confident, cool head under pressure. In this respect, the focus on equality, some might say that you are departing from the conventions of the romance genre. Was this your intention?

Answer: I don’t think I consciously set out to do that, but that seems to be the way things worked out. But I am glad that the characters developed that way, as the lack of a power imbalance gives the relationship dimensions that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

Question: Such as?

Answer: Such as, they can have fun together, in a playful, bantering, almost childlike, fashion. But when the time for action comes, they work well together, with leadership passing from one to the other, depending on whose strengths are more appropriate to the situation. Naturally, they don’t always agree on whose strengths are more appropriate to the situation, but the fact that they see themselves as equal partners means that they can negotiate these situations. Also, because I avoided the ultra-powerful, alpha-male stereotype, Mikal became a more well-rounded character that both males and females could relate to.

Question: Since we are on the subject of Kati and Mikal’s relationship, I note that you are generally of the “close the bedroom door” school when it comes to intimate scenes. However, you are not exactly prudish, as the books have several scenes, such as the incidents with wild tribes on the Drowned Planet, that contain sexual content of the bawdy, humorous variety. Do you care to comment?

Answer: Yes, that probably is my way of dealing with the topic. I can’t see myself writing sustained erotic passages. I prefer the lead up to these scenes, the romantic banter, the anticipation and the subsequent emotional bonding. I feel that the reader can fill in the erotic details for herself. As for the bawdy humor, that’s just fun, and gives the reader a break from the books, any books really, taking themselves too seriously. I don’t have particular moral scruples about sex scenes, I just don’t think I could do the subject justice. It’s a difficult one to write well, and without it coming off as a lot of repetitive muscular contractions – not that there’s anything wrong with that! Perhaps if I was in my teens or twenties...