Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - The Ocean in Science Fiction (2)

March 24, 2014 The Bent Mast Pub and Restaurant, Victoria B.C.

Part Fifteen – The Ocean in Science Fiction (2)
Question: So here we in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, on the southern end of Vancouver Island, at the Bent Mast pub, a nautically themed establishment with good food and a nice selection of craft beers.  Once more, we have Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra series, and yours truly, the Dodecahedron Books blogger and data analyst.  Unfortunately, our geophysicist friend couldn’t make this outing.
Does being at the Bent Mast make you want to sing a Tarangayan sea shanty, Helena?

Answer: Maybe a bit, but I will leave the singing to others, as I don’t have quite the singing voice that Kati of Terra does. Perhaps we can ask the entertainers to do a version of “The Fiddler’s Green” later.
Question: That would be highly appropriate, as that song plays a central role in your upcoming novel “Kati of Terra Book Three: Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers”.  Nice plug setup, by the way.

Anyway, this is a great place to discuss “the Ocean in Science Fiction”.  As we noted in the first part of this blog, you have featured the ocean and ocean imagery fairly prominently in your writing, particularly in the Kati of Terra series, but also in your other SF series “The Witches’ Stones”, which you are currently working on.  Sometimes the ocean presents a barrier or an obstacle to your characters, at other times it is more of a facilitator, or even plays an active participant role.
Answer:  Well, water is both an obstacle and a facilitator of travel on Earth, so it’s natural that it would be similar on other habitable planets.

It’s true that in Kati 1 the ocean is an obstacle for Kati and Mikal, in their quest to escape from the slavers and get off the drowned planet, Macros 3.  But since they travel on a cargo/passenger sailing ship, the ocean is also a conduit for travel, and generally easier on the body than runnerbeast travel.  So, in that sense it is more of a facilitator, as is the river, during their other watery journey in that book.
Question: Yes, the ocean is pretty benign overall, though Kati’s healing skills are called upon due to one of the characters getting a near-lethal form of sea-sickness.  So, even in its more benign form it can still pose a danger.

In “Kati of Terra Book Two: On Assignment to the Planet of the Exalted”, you up the ante as far as the ocean’s helper role is concerned.
Answer: You mean the planetary spirit on Vultaire known as the Ocean Sister.  Yes, the Ocean went from being a neutral and passive conduit in Kati 1 to an active participant of the story, and a great help to Kati in Kati 2.  I posit the planet as having evolved its own intelligence, which manifests in various forms.  The Ocean Sister is one of those.  Though normally the planetary intelligence prefers to not interfere in human affairs, the sickness that has arisen in human society there has infected part of the planetary intelligence itself, so it has to step in to set things right.  Kati and Mikal are invaluable allies in this work, or perhaps the Ocean Sister and her sibs are invaluable allies in their work.

Question:  I really liked the Ocean Sister.  Of all the ways that the planetary intelligence could manifest, I liked her the best.  You really captured the wild exuberance of the living ocean in her manner, her speech and her way of thinking.   What made you think of using the ocean in this way?
Answer: It just came to me as I wrote the book, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others had used the notion of planetary spirits or evolutionary planetary consciousnesses helping humans in other stories.  I won’t claim it is entirely original.  I mean, what is, really?

Question:  Indeed, this is in many ways in the tradition of the mythology of the Greeks, stories told by Native Americans and the myths of many other nations and cultures. 
Answer: The Finnish epic, The Kavala also springs to mind.

Question:  Yeah, that’s a story that you would know well, given your background. It definitely seems that SF owes quite a debt to the ancient legends of our species, not the least of which are the ancient legends of the ocean.  The Ocean Sister is a sort of spin on Poseidon, though a much nicer and more approachable entity than that Greek god.  The Ocean Sister helps Kati, while Poseidon wasn’t all that helpful to Odysseus.
Answer: Yes, Poseidon/Neptune was kind of a tough guy, while the Ocean Sister is a bit of a softy, and seems a bit dizzy at times.  But she is capable of toughness when that’s needed.  I would characterize my Ocean Sister as more of a helpful guardian than a god or goddess, in the manner of the ancient Greeks.

Question:  One is reminded how freely and often SF borrows from ancient, and especially pre-Christian mythology. Consider how Spock is a Vulcan, or how the Romulans hail from Romulus. I suppose the associations between SF and ancient mythology are literally written in the stars, given the naming of constellations and the stories behind them.
Answer:  Yes, several constellations are water signs, so the ocean and space have a definite connections in the zodiac.  There’s Pisces, Aquarius, Eridanus - many water associated constellations, really.

Question:  And among the constellations are one that represents a whale (Cetus) and one that represents a dolphin.
Answer: The ancients also had a fascination with the intelligent creatures of the sea, such as the dolphin and the whale.  Dolphins were often helpers of humans in Greek myths, much as the Ocean Sister is a helper of Kati.  And the Bible has that whale story.  In SF, Andre Norton wrote several SF books that involved dolphins and Anne MacCaffery had dolphins on the planet of Pern.  They were also sentient beings who assisted human beings.  As we noted earlier, Star Trek has used cetaceans on several occasions, being central to the stories.

Question:  Getting a little more abstract, another aspect of the ocean that seems to have a resonance with SF is its similarity to space.  As our geophysicist friend Marvin Klafner said at Sombrio Beach, like space the ocean is a sort of plenum or monad within which other things exist. When one sits by the ocean, one often thinks about its apparent vastness, how it reminds one of notions of infinity or eternity.  These are very much the same emotions of wonder that one gets looking through a telescope or reading a Science Fiction novel.
Answer: Yes, to sit by the ocean side, especially in a very natural setting, and listen to the waves roll in and watch the surf is perhaps our most humanly graspable parallel to the realities of infinity and eternity.  Most of us will never have the opportunity to visit space, but the vastness of the ocean can act as a stand-in for that, as can reading good SF or watching a well done SF movie.

Question:  And in SF, space voyaging is more often compared to sea voyages than anything else.  Naval metaphors are very common.  Perhaps that’s why you made an ocean voyage on an old fashioned sailing ship such a central image in Kati 1.
Answer:   I suppose that could be.  I imagine Magellan, Vasco de Gama and Drake felt a lot of the same emotions as Kirk, Spock and McCoy are imagined to feel, or indeed as the Apollo astronauts must have felt on their way to the moon.  And, and in their own way, Kati and Mikal have now joined those adventurers in the ocean of space.

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