01/02/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
Paragenesis: Stories Of The Dawn Of Wraeththu edited by Storm Constantine and Wendy Darling. pub: Immanion Press. 366 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK), $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-3-904853-73-2).
check out website: www.immanion-press.com
It seems a curious situation to have others taking the characters and worlds that you have carefully crafted and writing their own stories about them. In a few cases, it is the child inheriting the franchise from a dead parent, such as Brian Herbert continuing his father, Frank Herbert’s, ‘Dune’ saga, or Todd McCaffrey taking over from Anne McCaffrey on the tales of Pern. Series that begin as TV programmes, like ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ or ‘Star Trek’ often have a number of scriptwriters so that finding books with different by-lines is understandable. There are ‘shared world’ volumes such as ‘Temps’, edited by Roz Caveney, where the idea is conceived by the editors and authors are invited to write their own stories set against the same background. Characters here rarely overlap. It is different when the author has done all the groundwork, decided on the setting and theme, devised characters, developed plots and then have others intruding on that creation. Some writers, and Storm Constantine is obviously one, are comfortable with this situation. Others are not and there can be the entanglement of copyright issues.
Many writers admit to have started their careers in childhood by writing extra stories for their personal heroes, either from TV or books. They learn their craft and move on. It is a good training ground. Sometimes those stories do get published.
This anthology, ‘Paragenesis’, is an example. It contains two stories by Storm Constantine, the creator of the Wraeththu world, a couple of fan fiction pieces and some stories written especially for the project. As the progenitor, Constantine has kept a close watch on the stories included. They are linked by the theme of the title, all of them taking place early in the history of the Wraeththu race about which Constantine has written six volumes plus short stories and novellas.
The volume opens with the title story, ‘Paragenesis’ by Storm Constantine, the only story to have been collected elsewhere, in ‘Mythangelus’, and relates the events surrounding the coming of age of a mutant child and the discovery that he had the chance to set humanity on the next evolutionary step. This might sound neat and pleasant but life for this individual is sordid, trying to survive in a civilisation that is already falling apart. At this stage in his life, there is nothing altruistic about Thiede, the first of the Wraeththu.
The problems of an anthology like this is demonstrated by the next story, ‘The First’ by Wendy Darling. Later in this cycle, we discover that to fully become Wraeththu, sex or aruna, is a necessary part. This story purports to be the first sexual encounter between Thiede and Orien, the first person accidentally turned into Wraeththu. In some respects, it reads like a segment missing from ‘Paragenesis’ and as a result does not sit well as a separate story.
Most of these stories are told in the first person against a background of a decaying world where humans are on the decline and numbers of Wraeththu are increasing. ‘A Sickle Blade’ by Christopher Coyle accentuates the idea of the conversion making the new better. Here the narrator perceives himself as an ugly child, sold by bullies to a Wraeththu gang and incepted into a beautiful new creature. Becoming Wraeththu is akin to the fairy tale of ‘The Ugly Duckling’.
Inception from human to har (what the Wraeththu call themselves) is the result of the mingling of blood, like passing on an infection. In ‘The Dawn Of Hope’ by Suzanne Gabriel, Nolan is incepted in the middle of a battle between two gangs. Life in the Wraeththu gang is very similar to that in the human one – a fight for survival. Nolan is plucked out of the poverty because he values books.
Gwyn Harper in her story, ‘The Burned Boy’, is the only one who suggests that inception can be partial. The narrator has always supposed that he suffered a horrific accident when young, leaving him with hideous scaring down one side of his body. He works in a travelling circus as part of the freak show and the real reason for his condition only emerges when the owner purchases a captured mutant as an extra exhibit.
Anyone familiar with the original novels will know that the ethereal capital city of the Wraeththu world is Immanion. In ‘Building Immanion’ by Martina Luise Pachali, the narrator is a young human monk whose monastery is taken over by the Wraeththu as the site for their new city. This is perhaps the least satisfactory of these stories as it chronicles a place rather than the interaction between characters.
One of the causes behind the collapse of civilisation that allowed the Wraeththu to spread as quickly as they did was an increasing infertility. Andy Bigwood’s story, ‘Specimen 16’, is set in a research institute, trying to find a cure. One idea is to use the blood of mutants. Misguided doctors think they can reverse the procedure once blood has been transfused into the subject. They can’t and the subject, Specimen 16, a youth with clairvoyant tendencies becomes Wraeththu.
The second story in this anthology by Christopher Coyle, ‘You Can Never Go Back’ is one of those that only makes sense in the context of this book. It relates the events that take place when an injured ‘demon’ stumbles into a human village.
A rare third person narrative, ‘Conservation Of Momentum’ by Fiona Lane relates an encounter between Terzian and Ponclast, two characters that feature in Constantine’s novels. This is skilfully written and if the names had been changed it would have made an interesting addition to any fantasy anthology.
In the eventual hierarchy of the Wraeththu world, the har are divided into tribes. These arise because of geographical location, the ideologies of their leaders and the nature of the har themselves. As in human society, not everyone is nice and idealistic. There are tribes that have developed a war-like attitude due to the need for survival. The Sulh are a tribe more at ease with the natural world. Here, in ‘Song Of The Sulh’ by Maria J. Leel, Raven, a human from a mountain tribe of Native Americans, chooses to join a Wraeththu tribe. Most young men are not given a choice and are incepted whether they wish to be or not. This is one of those stories that feels important to the whole scheme of things and will provide the links missing in tales from later chronicles.
Wraeththu are not confined to North America but eventually spread to displace the human race in all parts of the globe, in much the same way that Homo sapiens displaced earlier evolutionary forms. The characters in ‘The Rune-Throwing’ by Kristi Lee seem to be Scandinavian in origin. Elements of Norse legend are woven into this story and if the Wraeththu content was removed it would still make a good fantasy tale.
Wendy Darling’s second story in the anthology, ‘Something’s Coming’, portrays an over-optimistic view of this bright new future. Sphinx is obviously an autistic youth whose transformation is dramatic. Those that come through inception are inevitably beautiful and seemingly intelligent. Granted, in the early days, there were a lot of unpleasant things done on both the human and Wraeththu sides. Only those who seem to be able to become like this survive. Presumably, most of the ‘damaged’ humans die before the transformation is complete. The relationship between the characters in this story is sensitively dealt with, though this story feels like part of something longer.
The final story here is a new one from Constantine herself. ‘Pro Lucror’ looks at the other side. In most stories, the incepted har seem to welcome their new bodies and new lives. Jarad is different. He has attempted to go back and is trying to live as a human amongst humans. Then Lianvis comes to persuade him to go back to the Wraeththu. First, though, the reasons why he rejected the new life he was offered have to be addressed. It is only at the end of the story that connections with Constantine’s novels are made.
The majority of these stories are romantic, with ugly ducklings becoming swans. Most of them add something to the understanding of the Wraeththu continuum. The biggest problem with the anthology is that with stories by the world’s creator framing it, the others suffer. Storm Constantine has such skill and empathy with her complex society that nothing can quite match up to her work. It is time for the other nine authors to stop trying to create in Constantine’s image and to build worlds of their own.
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