Floodtide By Helen Claire Gould #80

ON ICY NAXADA, THE SHIRANU FARM IN LAVA TUBES under a dormant volcano, avoiding hunter tribe the Sargussi. But the mutually-hostile tribes’ world will soon be torn apart by natural forces.

Planetary geologist and astronomer Jordas Krata, part of a team observing an incoming asteroid, becomes telepathically linked with Yado, a Sargussi man, as he cements a relationship with the lovely Shiranu female runaway Soolkah. Jordas enters this precarious balance of nature to rescue both tribes from the destruction about to rain down on them and help resettle them on a safer planet. But as a consequence of the brothers in each family group being telepathically linked, and a shortage of females, the social structure of both tribes forces them into polyandry. How can Jordas avoid emotional involvement when he and Yado also share the physical senses – including both painful and pleasurable sensations?

The Naxadans Practice Polyandry

If you’re a bit prudish you might not like this aspect of Floodtide. But it’s my guess that if you’re a prude you won’t be reading much science fiction.

When I came up with the original idea for Floodtide, I had two male hero characters who were telepathically linked, and both loved the same girl. (The fact that the Naxadans are bipedal humanoids with six nipples and short fur – they use ‘head-fur’ to describe their hair – is irrelevant!) Of the major characters, the girl and one of the male characters were aliens from opposing tribes, and the other male was a human. How Jordas and Yado became telepathically linked was anyone’s guess at that stage! I had a dream, and turned it into the trigger for a star-spanning novel combining action adventure, in both a low-tech and a futuristic setting, with an alternative romance.

Jordas and his Naxadan friends face many threats on their mega-hike through lava tubes to safety off-planet: floods, a geyser, periodic underground lava glows, seismic tremors, and rockfalls, and later a meteorite storm. It’s both the ultimate road movie and a twist on the classic fantasy quest.

So what inspired me to include a polyandric society? Mike and I stopped off at Darlington overnight on our way to Scotland for a holiday, and our b & b didn’t offer evening meals. We’re partial to ethnic foods, so we found a nice Indian restaurant and ordered the sort of amount we’d normally order.

The food arrived…and kept on arriving…the servings were huge! Mike did his best to accommodate them, but I stuck to the amount I normally eat. Afterwards we returned to the b & b. Mike lay on the floor, groaning because he was uncomfortable. I turned the TV on. And a programme came on called Under the Sun, about a Nepalese tribe that practised fraternal polyandry. They interviewed a lady about her life, being married to several brothers. She said the brothers took turns to sleep with her and slept outside the bedroom door if it wasn’t their turn. Straight away, I could see the possibilities.

I knew Jordas was a lonely person within the scientific community he worked in; he was estranged from his father, who’d left him in the care of his grandmother when his wife died after childbirth. Jordas’s father blamed him for his wife’s death. This made him a self-sufficient individual, but he was also a very private man, sensitive and clever, a musician and a scientist – and he needed to be with one special person. His old love, Nina, wouldn’t commit to him alone; this drives the romantic part of the story, since he can’t help but love Yado as if he really were his brother, but the lack of privacy the telepathic link brings irks him as well. And the constant flow of physical sense impressions from Yado pile on the agony for him.

We were away for a couple of weeks, visiting relatives and attending Worldcon ’95 in Glasgow. Every day I turned over the new ideas in my head, and every day I could see how they would bring clarity and focus to Floodtide and its tribal societies. Although I enjoyed my holiday in Scotland, I was in a stew of impatience to get home and redraft, incorporating the new ideas.

Come the Monday morning when I could finally get going, I sat down and started to type…and the ideas flowed in, so that the first scene I tackled (told from her mother Gujas’s point of view, where we meet the heroine Soolkah, near the end of the first chapter) changed and became a different entity entirely. Gujas tells Soolkah that she must marry Chixi, an older man. With the idea of fraternal polyandry, it became marriage to Chixi and his three younger brothers, the youngest of whom, Lorr, is in love with her. His function within the book is important: he acts as a contrast to Jordas, but also shows him (and the reader) that his feelings for Soolkah are his own, and not the result, as Jordas at first supposes, of the telepathic link.

I brought in ‘her fathers’ – which of course, the computer kept flagging as a typo – but it worked for the story at that point, and I could see it was going to work as well elsewhere in the story. And so it did. It perfectly explained why both main male characters were in love with the same girl.

And it enabled me to suggest how Jordas became telepathically linked to Yado. Jordas has an extraordinary empathic ability, identified in a scientific study of telepathic ability he’d taken part in at university. Jordas had never found out the results, having graduated and moved on before they were published. His boss, Marcus Carlin, tracked them down for him. Jordas was a “free-range” telepath.  And Yado had an open connection following his brother’s death two years previously in a mining accident.

I wanted to create a very alien society, but with some points of similarity that would enable reader sympathy. I think I succeeded in that. And why would anyone assume that aliens would use the same system of one man-one woman nuclear families? As I once said to a chap at a reading and meet-the-author event at an Eastercon, we don’t know what social or sexual behaviours aliens would have, so why not give them a different system from ours – say, fraternal polyandry? It dovetails neatly with the fraternal telepathy and shared physical sense impressions…especially as each brother can feel exactly what’s happening when the other makes love…

And if we did know, what would be the point of the ‘literature of ideas’ that we all love?

About the author:

Helen Claire Gould discovered science fiction at nine and has been writing it since her teens.She worked as a proof-reader, in the retail trade, and as a professional trainer, and ran Peterborough Science Fiction Writers’ Group in the 1990s, and had book reviews published in the BSFA magazine Vector. Her writing sustained her after suffering several miscarriages, following her marriage to artist Mike Gould.Graduating from Anglia Ruskin University in Geology and Planetary Science in 2000, she taught Geology and Creative Writing evening classes as well as Literacy and Numeracy. Floodtide and The Zarduth Imperative series are set in her own fictional universe, more on this at www.Zarduth.com.

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