Bewildering Stories discusses...
Contact With the Depths
with Martin Kerharo and Elous Telma
[Martin] I’ll write in English this time!
I’ve finished reading Oikos Nannion. It’s a fine novel. Mysterious and intriguing until the end, making the reader ask all the time, “What is going on in the water?”
And even the end is surprising. This pesky “little humanoid” was in fact real? I didn’t see that coming. That was good! All along, it appeared to be a hallucination, caused by the depression of Frank. Ironically, it’s the reverse of the “it was just a dream” scenario. Rather, “it was not a dream, folks; everything was real, and your own rationalism deceived you into believing otherwise.”
Frank was not insane, and now everything makes more sense: obviously, the being of the salt lake is intelligent and, most importantly, able to influence humans and animals. This way, it could push the humans to help the sharks to escape, and push the cat to help too.
This creature can communicate using airborne chemicals (hormones). That’s what we can conclude from the experiment with Frank and J-Cap, the latter using oxygen bottles to protect himself from the chemicals. Those chemicals induce the depression in Frank, or rather they increase it, because he’s naturally depressive anyway.
Only some people are affected: Meni, I guess, although it’s not clear; and Mari, who even has to go off the island to regain her sanity.
The creature can also communicate with the cat using telepathy, though I believe it’s mostly for the author to make a point, showing this mysterious life form is not just a colony of jellyfish. It is a hive mind or something like that: it says, “We are one.”
I think the oddest thing in this story is the decision taken by the scientists to help the sharks escape. The intervention made me wonder. There are many arguments in favor of this decision: the sharks would not survive otherwise. They do have a unique biology, being able to survive in the salt lake itself, so it’s important to preserve them. The ecosystem where they come from was not natural to begin with, and the scientists might be influenced by the hormones.
Removing the sharks from an environment where they’re going to die anyway is okay. However, freeing them into the ocean could be dangerous. What if they multiply and ruin other ecosystems? Maybe this is not an actual risk, because they are adapted to salt lakes, so they will be confined to those three lakes (L’Atalante etc.).
Pushing the humans to help is one thing, but the sharks are surely not intelligent, are they? But the two of them befriended Nannion. They did not attack humans who came into the water. They act strangely all the way. They understood they had to jump onto the shore, thanks to the cat. Which means they did not see the little humanoid, right? Otherwise, the cat wouldn’t have been needed. Anyway, the sharks’ behavior is weird; it’s as if they were domesticated, more like dogs than wild animals.
The creature in the lake is intelligent, but it also seems benevolent. Why save the sharks? Why should it matter? Maybe the “save the sharks” project is a way to test humans. Will they help? Also, the sharks need a salt lake. If the humans free them, they must lead them to a suitable environment, which would be suitable for the jellyfish-coral hive-mind creature itself. Quite a plan!
There are several different “stages” in the story, with very different points of view: the cat; the narrator who explains Dioptra’s history; Frank, with whom we share a close relationship (we’re literally in this mind); and the scientists’ teams. It could be disruptive, but that’s okay, because each part is interesting. For instance, the island’s history could have been a dull series of facts and dates; but the way this is told makes it a good read, I wasn’t bored at all.
So, this is not a conclusion: as you can see, this story made me think a lot, and I must thank the author for this. Well written, easy to read, it’s so nice to get to know the characters. Great work!
[Elous Telma] Hello, Martin and Don.
Hello, Martin and Don,
I must give credit to Don for the ending twist. I was originally going for a hard science fiction ending, but Don nudged me to go for broke and suggested this twist.
After that, I spent a few days thinking about it and decided to free myself from the confines of dry science. I am now reworking the story, adding new aspects, and even changing parts of the story line. Hint: the old lady does not perish in chapter 1. Don, you were right: she is an interesting character, and she can give us much more.
I was very glad to read your comments on the dreamier chapters, Martin, as I may just infuse a few more surreal or moody elements in the story. Evidently, these come a little more naturally to me than I had thought. These may address the reverse “it was a dream” scenario. It will be a fun challenge to tackle that.
It may be worth to expand on the debate about freeing the sharks or not. Indeed, this is a big decision the team took. Maybe some additional influence from the lake would help rationalize it more convincingly.
As for the sharks’ intelligence: indeed, they do behave like dogs. Thanks for pointing that out. I think I was trying to show that their behavior was driven by instinct and emotion rather than deep intelligence. Maybe I will define their role better, leaving the “brains” to the lake core organism and allocating more sentiment to the sharks. Another good challenge to work out.
I will probably end up adding a few chapters in the end addressing the relationship among the different elements of the organism: lake core, sharks, jellies, humanoid, etc. A few possibilities appear, such as the core organism trying to favor the benevolent sharks over the dangerous jellyfish, tragic figures as they may be. I think I will have to reach that point in the story before I will be able to work this out.
Thank you so much for the feedback. I have not had much at all, other than yours, because I wrote the story without really discussing the fact with friends until chapter one came out at BwS, and this helps a lot.
I must admit to a bit of cold sweat when the more dreamy sequences came out. Is it ever possible to write a story and simply claim the content and mood are completely unrelated to your psyche? Anyways, I am fully activated to go for the new version which I think will address all these points.
Truly, this helps!
All the best,
[Don Webb] Thank you, Martin and Elous! The bilingual abilities of you both are truly amazing.The side-by-side (en regard) text in issue 676 was actually the easiest format for me; it allows the reader — and myself — to check for accuracy continuously. I wish I could do the same in Greek! But please use whichever language you like; the discussion is what counts. And, as everyone knows, the French language assured Bewildering Stories’ continued existence beginning with issue 27.
The scientists feel compelled to save the sharks because the sharks are an anomaly in the Aquarium’s ecosystem. And the sharks will evidently perish if they remain confined to the Aquarium. The scientists’ — and Nannion’s — efforts to transfer them to the open sea is humane in its motivation.
You make an important point about the sharks’ being unable to see the humanoid. And Frank himself believes it is a hallucination. I can think of a possible explanation.
Who sees the humanoid? Frank and Nannion; the sharks evidently do not. Why the discrepancy? Your explanation goes a long way toward resolving the conundrum: the sharks are semi-domesticated and only partially intelligent. They communicate — or, at least, empathize — more easily with Nannion than with humans or human-like figures.
The organism may affect the sharks in somewhat the same way as they affect Frank, who sees symbolic images in his “dreams.” And the organism affects Mari, as well. Her mental fugue is so severe that she must take refuge on Crete in order to recover from it; but we don’t know yet exactly what caused it or what she experienced. Mari may eventually hold the key to human contact with the organism.
Is Nannion more “intelligent” than the sharks? I suspect that question leads nowhere. Rather, we can assume that she is affected differently — if only more strongly — by virtue of being a land animal like Mari, Frank and the scientists.
Does contact with the brine-lake organism enhance Nannion’s intelligence or, at least, her perception? Evidently, it does, hence the “aura” she projects to those who can perceive it.
Does contact with the organism literally transform Nannion into the ancient Egyptian cat goddess Bast? No, we’re told that initiates — the cognoscenti, so to speak — might see in her an “image” of Bast, not the goddess herself.
Why is the image important? What is its function? Split the difference between the realms of animals and gods: what remains? The human. First Contact may take place not with “aliens from outer space” but with non-human intelligence here on Earth.
Martin Kerharo and Elous Telma