Actually, before all that, what was that about insects?


After promising some manner of insectery, which in itself is a monstrous and unwieldly neologism (1), I appear to have failed to deliver. The thronging hordes in their millions of species have been conspicuously absent. Even the affectation “the insect man” is currently unsubstantiated.(2) Why, then, “theinsectman”?(6)


Insects and their invertebrate kin have an uneasy relationship with fantasy fiction. However, just as there are few environments in the physical world not yet conquered by the many-legged throng, so it is in literature. Tolkien himself peopled the Hobbit with surprisingly loquacious spiders, and of course he graduates to the glories of Shelob in his longer work. Once that door was open the way was clear for the arthropods to cut their evolutionary niches in the genre, eking out their lives in the peripheries of fantasy: Here there would be an insect enemy, an unnumbered horde of ravaging, mindless monsters to be destroyed without mercy. There we would find a sister of Shelob to trouble the likes of Conan, and invariably come to an unpleasant end.(7). Here, more gently, something more allegorical, such as the moths used by the killer in Harris’ Silence of the Lambs. (8)


Which isn’t quite what I’m doing with them. I’m giving them a new niche to evolve into. It’s plain enough, and old Tolkien sets the standard, that insects aren’t exactly our favourite part of creation. Tolkien’s spiders show only his utter loathing of the breed, although he at least has the grace to allow the possibility that poor, hungry Shelob licks her wounds and resurfaces somewhere in the great bathtub of the Fourth Age. Elsewhere, insects are simply an easy way to have waves of bad guys that nobody cares about if you squish them, like the cop-out battle droids in The Phantom Menace.


I have always been fond of insects. I’m the go-to man to peaceably remove spiders or shepherd flies out of a window. It helps being in England, where being fond of insects is unlikely to get me fatally killed at any point. I sit in the cinema and cheer on the bugs in Starship Troopers, booing the wicked, expansionistic humans (9). It’s not clear what went wrong, really, with insects. In earlier ages of the world, and in other places, they have plenty of good press. Achilles’ picked men were called Myrmidons because of an admiration for the ants’ discipline, and you can find deified mantids and beetles in old Egypt and Africa. In the west, though, the entire breed is viewed with horror and even the word “bug” appears to derive from something frightening (as in “bugbear”).


So, what am I doing with the wretched creatures that’s so different? Am I doing a Brian Jacques and writing some kind of insect Redwall? No, I am not. Empire in Black and Gold is a heroic fantasy played out between human protagonists that are as real as I can make them. But insects, yes. Just as a Native American tradition (I think) has it that the world is built on ants, because wherever you dig, there they are, so my book is built on insects and their kin.


And speaking of books, I was going to write about submissions again. More insects later.


After all, there are always more insects.


(1): Stephen Fry has coined (or at least I assume he coined it. With someone like Mr Fry such authority is a natural assumption) a rather pleasant phrase, namely “youtubery”, referring to some piece of embarrassment, preferably involving a celebrity, caught on camera and subsequently distributed for the world to see. In this case it was, I think, Julie Andrews stepping someone out of brief as she encouraged a crowd of sports fans. (Sports? Some American sport. Baseball. Possibly that football thing that looks like armoured rugby. I don’t know). I suppose in an earlier age before that internet prodigy was matriculated he would have had to say “You’ve-been-framedness” or even “Allright-on-the-Nightation”, neither of which are remotely as easy on the ear.


(2): Of course the man who should be blogging under this name is Jean-Henri Fabre, the French Entomologist and writer, who managed in himself an unequalled marriage of prose style and scientific understanding. If he applied to me, in person, of course, I would without hesitation yield the name to him.(3)


(3): I’d also run like hell as he’s been dead the best part of a century.(4)


(4): Although he makes a kind of return in inexplicable and bizarre circumstances as a villain in the encouragingly-titled anime series “Read or Die”.(5)


(5): Four footnotes eh? Eat your heart out, Mr Pratchett.


(6): Not just because “thatinsectguy” is too informal.


(7): I can’t actually place the provenance of this but I recall reading, a long time ago, a Conan (-esque?) comic where the musclebound hero faces an enormous spider that is being sacrificed to and worshipped by some degenerate locals. The name of this arachnid divinity? “The Decapitating God”. The what? This, one assumes, from that school of fantasy art prone to give spiders and their cousins human faces from either laziness or ignorance of natural history. Spiders have two hollow fangs for injecting poison. Decapitating with what? Did it carry a huge pair of scissors?


(8): What’s that? Not fantasy fiction? You mean all that could actually happen? Based on a true story, was it? Ah well, no doubt I’ll get onto the subject of genre boundaries some other time.


(9): To the director’s credit a valid reading of the film, for all Caspar Van Diem’s Aryan poster-boy posturing. (10)


(10): Footnotes are addictive. I can see I’ll have to rein myself in.

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