Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Interview with Ana Darcy Mendez

An Interview with Ana Darcy Mendez

Ana Darcy Mendez, of the Distant Cousin series, is the first alien to have come to Earth from another planet. She is a human alien, though, since her people originally lived on Earth over 3,000 years ago. She graciously consented to this interview in the interest of promoting the amicable unity of her fellow Thomans and the peoples of Earth. The questions were submitted by her fans (whose initials appear after each). Her responses have been minimally edited by Al Past.

If you are new to the books, meet Ana!

1. What was the most amazing and astonishing thing that you discovered when you first set foot on earth? (CH)
Oh, my. It was the majesty of Earth, the overwhelming beauty that struck me immediately. When I arrived, I was terrified. I had lived for so many years in a tiny place. Then the passage through the atmosphere was very violent, and I was afraid the escape pod was being destroyed. I didn't know if I had landed at the right place, or if something might attack me when I opened the hatch. My first sensation was the feeling and the smell of the west Texas night-time air, crisp and fragrant, cool and dry. (Later I learned the aroma was from the juniper trees and creosote bushes.) When I climbed to the top of the ridge and saw the dawn, with the mountains and lights far in the distance, lying peacefully under the dome of the stars, it was so beautiful. I realized I was home; our people were home at last. I will never forget that.

2. Ms. Darcy, besides being a woman of extraordinary talent and intelligence, you seem to have the knack for bringing out the very best in everyone with whom you interact. Do you consciously seek to do this, or is it merely the positive effect your own personality has on others? (JW)

You do me too much honor. Thank you! I do not consciously use any particular strategy when dealing with other persons. People generally respond well to respectful treatment. Not all do, to be sure, neither here nor on Thomo, but most do. I like to be treated that way myself. It's a different matter when I am in public as myself, however. Celebrities seem accorded great license. It is often a burden.

3. Ana, I am always impressed by your character, your determination to do the right thing. You act like a serious Christian and I wonder, have you and your husband ever thought about taking your children to church? He must have been a Roman Catholic and taking your children to his church would seem natural and it would help them understand the culture too. (MM)

Yes, my husband was raised in a Roman Catholic family. He tells me they were "relaxed" about it (his word). His father is an independent-thinking gentleman, and I believe his son is much the same. As for myself, while I have been fascinated by Earth's religions, I have not found myself drawn to any to the extent of abandoning my own. I do believe there is a creator of the cosmos, but I cannot claim to understand its nature, nor can I believe that the creator has an awareness of us as individuals. But I do know the universe is orderly, even the parts we do not understand. The source of that order has to be the creator. It falls to us, as parts of that creation, to honor and maintain it in harmony, and to assist others in doing the same.

Our children have attended Roman Catholic services with their grandmother, as well as services at a number of other places of worship. They are aware of a great number of belief systems. As they mature, I expect they will be able to choose the paths that best fulfills them.

Followup question: Did you have anything like a religion on your home planet? Or did you study ethics and morals? Meditation? Anything of a spiritual nature? (MM)

Oh, yes, of course we have religion! Surely, that's one thing that distinguishes us as humans! The first of us to arrive on Thomo were animists, believing that objects and the phenomena of nature had spirits. Those beliefs were shaken by our translation from Earth to Thomo. Over time this system coalesced into worship of a dual supreme being, cosmic heads of clans, in effect. In more recent times, approximately 600 years ago, the two entities gradually melded into a single deity. Today, most Thomans believe in an abstract deity. It reminds me of what I have read of the American Indians' concept of a "Great Spirit." Many Thomans attribute a consciousness to this spirit; some do not. We disagree among ourselves about a great many things, but theology, fortunately, is seldom one of those.
As to ethics, morality, and the other branches of philosophy, yes, there are those of us who ponder these matters. Again, how could one be human and not ponder them? Meditation is not practiced as a separate technique. I suspect that the various schools of meditation on Earth are a function of your many cultures. Thomo, unfortunately, is homogeneous, and lacks the variety and richness of your cultural resources.

4. Your native language, Luvit, fascinates me, Ms. Darcy. Could you briefly explain its relationship to Earth's languages? How many languages do you speak yourself, presently? (BS)

I'll try! Luvit has been determined to be a separate branch of Indo-European, which is one of the 15 super-families of Earth's languages. Within the Indo-European family, English belongs to the Germanic branch. Russian and Polish belong to the Slavic branch. Luvit shares characteristics with both, and therefore must have branched off from Proto-Indo-European a very long time ago, perhaps 3000 years. Linguists have found it a useful source of data to recreate the original Proto-Indo-European language, which has disappeared without a trace. It is an additional benefit that since the separation, Luvit has not been affected by contact with any other human language. Though it has changed over the centuries as all languages do, it offers a much closer and purer tie to the linguistic parent of all European and Scandinavian languages, as well as Hindi and and Iranian and Afghani. I owe a great debt for this explanation to Dr. William Sledd, philologist and linguist, who together with a team of linguists, studied Luvit in great detail. I served mainly as their informant.

As for my other languages, I am most fluent in Luvit and English. I also have passing familiarity with French and Spanish, as well as very elementary abilities in Czech, Russian, Sedlak, Hindi, Japanese, and Chinese, which I studied privately for some years.

5. What stories and legends do your people have about the race which removed you from Earth and about the journey from Earth to Thomo? Did the alien race that transplanted your people to Thomo give you any assistance for survival on the new planet? Have your people ever encountered any artifacts of that alien race on Thomo? (DS)

We have only the most basic conjecture as to the beings who took our earliest ancestors to Thomo. At the time, we were not literate and not experienced enough to understand what we were going through. At first the travelers' memories were preserved in oral verses, passing through several generations, until being written down. Here is what little we know.
No one ever saw the beings directly, because they wore some sort of covering. Surviving drawings and legends indicate they were large, perhaps half again as tall as humans and maybe three times the weight of a human. We do not know if the covering was so they could remain hidden or because Earth's atmosphere, and Thomo's, might have been harmful to them. We know nothing about the method of transport, only that our ancestors were treated well. We were approximately 1300 in number.
Thoman history is counted in generations as well as in Thoman years, which would be meaningless to you (although they are 14.7 Earth months long). When I left Thomo, we were in the 162nd generation, with a generation counting as 20 Earth years. According to our stories, the beings returned seven times, the last being in the 14th generation. After that, they communicated electronically through the 65th generation. Since then we have heard nothing from them. We don't know if they disappeared or if they are still following our affairs. If they are, we have been unable to detect it.
The first generations had a very hard time. Many died. Gradually, the beings (the Thoman word for them is the Others) supplied assistance and technology. A writing system was created. Agriculture was developed. (Our ancestors had been nomads.) Civil engineering began. Over the generations, materials technology, tool making, electricity, medicine, and basic physics were introduced. The Others never spoke to us with sounds. Since the 85th generation, we have been on our own, inventing and innovating without further help. Thus, if Thomans are more advanced in some respects than the people of Earth, it is not necessarily because we are smarter. We had help!
We have no artifacts of the Others whatsoever, beyond the developments they fostered. We don't know why they moved us to Thomo. Perhaps most significantly, we do know that there is at least one race of alien beings besides humans in the universe. That has had a great impact on our thought.

6. What is the native wildlife on your planet? What is the climate on your planet? (DS)
7. Ana, I understand you don't have dogs on your home planet - what do you think of them? (RH)

The Others did an impressive job of selecting a planet similar enough to Earth that humans could live there, after a period of adjustment, to be sure. Thomo's surface area is 1.4 times the size of Earth's, yet the planet's mass is only 1.2 times as great. Our gravity is slightly more, for that reason. It has a molten iron core, like Earth, and tectonic movement in the plates on its surface (and also earthquakes and volcanoes). Our atmosphere has a little less nitrogen, and a little more oxygen, than Earth, and we have no problem with carbon dioxide in our environment. There are nine continents totaling a little less than Earth's land area. That means we have considerably more ocean area, which influences our weather systems. Our poles are cold and our equatorial areas are warm.
The range of our climate is slightly more extreme than Earth's: the poles are colder, the deserts are drier, and the vegetated areas are more concentrated. We have large, temperate plains, good for agriculture.
There is a range of wildlife not unlike that of Earth, which seems logical to me. Biologists speak of "niches" which animals have evolved to fill, and our wildlife and plant life fill them much as they do here. At the same time, our animals and plants are not the same. I am not an expert, but I can say that all are based upon similar biological processes: cells, chromosomes, and DNA. Again, though these are only similar, and your biologists are busy studying the differences.
RH has asked about dogs, for example. We do not have dogs, in the form of canis familiaris. Yet we do have animals you would say were dog-like. The biggest of these is a wolf-like creature the size of a horse. They are hunters, carnivorous, and very clever. They have large fangs for capturing prey, paws which can seize small animals, and rows of spines down their backs. Thomans have populated three of Thomo's nine continents and finally cleared them of these creatures, and other dangerous animals. (They exist unmolested on three of the other six continents.) Our folklore and our cultural memory accords these beasts great importance. Mentioning them is a sure way to frighten young children! On Earth, I had to overcome my ingrained fear of your dogs. It turned out that acquiring a pair of sweet, young puppies helped me adjust. But I still do not like most other dogs.
I cannot begin to catalog our animals and plants. Suffice it to say that there is a wide range of herbivores and a smaller number of carnivores. A visitor from Earth would be most impressed by our larger herbivores, much larger than elephants, and our sea creatures, which encompass a similar range. A biologist could devote many careers to studying our tiny creatures. Our equivalent of your insects are even more diverse than Earth's. I can't begin to cover the microbes, which have caused us more trouble than any other life forms. They may account for my own robust immune system!

8. Who were the most important leaders on your planet? (DS)

Oh, dear. That would be like listing the most important leaders on Earth! But, now that I think of it, I suppose that would be possible. However, the list would either be very long, or very incomplete. Allow me to mention only a few, if you please.
The first important Thoman leader was from Second Generation. His name was Unskett. The Others, you see, didn't understand about tribes. They transferred members of four different ones, which was a big problem. Unskett was a Counselor, not a Warrior, and his skills at compromise and accommodation enabled everyone to work together, just in time to avoid extinction. That skill has characterized Thoman tribal society ever since. Today, my Uncle Rothan, Thoman Ambassador to Earth, has found his abilities at negotiation helpful in resolving several conflicts here on Earth. These skills fall in a direct line from Unskett.
In the 13th Generation, Ferent, an early Thoman scientist, founded a system of schools to preserve and increase our hard-won knowledge. Most of Ferent's ideas are still in effect on Thomo: beginning education early, with an emphasis on practical knowledge, including science and mathematics. Education is just as important as health care in our system, and as costly.
Hleryn, in the 15th Generation, built on the works of Ferent and established libraries for the new works that were written down. These institutions were, and still are, associated with our schools. He also fostered the transcribing of our legends and epics, and began cultivating the arts, which continues today.
There were many other notable leaders in dozens of areas in the succeeding hundred generations. I'll mention just two. The first is Tereis Debergh, in the 19th Generation. Women were always important since Thomans were so few, but she was the first to actually lead a tribe. (Note that by her generation we were numerous enough to require surnames.) Many women followed, and today women head nearly half the tribes of Thomo. The second, and I must beg your pardon for this, is my father, Heoren Darshiell, of the 160th Generation. He was Chief of Clans when the first signals from Earth were detected. This news set off great excitement among our people, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the effort to launch the voyage of discovery that I was privileged to undertake. He brought our people full circle. Whatever happens in the future, whoever reigns, that will perhaps be our greatest achievement as a people.

9. What do you like (and dislike) most about the cultures on Earth? (RP)

Such a good question, and so difficult to do justice to! First, consider the culture of Thomo: we have art, we have music, we have religion, we have literature and cooking, we have nearly every basic category that is found on Earth. But on Earth, you have thousands of cultures, each with its own art and music, literature, all with their own subdivisions, and if that weren't enough, cross-contacts between them! Thousands upon thousands! Learning about and experiencing this richness has been a delight for me. If the day comes that Thomans visit Earth in numbers (and I hope it will), some Thomans might be overwhelmed by all the complex diversity. If they are, I hope people here will try to understand.
I have seen, in fact, that many people of Earth are similarly affected. People of different nations, different religions, people who speak different languages, are sometimes regarded with suspicion, distrust, or worse. While most wars seem to have been fought for economic reasons, these cultural differences often play a large role as well. This is unfortunate. Education is one way to increase understanding and eliminate the discomfort.
Also, Thomans are by nature a collective people. We live in families, clans, and tribes. We think of ourselves as members of groups, and act in the interests of the group--not always, but generally. Most of Earth's cultures value the individual as much as, or more than, the group. I confess I have found this attractive. In some ways, I did not fit in perfectly in Thoman society. I fit better here. But at the same time it seems a shame that there is not more concern by individuals for the welfare of their own groups, for other groups, and for people as a whole. Indeed, it seems that most of the environmental problems and economic inequalities the planet is facing today are at least in part attributable to that lack. There should be a better balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of groups.
One more feature that I feel two ways about is money. Thomans do not have a money culture. The notion of "capitalism" is not something we would readily understand. We have stores, for example, but they tend to contain items that people want. No one will make and market something hoping that many people will buy it. We do not have advertisements. But again, I must admit that I love shopping here. The diversity and sheer delight of discovering something useful I had never thought I needed is thrilling.
Many people here seem to feel that money is more important than people, but I do not. I think people are more important than money. Whatever we think, it also seems obvious that our peoples have much to learn from each other!

10. Why did you marry that slug, Matt Méndez? (NW)

My editor thought I would not want to answer this question, but I do. Thoman marriages are often arranged, particularly when the parents have wide responsibilities within their clans. The wishes of the betrothed are seldom considered when clan politics are involved. I was never comfortable with this. I longed for a husband who was also a friend and a partner, and who would place our family first in his heart. Matt and I were attracted to each other before my renown distorted people's perceptions of me. He was so kind and patient, allowing me time to adjust to a new way of being, without his even knowing why I had to do it. Having a husband who is my best friend and who is totally devoted to our family is much more important to me than having a man who is a great warrior or hunter, or who has high status among his peers. There is no word in Luvit for "soul-mate," but that is what my husband is to me. I consider myself blessed.

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