Wednesday, October 31, 2018

he/she/it/ke

So I've owned for years this old DAW anthology Heroic Fantasy, which I read one story at a time over the course of a decade or so.  My favorite of the bunch is "The Mistaken Oracle" by a dudeperson named A. E. Silas.  It offers an interesting answer to one of my favorite big, dumb questions to pose in fantasy literature, "What the heck is a Wizard, anyway?"

I've not encountered the name A.E. Silas anywhere else.  Not that I'm one of these guys obsessed with Appendix N.  In fact, my interest in fantasy lit kinda trails off after Tolkien and Howard and Jack Vance's original The Dying Earth, at least until it picks up again under the pseudonym of "magical realism."  On any given day, I prefer to read fantasy that's 500 years old rather than 50, but I make exceptions from time to time.

A couple weeks back I finally got around to seeing if A.E. Silas had written anything else.  Unless she published under another name, I can find just one other work of hers, a fantasy novel called The Panorama Egg.  I needed for work a certain book on my www.thriftbooks.com wish list and had a freebie coming to me (Thriftbooks has a frequent flyer program, kinda like a punch card at a coffee house.  Between that and the free shipping for orders over something like twelve bucks, I use it just as much as Amazon for books.).  So I went ahead and got it.

My copy just arrived yesterday and I'm only 43 pages in, but I have to share this little tidbit:
He looked at her and shook his head.  Half a year in this place, and he wasn't used to her.  People called her Melaklos as if it were a descriptive term, and referred to her by that fourth pronoun, ke, which is used in the trade tongue to refer to something neither masculine nor feminine, but living and therefore not neuter.  She called it the neutral.  Various peoples applied it to weapons, ships, the sea, fire, the moons, and nearly all mythological figures, gods and monsters alike.  The Melaklos was probably a demon of some sort.
The Melaklos referred to here is the trickster figure who enables the hero, a lawyer in modern day America, to cross over into a world of swords and sorcery.  The Melaklos presents as a lovely but slightly odd-looking woman.  So here's a novel published in 1978 that is taking a moment to wrangle with the issue of who is a he, who is a she, and who is a person that doesn't fit neatly into those categories.  I think that's pretty neat.

UPDATE: Derik Badman found that A.E. stands for Ann Elizabeth.  Still no additional works, yet, but at least now I'm not misgendering the author like a numb-skull.  Thanks, Derik!