Notes on the writing of
THE EYE OF THE QUEEN
In the Essays section of this website, you will find a work called Inter Aliens. This gives a very detailed account of the Eye of the Queen being written while I was working in China as well as exploring some of the ways in which China was a strong influence on the shape of the novel. To this article, I would merely like to add the following.
In retrospect, I treated this first book as a complete learning exercise. I did not have a serious expectation of publication. To me it was an extended experiment: serious in its self, but at the same time, something I could play with and enjoy as an opportunity to explore ideas. I sometime put the ms. aside for a month or two, and was surprised when, as soon as I sat down at the typewriter and scanned through what I had already written, the story came alive again. I was also surprised at how emotional I found the whole experience and how real the characters and the situation felt.
To cut a long story short, the book was eventually finished and I thought to myself, “So that is what it is like to write a novel. How interesting!”
When we got back to New Zealand I offered it to a publisher who gave me to understand that they were not interested in a work of ‘speculative philosophy’ which left me feeling confused, and indeed discouraged. I put the manuscript away on a shelf and went back to my life as a teacher of drama and a theatre director. However, it was my wife who suggested that I take the ms. with me during a trip to England. As she said, “You have nothing to lose by submitting it.”
So that is what I did. I eventually sent the ms. to Victor Gollancz, mainly because as an avid reader from my youth, I had trusted their simple yellow dust jacket as a guarantee of quality, and had never been disappointed. They were the non-pareil, and though I had no expectation of publication, I thought that if I was going to be rejected, it might as well be by the best.
So, I remain steadfastly grateful to Malcolm Edwards who was in charge of the Science Fiction section at that time and who had the courage to pluck the book out of the slush pile. Indeed, it was he who came up with the title which the book now owns.
I will conclude this section with an anecdote which still makes me laugh.
A last word. When I received the ms. back before publication, I saw the way it had been written up by the copy editor. The pages were covered with marks revealing spelling mistakes, errors is punctuation and grammar…. It truly was – to use a time-honoured phrase – an author’s “foul papers”. I was appalled. I think if I had been the reader I would have cast the book aside in disgust.
There and then I set out to learn to punctuate properly and to spell. These are the indispensible crafts of a writer. And if I have one word of advice to a budding author it is, “Be inspired. Be imaginative, but take pride in completing a clean text and don’t rely on your spell-checker for it does not know the difference in usage between their and there,”
Here are the first two chapters.
The EYE of the QUEEN
by Dr Thomas Mnaba,
Director of the Contact Linguistics Institute on Camellia
Marius Thorndyke is dead.
And immediately I must caution myself, for if we have learned one thing at the Contact Linguistics Institute it is that Earth is no yardstick whereby we can measure the known galaxy. When I say “dead” I mean simply dead in an earthly way. He does not breathe. His body is no more.
However, if the pages of his diary are to be believed, then it seems that something of Marius Thorndyke lives on in the rich psychosphere of Pe-Ellia, and that “something” will affect the future of our own world and our interstellar probings. More than this I cannot say. We must wait with patience until another Pe-Ellian ship comes to us.
Three months ago, on October 24th 2076, I received Thorndyke’s battered travelling bag. It was delivered to me by two people I had never expected to see again: the Pe-Ellians whom I knew as Jet and Cook.
They arrived in the late evening. I was working in my library on Camellia, and as chance would have it, looked up from my work and out into the garden at just the moment their travelling pod appeared. It glowed against the dark trees like a giant ghostly pearl I saw them step out quickly and their transport disappear with what I knew would be a soft plop—like the sound of a dead bird falling to earth. Once you have heard that sound you never forget it.
I was too surprised to move, and it was not until they had crossed the small lawn and were crouched outside the French windows tapping on the glass that I fully realised what had happened. I let them in as quickly as possible and Jet closed the curtains behind them.
“Secret visit. Hush-hush,” he said, and I remembered how he liked to dramatise things.
Both Pe-Ellians stood before me — or rather stooped, I should say, for my house on Camellia is not a contact station and is only built to Earth normal standards. Their eyes blinked upwards rapidly and they showed their open palms in the most basic and familiar of Pe-Ellian greetings. They filled the room with their musty, sweet smell.
We greeted each other warmly like old friends, which we are.
Cook’s skin seemed a darker green than I remembered, and I was aware of a sadness about him. Jet, on the other hand, seemed more vital than ever, and he slapped the backs of his hands together in a gesture which I knew indicated great excitement.
“My first time off Pe-Ellia,” he said, “but not the last.”
Cook spoke. “Sad tidings. Diver-Thorndyke took his last walk to the melting pot a short time ago. He was at peace at the last. Before walking he gave this bag to us and asked us to deliver it to you in person. This we have done.” So saying, Cook hoisted the leather bag into the air and placed it firmly on my desk. “There is a letter inside.”
With this duty discharged the two Pe-Ellians relaxed. They squatted down on their haunches with the palms of their hands resting on their knees. Both stared at me, waiting.
Clearly they expected me to open the bag.
This travelling bag had been an inseparable part of Thorndyke’s luggage ever since I had known him. It had been presented to him on Orchid and was closed with a Callis Hasp. I was glad to see that the Hasp was not sealed. It opened easily.
Inside the bag was a letter addressed to me. I set this to one side for the moment. Next I carefully removed the CLI encoder, which I had carried with us when we departed for Pe-Ellia. Its control panel glowed brightly, showing that all circuits were functioning normally. Below the encoder was a box containing completed spools, each one numbered and dated in my own hand. Next came my drawings and botanical notes. All had been carefully arranged. Finally, at the bottom, were four grey volumes. Thorndyke’s diaries. I lifted them out and noticed how stained and scuffed they were.
Everything had been returned to me. All the recorded and written evidence of our visit to Pe-Ellia, which Thorndyke had insisted remain with him when I departed, had been returned. He had kept his promise.
I turned to the letter. It was written in Thorndyke’s own hand.
This letter is, in effect, Thorndyke’s last will and testament, and the book you are now reading is an attempt to fulfil some of his final requests.
The text of the letter is as follows:
Beside the stream
First I ask forgiveness. I never wanted to hurt you, but when the final push came to shove, I could see no alternative. I hope as you read the pages of my notebooks, you will come to see more clearly what forces were working on me, and what drives were alive within me. If you cannot understand then I know you will at least accept.
Please regard these notebooks and the encoder material as definitive. I have read through everything and have deleted nothing. When I insisted that you left with me all our recorded evidence of Pe-Ellia I was merely protecting myself. I feared that too great a hullabaloo on Earth might affect me here. Remember Winter Wind and the solemn way he declared “Thought is alive”? Well, he was right of course … and life is so sympathetic. But there was no need for my rudeness. I could have managed things better.
The diaries I want you to publish. I want you to obtain the largest press you can. I want everyone on Earth to know what has happened to me, and to gain some idea of the consequences of our encounter with Pe-Ellia.
I hope you can read my writing. My hands are stiff and I have asked Harlequin to assist, but he has the fist of a child. Strange, isn’t it, that they created a great civilisation without ever feeling they needed to create a written form for their language?
Publish everything I have written. Please add any editorial material you feel will help to make the story more understandable or more coherent. I have found it hard to concentrate on specifics and must ask you to make links for the reader. Remember my advice to Tina Bertram when she came back from Bindweed professing love for that creature she had been working with. I said: “Write about it. Scabs, scales, pain, juices and all.”
Do the same for me. In other words don’t spare me. Don’t feel you have to be kind to your old teacher and friend. That would not do. Be yourself, Tomas—balanced and judicial.
God bless, Tomas. From an old-style atheist that must seem strange, but so help me that is what I feel. I want you to know how deeply our friendship has stayed with me to the very end. I like to think of you as head of the CLI and of how busy you will be dealing with all the new civilisations which will be clamouring for your attention now that the Pe-Ellian barriers are down.
I close. If my memory serves me well, the Lantern Ballads put it nicely.
More l would tell you if Time gave me time,
But Time pulls me by the sleeve,
Tarry I may not.
When you read these words I shall already be in the melting pot. Jet and Cook have said they will carry these things to you.
Harlequin sends love. Winter Wind died twenty-one days ago. Enough!
Thorndyke’s final request, that I publish the diaries intact and without abridgment, is clear; its implementation has proved somewhat more difficult.
The same night that I received the diaries I read through them. I confess that I was shocked and dismayed at their contents. When Thorndyke dismissed me after eighteen days on Pe-Ellia I assumed that he was suffering from mental shock and that he would eventually come to his right senses. After my return to Camellia and Earth, I daily expected some communication from him either calling me back or signaling his return. Had I realised that he planned to ‘meld’ with the Pe-Ellian population I would have stayed on despite the consequences.
However, one cannot change what is done. With the diaries before me I settled down to try to put them together into a narrative framework. In this work I was greatly helped by Jet and Cook, who stayed with me for four days. They were able to clarify details of Pe-Ellian life that I did not understand. At my request they dictated passages to me that I have incorporated into the manuscript.
What has emerged is not a comprehensive picture of Pe-Ellia. That must wait. The commentary I have added to the diaries is intended merely to support them and at times provide an alternative view-point. Thorndyke and I shared many experiences, such as the banquet, but our interpretations of those experiences differ widely.
The diaries themselves are printed exactly as written. It was Thorndyke’s lifelong habit to write by hand whenever he was making personal notes. The legibility of his writing declines markedly in the final sections of his diary. There were, however, no words that could not be deciphered.
So, imagine these diaries as I received them. Four time-worn, stained, grey volumes. They are stiff-sided, as this makes them easier to use in the field. They are bound with rings to open flat and the pages are unlined. Each volume contains eighty pages.
THE THORNDYKE DIARIES
Marius Thorndyke was involved in the Pe-Ellian contact from the very beginning. He had been in retirement from the CLI for two years and was staying in his flat in Paris when the Pe-Ellian ship first approached Earth. As the foremost contact linguist on Earth, he was informed immediately and arrangements were made for him to he flown by special courier to the Space Center in Washington.
I have chosen to begin this account with some notes he made that first day. These are not part of the diaries which were delivered to me from Pe-Ellia.
April 2nd 2076. God knows what is going on. The whole of Paris seems like one giant traffic jam. The word in the streets is that the world is being attacked, but I don’t believe that. I have spoken with alien intelligences, and if one mighty enough to attack Earth had torn through our defenses, then we would all be on our backs like flies. Alternatively our patch of blue, brown and green would by now be glowing a dull red.
But something big has happened.
Communications have broken down. All the television is doing is playing the “Marseillaise”, and that isn’t helping anyone.
Time to go.
(13.15) The quiet in the plane is a balm after the hubbub of Paris. I am the only passenger. I have just watched a news-vid and the situation is clearer.
Something has landed in Utah.
How? No-one knows, but this something has managed to glide past all our warning stations and was not detected until it was actually seen by an engineer working at the Lagrange 5 Torus. Now that is incredible. Anyway, he got the fright of his life when he saw this big green balloon closing on him. He radioed Earth. Earth contacted the Moon and somebody pressed the button.
The figures are still coming in. The Garfield Whip is not a toy to play with in your own back yard. And who but a fool wouldn’t realise that a species (whatever) that can evade our defenses could also neutralise the Whip?
It all looks very bad. I know that Chicago has been hit, and Porte Verde on the dark side of the Moon stopped broadcasting in mid-sentence. There is also some trouble in Brazil, but I don’t know what as yet.
We have established a link with Utah and signals are coming in, but the picture quality is terrible. All I can see is something green against a dazzling white backdrop.
There! Now the picture has collapsed entirely. Jammed, I suspect. So now I must bite my fingers and wait.
(23.30) Utah. So there it is. Green and glossy as a ripe Granny Smith. The searchlights surrounding it make it almost look brittle.
It is one of the biggest artifacts I have ever seen. I am told it is 876 metres in diameter, and that it dilates and contracts fractionally from minute to minute.
But the size is nothing. What perplexes us is that it has not landed! It hovers a mere ten centimetres above the earth. Why should that be? And what power!
Tomas Mnaba will arrive tomorrow from Camellia and Ceto de Pendragolia is already on his way from Tiger Lily. Celia Buxton has even left her books at the British Museum to come and join us. Others are arriving by the hour, so we are assembling a pretty impressive team of experts from the CLI. We have a temporary HQ here.
However, we are all aware that the initiative is not with us and that we must await developments.
I have just come from a military briefing session. The soldiers are playing a tight game. Apparently the destruction of parts of the Earth and the Moon was not the work of those aliens, as we had assumed. It was a by-product of our own Garfield Whip. I have already sent word that I expect a top-level debate on this question.
Now we sit and wait. We all hope that the green sphere contains life’, for then contact can begin and that is after all our business. We all speculate that what is suspended out there has been sent to us by that child of our theories, Species X. At last!
Something has just spoken English to us. A black speck appeared on the serene surface of the sphere and widened into a hole. A door opened like a small oval mouth. There was something moving there. We couldn’t make it out and all our electronic instruments went dead. But we heard the voice loud and clear. slightly metallic. Not unmusical.
“We come in peacefulness, not seeking cruelty or the ending of life. We would speak with him whom you call Marius Thorndyke”
End of message.
Now all eyes are looking at me.
The events of that day are, I am sure, still vivid in the memories of all of us. I was on Camellia when the news of the alien visitor came through. I enjoyed a bird’s eye view, as it were, of events on Earth.
There are only three points I wish to add in clarification of Thorndyke’s narrative. The first concerns the Garfield Whip.
At the time when Thorndyke wrote his account the Garfield Whip was still considered a top-secret weapon. Up to this very moment it has never been officially admitted how fortunate Earth was to survive the triggering of the “Whip”.
This weapon is the military child of those same Garfield Equations, which enable us to slip from star system to star system. By means of gravity generators, vortices in space-time are created. These can be directed against specific objects. However, these “eddies”, Frankenstein-like, cannot be recalled once created. This twisting of the fabric of space is permanent and only dissipates on contact with matter – a planet say, or a moon..
On that fateful day when the Pe-Ellian ship slipped into Earth’s orbit the Whip was activated. As we later came to know the Pe-Ellian ship, by its very nature, could not have been damaged. The lash of the Whip was deflected. A small portion of the charge brushed the Moon. An even smaller fraction was absorbed by the Earth. The main charge left our solar system and is presumable still travelling. Had the main charge hit the Earth then the consequences would have been truly catastrophic. Terminal even. I understand this weapon is now decommissioned.
My second point concerns Thorndyke’s relationship with the military advisers on the Space Council. The history of antagonism between the CLI and the military wing of the Space Council is still to be written. To a certain extent the basic cultural philosophy underlying the CLI was evolved to combat the military strategists. Thorndyke lived with the permanent fear that at any moment the work of the CLI would, in the same of security, be pre-empted for purposes of military intelligence.
Thorndyke abhorred the development of weapon systems in space. Despite his arguments, the military strategists won concessions time upon time. “Fear rules.” Was his observation. Thorndyke came to see the Contact Linguistics Institute as an outpost of sanity. One of the reasons the CLI was established on distant Camellia was that it was far from Earth.
Over the years that I knew him I detected a growing pessimism in Thorndyke. He came to believe, and these diaries bear this out, that Earth did not have a future. He once confided to me that he considered the human brain a blighted organ. “Ill-balanced” was the term he used. He believed that the rational parts of our brain were dominated by our darker primitive instincts—instincts which may have had some justification in the fiercely competitive primordial slime, but which were totally inappropriate to the present.
The paradox for Thorndyke, and he was well aware of this, was that he was a highly “instinctive” man, and hence, on occasion, a most belligerent one.
Finally I wish to comment briefly on Species X. This was a code name used at the CLI to describe the powerful but un-discovered race which, theoretically at least, seemed able to control the direction of our space exploration in ways that we did not understand. In a later section Michiko Hakoshima describes the genesis of this concept.
The first full entry in Thorndyke’s Pe-Ellian diary does not occur until April 23rd, a mere three days before our departure. Thorndyke hardly refers to the events which occurred during the intervening three weeks and undoubtedly he was too rushed to settle down and write more than the official memos and reports.
The events of those three weeks have however, considerable importance, and the following is a brief summary .
To begin, I quote from Jose Borges, Chairman of the Medical Division of the CLI and Director of the Forensic Institute in London. He was present on April 3rd when the Pe-Ellian ship opened for the first time. He describes that event:
We were all gathered some five hundred metres from the sphere. A protective cordon had been set up. We were housed in mobile units, which had been flown in during the night. Luckily someone had brought along an ordinary optical telescope and this we used to try to detect some details of the ship. It had been found that all electronic means of surveillance were severely distorted and subject to inexplicable blackouts. Even the telescope was only marginally effective since the sphere seemed to go in and out of focus.
The sun was already bright when the door opened. We could detect movement. A figure. It appeared to us that the alien was humanoid and of considerable height, but we could not distinguish any details. We certainly could not see the dappled skin markings and the “plates” which are such a prominent feature of the Pe-Ellians’ appearance.
The voice we heard was clear and the speech measured, and practiced.
When Marius heard the voice and his own name called, well… he just looked at us in astonishment. Then he shrugged as if to say, “Well, someone’s got to go,” and waved towards the alien ship.
Then he simply walked through the protective cordon of ground troops. He had been asleep when the sphere opened and was still wearing his dressing-gown tied with a sash.
The military bod, who had brought his men to full alert when the door first opened, now tried to stop Thorndyke. An argument ensued in which the two men gave the on-looking Pe-Ellian a first direct lesson in blue English.
Finally the officer seized Thorndyke by the lapels of his dressing gown and Thorndyke retaliated by pushing him back. The officer tripped and landed sitting down. By the time he had scrambled to his feet Thorndyke was hurrying towards the Pe-Ellian sphere waving. He didn’t even have his slippers on. All very dignified, in true CLI fashion.
Owing to the electrical interference it was not possible to make any recordings of that first contact between Earth and Pe-Ellia. Later Thorndyke made the following verbal report to the Space Council.
As I approached the green sphere I felt a heaviness in my legs, and a sensation not unlike pins and needles. My vision became blurred and eventually I had to stop as I could not see where I was putting my feet. I knew I was pretty close to the ship as its greenness seemed to envelop me. I did not want to blunder into it. Still less did I want to enter it inadvertently and get caught up in its substance. I could not see the Pe-Ellian. I called, “I am Marius Thorndyke. Do you wish to speak to me?”
There was no immediate reply, and so I stood my ground and waited. Then I heard a powerful voice from what seemed like just a few metres in front of me. It said, “Welcome, Marius Thorndyke. Meeting you is an honouring us. I am of Pe-Ellia. I am called Calm After the Storm. I invite you to come with me now to Pe-Ellia. There are those who would speak with you, and we have fathoms to say.”
I was about to reply when I felt a deep nausea welling up inside me and I had to stumble back. The feeling of sickness subsided as I retreated from the Pe-Ellian ship. My vision also improved, though the sun blinded me.
This report was delivered on the afternoon of the day of that first contact.
It was at this same Space Council meeting that Thorndyke demanded that the CLI be given complete authority concerning the Pe-Ellian contact. This authority was granted. The military were stood down.
When I arrived on Earth from Camellia, a full contact mission was in operation. Ceto de Pendragolia had set up some of his gadgetry. Lars Frendrum was busy formulating civilisation probabilities based on the meagre information we had managed to glean so far. “Polly” Perkins was at work in her mobile lab, trying by every trick of technology to clarify the photographs we had taken of the Pe-Ellian and his ship. I took charge of the linguistics section. We had little to work on save the short exchanges I have already quoted – but those told us quite a lot. We could not, however, tell whether those words were a recording or live speech. Jacob Mendelsohn, my assistant and a specialist in the physiology of sound production, put our dilemma succinctly when he said, “We don’t even know whether the Pe-Ellians have mouths and use them to speak.”
Ceto de Pendragolia was the most upset of all. His instruments were completely useless and kept giving contradictory readings.
‘Marius,” he said, “you must go back there. I’m sorry you feel sick and everything, but I feel sick too. You must tell them to turn off whatever they got going in there so that I can get a crack at them. Okay? Perhaps if they do that, you’ll feel better too.”
Thorndyke agreed. He conferred briefly with Dr. Jose Borges, the medical expert responsible for contact linguist training, and then set off for a second visit to the Pe-Ellian sphere. This time he was properly dressed.
I quote from Thorndyke’s second report to the Space Council:
As I approached the Pe-Ellian craft I felt the nausea and numbness come on me as I had before, but this time I was prepared. I used some of the mental exercises developed by the CLI medical staff to quell my stomach and maintain my mobility.
I was aware when the door opened. I did not wait for a word from the Pe-Ellian but called, “I am sick. There is something you are broadcasting that makes me ill. Moreover we want to look at you, but we can’t. All our instruments are blind. We believe you come in friendship. But we want to see you and hear you. Can you help?”
Then I gagged and began a dry retching. I am told by those who were observing that I fell to my knees. Vaguely I heard a cry from the Pe-Ellian ship. Then there was silence, and then from within the silence came a whispering that grew louder and louder until it was a roaring. I thought my eardrums would burst. I had the fleeting impression that time was reversed… hard to explain. As if what was happening, had already happened. And I felt space adjust itself about me. Colours shifted round the spectrum. The Pe-Ellian ship became a giant tomato and the white ground turned to black ash beneath my knees. Then everything dipped to monochrome and after a few seconds faded.
Silence. I realised that I had my eyes clenched shut and that my sickness had evaporated.
When I opened my eyes I could see.
There was my Pe-Ellian, looking hard as bottle glass and shiny as lacquer. He was crouched in the opening of the spaceship and staring at me. My first thought was of a giant piebald ant, for he had his arms reaching towards me. Then he stood up, and blinked and his eyes turned upwards – and I was myself again.
At the same moment that Thorndyke’s nausea cleared all Earth’s instruments began to function normally. We enjoyed one minute of clear vision before the Pe-Ellian rose to his feet and the oval door in his ship closed.
After this events moved quickly.
With our technology freed from its restraints daily reports appeared on the world’s television screens. The panic which had erupted in some parts of the world subsided. Clear evidence replaced hearsay.
It became standard practice for Thorndyke to have short meetings with the Pe-Ellians in the mornings. At the Pe-Ellians’ insistence not one of these meetings was longer than five minutes and no-one except Thorndyke was allowed to come close to the Pe-Ellian ship. Though we could hear and see everything that was happening the lines of communication were unbearably thin.
The following transcript from Thorndyke’s fifth conversation with Calm After the Storm illustrates Thorndyke’s difficulties experienced in communicating with the Pe-Ellian, and the technique he adopted for this contact.
Every communication began with the Pe-Ellian repeating the same phrase in the same slow rhythm.
CALM: Thanking you for this meeting is a pleasure. My name is Calm After the Storm. I invite you to come to my home world of Pe-Ellia. You may enter now.
THORNDYKE: Do you think the air on Earth is sweet?
(Thirty second pause)
THORNDYKE: Good. Would I like the air on Pe-Ellia?
CALM: Pe-Ellia is a safe planet. No hurt will arise to you.
THORNDYKE: How long have you known about us?
(Sixty second pause)
CALM: A long time, as you see things. You may enter now and come to Pe-Ellia.
THORNDYKE: Why did you destroy one of our cities?
CALM: We destroy nothing. We deflect all.
THORNDYKE: Will you leave your….
CALM: We come in peacefulness not seeking cruelty or the ending of life
THORNDYKE: Why are you here? What do you want? Who are you?
(Sixty-five second pause)
CALM: I am Calm After the Storm. You may enter now.
THORNDYKE: Will you step outside and visit us?
CALM: I… We…
(The hole in the side of the sphere closes abruptly.)
Each day Thorndyke invited the Pe-Ellian to step outside and each day the offer was rejected.
On the ninth conversation, Calm After the Storm was joined by a Fellow Pe-Ellian whom he introduced to Thorndyke as Fire-sticks.
It was noted immediately that Fire-Sticks’ English was far more fluent and colloquial.. In reply to the invitation to visit Earth he replied: “We may not. On Earth dangers wait. I mean not disease and bugs. Such is easy. Such is nothing. But other terrors stand in our face. Sorry pal.”
Despite invitations from most of the major cities in the world the Pe-Ellians would not move from their ship.
Finally, to break the stalemate, Thorndyke agreed to go with them to Pe-Ellia, but he made two conditions: First, that I should accompany him. I had already agreed to this. Second, that a delegation of Pe-Ellians leave their sphere and meet formally with some of Earth’s leaders.
This they finally accepted and …
(The rest of the book tells what happens when Thorndyke and Mnaba get to Pe-Ellia and encounter a civilization and a philosophy of life radically different from our own, but certainly not inferior to anything of Earth. And Yes, the Pe-Elllians are Species X).