Thursday, 8 August 2013

In Rapture with Reptiles

Reptilian races often get a bad rep in SF literature. The legendary Star Trek episode 'Arena' with the Gorn against Kirk. The Visitors in V. The Dracs in Enemy Mine. The Zorgons in Zathura. The Silurians in Doctor Who, pre new Who. Admittedly both Enemy Mine and recent Silurian episodes in Who (Vastra) have shown the other side - that there are good and bad in any race, or that a single misunderstanding has sparked an age long enmity.

In real life, lizards often get the same bad rep - snakes in particular. To be fair, the terminal venomosity of many is to blame. Here in the UK, we have three species of snake (the smooth snake, the grass snake and the adder), and only one is venomous. But even the adder isn't deadly. It can be dangerous to the young, the old and those with a medical condition such as heart problems, but it's rare to die from an adder's bite. The last fatality was thirty five years ago! All the same, I took this photo with extreme caution.

Luckily they aren't aggressive by nature, and it being a cool morning this pretty little critter was probably feeling too sluggish to do more than shift its coils a bit.

But I love reptiles. My daughter has one as a pet - a leopard gecko by the name of Yoshi. While her diet of live crickets might make you squirm, I think she's beautiful. Her underside is smooth and silky, her back bumpy from little raised knots. Her eyes are gorgeous - speckled gold and green. She has no obvious demonstration of affection or pleasure, but she lets us handle her and arches her back when stroked, so we guess she's happy.

So when it came to creating alien races, I have two reptilian kinds in my stories - so far. The lesser mentioned chelonian (tortoise) Camullanese, and the main alien race in Keir - the saurians of Metraxi.

"He was humanoid, but not human, his skin made up of delicate, dark-blue scales. Around his eyes and along his nose were bony ridges with a detailed pattern of rainbow colors, running down the sides of his face and following the square jaw-line. Large, pointed ears lay flat against the side of his head, and reptilian eyes, with the pupils vertical slits, sparkled golden-green. He was very slender, stood a head taller than Keir, and wore long white robes which had an iridescent sheen, as if dusted with mother-of-pearl. The elaborate collar formed a high crest around the back of his head, made from a series of silver spines with fabric strung between. He approached them with sinuous grace, smiling widely." J'dahzi, taken from Keir's first meeting with a saurian.

In the Metraxians we find a complex civilization (technologically advanced, but with certain sections of society who believe in living the simple life on the coast as 'islanders' while others choose the luxury and convenience of the cities) and a mixture of characters, both 'good' and 'bad'. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. In fact, the rather sexy and sinuous queen of the Metraxians - T'rill - is a close friend of Quin (my heroine in the story), as is T'rill's Senior Advisor, J'dahzi. It's the Minister of War - R'hellek - who appears to be an adversary to the two travellers. But even in friendship, there's the danger of betrayal - something Quin and Keir find to their cost.

My favourite saurian from Keir, though, is S'rano - an islander, and captain of a wooden vessel that rescues Quin and Keir from an unfortunate encounter with another reptilian species in the seas of Metraxi. Blue scaled, intelligent, and with a boyish enthusiasm that charms even the reticent Keir, S'rano represents the very best of his people. So much so that, for Keir's sequel, my travellers have returned to the tropical world and continued their friendship.

So, reptiles. Love 'em or hate them? And do you have a favourite? It doesn't have to be one from this world either.

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