Author's Biographical Info Edit
Eleanor Arnason was born September 7, 1942. She currently lives in Minnesota. As of yet, she has written five novels, all Science Fiction, and is the author of over 15 short Science Fiction stories.[]
While studying on Reed 1935-C, the human Military Intelligence prepares for negotiations what will take place the hwarhath to see whether or not the two species can coexist and even form an alliance with one another. However, the negotiations go awry due to the scheming and double-crossing humans. They kidnap a one Nicholas Sanders, the only human thus far to change sides and align his self with the hwarhath.
For the past 20 years Nicholas has lived among the hwarhath, studying their culture, integrating himself into their society. He even becomes the companion and lover of one Ettin Gwarha, a high-ranking officer in the hwarhath military.
This is where biologist Anna Perez is introduced. She is on Reed 1935-C studying jellyfish-like creatures that have been dubbed Psuedoiphonophora gigantans. Her goal with these animals is to prove their intelligence, and not merely dolphin-esque intelligence, but something more on par with human capabilities. In the course of her research, she grows attached to Nicholas. It is here that MI steps in and asks her to the unthinkable: betray her new-found friend to the military in order for them to extract his knowledge of their possible enemy, the hwarhath. She does. The plan backfires, though, and she also becomes a political prisoner. During her transport to the secret military compound she is able to send off a signal warning of the danger.
The hwarhath intercept and are able to decipher the code of lights. What happens next is very fast-paced and not described in much detail. The hwarhath rescue Anna and a heavily drugged Nicholas, take them into hwarhath space, arrange a transfer of Mem’ Perez and postpone the negotiations indefinitely.
Fast forward a year, past Anna’s forced confession, her stint on Earth, to a renewed set of negotiations between The People and the people of Earth.
The hwarhath have requested Anna be there because she is the only human woman they have known. She is invaluable to the hwarhath in collecting cultural information about humans. During the long stay in the hwarhath space station, Anna becomes more and more comfortable with and attached to the hwarhath and to Nick. She becomes curious about heir culture and habits. Throughout the negotiations, the hwarhath grow increasingly disgusted with the humans; their sexual preferences (the hwarhath are predominantly homosexual), the way they treat their women and children (hwarhath will protect the lives of women and children at any cost, whereas, to humans, civilians are expendable), humans do not respect women as they should (hwarhath find it reprehensible to spy on a woman and they weigh women’s judgments more heavily than men’s. No self-respecting hwarhath male would dare go against his elder female relatives’ wishes or orders).
It finally comes down to the biggest of questions: “Are humans people?” How can they be if they are so morally inferior to the hwarhath? After long deliberations and one Shakespeare festival, the Weaving declares that, yes, humans are people, just of a different sort than the hwarhath. This is fantastic news for humanity because, had the hwarhath decided otherwise, they would have slaughtered the human race like a Texas rancher would slaughter a bull that had been infected with some sort of communicable disease.
The hwarhath invite Anna to come to their home planet and Ettin and Nicholas’ love is legitimized and all is well from then on.
There are several directions that one could go in the analysis of the political elements present in the novel Ring of Swords. One could look at the importance of intelligence when dealing with an alien species, or one could attempt to compare the text to an Aristocratic society of the past. One could even write an entire essay on the American myth of redemptive violence and how it is portrayed in Ring of Swords. For the time being, though, it behooves us to focus on the topic of personhood and how it is addressed in this particular novel. Hopefully this article will provoke other to red this novel and their analyses will join this one in uncovering the mysteries of Ring of Swords.
There are several instances where personhood is revealed as a critical theme, not the least of which is the psuedoiphonophores’ constant chemical and visual signaling, “I am me.” Skimming through the book, there popped up six separate instances of this mantra, “I am me. I intend no harm.” Why such a focus on the self-declaration of personhood? -- Simple, to show that even the lowliest of creatures are people. It can be argued that the author is using the psuedoiphonphores to make a claim about the nature of personhood. In order to be a person, one must be self-aware and aware of the personhood that being a being confers. The psuedoiphonophores have a consciousness of the right to live and to let live. As Arnason explains in Part 1 of the novel, the psuedoiphonophores gain a consciousness as they grow in size. The do this through eating other psuedoiphonophores and gaining their memories.
This is backed by knowledge that the reader gains from the dialogue between Nick and Anna. On pages 35 and 36 we learn that, “…their intelligence is related to size…” and that “These fellow [meaning the one mating in the bay] are half-grown and half-bright, most likely.” This means that as a psuedoiphonophore grows, it becomes aware of itself, rather than being aware from birth. From this we can infer that the baby and young adult psuedoiphonophores are not technically persons. This is comparable to saying that a human does not become a person until they also become self-aware. That would be the unequivocal end of the abortion debate. It is and interesting and thought provoking concept. The impact of such and ideology on society can only be speculated at. How would this affect the way one dealt with children? Would killing an infant be murder with consequences, or comparable to slaughtering a cow? This concept is utterly refreshing due to its unapologetic stance and originality.
So far this article has only addressed the concept of personhood in relation to the pseudoiphonophores. Next, the article will discuss personhood as it is presented in Part 3 of Ring of Swords. This section contains the climax of the relations between humans and the hwarhath; the ultimate decision on the question of personhood is reached. The hwarhath realize that humankind is a potential enemy and they need to figure out how to regard humans. It comes down to two options: (1) Humans are more akin to dangerous animals and are therefore not subject to the same moral consideration from the hwarhath, and therefore can be slaughtered like so many animals, or (2) Humans are people and the hwarhath should attempt to establish friendly relations with them. The verdict? Option number two.
Rather than it being a question of awareness, though, it was a matter of morality. Are humans, despite their heterosexuality, disregard for women’s and children’s rights and general moral bankruptcy, people? According to the hwarhath, yes. Their logic is the same logic that today’s humans have been using for centuries. “Humans are people, but not the same kind of people as the hwarhath. We have our own moral system…We can’t be judged by the standards which the people apply to one another” (p. 345, my ellipses). In other words, human society cannot be compared with that of the hwarhath and one society’s values and moral codes cannot be applied to the other. So, to the best of hwarhath knowledge, humans are moral people, they merely follow their own social codes of conduct.
More politics in the upcoming year (hopefully).