Character Study: Enefa, part one

I was hesitant to do a character study of this member of the Three, since her entire story is pretty much a spoiler for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Still, 100K has been out for over 6 months now, and the mass market has been out for three, so I’m going to chance it. If you haven’t read the first two books of the trilogy yet, and you’re really, really anti-spoiler, look away now!

I mean it!

Okay. The central question with Enefa, I think, is how much she is, and isn’t, like Yeine.

Beyond the superficialities, I mean. (One’s an immortal goddess of death. One’s a 19-year-old girl with a dysfunctional family. They fight crime! Sorry, geek attack.) Sieh mentions the main differences in chapter 17 of 100K. Enefa was more dispassionate than Yeine — which fits, since Enefa was basically the analytical scientist/engineer of the Three. Where Nahadoth created new things compulsively, and Itempas (rarely) did so only to add necessary order and complexity to the universe, Enefa was systematic and methodical in her innovation. She drafted endless iterations of life and existence itself, and sought endlessly to perfect both. She felt no particular sorrow when these iterations — let’s call them prototypes — turned out to be disappointments; she simply destroyed or cannibalized them and went back to the drawing board. In a few cases, where the prototypes were not obviously failures, she allowed them to progress so that she could observe and learn from them. This was the origin of the godlings, and all mortal life.

Now, I had a specific purpose in mind when I set out to create Enefa: I wanted to address the cliche of the “earth mother”. In Western cultures, and a few non-Western, a common idea exists in the zeitgeist of women being somehow “connected with nature” in a way that men aren’t — which makes them irrational and nurturing (among other things). Men are thus assumed to be rational and disciplined, detached from nature and connected instead to ¡SCIENCE! Or… something. The most common manifestation of this idea consists of the Mother Nature and Father Science archetypes. The problem with these archetypes is that they make little sense when you compare them to reality. We’ve all seen the ways in which scientific discoveries trigger highly emotional, not-always-logical reactions in society, and we’ve also seen how scientists themselves can allow illogical biases (like racism and classism) to compromise the search for truth. And anyone who’s studied biology can tell you that nature in fact consists of brutally logical, precise systems that are wholly unforgiving of mistakes or weakness. When you really think about it, it’s science that is rooted in our woo-woo existential yearning to understand ourselves, while nature is cold and pragmatic. So why do we assume that one is feminine and the other is masculine? And why do we assign those genders the way we do?

In recent years there’s been some acknowledgement of the silliness of depicting Nature as some flighty, granola hippie chick; note the popularity of the whole “don’t mess with Mother Nature” warning meme re environmentalism. For the most part, though, the whole concept of women as gooshy lifegivers and men as icy rationalists persists. There’s a reason so many “hard” science fiction lovers — particularly male ones — scorn biological science fiction as “soft science”, I think, and it’s got nothing to do with biological principles being empirically questionable (they aren’t). I think it has to do with this perception of the “life” sciences as feminine, and therefore soft by default. Or maybe it’s just got something to do with the fact that biology is the “hard” science currently becoming dominated by women. (PDF; latest stats from the National Science Foundation on degrees awarded in the biological sciences by sex.)*

So when I created Enefa, the very definition of an earth mother, I knew readers might try and slot her into the stereotypical Mother Nature role. I didn’t want that. So I made her Mother Science instead, and allotted most of the nurturing, “natural”, and — dare I say it? okay, emo — qualities to her siblings. (Yes, both her siblings; Itempas was a stern but loving father before the Gods’ War, at least for those of his children he deemed acceptable. Nahadoth is more liberal, but plays favorites. Basically, none of the Three is an ideal parent.) Enefa did grow to care for her family, note, once she stopped viewing her children as guinea pigs instead of people; this is why Sieh loves her, even though she came very close to killing him at birth. In any case, she was never the primary caregiver to any of the godlings.

This is probably the most significant contrast between Enefa and Yeine, by the way: Yeine is far, far more maternal than Enefa. Not literally; as we see in The Broken Kingdoms, she’s in no particular hurry to start skeeting out godlings of her own, especially given her fraught relationship with the existing godlings. But as Yeine’s relationship with Sieh demonstrates, for those of her stepchildren who are willing, she’s pretty good at the nurturing, protective role. I think this difference between her and Enefa exists for two reasons: first, because of Yeine’s relationship with her own mother. Kinneth was a powerful woman who nevertheless doted on her daughter; she showed Yeine how it was done. Second, because motherhood is a casually-accepted part of the Darren warrior ideal, neither valorized nor maligned. Yeine has always expected to be a mother at some point in her life, though she has a typically Darren laissez-faire attitude about it — not so much actively seeking motherhood as just not bothering to prevent it except when having children is inconvenient or impractical due to lack of resources. If you’re wondering, she did not use contraception with T’vril. (Though he did that himself; remember that the world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has effective male birth control. And at the time, T’vril would’ve been painfully aware of the consequences of bringing another non-fullblooded, not-fully-Amn Arameri child into the world; I imagine he always took pains not to create any children until he had enough power, as family head, to make sure they’d inherit fullblood status.)

Enefa, by contrast, never had a child by accident. Every one of the godlings she bore was carefully planned — and probably categorized and tracked in detail. She was equally careful about the mortal creatures she made, too — every species on every world, down to the smallest microbe; whole biospheres as living systems. She wasn’t lacking in the ability to nurture. It’s just that what she nurtured was life as a whole, rather than in its individual manifestations. When you’ve got a googolplex of children, it’s hard to get especially warm n’ fuzzy over any one of them.

Now, note that I’ve talked solely about Enefa as a mother thus far. There’s still her relationships with her siblings to tackle, but this post is long enough already — and there are a few elements of that relationship that won’t be revealed until The Kingdom of Gods comes out. So I think I’ll stop here, and revisit Enefa at some point in late 2011.

* Tiny Text sidenote: Let me pause here to recommend the Biology in Science Fiction blog, which is hilarious and entertaining.

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11 Responses »

  1. Interesting character study. Thank you for the insight into how you developed your characters.

  2. This was really, really freaking cool to read. I didn’t pick up on a lot of this when I read the book, but seeing you talk about it has me smacking my head. Of course! Duh! Anyway, very cool development. Thanks a lot for posting this!

    – Rachel

  3. Not meaning to be pedantic, but — “Enefa did grow to care for her family, note, once she stopped viewing her children as people and not guinea pigs”

    — did you mean “started viewing her children as people and not guinea pigs”?

    Or have I misunderstood the sentence structure? You know I do that :D

  4. Rachel,

    Yeah, I try not to make my experiments in defying gender (and racial, and class, etc.) stereotypes too obvious; I’m trying to tell a story, not get preachy. But generally whenever I start to see a particular image of womanhood — or manhood, for that matter — get touted as “the way it should be”, I personally chafe at it. (I’m very, very tired of “feisty buttkickers” for example, which seems to be the only form of “active female protagonist” accepted by the genre these days.) And in the case of the nature = female = irrational stereotype, that one just doesn’t even make sense.

  5. Hi K! No, you’re right, that was a screwup. Fixed!

    (Happy birthdaaaaay!)

  6. I already loved the first two books, but this bit of backstory adds to the books’ awesomeness for me, since it speaks so wonderfully to one of my pet peeves. I’m a woman and a physicist, and the whole Mother Nature/Father Science stereotype, and the stereotyping and dismissal of entire scientific subfields, drives me absolutely crazy. Thank you.

  7. I just found The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and am a little over half way through it. I came online specifically to order the second book. I think you’ve just become one of my favorite authors.

    I enjoyed reading what you’ve had to say about Enefa. I completely empathize with the whole Mother Science idea. I’m one of those let-brained women that most men want to stick into that emo category. I just don’t think that way, and I love analyzing and experimenting. If I’d been as good in math as I was in spelling, I’d have majored in a science.

    Thank you for a great first book. I hope many, many more are forthcoming!

  8. I just wanna express my appreciation to you for doing this character study and backstory things. It really enhances the experience and clarifies the story :)

    I have a question about the very end of Broken Kingdoms, though.

    **SPOILERS, PEOPLE. DON’T LOOK!**

    In the end it turned out that Oree couldn’t be with Shiny, and that they had to part ways. But then why in the last line did she believe he was coming back? Did Yeine just mean they couldn’t have a *full-time* relationship?

    **END SPOILERS**

    Lol, also, I bought both books in trade paperback form. Does that mean someone’s getting more money? I do it because I like the font better, hehe.

  9. Emily,

    SPOILER WARNING!

    No, Y and N intend for Shiny to never experience lasting happiness, which means he can never settle down with any woman. I imagine he could see Oree again, but it would have to be brief, and that might be more painful for both of them than just a clean break. But Oree has hope that Shiny might somehow gain his freedom and thus be allowed to be with her permanently, someday. She knows it’s highly unlikely, but she’s an optimist. :)

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