Jayge Carr’s 1979 Leviathan’s Deep is a standalone science fiction novel.
The Kimassu Lady, Consecrate in the House of Equity, serves her people by doling out justice according to need. Few are in more need of justice than the meddling Terrens. With a little orange skin dye the Terrens can pass for Delyene, but their ways are quite alien.
The Kimassu Lady’s native Delyafam is an ocean world. Unlike the Terrens, her people command no magic (or as the Terrens might call it, advanced technology). Nor are the Delyenes interested in off-world novelties. The matriarchs who rule the world follow customs ancient beyond memory, customs that have always served them well. Few see the Terrens as anything but an irritant.
The Kimassu Lady must deal with errant Terrens. Some of these are gutterrats, as the Terrens put it, petty criminals nobody will miss. Others are well-connected. Handling them can be tricky, since the Terrens generally want their high-status fellows back in one piece. The Kimassu Lady has always found a way to serve her people without provoking displays of Terren magic.
Neill’s disguise was convincing. Since Neill was painfully ignorant of Delyene ways, this did not matter. He was exposed as off-worlder almost as soon as he ventured into proper society. Detained, Neill takes the Kimassu Lady’s revelation that he will certainly be executed at some point with surprising calm. Rather than begging for his life, he does his best to convince the Kimassu Lady that she and her people are in far more danger than he is.
Terrens hail from distant Terra, a world of violent contrasts that has shaped its people just as comparatively benign Delyafam shaped the Delyene. Humans evolved in a context that rewarded ruthless competition, with the result that their history is filled with events for which the Delyene have no words: war, genocide, and technological progress (to name a few). Their values are similarly warped: Terrens value wealth, mere goods, and the best interests of society as a whole. Naturally, as soon as they gained the means, the humans began to conquer the galaxy.
Delyafam is close to valuable trade routes. The Delyene are vastly outnumbered, steadfastly conservative, and lack the technological means to prevent the Terrens from simply commandeering a world from inhabitants the humans deem subhuman. The only reason the planet has not been brought under the human boot is because the Terrens have their own internal politics. The Delyene have not provided the off-worlders with a sufficient pretext to justify outright conquest.
Having grasped the severity of the situation, the Kimassu Lady resolves to save her people. Before she does that, however, she will have to save herself. A gift from a high ranking Terren, the Gorky Admiral1, hides within itself both a tracking device and a paralytic triggered when she is vulnerable. In short order, she finds herself a prisoner of the covetous Gorky Admiral, immured on a world far, far from her own.
Another book I read because I failed to return my SFBC order card in time. That copy was loaned and never returned. Yay, used book stores.
There are a few parallels between this and Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean. Both feature matriarchal societies on backwater worlds resisting the forces of patriarchal colonialism. The differences outweigh the similarities, in particular where the matter of violence is concerned. Slonczewski’s Sharers are pacifists. Carr’s Delyene, on the other, might not have war but they are really quite good at retail lethal violence. As soon as her captors drop their guard, for example, the Kimassu Lady slaughters most of them.
There are also parallels with Piper’s Little Fuzzy, but because this novel is told from the alien perspective, the human system of ranking other species by possession of abilities that may not be relevant to alien living conditions or whose manifestation may not be recognizable by humans is given less than entirely sympathetic treatment.
While the Delyene are similar enough to humans to have meaningful conversations, not to mention episodes of unbridled lust, there are a number of important differences. One that the humans have managed to overlook is that Delyene sexual dimorphism is far more pronounced than human, particularly in the matter of lifespan. Delyene females are very long-lived, while the males are not. Consequently, even if convention did not rule out male participation in politics, their short lifespans probably would.
Humans (or at least the masculine horn-dogs who appear to be the only humans to visit Delyene) are adept at misreading the Delyene. For example, the humans only bothered kidnapping one group of Delyene for study. Since the kidnapees were all male, the Terrens are under the impression that all Delyene have much shorter lives than they do2.
The plot is seen through the narrow lens of the Kimassu Lady’s perspective. Coming as she does from a planet innocent of wholesale violence and the institutions that have evolved there, she is not much impressed by what she learns about Terrens. In particular, although it’s not clear she has ever met one, she is very cool on human women. For men to act in such hyperfeminine ways, as the Delyene measure such things, the women must be extremely submissive. Feel free to discuss this in comments!
Leviathan’s Deep is clearly of a past age in a number of ways, most obviously in the way that the limited page count (all that was then allotted midlist unknowns) constrains the plot. Most of the book is taken up dealing with the Gorky Admiral kidnap plot, leaving the thrilling story of how the Kimassu Lady revolutionized her society to create an army able to hold the Terrens at bay as brief afternote. If this had been published even a decade later, Carr would likely have had at least another hundred pages to flesh out the resistance. Twenty years later and it might have been a series of thick bricks. Still, it was an interesting exercise in writing from the alien perspective. Shame Carr seems to fallen out of the public consciousness
Leviathan’s Deepis out of print. Pity.
1: The former Gorky Captain. The Kimassu Lady does not always order titles and names as humans might.
2: One of the standard tools with which humans conquer other races is life-extending medicine. Their standard operating procedure is to claim that their methods don’t work on aliens, then entice cooperation with the “discovery” that perhaps, just in this case, the drugs can be adapted. The Delyene women live a long time; they see no utility in extending male lifespans, and in any case, they took the humans at their word that human medicine does not work on Delyene. The humans are baffled. Why are the aliens immune to this tried-and-true ploy?