Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Man-Kzin Wars

Background and history

Kzinti evolved from a plains hunting cat on a slightly hotter, drier planet than Earth. The Kzin call their home planet Homeworld. The Kzin home world is the third planet circling the star known as 61 Ursa Majoris. The Kzin civilization was in the midst of its medieval feudal period when a star-faring species called the Jotok landed and made a stealthy First Contact. The Jotok were interstellar merchants and were looking for a species they could use a mercenaries. Once the Jotok had taught the Kzin how to use high technology weapons and other devices as well as spacecraft, they Kzin rebelled and made their former employers/masters into slaves as well as the occasional meal. Kzinti society is extremely male-dominated. The leader of the race is called the Patriarch, which is a hereditary title. The Kzin call themselves "Heroes" or the "Heroes Race" and because they believe themselves to be "heroes," their society places a very high value on "acting Heroic" and behaving in a heroic fashion. To Kzin society, "heroic" means being honorable and having integrity. Kzin honor is similar in many ways to both the Klingon honor system from Star Trek and the samurai code of Bushido. Once Kzin attained access to genetic manipulation technology, they started manipulating themselves in order to bring out the most "heroic" qualities and recede undesired ones. To this end, because females are not valued except as bearers of children, the male-dominated Kzin society bred (most of) their own females into sub-sapience.

Kzin are often described as anthropomorphic tigers, but there are significant and visible differences. Kzin are larger than humans, standing around eight feet (2.6 to 2.8 meters) tall and weighing around five hundred pounds. These tiger-sized bipeds have large membrane ears, a barrel-chested torso with a flexible spine, and large fangs and claws. Unlike popularly-depicted anthropomorphic animals, Kzin stand on two legs like humans do; they do not have digitigrade or "backwards-bending" legs. While their feet have five toes, their hand end in three fingers and an opposable thumb. They are covered with a thick coat of long fur that comes in various combinations of orange, yellow, and black. Their tails are naked and are similar in appearance to a rat's tail, and their noses are black. Kzinti ears have fur only on the outside of the ear and only about half way up the ear itself, usually appear pink, and are shaped liked a segment of a Chinese parasol (or cocktail umbrella)(they are also sometimes described as "bat-winged"); they can fold back flat against the head for protection during a fight. They speak in a hissing language called the Hero's Tongue, which in its written form resembles commas and periods. Male kzinti do not have external genitalia.

A small percentage of Kzinti are stunted, and forced into addiction of a drug derived from the lymph of an animal called a sthondat. 99% of such Kzinti are driven insane by the process, and the few who survive are left with telepathic ability. Telepaths are tolerated by the warrior class due to the specialized use of their skill, otherwise they endure a low-caste position in society; just above the status of slaves, with the occasional slave being considered of a higher social status. Telepaths rarely, if ever, earn a name, and they aren't legally allowed to breed.

Kzinti females (s. Kzinret, pl. Kzinreti) are sub-sapient, with a vocabulary of less than a hundred word/sounds and primarily instinct-driven behavior, and are treated as chattel by males (s. Kzintosh, pl. Kzintoshi). This was not always the case: archaic Kzinrret were sapient until the Kzin used Jotoki biotechnology to drive them to their current state while boosting their males' martial prowess. Kzinti society explains this by stating the Fanged God removed Kzinrrets' souls as punishment for an attempted rebellion against him shortly after he created Kzin.

They are the first on-going alien contact that humanity has met within the Known Space universe. The first contact with humanity ends the human golden era of peace, where even history has been rewritten in a non-violent whitewash; organized violence was virtually eliminated, being reduced to roughly 1 in 1000 people, and there was no interpersonal violence, except occasional out-bursts in the asteroid belt where medical and psychological care were spread too thinly.

Naming convention

Kzintoshi are born without names which they must earn through valorous deeds. They are originally known by their relation to their father when they are kittens. After maturity, they are known by their rank or occupation. A Kzin who has performed a great deed will be granted a partial name by a superior; a further, greater deed earns a full name, the second of which is the family name.

In rare instances, a sufficiently illustrious accomplishment will earn a nameless one a full name in one swoop. An example of the latter is the granting of a full name to Trainer-of-Slaves, who singlehandedly delivered a fully-working hyperdrive to the Patriarchy in the novella "The Heroic Myth of Lieutenant Nora Argamentine" by Donald Kingsbury (appearing in Man-Kzin Wars VI, 1994), thus earning the full name Graaf-Nig

An exception to this rule seems to accrue to the members of the -Riit family, who have held the office of Kzinti Patriarch for uncounted generations. These appear to earn names upon reaching adulthood. However, in the 2006 novel Destiny's Forge by author Paul Chafe, the heir-apparent to the Riit throne, "Pouncer", does not receive a name until it is earned by deed.

Only those Heroes who have earned a full name are allowed to breed.

An example of a Kzin's naming transition would be:

  • Birth description: Third-Son of Khral-Hrag
  • Occupation description: Weapons-Technician
  • Partial name: Frep-Technician
  • Full name: Frep-Hrag

The Man-Kzin Wars

Main article: Man-Kzin Wars

In several different stories by other authors playing in the universe we see references to a total of five additional Man-Kzin wars take place. The net effect of these wars is summed by a retrospective comment from Louis Wu in the Ringworld novels: "The Kzinti aren't really a threat. They'll always attack before they're ready." With decreasingly impressive logistical and technological advantages, each Man-Kzin War results in the confiscation or liberation of one or more colony planets by the humans. In this way humanity contacts the Pierin and Kdatlyno, former slave species, and takes over worlds such as Canyon (formerly Warhead) and Fafnir (formerly Shasht). Several of the stories of the Man-Kzin Wars depict the nearest Human colony at Alpha Centauri, called Wunderland.

During wartime, and at other times, Kzinti interrogate humans using a device called the hot needle of inquiry. In Larry Niven's The Ringworld Engineers, the ship piloted by Chmeee (originally named Speaker-to-Animals) is called the Hot Needle of Inquiry in honor of this torture device.

Eventually (in Ringworld) we learn that the Kzin reverses were deliberately engineered by the Pierson's Puppeteers, who lured the Outsiders to We Made It in the first place. The Puppeteers had hoped that the culling of a quarter to a third of the more aggressive members of the Kzinti with every war would result in a more peaceful race, or at least one that was capable of coexisting with other species without trying to kill and eat them at every turn. This shift in Kzin attitudes succeeded spectacularly, although the Kzinti themselves do not think very highly of the changes, nor of the price they paid to achieve them. In fact, a fringe faction of the Kzinti known as the Kdaptists, frustrated with the reversals their race had suffered against humanity, went so far as to adopt the human concept that God had created humanity (not Kzinti) in His image, and that He favors and protects humans over other races.

As the Puppeteers expected, a form of "natural" selection occurred, with the more mindlessly aggressive Kzinti dying in ill-advised wars and the more moderate, intelligent, and cautious Kzinti surviving, presumably to think long and hard about the consequences of starting yet another war. By the time the Kzinti attained the level of sophistication and foresight needed to win against humans, they no longer had the numbers or the drive to do so.

At one point, Louis Wu, while visiting the Kzin homeworld and given access to the Kzinti Patriarch's game preserve, was confronted by a young Kzin and his father. When the youngster asked "Are they good to eat?", Louis Wu responded with a grin (baring of the teeth being a Kzin challenge to battle) and the older Kzin responded "NO". Wu muses that it would be safer for the young Kzin to eat arsenic than a human being.


Joe said...

I think I have one or two books from this sires that I've never gotten around to. I'll have to dig those out...)

Bill said...

I enjoyed what I've read of the sires (book 1 to 5) I have to pick up the rest some time.