Monday, March 19, 2007

"Butterfly and Hellflower", Language and Honor

Butterfly and Hellflower is written in English - sort of. Portions are in jargon or slang, which I found as delightful as the paragraphs in plain English. Originally published as a trilogy in three consecutive books - "Hellflower", "Darktraders" and "Archangel Blues", "Butterfly and Hellflower" is the omnibus edition of all three together, inscribed on the dedication page,

"To Chris Jeffords, with honor."

The relevance of this book, which I read only this month, and which was published over fourteen years ago is two-fold: language and honor.

Eluki Bes Shahar, author of this curious and classic volume of Science Fiction, is also the author of Regency Romances under the name Rosemary Edgehill. I'm sure that one of the common themes between two such disparate genres is honor: honor in the intentions and motivations of the heroine, and honor in her actions. In novels that interest me, conflict appears quickly in the story. In novels that interest me the most, conflict is not merely a fight or even a war, but in the opposing needs, desires and loyalties of the main character. In a book like "Butterfly and Hellflower" -- or a much more complex and recent book, such as "Talyn" by Holly Lisle -- the heroines may suffer, they may risk death and things worse than death, they may make mistakes and endure the consequences, but they keep their honor. It is not that they are not tempted to do something less than honorable -- it is that they fear losing their honor more than they fear anything else. They would rather die than live without honor. It is not that they cannot change their minds, be persuaded, learn something new -- but their integrity is not up for grabs.

If the real world were overflowing with examples of honor and integrity, I might not care so much to read about it in novels. Is it because honor is in such short supply these days that even the word has fallen out fashion, or has the word fallen out of common usage because honor itself is no longer common? I fear we lost the practice before we lost our understanding of word. If that is so, could a renewed comprehension and respect for the word bring honor itself back into common practice and expectations?

Honor is still in demand in the military tradition, in the practice and fraternity of the fire, police and emergency workers, as we clearly saw on 9-11. If honor is not equally at home in the halls of Congress and the boardrooms of great corporations, it is because it is not welcome there, not expected there, not in demand there.

And that is the shame of it all. If our nation is to have honor, it cannot be treated like the family silver, polished up for special occasions and then left to tarnish in between events. Honor, to be honor, must be threaded through every aspect of our daily lives -- work and play, business and worship, family and strangers.

If, like me, you enjoy Science Fiction and are hungry for honor, even if (only) in a novel, you might enjoy reading "Butterfly and Hellflower".

This excerpt is from the fly-cover:
"I was making my way around wondertown; free, female, and a damn sight over the age of reason, when I saw this greenie right in front of me in the street, about to mix it up with K'jarn and six of his werewolves. And hell, it was seven-on-one and I never liked K'jarn anyway.
That was my first mistake, rescuing a Hellflower. It turned out he was Valijon Starbringer, son of one of the Hellflower hig muckety-mucks, the meanest, toughest, mercenaries in the universe. And now he said he owed me his life, said it like he hated it, like he'd rather be dead than owe me.
And me, Butterfly St. Cyr, darktrader, interdicted barbarian, and the partner of Paladin, a death-to-possess Old Federation Artificial Intelligence, all I wanted was to get Valijon out of my own life and get back to business.
Some folk might call my business smuggling, but, hey, I know how much I can bend the law and when to stop before it breaks me.
Anyway, I probably should have walked away right after that street meet. But the next thing I knew I heard the kid had got in trouble and wound up in jail. So what could I do but break him out. And since I set off every alarm the Free Port had while doin' it, there was nothin for it but to blast out of there, taking my new pet Hellflower with me. After all, where was the harm? He'd see a little of the galaxy he'd never seen before--just as long as he didn't ever tumble to Paladin bein' on board--and after I delivered my cargo, I'd drop him into the lovin arms of his all-too-powerful da.
That was the plan anyway, but the rest of the galaxy seemed to have other ideas, ideas that included seeing that Valijon never made it home alive..."

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