My Favorite Bit: Clark T. Carlton talks about THE PROPHET OF THE GHOST ANTS
Clark T. Carlton is joining us today with his novel The Prophet of the Ghost Ants. Here’s the publishers description:
Both familiar and fantastic, Clark T. Carlton’s Prophets of the Ghost Ants explores a world in which food, weapons, clothing, art—even religious beliefs—are derived from Humankind’s profound intertwining with the insect world.
In a savage landscape where humans have evolved to the size of insects, they cannot hope to dominate. Ceaselessly, humans are stalked by night wasps, lair spiders, and marauder fleas. And just as sinister, men are still men. Corrupt elites ruthlessly enforce a rigid caste system. Duplicitous clergymen and power-mongering royalty wage pointless wars for their own glory. Fantasies of a better life and a better world serve only to torment those who dare to dream.
One so tormented is a half-breed slave named Anand, a dung-collector who has known nothing but squalor and abuse. Anand wants to lead his people against a genocidal army who fight atop fearsome, translucent Ghost Ants. But to his horror, Anand learns this merciless enemy is led by someone from his own family: a religious zealot bent on the conversion of all non-believers . . . or their extermination.
A mix of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt,Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor,and Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass,this is a powerful new addition to the genre.
What’s Clark’s favorite bit?
CLARK THOMAS CARLTON
My favorite bit in my Antasy series is my Cockroach Tribe.
I may have lost a few of you already who think bugs are icky … and none are ickier than roaches.
I have no fondness for actual roaches. They were something I tried and failed to kill in the low rent apartments of my college days. I remember the nauseating stink of insecticides that failed to stop the cucarachas who only came out at night. While I was in bed I’d hear them as they crawled over the paper and plastics of the trash with that creepy rustling sound. When I flipped on the lights, they scrambled in a circular way to their home under the stove.
Cockroaches need to be exterminated because they can transmit the kinds of bacteria that cause food poisoning and they can spread parasitic worms and other human pathogens. And as companions, well, they are not exactly cute and cuddly or likely to impress your dates. An embarrassing moment from the days-before-cell-phones was when I brought in my answering machine to be repaired and was told it was a “roach motel.” Its six-legged inhabitants were drawn to its heat and darkness and something within the machine was delicious and nourishing. And as for those actual Black Flag Roach Motels (roaches check in but they don’t check out), I remember an alcohol and pot-fueled party where one guest, an aspiring performance artist, created an impromptu piece when she gathered those boxes reeking of maple syrup. She carefully opened the Motels to reveal their victims stuck to ribbons of glue and then pinned these sheets to a wall facing the front door. Arriving guests encountered a kind of abstract art that was beautiful at first … until you got up closer.
So yes, death to the cockroaches, but in the world of my science-fantasy series, roaches have a beneficial relationship with at least one tribe of humans. In this distant future, men and women have shrunk to a tenth of an inch and they are the last of the Earth’s red blooded creatures. It’s an oxygen rich world where the insects have gotten as large as they were in the Carboniferous Period — some of the flying ones have wingspans of two feet or more. In order to survive, the tiny humans don’t battle bugs but infiltrate and live among them and their cultures are an outgrowth of the insect they adopt. The brown ant people hate the yellow ant people and they detest the beetle people. And everyone hates the cockroach people.
Yes, millions of years from now, roaches are still reviled, but for a different reason.
The ant peoples of this futurity confine their lives to the mounds where they cohabitate with their insects. In order to be accepted by ants (instead of torn apart and eaten by them) the humans have to disguise themselves. They wear antennae and clothing made from the eggshells of pupae or the moltings of larvae, but more importantly, they wear their ants’ colony scent. The ants of a colony recognize each other as kin not by appearance, but with sniffs of their antennae. If some brown ant people stumble into yellow territory, the yellow ants will destroy the browns because they wear the scent of an enemy ant. This makes for a world where tribal divides are absolute and the word “ambassador” does not exist. Men and women with different ants are not recognized as fellow humans but as lesser beings with inferior insects.
The exception in this world is the Britasyte roach people. They are the wanderers of these treacherous lands, something made possible by their roaches exuding a pheromone that repels other insects. The roach people are hated for their dark skin and the stink of their insects and they are resented for their wealth and the freedoms of the roaming life. Sometimes they are hired by the monarchs of the ant nations to pass critical messages, but mostly the Britasytes are show people as well as traders and craftsmen. Their elaborate spectacles feature the forbidden beauty of women dancing to a frenzied music. Before the show, seductive roach girls ply the audience with a drink laced with a hallucinogenic fungus. After the show, the roach men sell the drunken revelers their cloth, jewelry and exotic items from distant lands.
The Roach Tribe lives in constant danger — one of their four clans has been lost for years — but they cannot imagine a life more fulfilling than their own. They call the ant peoples ‘sedites’, a word that degrades them for their settled ways. The Britasytes are sure that no insect is better than the roach which provides them with protection as well as eggs both for eating and as leather for boots and shoes. The largest roaches are draped and bejeweled draft animals that haul sand sleds encrusted with thousands of gems.
My hero, Anand, like so many heroes, is a boy from a mixed marriage and he has a foot in two worlds. Among the ant people, Anand is the lowest of the low — a halfbreed outcaste. Like his father, he was born to a life of salvaging and waste disposal. But his mother, Corra, is a Britasyte who married an outsider to give birth to a spanner: a high status male to serve as a link to a powerful ant nation. Anand will grow up to negotiate trade deals as well as the tribe’s safety — or so he hopes.
My favorite chapter in my first book is when Anand is brought to an annual gathering of the Roach Clans to celebrate something like his bar mitzvah. It is the most beautiful night of his life when his clan’s chieftain gives him his first suit of clothes: a cape that resembles the elytra, or forewings of a roach. Under the cape is a tight and colorful tunic that reveals the roach-greased muscles of his arms and legs. That night, Anand is allowed his first drink of the Holy Mildew, a potion that connects him to the tribe’s two-sexed deity, the Lord-Lady Roach of the Spirit World. And just when it can’t get more blissful, Anand sees Daveena, a large and intimidating beauty as she dances around a cage of lightning flies. The sight of her “wracks Anand with a painful yearning and a sickness that would forever infect him.” When Daveena touches Anand’s hand, “he sees their future in an instant: their marriage, pregnancies and grandchildren. He saw her hair turn gray and her corpse fed to the roaches.”
You may still not have warmed up to roaches, even these imagined ones, but I’ve learned recently that some of them, like mammals, care for their young and even provide them with something like milk. All that aside, the next time you see a cockroach in your own house, step on it. And then call the exterminator.
Clark T. Carlton is the son of a barefooted, Floridian cowboy and a beauty queen from the Land of Cotton who ventured North to raise their children in the long shadow of New York City. When he was a teenager, his family moved from a blue-collar melting pot to a segregated and conservative enclave of Southern California, an event which forever altered his world view. He studied English and Film at Boston University and UCLA and has worked as a screen and television writer, a journalist, and as a producer of reality television in addition to a thousand and one other professions. He has always had more blue than white in his collar.
Prophets of the Ghost Ants is his first original novel, a tale inspired during a trip to the Yucatan when he witnessed a battle for a Spanish peanut by two different kinds of ants. That night he dreamed of armies of tiny men on the backs of red and black ants. After doing years of research on insects and human social systems, the plot was revealed to him as a streaming, technicolor prophecy on the sixth night of Burning Man when the effigy goes up in flames.
Some of his favorite books are the classics of science fiction, all of which have an element of fantasy if they involve time travel or traveling faster than the speed of light (or through a wormhole) to another solar system. As a child, he had hopes of enlisting in Star Fleet Academy, but any physicist worth his neutrons will tell us that kind of space travel will never be possible. One of the greatest regrets of his life is that he cannot travel the galaxies to interact with alien societies- but it has opened him up to create his own imaginary world.
He lives with his family in Los Angeles where he enjoys tennis, volleyball, songwriting, and painting. A friend of his calls his paintings “Grandma Moses on acid”, which he takes as the highest compliment.