Cetus Finalis Author Interview Revisited (On Whalesong)

Say What?

Hello, readers, and welcome back!
Reminder- Cetus Finalis: A Gray Whale Odyssey, buy it now! Please come to the book launch party on Sunday, October 2nd, 3-6 PM, at Finnegan’s Wake (937 Cole Street, San Francisco, CA 94117)

Today we will continue with responses to inquiries from readers regarding my latest release, Cetus Finalis: A Gray Whale Odyssey. All of these questions about Cetus Finalis were asked, sometimes in writing and sometimes in person, by interested readers, here compiled into interview format.

By some standards, Cetus Finalis: A Gray Whale Odyssey, is short for a novel, barely 200 pages. Why is that?
fanned out novel pagesCetus Finalis is as long as the story called for. To serve the tale, much was discarded. The conventions for novel length fluctuate with the times. Books of all lengths will always be of value. The Internet attention span, and the versatility of ebooks has made Narnia-length books more popular than they have been in a long time. The Odyssey is a valuable novel, as is The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe; two novels of very different lengths. Cetus Finalis: A Gray Whale Odyssey, is closer to the length of a Narnia novel than a Homeric epic. Though it does include poetry.

Why Poetry?
Inspiration struck. You see, all of the main characters are whales, and Cetus Finalis takes place underwater. I needed a convincing manner to convey the unique and alien medium by which whales communicate. They couldn’t just talk to each other, as we do. But at the same time, it had to be comprehensible to us as readers. By that token, all of the whale dialogue in Cetus Finalis is rendered in verse because, well…we’re all familiar with whale song. In Cetus Finalis, everything the whales “say” to each other is actually sung, and written as poetry. This also affected the length of the book. As a significant portion of Cetus Finalis is poetry, it needed to run shorter, because it reads denser.

That’s never been done before…
I know. I can’t wait to see what people think.

How did inspiration strike?
whalesongI was considering how whales exist in what we would consider an alien, otherworldly place; a weightless environment completely mediated by sound with equal ease of motion through all three spatial dimensions. They communicate sonically through a liquid medium. Sound travels through water about 4 times faster than through air, and thousands of times farther, especially through water at low temperature and high pressure – like the water in the ocean depths.

When you put it that way, it sounds sort of like science fiction…
In some ways, it does resemble science fiction. Cetus Finalis introduces you to an alien intelligence, but it is an intelligence that comes from beneath the sea rather than outer space. And by most counts, the knowledge communicated by whales may be just as strange and wondrous to us as the knowledge possessed by interstellar aliens. For example, Whales possess a tremendous amount of ambient sonic knowledge that is transmitted easily and globally. They possess a system on par with our modern global telecommunications. Furthermore, they’ve been doing it for millions of years – that’s thousands of millennia. Their aquatic bodies may not have developed manipulative organs to enable technical engineering feats like humans. Instead of opposable thumbs, whales have evolved (over tens of millions of years, of course) into brains with a greatly advanced sound processing apparatus and a more sophisticated emotional lobe than beach-loving, landlubbing humans. Compared to humans, the emotional intelligence of whales is off the charts. This is scientifically verified in orcas, in particular, who have much larger and more highly developed emotional centers in their brains than any human being. Whatever we call “intuition” likely plays a much greater role in the lives of whales.

Do you think whales live in mental worlds that complex? Many argue that whales are only about as smart as cows.
I think that is very unlikely that whales are like cows. (Also, cows were a lot smarter before we feed lot bred them into stupidity.) With the size of whales’ brains, the complexity of their songs, the range of their travels, the length of their childhood, and many other factors, I am convinced that whales possess what we would call society and culture, consisting of generationally transmitted knowledge.

Detail of "The Whale Shark Song," by Sadie James

Detail of “The Whale Shark Song,” by Sadie James

Imagine if you could hear everything that everyone was saying within 5 or 10,000 miles of you.  What if every love note was a broadcast? How do you tease out the meant recipient? Humans don’t typically do it. Humans are too individual, too emotionally underdeveloped, to stay sane under those conditions. And whales relate to each other through this group-oriented, aural environment with every utterance.

Imagine how much aural history can accumulate in that many millions of years. Human civilization has only existed for a tiny fraction of that amount of time. So when it came to writing whale dialogue, all of that was a lot to think about. I couldn’t write their utterances in quotations and sentences; there was more behind them.

Well, you’ve certainly given me a lot to think about…
Wait until you read it.

Image by Lucie Hall (Linoleuim block print)Cetus Finalis: A Gray Whale Odyssey, on sale NOW! Paperback and ebook, from Amazon, this website, shelldive.com, and select local retailers. Mark your calendars and come to the book signing, Sunday, October 2nd, 3-6 PM, at Finnegan’s Wake (937 Cole Street, San Francisco, CA 94117)

Stay tuned for the third installment of our Cetus Finalis Author Interview, where we’ll cover where the story came from, recount some discussions of whale anatomy, and address why Cetus Finalis took 5 years (though by some accounts, 3 years) to create.
Thank you for reading. Reading rules!


About Suhail Rafidi

Suhail Rafidi is a novelist and educator whose works explore the destiny of human values in a technological landscape. You can find him on Twitter, too, @shelldive.
This entry was posted in Authors and Writing, Poetry, Science and Nature, The Writing Profession and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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