Warning, “Lactella” is an evil character.

Ivan Johns

Adult_Female_Black_WidowIvanstor Johns, the new Mountainview City Manager, had one eccentricity. He cut his own hair in an uncommon style: short on the sides and long in the back. No one, not even his family, knew the secret it hid. Beneath the long hair, like a fat tick, a huge black widow spider clung to Johns’ neck. The spider’s claws and webs and the powerful chelicerae bracketing her mouth held her fast. Her hollow fangs reached deep into the City Manager’s flesh. In public, Johns appeared calm and relaxed. In private, the spider liked to make him beg and scream.

The strange pairing had been the result of a misfortunate accident. Intelligent spiders are rare among the Tsaeb, and those who exist tend to keep the shape and some of the instinctive behaviors of their progenitors. Black widow spider hatchlings still spin the tiny web strands that originally serve as sails and carry the spiderlings to new, and hopefully richer, habitats. Intelligent black widows snip those first webs and prevent the spiderlings from floating away. On rare occasions, they fail to snip in time, and the spiderlings are lost.

On a stormy summer day, a spider egg hatched unattended. Wind caught the baby spider’s web and carried her far from her family home. Such waifs rarely survive to become adults. The small spider survived because of luck, and because of her unusually high intelligence. Deposited in the heart of a large city, she grew while locked in a daily struggle to survive alone.

The spider’s quick mind kept her alive, but she did not learn the body and mind controls that a normal Tsaeb family life would have given her. She received none of the great store of Tsaeb experience and wisdom. Instead, she learned only how to avoid threats and satisfy hunger.

The spider found that other creatures broadcast sensory images. When she inserted her fangs into them, her inherited mental powers enabled her to sense the electromagnetic fluxes surrounding their muscles and nerves. She soon learned to replace or guide the impulses with her own, and she finally began to gain control over the muscles and senses of her victims. Her power became so complete that she could keep an animal conscious and calm while she fed. As her size and ability increased, she learned to use larger creatures for transport.

* * *


The first big step on the spider’s path to Ivan Johns was her discovery of a little girl named Susan. The accidental offspring of a drug addict and an alcoholic, Susan had lived an abnormal life. When her mother left Susan behind to become an entertainer for her dealer’s customers, Susan had only her father, a violent alcoholic. Often beaten and treated to other abuses, Susan’s body bore lesions that rarely healed before the next attack.

In her sixth year, Susan awoke one morning to an empty apartment. After a week, and after every dried scrap of discarded food had been consumed, Susan left the apartment for the first time. Walking unsteadily down the shadowy hall between silent doorways, she came to a stairwell and crept down to a dark alley.

Just a few steps down the alley Susan saw one of the unintelligent cats the Humans kept. The cat had its head in a sack, but when it sensed Susan and turned toward her, it appeared well fed and unafraid. Susan held out her hands and approached, and the cat sat and watched her for a moment, but then it trotted down the alley. Susan wanted to follow, but the sack held the remains of a dinner. She sat on a pile of newspapers and began digging through the sack.

The spider had been studying the cat from beneath a nearby garbage bin. When Susan came along, the spider’s ambition for a larger host soared. While Susan ate, the spider stunned the rat it was controlling and leapt up beside the little girl. Susan noticed the spider and started to rise, but the spider sprang onto Susan’s arm and injected her with venom. Then the spider moved out of sight beneath Susan’s dress and began taking control.

The spider found it difficult to control Susan, but after numerous partial failures that required more venom injections, the spider learned to direct the little girl’s movements. She resumed the nocturnal routine she had developed with the rats.

At first, the spider controlled Susan’s muscles, but not her thoughts. The many electrical flashes and fluxes in Susan’s brain varied more than those in the brains of rats and other small animals. There were waves and sparks with no connection to the child’s movements. During an encounter with another child, the spider realized that some of the sparks connected to sounds Susan made with her throat and mouth.

The spider tried to make Susan speak and had immediate success. The other child backed away, but the spider didn’t notice; she was learning to talk, and had Susan gobbling and snorting. The spider soon began connecting the sounds with feelings, actions, and senses. Her near-perfect memory and quick mind enabled her to build vocabulary and grasp structure almost overnight. Within a week, the spider could understand Susan’s thoughts and could direct the child to form sentences.

Susan had learned from her father that obedience produced the least pain, so she did not resist when she felt the urges the spider produced, and the shadowy presence wasn’t frightening at first.

Solitary by nature, the spider’s circumstances had given her no opportunity to learn to socialize with parents or friends. She tried to talk with Susan. Needing a name for the girl to use, the spider chose Lactella. The talks didn’t amount to much. Susan hadn’t ever had a real conversation, and she didn’t know how to play. Susan didn’t know how to describe the pain and fear she had endured, and when she did share something, the spider found it depressing.

Lactella tried to do things with Susan. Susan knew how to hop, skip, and run, but she hadn’t learned about hopscotch, skip rope, or any other games. Lactella became bored with the things Susan knew, but she found she could stimulate pulses along Susan’s nerves that made the child’s body jerk and twitch in odd ways.

Lactella found that she could darken Susan’s senses until the child became frightened, cried, and finally began screaming. This was exciting, but it attracted dangerous attention. Large people came sometimes, and though Lactella hid Susan well, she feared discovery above all else.

Lactella also learned about laughter. She witnessed it a few times in the homeless wanderers Susan encountered, but she didn’t understand how to produce it. The heavy barking breaths choked through Susan’s constricted throat were monstrous, the sounds of horrible madness.

Lactella kept the girl immobilized and hidden during the day, and let her creep through alleys in search of food at night. She let the child eat, but she did not consider its health.

When the pair came upon a male spider, Lactella followed ancient instincts, obtained sperm, and attacked the producer. Later she attached her pale yellow egg sack under Susan’s arm. As the eggs hatched, Lactella used her feeding solutions to soften the child’s flesh. She watched her offspring, curious to see how they would mature. Infection developed and spread under Susan’s skin. Lactella could see something was wrong, but she did not know what to do. None of her firstborn survived.

Soon Susan became weak and unsteady on her feet. When at last Lactella could not force the child to rise, she withdrew her fangs and claws and, ignoring the feeble sobs of the small ragged ball beside a waste bin, went hunting for a fresh human host.  She found a tear in a window screen at the back of the nearest house.  As she entered, she saw the sleeping form of Ivan Johns, and elation filled her.  Something great was about to begin.

Intelligence and Rise of the Tsaeb Civilization

What is Intelligence and How is it Used in Fiction?

NASA Header ImageFamiliar components of intelligence are reaction time, sensitivity, problem solving, foresight, and memory.  Novelists often elevate one or more of the components to make their characters more interesting or to give them the necessary ability to achieve plot elements.  Sometimes we pick up hints that a character is intelligent and then we are delighted when she almost magically connects disparate clues and solves the crime.  Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes are spectacularly successful at this.  In other instances we enjoy watching a character’s routine use of his powerful intellect.  It is fun to watch Lee Child’s Jack Reacher use his exceptionally acute hearing to follow the progress of a professional tail who thinks Reacher is totally unaware of his presence.

Characters are also defined by their temperament, they way they experience and express anger, love, jealousy, regret, and so forth.  Temperament might seem to be the only real concern for character building, because it so clearly distinguishes individuals.  Intelligence, however, sets limits on the expression of temperament.  A smart wise-ass is more likely to produce interesting insults than a dumb one.  And an intelligent character is more likely to notice a detail such as the shape of a tree and see the connection between shape, competitive ability, and history of the tree.  Intelligence determines the depth and richness of a character’s response to experience.

What produces intelligence?  We know that brain size, composition, and internal connectivity are involved, but we only know that these are correlated with measured intelligence (see the references).  We do not know how they work, and we do not know the full list of factors that are necessary.  Perhaps high intelligence requires the presence of structures such as complex hands, thumbs, and voice box, or perhaps an undiscovered chemical.  Whatever the requirements, why haven’t they been met in many complex organisms?  Why aren’t all animals intelligent?

The theme and plot for “Corr Syl the Warrior” required highly intelligent characters with powers of thought beyond human ability.  I used evolution to create them.  I imagined an Earth on which evolution, in its gloriously random way, included intelligence among the traits of the first higher organisms.  I imagined that intelligence was common to all animals, and that along with other character traits, natural selection would continue to improve intelligence.  By the time dinosaurs appeared, most animals were as intelligent as humans are now (see the references).

Before I could use intelligence in my story, I had to answer numerous questions.  A central question concerned competition and conflict.  Would the many intelligent species on Earth have lived and worked together peacefully?  Or would they have built weapons and fought wars?  Observing the warlike tendencies of our modern human civilization, we might expect that universal intelligence would have raged across the Earth like a firestorm leaving nothing behind, perhaps not even the planet itself.  So this is what I decided must happen:  🙂 Continue reading

Reviews of Corr Syl the Warrior

Reviews of Corr Syl the Warrior

Corr Syl the WarriorRecent reviews:

  • “A beautifully written YA novel that will captivate environmentalists and sci-fi fans of all ages.”  Kirkus reviews (starred review). 
  • “It is an outstanding book. It’s one of those books you get excited over; that have you turning to the next page and reading more, even if it’s two in the morning.” Amazon Review by MaryAnn.
  • “Unique and highly original.  It drew me in and was difficult to put down.”  Goodreads review by BozBozo. 
  • “I found it refreshing, extremely unique with funny, laugh-out-loud moments, too.  It’s targeted at YA, but anybody who enjoys hard fantasy will like this book.”  Louise Wise at 
  • “This is undeniably a commendable story, one that sci-fi and fantasy fans will definitely love and talk about for a very long time.”  -Barnes and Noble Readers’ Favorite review at by Lit Amri.
  • “There is really nothing more you can ask of a story than is found here in Corr Syl the Warrior. The pace is brisk and keeps you engaged, the characters are so believable that Lactella gives me the creeps long after I’ve finished, and I’ll be glad to find what Corr and Rhya are up against in the promised sequel. ”  Amazon review by Paula H. 
  • “Three Words: Action, adventure, thrilling.  Age Recommendation: Whenever, it’s perfect for those looking for a thrill, no matter if your 9 or 99.”  Bianca Blossom,
  • “…a most unusual and interestingly told tale that elicits empathy for the characters as well as the conditions it describes.”  Amazon review by John H. Manhold.
  • “The truly hardcore, sci-fi fan will be delighted and entertained by the pace and deep thought involved in this novel. A must for the serious sci-fi reader.” –Barnes and Noble Readers’ Favorite review by Bill Howard.
  • “Part two was where the book really captured my interest with a very interesting and creative choice of villain.  I was hooked at this point and the story started to fall into place for me.  I started to notice a hint of humour in places and I found myself not wanting to put the book down.”  Amazon review by Chettsgeni.
  • “It has cool action scenes and a few interesting side plots to go along with it.  I really like how the writer makes an effort to explain the science and the way the Tsaeb work as a society in a way that makes logical sense.  I really enjoyed this book.” 
  • “Engaging and entertaining, it has all the literary ingredients of a successful novel. Indeed, this is more than just a story about a young warrior’s adventure but is also a reminder of how humans are abusing the environment.  This is a concern that has been expressed in very many ways but this one is certainly one of the most imaginative. -Barnes and Noble Readers’ Favorite by Marie Beltran.
  • “For a first novel, I have to say this book is as well written as any I’ve read, and I read a lot.  I liked it.”  Unpublished Review sent to author by Truman Burgess.
  • “An original story, great concept, I want more!  Rogers has developed an alternative Earth, where we are the invasive species!  An original approach to force the reader to evaluate how interconnected we are with everything alive on this planet.  Excellent presentation of the politics of conflict and a thorough understanding how even amongst like species there can be political agendas.  The book should be titled ‘Corr Syl the Negotiator and Strategist, Scientist, and Warrior’.  I read it in one sitting – I like that, when a book grabs hold of me, makes me see things from another perspective, makes me think – and then makes me want more when I put it down.”  Amazon review by Kristine Uhlman.

Corr Syl the Comedian


Oliver Begins to Laugh

Like most Tsaeb, Corr Syl wants to be a comedian.  But despite his persistence, he can’t master the subtle timing needed to make Tsaeb laugh.  He is so bad that his home district council has given him two awards for “Week’s Worst Joke.”  At last, Corr discovers that he is quite effective with the less complicated Danog.  While searching for a solution to our current dilemma he befriends a Danog family and over dinner, entertains with a series of jokes.  A favorite was the one-liner by Demetri Martin:  “The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades.”  Learn more about Corr Syl here.