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Wraith!

A reader asks, "could you perhaps provide more detail on the definitions of 'pallax' and 'zenana'(page 279)?"

Wraith! I'm always happy to talk about the Wraith!

One of the challenges Melissa and I had to begin with was how to express so many things about Wraith culture that are purely visual in the show -- in other words, things we see but that none of the characters ever talk about. For example, there is a clear distinction in dress, ornamentation and manner between the Wraith "commanders" and the scientists. This is obviously reflective of some sort of difference in status, much as there's a distinction in dress between the military contingent in Atlantis and the civilians. We're never told what this is or what it means, but it's there.

Another example is the preening and posturing we see of commanders for the attention of a queen. The best look at this is in the episode The Queen, when Teyla is masquerading as a Wraith Queen, and we see her receiving homage.



So one of the interesting things to play with was how it all works. To begin with, given the enormous imbalance in the sexes with many more males than females, it makes sense that queens choose. They can take their pick of males, and males must compete for their favor. A great queen might have literally hundreds of potential suitors at any given time.

And so our inspiration became the Elizabethan Court, with all the gorgeously attired sea dogs and soldiers, poets and playwrights and scientists, dancing around England's Gloriana, the sole and elaborate beauty who stood at the head of all. A queen's court is like that, with courtiers of all stripes competing for her favor, outdoing each other in elaborate and beautiful dress, in wit and cunning and skills of every sort.

Sometimes she chooses, and favors one or another as a lover. He's then known as a pallax, which is an ancient Greek word for a male favorite. He's one of the queen's lovers, and subsequently advances in status in the zenana.

A zenana is a harem, but we chose to use the word zenana because it conveyed more of the original meaning. In the west we tend to associate "harem" with orgies, rather than its actual meaning as the part of the house where the women live, the inner dwelling quarters of wives, favorites and their entourages. The zenana is that -- the inner chambers on a hive ship where the queen's favorites, and her would-be favorites, actually live.

Sometimes, at rare intervals, a queen may choose to prefer one of her pallaxes above the others and makes him Consort. He's not king. The Wraith have no word for that. But he is her acknowledged mate, her permanent partner (unless she chooses to get rid of him), preferred over the others even if she has other lovers.

And she probably does. Certainly given the genetic chokepoints of having few queens, the only way to ensure genetic diversity would be for each of a queen's children to have a different father, or at very least for each of her daughters to have a different father.

In Homecoming, Guide says that he was Consort and Father both -- every honor his queen could give him, to be both her right hand and the father of her daughter. That's what he's lost.

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Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
kassrachel
Dec. 28th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, Guide. ::sigh::

:-)
jo_graham
Dec. 29th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I know. :(
ashkaztra
Dec. 29th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
This is the kind of detail level that makes me like the Legacy books so much so far.

It's also the kind of thing that makes me want to give Guide a hug, even though he probably wouldn't appreciate it. (Also, I'd need a step ladder XD)

jo_graham
Dec. 29th, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you! We worked really hard on it.

And I'd need a step ladder too, but wouldn't mind a bit! :)
ashkaztra
Dec. 29th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
And wouldn't that be a funny sight, a bunch of human women chasing after poor Guide with step ladders? *pets the poor Wraith*
jo_graham
Dec. 30th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
I am visualizing this now! Thank you....
darc_kitty
Dec. 31st, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
Q: What do you get when you cross a bored engineer with a tad too much alcohol?
A: A set of plans for a wraith 'petting zoo'. Complete with preening area for the boys when they arrive, a series of platforms at various heights so we won't need ladders, sloping ramps for those of us who have problems with steps and an hydraulic lift for wheelchairs and unexpected guests!

*sigh* I need to get out more!
jo_graham
Dec. 31st, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
Oh. Dear.

:)
jansma
Dec. 30th, 2010 12:09 pm (UTC)
Hah... knew it.
jo_graham
Dec. 30th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
Oh I fully admit that I love Todd! Perhaps not as much as Melissa, but he's definitely one of my favorites.
jansma
Dec. 30th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
I think it's a great idea (court structure), but I still can't wrap my head round the genetics - or rather, the lack of them. It makes no sense to have males outnumber females from an evolutionary point of view, and if you look at our own eco structure, it is males that have the greatest rate of attrition, including within our own species. *sigh* Yeah, I know I'm just gonna have to suck it up, but it doesn't mean that my little biologist's heart isn't revolted at the thought.

On another note, I think Guide would be heartily amused to have any number of human females wanting to hug him. San ladder or otherwise, plus there's all those lovely feeding spots to choose from. :D
jo_graham
Dec. 30th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC)
Oh you have just put your finger on a major plot point! *rubs hands together gleefully* Well, there isn't any way it would evolve that way, is there? So there must be some other reason for it....
gateraid
Jan. 3rd, 2011 09:49 am (UTC)
Sorry, I imagine you've moved well past this point (plus I hate to be *super* nerdy) but wouldn't the evolution of the species, in terms of gender, be completely unnatural anyway (I have almost zero knowledge of what is going, or has gone, in the books)?

From what we saw in s5, the cloning process is done via the Queen, so presumably she has at least some control over it. If they are cloning for war, it stands to reason that she would produce more fighters (in this case males) than breeders, given that one breeder can spawn thousands (at least in theory). Given their lifespan, they don't really need many breeders. So long as the hive doesn't explode, they could have the same Queen for tens of thousands of years.

As I said, you're probably well past this point. I found the link from GW, a somewhat outdated post now
jo_graham
Jan. 3rd, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
We've gone with the idea that only the drones are cloned, since those are the only ones we see being cloned, and the other Wraith, both male and female, seem to be unique individuals. So drones are theoretically possible by the thousands, but full males and females are unique genetic combinations and gestated one at a time.

Yes, with a lifespan of thousands of years a queen could produce dozens of children, even gestating them. And yet it seems that the sex ratio is off. Is this by choice? Or is there a reason why male embryos are more often viable? And that's the taking off point of our plot.

And thank you for stopping by! No worries about it being an older post. I'm always happy to talk about Wraith!
gateraid
Jan. 4th, 2011 01:47 am (UTC)
That sounds quite logical (cloned drones). The cynic in me says that the sex ratio is off because they had a heap of extras and stunt doubles, and it was easier to throw them in wigs and make-up than to hire new females :p

I can't think of a better (or even different) explanation than the one you've given, except perhaps to wonder if the Queens make a conscious choice to give birth to males in order to reduce competition (given that they are a matriarchal society). The cloning process seemed to involve a conscious choice to pass on genetic material, perhaps the - I hesitate to use the word natural as I'm not aware if they conceive that way - non-cloned method operates in a similar fashion?
jo_graham
Jan. 4th, 2011 12:45 pm (UTC)
The direction we've taken is that viable female embryos are much rarer than viable male ones. Queens present their gifts much more strongly, but they also have a much higher rate of inviable mutations. Which does, again, present the question of why, doesn't it? Bringing us back to major plot points! It's been fascinating to explore.
jansma
Dec. 30th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
Well, I know in my plot other females exist, but given the rivalry, and the skew your stories are taking, I think you'll have them kill each other off during childhood, which is why Ellia was taken away by her Guardian et al. Now, I think it is also possible they could be weeded out at birth, separated at that time too, but then I think Queens and Wraith like Todd are gestated as opposed to being pod people. *rubs own hands* Damn I love the Wraith. :D
jo_graham
Dec. 30th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
Nooooo.... *she says cautiously* That's not quite where we're going. Yes, there is rivalry between queens that is sometimes fatal, but that's not where the birthrate imbalance begins. And how and why that exists is a major plot point that won't be revealed until the fifth book....

And yes, we've taken the tack that Queens, Blades and Clevermen are all gestated. Only drones are not.

I love the Wraith too!
jansma
Dec. 31st, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Well, Jo, we seem to have been tracking along the same path in so many ways, you'll have to forgive me if I get things a little screwy now and again. :P And if the imbalance began somewhere else, then I'd be looking at genetics, and what was going on there? Which leaves an opening for the interest Todd has in Teyla and Earth humans.

Pleased you've taken some notice of the monkey/mammalian inheritance, as it never ever sat well that the Wraith were egg layers.

Separate question... Will we get to see Wraith children?
jo_graham
Dec. 31st, 2010 12:24 am (UTC)
Well, Jo, we seem to have been tracking along the same path in so many ways, you'll have to forgive me if I get things a little screwy now and again.

Noooo. It's just that you're hitting awfully close to some major spoilers! Let's see how to put this without giving away major plot. *thinks*

It's certainly true that it would make no sense for the Wraith to naturally evolve with this sex imbalance. So it stands to reason that they didn't, right? And if it's not because of rivalry or infanticide, if the imbalance is from birth.... Why would that be? Female fetuses are less often viable than male? As a result of their greater abilities or other genetic traits? How would you ever get something like that in the first place? And that's about as far as I can run in that direction without spoiling big plot! :)

Wraith children: yes!

We will see an adolescent queen and a male child, as well as an infant briefly. We also see, in flashback, Todd/Guide's daughter, Alabaster, as a child in his memory, and find out what happened to her and how he came to be captured by the Genii.
jansma
Jan. 19th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
Got my copy at last. *scuttles away to drink it all in* See ya on the other side.
jo_graham
Jan. 20th, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yay! I hope you enjoy it!
jansma
Jan. 22nd, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC)
I did, and I have, especially the Wraith bits which I sucked up like... well... a starving Wraith, actually. Trouble is, not enough. Too greedy, by far, I am, I think. :)

I really enjoyed reading between the lines for Jen, and Toddy. Oh my yes... Boy, could I ever take that interaction places MGM would hate.
jo_graham
Jan. 22nd, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
Like a hungry Wraith! Well, there's a lot more Wraith to come! I think The Avengers is the most "Wraithy" book so far, with about half the action full of Wraith. Though Secrets does show us some secrets even the Wraith don't tell!

I'm glad you are enjoying it so far! Jen and Todd -- *g* After she finished Avengers, my editor said, "You probably don't intend this, but you've got me shipping Jennifer and Todd! WTF?" :)
jansma
Jan. 22nd, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
I've found writing the Wraith is like that. One minute, you're happily putting in place some plot strand or other, and then some growly green bugger comes up, hisses in your ear, and says 'No, I don't think so...!' I've had more than a few curveballs thrown my way, I can tell you. *roll eyes*

Just thought I'd add that, boy are we ever close in the way we see them too. Reading Homecoming reminded me of many things I placed in a fic I wrote about a year ago, and Todd getting home. GMTA. :)
jo_graham
Jan. 22nd, 2011 11:54 pm (UTC)
Just thought I'd add that, boy are we ever close in the way we see them too. Reading Homecoming reminded me of many things I placed in a fic I wrote about a year ago, and Todd getting home.

That's really interesting! I had a feeling you'd like it.

I think there are certain logical ways to develop the Wraith, and certain "stories" one can follow. It's not actually wide open, not if it's logical. There are four or five logical things. You and I may have picked the same ones! So where do you think it's going? I'm very curious!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )