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Literature / The Madness Season

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Two halves of the cover art by Michael Whelan. The part with Daetrin and blue star goes on the front, and one with the Tyr and a red Sun goes to back, like so.
The Madness Season is a Science Fantasy novel by Celia S. Friedman which blends Science Fiction with monster mythology.

Centuries ago, Earth was invaded and subjugated by an alien race known as the Tyr. In order to cement their rule over humankind, the Tyr institute a law that any agitators or exceptional individuals it identifies will be exiled from Earth permanently. And the Tyr's plan is progressing well - human ingenuity and independence is fading into the mists of a fragmented history. But there was one native of Earth who never forgot that old world.

Daetrin Haal (though he chooses not to admit it to himself) is an ancient vampire. For centuries before the Subjugation, Daetrin hid amongst humankind undetected. For the centuries after, he continued the masquerade, not just from humans, but from the Tyr as well. But, like him, the Tyr have a long memory and they ultimately find him.

Deemed by the Tyr to be a threat to their dominion over Earth, Daetrin is banished from Earth, doomed to live the rest of his many days on a distant research world. But he is a survivor. Cut off from what he needs to stay alive while being transported on a Tyr starship, his instincts take control and allow him to escape by jumping ship during a stop at a Medieval-level human colony world. There, he meets an energy being known as a Marra who also requires the life force of others to survive and is also able to change her shape.

Together, Daetrin and the Marra travel through the Tyr-dominated worlds in an attempt to discover the origins of the Tyr which ultimately prove to be the key to destroying their empire.

This book provides examples of:

  • The All-Concealing "I": Daetrin's first-person P.O.V. places the focus on his experiences instead of his nature, allowing for a gradual reveal of the fact that he is a vampire.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Daetrin's father was once an employee of the Library of Alexandria and personally saw it burn. Daetrin's mother was worshipped by the Helenic societies as a goddess (though we are not privy to which goddess she may have been).
  • Believing Their Own Lies: The Marra who survive in hiding on the Tyr-controlled worlds often give themselves cover stories. Because their memories only span a few centuries, they eventually start believing their cover stories, to the point that they even believe that they are mortals who can die.
    • Also Daetrin himself at the beginning of the book, who wished so much to be "normal" that for centuries he's convinced himself that he only suffered from a strange blood disorder, and that all memories of "supernatural" powers were just hallucinations.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The Tyr reproductive cycle is based on their home planet's roughly century-long highly eliptical orbit. At the planet's closest approach to their sun, the Raayat-Tyr, which effectively act as drones, enter a state of madness and enter the Tyr hive where they fight each other for the chance to reach the queen's chamber. If a Raayat mates with the queen, he becomes a new Kuol with his own Honn. If he kills her, though, he transforms into the new queen.
  • Divine Conflict: Deliberately invoked towards the end of the book. Kost believes that the Marra are gods compared to the embodied, and intends to set himself up as a tyrant over the newly freed humans. To head him off without having to babysit him for the next few centuries, Kiri arranges for one of the other Marra to set himself up in opposition to Kost. He's enthusiastic about the idea, since he hasn't gotten to play God Against God in ages.
  • Body Surf: Kiri is forced to survive this way when she first encounters the Tyr.
  • Death World: The Tyr Homeworld is perfectly habitable for less than a quarter of its year. Unfortunately, that year lasts for about 70 Earth years. For most of its elliptical orbit, it is covered in ice. Spring and fall each last about 20 Earth years. For the brief period when it is close to its sun, it is a fiery hellscape.
  • Energy Beings: The Marra have no true physical presence and are instead anchored to the physical world by the life form that they inhabit.
  • Face Your Fears: A central theme of the book. Fear is foreign to the Tyr, fear is the principal that the Hrass use to perceive the world around them, the Tekk must conquer fear to attain adulthood. Daetrin has to face long-dreaded truths about himself in order to survive.
  • Fake Weakness: It is implied that many of the weaknesses that popular culture says belong to vampires were fabricated by their kind so that they could escape angry mobs relatively unharmed. Of particular interest is their "weakness" to wooden stakes. A properly skilled immortal is able to absorb the organic matter in the wood before it causes any damage to their heart. Unfortunately, some vampires wind up assuming that these weaknesses are the real deal, giving them a genuine aversion to such mundane things as garlic and holy water.
    • In a way, anything counts as a Fake Weakness to a Marra, since they literally cannot be killed; destroying their physical form just means they now have a dead physical form. At the very worst they'd become dissociated from normal matterspace and drift around until they can reform a connection. Or at least, that's the case until one of the Marra forgets his true nature and comes to believe that killing his body will also kill him, at which point it becomes true.
  • Faux Death: Daetrin's father taught him one technique to make him appear to be nothing more than a walking corpse. Unfortunately, his father took it too far and accidentally killed himself. Daetrin himself almost fell to the same fate.
  • The Fog of Ages: This notion is codified among the Marra as "span" - the length of time required for an individual Marra to forget the past. Kiri has above-average span, about 500 years.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Daetrin fought for Earth when the Tyr initially invaded. When they finally took over, he continued to teach later generations what had happened. During all that time, he has not drunk any human blood, thanks to synthesizing the necessary chemicals via modern chemistry. Plus, destroying the Tyr empire and liberating Earth, along with hundreds of other worlds, has to give him a few extra Karma points.
    • Ruminating on his people's origins, Daetrin surmises that all vampires are meant to be this; that they evolved as a slower, longer-lived, long-memoried counterpart to humans to serve as archives of humanity's cultural and genetic legacy. Both his mother and his father had symbiotic relations with humanity, though not all of his siblings did.
  • God Guise: One Marra encountered acts as the leader of a cult and uses his powers to convince the naive human colonists that he is a god. When he is finally "banished", he even does stages his own miraculous incineration with a dramatic flourish.
  • Healing Factor: Daetrin and the Marra can both heal from what would otherwise be fatal injuries, so long as they have enough blood or energy to do so.
    • The Marra actually have total molecular control over their mass, so even actual death is no more than an inconvenience to them. In the Marra's introductory sequence she actually dies three times — vacuum exposure, blood loss, and incineration from a laser gun — and continues blithely on.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: Tekk children undergo a ritual calling the Blooding — a Rite of Passage into adulthood to demonstrate that they possess the mental fortitude to go among their Tyr overlords. The real substance of the ceremony has nothing to do the the Tyr and everything to do with their super-predatory Hraas bodyguards, who kill some of the children, but those they spare they will leave alone. This is essential, because fully-fledged Tekk work in places which the Hraas patrol.
  • Hive Mind: The Tyr is a superorganism with a shared consciousness.
  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: Most of the Marra encountered by Daetrin like to disguise themselves as humans, mostly because they've found themselves on human colonies.
    • This is cleverly reversed in the climax of the story where Daetrin transforms into a Raayat-Tyr in order to infiltrate their homeworld.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Faster-than-light travel involves converting normal space into Alien Geometries that defy comprehension. The Tyr Hive Mind renders it immune, so they can travel between stars while everyone else collapses into a state of terror.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: Marra can changes their bodies like humans change outfits, and having a body die on them is no more than a setback.
    • While the Tyr is collectively immortal, the individuals that comprise it are expendable. In a few instances, a Honn-Tyr abruptly drops dead after observing something that doesn't make sense, because the Tyr-whole assumed it was defective.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: The Marra are not able to breed. Or, if they can, they have forgotten how. Daetrin, as Marra describes, produces just enough life force to survive and no more, making him essentially sterile. Subverted for Daetrin as it later turns out that, for his kind to breed, they have to be freely given blood rather than taking it by force.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm a Coward: Daetrin, from the start, considers himself to be more a coward than a hero. Everything that he had done in his life, up to the events of the book, including his battles during the Tyr invasion, were coloured in his mind as selfish attempts at self-preservation.
  • Insectoid Aliens: Not just the Tyr, but also the beetle-like Saudar and one of the slave races ruled by the Tyr (though that race is more spider-like).
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: Daetrin suspects early on that the Tyr did not develop any of the technology they use, and the book later implies that the Tyr stole most, if not all, of it from the Saudar.
  • La RĂ©sistance: The Tekk are a very, very deep-cover resistance cell, playing a long-game against the Tyr spanning generations.
  • Living Relic: This is what makes the Tyr perceive Daetrin as a threat. The fact that he can remember what the world was like before they invaded is enough to banish him from the Earth. His parents also could have been considered such before their deaths, having witnessed the fall of European civilization into the Dark Ages.
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: Daetrin narrates in first person and all other P.O.V.s are in third person.
  • 90% of Your Brain: This appears to be the main difference between Daetrin's variety of vampire and Marra's. When Daetrin transforms into, say, a wolf, his neural activity matches that of a normal wolf. When a Marra does the same, their consciousness continues to exist outside of the physical body, and only the parts of the brain directly used to make it move around are active.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. Daetrin, having evolved on Earth, is not able to transform into any life form that is not native to his home planet.
    • At least, not until a Marra is around to molecularly manipulate a part of his flesh to contain the foreign DNA code. Then he's able to shapeshift into aliens, a key point to the story's resolution.
  • No Need for Names: Among their own kind, Marra do not have personal names - or at least, they didn't back in the Saudar Unity days. Kiri takes it as a sign of the decline of her people that Marra like Kost and Paes' seem unable to see past the identities they have built.
  • Operator Incompatibility: The eyes of humans and Tyr respond to different frequencies of light. Because of this, all of the helpful labels that Tyr spacecraft use are completely invisible to humans.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: We don't have just one kind of vampire in this book. Here, we've got two!
    • Daetrin is a classic blood-sucking vampire (though he doesn't care to admit it). Through the use of modern chemistry, he lived for centuries without requiring human blood, however this dulled his senses, and greatly weakened his shapeshifting abilities. Some fresh blood cured him of these handicaps very quickly.
    • The Marra are energy vampires and do not even have to inhabit the same body at all times. They are also not native to this universe.
      • However, the word vampire is never used in either case; the Marra, struggling with a new language, refers to their type as "a consumer of life." Vampire is only actually used once in the book, to refer to a Marra who is actively draining and exploiting his partner with no commensal return.
  • Planet of Steves: All of the Marra are called Marra, differentiated by a suffix denoting their current role (the Marra masquerading as a human priest, for example, is called "priest-Marra" by his fellows.) The fact that one of the Marra gives themselves a name (Kost) is considered bizarre.
    • Likewise, the majority of the Tyr, being extensions of the Hive Mind, are designated only by the biological caste that they belong to. When one of the Tyr gets an individual name, it's a big deal.
  • Penal Colony: Yuang Colony, the place to which Daetrin is sentenced, is a prison for humans whose crime is being clever.
  • Rogue Drone: Frederick, at least during the times when he's not connected to the Tyr hive-mind.
  • Society of Immortals: The Marra initially had an entire incorporeal civilization existing on another plane of existence, before they were enticed into the physical world and occupied for centuries until they forgot how to return home.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: The reason that Daetrin believes that turning into a bat is beneath him, even when he's trapped underground with no light source and the only way to navigate is through echolocation.
  • Super-Senses: Daetrin and his kind are able to see into the infra red spectrum. As Daetrin re-learns his powers, he also gains a very powerful sense of smell and hearing.
    • The Hraas literally can see the web of life and read the activity and emotions of others through that web. The Tyr having no fear, and therefore shattering that web, is why the Hraas were unable to attack the Tyr.
  • Swarm of Rats: Frederick mentions in passing that Meyaga, a world the Tyr colonized with Earth species, is out of ecological balance. Daetrin learns what this means firsthand while attempting to defend a human settlement on Meyaga from a tide of rat-like creatures that consume everything they pass over. It doesn't go well.
  • Touch Telepathy / Psychometry: Marra, or at least the smarter and more experienced ones, can do a form of this. The protagonist Marra has taken on so many alien forms over her lifetime that she can very quickly get a very close approximation of how a new life-form moves, speaks, behaves, and mates just by copying and analyzing their brain structure. She's thrown for quite a loop when a new species, the Tyr, doesn't match any of her previous experiences (they're a hive-mind, which she's never encountered before.)
    • When Daetrin asks if she's literally reading his thoughts, she replies "That would be impossible — and impolite." Politeness is very important to the Marra.
  • Title Drop: The title of the book references the mental state of the Raayat-Tyr as they enter the breeding season.
  • Vichy Earth: Humans pretty much have no rights except those afforded them by the Tyr. It's the same case with other races that were subjugated by them. What's more, if you're especially rowdy or subversive or just too smart, you're taken from the Earth and sent to some colony for the rest of your life.
  • Voluntary Shape Shifting: Daetrin is able to transform into any living thing that has evolved on Earth (though he does not like the idea of turning into a bat because of the stereotype). The Marra are able to transform into anything, living or inanimate, period. One even managed to do a pretty good impression of the Burning Bush, and prior to that, a rock before returning to it's chosen human form.
  • You Are Number 6: Daetrin's full name is Daetrin Ungashak To-Alym Haal. It is not a true name but simply a Tyr numerical designation which every human on Earth must have.