M.C.A. Hogarth, The Aphorisms of Kherishdar (CreateSpace, 2008)
It is remarkable to me that M.C.A. Hogarth is not more widely spoken of than she is, for she is writing some of the most imaginative social (and alien) science fiction currently out there. If I were forced to use one word to describe her as an artist and a writer, it would be — ascending. If I were to use one word to describe her latest offering, The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, it would be — illuminating.
Illuminating is particularly appropriate, for the main character of the Aphorisms is a calligrapher of a bipedal, somewhat feline alien race known as the Ai-Naidar. The Calligrapher reflects on a variety of Ai-Naidari customs in twenty-five incense stories (or flash fiction, to use more common parlance): customs picked out according to the Calligrapher’s every day encounters in his own society. The stories often close with some proverb that the Calligrapher is carefully illuminating in fine Ai-Naidari script, hence the title.
Our narrator, the Calligrapher, remains nameless for much of the work and yet this does not seem strange: in Kherishdar, one’s place in society is who one is. And so we come to know the Calligrapher, an Ai-Naidari who is part and loving of his society but also somewhat aloof from it. Perhaps aloof is not the correct word; he is an observer of his society, but tightly linked. Unlike the Exception (an Ai-Naidari who stands outside society), he is a proponent of Civilization rather than a necessary critic, a court philosopher rather than a cynic. Although the Calligrapher is adept at using his influence for the benefit of others, for Civilization, in the way needed most, he’s not always good at doing that for himself. Pleasingly, in Kherishdar, there is always someone willing to remind you of and enfold you in Civilization’s pattern. So the soul learns.
At 68 pages, don’t let the slimness of the volume fool you — this collection packs an emotional wallop. Often, I would find myself with a shiver of rightness in my spine or a longing tear in my eye upon finishing a story. And, although I would try to put the volume down, to reflect on what I’d just read, I found myself picking it up only moments later to learn more about this intriguing race (and, incidentally, more about this very human heart of mine). Even with such quick reading, I found my thoughts lingering with the Ai-Naidari for days afterward, and kept returning to the book to revisit a vignette here (Ishas, spirit) and another there (Sasrith, favors promised).
Hogarth is also the illustrator and she treats us to six paintings in The Aphorisms of Kherishdar (a treat indeed, considering the brevity of the collection!). She is as deft with a brush as she is with a pen, and she renders the populace of Kherishdar in warm, rich colors and clean lines. Each interior illustration matches a particular aphorism and I believe you will find them, as I did, wholly evocative of the work. The cover illustration of the Calligrapher and Ai-Naidari calligraphy is also as compelling and contains references to the work that are only fully understood after reading the collection.
This collection was born from the author’s own philosophical soul, as she herself sought the truth of the aphorism, “Wisdom begins in full living.” More than an exploration of an alien civilization, these stories seem, at times, like the author’s own dreams for society: dreams painted in gorgeous images, mental and literal, and spread via excellent science fiction rather than trite preaching.
Her words, both as story and philosophy, have certainly had an effect: The Aphorisms of Kherishdar is a collection entirely and directly funded by her community of readers. Upon the project’s completion at professional rates, Hogarth worked with CreateSpace to offer the stories in glorious physical form through Amazon.com, where you can now purchase a copy. Please do, and, once you have read these poignant tales of the Ai-Naidar, visit The Aphorisms of Kherishdar’s Web site and “As the Calligrapher writes: read and speak your mind.”
This review was originally published at Green Man Review on June 1st, 2008.