The Kaja System in “This Alien Shore”

The kaja system is the basis of the social structure on Guera, allowing its society to function properly. The Guerans are by far the most paradoxical of all Hausman Variants. The evolved (or rather were forced to evolve) from homo sapiens as a result of the superluminal travel, designed by Victor Hausman. While in case of other Hausman Variants the changes were mainly in physical appearance, the Guerans kept their human form intact. Instead, their psyche was affected: in the Gueran society re-appeared the mental disorders, diseases and genetic flaws that had long ago been eradicated from the human genom. As a result the entire Gueran society consists of individuals who are more or less disturbed, unstable and unsocial, which makes the Guerans the most univerally feared ones of all the Variants… especially that they were also the most successful. Their unique ability allowed them to develop talents impossible for any other human being: to lead the spaceships through what is called ainniq, the hyperspace.This ability led to the forming of the Guild that controls the entire space travel in the universe. It is well known that only the Gueran pilots (the most unstable ones in the Gueran society, aliens even among their own kind) are able – due to unique combination of talents, drugs and biomodifications – to transfer the ships through ainniq. Needless to say, the Guild’s monopoly (and the financial and political position of Guera resulting from it) only add to the bitter feelings of Earth and some other Variants towards Guerans.
A society consisting entirely of mentally unstable individuals is, however, rather unlikely to function properly. This problem was solved by the introduction of the kaja – the “classes” in society, reflecting various types of disorders and models of behaviour. Kaja is also the pattern painted (or tatooed) on every Gueran’s face, indicating their “type” and thus allowing them to communicate with others. Strict rules are applied to the communication between various kaja (e.g. in the conversation between Luis Hsing, the nantana, and Kio Masada, whose main kaja is iru, both of them know perfectly well in which situation the needs of one of them have precedence before the needs of the other. Masada does not have to start the converation with social niceties and small talk as the nantana would; yet he has to shake hands with him to confirm their deal). Kaja are highly formalized and therefore instantly recognizable for any member of the Gueran society. Often the kaja patterns painted on one’s face are the combination of two or more types.
Most of the kaja names come from various kinds of Terran animals in several different languages.

WARNING: the identifications aren’t by far certain; only one of them (the otta) is based on Ms Friedman’s own words. Not in all cases I was able to find a linguistic equivalent for the name of the kaja. The most tentative part of the analysis is the association of certain kaja types with various mental disorders; it is necessary to stress that in most cases the kaja is a combination of several types, thus it is probably impossible to find one medical condition to associate with each of them; besides, it would require a person with much more profound expertise in psychology and psychiatry than a mere philologist possesses

Kaja Origins Interpretation Person Disorder
natsiq Inuit (Eskimo) for “seal” The one that travels under ice, despite of the monters that are lurking in the dark waters; the one leading the ship through ainniq the Guild spacepilots, Guildmaster Ian Kent (who is an ex-pilot), Guildmistress Sonondra Ra (partially), Guildmaster Anton Varsav (partially) ?
simba Suahili for “lion” The proud one, the natural leader, always openly fighting for dominance; unsocial, unable to bear competitors, cruel and ruthless, but only if it serves his purpose Lady Alya Cairo, the Guildmistress Prima ?
nantana ? The extravert one, keen on social niceties, the natural diplomat; likely to show off, yet with a deep undertanding of human nature and impressive manipulative skills; underneath a seemingly open persona lies a scheming master of traps and conspiracies Guildmaster Luis Hsing, Guildmaster Devlin Gaza (partially) ?
nanango Australian Aboriginal for “ant” Mentioned in the novel without more detailed explanation; perhaps an ant would designate the predilection to work over social life? Dedication to society? Depriving oneself of individuality? Kio Masada (partially) ?
iru ? (the only linguistic association that comes to my mind is with the Japanese verb iru, “to exists”, which does not explain much Lacking deep feelings and unable to show any emotions, deprived of social skills, despising all kinds of subtleties in social life, always telling the truth because he simply cannot lie; objective, extremely gifted, organizing his life in ritualistic patterns (see Masada’s opinion on teaching) Kio Masada (main pattern), Masada’s late wife Autism
kita ? Mentioned in the novel without more detailed explanation; may be associated with shyness, detachment, lack of social skills Kio Masada (partially) ?
assivak ?; despite of the linguistic uncertainty the model is almost certainly a spider a silent hunter, waiting in the silken web for the prey; the one waiting patiently for an opportunity, almost invisible, extremely dangerous, always in control Chandras Delhi (? – not stated openly, but the chapter on her starts and ends with the description of this kaja; the spider also fits her behavious as well as her physical description – she is crippled and uses a special spider-like device allowing her to move; on p. 123 she is compared to the spider) Psychopathic behaviour?
otta English “otter” the playful one, living for the game and the pleasure of it, deprived of responsibility, or rather feeling only the responsibility to share his joy and pleasures with others ? ?
tanji ? some kind of animal living in groups or herds, but the description is vague enough to prevent more precise identification; it may be connected with suppressing individuality and relying fully on community, with which one has almost a telepathic contact Jamisia Capra? (in relation to her other personalities?) ?
bakira Perhaps from the name of the character of Bagheera the black panther in R. Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”; the association with the black panther seems obvious. the black predatory animal, cruel, ruthless, graceful, bloodthirsty; it accepts no social limits and no conventions ? ?
shru ? the restless one, knowing no peace, suspicious Guildmaster Anton Varsav (partially) Paranoia? (which is certainly one of Anton’s disorders)
tensan Japanese for “silkworm” the worm just before entering the chrysalid phase; the one expecting a change and waiting for it yet fearing it all the same, driven to do something without the knowledge what to do Jamisia Capra?? (no identification, but the description of this kaja preceeds the chapter on her decision to accept and use her other personalities; it also fits well her behaviour) ?
yakimi Japanese for “eel” (?) the one delighting in speculations and ideas without taking into account their practical meaning ? ?
yuri ? – my only association is with a Japanese word meaning “lily” the loyal servant Guildmistress Sonondra Ra (partially) ?
raj ? – perhaps from the Sanskrit word meaning “king”; from this word comes also the name of the raja fish, which has spines on its back; aggressive, powerful Guildmaster Devlin Gaza (partially) ?
lilitu ?, although the obvious association seems to be with Lilith, the night demon, symbolizing the dangers of female eroticism; the name Lilith comes from the Hebrew word laila, “night” gifted with powerful inner vision; mysterious, secretive, treacherous Guildmistress Chandras Delhi (partially) ?
rusa Asian rusa deer (Cervus timorensis) the sacred animal, the keeper of the souls whose flesh is the house for the souls of lost humans (TAS, p. 562) Jamisia Capra? Multiple personality disorder

6 Responses to The Kaja System in “This Alien Shore”

  1. C. S. Friedman says:

    Wow, very impressive work! And spot on in most cases.

    I believe assivak was Innuit for “spider”, though I can’t find my notes to be sure. Shru indicated Tourette’s syndrome. The rusa was this wonderful deer that a friend told me about, I believe somewhere in southeast Asia, that was supposed to house the ghosts of the dead. Tribesmen were not supposed to ever kill this deer, because you never knew whose soul might be inside it at any given moment. It seemed the perfect kaja for MPS. Some of these I just made up: iru, kita, nantana.

    • ninedin says:

      Thank you so very much for the comment! I’m glad some of my intuitions were proven correct and – well, more than happy that you find it interesting :).Thanks you also for the comments and corrections, I’ll add them to the main article :).
      I must admit I am absolutely fascinated with the worldbuilding in “This Alien Shore”: I keep returning to this novel not as much for the plot as for the intricate, complicated, rich and dangerous world that it depicts. It sometimes reminds me of some of the ideas of my favourite SF authors (Cordwainer Smith, to name one) and at the same time is both original and compelling. I’d love to see it (provided it were well done) in the cinema…

  2. Duncan says:

    I am very impressed that Ms Freidman herself has left a comment (although how you ever be sure of anything on-line? theme for a novel? 🙂 and so long after first publication.

    I arrived here while looking for more info about the kaja, triggered by my second reading of the book. I’m grateful for your efforts.

    • ninedin says:

      @ Duncan: Thank you so much 😉 I love the books and this is my way of expressing this love 🙂
      @ Celia Friedman: we should 🙂 I know of really few fantasy novels as complex and as deep as The Magisters 🙂

  3. Ubiquitous says:

    I’m hardly a psychology major either, but here are my own two cents. Natsiq represents deep paranoia, I think – but in a crazy, dialed up to eleven manner. Simba draws parallels to both megalomania and egotism, two clearly related disorders. Nantana reminds me of quite a few things… narcissism, dependent personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, to name the top ones. It’s a bit of a cocktail. Nanango sort of reminds me of my own depersonalization disorder, but taken to an extreme; they get lost in the greater whole, performing tasks not for any personal gain but because it is what everyone else does; they are a part of a machine without any personal identity. Iru you’ve topped. Kita is probably schizoid personality disorder, as it is characterized by feeling separated and detached. The assivak confuses me, because the only example we have of it is the elusive Chandras Delhi. Ottas also seem less common in reality, but perhaps could be linked to mania, a disorder in which energy levels are elevated and the subject feels intense periods of joy?

    Tanji I do not remember at all from the book; I applaud you for finding it.

    Bakira, clearly, is psychopathy. Shru, as the author mentioned, is Tourettes – that was what his language inhibitor was for. It also contains an element of OCD, for their desire to touch everything. Tensan eludes me entirely, as no characters have it and its description is… odd. Similarly with Yakimi. I would call Yuri a Submissive Personality Disorder and Raj an aggressive disorder, except no such things exist. I was disappointed with the author’s description of lilitu; it didn’t sound so much like a disorder as a way to describe Delhi. Finally, rusa would better be termed Dissociative Identity Disorder.

  4. Fox says:

    Shru=shrew. Nervous, twitchy little creatures with a high metabolism.

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