The Mind of the Dolphins

Author's Commentary

 

 

CAUTION - Spoilers ahead!

Do not proceed if you haven't yet read the book.

 

 

The book's finally in print! It's been fifteen months since I finished writing, time enough to reflect on what I'd written while doing what seemed like endless proof-reading and waiting. What follows are a few thoughts on the connectedness of the story, both to its predecessors and within itself, along with some pondering on any deeper meanings that may have crept consciously or unconsciously into the tale. Thank you for coming this far into my universe, and I hope it connected with you as well.

 

The Hands of the Dolphins

The starting point for me in this story was the realisation that the Dolphins in Barefoot Times and Call of the Delphinidae seemed just too good, too benevolent, to be true. As a telepathic species, they would have probably had a collective consciousness, but then, I wondered, what if that had been created or infiltrated by some nasty ancient spirit? Then, if the Dolphins were really evil, could Morgoth have been on the side of good? Had Peter, Billy, Jason, Mark and all their friends really been duped?

As the Path to the Truth began to open out before me, I was constantly amazed at how well everything fitted into place. There were already hints in Part Seven of Barefoot Times that Mark might not have lost all his Barefooter powers:

'In theory I'm no longer autothermic and yet, while I now have to eat like a normal person, I still feel uncomfortable in a shirt even in cold weather and just the thought of putting shoes on my feet makes my stomach cramp. I also seem to have retained my enhanced immune system and haven't had a moment's illness all my life. In many ways it's as if nothing really changed in me when I triggered that pulse even though DNA tests have confirmed my autothermic genes were completely destroyed. It's weird.'

Perhaps there was also a grain of truth in what Anton said:

'there are many who say the marriage of Mark and Lorina will lead to another tyranny even worse than Morgoth's.'

All the way through was a feeling that the events leading to the marriage of Mark and Lorina had been engineered. In Call of the Delphinidae, Mary said,

'Sometimes I feel like we're just pawns in some cosmic game of chess,'

and then, as the spirit of Elko said in The Mind of the Dolphins,

'We thought we were freeing a galaxy from the clutches of a ruthless dictator, but instead we were playing into the hands of the Dolphins.'

So what was the Dolphins' ulterior motive? For all their mental prowess, being a Dolphin, or even a collective of Dolphins, would have had some pretty severe physical limitations. As Pip so insightfully pointed out,

'Dolphins don't have hands.'

It seemed reasonable to suppose that their collective consciousness, that ancient spirit, might be plotting to be reborn into human form, but its receptacle would need to be a very special child. The Dolphins' gifts created the Barefooters and the Delphinidae, so perhaps what they wanted was the progeny of both. Thus the die was cast, and the child of Mark and Lorina became the natural choice for this vessel.

But such a cross-breeding had already taken place in the past, with Martyn and Loria producing a daughter, an act that led to their execution by Morgoth. Perhaps, I thought, a daughter wouldn't do, it would have to be a male child, and that neatly explained why Morgoth proceeded with the execution, fearing that if he let them live there might be another child, a son. So Morgoth knew the truth and saw his role as preventing the Dolphins from fulfilling their goal. Thus the War of the Barefooters was an attempt by him to rid the universe of Barefooters, and with Gallad fleeing the galaxy and disappearing, he thought he'd succeeded until Mark turned up a million years later and proved him wrong.

 

The Lost Barefooters

In Call of the Delphinidae, when Frank Halliday turns up to tell Mary about the fall of Morgoth, she asks him what he'll be doing next and he says,

'The time freeze on Meridian has been deactivated, so I'll be going there as soon as I can to begin searching through the archives for any hints as to what became of the other Barefooters.'

Frank's search for these Lost Barefooters was originally going to be the main theme of this book (indeed my working title for a long time was The Lost Barefooters) and of course they still play an important part in the evolution of the story.

To explain why they were lost, I had to flesh out the War of the Barefooters which was mentioned on several occasions in both Barefoot Times and Call of the Delphinidae. It was a difficult passage of the book to write, as I didn't want a boring history lecture to interrupt the flow of the narrative, so I tried to involve the present-day characters (Pip, Damon and Frank) as much as I could as they watched the recordings of Gallad's meetings. Pip's flashback to his childhood experience of the Farley massacre was an unexpected but moving diversion which, in hindsight, not only broke up the history lecture but also came in handy later on in Part Five when Hoskins says,

'That honour went to my former Commanding Officer, the late Brett Farley. You've heard of him, no doubt.'

That flashback also led me to pen the words of the Elfstar Song, the second verse of which described in a nutshell the true nature of the Dolphins.

The recordings of the war councils also introduced the character Herbert Douglass who came back in prominent fashion in Part Four of the story. His arguing in support of exile rather than confrontation with Morgoth proved most useful later on when, in what became a turning point of the story, he concedes in his stirring speech that,

'I was wrong to argue for exile, I realise that now, and if itís any consolation, I for one will join with you and fight by your side.'

The revelation by The Proctor of Jason's psychopathic trait was another of those unexpected links back to Barefoot Times and his confrontation with Rebecca Gosling in her alternate time line. The idea, first developed in Part Five of that book, that Jason's heritage might have a dark side to it, came full circle in The Mind of the Dolphins and tied in so wonderfully well with the fears the Barefooters expressed in the second chapter of Part One.

Frank Halliday himself, who was introduced in Part Eight of Barefoot Times as a much-diluted descendent of the Barefooters, and then played a more prominent role in Call of the Delphinidae, becomes very much the guiding figure in The Mind of the Dolphins. He suspects something of the truth behind Mark, Lorina and the Dolphins, but is unsure whether they represent a force for good or evil. He's still haunted by the death of John Collins, Billy's grandfather, and must balance his desire to discover the truth against his wish not to endanger any more lives.

I came very close to killing Frank off when his ship went over the waterfall on Huntress. He'd revealed his life's story and at least some of what he knew, and I felt it was perhaps time for the younger characters to be left to make their own way forward along the Path to the Truth. I even foreshadowed his death when Brett Farley called out from across the River Styx,

'Hey Halliday, don't go too far. We have your room here ready and waiting for you!'

I soon realised, though, that he was too good a character to just cast aside, and bringing him back only to be arrested and sent to Huntress proved to be an unexpected boon to the story development, leading as it did to the uprising in the Colony, the downfall of Smithers and Clem's eventual passage into Sheol.

 

The Council of Elko

After all the trials and tribulations of the first three parts, the main protagonists finally come together in the City of Towers at the beginning of Part Four. In my original thoughts, Morgoth was to have been amongst them as well, telling his story first hand, but in the opening of that chapter I realised Mark needed to reclaim his birthright and really the only way he could do that was through the final vanquishing of Morgoth. Thus it fell to the spirit of Elko to tell Morgoth's story on his behalf, which at least gave him something more to do and thus justify me bringing him into the story at all. I'd hoped the other members of his team, specifically Bobby, Hilda, Michael and Rachel, might have had a greater role to play in the story, but the events as they unfolded conspired against me. Michael and Rachel in particular did little but make up the numbers, but they needed to be there with Pedro and Jim in order to be consistent with the conclusion of Barefoot Times, when Peter says,

'When Pedro went into the light, I thought, well, for just a moment I thought I saw my parents embracing and welcoming him.'

Anyway, the gathering in Elko's basement allowed me to consolidate many of the storyline's facets and focus our heroes on the task that lay ahead of them, namely to find the Lost Barefooters and, through them, the truth about Huntress and the Dolphins. It's also where I finally got to use the Key to the City that Morgoth presented to Bobby back at the start of Part Two!

It's here we also start to see a change developing in Mark, going from someone who considered himself naive and uncomfortable with notoriety, to a much more forthright and outgoing type of person. Perhaps some of this was due to the ordeal he'd been through, firstly with his arrest and imprisonment and then his beheading, but there was something more, a shift in his persona that occurred after his defeat of Morgoth and his reappearance as a glowing angelic spirit. Damon sensed it first, perhaps beginning to feel he might be a threat to his beloved Delphinidae, and later on, when they've returned to Huntress, Jason wonders about it too after Mark describes his confrontation with Morgoth. At the time I was writing this, I had a pretty good idea that Mark would end up as Supreme Councillor, and that his arrogance in refusing to heed Pip's warning would ultimately lead to his downfall.

 

The Black Delphinidae

As strange as it may sound in hindsight, the Black Delphinidae were never planned as part of the story. I'd expected Mark to be rescued from the prison colony by the fringe-dwellers, but the significance of the boy Clem waiting back in their house only began to dawn on me as the chapters of Part Two unfolded. One thing led to another and before I knew it I had a great new twist to the story. It soon became apparent that the truth Clem sought was intimately tied to the truth about the Dolphins, and that he would play an integral part in its resolution.

There was always an intentional ambiguity as to whether the Black Delphinidae would be a force for good or evil, partly because in my own mind I wasn't entirely sure. Their role didn't really become clear to me until Hoskins and Croft escorted Pip back to Huntress, only to find Jacob and his family waiting presumably to do their bidding:

'How long, how long have you been working for him?' Pip asked them.
'It's actually the other way round, Pip. Hoskins is working for us.'

After that, everything just fell into place, right up to Jacob's final revelation:

'I told you once that I met your father when you were young. What I didn't tell you was that our meeting took place in an aquarium.'

Was that the watershed moment in the story for you? The moment when everything just turned on its head and fell neatly into place? The reason why, back in Part Two, Clem had looked at Pip with eyes that were deep, dark and full of hidden menace? In Part Four, Pip had said,

'Would you all stop arguing over me like I was a piece of meat?'

but now it's revealed that that's just what he was:

'I'm just a piece of meat, then, a means to an end.'

I still can't get over the feeling that, in spite of the way everything wound up, there's still something sinister about the Black Delphinidae and the way they used and disposed of people. Do the ends really justify the means? Perhaps the ghost of Harry Tibbits might feel the same way.

 

The Fisherman

The legend of the Fisherman was also rather ambiguous, beginning with Val saying,

'Mark is not the Fisherman, Clem,'

and leading ultimately to two different versions, one telling of the restoration of Huntress and the other predicting the return of the Pasha. Initially I had the latter in mind, believing Mark's son would be the Fisherman, but when Damien appeared on the scene there were so many things connecting him to fishing (beginning with that quote from his journals in Barefoot Times saying he might return as a humble fisherman) it was just impossible not to make him the Fisherman. I thought at one stage of going back and modifying my earlier references to the Fisherman legend, but in the end decided to leave them as they were, complete with their ambiguity, as it was supposed to be a journey of discovery for the characters as well as the author and such ambiguities often arise in real life.

In Barefoot Times Damien was described as the Delphinidae's holiest of holy men, yet he too has a dark side. His confession to Pip of his involvement in the annihilation of the Tivinel was almost an afterthought, a way of putting all the pieces in place for Pip's final realisation of what he had to do to lure Drago beyond Redemption, but having done that I began to wonder a bit more about Damien's honesty. In Part Four he said,

'Of course here we're totally cut off and have no way of knowing what's going on in the outside world'

and yet he knew Mark had been the grubby kid who'd overthrown Morgoth, and was also aware of the star-dimmers placed opposite the suns of other worlds in the Meridian empire. These were initially just a continuity lapse on my part, but I left them in there as I liked the aura of doubt that was starting to grow around him. I wondered if perhaps the link between Damien and Damon worked the other way too, with Damien seeing what had been unfolding through Damon's eyes, in his dreams maybe. Or is there something more sinister, something linking Damien to the Pasha or the Barungi? Food for thought, and I'm wondering if, when Damien and Damon are finally alone after having buried the last of the aging Barefooters on the planet of exile, there might be a confession from Damien. Something, perhaps, that makes Damon's return all the more pressing?

 

The Black Dolphin

The Black Dolphin is almost as ambiguous as the Fisherman. When first mentioned, the Black Dolphins were going to follow the fish back to Huntress, but as the story evolved, it became more and more obvious that the Black Dolphin would be something intangible; a spiritual concept that was the antithesis of the Pasha, something that spoke of sunshine, warm seas and love; of a simple life, lost long ago and yet perhaps even now still redeemable.

In the end, Pip and the Black Dolphin become as one, although I'm still not entirely sure what this means. Looking back, I'm beginning to suspect he's about to become that galaxy's messiah, but I say that with a degree of trepidation as I don't want to impinge on any real-life religions.

 

Going Beyond Redemption

'You have passed beyond redemption, for the stars grow dim. Remember that, Pip, in your years of sorrow ahead.'

The Black Dolphin's curse, meant initially just to frighten six-year-old Pip out of his mind, but which ultimately became a riddle for him to solve. The story, as it evolved, began weaving itself around the words of that curse, as a perusal of the chapter titles will show, but the curse also changed slightly as the story progressed. Did you notice that when Pip was being inducted into the military, it became,

'You must pass beyond redemption when the stars grow dim'?

but then, in the final chapter when Pip finds himself alone as a ghost on the planet of exile, it goes back into the past tense again. When Pip first hears the curse, it's an echo of the future, but as its meaning becomes clearer, it moulds itself into an instruction, a clue as to what he must do to fulfil his goal. In the end, it becomes a simple statement of fact.

In all honesty, when I first wrote the curse it was just some scary words that came into my head. I didn't know the original name of the City of Towers would be Redemption, although I'd expected the identity of its builders to be revealed before the end. It became a city of many names, as after the Tivinel left and the Gomeral spirits took over, it became Hades, the City of the Dead, and in the Epilogue of Call of the Delphinidae it was called Divot City. But its original name of Redemption fitted in pretty well with the plight of the Tivinel, so weaving the curse into a riddle that way hopefully didn't seem too contrived.

In the climax when Pip led Drago beyond Redemption, Drago came across as rather naive and stupid, and again, in hindsight at least, that was intentional. He had great psychic powers and believed his gift of foresight made him invincible - he can see into our futures and anticipate any action we might take against him - so he'd never had to develop any sense of survival or cunning. In that respect he was perhaps the ultimate spoiled child, and that's how I wanted to portray him.

Pip on the other hand is a survivor, although he sees himself as weak and vulnerable. From a childhood of suffering at the hands of school bullies to his ordeal in the military, he's constantly been able to turn his back on adversity and come through it not only alive but stronger for the experience. That he should in the end triumph over Drago is really no surprise.

 

The Military

Paul Hoskins was first introduced in Call of the Delphinidae as Hal Farley's bumbling young Lieutenant, returning later in the story as Brett Farley's second-in-command. He's last seen in that book standing with his hands raised in surrender as Mark and his companions disappear off in their ship after the destruction of the imperial palace, and I knew when I wrote that scene that he'd  have an important part to play in the third book.

The Hoskins we see in The Mind of the Dolphins is a much more confident and self-assured man than we saw in Call of the Delphinidae. I suspect much of his ineptitude in that book was due to the constant bullying by the Farleys, but after their demise he rose to the rank of Commander and came into his own under the leadership of General Gallagher on Nimber. There he no doubt jumped at his assignment to exact revenge on Chris and Mark while infiltrating the Delphinidae as Kevin Simmons' aide.

Hoskins is a man of principle, but the principles he lives by are going by the book and obeying orders without question. His life is built on the rigid structure and routine of the military. 'When we act, things happen, the right things,' but who is to judge what is right?

As the story evolved, Hoskins became something of a dilemma for me. In my original outline of Part Four, he was going to be arrested after Mark and the Barefooters turned the tables on the steps of Government House. When I came to write that scene, though, I couldn't shake off the feeling that I might need him later on, so I let him escape, hoping I'd come up with a more fitting end for him. Of course he immediately came in handy early in Part Five as Pip's commander, and as it went on I knew he'd have an important part to play in the climax, but the problem still remained of what to do with him. I'd suspected some sort of collusion between him and the fringe-dwellers ever since Clem had looked at Pip with eyes that were deep, dark and full of hidden menace, but it wasn't until Pip said,

'How long, how long have you been working for him?'

that the answer hit me! In one of those magical moments when everything suddenly became clear and fell perfectly into place, I realised that of course, Hoskins was actually working for them and was, in his own way at least, one of the good guys.

 

"I killed a man once"

In Part Seven of Barefoot Times, Christopher Smith saved the day by pushing Brett Farley into the portal that was holding open the alternative time line Peter had experienced in Part Five. A quake, triggered by the end of that time line, then caused the palace to collapse, burying, as we later learnt in Call of the Delphinidae, all but one of Farley's men.

Although celebrated as a hero by his family and friends, Chris's action began to haunt him as he grew into adulthood, realising more and more that, when you stripped away all the gloss, what he'd done was to take another man's life, making him, in his own mind, a murderer.

When I began writing The Mind of the Dolphins, I'd initially thought Chris might have been exploring Sheol, only to be trapped and possessed by the spirit of his ancestor, Gregory the Dolphin-Slayer, but as the story progressed, I came to realise that his haunting went deeper than that, back to that infamous day on Bluehaven.

When Mark finally sees the depths of his torment and pulls him aside after dealing with General Gallagher, he says,

'you can learn what drove them to do what they did, and what drove you to do what you did, and perhaps some day that knowledge might even save others from a similar fate.'

When revising the story, I wondered whether I should have involved Chris in a situation later on where that actually happened, but it occurred to me that, indirectly at least, it already had. In Part Four, on the Barefooters' planet of exile, he'd poured out his troubles to Pip -

ďI killed a man once. Everyone said I was the hero, because he was one of Morgothís men and had been responsible for the Meridian massacre, but I sure didnít feel like one. That was eight years ago, but I still have nightmares about it. I donít, I donít think you ever get over something like that.Ē

It was those words that later came back to haunt Pip and guide him through his darkest moments; it made him see that, if he had to kill David/Drago (and at the time he couldn't see any way of stopping Drago without killing David as well), it could only be reconciled if he lost his own life in the process. 'Sometimes people die no matter what we do,' and the person who had to die was himself.

As for Chris, he seems to have reached a truce with his past and found happiness with his wife Sandra, their daughter and his work, but I can't help wondering if there might be more trouble in store for him. He is, after all, researching ghosts and goblins, and with the imminent collapse of the City of Towers and the key to the Brisbane portal in the hands of Charon the ferryman, he should have no shortage of subjects.

 

Outcasts

This became something of a subliminal theme throughout the book, highlighted initially by the name of Martyn's song that Gallad had used as the encryption key on his holographic recordings. The outcasts Martyn sang about became the Lost Barefooters, former keepers of the peace and heroes of the galaxy forced into a self-imposed exile to protect that galaxy from themselves, but is there perhaps a connection here with us real life barefooters being outcasts in a shod world?

The ghosts in the City of Towers - Elko, Bobby, Hilda, Jim and Pedro - were also outcasts in a way, existing in the limbo between life and death in order to help right that ancient wrong. Even within the city's population they were outcasts, meeting in the basement of a derelict building, the only ones truly "awake" amongst the half-dreaming spirits of the dead.

On another level, the Elves who became refugees on Meridian during the war, amongst whom were Pip's and Damon's parents, were treated as outcasts by the Meridian natives, as seen in Pip's treatment by the youths in the car, the man in his parents' house and the bartender at the Lumberjack Hotel. The dismal streets of Azarath would have been lonely indeed for those displaced Elves.

Pip himself had always lived life on the outer, an outcast even amongst outcasts, from a childhood of bullying through to his excommunication from the Delphinidae, abduction by the military and seeming abandonment after the Tivinel spirits took revenge on Drago. His path had always been the lonely one, grateful for friendship but never reliant upon it, knowing the burden he carried was his alone to bear.

Then there's the Black Delphinidae, outcasts from the mainstream Delphinidae and confined to just the fringe-dwellers on Huntress, themselves outcasts from the main Colony (whose inhabitants were outcasts from the rest of the galaxy). In the end the tables were turned, of course, with the Black Delphinidae rising to the ascendancy while the mainstream creed faced oblivion. Will the oppressed become oppressors, or have they learnt pity and tolerance from their millennia on the outer?

 

Bunyips

Will there be a fourth book in the series? As well as the final dissolution of the City of Towers and the fate of Jim, Pedro and Charon, there's also the matter of Alistair Blunt becoming Supreme Councillor and those allegations of bunyip baiting that won't quite go away. Did I mention bunyips? What was all that about Snooky's eyes hiding some deep but alien intelligence? There's got to be a story in that, surely. The Mind of the Bunyips perhaps? And don't forget the Frizian honey that drives bunyips mad - I suspect that's what they use in the bunyip baiting, by the way.

As of now I've taken a few tentative steps into a fourth book, but I'm not entirely sure where it's leading. Time will tell I guess, so watch this space.

Jeff Pages
May, 2008