Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 594, November 7, 2010

"And you expect things to be different this time?"

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The Brown-Eyed Boogie Blues
A New Novel by L. Neil Smith

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Chapter One: "The Daintiest Thing Under a Bonnet"

She swept into the office, a vision of shimmering loveliness, glossy, golden-haired, bright-eyed, with a little clutch-purse and tiny hat and veil that did nothing to conceal her features. Letting the door swing shut behind her, she crossed the room and planted herself delicately on a brown leather backless chair in front of the desk.

Yes, she had everything that any healthy male would look for in a female: beauty, poise, grace. Well-turned out, I thought—what she was wearing represented a year of my salary—and she even smelled good.

Too bad she was a spider.

A medium-sized spider, if you limit it to sapients, of the general jumping variety, about four feet wide, a little less than that from front to back, and hip-high to a human, covered with that blond fur that I mentioned. Six of her big black eyes, two large and four small, glittered in a horizontal line behind that veil. I had no idea where the others were, or if she even had them. Probably at the back of her head.

It's hard to sneak up on a spider.

"I am Shaalara of the Alteen Zirnaath," she said, extending a well- maintained palp. Her voice was just as pretty and polished as the rest of her, with all of the usual annoying arachnid clicks and tiny wheezes trained out by an excellent finishing school. "You are Mr. Eichra?"

"Pleased to meet you." I gave her palp a polite touch, remembering to use a paw instead of my nose, a reflex among my own kind that might be misunderstood. "It's Mr. Oren, except that he's out of the office on a case. I work for him. My name is Oasam, but most folks call me Sam."

That's right. I'm a dog—at least the organic part of me is—and not a particularly big one, either. As cute as Shaalara was, our prospective client was at least twice my size, a fact it was far too close to lunchtime to ignore altogether. I went around behind the boss's desk, climbed up into the chair, and from there to the top, where I settled down on the self-cleaning blotter with my legs tucked under.

"My boss should be back any minute, now—or maybe not until next week." Given his profession, there was no way I was going to interrupt the man on the job. What he does mostly requires a lot of headwork, but sometimes there's blood—sometimes there's a lot of blood—in colors ranging from straw transparency, to an opaque purply black, through various shades and saturations of green and blue, to bright, smoking red like his and mine. "Is there some way I can help in the meantime?"

Shaalara's winsome mandibles gave off little involuntary clicking noises which, among her kind, was a sign of anxiety and sadness. It almost tore my heart out to listen to her. "Please forgive me," she finally said, apologizing for what she considered her breach of etiquette. "But you see it's my fiance, Meerltchirt of the Fronzeln Zirnaath."

"Your fiance?" I knew the Zirnaath were communal spiders, among the first appropriated by the Elders. I knew nothing of their marriage customs.

"My fiance." She chittered, this time without apology. "We were to have wed in three days, but he has disappeared, and I believe I know why ... "

In most of what you might call garden variety spiders, there's a lot of difference, physically, between males and females. Compared to the latter, the former are tiny, relatively feeble, and have to resort to all kinds of kinky ploys to do their reproductive job as males, like tying their inamorata up, or stroking them to sleep. Even so, most of them fail to survive their wedding night. The little guy on top the wedding cake (if spiders had wedding cakes) is part of the dessert.

Saying "I do" is the same as saying "bon apetite".

Sapient spiders, on the other hand—those intelligent enough to have developed technology on their own, to have created civilization, and to have evolved to become the dominant lifeform in the several and diverse alternative realities they came from—manifest the least sexual dimorphism of all spiders. The Elders' ancient adage, "The brighter the spider, the bigger the male," can generally be counted on.

The Zirnaath, however, are an exception. A very bright and agile species descended from tiny little jumping spiders (among which, ironically, males and females are more or less indistinguishable to anyone except other jumping spiders), they display the most sexual dimorphism of all sapient spiders. This missing Meerltchirt mook would have been my size, more or less exactly, meaning about half of lovely Shaalara's.

Among all the Zirnaath, Shaalara explained, the Alteen were most conservative, being late to abandon what she called "the old ways" they had practiced in their home world before they were appropriated. Some radicals among them openly advocated a return to those old ways now.

Which is why, Shaalara assumed, Meerltchirt had galloped. Those old ways included making a wedding feast of the groom, something that sapient spiders had all supposedly been talked out of thousands of years ago, by the Elders, but which some among them—the "Old Matriarchs", Shaalara called them—were starting to look back on nostalgically.

And with dripping mandibles and growling stomachs.

Shaalara, who held advanced degrees in poetry and engineering, and considered herself a progressive and a romantic, did not agree with the Old Matriarchs, the principal leaders of whom were her mother (a widow), her grandmother (another widow), and several dozen widowed aunts.

"So what," I asked her, "do you want Eichra Oren to do?"

She chittered pitiably again. "Please find my Meerltchirt for me. Persuade him to come back to me, to marry me—following the customs of his own people, the Fronzeln, if necessary. Tell him I'm a modern girl. I promise I won't eat him, even if my family were to disinherit me. I love Meerltchirt and I want—Sam, I need—to have his babies."

Yeah, I thought, about forty of them at a time.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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