Taboos and Tattoos

A review of Jon Martin Watts’ Flights of Passage in Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories.
By Derek Newman-Stille

In the short story Flights of Passage, Watts explores the social taboo against inbreeding and creates a society which can trace its descent entirely to one ancestor that crashed on their planet. This society, far from being made up of mutated or genetically damaged people is made up of a group of people with very similar appearance – so similar, in fact that they have to use facial tattooing in order to be able to distinguish between one another.

This society, having only one ancestor (and her child) has had to adapt to a world where the technology that was once used to visit this world is no longer available. They adapted indigenous materials to create a society whose technology matched their environmental circumstances.

Watts explores rights of passage in a society that depends on the high-risk behaviour of gliding in order to catch their prey – the flying animals called Griffins. He explores the changes in cultural context and behaviours over time as a society learns to adapt and adjust their circumstances and the assumption of primitivism that come from the advanced society that visits their world and examines them from afar and reacts with horror at their inbreeding practices.

Despite the fact that the idea of inbreeding causes a visceral reaction of disgust in most people, Watts is able to explore a society that is able to adapt to this and learn not to react with horror to the practice. Flights of Passage stretches one’s comfort zone and makes them explore taboos and assumptions about primitivism.

To explore this and other volumes of the Tesseracts books, visit the Edge website at

Derek Newman-Stille

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: