Category Archives: Vokhtah

Motivation and muddying the waters

The iVokh are winged, sociopathic aliens, but their motivation is not that different to our own – pride, a Machiavellian lust for power, fear, hatred – and none exhibit those emotions more clearly than the Yellow. As the most powerful Healer in the Guild of Healers, its power is absolute, but only in the Settlement. While its rival, the Blue, remains free, danger could strike from the shadows at any time.

The following is a critical scene from the second book of Vokhtah in which the Yellow’s Assistant brings the news that the Blue may be dead. But it learned this news from someone who might be a Trader. The distrust between Healers and Traders goes back generations, and the Assistant itself was once a Trader.

To get at the truth, the Yellow uses its power to feel the Assistant’s emotions while it’s being interrogated [think paranormal polygraph test], but it’s the Yellow’s own emotions that colour how it interprets the results.

This is a critical scene, and I need fresh eyes to see if it makes sense, if the motivation and the thinking it engenders ring ‘true’. All beta responses gratefully accepted!

Scene in the Settlement between the Yellow and its Assistant:

The Yellow’s eyes narrowed to hard, vertical slits as it stared at the head beneath its hands. A Trader, on the very last day of Tohoh, and carrying the chain of a dead healer who might have been the Blue?

Sitting back on its haunches, the Yellow wiped its hands in the sand as it tried to sort fact from fiction. It very much wanted the Blue to be dead, but that was no secret. Was it being told what it wanted to hear, or was its Assistant reporting what actually happened? Yet if the Refugee really was a Trader, then the story of the Healer’s death was almost certainly a lie, but to what purpose?

“Where being this…Trader now?”

“With other Refugees, Master,” its Assistant said eagerly. “Thinking might being useful…”

Useful, yes, but to whom? If the Blue died while travelling with the caravan, why not simply return the chain it was wearing? Passengers died in the Wild all the time. No one would have given it a second thought. Why lie about how it died? It did not make sense unless the Traders wanted the Guild to think the Blue was dead. But again, to what purpose? They gained nothing from-

but what of Blue?

The gears inside the Yellow’s head seemed to click and whir as the events surrounding the Blue’s disappearance suddenly took on a new significance. First the report of a stolen chain. Then a few days later, the return of the missing Timekeeper’s ladle, along with the description of a ‘tall, thin Messenger’ who had paid for passage on the last caravan of the season…with a blue gem shard. Clearly, the so-called Messenger had been the Blue, and now it was beyond reach.

But what if the Blue had not left with the caravan at all? What if its disappearance had been nothing but a cunning charade? What if it had been hiding in the Traders’ Quarter ever since, spinning a web of deceit to undermine the Guild-

Ki!…not Guild, the Yellow thought, its stomach suddenly churning with bile. Self!

The two had been rivals for decades, and the Blue had always hated being second best. It would never just slink away. It would want to revenge itself on the one who had brought about its downfall, and what better place to do so than in the Quarter? Close enough to sneak in and out of the Settlement, but the one place no one would ever think to look. And, of course, the Traders would not be averse to undermining the Guild as well, especially if they were paid well enough.

It all made perfect sense, except for one thing: why had the Blue waited until the very end of Tohoh to have the chain ‘delivered’. It would have been far better to have the Trader bring the chain into the Settlement while there were still genuine Refugees to mask its arrival.

That was what the Traders had done in the past when they tried to infiltrate the Settlement. Waiting until the last moment, and then sending in a lone Trader was simply stupid. They must have known the Guard would turn it away…

but guard being Assistant

The sense of betrayal was so overpowering, the Yellow almost lost control and killed its Assistant there and then. Leaping to its feet, it retreated to the other side of the cavern and poured itself a cup of pippa juice, sipping slowly until the bloodlust subsided. Killing its Assistant before extracting every last detail would not be wise…

especially if being others

Because Messengers were never assigned to gate duty. Yet that was precisely where the Yellow’s Assistant had been sent, by the Master of Acolytes. Coincidence? A desire for maximum humiliation? Or a sign that the Master was part of the plot as well?

The Yellow put the cup down with exaggerated care and forced itself to breathe, long and slow. It had not clawed its way to the top of the Guild hierarchy by being precipitate. Its Assistant might be capable of conspiring with the Blue, but the Master of Acolytes possessed less guile than a rock. That was one reason it had never been elevated to the Council, that plus the fact that it had never shown the slightest interest in politics. Every speck of energy it possessed had been expended on finding a healer-seneschal. And it had not deviated from that obsession despite decades of failure and the open contempt of most healers. Making a fuss in public was very much in character, plotting in private was not.

Yet if the Master was not involved in the Blue’s plot, then the Assistant could not be involved either because it could not have known that it would be assigned to gate duty. Of course that did not preclude the young fool from helping one of its own when it saw the opportunity, but again, the Blue would not have known that. So why would it initiate a plan so likely to fail?

To successfully infiltrate the Settlement, it would need everyone to believe that it was dead, without question. Yet this botched plan had done the exact opposite, raising questions where there had been none. It would have done far better to simply leave the chain somewhere for the guards to find. The gate guards were not known for their intelligence, but even they would know better than to leave seven starrock links out on the…

“Takh preserve!”

Shock held the Yellow frozen for a moment. Was that it? Was the Trader supposed to fail? Was it supposed to be turned away…after it delivered the links? Because of course the guards would take the links to someone in authority, and of course that someone would try to discover who the dead Healer had been.

Once the links were connected to the Blue, its supposed death would be accepted as fact because there would be no one to interrogate. In the meantime, the so-called Refugee would be safe inside the Trader’s Quarter, mission accomplished.

A cunning plan, and worthy of the Blue, but something had gone wrong. Instead of being confronted by a stupid gate guard, the Trader had been met by a Messenger with divided loyalties, and now that Trader was languishing inside the Settlement with the rest of the Refugees!

A trill of pure delight burst from the Yellow’s cilia as it stared at its Assistant. Far from being a conspirator, the young fool may have inadvertently helped foil the Blue’s plot!

But only if being true, the Yellow thought as it strode across the cavern and dropped to its knees in front of its Assistant. Arranging itself comfortably on the sand, it reached out and initiated the truthsaying once more.

“Why hiding Master’s visit?”

“Not hiding! Just…not wanting to bother Yellow with…”

The Yellow felt a surge of contempt rise and fall beneath its fingers.

“With?” it asked gently.

“Having great respect for all Healers! Truly. Especially Masters but…”

Again that surge of contempt.

“Speaking freely.”

A swell of anger rose beneath the Yellow’s fingers before its Assistant finally spoke again.

“Everyone knowing healer-seneschal being impossible! Master being-…”

The angry out-pouring cut off mid-word, but the seething anger continued for some time as the young Trader struggled to control its feelings. It clearly blamed the Master of Acolytes for its current predicament.

Well pleased with what it had learned, the Yellow sat back on its haunches and considered its options. It was convinced its Assistant knew nothing of the Blue’s plot, but the young Trader might still prove to be useful in other ways, at least for the moment. None of the other Messengers knew how Traders thought. That could be important during the interrogation. If the Trader could be convinced that its story was believed, and it was then allow to escape, the Blue might feel safe enough to return to the Settlement. A lot of ifs and mights, but well worth the effort if the Blue could be killed once and for all.

“At first light should visiting Healer from South. Finding out if chain being one stolen by Blue.”

“Thanking, Master! Thank-”

“Then should visiting…Refugee. Finding out if truly being Trader.”

“S’so! Not being disappoint-”

The flood of gratitude turned into a squeal of pain as the Yellow sank its claws into the body beneath its hands. The squeal turned into a high pitched keen as it dragged its claws through the soft flesh. The wounds were not fatal, but the scars would demonstrate what happened to any iVokh who dared to cross the most powerful Healer in the Guild.

Thanks for reading,
Meeks


Editing as a Pantster

A pantster is a writer who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’ – i.e. doesn’t outline in advance. I’m a pantster, mostly, and I learned a long time ago that pantsters have to trust their subconscious. If that little voice says ‘no’ then we have to listen, even if that means deleting thousands of perfectly good words.

Today I deleted 3688 words from the second book of the Suns of Vokhtah. I replaced all those words with just 490. To give those 490 words some context, the MC, Kaati snuck into the Healers’ Settlement as a refugee, not knowing that refugees were locked up like caged animals. It needs to escape but the other refugees are too beaten down to help. Or so it thinks :

Kaati woke to the sound of voices raised in anger. Propping itself up on one elbow, it peered across at the lattice and saw that the Big Twin was shouting at a group of iVokh armed with buckets and baskets. Clearly, the drudges had arrived, and they were not happy.

Rising to its feet, the young Trader was edging closer to hear what they were arguing about when Hands appeared by its side.

“Wait!” the Refugee hissed, grabbing Kaati’s wing with one hand. “Drudges not wanting to take body. In case being contaminated. Insisting that Healers should being called.”

“Not being sick!” the Guard shouted as it flung open the door. “Seeing for self. Dying of wound.”

Two drudges entered and placed their loads on the sand before gingerly peering down at the still form lying on the ground. One of them nodded, albeit reluctantly, and the Guard retreated back down the tunnel.

“Getting ready,” Hands whispered as a small group of Refugees began drifting towards the door. Were they trying to escape?

Apparently not. As soon as the small group reached the baskets left by the drudges, they darted in and began cramming their mouths with food.

“Ho!” Hands shouted, its voice shrill. “Should sharing!”

“S’so!” Someone else cried.

The cry was quickly taken up by all the Refugees in the cavern, and in moments the area directly in front of the door was a pushing, heaving mass of angry iVokh.

“Guard!” a drudge shouted as it pushed inside, using its basket as a ram.

But the Refugees were in no mood to be intimidated. One tore the basket from the drudge’s hand while the others shoved it up against the lattice. The whole structure creaked and groaned as more and more iVokh pressed against it.

“Now!” Hands whispered as the space before the door suddenly cleared.
The two took off at a run but were still five wingspans from the opening when the Big Twin stormed into the cavern. Shrilling in fury, it began lashing out with its switch, and wherever the switch landed, iVokh keened in pain, Refugees and drudges alike.

They all fell back, except for Kaati. Ducking under the Big Twin’s arm, it grabbed the switch with one hand and a bunch of cilia with the other. And then it snapped the guard’s head down onto one bony knee. The iVokh was dead before its body hit the ground, delicate echo chamber smashed like an egg.

The young Trader roared in triumph as it brandished the switch in the air.

“Out!”

The drudges in the tunnel dropped their loads and fled. A moment later, a bone jarring crash came from behind.

Spinning around, the young Trader saw a band of iVokh pour over the fallen lattice. At their head was Hands. The two locked eyes for a moment before Kaati turned and ran after the drudges.

It felt good to be a hunter once more.

Despite losing so many words, this scene was very…therapeutic to write. This is the music that drove the words:

Aeterna by LiquidCinema

For those who are interested, LiquidCinema is a music production company similar to Two Steps From Hell, but not as well known to listeners. I’ve just discovered their music myself, and I’m totally in love.

Now I’m going to log on to ESO and kill some different kinds of monsters.

cheers
Meeks


How to cheat a paranormal polygraph test

I’m in the middle of a scene where the Yellow [a very powerful healer] is interrogating Death using its paranormal talents to work out whether Death is lying or not.

Death must lie, and the Yellow must believe the lie, but how can it when it’s aware of Death’s feelings?

That was the point at which I remembered that sociopaths were supposed to be very good at cheating real world polygraph tests. As iVokh are essentially sociopaths, I realised that what worked in the real world might also work in Vokhtah.

That led me to the internet where I found this fascinating article in Wikihow: https://www.wikihow.com/Cheat-a-Polygraph-Test-(Lie-Detector)

If you’ve ever secretly wondered how people can cheat the polygraph test, it boils down to knowing how the machine and the interrogator asking the questions work together. This can be broken down into a few key things:

  1. The control questions – i.e. the harmless questions – allow the machine to gauge what physiological reactions the subject has when ‘telling the truth’.
  2. These reactions then become the baseline against which the ‘real’ – i.e. dangerous – questions are compared.
  3. If you can change your physiological reactions to the control questions, the baseline will be faulty.
  4. Then, when the real questions are asked, the machine will not be able to tell which answer is a lie because the lies will resemble the baseline.

Of course the skill of the interrogator also comes into it, but I now have enough to write the scene convincingly. -joy-

cheers
Meeks


When the middle becomes the beginning…

I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.

Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.

Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…

Eureka!

I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:

The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…

As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.

Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?

Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.

Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.

All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.

The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.

They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.

Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.

Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.

Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.

In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.

Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…

A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?

Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.

But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.

Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.

Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…

Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.

Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.

Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!

Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.

cheers
Meeks


Lost in Spam – a wonderful review of Vokhtah!

I was checking my emails after dinner when something made me open my spam folder. The first few items were genuine spam, but then I found an email from Chris Graham [aka The Story Reading Ape] alerting me to a brilliant review of Vokhtah. If this were fiction, you wouldn’t believe it!

“They were now just two frail iVokh pitting themselves against the might of the wild.”

Vokhtah is a difficult but rewarding book. If you like unusual conceptions of extraterrestrials, this is for you. Once you’ve read about half of it, the complexities begin to clarify themselves, but two readings are needed for complete understanding. For example, it took me quite a while to grasp that the Blue and the Messenger were the same individual, and I also didn’t realize that there were two traders’ caravans wending their way to Needlepoint – I thought the Junior and the Messenger were in the same caravan and I got confused. Part of the problem is that the characters don’t have names, only titles. In her end matter, the author addresses this – it seems there is a taboo in this culture about enunciating your real name.

Vokhtah is a grim and forbidding planet; it has two suns, one a hot white star and the other a red dwarf. Sometimes they both shine at once, creating a climate of extremes. The planet is populated with an assortment of mostly vicious and predatory lifeforms and that includes the intelligent ones, who prefer to consume their food animals live. It’s a tribute to the author that she can take these basically repulsive intelligent lifeforms and make them sympathetic. And I would recommend that any human ship of exploration steer clear of the planet Vokhtah – humans would probably be seen as prey animals!

My guess would be that the Vokh evolved from bat-like creatures – their ability to echo-locate is mentioned briefly. They have wings (which contain their lungs), so most of them can fly. They have two hearts. And they are telepathic hermaphrodites with seemingly magical inner powers, like mind-healing and also mind-killing (their Healers are also trained as assassins). There are two variant species – the Vokh (large and dominant) and the iVokh (meaning literally “small Vokh”). The Vokh have a serious flaw – breeding is consummated by means of violent rape; nobody wants to bear an offspring because the “female” always dies in childbirth (this doesn’t occur with the iVokh).

However, the people have a strong sense of honor and obligation – if you accept help from someone, you incur an obligation and if you don’t fulfill it, you are ostracized. In the second half of the book, after the episode at the Little Blue River, the main characters – the Messenger and the Apprentice – are shown developing a sense rare in these people – empathy, an ability to relate to and care about others with whom one has a relationship, beyond the obligations of the code of honor.

All this just scratches the surface of the author’s astonishing creation. I should also mention that the book is a cliff hanger, and no second volume has yet appeared.
I must say a few words about the language. Unfortunately, the Kindle version has no Table of Contents and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author provided a brief treatment of the language in the end matter. It seems to have no pronouns, and verbs are consistently rendered only with the present participle form, all of which helps to create the alien language effect. Certain words used in the text are self-explanatory, like “ki” for “no” and “s’so” for “yes.”

There is one etymological gaffe that I can’t help commenting on – the explanation of the word “boot” (a foot-covering). The character doesn’t know what the word “boot” means and it’s explained as a contraction of “bucket for foot.” And yet that derivation would be impossible since the iVokh aren’t speaking English. You have to assume that the Vokhtah words reflect a similar construction, which the author could have fabricated.

But that’s only a quibble – don’t be deterred! This really is an amazing book and while the culture may not be palatable to everyone (you need a strong stomach sometimes), I definitely recommend it to any serious reader of science fiction.

The review was written by Lorinda Taylor, also known as The Termite Writer. Some days just get better and better.

-hugs-

Meeks

 


Vokhtah – 18th review

I copied this review straight from amazon.com yesterday, but after the posts about Covid-19, it didn’t feel right to ‘blow my own horn’, so I decided to wait till today.
Stay safe,
Meeks

Audrey Driscoll 5.0 out of 5 stars
 A Fascinating Alien World
Reviewed in Canada on March 11, 2020
Format: Kindle Edition
Verified Purchase

This book is remarkable for the imagined world on which it’s set. Vokhtah has two suns. Its dominant life forms are the Vokh, creatures I visualized as similar to pterodactyls, and their smaller cousins and supporters, the iVokh. Most of the story is about the latter. These creatures are not human. Humans to not exist on this world, but human readers can relate to the thoughts, dilemmas, and emotions of the iVokh who are the primary actors.
The Vokh reign like feudal lords over their eyries, which are managed and maintained by the iVokh, who are divided into a variety of physical types with different abilities, including (in the case of a few) telepathy and mind control. Traders are a clan who distribute goods among the eyries, and Healers are a guild with skills and knowledge to maintain life, and end it when necessary. The interactions of the groups are governed by iron-bound protocols and traditions and complicated by secrets and enmities. Sex, especially for the Vokh, is a brutal, violent business, but outside of mating occurrences, there is no gender. The only personal pronoun is “it.”
This is not a quick, easy read. I re-read the first half of the book before writing this review to make sure I understood some of the details. The characters, even the sympathetic ones, don’t actually have names. They are designated by ranks and titles, some of which change over the course of the story. The reader is plunged into this alien world on the first page and has to figure out how things work while following the action. Some might give up in confusion, but the dilemma of the Drudge who is the first character encountered is eminently relatable. By the time that’s resolved, I was thoroughly engaged in the world and the story, keen to find out more about the strangely fascinating creatures with two hearts and inflatable wings.
The book features a constructed language (conlang), but it does not appear frequently enough to be daunting. There is a helpful glossary at the end, which also explains how the creatures vocalize. Otherwise, the prose is clear and straightforward, with description kept direct and businesslike. There is no hyperbole. Dialogue is minimal, even though the iVokh have a characteristic (and curiously attractive) way of expressing themselves.
Setting aside the alien aspects, the theme of this book is change and difference. Individual characters, and the groups to which they belong, must come up with ways to cope with situations they find unacceptable or challenging. Both the physical environment and the social structure are harsh and unforgiving. Transgressions come with a high price.
It appears this is the first book in a series, and indeed much remains unresolved at the end. I hope a second volume is forthcoming.


Vokhtah – a review

Some days are just so good, you have to stand up and dance. Today is one of those days:

‘Yes, this book is different and weird and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. But that’s the point!If intelligent life exists on other planets, it’s going to be bizarre and foreign and at least semi-incomprehensible to human intellects. Reading this book really did feel like being transported to an alien world, and that was fantastic. I wish I’d read it sooner, because it really is a master-class in world-building. Vokhtah is a haunting, vividly-constructed depiction of a fascinating world—one I’d happily revisit.’

That quote comes from a wonderful review of Vokhtah that I stumbled across this morning. I know Vokhtah will never become a best seller, but so long as readers ‘get it’ every now and then, I’ll be happy.

You can read the entire review on Berthold Gambrel’s blog:

https://ruinedchapel.com/2020/02/21/book-review-vokhtah-the-suns-of-vokhtah-book-1-by-a-c-flory/#comment-15977

Have a wonderful weekend, my friends.

-hugs-

Meeks


Vokhtah has 16 reviews!

When D.Wallace Peach [Diana to her friends] said that she was going to read Vokhtah, I warned her. I said that the story was nothing like Innerscape. I told her that there were no humans in it, that it was all about these weird aliens on another planet…

And then I promptly forgot about it because I didn’t expect her to finish Vokhtah, and I certainly didn’t expect her to review it. But she did, she did. 🙂

Forgive me for posting Diana’s review in full, but Vokhtah is my firstborn, and I still think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.


D.W.Peach – 4/5 stars


This is a hard book to describe. “Pure Alien” is a good start, and I’m impressed by the author’s ambition and execution. Vokhtah is an alien planet and the characters are insect-like (my impression) creatures who engage in their own sort of political intrigue, espionage, and social caste system. They’re clever, dastardly, selfless, and selfish – much like humans – but there the similarities end.


The world-building is rather amazing and humans won’t find much that’s familiar here. Even the speech is different. The iVokh and Vokh are genderless “its” and don’t have names, referred to by their role in society, their ranking, and their talents. Social norms are dictated by groups and reinforce variations in dominance and subservience. It takes about a third of the book to get used to.


The story unfolds from multiple points of view, all alien. Flory doesn’t pamper the reader with backstory or explanation, but tosses us right into the strange world – sink or swim. The experience is immersive, but it requires patience to figure out who these aliens are and what the heck they’re doing. I enjoyed the story-telling, the fascinating world, the author’s imagination and writing skills. The pace was excellent and kept my interest.


I did spend a fair amount of the book confused about the characters, though. This is primarily, I think, because they don’t have names and, in many cases, go by multiple designations. For example, there are a number of Sixths and Sevenths. A Blue is also a Messenger who is also a Healer. A Teller is also a Trader, and is sometimes an Apprentice, so sometimes they’re the same character, sometimes not. There are a lot of identically designated characters as each location/eyrie in the story has the same basic social structure, and the book involves travel. I struggled to keep them straight until about 50% through when the plot began to narrow down the action and further define the characters’ personalities and motivations.


But then, I struggled to keep Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon straight. That one I gave up on; this one I didn’t. And it was worth it. By the end, I was ready for the next book in the series. I highly recommend Vokhtah to readers who love pure alien sci-fi, love a reading challenge, and want to engage with the work of a wonderfully creative imagination.

For those not familiar with ‘Gardens of the Moon‘, the book is the first volume in Steven Erikson’s mammoth Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It has an eye watering 1,221 ratings and an overall ranking of 4/5 stars.

To have something I’ve written even mentioned in the same sentence as ‘Gardens of the Moon’ makes my heart swell to epic proportions. But to have Diana say that she didn’t give up on Vokhtah when she did give up on Erikson’s first book…gods, I think my heart is going to burst!

To Diana, and every one of the amazing readers who read Vokhtah, and left a review, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

Meeks


Seeing in Infrared

I’ve been doing some research on different types of vision, and apparently what we humans see is the visible wavelength of light – i.e. the colours you see in a rainbow. But many animals, and especially insects, see things we can’t. For example, the humble goldfish can see in both infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Without getting too technical, think of wavelengths as a line of spaghetti of different lengths, from shortest to longest. The shortest bits are in the ultraviolet wavelength. The longest bits are in the infrared wavelength, and there in the middle are the colours we humans can see. Blue is longer than ultraviolet and red is shorter than infrared.

For the purposes of my research, infrared was what I was looking for, but what is it, and what does it look like?

We can’t see infrared, not with the naked eye, but we can feel it because infrared is basically the wavelength of ‘heat’. In visual terms, the colder something is, the darker it appears. The hotter something is, the brighter it looks.

Confused? Good, so was I. As a visual creature, I needed to be able to visualise something that is essentially, invisible. Luckily, we have developed special cameras that can:

  • detect infrared wavelengths, and
  • translate them into colours on the visible spectrum – i.e. into colours we can see.

Generally speaking, infrared cameras translate cold images into dark colours such as dark blue or dark purple. As areas of an image warm up, the heat is translated into brighter colours – from red to orange to yellow to white.

In the screenshot below, the infrared camera shows a cold frying pan on a stove top [the yellow labels are mine]:

To get an idea of what the camera sees as the pan heats up, please have a look at this short video on the National Geographic website:

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/infrared-vision/#seeing-infrared

It’s only a very short video [1.18 minutes] and well worth the look [if you have a phobia about mosquitoes, avert your eyes for the first twenty seconds or so]. Isn’t that amazing?

More on why I’m doing this research at a later date. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


Jewellery from Meteorites

I’ve known that some meteorites contain iron for a long time – the starrock of Vokhtah is metal made from ‘found’ meteorites. But I was just guessing when I imagined that the gems worn by the Council of Seven [including the Blue], also came from meteorites. I’ve just learned that I was right, about some of them at least. God, I love research!

Have a look at this:

This is a peridot cut from the Jepara meteorite. A green gem for The Green. 🙂

“Very rarely, meteorites will contain facetable mineral material large enough to actually cut a gemstone, since the heat and impact of the fall can easily destroy most gemmy material or shatter it into tiny fragments. For example, the olivine material in stony and stony-iron meteorites can sometimes yield beautiful peridots.”

https://www.gemsociety.org/article/meteorite-jewelry-introduction/

Green is more rare than yellow, which works perfectly for me as there are three Councillors in the Yellow faction but only one Green. I haven’t found anything about a blue gem but a little fantasy is okay, right?

While I’m prepared to do a bit of hand-waving [fudging the science] over the colour of the gems, my tolerance does have its limits, so it was wonderful to learn that these gems can ‘fall out’ of the metal matrix due to the presence of water in the environment – i.e. the water makes the iron corrode away leaving the gems behind:

“This Brenham piece was found in a damp, muddy part of the strewnfield and much of the iron-nickel has terrestrialized, while the olivine crystals remain intact. Corroded specimens such as this are unofficially called meteorodes.” [Under the picture of the meteorite].

https://geology.com/meteorites/stony-iron-meteorites.shtml

This is important as the iVokh Smiths have barely made it into Iron Age technology; they needed some way of extracting the gems from the starrock. Plus, it so happens that Vokhtah goes through a season of torrential rain every year [Kohoh].

-pats self on the back-

And to prove that meteorites were used to make jewellery right here on Earth, here’s a picture of a bead found in an Egyptian tomb. It dates back about 5,000 years:

That bead may not look like much, but it is most definitely made from a meteorite. You can find the whole article at the following link:

https://www.livescience.com/36981-ancient-egyptian-jewelry-made-from-meteorite.html

If anyone is interested in extraterrestrial metals and jewels, the link to geology.com will take you to a brilliant article that gives a very detailed, in-depth explanation of these beautiful visitors to Earth.

But wait, there’s more. 😀 I wasn’t actually researching gems today, I was researching the metal in meteorites to see if I could find some property of meteorites to ‘identify’ a Healer’s chain that is becoming pivotal to the story of Kaati [Vokhtah book 2].

Iron and Stony-iron meteorites contain both iron and nickel. Earth does have some iron-nickel but it’s rare. Meteorites have it in abundance [one way of identifying them]. For my purposes, the following is of great interest:

“Iron-nickel (terrestrial or extraterrestrial) develops a coating of rust if washed or if kept in a humid area. If a specimen must be washed with water, it should be thoroughly dried.”

https://www.minerals.net/meteorites-iron-nickel.aspx

I knew that terrestrial iron would rust if not protected, but its nice to know that I was right about starrock as well :

“Left alone in the empty bathing cavern, the Voice sighed as it picked up the discarded cloth and dried the large starrock medallion that hung from its neck.  Starrock did not like water. It hoped the na-Seneschal would remember that, but suspected the young iVokh would not. There were still a great many things the na-Seneschal did not know about being a Voice. Foremost among them was knowing when to bend and when to stand firm.”

[Vokhtah, book 1]

Getting back to the Healer’s chain, however, I think I may have found what I’m looking for in a type of meteorite called ataxite. It has an exceptionally high nickel content which gives the metal a strange, almost white colour:

 

“Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition: a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxitea type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18 percent.”

https://www.cnet.com/pictures/swords-from-the-stars-weapons-forged-from-meteoric-iron/

The red emphasis is mine. If you’re interested in the process, this is the video made of the creation of the sword:

The truly interesting thing is that the meteorite wasn’t melted. It was heated and then hammered to gradually remove the impurities. This is called forging and is a technique that my iVokh Smiths could have mastered quite easily!

The following is a screenshot taken from the very end of the video. It shows the amazing colour [almost white] and the patterning left behind after the ‘etching’ process [an acid bath to bring out the folds]:

The video includes other techniques that the iVokh probably wouldn’t have had access to, but then they weren’t making a sword, just the links for a simple chain. An unusual chain that fits my plot perfectly.

I have the degree of possibility I need. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 

 


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