Category Archives: Vokhtah

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

 

 


Music for the Acolyte

Music has always been a vital part of my writing because it speaks directly to the emotional and creative side of my brain. In a very real sense, it puts the logical side to ‘sleep’. For me, that is a necessity because technical writing comes so much easier.

But finding the right music for the right story has never been easy. Until today.

I give you, ‘The Journey of a Scarecrow’, by Indie composer – Jean-Gabriel Raynaud:

The instant the Scarecrow track began to play [on Soundcloud], I knew precisely who it was for. The quirky playfulness screamed ‘Acolyte’!

Who? What?

For those few brave souls who read my scifi/fantasy novel, ‘Vokhtah’, you may remember the small iVokh who worked for the Healers in Needlepoint. The Scarecrow is its signature song.

For everyone else, here’s a short excerpt from the book that introduces the reader to the Acolyte:

The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.

It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.

A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.

Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamber’s single glow-worm.

After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.

Diminutive by any standard, the healers’ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.

The Acolyte’s lack of stature was accompanied by a corresponding lack of strength. The Junior mocked its weakness at every opportunity, but the young iVokh prided itself on never failing in its duty. Clever and resourceful, it compensated for the weakness of its body by using the power of its wings. Only rarely did it have to rely on brute strength as it did now.

Bent over the bota, struggling to regain its breath, it stiffened as derisive hoots sounded from the outer cavern.

The Acolyte’s hide took on a hot, yellowish tinge. It did not like being closed in with the female, but it liked listening to the Junior’s oh-so-witty barbs even less. Pulling itself upright with a jerk, it grabbed the leather handle of the door with both hands and pulled. Embarrassment was a powerful motivator, and the door closed quickly.

The Acolyte features in Book 3 of The Suns of Vokhtah. Unfortunately, I’m still on book 2. That means I mustn’t allow myself to listen to this new music until I’m ready to write the Acolyte’s story… -cries quietly-

I hate these games I have to play with my subconscious, but my muse is temperamental at the best of times. At least now, I have a lot to look forward to.

Anyone else play games with their muse?

Meeks


I’ve found a new, favourite composer!

Musical tastes vary, I know, and mine may not match yours, but if it does…hi new friend! 🙂

Today I want to introduce you to my new favourite composer. His name is Peter Milinkovic, he hails from Serbia, and his company is called Talekeeper Music. What could be more perfect?

I found Milinkovic on Soundcloud which is an extraordinary website that showcases the work of new and not so new composers. The link below is for ‘Unbroken’, a track with a haunting melody and uplifting ‘pace’, very Kaati-ish :

The next one is called ‘Sun’ and the graphic is soooo Vokhtah! :

-dance-

I haz new writing music! Later all. 🙂

Meeks

 


Backstory, World building & Motivation

As a reader, one problem I’ve always had with plot driven stories is that the motivation behind pivotal events is often paper thin. The author wants Character X to do something or be somewhere because the rest of the plot depends on it. A flimsy excuse is offered, and the story moves on, usually without me. I’m fussy, no apologies.

Well, imagine my dismay when I found that I was in precisely the same situation with book two of Vokhtah. 😦

I’m a pantster by nature, meaning I don’t like to outline, but the second book of a series inevitably constrains how freely you can write because much of the world building and ‘rules’ have been set in concrete as part of book one. You can’t suddenly unwrite details that are no longer convenient.

And that’s the problem I’ve been tiptoeing around for weeks. I have a character who calls itself Death*. It appears in book one as the assistant to the Yellow. In book two, however, I need Death to be at the entrance to the Settlement when Kaati** arrives. The trouble is, for higher level Messengers*** like Death, gate duty would be seen as a dreadful punishment.  I’m talking maximum humiliation here.

So what could Death possibly do that would result in such a public punishment?

I already had some of Death’s back story and the world building from book one, but the ‘crime’ and its motivation eluded me. I tried to fudge it, but my subconscious wouldn’t let me. Every time I sat down to continue the story, I’d find myself going over that scene, again and again and again. Yet no matter how much I polished the words, it still felt like a bloody fudge so last night I spat the dummy and decided to delete the whole scene and start from scratch.

Oddly enough, I had a great night’s sleep, and this morning I started writing the outline, yes the outline, with a clear head. Two thousand words later, I finally have all the background and world building needed to explain Death’s motivation for being where it needs to be. Yes! 😀

I won’t spoil the story by giving it all away, but I will explain some of the world building that emerged. It revolves around the Guild of Healers and how their Council works. In a nutshell, the Council is made up of a total of seven Councillors who are the most powerful Healers in the Guild.

But Councillors are not chosen solely on merit. When a Councillor dies, or disappears [as happened with the leader of the Blue faction****], a replacement is usually chosen by a vote amongst the remaining six Councillors.

Now this is where things become interesting as the Councillors are divided into two dominant factions. Those in the Yellow faction believe that all Vokh abominations must be killed. Those in the Blue faction believe that not all abominations are dangerous. In fact, they believe that some abominations actually decrease the aggression of the Vokh and thus should be allowed to live and breed.

And finally there’s the Green. It has no faction of its own and its purpose is to break any deadlock between the two major factions. In the past, Councillors chosen as the Green tended to be strictly neutral. In book one, however, the current Green tends to side with the Yellows more often than the Blues. In book two, it continues to side with the Yellows until Death does something that really ticks it off.

If the Green lends its vote to the Blue faction it will cause a deadlock in the selection of the seventh Councillor – i.e. three Yellow faction members versus two Blues plus the Green.

In situations where the Council is deadlocked, the vote must be thrown open to the entire Guild. If that were to happen, the Yellows might still manage to get another Yellow voted onto the Council, but it would not be a certainty, and the delay could seriously disrupt the Yellow’s plans [the Yellow is the leader of the Yellow faction].

I can’t tell you what Death did, but it works perfectly with the Machiavellian politics of the Guild and its own, personal motivation. At this point I have no idea how much of this world building/back story will end up in the actual book, but at least I’ve stopped fighting my ‘muse’, and we’re both happy for the first time in weeks!

The sun is shining, the wind is mild and my Sunday is turning out to be a really good day. Hope you enjoy your weekend as well.

Cheers

Meeks

* Both Vokh and iVokh keep their personal names secret, and in public are known solely by rank or profession.

** Kaati is the young Apprentice from book one. Book two follows what happens to Kaati after parting company with the Blue/Messenger at Needlepoint gather.

*** Messengers are Healers who act as ‘enforcers’ for the will of the Guild of Healers. They are distinguished from ordinary Healers by their ability to inflict pain without suffering any of the empathic consequences that affect true Healers.

**** The leader of the Blue faction was known as the Blue. This powerful Healer left the safety of the Settlement to stop the guild from shooting itself in the foot. See book one, Voktah.


With humungous thanks – Kaati version 2

I asked for your help, and you gave it, making Kaati so much better than I could have hoped. Thank you, one and all!

And here’s the proof….ta dah!

If you click on the picture, it should open in a new window where you can see it at full size…I think. -fingers crossed-

Thank you again. You guys really are the best.

-enormous hugs-

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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