Tag Archives: culture

Boychik – a review

I’ve loved Laurie Boris’ work since I read her novel – Drawing Breath – back in Indies Unlimited days. That book has remained my favourite until now. Boychik has the same immediacy, the same heart as Drawing Breath, and I absolutely loved it. This is the review I just left on amazon.com:

It’s hard to define what makes Boychik so wonderful because the story has it all – great characters, a great narrative and a sense of time and place like no other. For a couple of delightful days, It transported me to Prohibition New York and beguiled me with the sights and sounds and /smells/ of that era.

I don’t actually know what ‘lox’ is, but I love pickles so I could almost taste the food being made, and eaten, in the Deli. Most of all though, I experienced all of these almost alien sensations through the eyes of two young people on the cusp of growing up. And falling in love.

Yes, there is a thread of romance running through the story, but mostly it’s about love and tradition and old expectations clashing with the culture of a new country. In a strange sort of way, Boychik made me nostalgic for a time and place I’ve never known. It made me /care/.

In my not so humble opinion, Boychik really does have it all, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Read it. You’re welcome. 🙂

The only thing that makes me sad is that the story is over. But it’s a good sad. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


Reviewing books by Joel Shepherd and Jonathan P. Brazee

I write reviews in the hope that others will discover new authors and new worlds into which they can escape. Military anything has never been my cup of tea, but over the last few years, I’ve discovered a number of authors who have made me change my mind about the genre: Elliot Kay, Chris James, D.Wallace Peach, and now Joel Shepherd and Jonathan P. Brazee.

I’m still a long way from being a military enthusiast, but a damn good story is a damn good story, no matter what genre it occupies.

The two books I’m reviewing today both fall into the ‘military’ category, and both feature a female protagonist, but otherwise they are quite different. Sasha, by Australian author Joel Shepherd, is what I would call a ‘military fantasy’ in that it is very low tech with cavalry charges and swords rather than guns and tanks etc. Fire Ant, on the other hand, is ‘military scifi’ with lots of space battles. I enjoyed them both, and I think you might too. 🙂

First up is my review of Sasha:

I came to Sasha from the author’s Spiral Wars science fiction series because science fiction is my passion, but…in Sasha I’ve found a story even /better/. And a world so rich with detail that it feels real.

One of the reasons the world building is so amazingly good is because, like Dune, it contains everything – politics, multiple cultures, religions, belief systems, and…languages. Not just a few silly words made up to make you feel as if the language is real, but enough detail to make it obvious that the author /created/ a language for the story.

Do any of these details hit you over the head, slowing down the story and boring the pants off those who only want to read about the battles?

No. Shepherd has woven the world building in to the action so you absorb it much like you would absorb the world building in a movie – naturally, a bit at a time.

That same mastery of story is evident in how the author builds the characters. They all have a past. They all have quirks. They all have virtues and faults, but again, discovering the characters is part of the story.

I am more impressed than I can say. More importantly, I LOVE this story, and I’m about to buy more of it.
Cannot recommend Sasha more highly.

The next review is of Fire Ant:

I didn’t know what to expect from Fire Ant, especially when I realised that the main character was a female…a female written by a male. Would she end up being a man disguised as a woman, as so many of these kinds of ‘kick arse’ characters are?

I’m pleased to report that the author, Jonathon P. Brazee, has created a female character who is kick arse but in a genuinely female way.

The story is pretty much a coming of age tale in space, but deep enough to make it enjoyable even for oldies long past that age. 🙂

I love it when I discover new authors. It’s like finding buried treasure!

Have a great weekend everyone,

cheers
Meeks


My Favourite Bits…Vokhtah

It’s that time. Sorry. Rather than posting an excerpt from Vokhtah today, I want to talk about language, and how it is the true, living history of a race or culture.

Think about Shakespeare. The Bard died in 1616, yet many of the words he made up…yes, made up…are still in use today. According to litcharts.com there are 422 words that almost certainly originated with Shakespeare. Many are nouns turned into verbs, or two words smooshed together, but they did not exist in that form until The Bard made them so. Want some examples? Here we go:

https://www.litcharts.com/blog/shakespeare/words-shakespeare-invented/

You can find the complete list by following the link to litcharts.com, and I guarantee you will be surprised.

Yet why should we be surprised? We know that jargon/slang changes from generation to generation. Who would have known 30 years ago that ‘my bad’ could mean ‘I apologise/I’m sorry/I was wrong’? Language always changes to reflect the needs or concerns of the time. It’s just a different way of looking at history.

So why am I making such an issue of language? Well, it’s because one of my favourite bits of Vokhtah is the language I created to express who and what the characters are.

There’s a Vokh-to-English dictionary at the back of the book, but in reality I didn’t use many of the words in the actual story. Readers quickly work out that ‘ki’ means ‘no’ and that a wingspan is fairly wide in relation to the size of the body. Fingerwidth is pretty self explanatory too, but the pronoun ‘it’ is where the conlang [constructed language] becomes most noticeable.

Remember how I explained that all Vokh and iVokh are hermaphrodites? Well, how can you use ‘he’ and ‘she’ when the character is both? Take away the gendered words and all you have left is ‘it’. Once you start using the word ‘it’ though, other words become problematic…like ‘I’ and ‘you’.

I solved that problem by using ‘one’ or ‘self’ instead of ‘I’, and just for fun I turned the word ‘you’ into a very nasty swear word. But then I really started to dig myself into a hole. How on earth could I write dialogue without pronouns? Try it. ‘Tain’t easy, and sounds really…ugly.

I’m not a linguist, but I do speak a smattering of seven languages [only two properly!], so the sound of the language was really important to me. I was seriously thinking about not having any dialogue in the story at all when Hungarian, and to a lesser extent Japanese, came to my rescue. Pronouns do exist in both languages, but who is speaking is often obvious simply by the form of the verb.

This is what the present and past tense of the verb ‘To Go’ looks like in Hungarian:

https://www.verbix.com/webverbix/go.php?&D1=121&T1=megy

For more on Hungarian grammar, please follow the link to the website.

Hungarian is my mother tongue so I’ve always known that in common speech, you almost always leave off the pronoun because it’s obvious from the form of the verb. In the graphic above, if you ignore the pronouns [shown in green] and just look at the verb forms, you’ll see that the verb changes… for each pronoun. In fact, the form of the verb is unique for each pronoun.

Thus, if I wanted to ask where you [plural] are going, I’d say:

Hova mentek?
[Hova is ‘where’. Mentek is the plural form of [you] go because the ‘you’ is known from the verb form itself]

From there, it was a fairly easy step to reach: ‘”Where going?” it asked.’ The number of iVokh ‘going’ is understood from the context of the paragraph. If you’re talking about multiple iVokh then the question implies more than one. If only one other iVokh is present then the question implies the singular.

From the Japanese, I borrowed the short, sharp form of the men’s language to allow for commands. Thus: ‘”Hold!” it cried.’

And then, because I’m a bit of a masochist, I added a bit more biology in the form of the cilia. Cilia are like tiny pipe organs, and they are how my aliens breathe and speak [the mouth is used only for eating].

But what is the most noticeable thing about pipe organs? It’s that they play chords – major [happy], minor [sad] and variations on discord. Thus the words are automatically coloured by an emotional element, making it unnecessary to say “Self feeling sad” etc.

Finally, I added one more bit of biology – scent glands at the base of each cilia. I blame Golli for this one. Golli is a cat, and when I pick him up for a cuddle, he always rubs his cheek against my shoulder. Yes, it’s a sign of affection, but it’s also his way of scent marking his territory via the scent glands in his cheek. So he’s really saying “I love you, and you’re mine!”.

The Vokh and iVokh never show signs of affection, but those scent glands do produce cues that sometimes ‘leak’ into the air as they speak. Think a whole range of sneaky farts that all ‘mean’ something different. So the spoken language of Vokhtah – the actual words used – can be quite rudimentary because two other emotional cues provide richness and context.

On the cultural side, I decided to make life even more difficult for myself by not having public ‘names’, only titles or ranks. There are strong biological and cultural reasons for this, but I can’t tell you what they are because the published story hasn’t revealed them yet. Suffice to say it’s all because of the big, nasty Vokh. 🙂

The cover of Vokhtah, book 1 of the Suns of Vokhtah series

One of the very first people who read Vokhtah said that I should change the dialogue into everyday English. I did think about it, for about five, very unhappy minutes. Then I realised the obvious: Vokhtah was going to be a difficult book to read no matter what, so asking Readers to get used to the dialogue was peanuts. And really, how could I change the language without changing the very core of the story?

Inevitably, this begs a whole slew of uncomfortable question: why bother creating such unappealing, difficult aliens in the first place? Why go to so much work and effort to write a story only a handful of people are likely to read? Why not use the tried and true trope of having a human main character who could ‘explain’ the bits that really needed explaining?

I guess the most honest answer to all those questions is the same as for the question: why climb Mount Everest? It’s because I wanted to.

Like almost every speculative fiction author I know, I wanted one shot at creating something new. Something that hadn’t been done before. A world that was not Earth, and an alien that was not human.

There’s a lot of ego involved in trying to climb the writing equivalent of Everest, but it’s also a rite of passage because it’s hard, bloody hard. For that reason alone, Vokhtah will probably remain the best thing I ever write. Also the least commercially viable. C’est la vie, n’est ce pas? [That’s life, right?]

Thank you for following me down this linguistic path, and if you know anyone who might be interested, Vokhtah will be free for five days starting on March 16, 2021 [that’s not until tomorrow for Southern Hemisphere readers]. I’m not expecting to make money out of Vokhtah, but I would dearly love to see one more review to bring the total up to 20.

Okay, that’s enough honesty for one day! lol

Much love,
Meeks


Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in….

The lyrics come from a very famous Fifth Dimension song, but this is not a post about music.

The Fifth Dimension

It’s a post about Covid-19 and an update on its spread, and how to live with it. And guess what? Sunshine really does make a difference, in ways that are not immediately obvious.

First up I’m going to start with some research conducted by the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, Geelong, VIC, Australia. As some of you know, my state of Victoria is at the centre of the largest outbreak in Australia. And we’re not over it [completely] yet.

What the Australian study did was to measure the infectiveness of the virus – ON SURFACES – in a rather unusual way. As the UV in light is known to kill viruses, the researchers conducted their study on the virus in the dark. They also controlled the temperature of the environment in which the virus was studied. Their results are interesting to say the least.

The following is a direct quote taken from those results :

‘viable virus was isolated for up to 28 days at 20 °C from common surfaces such as glass, stainless steel and both paper and polymer banknotes. Conversely, infectious virus survived less than 24 h at 40 °C on some surfaces.’

https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12985-020-01418-7

For a more in-depth explanation of the study and what it found, please check out Dr John’s video.

For me, personally, these results are both good news and bad because we’ve been ‘isolating’ dry goods bought from the supermarket in the boot of the Offspring’s car. As the boot is dark, I immediately worried about how effective this isolation had been, especially as it’s been a cold winter here in Melbourne.

Then I realised that as neither one of us has become sick, the decon in the boot probably worked. A little later I realised why. The car is parked in the open so, although dark, the temperature in the boot would probably drop to about 5C at night and heat up past 20C during most of the day [the virus dislikes extremes of heat and cold]. Phew. Plus…masks have been mandated for most of this second wave so the chance of someone sneezing on my shopping before it arrives is that much less.

Keep all of that in mind as I tell you about the pandemic in Japan. A study conducted on working people in Tokyo found that despite the tiny death toll – under 2000 for the whole of Japan – close to 50% of those tested may have already been infected by the virus. For more on this please see Dr John’s video here or you can go direct to the study here.

There’s a lot to explain so I’ll try to keep it to the most important details. Firstly, the study was conducted during the summer months and the low death rate is partially backed up by data from the Western world where infection rates have also increased but without a corresponding increase in the death rate.

Doesn’t make sense, or does it?

If dark and temperate conditions keep the virus alive, the conditions in summer would do the exact opposite because people spend much more time outdoors…in the sunshine…with good ventilation. So even when they are exposed to the virus, their VIRAL LOAD is likely to be much less. And viral load determines how sick you’re likely to get.

But still, even taking the sunshine and heat and ventilation and viral load into consideration, why would the Japanese results be so extremely good despite no major lockdowns?

In Japan, the answer seems to be mostly cultural:

  • Wearing masks is normal.
  • Bowing instead of hugging or shaking hands is normal.
  • Not shouting and speaking quietly is normal.
  • Opening windows [good ventilation] is normal.
  • Supervised 14 day quarantine is strictly enforced.
  • And finally, obesity is very low in Japan. Obesity has been shown to be a major co-morbidity with the virus – i.e. you’re likely to get much sicker if you get the virus and you’re obese.

Putting it all together, cultural good practice means that the viral load is kept very low. And that means that the people who are infected are far more likely to have few symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Thus, lots of spread, but most people do not actually get sick, and those who do are much less likely to die.

If this is all true, and I think it is, then we here in Australia are going to get a reprieve over the summer months. Unfortunately, it also means that the northern hemisphere is going to be hit hard, again, especially as Western cultural practices make the virus so happy.

I can’t do anything about the northern hemisphere, but I can ask the people here in Melbourne two very simple questions:

  1. Even if you don’t believe the pandemic is real, would it really kill you to wear a mask? Not just now, when the State government has mandated that all of us must wear one in public, but after? Couldn’t you err on the side of caution, if not for yourself, then for the sick, the elderly and the disabled?
  2. Could you really live with yourself if someone you loved died, or developed a long term health problem because you put your convenience ahead of everything and everyone else?

Wearing a mask is such a small thing when compared to the horror of watching someone die.

love,
Meeks


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