Tag Archives: science-fiction

Books on my mind

Not so long ago, I wrote a post about sleep, and the effect blue light from digital devices may have on it. To counteract that effect, I went back to reading print books at night. I’ve read eight books since then, all from my home ‘library’:

This is a photo of my actual lounge room. The only thing I’ve changed is the view from the window. Each shelf contains a double row of books, and there are two more shelves on the other side of the fireplace. There is also a long shelf that stretches across the top of each window. A lot of books. πŸ™‚

I spent over an hour just looking through my books, searching for old favourites to re-read. Now they’re piled up on my bedside table. -rubs hands with glee-

This is Amazon’s picture of the first seven books I read:

They are part of the Death Gate Cycle written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The first volume in the series – Dragon Wing – was published in 1990, and I would have read it soon after it was published.

The Death Gate Cycle is fantasy of a quality similar to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I loved it when I first read it, and I loved it the second time around. If you love fantasy and haven’t read this series, what are you waiting for? lol

The eighth book takes me back to my sci-fi roots – Door into Summer, by Robert Heinlein:

The cover of my paperback is very different to the ones shown on Amazon, but that’s hardly surprising as it was printed in 1957! [No! I was just a toddler back then. I bought the paperback from a second hand book shop, sometime in the 70’s]

Unlike some of Heinlein’s later works, such as Stranger in a Strange Land [1961], The Door into Summer is a simple story about a man, his cat, time travel and a bit of revenge thrown in for good measure. What makes the book so memorable is that it’s almost prophetic when it comes to technology.

Heinlein was a trained engineer and, sometime before 1957 [when the book was published], he ‘invented’ driverless cars, Auto CAD, domestic robots far more sophisticated than the Roomba, synthetic bacon, and a heap of other ‘gadgets’ that left me speechless. The only thing he got wrong was the era. The story begins in 1970 and jumps forward 30 years to 2000. We’re only now starting to enjoy some of the gadgets he invented in the mid 1950’s.

Sadly, getting the timing right is something even the best science fiction writer can’t manage because inspired guesswork can only go so far. 1984 anyone? The future never turns out the way we think it will. Probably a good thing. πŸ™‚

To keep track of all the print books I intend to re-read, I’ve created a new category for the blog. It’s simply called ‘Books’. Within Books there are two sub-categories:

  • Golden Oldies
  • Awesome Indies

I won’t review the Golden Oldies as they are famous already, but I will discuss what it is that I like about them, especially when it comes to the development of science fiction. I will review the Awesome Indie titles though. They are every bit as good as my beloved Golden Oldies. Indie books I’ve reviewed in the past will be moved to this new category as well.

So, do you ever take a walk through your reading history? Are there any books in there that have withstood the test of time? Care to share?

cheers

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! πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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.Β  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! πŸ˜€

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


May I introduce…Kaati

I’m almost afraid to say this but…the concept graphic is finished. I know I’ll tinker at the fine details, but the ideas floating around in my head since 2004 have finally coalesced into something ‘real’. For the first time in 15 years, I can say ‘this is what the iVokh look like’.

Sorry to make the image so big, but I wanted you to be able to see the details. More importantly, I want you to be able to tell me where I’ve missed something, or got the perspective wrong or the lighting or the biology or any one of a million things that I literally can’t see any more.

In short, I’m asking you all to be my beta testers. Not my kind, caring fan club but my critics, because I need fresh eyes, and you’re it. πŸ™‚

-hugs-

Meeks


Did you know that…?

Okay, I’m sure you’re all sick of my love affair with odd bits of information so…I promise, this will be the last [for now]. πŸ˜€

Allow me to introduce you to the Harpy Eagle of Central America:

See that Harpy Eagle chick? See its talons? If you watch that amazing video you will learn that the feet of a fully grown Harpy Eagle are more powerful than the jaws of a Rottweiler. You will also learn that the back talon is used to stab the eagle’s prey:

https://www.reshareworthy.com/harpy-eagle/

Guess who’s going to have killing talons like the Harpy Eagle? Mwahahaha!

cheers

Meeks


Lots of hands but no feet

I’ve lost track of how many of these progress posts I’ve published, but here’s the next milestone in the creation of the iVokh:

That’s a screenshot of my desktop. It’s where I place the latest iteration of the image so I can see it without the distraction of the Corel Draw 8 work screen. Plus, I have to admit that seeing the image in a different context makes mistakes more ‘visible’ somehow. The same thing applies to writing; even a small visual change can force the brain to see what’s there instead of what should be there.

This next pic shows the Corel Draw work screen. If you look at the bottom left of the screen, you can see that the composite image is made up of 102 individual ‘objects’:

The tiny, shiny dots scattered across the image are ‘nodes’ on the objects. Nodes allow you to manipulate vectored images with great precision. For example, many images that appear to be one image are in fact many images, layered over each other to match up colours and lighting effects [as much as possible].

To keep all those objects in the right place and the correct order, I’ve used the Corel Draw ‘Group’ function to keep myself sane. This is the same image split into its component groups:

If I were a plotter instead of a pantster, I would have created a discrete ‘layer’ for each group. Layers are like transparent sheets of glass, stacked one on top of the other. Thus, you can work on an individual group without disturbing the groups in front of or behind it. Using layers would have made this simple little project [hah!] a hell of a lot easier to manage…

-sigh-

Unfortunately, I’m not a plotter and have to do everything the hard way…

Still, I am getting happier with the overall image every day. Not only am I having fun, I’m also setting the iVokh biology in stone, so to speak. Like the dictionary and mini-encyclopedia of ‘world facts’, I need to know exactly what the iVokh [and Vokh] look like so I don’t make stupid mistakes in books 2 and 3 of Vokhtah. Series are a pain like that. πŸ™‚

cheers

Meeks

 

 


How to build an alien

There’s been a lot going on in my life the last few weeks so I needed a creative outlet that I could pick up and put down as needed. For me, the natural fit was to work on the iVokh using Corel Draw 8. In this post, I’ll do a quick reveal of how I built an iVokh hand.

First I had to find some reference pictures. I was lucky enough to find a nice one showing the skeletal structure of a raptor ‘hand’ as compared to a human hand:

https://www.pinterest.com.au/remiwashere/animal-anatomy-forms/

Next, I vectored each bone of each finger…and tried to get the lighting more or less right using Corel’s gradient colour function:

The hand’s not perfect, but it is in a pose closer to what I wanted, plus the finished bones do give me a second layer of references. More importantly, each bone gives me an outline that can be used like a cookie cutter [the gradient fill is inside the outline]:

Now, I can use the vector outline to cut out textures for the ‘skin’. The following images are a kind of timeline of the process of skinning the bones:

Working from left to right we have:

  1. the vectored finger,
  2. the outline of each individual bone,
  3. the bones broken apart,
  4. the outline of the bones,
  5. the texture cut out by each outline,
  6. the finished finger

The finished ‘finger’ on the far right shows a simplistic view of the skin ‘tunnel’ in which the claws hide until they are protracted – i.e. pushed out. I took the reference from a picture I found showing a close-up of the skin around a cat’s claws.

https://www.softpaws.com/fascinating-facts-about-cat-claws/

Now, I suppose some of you are wondering why I didn’t just draw a whole finger, or better yet, a whole hand?

The reason is that I’m not that good at freehand drawing. I’m more draftsperson than artist. So while I might be able to fudge a hand once, I would not be able to redraw that hand in different poses. By creating the basic building blocks of the hand, however, I can use Corel to create different poses using more or less the same building blocks. [To get the perspective right, I’ll have to adjust the nodes on at least some of the ‘bones’, but that’s the easy part].

Is this the best way to build an alien?

Sadly, the answer is no. The vectoring isn’t that hard but finding the correct snippet of texture with just the right colour and light effect is very hard.

The best way to build an alien from scratch would be to create a 3D model using a super dooper graphics package like Maya. Unfortunately, Maya is also super dooper expensive and takes about 2 years of study to learn properly. So I’m making do with what I have, and what I know. I think I’ve done pretty well so far, for an amateur. πŸ˜‰

Okay, no comments again, but as always, my thanks to all of you for being my sounding board[s].

-hugs-

Meeks


Bats, cats and Archeopteryx

A bit more biology about the Vokh and iVokh. They really are a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster!

Okay, so I’ve said that both Vokh and iVokh are flying hermaphrodytes, and in book 1, I mentioned that their ‘lungs’ are in their wings which are like ‘leather sacks’. These sacks can also be inflated with lift [a component of their atmosphere which acts a bit like helium] to help them fly. But where did some of these ideas come from?

The leather wings idea came from the common bat:

But I needed the iVokh to be capable of some technology, and while bats do have a ‘thumb’ to help them climb, they can’t make or use tools. That was when I realised that the iVokh needed proper hands. Trouble was, if they had more human-like hands, they couldn’t have long, bat-like ‘fingers’ supporting their wings.

It was at this point that the idea of inflatable wings occurred to me. I can’t take any credit for it as parafoils use the same principle, although in a very different design.

But if the Vokh and iVokh can inflate their wings, how do they de-flate them?

Enter brilliant idea number 548: let them have jets!

The modern jet engine basically sucks air in and expels it under incredible pressure to ‘push’ the plane along. The young man explaining the process in this video is a fabulous teacher!

The Vokh and iVokh don’t have combustion chambers, but they do physically compress the lift before squeezing it out of tiny sphincters on the trailing [bottom] edge of their wings. If any of you read book 1, Vokhtah, you may remember that the Rogue had incredibly powerful jets, allowing it to perform almost miraculous feats of acrobatics in the air.

For less virtuoso flyers like the iVokh, jetting requires something to push against – i.e. the ground, a wall etc. The stronger the flyer, the further that solid surface can be from its jets.

One problem with jetting is that once the lift is pushed out through the jets, the wings effectively deflate, leaving them ‘limp’. The best flyers can glide on limp wings, but for most iVokh, no lift means no flight. This is why they never use up all the lift in their wings.

Another issue I had with the flight mechanics of the Vokh and iVokh had to do with the surface area of their wings. Clearly the wider the wings the better their ability to fly. But I didn’t want them to actually look like bats.

I ignored this problem for quite a while until it suddenly struck me that almost all of the animals of Vokhtah had six limbs, not four!

Why would the Vokh and iVokh be any different? Um, because they’d look stupid? But what if that second set of arms weren’t actually visible?

I’m still working on a concept drawing, but basically the main arms would be situated in much the same position as human arms. The second set, however, would be located lower down on the torso and would simplyΒ  ‘move’ the folds of leather into various positions when not inflated. For example, when I write that such-and-such folded its wings to its sides, the folding is done by the second set of arms.

I mentioned cats in the title because of something I wrote in my last post. How could iVokh have both fangs and grinding teeth?

This photo of a cat’s skull explains:

As you can see, the jaws of a cat have those oversized canines as well as a total of four molars – one on each side of the bottom jaw and one on each side of the top jaw – plus eight pre-molars. Unlike the cat, iVokh have just two fangs and four molars. Oh, and my aliens also share a vertical pupil with both cats and foxes!

And finally, Archeopteryx. What body part did I steal from this ancient ancestor of birds?

Answer: the legs:

The bones of the leg are essentially the same as that in humans – thigh bone, knee, shin – until you get to the ankle. This is the point at which the leg of the Archeopteryx looks as if it has a second, back-to-front knee. It doesn’t. That joint is basically the equivalent of our ankle, but the foot is different. The reason is that humans are one of the few animals that walk with a ‘plantigrade’ foot posture – i.e. heel down first. Most other animals, including the Archeopteryx, run on their toes.

I’ve turned comments off as this kind of research is my obsession not yours, but thanks for keeping me company!

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


Echolocation in iVokh, dolphins and humans

I started thinking about the creatures of Vokhtah back in November, 2004 when I did Nanowrimo for the first time. I knew right from the start that the Vokh would be vicious, psychopathic hermaphrodites with wings, but as I explored their lives I realised that they couldn’t possibly live together without killing each other. That was when I stumbled across a weird fact from nature – crocodiles allow plover birds to hop in their mouths and clean scraps of meat from their teeth!

This is called ‘mutualism’, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties gain benefits. In the case of the plover bird, it gets to eat the meat it picks from the crocodile’s teeth. The crocodile, on the other hand, gives up a very small snack in exchange for keeping its teeth clean and healthy.

I have no idea how such a relationship would have evolved in nature, but it did give me the answer to the Vokh riddle: my huge, intelligent aliens would live in a symbiotic relationship with another species. Enter the iVokh.

I won’t bore you with a history of how the iVokh evolved in my mind, it’s enough to say that they had to be similar to the Vokh, but also different. One of those differences ended up being teeth, or to be more exact the shape of the iVokh jaw. You see the reason the Vokh tolerate the iVokh is because they need the iVokh to raise their offspring. Part of that requires that the newborn Vokh be fed a gruel of mashed up grains and tubers.

But if the iVokh were like the Vokh and only drank blood [sorry I’m kind of skipping a few vital facts here], then how would they know to give the Vokhling gruel?

The answer lay in the fact that the iVokh had retained their molars [grinding teeth], and hence could chew. This gave them the ability to feed on a number of different types of food, not just blood. By contrast, the Vokh were so powerful that they could live on nothing but blood. In time, their teeth and jaws evolved to make it easier for them to eat their favourite food. That required bigger, stronger fangs, not molars.

But what do molars have to do with echolocation? Before I get to the Vokh and iVokh, I’d like to give you a quick description of how echolocation works in dolphins:

https://dolphins.org/anatomy

  1. In the simplest terms, dolphins send clicks through that bulge on their heads. It’s called the ‘melon’ and it amplifies the sound.
  2. The clicks spread out through the water and ‘bounce’ against objects in the water.
  3. This bounce returns to the dolphin as a kind of echo.
  4. The echo is captured by the dolphin’s lower jaw and is transferred to its inner ear [maybe like a vibration?].
  5. From there, the echo goes straight to the auditory part of the dolphin’s brain where it is translated into a kind of ‘image’.

The important thing to note here is that the echo does not return to the dolphin’s ear, or at least not directly. First it goes to the jaw. And there, tah dah, was one perfect, evolutionary difference between the Vokh and iVokh. As the lower jaw of the Vokh changed, so too did its ability to echolocate. It can still ping enough to avoid walking into things in the dark, but not enough to ‘see’ objects at a distance.

In my mind, I see this qualitative difference as being similar to the difference between the echolocation of a dolphin and a human:

I’ve mentioned Daniel Kish and his amazing ability before, yet for all of his skill, he cannot operate in his own environment as well as a dolphin operates in the ocean.

So that’s how the iVokh got echolocation. πŸ™‚

In case anyone is wondering, the world of Vokhtah is a strange melange of science and paranormal fantasy. Along with their physical characteristics, most of which have parallels in real biology, the Vokh and iVokh also have mental skills that don’t. Despite the best efforts of all sorts of scientists, we still lack proof that telekinesis or telepathy actually exist. But while I love science, I’m not a scientist, and paranormal talents are fun to write about. πŸ™‚

Thanks for coming on this odd little journey with me!

cheers

Meeks

 


%d bloggers like this: