Tag Archives: science-fiction

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:


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.


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. 😉

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



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 simply  ‘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!






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:


  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. 🙂

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. 🙂

Thanks for coming on this odd little journey with me!




The Eye of the Spine

I have a bad cold and my brain feels like cotton wool, so rather than doing productive work, I’ve been doing jigsaws on screen. This is what I just found:

It’s a lake in the caldera of an extinct, or at least, inactive volcano. If you were to flip that image vertically and then rotate it a little, you’d end up with something like this:

Now, let’s just draw a rough outline of the lake and fill it in…

And finally, compare it to the eye of a cat…

…and…hey presto! You have the Eye of the Spine!

Many years ago, when I was working out the geography of Vokhtah, I came up with this rather crude map:

The blue blob at the top of the map [just above the label for ‘The Spine’] was my idea of how the ‘Eye of the Spine’ might look. I never imagined I’d ever find a real picture that actually looked like the eye of a Vokh! -dance-

As a quick explanation, the map is drawn from the perspective of a Vokh, one of the flying alien species in the story of Vokhtah. The eyes of both Vokh and iVokh have vertical pupils similar to those of a cat. Unlike cats, however, their nictating membrane [semi-transparent, inner eyelid] opens and closes vertically rather than horizontally.

Thus, from a certain angle, a Vokh flying high above that lake would see the shape of an ‘eye’, its own eye. Hence the name given to the lake.

I’m going to count this amazing find as ‘research’ rather than play. 😀




Resources for Writers – Reddit

I have read mentions of ‘Reddit’ for so long that I should know what it’s about, but I don’t. I’ve always been too busy, or lazy, to find out. This fabulous article is going to change all that:

Social Media is the place to ask questions and make connections. As a writer, many of the magazines I publish in or authors/editors I meet are via connections on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. One platform that I also visit for this purpose is Reddit.

Not only does it give an insight to the platform itself, it provides a list of ‘sub-reddits’ [think groups] that could be invaluable, especially for science fiction writers like me. 🙂

Here’s the link to the article:


My thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for posting about the article.

Well, it’s Saturday here in Oz, so happy weekend all!


1193 words!

I’ve had a brilliant day and just wanted to share. According to StoryBox, I ended the day up by 1193 words, but as deleted words are subtracted from the running total, I figure I’m probably closer to 1500 new words. Good words. Action words. lol

I recognized some time ago that Kaati was more of an ‘action’ character than the Blue so it behooved me to let it do warrior-type stuff, or at least, action-hero type stuff. And I have. Such fun. 🙂

In case you’re wondering, this is my all-time action hero:







Kaati & the Bulb Tree

The subconscious is a wonderful thing. I needed a tall, alien-looking tree that could survive the season of hunger on Vokhtah…and I found it!

May I introduce a baobab tree you may not have seen before:

You can find more pictures of this amazing tree here:


The reason this particular picture excites me so much is that in the story, Kaati can’t find shelter in a cave. Instead, it heads towards a waterhole and lands in the middle of a ‘Bulb Tree’ [clearly my subconscious remembered the ‘bulbous’ shape of the baobab]

As with the real baobab, Bulb trees shed their leaves in summer and survive extremely harsh conditions thanks to the water stored in their bulbous trunks. There’s that lovely word again. As in the picture, it’s the very end of Tohoh on Vokhtah [the Dry or the season of hunger], and the river is reduced to one or two waterholes, but the tall, smooth-trunked bulb trees provide a safe haven from the to’pakh because the great beasts can’t reach the canopy, even with their long, spiked tongues.

It’s absolutely perfect, and I’m thrilled. Even though a great deal of Vokhtah is fantasy, I love being able to base much of the world building on reality.

Hope your Friday is as good as mine. 🙂





Vokhtan calendar – complete

This is the final version of the Vokhtan calendar. It shows the interactions between the two suns and the planet with respect to seasons [roughly] and the day/night cycle [also roughly].

For the days, I made an executive decision and decreed that the Vokhtan day would comprise 24 ‘turns’. I chose the number 24 because I needed to dissect a circle into ‘wedges’ of time. Now, a circle has 365 degrees and a ‘wedge’ of 15.2 degrees goes into 365 almost exactly 24 times. This is something Corel Draw does very easily:

Now, when I place these wedges of time over the visuals of the planet, I get a kind of clock that tells me how many turns of bright light, red light, orange light and dark there are in the day at different times of the year:

Bright light = yellow sun Takh alone in the sky.

Red light = red dwarf, Takhti, alone in the sky.

Orange light = both suns in the sky at the same time.

Dark = truedark, i.e. when neither sun is in the sky.

This is a representation of a day in the middle of Piihoh. The red dwarf is completely eclipsed, so Vokhtah has just a simple, day/night cycle:

This next graphic is from the middle of Tohoh:

The day begins with almost 2 turns of Takh [yellow star] alone in the sky [because the planet rotates to the east]. Then Takhti rises and creates an orangey kind of light. When Takh sets, Takhti is alone in the sky for a couple of turns and it’s like a red twilight. When Takhti finally sets, truedark begins.

This next graphic is what the Vokh see in the middle of Kohoh – half red twilight, half bright yellow day, no truedark:

And finally, the graphic from the middle of Tuhoh. This is a mirror image of the same time during Tohoh but…this time, it’s the red dwarf that ‘rises’ first [because the planet rotates to the east]. It’s alone in the sky for a couple of turns and the inhabitants experience a red, gloomy morning. Then Takh [yellow sun] rises to brighten the gloom. At the end of the day, Takh shines alone. When Takh sets, truedark begins:

So there you have it. Time on Vokhtah has been tamed. Most days start with firstlight, progress to secondlight, peak at midlight, dim with firstdark and end with truedark. Middark is the halfway point of any dark cycle, while deepdark is the ‘dead of night’ and corresponds to the time between middark and firstlight.

Was all this work worth it, given that it was all based on guesswork?

Yes, for me, because I’ve never been good at ‘fudging’ things, and I desperately needed to know what Takh and Takhti might feel like, to a creature living on the planet.

Why didn’t I just get an astronomer to help me?

Because I don’t know any, and none of the websites I visited had what I was looking for. So I made my own. 🙂

As this post is more for my benefit than yours, I’ve turned comments off. 🙂



7 year retrospective

Good morning all. Apparently, it’s my anniversary. According to WordPress, I started blogging on this day, exactly seven years ago. 🙂

To be honest, all I remember about that day, and that first post, is that I didn’t expect anyone to read it. Nevertheless, I decided that if I really did need to have a blog [as all the pundits said], it would be about my passions rather than just ‘marketing’. So I dusted off my soapbox, hopped on and let rip about climate change.

Sadly, little has changed between then and now. In case you’re interested, this is my very first post, dated December 29, 2011:

# # #

When I first started writing science fiction, I was aware of climate change, but I blush to say I did not take it very seriously. I assumed that global warming would be ‘fixed’, like the hole in the ozone layer, before it could become a genuine cause for concern. Oops…

Fast forward ten years and climate change is one of the hottest topics in the media. Thanks to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, climate change has become a part of mainstream consciousness. Yet despite multiple summits – Durban being the latest – and enough talk to float a thousand zeppelins, we seem to be further from a genuine solution than ever before. Everyone knows that the world should move to a low carbon economy, but no-one wants to suffer in the process. Understandable, but just a tad short-sighted given how much suffering there is likely to be if we don’t.

So who are the protagonists in this tragic comedy? Well, in terms of sheer numbers, ordinary people like you and me are at the top of the list. We don’t understand the science – no surprise there – so we only know what the media choose to tell us, and the media are having a field day playing both sides against the middle.

On the one hand they are gleefully telling us about island nations like Tuvalu that are already beginning to disappear beneath rising sea levels, but on the other hand, they are also telling us that scientists are divided about whether climate change is real or not.

To keep the pot boiling, the media give equal air time [and validity] to crackpots  like Lord Monckton who know less about the science than I do. They also keep us guessing by all the things they don’t say. For example when they talk about dissent in the scientific ranks they fail to mention that most of the dissenting scientists are not in the climate change discipline.

However the strangest aspect of the media coverage, is their lack of interest in ferreting out who is paying whom to say what.  I have yet to see a single mainstream article that names climate change skeptics who are paid thousands of dollars per day to ‘consult’ with the very industries that have the most to gain from raising doubt about the science.

These industries  [petroleum and coal spring to mind but they are not the only ones] are using the exact same tactics that Big Tobacco used so successfully to drag the smoking ‘debate’ out for thirty years or more. They are funding genuine scientists, as well as those with no credentials whatsoever, to raise doubt in the minds of governments and ordinary citizens alike in order to delay action on climate change for as long as possible. These delaying tactics translate into profit for them, and helpless confusion for the rest of us.

And the media either can’t or won’t report it.

I am realistic enough to know that libel laws make this kind of reporting difficult, however I can’t help thinking that a certain amount of editorial gagging is also going on. After all, the media is now run by a few, very large, very powerful media barons who have connections to other equally powerful corporate players, and all of them have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo [business as usual].

Little wonder then that ordinary people are confused. But what of governments? Surely they should be better informed than we are?

The problem with governments all over the world is that they are run by politicians who have all the same failings as ordinary people. Some are stupid, some are greedy, some are self-centred and ambitious, and some are simply short-sighted. They know that climate change is real and they know that hard decisions will have to be taken if we are to avoid the worst of the consequences climate change will bring, but they are afraid of what will happen now if they try to do anything. Millions of people are already out of work, and the industries that used to employ them are tottering on the brink of collapse. Surely now is not the time to slap them with a carbon tax. Surely now is not the time to insist that they clean up their act. Surely now is not the time to rock the boat.

Or is it?

Perhaps I have spent too long playing with plot lines, but it seems to me that this is a perfect time for Darwin’s theory of natural selection to kick in. I say we should let the deadwood die instead of propping it up with financial assistance that simply ends up in the pockets of those who caused the mess in the first place.

And while the market is sorting out which companies are the fittest,  government support can be given to  all the new, emerging, low carbon industries that have been starved of funding for so long.

Let’s reward these new industries for being innovative and efficient. Let’s reward them for being lean and mean. Let’s allow them to move into the spaces left by the old dinosaurs. Let’s allow them to revive our flagging economies, and in the process give jobs to those people prepared to learn the relevant new skills.

Yes, there will be disruptions and yes, we may have to adjust our standard of living a little, but surely that is better than suddenly waking up to find that the global markets have collapsed completely because every nation on earth is threatened by rising sea levels, crop failures, famine, floods, fires, drought, disease and all the other lovely things nature can throw at us?

I love the good things in life as much as anyone, so I too I like things the way they are now. Nonetheless, if things must change then I’d rather get used to those changes gradually. And I’d rather have some choice in the matter.

– If  power production is part of the problem [as it is] then I’d rather pay a competitive price for solar panels than keep on  paying for dirty power.

– If petrol driven cars are part of the problem [as they are] then let me choose to buy a hybrid or electric car instead [which I can then charge from those lovely solar panels I put in].

– If shipping food from one end of the globe to the other is part of the problem then let me choose to eat only food that is in season and grown locally.

Adjusting to change does not have to be horrendous. Those who have money only have to change their priorities. Those who do not have money should get assistance, and most importantly re-training opportunities so they can take advantage of the new jobs the new industries will bring.

A smooth transition is possible, but only if we get our collective heads out of the sand, and only if we recognize that helping the most vulnerable amongst us is not charity but an investment in the future.

As a writer I can see the possibilities for a better, brighter future, but only time will tell whether we make the transition smoothly, or fall in a heap as a species.

As a human being I’m hoping we don’t go the way of the real dinosaurs, but as a writer I have to acknowledge that at the moment, an end-of-the-world scenario is more likely.

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Thank you to all my online friends. You’ve made the last seven years fun. I hope the next seven are even better!



The Godsend – Introducing Jaimie

The Godsend is the 2nd book of Innerscape and continues the story of Miira Tahn and the digital world she now inhabits.
In this short excerpt, Miira gets to meet Jaimie Watson for the first time. Despite his youth and apparent rudeness, Jaimie will become a pivotal character in The Godsend.

* * *


Miira stepped out into the Tokyo HUB and stopped, stunned by the sheer volume of people crowding the vast, circular concourse. There must have been thousands of them.

Shaking her head in bemusement, she was scanning the crowd for her next guide when she caught sight of a young man with shoulder-length blond hair and wild blue eyes. His long black coat reminded her of dark wings as he pushed his way through the crowd.

Stopping to watch the bright angel run past, she was caught off guard when he suddenly changed direction and barreled towards her. She managed to step out of the way, but her bags were not quite quick enough.

The young man tripped over the bags and grabbed at Miira on the way down. For one timeless moment, they teetered together, then momentum sent them both crashing to the ground.

“Oouw!” Miira yelped as her head hit the tiles. The yelp was followed by an ouff as an elbow knocked the breath from her body.

“Shit, shit, shit!” the young man muttered as he pushed himself to his knees and tried to help Miira sit up. “Just my fucking luck…are you okay?”

“I…think so,” Miira wheezed, one hand going to the back of her head where a small but uncomfortable bump was growing beneath her fingers. “Sometimes reality could be a little less real.”

“Yeah,” the young man said with a frown. “Look. I’m really sorry. I thought you were just a, you know, NRA.”

“Because I look Asian?” Miira snapped, shock giving way to anger.

“I didn’t mean it that way!” the young man protested. “I just… Ah, crap.”

Bending from the waist, he bowed in a very Asian way and murmured, “Gomenasai…”

Maybe he wasn’t being racist after all, Miira thought, impressed despite herself. She probably had looked like all the other NRAs milling around.

“So what did that mean?” she asked, her tone marginally less hostile.

“It means ‘I’m sorry’.”

“Okay. But is your Japanese good enough to get me a taxi?”

The young man’s lip curled in a sneer, as if offended by the very thought that his Japanese might not be fluent.

“Of course. Where do you want to go?”

That’s a good question, Miira thought. After being dwarfed by the Hilton in Aqaba, she had no desire to go to one of the big international hotels. Unfortunately, they were likely to be the only places where her own lack of Japanese would not matter.

“Do you know of any traditional hotels here in Tokyo where the staff still speak some English?”

“Hmmm… You’re not going to get traditional anything in Tokyo,” the young man said with a frown. “But I know a great ryokan in Kyoto where you can do the whole traditional shi-thing, and the staff all speak English.”

“Rio-kan? What’s that?”

“Boy, you really don’t know anything do you?” he retorted, his tone superior.

Miira just raised an eyebrow at him. Her head still hurt, and she was in no mood to be talked down to.

“Okay, okay!” he cried, throwing up his hands. “A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the time when this place was still called Edo. Happy now?”

“Yes, thank you,” Miira said. Kyoto was where she intended to go the next day anyway, so it was not out of the question. “Would I have to go through the HUB again to get there?”

“No, Kyoto is part of Tokyo HUB.”

“Fine, in that case, you get me a taxi to this ryo-kan of yours, and I promise not to sue for grievous bodily harm.”

“Har de hah hah,” he replied, but his lips quirked as if he were trying to restrain a real smile. “C’mon then.”

“Wait!” Miira said to his retreating back. “I can’t keep calling you ‘hey you’. What’s your name?”

“Jaimie. Now c’mon, I haven’t got all day.”

Jaimie? As in Jaimie Watson? Miira wondered as she started after her bad-tempered young guide.

Now that she thought about it, he was certainly rude enough to be eighteen. But there was also a vitality about him she had not seen in many other Residents.

Maybe Nour was right? Maybe young Jaimie Watson had discovered the way to live a good life in Innerscape?

“Let’s go, bags,” Miira said with a shrug. “Our guide is definitely not going to wait.”




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