I’ve been playing with digital ‘collage’ for days now, and the image below comes close to what I see in my head:
It’s not perfect but I did manage to create the ‘ramp’ which features in book 2. This ramp has been in my head for years :
‘A moment later, all thought of Vokh politics fled Kahti’s mind as the tunnel opened out into a cavern of mammoth proportions. Glowworms placed at regular intervals revealed a number of passages leading out of the cavern, but the young Trader could not take its eyes from the huge ramp that snaked around half of the cavern before disappearing through an arched opening near the roof.’
From the second book of Vokhtah, title still up in the air.
All of the scraps of texture and shape  that went into the final, composite image were manipulated in Corel Draw 8. No idea what I’ll do with the image, but it will be handy as a reference if nothing else. Just relieved it’s done.
Not so long ago, I complained about the timeline in Vokhtah being out by three days. After a LOT of time and effort, which included combing through book 1 to see exactly what I happened when, I discovered that the timeline was actually out by 17 days. -pulls hair and screams-
The problem with the timeline goes all the way back to the very start of the book in which I guestimated that the journey to and from Deepwater gather would take about 50 days. As guestimates go, that fudge would not have been catastrophic had I gone back at the end of the book and worked out exact times spent. But I didn’t. 😦
I solved my timeline problem, but it’s left me very wary of any and all fudges, so when I went back to book 2 and came across a scene that involved a bad iVokh rappelling down into a ravine to chase a good iVokh, my fudge-alarm went off straight away.
Why? Because everything I know about mountaineering comes from a couple of old Hollywood movies. I think one of them starred Sylvestre Stallone:
Clearly, I could not allow the fudge to stand, so I’ve spent most of today doing research on mountaineering. To my utter surprise, the scene I wrote is actually possible using a method invented way back at the start of the 20th century by a climber called Hans Dulfer.
To use the Dulfersitz, [I think that translates as Dulfer-sit] you secure one end of the rope at the top of the cliff or wherever you happen to be, wrap it around your body a certain way, and then ‘walk down’ the near vertical face of the cliff suspended only by the friction of the rope against your body:
You can see exactly how to do the wrapping in the short video from which the still shot was taken: https://youtu.be/CLQ0IltdYd0 While revolutionary for its time, the Dulfersitz was not exactly painfree:
‘For quite a long time the Dülfersitz was the most common way of abseiling and it’s still remembered today, mainly with nostalgic memories of those gorgeous burns on the right side of your neck and shoulder along with some far less pleasant ones right next to your genitalia.’
I’ve been a huge fan of author D.Wallace Peach [Diana] since I read her speculative fiction novel, The Bone Wall , so when she asked if I’d like to be interviewed about Vokhtah, I felt honoured. Then I read her questions, and I could barely contain my joy. Here’s a taste:
THE most original sci-fi book I’ve ever read is Vokhtah by Andrea Flory. The depth of her world-building and character-construction is highly creative and intensely alien, right down to the language these insect-like creatures use. I’ve been wanting to interview her and finally got the chance. Welcome Andrea!
1. You decided to create an alien world without humans. Lots of authors do that, but their characters are often “human in disguise” with human-ish thoughts and emotions and cultural variations. Your characters are definitely NOT human. What inspired you to create a completely alien species?
Aaaah Diana! Thank you for inviting me, but…you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box here. What inspired me? I could say it was the original Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy, or the character of Dexter, the ‘good’ psychopath, or the aliens of The Left Hand of Darkness by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, but that would only approximate the truth.
To give you a genuine answer I would have to change your question to ‘Why do so many humans create aliens in the first place?’
To that question, my answer is that we’re looking for answers about ourselves.
Before I begin, I’d like to apologise for being MIA lately. I discovered, or should I say, re-discovered that I write best first thing in the morning, when this ageing brain is still fresh.
As a result, social media has taken a back seat. But I’m happier than I’ve been for quite a while because the second book of Vokhtah is happening again. 🙂
So, what have I been up to? For starters, I went back and re-wrote the character of Death. Without meaning to, I’d made it too, um, nice. That’s the awful trap when writing about a race that’s varying degrees of sociopath.
Anyway, Death is now more like one of our corporate CEOs – not totally bad, but definitely driven by expediency rather than empathy.
In the following shortish excerpt, the Master Smith knows something that could get Death killed.
From Kahti, book 2 of Vokhtah – not quite gospel yet but very close. 🙂
Early the next day, Death made time to visit the storage caverns and pick up three small gourds of pippa juice. That night, it shared two of the gourds with its escort but drank only enough to wet its lips. Once the second gourd had been opened, it excused itself and retired to its pallet, leaving the Messengers to finish the pippa juice on their own. Face turned towards the wall, it listened as they laughed and joked, their voices gradually growing more raucous as their speech slurred.
At some point, the Messengers must have decided they could stand guard sitting down, because when Death eventually crept out to check on them, it found them both slumped against the wall, fast asleep.
Knowing firstlight could not be far off, Death quickly opened the last remaining gourd of pippa juice and poured a generous pinch of the yellow powder inside. A quick shake and it was done.
More relieved than it cared to admit, Death returned to its pallet and fell asleep with the gourd cradled in its arms. The next morning, it rose early and headed off to the forge, to fulfil its promise to the Healer from the South. As before, its escort stayed out in the passage, a safe distance from the noise and heat.
The old Smith accepted the gourd with pleasure and took a healthy swallow before promising to give the Healer’s chain a higher priority.
“Thanking,” Death said. “Healer being difficult and expecting Yellow to intervene!”
“Pah!” the old Smith cried, shaking its head in disbelief. “Healer being too long from Settlement!”
“Thinking so too,” Death replied as it watched the old iVokh take another long swallow. By the time it left, the gourd was empty. Smithing was thirsty work.
Death was in the feeding cavern a few days later when it heard two Healers at a nearby table gossiping about the death of the old Smith.
“Being sick?” one of the Healers asked as it opened the cage by its side and reached in for a fresh akaht.
“Ki, just old,” the other opined as it bit down on its own meal. “Although some saying not being well day before.”
“S’so? What happening?”
“Going to sleep and not rising.”
“A good death then.”
Over at the next table, Death silently agreed. It had always liked the old Smith, and was glad its end had been peaceful.
Have a great Tuesday, Australia! And good night to all those in the Northern Hemisphere. 🙂
This is not the post I’d planned, but I’m utterly taken with this music and just had to share. It’s another one of Lucas King’s piano compositions, and it’s called The Silent Place. It also happens to be perfect for a scene I just wrote about Death [Vokhtah 2].
I think we all know by now that 2021 is not going to become a good year any time soon. Despite the rollout of vaccines in most countries, it will take a long time before enough people are vaccinated to provide herd immunity* to those who aren’t. For most diseases, that means at least 70% of a population have to be vaccinated before herd immunity can kick in. With Covid-19, no one’s sure how much of the population has to be immune. There’s also a great big question mark around what the current vaccines will actually accomplish. Will they simply stop the disease? Or will they also stop infected people from passing it on?
So…. 2021 is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. For the Offspring and I, that means we’ll be in self-isolation for a long time yet. Because of that, I thought there was no point setting any goals for the coming year. I was wrong. There are things I can do, both for myself and for others; it just took a while for me to see it.
One thing I’ve always been bad at is marketing, but marketing these days is mostly digital, so I’ve decided that my goal for 2021 is to get one more review for Miira and Vokhtah. Both are sitting on 19 reviews, and I’d love to see that number change to 20. Not a big goal, I know, but it’s an achievable goal if I pull my finger out and actually do some marketing!
“But I hate marketing!”
I’m probably the world’s worst salesperson, but I discovered a long time ago that when I believe in a product, my enthusiasm accomplishes what my lack of skill cannot – I can make others want to see what has me so excited.
“But I hate marketing my own stuff!”
Sadly, women of my vintage were brought up to believe that ‘showing off’ was the worst thing a woman could do short of flashing her boobs in public. I recognize the conditioning. I acknowledge that it’s incredibly unfair – why should men be able to blow their own trumpet while we have to be demure and self-effacing? But this fear of being seen as a show-off is so deeply ingrained that I cannot shift it.
But I can trick it into shutting up. 🙂 And this is where my light bulb moment kicked in. If I give my books away for free, I’ll be getting eyes on my work AND I’ll be providing some escapism for those who are still in limbo. And that is exactly what I plan to do.
The first step of this grand plan is to drop the price of all my books to 0.99 cents. Then, once every two weeks, I’ll put one of the books up for free on Amazon. The book will remain free for 5 consecutive days before returning to the 0.99 cent price point. When the last book has had its turn at free, I’ll put all the books back to their original price points.
This is what my books cost now:
I’m not sure how long it will take for the price change to register on Amazon, but I’ll post an update when the new prices are available.
So that’s my grand plan. If I achieve the two extra reviews I’ll be happy. If I don’t, I can still hope that my stories ease the strain of this weird point in time, at least a little, and…I’ve got a plan for the next twelve weeks.
much love, Meeks
…*… herd immunity works by surrounding infectious people with people who are already immune. To survive, the bacterium or virus needs new hosts to infect. With no new hosts available, the bacterium or virus runs its course and dies. Eventually, every infected person recovers and bingo, no more virus. To get to that point though, an awful lot of people have to be immunised at the same time, otherwise the virus just keeps ticking along.
Remember that post about info dumps? Well, I’ve just cut two, and it’s breaking my heart. One of them was a cute little scene that I really enjoyed writing, but even as I wrote it I knew what it’s ultimate fate would be.
The other though…the other was about how Kaati picked a primitive lock with the claw of its little finger. I spent well over a week refining the description, trimming it, massaging it, loving it. But this morning I finally admitted the truth: describing the lock and how it was picked had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It may have added a little unnecessary background to the story, but nothing substantial. Nothing necessary.
So I killed it with those bloody great shears. But as the pieces lay twitching on the cutting room floor, I realised that I could write a post about them. Just in case anyone ever needed to know how an ancient lock worked…mwahahahaha!
Okay, ahem, way back in the mists of time, the Egyptians invented a lock that looked something like this:
The yellow bar is the locking bar. It goes through the door and into the doorframe. At the top of the locking bar are three holes and a long slot. When the locking bar is lined up correctly, the three pins inside the lock drop down into the holes in the locking bar and stop it from pulling out of the doorframe. Effectively this keeps the door ‘locked’.
As you can see from the diagram, the pins do not extend all the way down into the locking bar. This is so that a key can be pushed through the slot. The key has three teeth, each of which lines up with one of the ‘pins’.
When you want to unlock the door, you insert the key and push it up so the pins pop out of the locking bar, allowing it to move. You can then pull the locking bar out of the doorframe with the key:
To make the lock work for Kaati, however, I had to simplify the design at bit. This is what the iVokh lock looks like:
Instead of three pins, the Vokh lock only has one. When Kaati sticks its small finger in the keyhole, the tip of its claw fits underneath the pin. When it pushes its claw up, the pin slips out of the locking bar and unlocks the door.
I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.
Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.
Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…
I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:
The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…
As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.
Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?
Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.
Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.
The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.
All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.
The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.
They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.
Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.
Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.
Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.
In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.
Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…
A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?
Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.
But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.
Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.
Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…
Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.
Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.
Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!
Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.
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.