Tag Archives: world-building

The Christmas Roast

Writing sci-fi involves a lot of research, most of which never appears in the finished story. I created the following schematic so I could see the layout of the Undercity apartments in my story, The Christmas Roast:

The diagram of the SL’ick tank below details how the SL’ick are harvested:

None of the details about the SL’ick tank appeared in the story, but I needed to know them in order to make Caitlyn’s feelings ‘real’.

The Christmas Roast is one of the sci-fi short stories found in my book, The Vintage Egg. I hope you enjoy the story and have a safe and happy Christmas. Cheers, Meeks.

The Christmas Roast, a short story

Christmas was supposed to be a time of happiness and good cheer, but fourteen year old Caitlyn Nguyen knew that Christmas was going to be horrible this year. That was why she was still awake at 3am on Christmas morning.

Caitlyn’s two younger brothers, Jeff and little Michael, had gone to sleep hours before, and she could hear them snoring softly in the bunks below. They were probably dreaming of the presents they would find under the tree when they got up in the morning.

It wasn’t a real tree of course. It was illegal to grow pines anymore because of the bushfires, but the fake Christmas tree was still very pretty, and Caitlyn had been happy to help decorate it until the moment her mother had started talking about the huge roast she was going to bake for Christmas lunch – real potatoes, real carrots, real pumpkin… and their very first, home-grown SL’ick.

The boys had jumped up and down in excitement, wanting to know if they could help get the SL’ick out of its tank. Neither of them had given a thought to the fact that taking the SL’ick out of its tank would kill it. All they had cared about was that there would be meat for Christmas lunch…

Carnivores! Caitlyn thought in disgust as she stared up at the ceiling just a couple of feet above her head. All they care about is food!

Before being assigned to their very own apartment in the undercity, Caitlyn had been much like her brothers. They had never gone hungry, her parents worked very hard to make sure that never happened, but still, meat was not something they could afford to eat.

There had been special occasions of course, birthdays and anniversaries and such, when they would all go out to have a hamburger as a treat, but the meat inside the bun had been mostly soy anyway, with just a bit of SL’eef for flavour, so Caitlyn had never really had to worry about where the meat came from. But eating a whole SL’ick was different, especially when it was a SL’ick she knew.

Like everyone else, Caitlyn had grown up knowing about Synthetic Life Animals. She knew they made precious compost because they were engineered from earthworms. She knew they had no bones, or eyes or anything, and she knew her family was incredibly lucky to be assigned an apartment with its own SLA tank. However none of that changed the sense of horror she felt at the thought of eating one. No matter what anyone said, she knew the SL’ick in their home tank were not just giant worms!

When the Nguyen family had first moved into their apartment, everyone had been given one special chore, even three year old Michael. As the eldest, Caitlyn was given the important task of feeding the five tiny synthetic life chickens her mother had bought. Three times a day she would have to scrape the leftovers from their meals into the SLA tank, and three times a day she would have to look down into the tank and see the brown, segmented things that moved around inside.

While the SL’ick were small she hardly even noticed them, however once they became bigger a curious thing began to happen. Instead of staying below the surface of the compost, the SL’ick began squirming up to the top, their toothless mouths opening and closing as if in anticipation of the food she was about to give them.

When Caitlyn told her parents about the SL’icks’ odd behaviour they laughed it off, saying it must have been a coincidence because SL’ick were too primitive for such ‘purposeful behaviour’.

Even the boys had laughed at Caitlyn’s fanciful story, so she had not brought the subject up again, but the strange behaviour of the creatures in the tank continued. She did notice, however, that the SL’ick only seemed to respond to her. Whenever anyone else opened the tank they would hide below the compost. It was almost as if they recognized her in some weird way.

And then two weeks ago the biggest one, the one that was going to end up as Christmas lunch, began bumping its mouth-end up against Caitlyn’s hand, almost as if it was saying hello or something. The first time it happened she had fled to the holoscreen, desperately searching for answers, but all the wiki clips said the same thing – SLA did not have heads as such because they didn’t really have any brains, so there was just an in-end and an out-end.

Nonetheless every time the big SL’ick bumped her hand it was always with the mouth-end, the end that would be its head if it had a brain. Could it be that these SL’ick were made differently to normal SLAs? But why would the company that made them suddenly give them a brain?

It didn’t make sense, unless the company hadn’t meant to make them this way. Maybe Buffa and the others were part of a batch that went wrong. Glitches did happen. Usually they were caught before people bought them, but there was that Eterna face cream recently. It made hundreds of women’s faces turn blue…

Fearing the ridicule of her friends and family, Caitlyn told no-one of her latest suspicions, but in the privacy of her own mind she began thinking of the big SL’ick as Buffa. It was a silly name from a little kids holo, but somehow the name seemed to fit; just like the fat cat in the story, Buffa really was very smart. Before each feed it would bump up against her hand as if telling her to hurry up, but afterward it would slide gently beneath her fingers, back and forth, for all the world as if it was saying thank you.

Buffa is smart, Caitlyn thought as her throat tightened up, and the first tear slid down her cheek. More tears followed, leaving cold, wet trails down her face before pooling in her ears. Rolling onto her stomach she buried her face in the pillow, but the tears kept coming. Soon the sound would wake the boys, and then they would wake her parents and-

Sliding to the side of the bunk, Caitlyn grabbed the guard rail with both hands, and swung her feet onto the rungs of the ladder that connected the three bunks. Once on the floor she tip-toed from the small cubicle, and swiped the panel that closed off their bedroom from the round hallway.

Like all of the apartments in the honeycomb of the undercity, the Nguyen’s 20 foot square of living space had a circular, multifunction ‘hall’ in the middle that provided access to the two bedrooms, the kitchen and the communal living space. However when all the openings in the hall were closed, the circular space automatically turned into a bathroom.  The toilet and basin would rise up from the floor while the shower-dryer would drop down from the ceiling. The bathroom was also the only space in the apartment that was sound-proofed.

As the door leading to her parents’ room was already closed, Caitlyn only had to close off the living, and kitchen spaces to gain the privacy she needed. In moments she was alone in the bathroom, but she made no attempt to use any of the fixtures. Instead she just sat on the toilet and cried.

She had already made up her mind that she could not, would not eat any of the SL’ick her mother served up for lunch, no matter how much trouble she got into. However, as she sat there with snot running from her nose, and her shoulders bouncing up and down with hiccups, she suddenly realised that refusing to eat was not going to be enough. Buffa knew her and trusted her. She couldn’t just stand by and let him die. She just couldn’t.

When the hiccups finally stopped, Caitlyn took a deep breath, washed her face and hands, and opened up the doors. Creeping back into the room she shared with her brothers, she grabbed her clothes and school bag, and crept out again. She knew exactly what she had to do, but guilt still made her shiver as she crept into the tiny, compact kitchen. SL’ick were expensive.

Placing her shoes and the bag on the floor with exaggerated care, Caitlyn stared at the door to her parents room as she pulled on her coveralls, and slipped into her shoes.

The only light in the kitchen came from the night light that always burned in the hall, but the apartment was so tiny even that dim light was enough to see by. If one of her parents got up to go to the bathroom, and saw her standing in the kitchen fully dressed, they would know something was up.

Nervous sweat made Caitlyn’s hands feel wet, and she wiped them on her coveralls before she reached out and opened the SL’ick tank.

During the day, the soft hiss of the servos was impossible to hear against the background noise of five people moving around inside a very small space, but now even that slight sound seemed unnaturally loud.

Caitlyn held her breath as her eyes flicked to the door of her parents’ room. She expected to see her father standing there, cricket bat in hand, ready to repel intruders, but the door stayed closed.

Breathing out in relief, Caitlyn turned back to the SL’ick tank, desperate to grab Buffa, and leave before her imaginings turned into reality. However when she looked into the tank she could not see the big SL’ick anywhere. The little ones were all coming to the surface, but there was no sign of Buffa.

Cold hands seemed to clutch at her heart. Had her mother killed Buffa already? Was that what her parents had been doing after the rest of them had gone to bed?

Sorrow, relief and guilt battled it out in Caitlyn’s mind as she stared at the small SL’ick waiting hopefully for an unscheduled feed. I’ll never see Buffa again. I won’t get into trouble. I should have rescued Buffa sooner.

After all the crying Caitlyn had done in the bathroom, she should have been all out of tears, but there they were, blurring her vision all over again.

“I’m so sorry Buffa,” she whispered as she gently patted the surface of the compost. “I did try. Really I did.”

Caitlyn was shaking the compost off her fingers when something wet, and slightly slimy, rose up and nudged the palm of her hand. It was the big SL’ick and it was still very much alive!

Thrusting both hands into the compost, Caitlyn scooped up the big SL’ick, and placed it gently in the bottom of her bag before quickly covering it with some of the moist compost from the tank.

SL’ick could survive in the air for a short time, but she knew Buffa would never survive the trip to the surface without compost.

She was just about to close the tank when two of the medium sized SL’ick slithered up, still looking for food. They were only about half the size of Buffa, but as she watched their little mouths open and close in entreaty, Caitlyn knew she couldn’t leave them behind either. Even though they were small, her mother was a very determined woman, and she had set her heart on having roast SL’ick for Christmas.

Sorry Mum, Caitlyn thought as she grabbed a SL’ick in either hand. They too went into the bag with a blanket of compost. Catching the two smallest ones was a little harder as they were only as big as her index finger, and quite fast, but she kept combing her hands through the compost until she had them both.

After covering all the SL’ick with a few more handfuls of compost, Caitlyn quickly sealed the bag, and hoisted it onto her shoulder. Five SL’ick and a load of compost turned out to be a lot heavier than she expected, but desperation and a strange, wild excitement gave her the strength to tip-toe away.

A few moments later the front door irised shut with a soft snick as Caitlyn and her SL’ick made their escape.

* * *

As soon as Caitlyn stepped out into the corridor running past her home, the guilty elation fled. She had never been out this late before, and the corridor looked spooky, and somehow alien with only the dim blue of the floor panels to light the way. They led off in either direction like the footprints of a ghost.

Maybe this had not been such a good idea after all. Passive sensors guarded every corridor of the undercity, but Caitlyn knew they wouldn’t be much help if some psycho jumped out of the shadows. Security would come, but not in time to save her.

That was a lesson the whole undercity had learned two years ago when a nightshift worker had been found, raped and strangled. Security had caught the psycho responsible, but that had not been much consolation to the victim, or her family.

Maybe I should just put the SL’ick back, Caitlyn thought as her hand groped blindly for the access panel next to the door. Surely if she made enough of a fuss her mother would change her mind about the roast…

Yeah, right. And maybe we’ll have snow for Christmas too.

Ever since Caitlyn had put the SL’ick in her bag, they had been quiet and still, but now she could feel them squirming around against her back. There really wasn’t enough compost in her bag to keep them alive for long. She would have to decide one way or the other very soon.

It’s not that far to the recycling plant…

Caitlyn’s parents both worked at the recycling plant, so she knew the way. All she had to do was walk to the first main intersection, and ride the strip until she hit the Hub. From there it would only be a short ride up to the recycling plant on the surface.

C’mon, c’mon you can do this!

The SL’ick seemed to agree as they intensified their squirming. Or perhaps they were just getting more uncomfortable.

What if they died before she could get them up to the recycling plant?

Snot-on-a-stick!

That was one of Michael’s favourite sayings, and the thought of her four year-old brother steadied Caitlyn’s nerves. Both boys would think this was a great adventure. How could she wimp out now?

Hitching the heavy bag a little higher, Caitlyn took a deep breath and started walking up the corridor. The floor panels brightened at her approach, and dimmed again as she walked on. The added light should have been welcome, but being in her own cone of light just made her feel more exposed. She longed to run, to get this all over with, but the bag seemed to get heavier with every step, and a slow trudge was all she could manage.

It seemed to take forever just to reach the first side corridor, and when she got there, Caitlyn had to put the bag down, and catch her breath. She did not rest for long though; the sound of her own breathing seemed terribly loud in the silence. Picking up the bag again, she trudged on.

The main corridor was much wider than the narrow residential one she had come from, and the lighting was brighter, but the emptiness stretching ahead and behind scared her in a way she could not define. During the day, this corridor teemed with people and bots, all hurrying to someplace else. Now it was as if she was the only person alive in the whole of the undercity.

If Caitlyn had been less tired she might have given in to her fears then, and trudged home again, but with the moving strip just a few feet away it seemed easier to keep going.

Hefting the bag onto her shoulder once more, she turned the corner, and stepped across the west bound strip at an angle so she would not be carried too far in the wrong direction. Once on the east-bound strip she lowered the bag to the moving pavement, and stared at her feet, refusing to look at all the empty corridors trundling past. Yet not seeing was somehow even worse than seeing, and her head quickly snapped up again. The back of her neck crawled, as if hundreds of tiny insects were marching up and down in feathery little boots.

Adding to Caitlyn’s fears was the lack of movement from her bag. The SL’ick had stopped moving, and she was terrified they would all die for nothing.

Please, please…

By the time Caitlyn finally saw the Hub in the distance, its massive ramp corkscrewing its way through the centre of the undercity, her coveralls were sticky with fear sweat. The only thing that kept her from crying like a little kid was the sight of one of the freight elevators standing open, its interior bright with light. Sanctuary beckoned, and she shuffled inside like a lost soul coming home.

“Destination please.”

“S-surface,” Caitlyn whispered as the massive doors slid shut.

With no other passengers getting on or off, the ride up from the nineteenth level of the Hub took only seconds. All too soon, the great doors slid open once more, and the AI’s impersonal voice was wishing her a Merry Christmas.

Caitlyn had never felt less merry in her life. The plexiglass dome that protected the entrance to the undercity was awash with stars, but their light was too fragile, and too distant, to relieve the immensity of the blackness pressing in from the Outside. Even the strip lighting that led the way to the brightly lit portal of the recycling plant seemed ineffectual. Each cone of bright light just made the shadows beyond its reach even darker.

Anything could be hiding in those shadows, absolutely anything.

Almost there… Almost there…

Making herself walk that last quarter of a mile to the recycling plant was the hardest thing Caitlyn had ever had to do. Every time she left the light and stepped into shadow, it felt like walking into the maw of a ravenous beast.

By the time she reached the portal she had reached a level of fear beyond terror. Mouth open in a silent scream, eyes wide and dry, she walked like an automaton with just one program functioning – get inside.

Five paces from the portal, the sensors detected the presence of a human, and the massive, metal petals of the portal irised open.

Caitlyn kept walking, hardly aware of her surroundings. Only when the rich smell of humus assaulted her nose did she stop, and look around like someone waking from a terrible dream. To her left were the sealed vats where human wastes were processed by a series of engineered bacteria. In the middle were the administrative areas, and behind them were the compost farms that turned all food waste into rich, soil-nourishing humus.

But the young girl with the tear-stained face had eyes for just one thing – the neat rows of hover-trains lined up against the right hand wall. That was where she had to go. And then her job would be done.

Too tired to carry the bag any longer, Caitlyn dragged the SL’ick behind her on the brightly polished floor as she staggered to the nearest hover-train. The huge container was resting on the ground, waiting for the teleoperators to arrive in the morning. She knew it would be full of precious soil for the farms.

With the last of her strength, Caitlyn opened the floor level door and climbed the narrow plasteel steps of the service hatch. When she reached the top, she opened her bag and wrestled it to the top of the guard rail.

As the bag fell, compost and five brown shapes fell onto the pile of humus. The drop was not that long, but none of the five SL’ick moved.

Caitlyn knew she should be feeling something, but there was a strange emptiness in the middle of her chest where her heart should be. Only the need for secrecy still drove her, although why it should matter now was lost in the fuzzy concept of ‘tomorrow’. Turning from the railing, she trudged down the steps, and closed the access door to the hover-train behind her.

She had to hide. 

Looking out across the expanse of faux marble, Caitlyn’s eyes brightened a little when she saw the curved reception desk facing the portal. There.

Beneath that desk was a safe, dark place. She had played there many times as a small girl. No one but her mother would know to look for her there.

Moments after crawling under the desk, Caitlyn was asleep.

* * *

Caitlyn was eventually found by the skeleton crew who came in to keep the recycling plant ticking over during the holidays.

She spent the rest of Christmas day in hospital, under observation. Despite being questioned by Security, hospital staff, and her own family, she refused to say what she was doing at the recycling plant.

The only person who did not question Caitlyn was her mother. She did not need to. As soon as she had found the SL’ick gone that morning she had known something was very wrong. Finding Caitlyn missing as well had confirmed her worst fears.

She had known Caitlyn would be upset by the idea of eating the SL’ick, but she had hardened her heart, telling herself the child would outgrow her squeamishness. Now she just prayed her daughter had not paid too high a price for her soft heart.

Mother and daughter were finally reunited in the hospital where they spent some time alone together.

When Caitlyn was allowed to leave the hospital, she looked less stricken than she had when she first arrived, but it would be another six months before the haunted look finally left her eyes.

The family were eating dinner, and watching the nightly news, when an odd little story appeared on the holo. Apparently a group of young men had gone Outside during a drunken binge, and one of them swore he had seen a giant earthworm burrow into the ground just a few feet from where he was taking a leak.

The newscaster made a snide reference to pink elephants before going on to discuss the latest findings published by the Global Climate Change Authority.

Caitlyn and her mother just looked at each other…and smiled.


Backstory, World building & Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

Meeks

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

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

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

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


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. 🙂

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!

cheers

Meeks

 


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:

http://www.dingtwist.com/amazing-trees/

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. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Nano2018 – when a Pantster just has to Plot

In a previous post I waxed lyrical about how I’d worked out what made Bountiful so deadly. Flushed with euphoria, I thought I was home and hosed, and that the writing would now flow. Not so much…

Since then, I’ve had to acknowledge that the core of my Nano story this year is actually three-fold:

  1. What made Bountiful so deadly?
  2. How did Beaumont cover it up?
  3. How did James Milgrove, aka the Burning Man, discover the Beaumont cover up?

I thought I had the answer to no. 2, but I soon realised that if I went with that particular solution, no. 3 would be almost impossible to achieve. I say ‘almost’ because I could have fudged the solution. ‘Oh  look, I just found a memo that proves Beaumont were culpable. How lucky is that?’

Just writing those two sentences raises the hackles on the back of my neck because it’s such a cheap trick, and so patently unrealistic. I mean really, with billions of dollars at stake, readers are supposed to believe that Beaumont cares enough to send an assassin to Innerscape, but not enough to burn the evidence?

Fortuitous events do happen, sometimes. Most of the time, however, big events are the result of a cascade of tiny, seemingly unrelated events, and the decisions taken over each one.  And that’s where plotting becomes a necessity.

Although I call myself a pantster, the truth is that I’m a hybrid who does a lot of research and a lot of plotting to make the base mechanics of the story work. In the case of P7698, that core revolves around the pseudo-science of Bountiful. In the Innerscape trilogy, the core centred on the constraints of the digital world itself. In Vokhtah, it was the whole world vs the biology, culture and history of the Vokh and iVokh.

Science fiction may demand more, in terms of these core mechanics, than some other genres, but I know that the best fantasy results from the same, fastidious attention to detail. Characters have to react to believable events and circumstances or their actions will come across as ‘fake’, and none of us want that. So here I am, a little bit stuck on points 2. and 3. 😦

I gave up the idea of winning Nano almost a week ago, and I can live with that; the element of competition was just a little added extra to keep me going. But getting this stuck is seriously depressing as I know I’m going to have writer’s block until I find solutions that feel real.

Anyone else having this problem?

Meeks


Sometimes I surprise even myself…

Apologies if I’ve been less visible of late, but I’ve started writing again, and that tends to give me tunnel vision. The story I’m writing is the long delayed, next chapter of the Vokhtah saga.

The story of my psychopathic hermaphrodites languished for four years while I wrote Innerscape, but now they’re back, and I’ve had to re-acquaint myself with their world all over again. Part of that process was to do a backwards outline of the original story, and that’s where this post comes in. I’d actually forgotten that I wrote this preface to the Vokhtan to English dictionary:

Due to the radical differences between Vokh and human physiology, this sound guide is an approximation only. Where humans speak by forcing air past their vocal chords and then shape the resultant sound in the mouth, the Vokh and iVokh use their mouths for eating only. Their lungs are located in their wings, and they inhale and exhale through hundreds of small cilia on the leading edges of their wings, by-passing the mouth entirely. Thus the sounds they produce are akin to the multiple sounds produced by a pipe organ. Even pure sounds have a resonance human speakers cannot match.

Adding to the difficulty of accurately representing the Vokhtan language is the native speakers’ habit of deliberately distorting their speech with ‘chords’, in order to convey tone and inflection. Harmonious ‘chords’ – like the major 5th in human music – denote agreement, pleasure, delight etc. Discords, on the other hand, can imply a range of emotions from disbelief to contempt. Yet despite the musical quality of Vokhtan, neither the Vokh nor the iVokh have ever developed the concept of music.

Vokhtan for human speakers is further complicated by the fact that the spoken language also includes an array of scent cues produced in glands at the base of each cilia. These scent cues are aspirated with certain audible sounds to form a combined sound/scent amalgam. For example, in the word ‘Vokh’ the ‘h’ at the end represents both the sound of the aspiration, and the scent denoting respect or admiration, something humans are incapable of reproducing.

Please keep these difficulties in mind when attempting to speak Vokhtan.

lol – I really did spend a lot of time thinking about the Vokh and the iVokh. From 2004 to 2012 to be exact. There was so much to discover about them. I mean, they all have sharp claws, right, even the much smaller, less aggressive iVokh. But sharp, pointed claws tend to get in the way when you’re not killing something, so how were the iVokh supposed to craft anything?

The ladies reading this post will immediately recognize the problem of nails that stick out half an inch past the end of your fingers. So how did the iVokh manage? By doing what we do, of course. They squared off the tips of their claws. But wait…how would they have cut their claws? Clearly they would need tools of some kind. Not scissors, no, but something like a small nail file perhaps. Except that nail files don’t grow on bushes. The iVokh would need Smiths to make the nail files, and the Smiths would need metal of some sort…

And so it went. Every idea came with its own baggage of pre-requisites, and each day of writing revealed some new discovery. It was an exciting time, but that was then. Now, I have to relearn all these tiny, yet important details so I don’t make any horrible mistakes, like saying that one iVokh punched another.

The iVokh certainly fight, but not with a clenched fist. Why? Two physiological reasons:

  1. Even with their claws blunted, striking with a clenched fist would drive the claws into their own palms, and
  2. Both iVokh and Vokh hands are quite weak in comparison to the rest of their bodies. They do have opposable thumbs, but they only have two fingers, and those fingers are long and spindly. A punch would probably break the whole hand.

And these are the little things that I have to learn all over again. If anyone’s interested, I’ve been trying to do a graphic of the hand. Still very much a work-in-progress, but here it is:

cheers

Meeks

 


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