Saturday, August 23, 2014

Three New Reviews on Three Different Books

       I casually went into Amazon this morning and lo and behold!  I had three new reviews, all by the same person!  The Termite Queen got a 4 star, The War of the Stolen Mother a 5 star, and Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder a 2 star (more on that presently).
       Here is the review of The Termite Queen (it's posted on v.1, but it covers both volumes (the bold type is mine):
 
       "The two volumes here comprise a classic first-contact scifi story, and opposites attract romance, and a court intrigue "historical novel". At least. And they all flow together smoothly into a satisfying whole. The scifi part has the usual unexplainable "science" bits, but they are used judiciously as vehicle, not hinges for the whole plot. The real science -- of Linguistics, mainly, is accurate within its limits and well presented. The romance is credible and the intrigue is made new again by being adapted to structure of termite society and the realities of termite physiology (about which we learn a good deal as well). The only complaints I have are to the assumed panspermia (or whatever puts all discovered life forms on the terran tree) and the needless complex (from a linguistic point of view, not from a scifi novelist's) phonology of the termites."
 
       This reviewer really likes The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head series (which I consider to be the best thing I've written):
 
       "This and the next volume are novel retellings of best of epic myths. Transferring from demigods to termites refreshes the perennial motifs and tales, while the mix of elements and the lively characters bring out the nobility and low cunning, the humor and the pathos of these episodes. The hero is all that that title implies, his companions the appropriate mix, complete with internal tensions and hearty cameraderie. And the narrator is just the right mix of keen observer and fussy pedant. And the tale continues into the fourth and soon fifth volume! Hooray!"
 
 
        I'm also going to give you the 2-star review of Monster.  In fact, it's a good 2-star review - nothing insulting or nitpicking about it -- it's fair-minded and reasonable.  I concede that some people will react like this to Monster -- it will creep them out.  Yet others rave about the novella and give it 5 stars.  A matter of taste, I think.  Why don't you give it a try and form your own opinion?
 
       "This is a very disturbing tale. As an allegory is quite dark; as a scifi novella it is ultimately wrenching. It starts with a twisted premise (even for an allegory) and then moves inexorably to its devastating conclusion. I like all of Taylor's other works (as I have said elsewhere) but this one creeps me out. Only the fact that Taylor is a very good writer (which makes the effect here more affecting) keeps this from a one-star (or a 0, if that were possible)."
 


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Monday, August 4, 2014

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende; an Analysis

Barrabás came to us by sea …


The preceding constitutes the first and the last line of this monumental novel.  Barrabás is a bizarre, gigantic, black dog who was found nearly dead among the possessions of Clara del Valle’s Uncle Marcos.  The little girl immediately adopted and named him, and he becomes the glue that holds the book together.  He never stops growing, it seems, and becomes as big as a colt.  On Clara’s wedding day, the cook stabs him to death with a kitchen knife.  He drags himself into the wedding celebration and dies with his head in Clara’s lap, staining her wedding dress with his blood (prefiguring horrors to come, perhaps?)  Afterwards, Esteban Trueba, Clara’s new husband, has the pelt tanned and turned into a rug, complete with head and glass eyes.  Finding this construction laid down in the nuptial chamber, Clara is horrified and consigns the grotesque gift to the cellar, where years later her daughter and granddaughter play on the rug and make love there.  At the end of the book, the aged Esteban and his granddaughter Alba bring up the rug and place it where it belongs, in the bedroom of Clara, thus completing the union and reconciliation of past, present, and future.
I’ve summarized this to emphasize the truly fantastic nature of this book, coupled with its objective brutality.  When I set out to discuss a book that is as famous as this one, I never read any reviews or critiques beforehand – I want the assessment to proceed from my own impressions.  And this book was not what I was expecting; it’s my first foray into magical realism and I was anticipating a whimsical tale, charming and perhaps a bit sentimental. 
Instead, I found a book that is massive, brutal, coarse, direct, and totally without sentimentality.  I have never read a less sentimental book.  Everything, even the most painful events, is presented in a detached style, as if seen from a distance.  There was not one moment when I was moved to weep for a character, even when the most dreadful things were happening to them.
It’s the story of three women – Clara, Blanca, and Alba – mother, daughter, and granddaughter.  It’s surely no coincidence that the three names mean “clear,” “white,” and “white.”  It’s also the story of Esteban Trueba, who fell in love with Rosa the Beautiful, Clara’s older sister.  Rosa, who has the green hair of a mermaid (Alba inherits the trait), dies when she ingests the poison meant for her father, a neophyte politician.  Later Esteban marries Clara, but he is hardly an ideal man or an ideal husband.  He is a landholder – a patrón – but he fails to grasp the fact that the peasants on his land are human beings.  He rapes every girl as she comes into puberty, and the offspring of the first of these comes back to almost destroy him and the only thing he loves in his later years.  Furthermore, his temper is as volatile as the volcanoes in the cordillera.  When his daughter gets pregnant by one of these peasants, he whips her, then sets out to kill her lover, in one of the most memorable scenes in the book.  And when he discusses Blanca’s pregnancy with his wife, she says to him:
“Pedro Tercero Garcia hasn’t done a thing you haven’t done yourself.  You also slept with unmarried women not of your own class.  The only difference is that he did it for love.  And so did Blanca.”
      
At that, he hits Clara in the face and knocks her teeth out.  After that, although she continues to live in the same house with her husband, she never speaks a word to him again.
 
Beneath the personal stories of the main characters runs the political situation in Chile.  The story spans a period from early in the 20th century through the 1970s coup that killed Marxist President Salvador Allende and its aftermath of repression under the military and Pinochet.  In fact, however, these actual historical characters are not mentioned by name; Allende is simply “the President” and Pablo Neruda is referred to only as “the Poet.”  Furthermore, the name “Chile” is never uttered, or the name of any city in the country.  At one point the country is referred to as “this half-forgotten country at the end of the earth.”  All this adds to the fantasy feeling; this could indeed be a constructed world – an imaginary country devised by a fantasy author – a strip of land between impassable mountains and a vast sea, which stands alone and is unconnected to reality.  People may leave and go to other countries, which are indeed named, but whatever and whoever remain in this fantasy world is not governed by the same laws as the rest of the Earth.  Sometimes in a fantasy world, the fantastic things that happen illustrate reality better than reality illustrates reality. 
The paranormal powers of the women is one aspect of fantasy in the book.  Clara in particular is not only clairvoyant – she also has powers of levitation and she can summon spirits, and after her death she remains a presence in the house, appearing frequently to members of her family.  Esteban Trueba’s sister Férula is the most tragic of the characters; she sacrificed her youth to take care of their disabled mother, and after the mother’s death, she comes to live with her brother and Clara and help run the household.  She falls in lesbian love with Clara, which rouses Esteban’s jealousy.  He throws Férula out of the house, whereupon she curses Esteban (a curse that comes only too true).  One day she enters the house, approaches the family at the dining table, and kisses Clara.  When she leaves, Clara announces, “Férula has died.”  They discover later that she died in poverty and dementia, having refused to spend the money her brother has supplied to her.  Indeed, Esteban Trueba’s principal attitude to the women in his life is that as long as he supports them monetarily, it doesn’t matter how he treats them.  Later, he comes to realize that this attitude isn’t enough, but by then it’s too late.
Another aspect of fantasy is the theme of the prevalence of monsters in that world.  It all starts with Barrabás – that hulking dog of unknown breed.  One can’t imagine Barrabás as a fluffy little lap dog.  Blanca (who becomes a potter) makes Christmas crèches that include monster animals.  And the land itself is a monster, ready to consume its parasitic population at any time through the action of earthquake and tidal wave.
I have to say, one of my favorite fantasy passages is the way the old peasant Pedro Garcia rids the land of a plague of army ants, after the experts have failed in every attempt to destroy them.  He does it by talking to them.  “Tell them to go, that they are a nuisance here.  They understand.”
I noted two stylistic elements utilized in the book.  The first is foreshadowing.  Here is only one of many possible examples: (Re Blanca’s first meeting with Pedro Tercero when they are both small children): “When they found them, the little boy was on his back on the floor and Blanca was curled up with her head on the belly of her new friend.  Many years later, they would be found in the same position, and a whole lifetime would not be long enough for their atonement.”
The other stylistic element is the use of long descriptive lists, which add to the richness of the world being presented.  Indeed, the book includes wonderful descriptive passages, some delicate, some brutal.  It’s difficult to choose examples from so many, so I’ll supply only three – one delicate, one grotesque, one horrific. 
The first describes the fourteen-year-old Blanca (daughter of Esteban and Clara) as she is becoming a woman.
“She took off her nightgown and, for the first time in her life looked at her body in detail, and as she did so, she realized that it was because of all these changes that her friend had run away.  She smiled a new, delicate smile, the smile of a woman.  She put on her old clothes from the preceding summer, which were almost too small, wrapped herself in a shawl, and tiptoed out so as not wake the rest of the family.  Outside, the fields were shaking off their sleep and the first rays of sunlight were cutting the peaks of the cordillera like the thrusts of a saber, warming up the earth and evaporating the dew into a fine white foam that blurred the edges of things and turned the landscape into an enchanted dream.  Blanca set off in the direction of the river.  Everything was still quiet.  Her footsteps crushed the fallen leaves and the dry branches, producing a light crunching sound, the only noise in that vast sleeping space.  She felt that the shaggy meadows, the golden wheatfields, and the far-off purple mountains disappearing in the clear morning sky were part of some ancient memory, something she had seen before exactly like this, as if she had already lived this moment in some previous life.  The delicate rain of the night had soaked the earth and trees, and her clothing felt slightly damp, her shoes cold.  She inhaled the perfume of the drenched earth, the rotten leaves, and the humus, which awakened an unknown pleasure in all her senses.”
Blanca is forced to marry a certain man to cover her illegitimate pregnancy, and this man traffics in Indian artifacts. 
“The only thing that truly distressed her were the mummies. … Inside its jar, shrunken into a fetal position, wrapped in tatters, and accompanied by its wretched necklaces of teeth and a handful of rag dolls, the mummy looked like the pit of some exotic fruit.” 
And finally, this speaks for itself:
“The child Esteban Garcia was by my side, staring at me silently.  He had picked up the sliced-off fingers and was holding them like a bouquet of bloody asparagus.”

This leads me to talk about the point of view.  This book is a prime example of alternating points of view.  Mostly it’s omnipotent third person narration, but occasionally an “I” crops up, and it isn’t always clear who is speaking.  In the very first paragraph of the book, we have this, speaking of Clara’s diaries: “She also recorded trivialities, never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own [foreshadowing again.]”  We don’t learn who this “I” is – who is writing the book – until the epilogue.  But there are also lengthy passages in the first person and this is always the voice of Esteban Trueba, as in the asparagus allusion above.  In the epilogue, the explanation for this is stated.  “I began to write with the help of my grandfather [yes, it’s Alba who was the “I” on the first page]. … In his own hand he wrote a number of pages … ”  So this explains the change of voice.  It’s actually quite effective, even though I was under the mistaken notion that when a stray “I” turns up from time to time, it's always Esteban.  It’s effective because some of the most intense passages proceed directly from Esteban’s violent reactions and emotions, while the bulk of the book remains in the detached style I mentioned earlier.
The House of the Spirits was not difficult to read – the style is limpid and clear – but it wasn’t what I would call a “fun read,” either.  I noted in some of the excerpts from reviews at the beginning of the book, remarks were made about the book’s humor.  I find it to be a very black variety of humor.  For example, when Clara’s parents are killed in an auto accident, her mother’s head gets cut off and nobody can find it.  Clara goes out searching for it and finds it in the bushes.  The body is already buried, so she brings the head home and they keep it in the basement, along with the Barrabás rug, for years.  This may be called humor, but it’s not funny; I would designate it dark grotesquerie.
The House of the Spirits is fascinating, compelling, overwhelming, and unforgettable – certainly something I’m happy to have read.  I’ll probably try my hand at more magic realism in the future, but not immediately!  I need something lighter first!
One final thought:  the author begins the book with an epigraph, a brief poem by Pablo Neruda.  It really does characterize the theme of this great story – that the same stories are lived over and over again and thus no one ever really dies.
 
How much does a man live, after all?
Does he live a thousand days, or one only?
For a week, or for several centuries?
How long does a man spend dying?
What does it mean to say “for ever”?


Monday, July 7, 2014

An Interview with A Walker Scott, Fellow Conlanger and Nascent Novelist (Part 2)

This is Part 2
of my interview with A Walker Scott.
To read Part 1, click here.

Walker's interview of me is now posted on my


       At one point Walker posted this on his Facebook timeline: "This is very slow and very hard work, so why am I writing a novel? My only answer comes in a quote from one of Tolkien's letters where he quotes CS Lewis from memory, "If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves; but it is very laborious." 
       I personally concur with that statement -- I also write the kind of book that I like to read! Today we have the privilege of learning all about the extraterrestrials that Walker has created for his books, and we get to read an extract. (Oh, and for curiosity's sake, here is his translation of the above quotation into his conlang Carrajina: "Si nu voluns sciviri uls tipus djals livras fi feremus ledjeri, nechidemus scriveri nozus probjus dals fistas, peru esti mutu lavorozu."  I'm sure you can detect the Romance language association.)
        ·       I know you’re also working on a science fiction novel (and a sequel, at the same time). Do you have titles for these novels? Can you tell us something about the plot, the locations, and the period of time?
       I have working titles, but I am dissatisfied with the first. Currently it is titled If by This Hand I Slay, but I find it overly melodramatic and rather misleading about the story itself. Sooner or later, I will find a better title. The sequel is titled Words like Leaves on the Wind. That one fits very well.
       IBTHIS is set at an interstellar university on a space station. The students come from a multitude of worlds, mostly from within the Interstellar Commonwealth of Sentient Species, but also from worlds well outside the ICSS. My story follows one group of students studying diplomacy, engaged in a year-long simulation project to show they know what they are doing in their chosen field. My main character, David Asbury, really doesn't want to be there, but circumstances have left him no choice. Just as he's starting to settle in and accept his fate, the game turns real-world serious.
        WLLOTW picks up about three years later when David is on his very first First Contact assignment, struggling to learn an alien language that keeps changing on him just when he thinks he has it figured out. Then an enemy from the past shows up to make things really difficult. Under torture David begins to remember a different version of the last three years of his life and realizes something very important may be locked inside his head.
       Both these novels are set about 300 years in the future.
 
·   How do you use your constructed languages in these books? I mostly use my conlangs as an aid to discovering what it would really be like when we make first contact with extraterrestrials, but my intelligent termites also speak in these languages from time to time, especially when it comes to words that don’t translate well. I also include one specimen piece (in v.3).
 
        I use them in various ways. There is the occasional greeting or rude comment in an alien language. Sometimes there are brief snatches of conversation. At one point some of the characters get to argue about poems in a couple of languages.
 
·    A lot of your characters are non-human. Tell us about some of the characters. What are your non-humans like and how many different kinds are there?
 
           Well, I could really go off on a tangent here. There are a LOT of different aliens mentioned in passing in my novels and most of them have one or two representatives walk on stage for a paragraph or a page somewhere in one book or the other. In the first book, David finds himself on a team with nine other classmates, only one of whom is Human.
        Tkal is a Tvern An who was raised on Earth since his parents are the Tvern An ambassadors to Earth. He's the leader of the group. He is big and friendly and covered in green and yellow stripes. He is very enthusiastic about English slang and loves to eat -- except bread ... he has a terrible allergy to yeast.
        Gronorgh is a Gravgurdan, a huge warrior, over seven feet tall who would make the biggest Human bodybuilders look anorexic. He's rude, enjoys using his size to intimidate, and hates Humans. But he's smart and good at whatever he does.
Dai-Soln (a Taisiran)
Drawing by A Walker Scot
        Dai-Soln is a Taisiran. They are frail-looking, and have powdery skin in shades from blue to lavender, obsidian eyes and these fronds like moth antennae where we have eyebrows. Dai-Soln often takes on the task of peacemaker trying to smooth things over between Gronorgh and whoever he has totally insulted most recently. He's actually a prince somewhere waaay down in the succession to the throne of his people's Empire, which is currently in a rather disadvantageous relationship with the Gravgurdan Stronghold.
        Shintikaisen is a female warrior of the Trelkairni. She is a traditionalist, so she has never really thought of men as quite people in the same way as women are, until she finds herself working with males as equals. She is roommates with Ael, the other Human on the team, and they spend a lot of time in good-natured bickering about males and "their place" each trying to "enlighten" the other.
        Red-shimmer Gold-streak is an Iridian who is specializing in trade relations and the economics of diplomacy. She feels rather isolated at times since she's only a couple of feet tall, shaped like a rock and can only communicate with her teammates through a translation voder.
Enemwunu (an Alelliawulian)
Drawing by A Walker Scott
        Xtp is a neuter Xttg, an insectoid race. Its language consists entirely of clicks, so it too must use a translation voder to speak Standard. It rooms with Red-shimmer.
        Enemwunu is a gamma-gender Alelliawulian. They are tripedal, hoofed cephalopods. Five is an important number to them. They have five limbs (three legs, two arms) and five genders, five major organs, five elements, five vowels ...
        Fthsaisth is the very first of his species to be educated off-world. His people have just made first contact and are finding the idea of sharing space with so many strange flightless aliens a bit difficult to cope with. Part of Fthsaisthf's job is to help his people decide whether or not to join the ICSS.
  • Parenthetically, I had to look up “voder” to make sure it was a "real" word. I thought you had mistyped “coder.” Turns out there is a Wikipedia article on the subject -- it was a very early form of voice synthesizer. I might not be the only person who never heard the term (it’s even older than I am!)
        I think I picked up that word up as a child while reading some of Heinlein's juveniles. I believe his Venerians/Venusians had to use a "voder" to produce English. A little search shows me that not only Between Planets (the one I was remembering) but also The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress uses the term. I probably read both of those more than once in my early teens. I have a bad habit of pulling out odd words -- like voder and vibrissae. I ended up nixing vibrisssae for "fronds." I hadn't thought of voder as being a problem, but maybe I should insert a bit of explanation somewhere in the text.
 
·    Give us an excerpt from the first volume, to whet our appetites. Two or three paragraphs up to a page.

Here's a bit some might find interesting:

        Just then, the outer door to the corridor opened. David turned to see who was entering. Half way through the turn he froze. The half smile on his lips melted away and all the color drained from his face.
       
“What is that creature doing here?” thundered the Gravgurdan warrior from earlier.
        David's eyes were as big as the warrior's fists. Sweat was glistening on his brow and dark circles sprouted on the fabric under his arms.
       Dai-Soln stepped from behind the Gravgurdan's shadow to see, and his fronds swept immediately back over his shoulders as his obsidian eyes darted around the room trying to piece together exactly what was going on. Before everything blew up.
        Shintikaisen huffed. “Lower your volume, Gronorgh. None of us here is deaf.”
        "Nor blind,”added Red-shimmer Gold-streak, whose voder had just assaulted her with some very intense color to translate Gronorgh's shout.
        Gronorgh brought his voice down to a low rumble, but still demanded, “I ask again, what is that creature doing here. It better not be the linguist.”
        He is,”said Tkal striding forward with all the muscles along his jaw standing out in sharp relief and his stripes darkening fiercely. “He is the best on this station, and I had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get him.”
        “Pah! It’s too scrawny to make out-caste. And too timid to breathe. Ones like him foul the gene pool. He should have been exposed at birth.”
        David was trembling on the inside. He fiercely hoped it was only on the inside, but he couldn’t stop the sweating, and there was no color left in his already pallid skin. Gronorgh had used the Terran word for exposed, driving home that Humans had once practiced the most abhorrent of Gravgurdan customs – disposing of weak babies like garbage.
        David knew he had to say something, but his brain wasn’t working right. All he could think about was how big Gronorgh was and how far on his bad side he had already managed to land. He thought he was about to faint. He wanted to run for the door and never look back. But he couldn’t. Doing that would be giving up everything he had worked for, everything he wanted for the future. He had to find a way out of this, or around it, or through it. His brain was buzzing for an answer.

·    Well, that makes me want to read more! Personally, I like for my extraterrestrials to be portrayed as real people, no matter how bizarre they are, and you're surely fulfilling that requisite!  So do you intend to try to publish professionally, or are you planning to join the community of self-published authors, as I have?

I'm going to try to go the traditional publishing route. We'll see if anyone bites!

·   Finally, say something about your other interests or hobbies. I understand you’ve won some arm wrestling competitions!

        I wish! Actually, my best result was a second place in the North Dakota State Championship several years back. I love armwrestling (it's usually spelled as one word within the community), but it's been several years since I last competed.
       My other hobbies go in every direction imaginable! I collect hats, Christmas music from all cultures, Chinese mythological creatures, dictionaries and grammars of foreign languages, books period ... I paint, I crochet, I lift weights, I cook, I dance, I love Renfaires, I like to travel (I've been to 11 countries and 27 of the states).

·    That sounds like you could be the subject of a dozen interviews, Walker! Are there any URLs you’d like to share with the readers, such as a Facebook page or a website?

        If you want to follow my journey to completing this novel you can check my Facebook Page and friend me. https://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100006969166318

        Thanks so much, Walker, for visiting with me and my own readers! I’m eager to following that journey and I wish you much good luck in your literary progress! I definitely look forward to reading your books in the not too distant future!

FYI: The intention is that Walker will now
turn around and interview me!  If he does,
the interview will appear over on my other blog
because Walker doesn't operate a blog or webpage.
 

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Interview with A Walker Scott, Fellow Conlanger and Nascent Novelist (Part 1)

       When I first started this self-publishing effort, I knew I wanted to get acquainted with other conlangers, since I had constructed a couple of languages for the extraterrestrials in my books to speak. I surmised conlangers would have some interest in what I was doing and I haven’t been disappointed. Through Twitter I discovered the Language Creation Society and proceeded to join. Through those contacts, I met some of the most interesting people on the internet, although only a few of them (like David Peterson, who writes conlangs for TV series, including Game of Thrones) are well-known outside of conlanging and scholarly circles. Recently, in a Facebook discussion, the idea came up of doing an interview with one of my new friends, so I’m pleased to be introducing you to A Walker Scott, one of the most interesting people I’ve met during my self-publishing journey.
 
·    Welcome to my blog, Walker, and thanks for allowing me to interview you. Let me start by asking you to tell us something about yourself – your background, education, and professional life, and something about the places you have lived. I know you read and speak Chinese and taught for a while in Taiwan.
 
       Thanks, Lorinda. Well, I'm afraid this is not incredibly interesting. I hold a Master's in Teaching and have started but never finished a Master's in Linguistics. I taught English conversation to junior high and high school students in Taiwan for three years, and then English Literature and various electives (Yearbook, Logic, ASL) to junior high and high school students here in the US for another three years, before a one-year stint at a junior college. I left teaching due to the unpredictability of paychecks and such. Now I work in a warehouse as a shipping and receiving manager (read: I am a one-man department!)  In the past I have worked as a library supervisor (not a real librarian), a house painter, a nighttime stocking clerk at a grocery store, a customer service rep and various other jobs related to teaching – sometimes three or four simultaneously!
       I have lived nearly my whole life in and around Dallas, TX. But there was a brief stay in the San Luis Valley of Colorado when I was five and the three years in Taiwan about a decade ago.
       My Chinese skills have gotten quite rusty as an hour of attempted conversation last week brought home rather emphatically! I never did reach reading fluency. At my peak, I could read and write about 900 characters, but something like 3000 is needed to read things like newspapers.
 
       · An adjunct question: how did you happen to become proficient in American Sign Language? 
 
       Well, I have been interested in languages since I was really young, so when I got to college and there was a summer intro class on ASL, I took it. Then I took Beginning Sign Language that fall and Intermediate Sign Language that spring. Then I transferred and the university didn't have ASL and didn't accept it for the required foreign language credits, so it was good I had also taken Spanish. I kept up my ASL using it here and there over the years, and then took some Linguistics classes focused on the world's many signed languages. Now I'm interpreting on a weekly basis.
 
·     I’m personally not a professional linguist as you and so many other conlangers are; I’m just a writer and student of literature who dabbles in languages. When did you get interested in constructing languages and why?

       Well, I'm not a professionsal linguist either. I have taken some graduate level classes, but that's FAR from being a professional. I have read quite a lot, and I've been playing with language for decades. I would love to finish a Linguistics degree, but time and money are both somewhat lacking.
       I can actually pinpoint my first foray into conlanging rather precisely. It was about a week before my 12th birthday. My mother was in the hospital because of complications with her pregnancy before the birth of my youngest brother. I was riding my dad's delivery route with him and bored out of my head. I had recently checked several language learning books out of the public library – French, Russian and Esperanto. The idea that someone could just “make” a language was really interesting, so I decided to give it a try. That first language was horrid. I did just about everything wrong. But it started an interest that has lasted over 30 years now.
 
  • How many have you written? Give us some examples! I’m particularly interested in that color language! And I believe you’ve constructed a Romance language that is spoken in North Africa in an alternate history of Earth.
       How many have I written? Well, I have done a lot of sketches, some of which might eventually get more attention, but most just languish on my many, many back burners. Let's see ...  How many have I given enough attention to, to be worthy of mention? Well, Gravgaln, Tvern El, B-G-2-3, maybe Alelliawulian counts, Lrahran, Dabiš. Then there are other languages that only exist in measure enough to include a line of dialogue or a few names in the text of a story. Let’s say eight or so, including the Romance language you referenced.
       Gravgaln is spoken by the Gravgurdan, a race of warriors with some really nasty cultural traits. The grammar is very complicated. The verbs are based on an obscure language from the Solomon Islands. The nouns are inspired by some of the more conservative languages of the Indo-European family and some of the odder members of the Uralic family. You can end up with some really long words, but a two-word sentence in Gravgaln might need 15 words or more to translate it into English.
       Tvern El started out inspired by ASL grammar; I wanted to see how well the grammar of a signed language could be translated to a spoken medium, but pretty soon it acquired influences from Chinese grammar as well as some outright inventions. It is strongly isolating so there are lots of very short words, but the consonant clusters freak people out.
       B-G-2-3 is the color language you mentioned. The Iridians speak by changing the colors and patterns of their skins, much like chameleons or squids, only more sophisticated.  The language looks like some bizarre code when written out, but the letters are colors and the numbers are the patterns in which those colors are manifested.
       The Romance language is called Carrajina and has a whole history and culture attached. It has folk tales, and Scripture passages and recipes and traditions about how to paint your door! I never thought I'd enjoy creating a human language, but once I got started it really took on a life of its own. Someday I may even get around to writing a novel or at least some short stories set in that world. Who knows?

·    So many conlangers write in the abstract – for the sheer love of it, or to investigate the potentialities of language. And some actually write conlangs to be spoken – as auxlangs, or auxiliary languages. What is your view on how a conlang should be utilized? When you began writing conlangs, did you intend to use them in fiction?

       How should a conlang be used? However the creator wants! There is no wrong way to conlang. Some painters use oils, some acrylics, some water colors. Some use badger hair brushes, some a palate knife, some their fingers and some just throw the paint at the canvas. There is no one way to paint, likewise there are many, many ways to go about inventing a language.
       When I first started inventing my first language, I had no thought of using it in fiction, but very quickly my thoughts migrated that direction. I would say most of my conlanging is more or less directed to that goal at present.

·       I believe you’ve written some short fiction that’s been published. Tell us about that.

        Well, actually, the only short fiction I've had published (so far!!) is a science fiction sonnet that appeared in Asimov's. I have written a fair number of short pieces that I should be submitting, but I still find the idea of submitting my work intimidating. However, I am determined to start getting my work out there so, hopefully, I will have more examples soon.
       Though it isn't anything original, only a translation, I do have a translation of the Babel text from Genesis that should be appearing in the next issue of Aequinox.  If you really want to see the Gravgaln language in action, that's the place to look.
 
·     You’re also a conworlder or conculturist – you create worlds. This is also done by many people simply for the joy of it, without any intention of writing stories laid in these worlds. That’s not my practice – I only create worlds if I have a story to tell in that context. What about you?

        Well, I've done both. My alien languages and cultures are meant for storytelling. Carraxa was just an exercise in “what if.”

Coming in a few days:
Part 2 of this interview, in which we learn
all aboutWalker's exterrestrials and read
some sample text from his novel.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Pendragon Legend, by Antal Szerb: "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

"All Welshman are mad.  In England,
 every primary schoolchild knows this."
 
       And so the tone is set for this thoroughly enjoyable book.  I first discovered Antal Szerb on Max Cairnduff's literary review blog (Pechorin's Journal), where he has discussed all three of Szerb's novels.  Mr. Cairnduff recommends reading the books in order of publication, so I have begun with The Pendragon Legend (1934).  I wasn't disappointed. 
       First, a word on Szerb (1901-1945).  According to Wikipedia, he was a Hungarian literary scholar of considerable note.  He was Jewish in origin and was killed in a concentration camp in 1945 -- another tragic loss to the Holocaust.  You can find a more complete biographical sketch at http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/szerb.htm
      
       The Pendragon Legend (translation by Len Rix) attracted me through its title, since I'm interested in Wales and in the Arthurian legend.  However, I discovered that the story had nothing to do with the Matter of Britain and everything to do with the mysteries that are inherent in Wales.  I also was expecting a more serious story and so I thought it started off a little slow, but I quickly began to realize that the book is a satire.  The word "satire" can conjure up the image of a biting or even bitter and black put-down of unfortunate people and events.  Not so here.  This is a gentle but insightful poking of fun at almost everything -- the British, the Welsh, the Irish, the French, all Europeans, and to top it off, the fiction genres of gothic, mystery, suspense, adventure, and paranormal (not sure that was recognized as a genre in the early 1930s).  The pseudosciences, particularly alchemy and attempts to bring the dead back to life, are significant elements of the mix.  As the kirjasto website noted above states, the novel can be categorized as a gothic fantasy detective story.
       Its characterizations (often comic) take it a notch above all the preceding.  Szerb spent a year studying in England and probably based his first-person narrator, János Bátky, on his own experiences.  Bátky is a Hungarian scholar, a dilettante -- an affable young man unaccustomed to adventures but ripe to take some on. At the moment he is studying the occult, especially in its 16th through 18th century manifestations, including the Rosicrucians.  He is also in love with the idea of aristocracy, especially as embodied in the upper crust of the British class system.  Therefore, when he meets the Earl of Gwynedd at a soiree and gets invited to visit the ancestral Pendragon home at Llanvygan in Wales, he jumps at the chance.  It so happens that the Pendragons have historical connections with occult activity, especially through one of the earlier Earls, Asaph Pendragon, who is said to have died and come back to life.  The current Earl is involved in "scientific" experiments, especially attempts to regenerate the dead using the axolotl (Mexican salamander).   
       Shortly thereafter, Bátky meets an Irishman of dubious character named Maloney, who is an ignorant but clever trickster type, quite willing to commit crimes for hire.  He is an acquaintance of Osborne, the nephew of the Earl, and it so happens that these two are also headed for Llanvygan.
       I'll insert a passage here to illustrate both the character of Maloney and the type of humor that can be enjoyed throughout the book:
 
       "Tell me," he asked, with some embarrassment, as we strolled along: "you're a bloody German, aren't you?"
       "Oh, no, I'm Hungarian."
       "Hungarian?"
       "Hungarian."
       "What's that?  Is that a country?  Or are you just having me on?"
       "Not at all.  On my word of honour, it is a country."
       "And where do you Hungarians live?"
      "'In Hungary. Between Austria, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia."
       "Come off it!  Those places were made up by Shakespeare."
       And he roared with laughter.
       " ... And what language do you Hungarians speak?"
       "Hungarian."
       "Say something in Hungarian."
       [Bátky quotes some poetry, translated as "Under a strange, lilac-blue sky /  The girls stroll to their assignations; / Mysterious, enigmatic / Summer afternoons."]
       "Very nice.  But you don't fool me.  That was Hindustani.  It means, 'Noble stranger, may the Gods dance on your grave in their slippers.'  I've heard that one before."  
 
       After arriving at Llanvygan, Bátky meets Cynthia, the niece of the Earl of Pendragon, with whom he immediately falls in love.  He sees her as the remote, mysterious female, the high-borne lady to his medieval knight.  Cynthia, however, is more interested in becoming a folklore scholar and the normally genial and likable Bátky naively reveals his snobbish male chauvinism.

       The Cynthia of my imagination was the sort of girl who, on the one hand, would swoon if she caught her beloved devouring a hot dog, but if the need arose, would be capable of giving her maid a thrashing.  She was the Lady of the Castle, proudly enthroned in her fairytale tower, blissfully ignorant of entire nations dying of hunger.
       I had not yet abandoned the hope that Cynthia really was the person I believed her to be, it was just that she hadn't been brought up properly.  No doubt her mother was to blame.  Under the influence of who knows what disappointments of her own, her mother must have dunned into her the great middle class myth that intellect mattered, and that everyone was equally human.

       This scene is in fact a clever reversal.  Just a few pages earlier, Bátky has been judging the Earl for being captive to an illusion -- for failing to acknowledge that his own great love could in fact be involved in a diabolical plot against him. 
 
       "That isn't true!" he yelled, finally losing control. "How dare you speak of things you know nothing about?  How can you possibly think you understand the motives behind what I do ... ?"     
       At that moment, in that spontaneous outburst of unguarded arrogance, I suddenly understood him.  ...  For a proud man no error can be more painful than to admit that in this regard he has blundered:  that the woman he has chosen is not what he thought her.  For a truly proud man the worst horror of disappointment in love is not the slight he has received:  far, far worse is the failure in judgement that led him to construct a myth with no basis in reality.  And a man as supremely proud as the Earl of Gwynedd has thereafter to maintain the illusion ... lest he be forced to admit to himself that he has blundered.
 
       Bátky can't apply that insight to himself; he is subject to the same kind of illusion where Cynthia is concerned.  Needless to say, the two do not come together in a permanent arrangement in the end. 

       In contrast we have my favorite character, the German woman Lene Kretzsch, who is an egalitarian and lacks any vestige of the proper aristocrat.  The only way to do her justice, and also to again illustrate the comedic elements of this book, is to quote the extract where Lene is introduced to the reader as an old friend of  Bátky's, a student studying at Oxford on a Prussian scholarship:
 
       However, I also went in some trepidation of her. ... It wasn't that she was ugly.  On the contrary, she was quite a handsome woman in her own substantial way, and she was always a hit with men. You might even say she was attractive, but she belonged to that class of girl whose stockings have just laddered, or who has just lost a button, or whose blouse has burst open, giving a chap the impression that she was in a state of non-stop physical development.
       ...
       This was how our friendship began: I set myself on fire and she put me out.
 
       There is much more to this passage, but, tempting as it is, I  can't quote the whole book, which is loaded with quotable passages.  The hilarious thing is that Lene is the one who takes Osborne, the nephew of the Earl, in hand and rescues him from his obdurate British sexual repression. 
 
       "[Osborne] said he hadn't enjoyed himself so much in ages.  Oh, and he hoped we'd tie the marriage knot soon."
       I was horrified.  Such a misalliance!  My snobbish heart wept blood.  The poor Earl ...  This was all the Pendragon destiny needed.  It would be the end of everything.
       "My congratulations," I muttered, with tears in my voice.
       "Come off it, you idiot!  You don't think I'd really marry him?"
       "Why not?  It's not a bad match."
       "No, my dear boy, I'm not that stupid.  Marry into such a degenerate aristocratic family?  What would my friends in Berlin say?"
 
       All of this makes the book sound rather like a comedy of manners, but it's really the gothic elements and the adventures into the occult that form the meat of the book.  One of my favorite passages is the long quotation from the Memoirs of Lenglet du Fresnoy (this is a real person who lived in the 17th and 18th century, although I'm not sure the Memoirs actually exist).  It's a priceless spoof of the rituals of Freemasonry and similar secret societies and is worth reading on its own, even if you don't read any other part of the book.
       The visions of the black night rider with his torch, the visit to the tomb of Asaph Pendragon in the ruins of  Pendragon Castle, and especially Bátky's experiences after he gets lost in the primeval Welsh forest form compelling gothic adventures.  Wales and its forests and "natives" can be seen as representing the primeval arcane forces that are never far below the veneer of civilization.  That veneer reveals itself in the behavior of the characters.  Whenever our trio of Bátky, Osborne, and Lene completes a venture into the occult and returns to civilization, the first thing they do is wash, change clothes, and eat a properly presented meal  And the men shave immediately; the beard represents the undercurrent of the uncivilized.  This is especially noticeable after Bátky's traumatic experience in the woods.  He has just slept all night in a meadow -- "My clothes were crumpled, torn and filthy, and my face was disfigured by several days' growth of stubble" -- but when he  arrives in Abersych, "I shaved and sat down to lunch at the inn."    
       I find this point interesting: did Bátky really experience those Satanic rituals in the strange house with no windows or was he dreaming or hallucinating?  Leaving this in doubt is one way to account for fantasy elements in an otherwise more-or-less realistic tale.  (Again, I maintain that all significant literary works have elements of fantasy in them.)  I used that method myself in my rendition of Ki'shto'ba's descent into the Underworld (in Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear).  In The Pendragon Legend there is no doubt that certain people did die that night, but was the perpetrator real?  It does seem so, but still ...  Readers will have to decide for themselves.
 
       One final remark.  I have noted over the years that the syllable "Mor" occurs with great frequency in the names of villains and places in fantasy -- to name only a few, Mordred, Morgan le Fay, the Morrigan, the kingdom of Mordor.  Curiosity made me look up the derivation of the syllable.  The Wikipedia article on Morrigan states:  "Mor may derive from an Indo-European root connoting terror or monstrousness."   It seems to be embedded in the Western subconscious, or perhaps the fact that in The Pendragon Legend the villain is named Morvin was a deliberate choice of the author.
 
 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Third Summer Special: The Termite Queen, v.2

ATTENTION!
ALL SUMMER LONG
I'LL BE HAVING WEEKEND 99-CENT SPECIALS ON MY EBOOKS!
WATCH THIS SPACE TO LEARN WHICH TITLE
IS BEING FEATURED THIS WEEK!
 
You missed out on v.1 The Speaking of the Dead
but the regular price is only $2.99
which is quite reasonable.
Volume 2 completes the novel
(this is not a series!)
 
JUNE 6-9
THE TERMITE QUEEN, v.2:
THE WOUND THAT HAS NO HEALING
 
Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head and the Seer
Kwi'ga'ga'tei receive The Speaking
of the Dead in the opening chapter.
AND OTHER ONLINE EBOOKSELLERS
ALSO ON SCRIBD

SYNOPSIS
 
"In The Termite Queen: Volume One: The Speaking of the Dead, the death of a specimen of intelligent giant termite impels a team of scientists to mount a new expedition to the alien planet where the specimen was captured. During the voyage out, the linguistic anthropologist Kaitrin Oliva and the expedition's chief, the entomologist Griffen Gwidian, fall in love and form a union, after which Prf. Gwidian begins to exhibit some troubling changes of mood and behavior. Meanwhile, on the alien planet, civil discord is brewing among the termites; Mo'gri'ta'tu, the Queen's Chamberlain, hatches a plot to murder the Holy Seer Kwi'ga'ga'tei, a plot foiled only by the sudden reappearance of the Flying Monster.
"In Volume Two, the team arrives at the planet to a combative reception, but, aided by Kaitrin's insights into the termites' unique language, the "Star-Beings" and the Shshi are soon communicating and learning to know each other. The Shshi accept Kaitrin as a friend and even come to revere her as the Mother of her people. Meanwhile, Griffen's inexplicable insecurities escalate, while the dastardly Mo'gri'ta'tu continues to foment conspiracies. Ultimately, the two plotlines intersect in an explosive climax, after which the team must return to Earth and try to come to terms with what they have experienced."
 
AUTHOR'S COMMENTS
 
 I got my idea for a species of intelligent termites way back in the 1970s when I first saw the documentary "Mysterious Castles of Clay," about the African fungus-growing, castle-building termite. At the time I was writing heroic fantasy, but I was reading a good deal of science fiction and I was struck by the idea that an intelligent lifeform might evolve from similar insects on another planet. They would retain many of their social insect characteristics while developing a language that humans would be unable to accesss. A specimen of this lifeform would be brought back to Earth and a female linguistic anthropologist would discern that it was intelligent and learn to communicate with it. When I returned to writing in 2000 after a long hiatus, I still had this idea in the back of my mind and I decided to pursue it. The Termite Queen (a 2v. novel) was the result.
 
EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS OF VOL.2
"The technology is there, but doesn't take center stage. Taylor gives just enough description of this far future world, its technology and history to set the stage; then lets her characters act out the story. It really is the story of people -- humans and off-worlders alike -- engaged in the whole gamut of sophont existence. From the highs of the quest for new knowledge to the depths of jealousy and hatred of what is not understood, Taylor gives us a well and rather tightly woven web of story." --Chris Brown

"Yes, it is a long story, but I found it to be interesting and thought provoking all the way through.
I disagree with other reviewers regarding having the Shshi and Human stories separated -- I felt that they both complemented and contrasted each other -- plus, gave a very satisfactory end to the two book series, with little or no loose ends left dangling.
I also liked the way the next series of books were introduced near the end of this story - can't wait to get into those! [The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head]" -- Chris Graham

"Though the author modestly characterizes TQ as literary Sci-Fi, the description doesn't begin to capture the full flavor of Taylor's accomplishment. Rather, in TQ V 1 and 2 the author serves up a tome that crosses genres as easily as her intergalactic cast of characters crosses from real time space travel to temporal quantum space travel and back again. In fact, the complete TQ saga is part traditional love story, part epic adventure tale richly seasoned with mythic and religious overtones, as well as copious references to literary classics (each chapter is introduced by a literary epigraph). That said, it is not incidental that Taylor's epic is set in the thirtieth century (2969--2971). Hardcore Sci-fi aficionados will appreciate that Taylor's literary recipe includes science so convincingly researched and/or fabricated as to concoct a perfectly plausible and believable future." -- JackAUrquhart

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Second Summer Special: The Termite Queen

ATTENTION!

ALL SUMMER LONG
I'LL BE HAVING WEEKEND 99-CENT SPECIALS ON MY EBOOKS!
WATCH THIS SPACE TO LEARN WHICH TITLE
IS BEING FEATURED THIS WEEK!
 
So ... you missed out on the 99-cent special on
Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder.
Shucks!
But the regular price is only $1.99,
so it still won't break your budget!
 
MAY 30-JUNE 2
THE TERMITE QUEEN, v.1:
THE SPEAKING OF THE DEAD

JUNE 6-9
THE TERMITE QUEEN, v.2:
THE WOUND THAT HAS NO HEALING

 
AND OTHER ONLINE EBOOKSELLERS
ALSO ON SCRIBD

SYNOPSIS
 
"In the 30th century, an off-world expedition returns to Earth with a specimen of giant termite whose behavior suggests intelligence. Kaitrin Oliva, a strong-willed and ambitious young linguistic anthropologist, is charged with finding a way to access its unique form of bioelectric communication. However, the insect dies and the team members realize too late that they have unintentionally murdered an intelligent lifeform. A second expedition is mounted with the purpose of making first contact and reparations. Griffen Gwidian, the entomologist heading the expedition, is a complex man with a dark personal secret. He falls in love with Kaitrin and against her better instincts Kaitrin responds. The result is a love story by turns turbulent and funny, passionate, tender, and troubled. Meanwhile, civil discord is brewing on the termite planet. Mo’gri’ta’tu, the Queen’s Chamberlain, resents the power of the Holy Seer Kwi’ga’ga’tei and plots to assassinate her. She has engaged the services of an outland Champion, Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head, to fight this terrifying entity which has descended on them from the skies, murdered one of the fortress’s citizens, and abducted another. This alienates the aging Commander Hi’ta’fu the Unconquered, who is lured by the word-crafty Chamberlain into joining the conspiracy. At the very moment that the murder is about to be committed, the second expedition arrives at the planet … Discover the conclusion of the adventure in "The Termite Queen: Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing."
 
AUTHOR'S COMMENT

 I got my idea for a species of intelligent termites way back in the 1970s when I first saw the documentary "Mysterious Castles of Clay," about the African fungus-growing, castle-building termite.  At the time I was writing heroic fantasy, but I was reading a good deal of science fiction and I was struck by the idea that an intelligent lifeform might evolve from similar insects on another planet.  They would retain many of their social insect characteristics while developing a language that humans would be unable to accesss.  A specimen of this lifeform would be brought back to Earth and a female linguistic anthropologist would discern that it was intelligent and learn to communicate with it.  When I returned to writing in 2000 after a long hiatus, I still had this idea in the back of my mind and I decided to pursue it.  The Termite Queen (a 2v. novel) was the result.
 
EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS OF VOLUME ONE
 
"Author Lorinda Taylor takes the reader 1000 years into the future where planet Earth is radically changed by wars, pollution, revolutions, political upheavals, dark ages, and technology. Despite all, human society remains resilent and progressive. Humans remain human, with all their foibles and insecurities, striving for knowledge and understanding, having an abiding need for love. ... The inquisitive mind will find this an irresistible and intoxicating tale." -- Termite Tim [Timothy Myles, entomologist]
 
"Really great story, characterizations, plot, and brilliant descriptions of how language works. For all of these very positive reasons, I encourage any reader who is not daunted by the length, to jump in and purchase both volumes of Lorinda Taylor's great science fiction tale." -- Marva Dasef
 
"Volume 1 of The Termite Queen has a compelling story. As a lifelong fan of Asimov, I appreciate Lorinda Taylor's focus on one aspect her future rather the sensory overwhelm that is cyberpunk. The science in question is linguistics. The rapidity with which Our Heroine discovers the Big Secret is a bit unrealistic but excusable in lieu of 100 pages of slow and detailed linguistic analysis. The use of substitute sounds was brilliant. The romance plot did not engage me as much as the science, but that's a fault that lies in me, not in Lorinda's stars. The aliens are based on termites, and think like termites, not people. That's good." -- Marcus (Goodreads)