Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Introduction to My Non-Termite ETs and a Word on How We Met Them

I chose this post because, surprisingly, no one has
shown much interest in my non-termite ETs, and
furthermore, it works well with my current post,

       First off, I've posted a separate page with some drawings I made of "my three aliens" and I want to apologize for their crude, cartoonish style.  They are some of the first drawings I did using the Word drawing tools and I have no training as an artist -- it's strictly folk art!  The top drawing of the three was done as a birthday card for a friend in 2002 and the bottom for the same reason in 2003.  I can't get it to post any bigger, so I'll tell you what the text at the top says. 
       Next to the eagle, it says "Saretigá↑~] from Prf. A'a'ma" -- that is, in !Ka<tá, happy birthday ((literally, "felicitous repetition of hatching").  Sa- corresponds to re- in English and retigá means either "birthday" or "hatching."  The sliding upward inflection [↑~] connotes happy or good.
      Next to the lemuriform, it says "Mae! zokam laziqua rival shima, from Luku" -- that is, in Glin Quornaz, "May fate sing sweet music to you," a standard phrase of well-wishing used for Happy Birthday, Good Luck, etc.  The literal word-by-word translation is "To you fate sing music sweet."
       Next to the creature who resembles a squirrel/sea otter cross, it says, " Trant-intusórama from Trea" -- that is, in Poz-até, "Trant [the sea-goddess] love you," again, a standard phrase of well-wishing and a common blessing among the Pozú.
       I have extensive files on !Ka<tá, but I've done only minimal work on the languages of the planets Quornam and Pozúa, just enough to write something when it becomes necessary.

       So just how did Earthers happen to meet these semi-familiar but still strange extraterrestrials?  Today I'll talk only about the history of interstellar flight on Earth and how the first contact came about.  In my next post I'll discuss the ETs themselves and say a word about life throughout this region of the galaxy.
       In 2697, the same decade in which the Earth Unification Charter was finalized, a physicist named Iven Herinen (of a brilliance on the order of Newton, Einstein, and Hawking, but unfortunately an alcoholic who died in his early forties) devised a set of mathematical formulas that formed the basis of a new branch of science called temporal quantum physics.  Between 2724 and 2740, a female physicist named Irina Hilo collected a group of other female physicists, all lesbians, and began to work on applications of Herinen's formulas that would make interstellar travel possible.  The male community of physicists wasn't particularly happy to be bested by a bunch of "quay" women (as the epithet evolved), whom they castigated with names like "Hilo's Harridans" and "Herinen’s Whores."  Irina Hilo herself also died young, possibly harrassed to death, but her last disciple and lover, the formidable Prf. Anezka Lara, continued and perfected Hilo's work. 
       Around 2750 the Iven Herinen Space Port was constructed in Midammerik (in what is now southeast Kansas) for the sole purpose of developing interstellar flight under the guidance of Prf. Lara.  In 2754, a young pilot and Lieutenant, Robbin Nikalishin, joined this SkyPiercer Project and rose quickly to the rank of Captain.  In the 30th century he is universally and affectionately known as Capt. Robbie,  "The Man Who Found Bird among the Stars."  His story was told in a lengthy fictionalized biography entitled the same, by an Oxkam Professor named Tania Barden. [Unfortunately, this is the book that Lorinda J. Taylor (the person "channeling" all this from the future) got bogged down in and has yet to finish.]
       In 2755 the first flight that used TQ technology to jump large fractions of light-years took place; later 2755 became the Year 1 of the new calendar.  However,  a major disaster in the interstellar program delayed the first mission to a nearby star until the year 2769, with Capt. Robbin Nikalishin commanding the Bridge of the ship Ariana.  There was a debate as to whether the mission should tackle Alpha Centauri (4.36 ly from Earth) or the more distant (10.5 ly) Epsilon Eridani.  Capt. Nikalishin argued for the latter, since he had had a dream of going to that system ever since he was a small boy.  It turned out, however, that they had bit off more than they could chew for an initial voyage; they ended up crash-landing on a moon and getting marooned.  And then just as they were about to open a canister of cyanide gas and put an end to dying slowly from starvation and oxygen deprivation, they saw something moving against the stars ... and it wasn't a meteor.
       It was the Birds, flying in a ship called the Firebrand, on their own mission of exploration.
      Capt. Nikalishin maintained until his dying day that the hand of fate was instrumental in his stubborn insistence on making Epsilon Eridani the first destination.  Two lines crossing a vast universe converged in that place and the whole future of humanity was changed.  The Birds -- more properly known as the Krisí’i’aidá, from the name of their planet (Krisí’i’aid) -- rescued the crew of the Ariana and accompanied it home to Earth, shocking the world.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Conlang Blog Well Underway!

       I took the page "Shshi Language" out-of-service in order to  make some additions, but I'm finding my material too lengthy and difficult to manage as part of this blog, so I've created a new blog called "Conlangs of a Remembrancer" (  I've now moved most of the conlang material over there, although some references will remain here as part of general discussions.   I'm retaining the page on Shshi Writing on this blog because it's an extract from one of my later novels and as such it has interest beyond the conlang angle.

       And coming with the new year - a new post on this blog describing the three extraterrestrial species in my world who aren't termites!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Seasonal Change of Pace: Christmas Cards and Nostalgia

       An article in our local newspaper entitled "Has Facebook Killed the Holiday Card?" stimulated me to write a seasonally-oriented post.  Anyone who has noted my picture on this website or on Twitter will understand why I now quote something Prf. Tió'otu A'a'ma (one of my avian off-worlders) said:  "I am no longer – how do you Earthers put it? – a chicken of the spring.” Just last Thursday I performed the annual holiday ritual -- I mailed out a small number of paper greeting cards.  They go mostly to friends who are as old or older than I am and who don't even have computers (imagine that!) or are in nursing homes, or whose email addresses I don't know.  But I send to others simply because it's the one time a year that I get in touch with them and I want to send a real letter.  And besides, as the article in the newspaper went on to say: "Email and text greetings don't look good on the mantel."  It's like that "Pearls before Swine" strip a week or so ago, where Pig read the newspaper on his eReader and then used the device to line his birdcage.  Paper does have some uses that electronics just can't fulfill!
       But that's a digression.  I wanted to talk about my mother.  There can't be anybody in the world who loved greeting cards more than she did.  When I was a child and even after I got older, if we went into a card store, there was no getting away in under an hour.  My mother would look at every card on the rack and I would be chafing and getting impatient, dying to get on to something more interesting.  And my mother never threw away a single card (Christmas, birthday, Easter, Valentine, anything) that anybody ever sent to her.  After she died in 1997, I spent two and a half years going through all the stuff she had accumulated during her life and in every box I opened would be a packet of greeting cards.  I still have them all; I collected them together and organized them by date (that's the old catalog librarian's response) and I have several boxes of them sitting right here across the office from me at this very moment.  They range from material dated in the first twenty years of the twentieth century (the only part of the collection with some monetary value, I think) all the way up to the present, because I still keep all the cards I get (alas -- a small number compared to the way it used to be.)  I do that because the act of preserving greeting cards was engrained in me from babyhood.
       The collection is actually quite interesting because it shows how the greeting card evolved over the past century.  In the '30's and '40's, cards were fairly small and the paper wasn't very good and they often had glitter that came off all over you.  The high point was the '60's and maybe early '70's.  At that time Hallmark really outdid itself -- beautiful, big, gilded reproductions of old masters' paintings at Chistmas and orginal art of high quality and careful craftsmanship.  Then it began to decline as costs went up.  Everything became generic-looking and uniform and basically cheap -- a dime-a-dozen sort of result for a much higher price. 
       Anyway, I'm sure my mother would be glad to know that I have kept her hoard.  I've always thought maybe the collection could go to some museum of card history or of cultural history after I die, but the most likely outcome will be that the cards will go in the recycle bin or the trash.  Oh, well, carpe diem.
       By the way, the newspaper article found that lots of people (even the "chickens of the spring") still like to send paper greetings at Christmas, even going so far as to design their own, and that Hallmark is not in danger of going out of business -- yet!
       Now I want to wish everybody a happy holiday season and good cheer in the coming new year!  Next post, I'll be back in my own world!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Say Alien and I Say Extraterrestrial. Plus a Follow-up on "My Future History"

First, two quick updates.

       I want to correct an error in my last post.  The proprietor of the Evangeline Walton has informed me that it wasn't the author of "The Island of the Mighty" who gave that book the original title of "The Virgin and the Swine"    Both that title and the later title were the constructs of publishers.  It makes sense that as sensitive an author as Evangeline Walton wouldn't have come up with such a rather coarse title.
       Also, I now almost have the permissions on the very essential Robert Graves quotations.  I say, almost, because the paperwork had to be revised, and then I have to pay the fee.  So I'm almost set to begin formatting the first half of "Termite Queen."  I just have to get the "Beowulf" sewed up and the Evangeline Walton itself.  However, one hitch -- I have to go to a different publisher for the ebook rights to Graves.  What a pain!  The ebook rights holder charges an arm and a leg.  I may delay the publication on ebook for a while.  People who are really interested in "The Termite Queen" may have to break down and actually read a proper book for a change!

       Now to the real topic of this post.   First, I want to speak of the word "alien."  I use the term from time to time in my writing, but lately I've begun to dislike that word and to favor "extraterrestrial" or "off-worlder."  "Alien" carries a lot of unfavorable connotations.  If you look it up in, it means a person who has been estranged or excluded; and as an adjective, it can mean "unlike one's own, strange" and also "adverse, hostile, opposed."  Of course, it also means an extraterrestrial.  What gets me is that we have so many aliens living among us right now -- all those human beings who moved without permission from one geographical unit of the Earth to another.  How can a member of our own species be an alien?  Why should being from inside another nationalistic boundary make such a person "estranged, excluded, strange, adverse, hostile, opposed, unlike one's own"?  Why should stepping across an imaginary line alienate a person from his or her fellow human beings? 
       So when we finally make first contact with extraterrestrials, are we going to treat them the same way?  Sure, they won't have human DNA and they won't have human culture or customs or religions, but are we going to construct the same kind of jealously guarded imaginary boundaries in space that we have on Earth?  Are we going to have a new variety of what we have already -- the illegal alien?  Or are we going to grow up intellectually and emotionally?  Anyway, I'm just throwing that out there to think about.

     On my future Earth there are no nationalistic boundaries.  Earth is united and while administrative regions exist, freedom of movement is universal.  No passports, no visas. One currency.   If you come from Scandinave and you want to work in Ostrailia, all you have to do is buy a ticket on a flyer, disembark, find a place to live, and go to work.  People may be encouraged to move to certain parts of the planet in order to equalize the distribution of the population, but nobody is forced to do that.  And it's true that everybody has an ID number so the Demographic Authority can keep statistics, but each individual has only one such number for the whole planet. 
     There is no army because there are no countries to fight one another, but there is a Terrestrial Security Force (known as TeSeF [pronounced "Tessef"] in the 28th century -- I don't think I ever refer to it by that name in "The Termite Queen," where we're mostly concerned with off-world security --  the responsibility of the Joint Defense Force of the Confederation of Four Planets).  The primary function of TeSeF is keeping the peace -- police work, basically -- making sure that the planet remains a safe place to live.  TeSeF members do have access to  guns (which have become energy weapons by the 30th century), but they don't always carry them.  Private gun ownership is forbidden.  Now, I can hear the outraged screams, and I can hear people saying, "Boy, that situation is really ripe for abuse!" but the Security Force buys into its role and it works.  And without guns in the general population, the opportunities for murder and mayhem are reduced (you never get rid of that sort of thing entirely).         
       Likewise, private ownership of personal vehicles is forbidden.   For one thing, it's too costly in a world recovering from a total meltdown to allow every individual to own a vehicle; there is road maintenance, the cost of upkeep, the need for parking space, the availability of whatever fuel is used (and fossil fuels are strictly regulated -- there is no petroleum left anyway) -- to say nothing of the health benefits of walking more.  Railroads (maglevs for cross-country use by the 30th century and interurbans within cities) are the transportation of choice, and methods of flight have been invented that don't require fossil fuels.
       I can see all this getting an interesting response (there are a lot of people out there who are horrified by the concept of one world).  The weapon and vehicle ownership questions, along with a million others, were debated for a hundred years prior to signing of the Global Charter.  The ultimate decisions were globally approved. This global unity both simplifies and complicates things. It simplifies because you don't have to jump through a thousand different bureaucratic hoops in a thousand different nations. But it also complicates things because it creates a huge centralized bureaucracy, bigger than anything we have now.  I don't know whether it would really work or not in practice, but that's the vision I have for my future.  I would love to get comments.

       In my next post I plan to stay away from controversy and to give more information about my three species of "alien" who are not termites.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Are Evangeline Walton and the "Mabinogion" So Important to Me?

       First I want to say, I now have successfully gained permission to publish the epigraph quotations from Dylan Thomas!  And I want to give credit to the two publishers who hold the copyright on his works: New Directions (my contact was Kelsey Ford) and the British firm of David Higham (contact was Marigold Atkey).  Both Permissions Departments responded promptly and were extremely courteous and helpful.  If the Publications area of those firms are anywhere near as efficient and easy to deal with as Permissions, I would definitely choose either of them to publish my books (assuming they would be interested!)
       I also think I've finished sending out requests.  Now a waiting game is on -- it takes anywhere from four to ten weeks for most publishers to respond.  In the meantime, I'm looking for replacement epigraphs for the copyrighted poets that I've given up on.  I found a great replacement for the Ezra Pound, better than the one I had originally picked.  And I've selected Alexander Pope's translation of the "Iliad" for my one reference -- it's a lot less concise than the modern version, but it has certain features that make it quite appropriate.
       And then just this morning I sent the last (and ironically the most important) permissions request of all -- for the use of quotations from Evangeline Walton's "Island of the Mighty."  If you haven't heard of this book, you will soon know a lot about it.  It's my favorite fantasy novel of all time and it plays a big part in "The Termite Queen."  Kaitrin's contract-father (30th-century term for step-father) is a folklorist and an archivologist (he helps excavate Underground Archivist caches) and he rediscovered this book and helped to republicize it.  It plays a larger role than that, actually, but to write about that would play the spoiler.  To learn more about Evangeline Walton, the author of the book, go to a new website,, which will tell you everything you need to know.
       The novel is a retelling, first published in the 1930's, of the Fourth Branch of the "Mabinogion."  In case there is somebody out there who is saying, "The what?" you're going to get a lesson in Welsh mythology right now.  In the mid-19th century, Lady Charlotte Guest translated and published a collection of medieval Welsh  manuscripts under that name.  (I was fortunate to be introduced to this compilation in a college senior seminar on Medieval Lit. in Translation.)  The collection included very primitive Arthurian literature like "Culhwch and Olwen" and "The Dream of Rhonabwy," but it also included the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi," which contain absolutely wondrous Welsh legends.  Evangeline Walton retold all four branches in her "Mabinogion Tetralogy," all of which are terrific.  However, the first one she published was the Fourth Branch, dealing with the ancient King Mâth ap Mathonwy and his son Gwydion ap Dôn, both of whom are a combination of mythic heroes, magicians, and gods.  Walton entitled this book "The Virgin and the Swine," which was perfectly apt given the content of the story, but which unfortunately makes the book sound like some kind of erotica.  Her later publishers made her retitle it "The Island of the Mighty." 
       The book begins with the stealing of the pigs of Pryderi and Math's subsequent punishment of his son, but the main part deals with Gwydion's love for his sister Arianrhod, the trickery he used (really strange!) to get her with child, the rearing and naming of that child (Llew), and Arianrhod's revenge, when she curses her son to never lie with a woman of a race that now dwells upon this earth.  In response, Gwydion creates a woman out of flowers, whose name is Blodeuwedd (pronounced roughly [I'm no Welsh scholar] "Bloh-DAI-weth," with the "th" voiced as in "bathe.")  However, this construct proved to have no substance and she betrays Llew with another man.  By means of Arianrhod's curse, her lover is able to kill Llew, but Gwydion finds a way to bring him back to life and then sets out (and I must quote this, because it's one of my favorite lines in all of literature!) "going forth, after the fashion of all orthodox gods, to damn the creature he had fashioned ill ... "  He turns her into an owl -- the owl woman of Alan Garner's "The Owl Service," which is also based on this myth. 
       Anyway, it's a terrific story even in the skeletal form of the original myth, but when it's fleshed out by Evangeline Walton, it's both realistic and absolutely magical and strange!  A new edition of the Four Branches ("Mabinogion Tetralogy") in one volume is in the process of being published by Overlook Press, which holds the copyright and to which I have made my plea for permissions.  You might  want to check out their website --  Since the book hasn't been published yet, it's not on Amazon at the present time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Double Topic: Update on Permission Grind; Language in the 30th Century

     "The Termite Queen" has 85 chapters total.  I am seriously considering publishing it in 2 volumes, one three months or so before the other.  Of the 85 chapters, 32 would take up the first volume and 53 the second.  Of the total 85 I have now cleared 65 epigraphs; they are either public domain or I've actually received permission to publish.  That leaves a hard core of 20 (only 4 of which are in the 1st volume), some of which I have requests out on and some of which I'm going to give up on and find a different quotation.  You've no idea how picky these publishers can be!  I'll just give one example.  I've given up on the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Seafarer" for the chapter where they launch into space and I've substituted another line from Tagore's "On the Seashore."  The only decent translation of "The Seafarer" that I can find is the Gavin bone version in my medieval literature in translation textbook from college.  It was published in l943, so it's under copyright and it's Oxford UP.  The larger the publisher, the more bureaucratic hoops they make you jump through!  OUP's application form is about a mile long and furthermore it says something like, "Absolutely no permission to publish will be granted unless the book has a publisher."  I assume they mean a traditional professional publisher with a name, an office, etc.  Hoity-toity!  I guess that puts the self-publisher out of the picture!  I'm not going to go through that sort of rigmarole for four lines of poetry!
     Then on some of the ones where I have only one quotation by an author, I'm going to find something else.  It'll take a little work, but there are hundred of years worth of great authors in the public domain.  On the one quotation from the "Aeneid," (where Aeneas follows the Sybil into the underworld, used for the chapter where Kaitrin follows the Shshi Seer into the termite fortress for the first time), I'm going to use the John Dryden translation.  It isn't quite as direct as the modern Rolfe Humphries, but nobody can fault Dryden for being a bad poet.  I'm going to take the two "Odyssey" quotations from the Harvard Classics through Bartleby.  And I have one quotation from the "Iliad" where I still have to ferret out an older translation.  Some of the modern poets I'm also going to replace - Ezra Pound, e.g.  I think his copyright situation is confused and I'm afraid to tackle it.  And the two from Auden - I haven't made up my mind about those yet.  I sure do like the quotes that I picked.
     So you can see I still have a good bit of work to do.

     Now, a word about the English language in the 30th century.  This question was asked of me by somebody who read "Monster."  Why do I spell names so peculiarly?  Was it to suggest that this is a time in the distant future?  Well, that's more or less it.  The thing is, obviously the English language is going to change a lot over the next 800-1000 years.  Think how much it's changed since the 14th century, when Chaucer wrote.  And 300 years before that, it didn't even resemble modern day English.  But I'm not enough of a linguistic scholar to foresee how English might be spoken and written in the 30th century, and even if I could construct something, writing in it would be absurd, because nobody would be able to understand what I was writing.  So I have to write in 20th-21st century English.  (The only book I know - there are probably more - where an author tries to write in a future English is "Riddley Walker" by Russell Hoban, published 1980.  It's laid in a post-Apocalytical Britain, where mankind is just beginning to reinvent technology, starting unfortunately with gun powder.  I was fascinated with that book!)
     So I thought, how could I suggest that the language has changed?  One way is to alter spelling of place names.  So Washington becomes Washinten and Oklahoma has shrunk to Okloh and Ann Arbor is Anarber and London is Lunden.  Texas is Teyhas.  Africa is Afrik.  Etc.  I do the same with author's names in some cases.  Shakespeare becomes Shaksper (that's not so far-fetched because the name wasn't spelled consistently in his lifetime.  Wikipeda gives a dozen or so spellings, including Shaksper).  As for names of languages, English is now Inj (in the 28th century it was Inge), Greek is Griek, etc.  It's King Ather, not King Arthur.  You get the idea.
     And then I also use folk etymology a lot.  That's a situation where people take a word that makes no sense to them and turn it into something they can understand.  A classic example is the Purgatoire River in Colorado.  It became the Picketwire.  So the extinct Komodo dragon has become the commando dragon.  One of my favorites:  Arizona had become Aridzone.  And the Lagrange points - the places at certain angles between the Earth and the Moon or the Earth and the Sun where objects will stay put and be unaffected by gravity - have become the Longrange points. 
     I believe the meanings will be perfectly clear to the reader, who can't expect everything to be "normal" in a book laid so far in the future.  But in a way I'm glad I'm self-publishing, because I won't have to contend with a copy editor who keeps changing my spellings!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Discussion on Someone Else's Blog Spurs Me to Post My Future History

     I've added a new page containing an excerpt from "The Termite Queen" where I expound on my version of the future.  I hadn't really intended to do that at this point, but ... why not?  I assure you that the novel is not a boring extended essay - this is the only piece of exposition on the subject that it contains. Certain characters do discuss philosophical points at times, but that's a very small part of the book.
     I hope you find something in this piece to interest you. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Call me Permission-Seeker Agonistes!

     I have spent the last two days struggling with this permissions thing and I thought I would share some of my struggles with everybody, since I might not be the only person who doesn't know what he or she is doing when it comes to getting permission to publish quotations from somebody else's work.
     First-off, a couple of things that I've learned and a couple of the sources I've learned them from:  Any work published prior to January 1, 1923, is in the public domain.  I learned this from Wikisource.  If you look an author up in Wikipedia, often they will refer you to Wikisource in a small link near the bottom of the page.  Another method is to look him or her up in Google Books.  If the book is a free eBook and you can search the entire text, it's in the public domain.  That's a good place to start. 
     "The Termite Queen" has 86 chapters with epigraphs (many authors are duplicated, thank goodness), and 16 of the authors are in the public domain (next time I use epigraphs, I think I'll take 'em all from Shakespeare!)  Another source where everything is in the public domain is  However, they make a big to-do about citations and permissions and what not, so I simply sent them an email and easily got their permission to use some of their material as long as I cite, so that took care of another 3 authors and 5 chapters.
      Then come the authors who are older but who published both before and after 1923.  Tagore's "Crescent Moon" and Conrad Aiken's "Senlin" are pre-1923, so they are public domain; that took care of four more chapters. 
      Then there are authors like Homer and Virgil and works like "Beowulf" and "The Seafarer" where obviously the original work is public domain, but the version or translation is under copyright by the editor or translator.  I suggest in those cases to find a translation that dates before 1923.  My problem is, I can't do that with the Beowulf.  I just love Seamus Heaney's translation!  I was having problems finding who administers the copyright, so I checked out a couple of early translations, and god, are they awful!  If I were to substitute those versions on the two chapters where I use Beowulf, it wouldn't even reflect what was in the chapter!  So I will persist with Heaney!  My book (and Ki'shto'ba) deserve his wonderful poetry!
      Then come the authors who are entirely under copyright.  Groan!  First you have to figure out who owns the copyright.  I find that can usually be done by simply Googling "Who owns the copyright on [such-and-such an author]?"  Then you have to fill out forms or write emails, and then you wait maybe up to 8 or 10 weeks for a response (that's why I wanted to get started on this).
     And then there is the matter of fair use.  Some sources say epigraphs are included in fair use, and yet some publishers don't allow epigraphs to be fair use.  Personally, I can't see why any author would mind being quoted, with proper attribution, as an epigraph - it's free advertising!  Somebody might read that poem or selection and think, wow, I like that poet - I'm going to buy his works!
     Now, the latest problem I've discovered is where the author is copyrighted.  For example, I wrote to Dylan Thomas's copyright holder in the UK, David Higham, and I must say, I got  the nicest answer in about one day - concerned, helpful, polite ... if I was in Britain, I'd want to publish with them!  From her I learned that if I'm publishing in the United States, I have to go to New Directions, Thomas' American publisher.  I also have to know if CreateSpace is considered just a USA publisher or an international publisher (they do distribute globally), so I have a question in to CS to try to find out.  The person at Higham said they hold the Thomas copyright for the rest of the world.  (And Higham doesn't consider epigraphs to be fair use.)
     Anyway, I think I'll stop there.  I have reduced the process to a hard core of authors, and I do mean hard.  But I will persist and prevail.  Dylan Thomas is important, but Robert Graves is the most significant author I quote from, and I haven't even started on him yet!
     I may have to post another picture of myself - after I've  pulled out all my hair!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Use of Epigraphs in Literature

For those of you who find this post interesting, check out the subsequent posts: Of Poetry and Epigraphs, Part 1 and Of Poetry and Epigraphs, Part 2.    

Any of you who read "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" will notice that I included an epigraph at the beginning of the book -- a portion of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Lines: When the Lamp is Shattered."
     First I should say that I'm a lover of poetry; in my younger days I found good poetry too difficult to be enjoyable as everyday reading, but in later years, I've taken to reading and studying it more deeply and now I'm really appreciative of poetic expression.  When I wrote "Monster," I considered what poem might enhance the meaning of the book and this particular poem of Shelley's came to mind.  I don't think it's one of his best; its imagery is too chaotic and full of mixed metaphors.  However, that very chaos and confused rhetoric fits what happens in my novella, where everything is falling apart like a bird's nest in a windstorm.  The meaning of the word "love" is discussed in the book and at the end Kaitrin Oliva is certainly left "naked to laughter" -- exposed and vulnerable.  So I thought that this poem would serve to reinforce the meaning of the book, if you'll take the trouble to go back and think about it.
     In fact, that's the problem I always have with chapter epigraphs.  It's been awhile since I read Frank Herbert's "Dune," but I remember he uses epigraphs.  After every chapter I would go back and study the epigraph in relation to the chapter and I could never see any connection between the two! 
     I've said earlier that I use epigraphs in "The Termite Queen" and I sincerely hope that readers will be able to discern their relationship with the text!  I could publish the story without the epigraphs -- it would certainly be simpler for me because of the permissions thing -- but I think the quotations endow the book with a significantly deeper layer of meaning.   
     Here's an example:  The first very brief chapter is told in the thoughts of the Shi Ti'shra, the Worker who has been abducted by aliens and turned into a lab specimen.  Of course it has no eyes, but it has plenty of other senses, and it's lying there in a glass cubicle, in a state of total sensory deprivation, with nobody to talk to or touch, dying of xenotoxic infection syndrome and starvation -- completely harmless and at the mercy of its captors.  And what epigraph do I use?  "... eyeless in Gaza ... among inhuman foes ... " (Milton's "Samson Agonistes").  This adds an ironic touch of the mock heroic and alters the perspective; to Ti'shra, it's the humans who are inhuman and its fellow Shshi who are "human."  I also use a quotation from "Samson" on the chapter where Ti'shra dies (" … Death who sets all free / Hath paid his ransom now and full discharge.")  And later when the team finds that the Shshi have built a cairn of stones in memory of their lost fellow, I use "There will I build him a monument," etc., preserving that gentle mock heroic tone right to end of Ti'Shra's role.
     The early portion of the love affair between Kaitrin and Griffen reminded me of a comedy of manners as I was writing it, so I use quotations from Congreve's "Way of the World," which is the only 18th century play I like (not my favorite literary period).  Mirabell and Mrs. Millamont seemed to perfectly reflect my hero and heroine. The use of that comparison also suggests a timelessness -- the same sort of male-female relationship that could happen in 1700 could also happen in the 30th century.
     In the second section of the book, which is laid on the spaceship taking the team from Earth to the exoplanet, I introduce sea imagery, maybe a not-so-original metaphor for space and its dangers but effective just the same.  They "set sail" with the 10th-century poem "The Seafarer" and end with Rabindranath Tagore's "On the seashore" -- "The sea plays with children / and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach" --  slightly sinister imagery that conveys a hint of foreboding, especially since the sea beach they are approaching is the planet 2 Giotta 17A where the giant termites live.  What indeed will that place bring to them in the end?  
     So my hope is that whenever I do get this published, the reader will pay attention to the epigraphs and recognize the depth they impart to the story.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some Curmudgeonly Quibbles about eReaders

     "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" just appeared on Kindle this morning (see  You can see there that I was able to use my own cover drawing.  Naturally, I purchased a copy of the piece for my own Kindle and I can't resist comparing the process of reading it in that format with the experience of doing the same with a "real" book.  And that's the difference; the first is a process while the second is an experience.  
     There is nothing aesthetic about words scrolling down a screen; the simplest and most humble physical book is a work of art compared to the formless blob of words you get with an eReader.  Now, some of that may be my own fault (I consider all this to be a learning experience).  For example, next time I would begin the words on the title page right at the top because most of the time centering them makes them run off the bottom and onto the next page.  I say, "most of the time" because you never seem to get the same display twice.  If I start with the cover and page forward once, I get a display with the author's name on the second page.  But if I use the Go To  feature to go to the Beginning, it displays the title right at the top of the page with the word "Monster" shifted over against the left margin.  Why?
     There was the problem that certain parts of the t.p. and headings emerged underlined, even though I didn't underline them in the uploaded text.  I fixed the title by taking it out and retyping it, but one other place remained underlined and I just left it.  I think it's something I did, but I have no idea what and it really doesn't detract from the reading of the text.  There are also a couple of gratuitous little centered dashes that just appeared out of nowhere.  One of them is at the very beginning of the text and I now cannot find the other one; maybe it disappeared.  Somewhere I read that people sometimes leave stray bits of HTML stuck in the text.  Could that be what that is? 
     Somewhere I think I mentioned the fact that Kindle wouldn't accept hanging indention so I had to reformat the last section with normal paragraph indention.  I can accept that, but on the reader, if you go to the end and page backwards, it refuses to indent paragraphs that begin the tops of pages.  When you page forward as you normally would, it seems to do OK.  And of course with the small size of the page and the variability of the type size, there is no way to prevent the rather long section headings from splitting between pages. 
     It's aesthetically formless, that's all you can say.  But the text is all there and you can read it just fine if you choose to buy the Kindle version, and what I want to do is get people to read my books.  Personally, I will always prefer the physical artifact of a real book -- something where you can feel the texture of the paper, smell the ink and the paper (and maybe the leather if you're lucky enough to read a really old book), stick your finger or a slip of paper in a later spot if you want to compare two places in the text -- well, you know.  As an old librarian who worked mostly in the pre-computer days, that will always be my preference!  By the way, just now I tried smelling the CreateSpace copy of "Monster" and it smells a little lemony!  Maybe they should add an ink, paper, and leather smell to the Kindle!

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Monster" is now on Amazon!

     Not all the information is in there yet, but it is on Prime, so Prime members can get the book with no postage.  Link is
     I am compelled to say ... boy, am I glad I use my middle initial!  I am not the other Lorinda Taylor, who seems to be a writer of Christian proselytizing literature.  Who would have thought a contemporary would have that same name?  "Lorinda" is a pretty old-fashioned moniker.  I should have used the pseudo-nym "TermiteWriter."  I personally follow no religious persuasion; I call myself a spiritual humanist and I plan to write more on that subject later.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I have been informed that people won't buy a book without reading a text sample

STARTING 11/11/12
Note: Nov. 11, 2012, is the first anniversary of my first publication, which happened to be "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," so I thought I would resurrect this text sample.  I'm having a 99-cent special on the novella right now (Kindle and Smashwords), and you can get a free Smashwords copy on Sunday and Monday (Nov. 11 and 12).  Go here for information on how to do that!

       So here it is -- a short piece of "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" that may function slightly as a spoiler, but not too much:

Continued (late evening, LPT): [i.e. Local Planetary Time]
     It was already dark when we landed at a small spaceport of Chu-sneian construction and so we went straight to a guesthouse for the night.  We are near a diminutive city called Hala-ana (we could see a small cluster of lights twinkling as we came in), but there was not a Kal in sight, much to our disappointment.  Tor says their leader, called the Chief Communicator, prefers to meet with us in the morning. 
Continued, 1st full day on Kal-fa (late evening):
     If I were religious, I might throw a few prayers at a couple of alien deities!  I thought I was beyond astonishment – after all, what can top the Shshi Queen or the inner sanctum of the Etúmanoi? – but even those didn’t prepare me for this!  That woman Tor was playing with us – oh, yes!  The joke was definitely on us! 
     But I must start at the beginning so that I can make sense of this afterwards.  Hala-ana consists of a grouping of some twenty sprawling, one-story stone buildings covered with intricate abstract carvings.  We approached the central edifice, which (Tor informed us) houses both living quarters and the government offices, through an extensive and delightful semi-tropical garden – a xenobotanist’s dream!  It seemed deserted, although we heard some rustling and thumps in the bushes and caught some glimpses of movement or form through the foliage.  Tor remarked that the Kal were shy around strangers.  We entered through a wooden door and found ourselves in a corridor about four or five meters wide, with a floor of polished stone tiles, blue painted walls, and gilded carved floral cornices.  Narrow tables lined the right side.
     Then simultaneously we all jumped.  On one of the tables something was moving.  It was an arm – an arm, shoulder to hand, resting on its upper portion, with a pad of silken cloth covering the elbow, four bracelets enclosing the forearm above a pleated cuff, rings on three fingers below oval nails manicured and tinted gold.  The hand bobbed on the end of the arm, beckoning, waving, appearing to engage in sign language.  I think we all gasped and possibly even swore.  Then the arm bounced, hopped off the table, landed on its padded elbow, and – capered is the only word for it – capered off down the hall and disappeared through a door.
     There was a moment of stunned silence.  I turned to Tor and she was grinning impishly.
      Pross said, “What was that?”  Then he said as if relieved, “A robotic toy!  Very interesting!  So realistic!  Is it a plaything for the Kal’s children?
     Tor said, “That’s not a robotic toy.  You have just met Veski-mah, one of the Greeters.  I think she’ll be in trouble – I’m quite sure Lord Hetsip-dohná didn’t want her out here.”
     Again, silence.  Then a kind of choked snort issued from Hart Pross.  “What are you … ?  Are you implying … ?”
     Fortunately, Ghito interrupted him.  Big-eyed with wonder, she said, “It’s alive?  Why, how beautiful!  Let’s go on!  I have a feeling there are some real marvels ahead!”
     “God, what kind of trickery … ?” Pross began.
     I silenced him by jabbing my fist into the small of his back and said, “Yes, Minister Tor, what other surprises are you hiding from us?”
     Tor laughed.  “I knew your curiosity would be piqued.  Come with me." 

[If you want to know what is inside the door, buy the book!]

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Monster " has been published! - plus a few words about "Termite Queen."

    You can buy it now!  It's already available at  CreateSpace did a very nice job with the book.  I learned a lot in the process.  I hope many of you will buy the book, read it, and find it fascinating.  It's a pretty bizarre story and not much like my other writing. 
     I may be able to use a version of my own cover on the Kindle edition, which I'm still working on.  And someone I met on a different blog gave me a suggestion on how to up the DPI on a Word drawing, so I may be able to use my own covers in the future without obtaining a new graphics program and spending a lot of time learning it.  Strangely, I've had very good luck with those little drawing tools in Word.
     "The Termite Queen" will not be published very soon for the following reasons.  First, I have a  confession to make.  I've said it was a long book -- now I'll tell you how long:  325,000 words.  To me, when I read through it, it doesn't seem long at all, but then I'm the author and authors ought to love their own books and their own characters.  Otherwise, why write?  The length is one reason I decided to self-publish -- I won't have to fight with editors at publishing houses about shortening it, or about changing the title to something chatchier (actually, "Termite Queen" fits the book perfectly -- you'll see why when you read it).
     Anyway, formatting it for publication will be a time-consuming process, and I'm thinking seriously of dividing it into two volumes.  I just think a single volume would be way too bulky and heavy and would fall apart in no time.  I'll have to talk to CreateSpace about how that's done -- if the volumes would be published separately or as one rather expensive set, or what.   They would really be one work, not a work and a sequel, but if I published them separately, everybody who bought the first one would be champing for the second one to come out and they wouldn't have to shell out as much all at once.  Hmm.
     Next, each chapter has an epigraph, mostly poetry with some prose, so I have a problem with permissions to quote.  I had always thought that a professional publisher would do all that work for me.  The obvious public domain authors (Shakespeare, Milton, Congreve, etc.) are no problem, but there are a lot of later authors that are obviously still under copyright.  Getting these permissions will take awhile and I'll probably have to go see a copyright lawyer.  I need to do more research on this, but I haven't had time yet.
     And thirdly, there is the cover problem.  Even if I use what I have, it will have to be reworked into the right size.  And if I go with two volumes, I'll have to do a cover for the second volume.
     So I'll just keep plugging and you can follow my efforts here.  Lucky you!  (I promise to also post other things that are more interesting, like why I used the epigraphs, and what my 30th century is like, and what English is like in the 30th century, and also something on that period's humanist philosophy.  And more on the termites, too!

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" has been approved for publication!

I just ordered a proof copy from CreateSpace for my first-ever publication.  It should be available by the end of the month.  I've been writing forever, but I never felt justified in putting down "Writer" as my occupation because I was never published.  "Unpublished Writer" felt the same as saying "Loser."  Now, even though it's self-published, maybe I can hold up my head!  It's more respectable to do it yourself than it used to be.  However, I was looking at the Science Fiction Writers of America website and it says you must have "sold" a certain amount of writings to join.  That's pretty snobbish of 'em!  Ha, ha!

I'm also planning to publish "Monster" as an ebook, but I haven't started on that yet.

I could not use my own artwork on the cover of  "Monster."  We figured out a way I could upload my Word drawing by turning it into a JPEG and it uploaded all right, but then it informed me that the DPI was too low - only 96 and it has to be 300.  At that point, I threw in the towel.  Word just won't work as a publishable drawing program.  "Monster" is an intense and  compelling story, well worth buying and reading, but it's only a 73-page novella, not  a major novel like "The Termite Queen."  So I found a ready-made cover in Cover Creator and adapted that.  It has no relation to the story, but it has a fairly dramatic look to it.

As soon as the book is officially available, I'm going to publish my own cover drawing here on the blog.  I think anyone who is reading the book might like to see it.  And I'm searching for the right vector graphics software that will give me a PDF drawing with the right amount of DPI so I can make my own cover for "TQ."  I really doubt that I need something as expensive as Adobe Illustrator or Corel -- after all, I've done good, fun stuff with the simple system that Word provides.  So I'm thinking of getting a trial version of Mayura when I have time to spend working with it.  Any advice?

I had wondered why I had never gotten any comments on this blog, and then I discovered that Comments weren't enabled.  Now they are, so feel free to share anything you like!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Drawings of Four Shshi

Clockwise from upper left:

Holy Kwi'ga'ga'tei Priest and Seer
Mo'gri'ga'tu Keeper of the Holy Chamber
A Worker
Hi'ta'fu the Unconquered, Commander of Lo'ro'ra

Monday, October 31, 2011

More on the Language of the Shshi

       I've mentioned that the Shshi speak by  transmitting electromagnetic signals between their antennae, which contain nodes that act as receivers and transmitters and are connected to  special centers in their brains that decode the signals.  Therefore, no sound structure is involved in their language.  Kaitrin merely assigns random syllables to certain waveforms on the spectrograph and the pronunciation is no different from her native English.  This enables her to pronounce the language aloud so her transmission device can project the appropriate EM signals.  As Kwi'ga'ga'tei the Seer, who serves as her principal informant, realizes with much wonder, "The Star-Beings keep their antennae in a magic box!"
       If writing were invented by a native speaker of such a non-vocalized language, it couldn't have an alphabet, which by definition images sounds.  It would have to employ pictographs or ideograms or syllabograms or logograms.  Now, I'll tell you a secret -- in a later trilogy which I have not yet mentioned on this blog (entitled "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head"), Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer (the fortress's Bard) invents writing.  At the very beginning of the first volume, he is in his old age and he is dictating the memoirs of his adventures with Ki'shto'ba to a scribe.  He rambles on a bit about how he invented writing.  I'm inserting a section of this as a separate page entitled "Shshi Writing."  It will also give the reader an amusing glimpse of what the Shshi are really like.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why Do I Write about Termites?

The following is part of the Old-Post Resurrection Hop at

An exchange I had on Twitter recently leads me to believe that I need to counteract some assumptions that people might make as to why I write about ETs based on termites.  Don't expect satire or acidic social commentary in my stories; it's not my intention to compare human societal structure to that of social insects, to the detriment or advantage of either species.  My purpose is to write about first contacts, the encounters and subsequent relationships between humans and extraterrestrials -- to write about intelligent lifeforms who happened to evolve from base species different from our own.  How might they have developed as they turn into beings that are rational, moral, and self-aware even as they keep many of the characteristics of their species of origin?

And I like my aliens friendly!  My giant insects are not monsters any more than my big birds, six-foot lemurs, or small, sea-otter-like monotremes are monsters.   (The only exception might be in the novella I'm currently preparing for publication, "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," but you must judge for yourself when you read the story whether those aliens are monsters).

Although all of my writings have some social commentary, it's oblique, forming a background to the plots while not being central to them.  It's my view of how our own society might evolve from the present day until the 30th century.

So how did I get the idea of writing about evolved termites?  Way, way back in the 1970's, when I was writing and failing to publish imaginary world fantasy, I saw a documentary entitled "Mysterious Castles of Clay" (I'm sure that's the name of it -- I've seen it again more recently on one of the cable channels).  It revealed the African, mound-building, fungus-growing termite in great detail, using microphotography with cameras inserted into the mounds, something that was probably rather new at that time.  I was absolutely fascinated -- here were little nymph insects waving their tiny claws and begging for food from the nurses just like baby birds! -- and I immediately proclaimed that these creatures would make a wonderful basis for a science fiction story.  The premise was that an off-world expedition brings back a specimen of giant termite and proceeds to study it like any other insect, keeping it in a glass cubicle.  A female anthropologist/linguist, however, senses intelligence in the creature and, even while everybody is ridiculing her, she proceeds to learn how to communicate with it.

I kept that germ of an idea in the back of my mind all the while I was taking my hiatus from writing.  When I started up again and wrote "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," Prf. Kaitrin Oliva seemed like the perfect choice to be the heroine for the termite story, and lo and behold -- "The Termite Queen" was born.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Are the Termite People Really Like?

       The Shshi evolved from insects just as we evolved from hominids.  They still live in termitaria (called fortresses), which are built of stone instead of earth, extend both above and below ground, and have built-in ventilation systems.  They have a low-tech culture; they have never tamed fire and they use wood and stone tools to supplement their own mandibles.  They haft the mandibles of dead Warriors and use them as cutting tools.  They have evolved double-clawed front legs; the claws are jointed and can grip like fingers, but they have no opposable digits.  They have the wheel, but they have never taken its use farther than making little wheelbarrows; they have no draft animals.  Their mathematics is almost nonexistent; they count on their antennae, each of which has 18 knobs and they have no numbers beyond 36.  Anything larger than that becomes "more than the two-antennae count" or "many-many."  This lack of math, however, doesn't prevent them from being supreme engineers; the blind Builder Subcaste simply understands instinctively how to construct edifices -- the genetic heritage of their ancestors.
       The principal species that I'm writing about in "The Termite Queen" do not eat wood; they lack the proper intestinal flora to digest it.  Instead, they are fungivores, cultivating underground fungus gardens, but they also eat soft cellulose products, such as the flowers and leaves of a certain tree that they grow in orchards.  And they also garner protein from practicing necrophagy.  They are in fact the universe's best recyclers, just like terrestrial termites. 
      All Shshi lack auditory organs and the Warriors and the Workers have no eyes. Of course, they have other senses -- chemical and electromagnetic -- that compensate. The Warriors and the Workers don't differ so much from terrestrial termites, but the Alates  have changed more significantly.  Their compound eyes have evolved far beyond the norm for terrestrial insects and they are much more than short-lived reproductives; they live as long as their fellows (20-25 years).  Their wings have evolved bioluminescence in order to provide light within the fortress. (I had to find some way to light up that pitchblack interior of the fortress. Another writer I once read used phosphorescence in the walls, and Bernard Werber in "Empire of the Ants" gives some of his ants infrared vision.)
       The cultural level of the Shshi could be designated "Heroic Age," a bit like Mycenaean Greece without the metalworking.  Each fortress resembles a self-sufficient city-state, with very little contact with other fortresses except for the occasional territorial war or the necessity to exchange reproductives.  They have developed human qualities like compassion, loyalty, a sense of self, an eagerness to learn and to attempt to account for their world through myth.  Their only art form is literary; they are passionate tale-tellers.  It makes sense that a deaf race would have no concept of music and that a mostly blind race that lives in perpetual darkness would have little use for visual art.
       Their mythology provides them with an explanation for the existence of Castes: to ensure that the members of the community are interdependent.  Because of their physical and sensory limitations, no one Caste can exist without the existence of the others.  The Warriors' huge heads and mandibles makes it impossible for them to feed themselves.  The Alates are weak in body and need protection from the Warriors and physical labor from the Workers, but their acute vision gives them an edge.  They are the most subtle in intellect and so are likely to gain an advantage in the governance of the fortress. 
       Each community has only one breeding pair, just like terrestrial social insects.  The Workers and Warriors may have vestigial sex organs, but they produce no sex pheromones, so they are truly neuter and are referred to by a special pronoun that can only be translated "it."  The Alates, from whom the breeders are drawn, retain some sexual characteristics, enough for them to be identified as male of female.  fa is the nominative, singular, third-person personal pronoun (used for Warriors and Workers) and fai is the nominative, singular neuter pronoun (used for  things, qualities, etc.).  Alates are either ta (she) or ma (he).
       The Shshi religious beliefs are centered on the female principle -- what else could an ILF worship in a situation where only one individual among a thousand can produce offspring?  In effect, they worship the Great Goddess -- the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name -- who lives in the sky and lays stars and who generally allows her creation to make its own way.  But occasionally she interferes, particularly at times when the Shshi Way of Life is threatened or something really significant is about to happen in the world of her offspring (like being invaded by extraplanetary beings).  And the Seers can communicate with the Highest Mother through the intermediation of a special hallucinatory fungus (and sometimes through their own inate abilities).

       One further remark:  In the chapters of "The Termite Queen" that concern the Shshi, I tried to come up with a style that would provide contrast with the human story. I settled on writing it as a dramatic script -- writing a play, as it were. It didn't seem right to put in lots of wordy description when you're dealing with blind creatures whose dwelling consists of mostly unlighted underground chambers and corridors. So we have dialogue supplemented by minimal stage directions. We also have soliloquies. It was very easy to fall into a kind of Shakespearean formality and rhythm. I used a lot of Shakespeare quotations as epigraphs for the termite chapters. The villain Mo'gri'ta'tu is fully comparable to Cassius or Iago -- quite Machiavellian. In fact, as I was writing these parts, I humorously referred to my characters as "my Shakespearean termites"!

       Remember to watch for updates on "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder"!  I'm beginning to format it in CreateSpace!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder"

     I lied! This post is not going to be about the nature of the Shshi. Sometime back, I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to try self-publishing an 18,500-word novella called "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder." (I may end up self-publishing "The Termite Queen," too, but that's a little way off yet.) This piece is nothing like "Termite Queen," although the Professor is Kaitrin Oliva 30 years later, when she is 57. I'm on the cusp of opening up a CreateSpace account and going at it, so I thought I would supply you with a blurb I wrote for the back cover. (It's subject to change.) 

     "In this dark and edgy first-contact story, a team of anthropologists discovers a species of truly bizarre intelligent lifeforms called the Kal. The team consists of the leader, an experienced, highly respected female Professor of Xenoanthropology and Linguistics; a young female biomedical specialist; and a still younger male, an expert in alien artifacts. Each member reacts in a different way to the Kal, leading to a disturbing climax and a conclusion with an unsettling twist of perspective."

     This was the first thing I wrote after I started up again in the year 2000. The inspiration was a bright, beautiful, vivid, but extremely bizarre dream that I had. That dream is really what started my creative processes going.

     Would love comments.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ever Notice How the Whole Universe Speaks English?

It's one of my earliest and I think it deserves more than 7 views!

This has been a pet peeve of mine for years, ever since I first encountered the Universal Translator in the original StarTrek.  This was way back when the series first appeared, before most of the people reading this were even born.  Of course, that was long before the kind of computers we have today, but even now I can't find the concept credible.  The translator microbes in Farscape are a little more acceptable given the really far-out milieu of the series, but even that has certain problems.  There is no way around it -- when we make finally first contact, Earthers and ETs are going to have to buckle down and learn each other's language!  (I fully understand that the convention of universal English speakers is required on a TV series; otherwise we would be watching a whole year's worth of grammatical exchanges --"Today we're going to learn how the Slime Mold people construct the present perfect tense and later we'll get into uses of the subjunctive."  Boy, would that bomb!) 
     So that's part of my purpose in writing The Termite Queen (certainly not the whole purpose or even the chief): to show what might really happen in a first contact.  The situation is complicated here by the fact that the alien language is not vocal.  Termites don't have vocal organs and they're totally deaf.  I could have made the language pheromonal, the way Bernard Werber does in his Les Fourmis, but I wanted a real verbal language that had words corresponding to English words, so I devised the radio wave idea, producing a spectrographic or bioelectric language.  Evolution can produce some pretty strange adaptations.
     Since the Shshi have no concept of sound waves (although they can feel vibrations), there is no way for them to learn human language, so it's incumbent on my linguistic anthropologist to learn theirs.  (Also, since two of their Castes are blind -- only the Alates have eyes -- the concept of writing has never occurred to them.)   The language exists only in transliterated form and so pronunciation is not an issue -- it's just like English, although Kaitrin Oliva, being fluent in Spanish, tends to roll the r's slightly   Several chapters are devoted to the process of learning to communicate with the Shshi. To me, this process is fascinating and I hope it will be so to at least the conlangers out there!  People who aren't interested can simply skim through those parts and focus on the many other aspects of the book.
     Now, three other alien races play a part in The Termite Queen, because the novel is laid in the 30th century, when Earth belongs to a Confederation of Four Planets.  One of the main supporting characters in the novel is from the planet Krisí’i’aid, on which intelligent life evolved from birds.  Prf. Tió’otu A'a'ma, who is a human-sized eagle, is the only off-worlder ever to hold a full Professorship in a terrestrial university.  He speaks excellent English, but his native language is !Ka<tá, a language far more complex than Shshi and one I've worked out in even greater detail, mainly for a different novel (which, alas, may never be publishable).  The eagles have the vocal apparatus of songbirds, so their language has tonal characteristics and utilizes warbles, trills, whistles, chirps, coughs, and clicks.  It is totally unpronounceable by the human throat.  For example, suffixing a warble (transliterated as ) makes a plural.  This language is not used extensively in The Termite Queen and I generally don't translate it when I do.  Here are a couple of examples:

Chitú<^ ♫po·atré ♫Wéwana♪] (An insult meaning "A pair of stork-heads!")  
kheda<tri’e hi kukh^maw’ez (To make the gizzard happy; would correspond to "from the bottom of my heart.")
     I'll get into !Ka<tá a lot more at a later time.
     Anyway, my point is, in Termitewriter's universe, English (or Inj, as it is called in the 30th century) is spoken natively only by Earthers!