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!