Archive for the ‘Geofiction’ Category

No, I really didn’t. I had no clue that my beloved first fictional language was actually turning out to be comparable to a real human language. But, if someone who holds a Masters degree in Linguistics tells me something like that, I tend to believe him.

Uhjayi is a conlang – a constructed language – spoken by the inlanlu tahori, a species of tribal shapeshifters on a world known as Alasa Ka. Their universe is half-science and half-fantasy: magic and natural selection shape evolution, and a person must use both logic and spirit to thrive. Uhjayi itself is designed to approximate the form of communication an alien culture might use, given that one of their skins is remarkably similar to the one we humans wear all our lives.

Uhjayi is not a simple cypher that switches one letter for another. Uhjayi actually has a root-based vocabulary, object-subject-verb structure, and syntax that, I’ve been told, resembles some Asian languages. (None of which I speak, for the record, nor am I familiar with their skeletons.) Uhjayi’s current syntax has come about from what I think makes the most sense; the script is phonetic, the pronunciation using the English alphabet is standard across all its words, and the structure is simple, yet flexible.

After working on Uhjayi for some while, the above-mentioned bloke recommended Pimsleur to me as a better language-learning method than Rosetta Stone. (In tandem with my martial arts, and mostly because of it, I wanted to learn Japanese.) Instead of computer software, it consists of thirty-minute audio lessons in three sets of thirty lessons – roughly equivalent to one lesson a day for three months. I started daydreaming about recording Uhjayi lessons.

On a lark, I wrote the tentative transcript for the first lesson, using Pimsleur’s standard conversation format, and shared it with some friends. They responded overwhelmingly favorably. I wrote more lessons, made a mini-site (well, sub-blog), compiled vocabulary, and even recorded five-minute audio lessons to showcase the correct pronunciation. Thirty-minute lessons are definitely coming, but I’m still working on learning – and finishing – my own language first.

If you’re curious, you can find everything housed in the Learn Uhjayi blogsitething: lessons one through five, a vocabulary list, and the of-questionable-quality recordings of me saying some very strange things.

So, tell me: have you ever dabbled in any kind of fictional language?

DNA!

For all my multi-tasking and jack-of-all-trades-ness, I can be very single-minded at times. Almost everything that I learn in the Real WorldTM is immediately translated into my ability to convey plausible fiction. New recipes spark ideas about how a species might season their food. Taking my motorcycle apart is incorporated into how an individual works on her magic-powered vehicle. The texture of my cat’s fur correlates to the texture of an alien animal’s soft, glossy pelt. The unspoken social hierarchy in a certain group of people brings up questions on how another culture might function in a similar situation. You get the idea.

I am greatly fascinated by natural sciences – zoology, anatomy/physiology, evolution, botany, geology, astrophysics, and more. I am passionate about these subjects because they’re incredibly interesting to me, because I like understanding this amazing world in which we live– and because I want to use that knowledge to enhance my geofiction and my writing. It’s good to have a seemingly unique, seemingly possible idea to incorporate into a piece of worldbuilding; it’s much, much better to have the education and knowledge to back up that theory.

As part of my current walk in life, I plan on self-educating myself on the sciences in much greater detail than I’ve so far learned them. Natural sciences come first, followed by social sciences (especially psychology, religion/mythology, and ancient history), and then whatever else I’m curious about and might put to use (such as mechanics). I’m not doing this solely for my writing, but it is one of the primary motivations to find some solid texts and teach myself some of the innumerable things that I don’t know yet. Plus, it’s awesome! These subjects, this world, this universe, are all bizarre and beautiful. Lessening my ignorance will only teach me how much more there is to appreciate in this life.

How far do you go in the name of your craft? Do you casually pick up shards of information as they become necessary, or do you eagerly dive in to study the pillars on which you stand?

Image Credit: Crestock Creative Photos.

Today, boys and girls, I’m here to talk to you about drugs.

–wait, don’t hit the X. I said talk, not lecture. This is a blog about fiction! C’mon.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define ‘drug’ as any ingestible substance with physiological and/or psychological effects. Medicine, alcohol, and marijuana all fall under the drug heading here.

Almost every single person has an opinion about at least one drug. Drug A should be illegal, or Drug B should be legalized. Doing or distributing Drug C should put someone on death row, while doing or distributing Drug D should be considered saint’s work. Drug E should be used carefully; Drug F can be used willy-nilly. Drug G isn’t all that bad, but Drug H is hardcore. People who do Drug I are just looking to relax, but people who do Drug J are dangerous addicts. It’s socially acceptable to partake of Drug K at an event, but someone imbibing Drug L in public should get arrested. Drug M should always be done around people to be safe, while Drug N should only be done alone. Keep Drug O in the house, but Drug P can go on the streets, and Drug Q can even be done in the car without anyone dying.

You get my point.

Nearly every human culture has found a way to make alcohol, medicine, and narcotics. There’s a rich and fascinating history on drug production and use. My question to you is not a moral one, but a creative one: How do fictional cultures treat drugs? Not only fictional human cultures, but humanoid and non-human ones as well?

Is drug use so honed a science that the entire culture takes a variety of drugs for their every need, every day? Is drug use so horrifying a concept – loss of self-control a phobia – that the culture won’t even use medicine when it’s desperately needed? Which drugs are acceptable, and in what ways? Which drugs are unacceptable, and how is illegal use of them treated? What’s considered medicinal, and what’s considered recreational? Are drugs used for religious or spiritual purposes? Does military training include developing a high tolerance to certain common drugs, or even poisons?

How do the people in your stories deal with drugs? Get creative! Even human cultures have vastly different relationships with and opinions of mind-altering substances. You can drive home the alienness of a culture or race very easily by tweaking the place drugs have in that society.

Image Credit: Royalty Free Images.

I’ve been mindspewing creature-designing and worldbuilding ideas in preparation for writing Oh, The Inhumanity!, an e-book on creating truly non-humanoid species, and I think I feel the tiny little flicker of a would-be rant guttering in my chest.

See, I have a pet peeve. Non-humans should be non-humans. In science fiction and fantasy alike, most of your non-humans are what I would consider humanoids – symmetrical bipedal races with human-parallel physiology and psychology. Some different clothing, a bit taller or shorter (or skinnier or wider – hi, elves and dwarves), pointy ears, colorful skin, and an accented version of the common tongue, and voilà! You have a humanoid. We, as human readers, can relate to the humanity of the race and its individuals, while (hopefully) appreciating the differences in body and culture.

That’s fine, that’s cool. That’s a distinct class of non-humans that are purposefully similar to humans for very understandable reasons. They’re the easiest to work with in fiction and most relatable for our audience.

When a book introduces a giant quadrupedal predator who still thinks like a civilized, social human, I get my hackles up. C’mon, guys. They aren’t human. Give them a difference. Let’s broaden our minds, shall we?

Imagine, if you will, a human being born with a set of animal behaviors and instincts. This is still a human in body and will be raised as a human, in human society, but its base instincts are some animal instead of evolved monkey. This person is inherently, innately, undeniably inhuman. If he’s a tiger, he’s going to have to balance social tendencies from his human rearing with completely antisocial tendencies from being a lone predator. There will be immutable qualities in the core of his psyche that are not human.

Imagine, if you will, a humanoid born into a human society. Even if she’s raised as a human, she’s going to have different base instincts and behavioral tendencies, as well as some moderately different physiological needs, depending on her specific race. Even though she will be effectively multicultural, she won’t lose her innate inhumanity that is her birthright as a non-human. She’ll likely experience internal (and possibly external) conflict over her adopted culture and her instinctual heritage.

Now, imagine a humanoid culture in its infancy. This species is now at the apex of their physical evolution and progressing into civilization and probably technology. For the sake of this example, say they have never met humans – they’re in a secluded land, or on a different planet. They don’t have our monkey instincts; they have their own. How differently would they develop, even if they have human-parallel bodies and neurological structures, when their core is unshakably inhuman?

Do I really need to ask you to imagine how different a non-humanoid race would be from us?

A Korat is not human. They do not have opposable thumbs; they do not stand on two legs. They have fur, claws, sharp teeth, and a predator’s set of movement-oriented senses. A human can gaze into a sunset and marvel at the incredible masterpiece of color and light; a Korat will look at a sunset and notice far less of the stationary detail. A human will see a blur of dull color in the underbrush and wonder if he imagined it; a Korat will watch a rabbit run and be able to count its strides out of the corner of his eye without even focusing. A human has different social needs than a Korat, different emotional and instinctual reactions to pain and fear and anger and sadness, and different ways of expressing himself. A human may react to danger with noisy aggression or cowering fear, while a Korat may react to the same situation by becoming completely still, alert, and poised to move – without any emotional investment.

Even when I find inhuman non-humans in fiction, I often find cases of human-envy. We are humans, so it’s natural that we’re human-centric. But Korats don’t pine for opposable thumbs or a bipedal gait. Korats don’t wish they were technologically advanced. In fact, Korats are Korat-centric – surprise! – and have a lot of racial pride. They like how their species is, and they don’t feel any inclination to become less like a Korat and more like anything else.

Humanoids certainly have a strong place in fiction, but I’d love to see more non-humanoids take a shining role with their differences and, yes, their incomprehensible alienness.

Have you ever created a non-human race that was truly inhuman? If not, why?

Shikin haramitsu daikomyo.

Dai kipt ese psh daes esh e dai lun byst te kA dayo d’ft.

Know what they mean?

The first is a real Japanese phrase meaning, very roughly, “every encounter holds the possibility for enlightenment.” The second is Kalash, a language I’m designing to be the common tongue of dozens of sentient races on Lavana. It means, very roughly, “I would be well but for the circumstances around me.”

I mentioned conlangs, or constructed languages, in my last post about worldbuilding. I am most assuredly a fan of language in general, and I can’t resist the concept of creating my own language – with vocabulary influenced by the speaker’s culture and a range of sounds determined by the shape of the speaker’s usually-inhuman mouth. I’m also a great fan of privacy and have made a few cyphers (or conalphs – constructed alphabets, consistently trading one letter for another) for use when I don’t want anyone but the recipient to read what I’m writing.

Singing a cypher-encrypted song is also rather fun. Especially when the cypher in question changes the syllable pattern.

My first cypher was Khraenian, a one-way cypher made as the primary language of Khraen, a planet I co-designed with my sister. A one-way cypher is a little more difficult to manage than a two-way, at least as far as memorization is concerned – for example, going from English to Khraenian, B becomes D, but D becomes K, and K becomes T, and T becomes R. In other words, B = D, but D =/= B. Slightly bogged down by this bulkier method of cyphering, I created Kommu (aka Dannu) as the epitome of simplicity. It’s a two-way cypher: D = T and T = D. It has a prettier sound in general, doesn’t change the syllable count as often, and sounds good when spoken or sung aloud. Besides, you can make language translators with two-way cyphers very easily.

Conlangs, however, are not cyphers. Conlangs have syntax, grammar, punctuation, a written script/alphabet, vocabulary, and often a set of sounds that the human mouth may not be able to pronounce correctly or at all. You can develop a conlang in relatively little time if all you need are a handful of words with a consistent look and sound for judicious use by your story’s non-humans, or you can spend a lifetime creating a real-size language with history, dialects, a writing system, and a mathematic system that isn’t base 10.

Myself, I tend to dabble in both extremes. Kalash currently consists of a handful of phrases and words, very little sense of alien syntax, and the growing idea that it’s a pidgin tongue drawing from three or four main roots of other, as-of-yet undesigned, fictional languages spoken by a few Lavanian species. On the other hand, Uhjayi is the native tongue of the inlanlu tahori with a syllabic root system, a written phonetic script, and a syntax considerably different from that of English. Uhjayi is undergoing major revamping currently, but I’ll happily showcase it more thoroughly in the future, when it’s ready for prying eyes other than my own to ogle it.

What about you? Have you ever messed with strange alphabets, cyphers, or even conlangs – either for pleasure or for storytelling?

I’m debating on starting a series of worldbuilding creature development posts, using one of my own species as an example. The pros on this are the resource it would create for you, my reader, and the fun I’d get to have in exploring Olashi history and culture; the con is how inconclusive and patchwork it might be. To mitigate the con, I began doing a little bit of research on worldbuilding and discovered that my methodry is actually geofiction. Wikipedia describes it as “a hobby where people design imaginary cities, countries or entire worlds, including placenames, culture, social and political structures and even constructed languages (conlangs), primarily for personal enjoyment.” (You and I will talk about conlangs later, I promise.)

In my leisurely digging, I found several excellent worldbuilding resources to share with you, but most of these seem to assume that you’re working with a human or humanoid race. I haven’t found much talk about methane-breathers or wholly underwater sapients, except as monsters or figures of myth. Perhaps a little miniseries exploring how to go about expanding and deepening the culture and developmental history of your non-human race would be useful after all, eh?

While I continue my research and possibly begin outlining such a series of posts, have some worthwhile worldbuilding resources.

I find designing worlds and their inhabitants – flora, fauna, and sapients all – to be the most enjoyable part of writing. What do you think about worldbuilding? Do you use any kind of tools to help you design, like a map generator, or do you go at it freestyle? Feel free to share links to resources on world-building or any aspect thereof!

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"Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't." ~Erica Jong

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