31 January 2011

Winter Storms

Apparently the world is scheduled to end tomorrow. The local news channels have decreed that a winter storm will be the end of us. So far this winter, there as been only a few thoughts about several snowflakes that all added up to less than a trace of dry, powdery granules that blew easily into the ditches. And they call that winter in Oklahoma. Now there is excitement and enthusiasm by the local meterologists: finally, something worthy of their broadcast time! I hope we get what they say we will get.

It makes me think of the winter conditions on planet Ghoupallesz--of course! In Dream Land I there are flashes of the winter siege of the Tebbicousimankale industrial center of Siaa. Located in an area of mineral deposits, the city has grown to be the largest in the country, despite its harsh winters. As noted in a previous post, the tilt of Ghoupallesz is much less than Earth's, making for more even seasons. In other words, winter is winter longer and there is less variance between the seasons.

And then, in 1533, the winter was particularly harsh. Pushing an army northward at such a time is a recipe for disaster. I thought of Napoleon besieging Moscow. In Siaa we have armies hunkered down in snow banks twenty feet deep, digging tunnels through the snow, under the snow, even while men and Jepe walk on top of the snowpack. A lot of soldiers died, from the flash freezing (crystalization of bare skin) and from loss of body temperature. Think of trench warfare in Antarctica--or the planet Hoth in Star Wars.

And yet, the entire culture of the Zetin is built on the northern harshness. Once residing on the lower peninsula of Tebbicousimankale, as we all remember, the Zetrin were forced northward by the invasion of Danid and Ghoupalle nations. Subsequent conflict forced Zetin to abandon Tebbicousimankale completely and move to the high plateau of Alaun. Though somewhat sheltered from the worst of arctic weather, it nevertheless is a tough place to grow up, and an even tougher place to grow any food crops. Some diapsora went south to the tip of tropical Baeronak rather than north to Alaun, so there is importing of plant food, though it is expensive.

The problems of inventing worlds includes how to deal with temperatures and seasons, and how those factors influence the culture. In a northern culture (or, as it very well may be on some planets, the southern culture!), the lifestyle would need to incorporate behavior that initially was for survival and later developed into customs. For the Zetin people, there are many expressions, say, an insult implying weakness, that uses a reference to the easy life in warmer, more southernly lands. Life must go on, no matter where it exists.

We need to put on woolen socks once in a while to be able to appreciate the tropical beaches!

29 January 2011

And now, for something completely different...

This blog was created originally to promote a science-fiction series, but my oh my I write other genre, too!

In the mainstream or literary fiction category, I have a novel of tragic romance which I have recently entered in a competition sponsored by Amazon.com/Penguin. The novel was my MFA thesis and I worked very hard on it, though such a claim counts for nothing, certainly. I almost self-published it, but held back at the last moment because I believed strongly in its traditional publishing potential. And time passed. Agents ignored it. I got busy with other projects. And now I've pushed it into the arena once more.

I would like to post the "pitch" for it here. The criteria: be 300 words or less and make us want to read more in the next stage of the competition, where a 5000 word excerpt from the opening chapters is considered. And so, without further adieu, here it is:

Íris left Iceland after her father’s death, but still struggles to find her place in the world. As an Art student at a college in the U.S., she meets her opposite: Eric, the new professor. When a stormy night brings them together, Íris sees how Eric resembles her abusive father. She flees. Eric longs for her but just as he stops searching, Íris stumbles back into his life. She’s pregnant but doesn’t want anything from him--yet he convinces her they should try to be a family.  
Opposites may attract--but can they ever stay together? Both have inner demons to kill. 
Never having anyone care about her, Íris only knows one way to deal with men. She teases and taunts Eric, gets him into trouble with his department chair--just as his playboy colleague faces sexual harassment charges. With Íris in his class now, Eric must step carefully. He believes their family is working. When they travel south to meet his parents, Íris, bored and feeling controlled, indulges her desires at a spring break party--and Eric witnesses her infidelity. 
Íris believes, having free will, she has done nothing wrong, yet her colleagues on campus and online convince her otherwise. Eric faces his own temptations at a conference, knows he can't leave Íris. She asks her classmate to negotiate a reunion, but Eric stubbornly has conditions: Íris must confess everything and get help. Now distraught, Íris sees her world unraveling. Her Wiccan ways no longer help and in a traumatic afternoon she regains her strength through her ancestral faith. 
A BEAUTIFUL CHILL is a powerful novel of doomed romance, a grittier Nicholas Sparks story that compares to other cross-cultural tales, like Guterson’s "Snow Falling on Cedars," where differences prevent mutual happiness, and Prose’s anti-romance, "Blue Angel," where campus dynamics first tease then destroy.

27 January 2011

For Those Who Like Math, Geology, or Astronomy! (Or, How to Make an Alien World)

Long ago I did some research and a lot of speculation and came up with the following data for use in the original Dream Land novel. Like I said, it was long ago. It seemed right at the time but I have not checked further on the accuracy of the Earth data or plausibility of the data for Ghoupallesz.

Anyway, it serves as an example of the kind of geophysical understanding that is necessary (in my opinion) for creating alien worlds. Things don't just happen, they happen for a reason! Gravity, atmosphere, etc. affect how characters act and how the lifeforms act and that may also influence cultural aspects of an alien society.


MEASUREMENT                        EARTH                           GHOUPALLESZ

age                                                   4.5 billion years                3.8 billion years

distance from sun                              93 million miles                 (not calculated due to having 2 suns)

mass (actual)                                   6600(to 18th power) tons  6072(to 18th power) tons

mass (proportional)                          100                                  84

axial rotation (length of day)              23:56:4.09                       29:50:24.16

axial tilt                                             23°                                  14°

orbit revolution (length of year)         365 days                          408 days
                                                                                                 (of the longer Ghoupallean days)

diameter (equatorial)                        7926.41 miles                  5934.286 miles

              (polar)                               7899.83 miles                  5922.819 miles

circumference (equatorial)                24,901.55 miles               22,909.426 miles

              (polar)                               24,859.82 miles               22,897.167 miles

surface area                                     196,951,000 sq. miles     181,194,900 sq. miles

land area                                         57,259,000 sq. miles        94,221,348 sq. miles

water area                                       139,692,000 sq. miles      86,973,552 sq. miles

land-water %                                  30 - 70                             52 - 48

gravity ratio                                     100                                  92

highest land point                             29,028 ft.                         42,880 ft.

lowest land point                              -1299 ft.                          -2712 ft.

deepest ocean point                         -36,198 ft.                       -28,453 ft.

average ocean depth                        -12,450 ft.                       -14,165 ft.

atmospheric composition:

nitrogen                                            78%                                72.8%
oxygen                                             21%                                26.4%
other                                                1%                                  0.8%

surface chemical composition (upper 1% of planetary crust):

oxygen                                             46.6%                             49.2%
silicon                                               27.7%                            19.8%
aluminum                                          8.1%                               5.7%
iron                                                  5.0%                               10.3%
calcium                                             3.6%                               4.1%
sodium                                             2.8%                               4.5%
potassium                                         2.6%                               2.9%
magnesium                                       2.0%                               1.7%
other                                                1.6%                               1.8%

Special Notes & Observations (these were written in the 1980s):

Like Earth, Ghoupallesz is wider around its equator than around its polar longitude, but the difference is less for Ghoupallesz.

Water is lighter than land, so a planet with more land surface would be heavier for the same size, or would it be lighter because of the absence of water (including water covering any land area)?

Different, heavier elements in mantle would make a same-sized planet heavier (thus stronger gravity?)

If a planet has 30% land to 70% water surface area (Earth) and, without changing any land features, half of the water was removed (making it 65% land to 35% water), air would fill the space left by the removed water (remaining water settling into the lowest basins)--and air being lighter than water, the planet would become lighter?

If Ghoupallesz were the same size as Earth (surface area and circumference), it would be heavier (8%) due to a composition of heavier elements. Gravity effect?

Because Ghoupallesz is actually 8% smaller in size, the heavier weight per cubic foot of planetary matter would make it equal to Earth's mass?

Ghoupallesz revolves on its axis more slowly than Earth, therefore...one Ghoupallesz day equals 29.84 Earth hours. Ghoupallesz has 408 of those longer days to make a year.

Earth tilts at 23° but the Ghoupallesz axis tilts at only 14°, thereby making the seasons on Ghoupallesz more even in temperature and the amount of change from one season to another; weather patterns are more stable, seasons less distinct or variable.

“If Earth’s gravity is E=1 and the gravity of Ghoupallesz is 10% less (due to 10% less land mass), what is the difference in effect on athletic ability?”  (If a man can jump 10 feet—standing broad jump—on Earth, the same man can jump 11 feet—10% further—on Ghoupallesz?)


25 January 2011

What's in a Name?

Recently I joined a discussion list for a fiction contest through Amazon.com regarding submissions of science-fiction and fantasy novels and whether or not they had any chance of winning with judges who were more comfortable with mainstream/general fiction. Aside from that notion, a thread developed--helped along by my own inquiry--about the use of names for characters (and, I suppose, places, objects, etc.) that were based on the alien culture and language. My thoughts caused me to post several responses and then, as it turned out, to defend them. So, now I have the idea that I should make a list of my alien name principles.

Here they are:

1. People/characters born and raised on a non-Earth world or in a non-Earth culture would naturally be given names common in that culture and based phonetically and etymologically on that culture's language.

2. Therefore, it is strange to read of that person/character having a common English name, for example, John or Mary, even with a different spelling (e.g. Jawn or Merii, which might be acceptable because it doesn't look English or Earthan [is that a word?]).

3. Thus, an author should give forethought to the culture--and language is a crucial, even central, part of any culture--when inventing names. And given our own Earth or even English/Western culture, we see that names come from several origins and have meaning and follow certain patterns of spelling and use.

4. An author should invent similar spelling/pronunciation, meaning, origin, and use in order to make such naming carry the flavor of the culture and thus be more believable to the reader.

While a full-scale explanation of language invention has been dealt with in books already, some intended for sci-fi writers' benefit, others for linguists or others interested in languages, some sampling can be offered as examples.

1. In a collection of stories including and based on the story "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov, there is an interesting foreword in which is stated that the use of names and measurements is rendered in English so as to be easy for readers to follow. Further explanation suggests that it would make no sense and be tiresome to force the reader to go through the story deciphering names and such. To a point, I would agree. BUT...

2. Part of the reason for setting a story in an alien world is to have something different than the usual world. The use of common names, etc. keeps me thinking of Earth and all the values and familiar things of Earth. I recognize that we cannot have the whole story in an alien language any more than we can be expected to read a story in, say, Chinese if we have never studied Chinese. (Another reason for making the setting an alien world is to be able to use the possibly different properties of physics or biology that are particularly needed in the story.) THUS...

3. The use of some alien language is beneficial for several reasons: a) it reminds readers where they are, b) it adds the flavor of the alien culture to the story, c) it creates a truly different world where cultural perspectives influence how people see things and thus name them, which in turn, d)tells us something of the alien culture itself, which e) makes the story more "realistic" at least in the sense that a sci-fi story can be considered realistic, and last but not least, f) it makes the reading experience fun--to me, perhaps not to everyone.

I liked Star Trek more when the Klingons began to speak their own language, language which further illuminated their culture and history. Conversely, the use of English names in the Star Wars series (more so in the original 3 films than the latter 3) always threw me for a loop, seeing an alternate universe but being connected back to a guy named Luke (a Biblical name!) Skywalker (a little Buck Rogers-ish for me; why not give him the name, say, "Fu-Tak" which means "he who walks the sky" in the culture of Tatooine? [Note: I do not know the language of that world and am just making up a translation, but you get the idea.]) [*Special note to Star Wars fans: I have nothing against the story in the Star Wars saga!]

Perhaps it is a personal matter how we take our sci-fi aliens. I like some language thrown in. But moderation is always a good thing, and I have wavered between too much and none. I want flavor and nuance, but I try to recognize the limits of patience of my readers, forced to figure out what they are saying. Nevertheless, I will stick with my principles, especially in the universe of the Dream Land series, where Ghoupallean, Zetin, Roue, and Danid are joined in the third book by Dikondran and Tigu!

18 January 2011

A Brave New Year

The first thing to communicate after the obligatory New Year greeting ("Hi, hope your year goes splendidly for you and no bad things happen!"), is the necessity to log into one's blog often enough that the blogger does not forget the logon information. I have succeeded, apparently. Lucky guess.

Now, how to begin a new year that is still fresh enough to be full of promise and potential? I could outline plans to publish and market the next volume of the Dream Land series. Or the first volume, for that matter. Or I could start packing on miscellaneous information about the worlds and their cultures and languages, as aids to readers. Or I could blog relentlessly about events in the real world. Or claim that the real world is, in fact, fantasy and vice versa.

As the new year begins in the spring on Ghoupallesz--as it did in ancient times when the zodiac system came to fruition--we can look forward to fertility rituals and fecundity of natural production. The start of the baseball season also comes to mind. Certainly there is no winter to be concerned about. However, as the planet does not tilt to the degree the Earth does, the seasons are not as varied as they are on Earth in the temperate zones. Hence, the northern latitudes see less change in the summer and temperate zones tend to stay similar across half the year. There is autumn country and there is spring country. Unfortunately for those affected, there is also winter country and in desert areas also a summerland.

As for the real world, it remains varied as usual, neither emersed in the depths of a raging winter nor squeaking by with a mild, late autumn sensibility. And I, the humble blogger, shall find worthy topics about which to muse rapturously.