World-building: what to eat on an alien planet?

Food is one of the most basic Human needs, necessary for survival. But what do Humans eat on an alien planet? What do they eat when they escape from the tyranny of the Dock-winders and have no access to the high-tech resources of the planet?

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Odymn, the heroine of the Meniscus stories, is skilled at finding edible wild plants. This is in part because her father taught her the basics of natural history at home on Earth. She also uses her curiosity to discover the edible among the plants she finds.

Odymn picks

a leaf

from an unfamiliar plant.

Takes a nibble.

 

Shoos Madoline’s hand away.

 

“I test new plants I find,”

says Odymn.

“Just one per sun-reel,

so I know

which leaves or roots or berries

make me sick.”

(Do not try this at home on Earth!)

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When they combine Odymns knowledge and the wood lore of the furry Argenops, the Humans of Themble Hill have a range of foods to choose from:

  • roots – arbel corms and ransindyne
  • fruit – spenel berries, yarnel, thief-bush berries and sloe
  • seeds and legumes – gettle gourds and grammid beans
  • greens – slag-fern, glasswort, ishlin, and zill
  • and the sweet sap of the pilinoth tree

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The Slain hunt for wild kotildi meat and have access to the Dock-winder markets, so they add to the variety of the diet. Items include oranges (brought from Earth since they will not grow on Meniscus), MRE (meals ready-to-eat, also from Earth) and chocolate (no diet is complete without chocolate).

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Kathryn, who escaped a transport crash to join the Humans of Themble Hill, is an artist and she has drawn many of the plants in the Themble Woods.

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arbel

The nodding arbel is the first edible wild planet introduced in the Meniscus Series.  The plant produces an edible corm and its leaves can be used to make an analgesic tea.

Gnaw of an empty stomach.

A cluster of arbel flowers,

green and nodding.

 

She digs with her good hand.

Finds the corm, rubs it white,

slides it into her mouth.

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arbel

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yarnel

In Meniscus: Crossing The Churn Odymn uses her parkour skills to reach the branches of yarnel and its juicy fruit. The bark of yarnel is bulbous, depicted on the cover of Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill.

A glimpse of crimson,

high in the canopy.

 

Rolls to running. Two steps on a trunk.

Grabs a branch. Swing and push

to standing.

 

Yarnel kernels gleam.

A pomegranate turned inside-out.

Tart and juicy. 

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'yarnel'

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gettle

The gettle gourd is first introduced in Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb as a staple in the gardens of the furry, friendly Argenops. The seeds are a major food-source. The gourds can be used as an odd-shaped ball in a game or as a substitute for a jack-o-lantern.

Nine hollow

gettle-shells

arranged at intervals.

 

Belnar picks one up.

Reaches in.

Pulls out

a half-burned candle.

 

“Don’est,”

says Vicki.

“Signalling

to her people.”

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'gettle'

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I hope you have enjoyed this brief look at the vegetation on planet Meniscus. If the plants resemble some of Earths plants quite closely, just know I am a strong believer in convergent evolution.

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All my best,

Jane

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Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill

“I never fall,” says Odymn.

“Really?” says the Doctor, as he examines her scars.

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In Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill, Odymn tries to cope with a loss of her independence.  With the embryonic community of Themble Hill growing around her, Odymn knows the support of friendship and love as she recuperates. But are they really safe in the new community? Will the Dock-winders ever leave them alone???

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You can find Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill in paperback format at Amazon here. The Kindle version will be available soon. For readers in the Fredericton area, the paperback will be available at Westminster Books after May 1st.

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All my best,

Alexandra

Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill – available April 14

The Proof of my new book in the Meniscus Series has arrived!

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Meniscus: The Town at Themble Hill

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… On the alien planet Meniscus, against all odds, a small group of Humans works to forge a new life together. When a Dock-winder drone pays them a visit, Odymn and the Slain trek along the heights of The Fault, to make certain the community is not in danger of invasion. They find a new way to scale The Fault and a perfect location for building a new village. Matters are complicated when Odymn is injured on a parkour run and the Slain’s former girlfriend joins the group. Faced with a dangerous journey through the Themble Wood and the hardships of building a new community, are the Humans in more danger from themselves, the alien landscape, or their Doc-winder overlords?

 

… In the fourth book of the Meniscus series, The Village at Themble Hill chronicles the first days of community life on a planet where Humans are not allowed to associate and freedom is always at risk.

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home is the safest place … so build a home …

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Only ten more days!

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All my best,

Alexandra

series complications – time-lines

I have published four books in my science fiction series Meniscus. The fifth book (Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill) will be released on April 14, 2018. I have four other books in DRAFT. Keeping them straight has become a bit of a nightmare!

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'Odymn falls' final
in ‘The Town at Themble Hill’, Odymn breaks her leg … not a happy time for a girl who loves to run in the Themble Woods …

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The planet Meniscus, with its interesting landscape and biology, suggests many possible adventures. A while ago, I began to think about a ‘spin-off’ featuring the stories of different main characters. I also wanted to include characters from the first books, to give them more background and a better chance to ‘speak’.

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To weave the stories together, I realised I would need to create a time-line for my books. This would help me to situate the new characters in time and avoid character collisions. I did not want characters who were supposed to be in Prell to show up in Sintha. I did not want dead characters to live after their demise.

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The time-line shows the books in the series, the number of days covered in each book, the seasons and the years. The first eight books are consecutive, flowing from one to the other.

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time line

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In my next book, I want to introduce some of the Human recruits to the Village at Themble Hill and tell about them when they were still captives of the Gel-heads. So I knew the next book would start before the end of book Four and continue until the beginning of Book Six when Don’est’s continuous, banshee scream splits the air of the Themble.

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'Don'est'paperback
Why is Don’est screaming? You’ll have to wait until Book Six, ‘Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod’, to find out!

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Plotting the time-lines helped me know what characters I could include, the seasonal components of the setting and how to merge the stories.  It also suggested to me that I should re-number Meniscus Six, Seven and Eight to better reflect the time-line.

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time line 2

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If you are writing a series, I suggest you add time-lines to your process. Think of your story in terms of time. Determine how many days pass during the story. Plot the sequence of your stories with respect to one-another. This will help you to avoid inconsistencies and incongruencies.  It will also help you be accurate if your setting has a seasonal component.

If you are dealing with time-travel, causality and paradoxes, considering time-lines is essential!

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Hope this helps you with the writing of your series!

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All my best,

Alexandra

 

 

Six reasons to write narrative in poetry

Almost every day I wonder if I should have written my science-fiction story in prose, as is usual with fiction. Instead I wrote all three books as free verse, in a long narrative poem. Many people do not like to read poetry — too complicated, too intense, too much like high school. Poetry books, even those that tell stories, do not sell well. There is not even a category in Amazon books for ‘Poetry, Science Fiction’. Poetry is boring.

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I could have written my books as prose. I have written four books (unpublished) of fiction, so I know a bit about the process. If I was given the choice of reading a tale in poetry or prose, which would I choose? I only know, the story of Odymn and the Slain, set on the planet Meniscus, was made for poetry.

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Meniscus Crossing The Churn cover painting (3)

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1. The strange world of Meniscus needs strange description. This is a world where all is viewed through a purple mist.  The smell of cinnamon dominates. Water flows upward not down, and floats in droplets in the air. The alien language spoken on Meniscus is itself filled with alliteration and strange sounds. The word choices of poetry help the reader take the journey to Meniscus.

Bubbles rise, meet surface,

swell to domes, stretch and burst.

Disperse in elastic, floating drops.

 

Droplets hover

above the sheen of mosses,

between emerald and velvet ferns,

fronds flat and freckled.

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2. Poetry allows terse story-telling. A lot of information can be packed into a few lines. Description is sometimes sacrificed, but the reader, embedded in the story, can fill in the detail. Sometimes the world created by the dual effort of writer and reader is more complex and complete.

A slear-snake, trolling for prey.

Nostrils expel viscous breath, visible

in the light of the rising moons.

 

Putrid exhalation,

sulphides and zootoxins,

evolved to paralyse prey.

Three eyes, oozing.

 

Her muscles respond,

propel her forward.

Side-wind and a claw

rakes her back.

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3. The brevity of poetry suits the communications of the characters. The Slain, a genetically modified human with nictitating eyelids and the ability to channel energy to his armour, speaks rarely and briefly. Odymn sometimes jabbers she talks so much. The gaps and rhythms of poetry allow spaces in their conversation, the way white space on the page relieves our eyes.

“Odymn,” she says.

“Named by my father.

 

“Now you,” and points at his chest.

 

Blue sparks snap to the tip of her finger.

Faint vibration through hand, along arm,

deep into torso.

 

Penetrating stare.

Lazy double blink.

Membrane and lashes close and open.

 

“OK. I’ll choose a name for you.

Daniel. Or James.

Not quite right, too common.

 

“You need an alien name.

Something deep from Dock-winder mythology.

Amblyn, god of fire. Or De-al, water-weld.”

 

Steady stare. Double blink.

One hand lifts. One finger raised to lips.

Be silent.

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4. Odymn, the main female character, has a skill to help her survive on Meniscus — she is a practitioner of parkour. Parkour is a way of moving through the landscape with running, jumping and climbing. The flow of poetry helps with the description of the fluid movements of parkour.

Dismount from the tree.

Trunk to trunk and flip forward.

Leap and struggle to stick the jump.

Vault and pivot.

 

Loves the silence,

quiet impact of feet, slap of fingers.

Ballerina toes thumping the stage.

Hands touching the surface of planet.

'parkour through the wood'test

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5. When I write in free verse, I leave out most of the little words, the, and, a …  There is not much room for adverbs or unnecessary adjectives. The nouns and verbs tell the story. Actions read as more immediate, fast-paced and urgent.

Fingers ripping fabric.

Knee on her throat.

Violated by mouths and teeth,

dragged backwards over cobblestones.

Rising mist of red.

Fabric and legs splayed.

Skull-cracking fist.

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6. Love scenes are fun to write in poetry. The reader uses every word to suggest a hundred more. Even a word like ‘peel’ becomes sensuous, embedded with meaning.

He lifts her, removes

every barrier between them.

Cold copper and silken ribbons

peeled away.

 

His skin a brief pause

before muscles

and movement.

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'uneasy sleep'.jpg

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I have considered writing other books in the series in prose. But when I do, I remember what is sacrificed. Brevity, depth, intensity, strangeness and urgency are components I want to keep in the story of Odymn and the Slain. Occasionally, I can relax the poetry to write dialogue, for example. But I always want to return to a place where the reader can walk through a village on Meniscus and experience the surroundings in brief impressions, as we do in reality.

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Narrow streets.

Smooth stucco, mossy stairs.

Aroma of brewing zed.

Passageways exhale

solace, comfort, repose.

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All my best,

Alexandra

JDB_0389 (2).jpg

winter on Meniscus

It’s winter on the planet Meniscus. Snow and bitter cold. Food is scarce and foraging is a poor strategy when everything is deep in winter sleep. All you can do is huddle together and hope for spring.

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wintercrop

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And then, your boyfriend declares he is going on his version of ‘walkabout’. And seven strangers, survivors of a spaceship crash, arrive on your doorstep. Winter survival just went from challenging to impossible!

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survivors crop

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Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb, the third book of the Meniscus Series, follows the continuing story of Odymn and the silent Slain. If you enjoyed Crossing The Churn (the story of the meeting of Odymn and the Slain) and South from Sintha (the story of the Slain’s attempt at redemption), you will love the third story. There are lots of new characters and Odymn’s parkour and foraging skills are put to the test. The book includes new drawings, a map, a glossary, a list of characters and a guide to Gel-speak.

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Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb is now available in paperback and ebook at Amazon.com.  A quick read, written as a narrative poem. The paperback is $11.99 (US) here and the Kindle version is $4.96 (US) here .

Meniscus Winter by the Water-climb.jpg

 

The third book of the Meniscus series, Winter by the Water-climb, follows Odymn as she tries to survive a winter apart from the Slain’s help and protection.

Copyright Alexandra Tims 2017

 

working on a sci-fi series

When I first started writing my science-fiction series Meniscus, I had no plans for a series or even a book. I wrote a chapter of Meniscus: Crossing The Churn because my writing group wanted to hold a Saturday workshop on science-fiction/fantasy and I had nothing to share. I pulled out a story I had written years before but it was unbelievably bad. All I salvaged from the older story was the name of the heroine ‘Odymn’.

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'parkour through the wood'test.jpg
Odymn, my main character, is an expert at parkour … helps her travel through the Themble Wood and get them out of sticky situations

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Months later, I have two of the series published and four more in the wings. Since the story is written in the form of an illustrated long poem, a 150 page book is about 10,000 to 15,000 words long. This is only about 1/10th the length of a normal book, so when I finish, the story will be the length of a short novel. Once you get used to the narrative poetry form, the result is a rather quick read.

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All six books tell a story: on a planet where humans are not allowed to have relationships, a small group of humans tries to build a community and recapture some of what they have lost. Within that longer story are six shorter story arcs, one per book.

 

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'transport crash'paperback
more characters are added to the story when a transport crashes in the desert in Book 3

 

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The table below shows the unfolding story in terms of theme, story length and number of characters.  Writing a series differs from writing a single book in that elements of the later story must be placed in earlier books. For example, the lost child in Book 6 is introduced in Book 2, the former girlfriend of the Slain is introduced in Book 3 but is not one of the characters until book 4, and so on. If you want to know what is in the mysterious box in Book 2, Meniscus: South from Sintha, the answer is in Book 3 (Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb)!

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Book Pages Word count Number of main characters Theme
Meniscus: Crossing The Churn 147 9,556 3 A young woman, Odymn, thinks she has found her freedom when she is rescued from servitude by a genetically-engineered Slain whose kindness may not be consistent with his purpose.
Meniscus: South from Sintha 151 9,740 6 The Slain, for love of Odymn, tries to return his former acquisitions to their homes and finds the task more challenging than he thought possible.
Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb (DRAFT) 244 15,310 13 Winter comes to planet Meniscus and Odymn must cope with the survivors of a transport crash without the help of the Slain.
Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill (DRAFT) 220 15,229 16 When the Dock-winder overlords threaten their friends, Odymn and the Slain try to find a safe place to build a new community.
Meniscus: Karst Topography (DRAFT) 148 ? 9147 ? 17 The Slain and his friends travel to the city of Prell to rescue the women of the community but Odymn is not among them and the Slain fears she may be dead.
Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod (DRAFT) 140 ??? 10,000 ??? 16 + A mysterious alien begins to rebuild the community of Themble Hill and helps the Slain and his friends to find a lost child.

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For each of the books, I am at a different stage in the writing process: marketing for Book 1 and 2, editing for Book 3 and 4, and creation for Books 5 and 6. It means I am never bored, still embedded in the creative process and getting feedback as I go.

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If you have read one of the books in the series and want to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

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alien moons
‘alien moons’, acrylic, Alexandra Jane Tims, 5″ x 8″, May 2017

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Copyright Alexandra Tims 2017