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!)

~

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.

~

arbel

~

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. 

~

'yarnel'

~

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.”

~

'gettle'

~

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.

~

All my best,

Jane

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World-building: homes on other worlds

In the next couple of posts, I will consider the needs of the rag-tag group of Humans trying to build a community on the distant planet Meniscus. In each of the books in the Meniscus Series, the Humans work very hard to survive, always concerned about how to get water or a next meal, or find protection from predators.

Remember Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs? After basic physiological needs are met (needs for air, water, food, sleep, and sex), people then move up the triangle, seeking safety (clothing, shelter and removal from danger), belonging (relationships, love, affection and community), esteem and finally self-actualization (spiritual needs and achieving individual potential). For more information on Mazlow’s hierarchy, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

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This needs hierarchy is useful for writers of science fiction, especially fiction about colonization or dystopian survival. In my stories about human struggles to live on the planet Meniscus, most are about seeking the basics. The air is OK to breathe, and the water, although uncooperative (it flows upward and is hard to swallow) is plentiful. My characters spend most of their time trying to find food.

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Safety is next on the hierarchy. Shelter is key to coping with dangers. The planet Meniscus is rife with carnivorous plants, venomous slear-snakes, wolf-like kotildi, and the ever-present danger of the alien Gel-heads and Dock-winders.

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On Meniscus, there are several kinds of shelters available for Human use. These range from very simple to technologically complex.

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Hammock hovel

Hammocks are cheap, light, portable and relatively inaccessible to predators. They can accommodate one or two people and come with a flysheet for rainy conditions and a portable ‘floor’ (although it is awkward and heavy and often discarded after a few days of travel). Hammock hovels are used in towns as temporary lodging and by some Slain in their travels.

'hammock'.jpg

~

Link-shelter

Although simple in design, the link-shelter is technologically advanced. It is light and portable, but when assembled, the components link to form durable bonds and an assembled shelter will bear the weight of a large man without collapsing. Portable pop-up shelters made of fabric are presently available on Earth and assemble with the flick of a wrist. But just try to collapse them without a You-tube credit course!

Odymn and the Slain use a link shelter.

~

Rafters

During the years he travelled from place to place on Meniscus in his occupation as trader, the Slain built a future home for himself at Rafters. Beginning with a single banyan, he cultivated, pruned and trimmed until he had a large area impregnable to carnivores. At the centre of the area, he hollowed out a large tree to use as a sleeping area.

When the Slain is fully committed to Odymn, he shows her his home at Rafters and asks her to share it with him.

~

Argenop hovels

Humans can use alien houses or hovels when they need shelter. The Argenops, furry friendly forest folk, have hovels adapted to their tree-living origins. With two-level platforms and sturdy hanging bars, creatures with prehensile tails are right at home. Humans will fit into the Argenop hovel, but getting comfortable is difficult.

As seen in the map below, the Argenops have about fifty hovels in four communities. Odymn and the Slain used an Argenop hovel when they lived with the Argenops in the village of Garth.

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Dock-winder honey-combs

Female Humans who are captives of the Dock-winders are stored in horizontal cells during non-working hours. The cells are arranged efficiently in tiers called honey-combs. Each cell is equipped with climate control, an aluminum mattress and a pool-noodle- shaped warmer. Male Humans are left to fend for themselves and end up sleeping in alleyways under squares of carpet.

Odymn lived in a Dock-winder honey-comb for ten years when she worked in the Gel-head sex-trade and as a factory seamstress and waitress.

'Prell alleyway'.png

~

High tech dwelling

Some of the Slain have been able to use Dock-winder technology to build complex dwellings. Rist, a Slain in an upcoming book, took years hauling components on his back to build his home. It has four stories, floor-to-floor access via ladder, and a ‘skin’ to camouflage itself and provide heat. Another character in the book describes it as being as large as a trampoline at the base and as tall as a telephone pole.

Rist has a number of technological improvements to the basic building, including a  multi-compartment storage unit that will sort itself, bioluminescence for light, and a ‘friction-fireplace’ constructed of layers of amblion (when the panels rub together they create friction to simulate the sparking and heat of a fireplace). There’s a comfortable mattress too!

~

With all these choices, what shelters do the Humans use when they build the Village at Themble Hill? Not much information is given in Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill, but the story implies Zachary, the carpenter, used methods he knew and materials at hand – wood, stone and vegetation fibres. The completed village consisted of a common kitchen and eight small wood-frame huts, each providing sleeping space for one or two people.

~

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You probably would not trade your current shelter, however humble, for one of the shelters described above. Despite its comforts, I would not want Rist’s high-tech house since my arthritic knees would not tolerate the ladders!

~

All my best

Alexandra

vanilla and cinnamon – aromatics and aldehydes: five ways to describe smells in your writing

If you build a world in science fiction, describing the world should involve all the senses. Of the five senses, I find sights and sounds the easiest to describe. Smells, touch and taste are more difficult. Especially in my early drafts, aromas, tactile sensations and tastes are often missing.

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Including smells in my writing is much more than writing “the market smelled like boiling cabbage.” The range of methods and words to describe smell is full of possibilities.

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Gel-heads, aliens in the Meniscus series, smell disgusting. Words like oily, putrid, rank, rancid or foul would be suitable to describe their smell.Gel-heads, aliens in the Meniscus series, smell disgusting. Words like oily, putrid, rank, rancid or foul would be suitable to describe their smell.

~

I don’t want a story stinky with description of smells, so, in the story I am working on, I chose five places and three characters to understand in terms of their olfactory landscape.

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The challenge is to describe these places and characters in ways to bring the reader into the experience. This can be done in several ways. The writer can describe smells in terms of:

  1. Parts of speech: verbs (waft, distract, permeate, intrude, bake, fry, rot, burn), nouns (wisp, aroma, odour, pocket, fragrance, stench, stink, smell), and adjectives (moody, acrid, crisp, earthy, shrill, putrid, rancid, salty, sharp, repulsive, spicy, stale, aromatic, fetid, loamy);
  2. The classes of odours (camphoraceous, musky, floral, pungent, ethereal, minty, putrid, almond, aromatic and aniseed);
  3. The chemistry of smells: the interesting words of chemistry might not suit every story, but occasionally, used from the point of view of a character who is a chemist or a perfumer, occasional use of a chemistry term might fit. We have the smells of human waste such as butyric acid (vomit), hydrogen sulphide ( rotten eggs), valeric acid ( rancid food), and ammonia (urine). Nutty smells like popped corn, baking bread and coffee are the product of alkylprazines. Bananas and wintergreen result from esters, and chemicals of cinnamon, wintergreen and vanilla are aromatics. One of my first labs in university chemistry taught me how to extract limonene, the terpene of citrus fruit peel.
  4. Experiences connected to smells, especially universal experience. Smoky smells of fire, pungent smells of drying autumn leaves, the revolting smell of sour milk, and acrid smells of a skunk’s spray are experiences common to many readers.
  5. Characteristics not usually assigned to smell: dark or bright, lite or heavy, sharp or dull, crisp or soft, creamy or brittle, soft or hard.

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If I ‘climb inside’ my landscape, I can describe the smells of a space using the five sources listed above. Then, as I encounter the landscape in my story, I have a ready-made list of odours.

~

The woodlands on planet Meniscus have characteristic smells : the grammid trees of the Sintha Wood smell like cinnamon, like apple pie. Words like intoxicating, spicy, subtle, warm, aromatic, permeate, wisp.

The woodlands on planet Meniscus have characteristic smells: the grammid trees of the Sintha Wood smell like cinnamon, like apple pie. Words like intoxicating, spicy, subtle, warm, aromatic, permeate, wisp could be used to describe the smells of this space.

~

The method above can be used to describe tastes encountered in the story, or touches and sounds.

~

All my best,

(have fun with your writing)

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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DSCN2258 (2).JPG

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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.

~

home is the safest place … so build a home …

~

Only ten more days!

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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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

'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.

~

Narrow streets.

Smooth stucco, mossy stairs.

Aroma of brewing zed.

Passageways exhale

solace, comfort, repose.

~

All my best,

Alexandra

JDB_0389 (2).jpg

book give-away

Greetings earthlings. Would you like to know more about the planet where I live?

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One way is to read any of the Meniscus Series by Alexandra Tims.

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On Meniscus we have:

three-eyed snakes, twelve feet long;

crawling carpets of carnivorous vegetation;

genetically altered humans with nictitating amethyst eyes.

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You could buy the book … OR … You could win one! I am giving away four copies of Meniscus: South from Sintha at Goodreads from August 6, 2017 to August 14, 2017. No down-side … if you win (selection made by Goodreads), I’ll mail you, free of charge, a signed copy of my book. See the details below. Best of luck.

And stay away from carpets of moss.

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'attack of club-mosses' both halves

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

 

Meniscus

by Alexandra Tims

            Giveaway ends August 14, 2017.

See the giveaway details

at Goodreads.

 

~

best always,

Alexandra

Free book!

Meniscus: South from Sintha is FREE on Amazon (worldwide) for the next five days (June 1 to June 5).

Odymn wants the Slain to return his ‘aquisitions’ (a wolf-like Kotildi, a Grell-swallow chick, a beautiful human woman, a Dock-winder child and another genetically-enhanced Slain) to their homes. The Slain wants to try, to make Odymn happy, but the task might not be so easy!

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South from Sintha

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1544103018

 

'Odymn and the Kotildi'

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Copyright Alexandra Tims 2017