World-building: Myth and Mystery

I think sentient creatures need a system of belief. So when I write about them in my science-fiction, I include ‘belief system’ as a world-building parameter.

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The Humans in my stories have all been ‘taken’ from Earth to serve as slaves on the alien planet Meniscus. When they come to Meniscus, their freedom is ripped from them. Freedom to come and go, freedom to associate with other Humans, freedom of religion – all are lost.

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As Humans survive on Meniscus, they sequester their existing beliefs, perhaps practicing them in private. They also encounter, and sometimes absorb, the myths, creation stories and beliefs of the alien species on Meniscus.

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All the alien species on plant Meniscus, Dock-winders, Gel-heads and Argenops, have stories of The Separation, a time when geological processes caused development of The Fault, a barrier to communication between the gentle Argenops and the self-serving Dock-winders.

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The Fault.jpg

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There are also stories of ancient peoples and evidence of their work. The Emenpod, also known as The Builders, built the stairs at the small water-climb in Meniscus: Winter at the Water-climb and the find-a-way stairs in Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill. These ‘beings’ are so mysterious, they have been elevated to the level of ‘god’. The Emenpod will be at least partly revealed in Book Seven of the Series, Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod. But will they be gods or another alien life-form?

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stairs at water-climb

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At least two ‘gods’ enter the belief systems of the planet. De-al, Water-weld, is credited with making unruly water stay on Meniscus. Amblyn, God of Fire, figures into the belief systems of the Argenops who practice daily ‘arm homage’ to him. And what do the Dock-winders think of these gods? In the next book, Book Five in the Series, Meniscus: Karst Topography, to be released in September, my readers will get a tour through a Dock-winder museum where their reverence for their gods will be put on display.

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As we get to know the Human characters on Meniscus, and as they start to feel comfortable in their new-found freedom, we will catch glimpses of the beliefs they once practiced on Earth.

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Scan_20180428 (2).jpg

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One of my favourite new characters is Aisha, taken from from Tamil Nadu on Earth. How will she honour her beliefs and help others in their struggle to cope with life so far from her home? Meet her in Book Five Meniscus: Karst Topography and again in Book Six, Meniscus: Oral Traditions.

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Creating believable, well rounded characters means giving them multi-faceted backgrounds. In the next book you read, consider the author’s approach to the belief system of his/her characters.

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All my best,

Alexandra

(a.k.a. Jane)

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Writing a science fiction series: building recurring ideas from book to book

I like to view Series as one longer story, told in parts. Although each book may have its own story and character arcs, there is continuity between books. Books in the series may share characters, settings, world view, spiritual beliefs, mythologies, principles of chemistry, biology and physics and so on.

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Books in a series may also build, from book to book, on ideas not explored fully in earlier books.

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Examples from my own books about adventures on the planet Meniscus include the story of Belnar’s missing tooth.

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'Belnar' paperback

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Belnar is a Slain, a genetically modified Human. Like other Slain, Belnar has exceptional endurance and strength, has unusual physical features such as nictitating eyelids, and uses electricity for protection and weaponry. Belnar also has a personality different from other Slain – he is brash, a joker, self-serving, irreverent and aggressive. In an encounter with another Slain, Belnar loses his front incisor. A small physical defect causes him to have pronunciation problems but he uses the defect to advantage, mostly to make himself seem more charming.

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Although not critical to any particular story, Belnar’s tooth (or lack of tooth) recurs, story after story.

Crossing The Churn – Odymn finds Belnar’s tooth in a packet of Daniel’s contract trophies

'a trophy for every contract'

South from Sintha – Odymn and Daniel release Belnar from the island where he is a captive and the story of the tooth’s loss is described

Winter by the Water-climb – mentioned as a physical feature

The Village at Themble Hill – the missing tooth and the whistle in his speech help Belnar make friends with an alien child

Karst Topography – Belnar gets a dental implant in Prell to make Vicki like him

Encounter with the Emenpod – Belnar gets in a fight with another Slain and loses his brand new tooth

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'the Slains battle'

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A small idea, the story of a tooth, but recurring ideas serve a few purposes in a book series:

  1. The missing tooth is a symbol of Belnar’s edgy personality,
  2. The missing tooth is a metaphor for recurring problems that never seem to be resolved
  3. Readers familiar with the series watch for recurring ideas and feel an ‘insider’ connection
  4. Later stories in the series may seize on a well-developed idea with ‘history’ and use such an idea as a plot focus.

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Who knows the future of Belnar’s missing tooth? At this point in the writing of the series, it remains an idea rife with possibilities.

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If you are writing a series, do you introduce recurring ideas to serve story-building purposes?

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All my best,

Alexandra

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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!

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All my best

Alexandra

World-building: Invasive species

On Earth, in real life, careless actions often result in displacement of native vegetation by alien or exotic plants. Invasive plant species significantly modify the ecosystems they colonize. On Earth, in Canada, we have the examples (among many) of Wild Parsnip, Purple Loosestrife, Common Tansy and Garlic Mustard. For information on these invasive species, see the Nature Conservancy’s Invasive Species Guide.

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092_crop (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)
Common tansy is a pretty plant but is considered invasive in parts of Canada

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In my books about the planet Meniscus, invasive species make up a significant part of the vegetation.  As the result of Dock-winder visits to Earth, the planet Meniscus is plagued by several invasive plants. When the Dock-winders return to Meniscus after their visits to Earth, they bring back, either accidentally or deliberately, vegetation not native to their own planet.

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Adding these species to my list of plants on Meniscus has been an enjoyable part of world-building. I like to think nasty aliens like the Dock-winders will eventually have to suffer the effects of their carelessness as invasive species modify the ecosystems of their planet.

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In my books, you will find unfamiliar plants like ransindyne, spenel and zill. You will also find some plants native to Earth.

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Banyan:  On Earth, Banyan is native to India and occurs worldwide in tropical and semi-tropical zones. Banyan begins its life as an epiphyte, a plant that grows on another living plant. The host plant is often ‘strangled’ by the Banyan.  Older Banyan trees have vigorous aerial roots and one tree can spread to create a whole grove of trees.

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On Meniscus, Banyan were introduced by the Dock-winders as a decorative tree. The tablith, a large Meniscus bird, collects bits of Banyan as nest-building material. Seedings sprout in the nests and gradually spread into the native forests. By the Earth year 2023, Banyan has become the main species of the En’ast Wood and a major component of the Sintha and Themble Woods. My character Daniel, the Slain, has tended a giant banyan and built his home of ‘Rafters’ by careful pruning of the aerial root system.

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Scan_20180504 (3).jpg

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Glasswort: On Earth, Glasswort or Salicornia grows mainly in coastal areas. It is a small plant adapted to life in a saline environment. It often grows in salt marsh. Glasswort’s leaves are reduced and modified, so the plant has a tubular translucent appearance. The plant is very salty in taste and can be used raw as a salad green.

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Since the salt mineral is rare on Meniscus, Dock-winders have harvested plants in intertidal areas of Earth as a source of salt. Glasswort, included in these harvests, has escaped to live along the ‘Churn’ and ‘Vastness’ areas of Meniscus. Odymn, a major character in my books, collects Glasswort from the wild to use as nibbling food and to flavour stews.

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Scan_20180505 (2)

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Tussilago: Tussilago or Coltsfoot is a charming yellow flower that grows along the roadsides in eastern Canada. It is one of the first flowers to bloom in spring and looks a bit like a Dandelion without its leaves. Coltsfoot has anti-inflammatory properties and was used by settlers to make a cough remedy.

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When the Dock-winders visited Earth, they collected whole transport trucks of produce. During collection, the transports often crashed and plowed up roadside soil and vegetation. Seedlings and seeds of Tussilago travelled to Meniscus along with the produce trailers. Once on Meniscus, they quickly colonized areas of disturbed ground. Edward, the Human Doctor in my series, knows a bit about herbal medicine, and uses Tussilago as a cough medicine since Human pharmaceuticals are rare on Meniscus.

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IMG357_crop (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC).jpg

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Don’t be like the Dock-winders! Don’t spread invasive species. Don’t plant invasive species in your garden and don’t inadvertently transplant species by moving untreated soil from place to place. Follow suggested methods of controlling and eradicating these species.

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I hope you enjoy reading my books and keep an eye out for these species in the Meniscus landscape!

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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

 

 

Free book — Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb

Here in New Brunswick we are enjoying a gentle fall – nice days and cool temperatures. but the howling winds and bone-chill will soon begin.

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wintercrop

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So, how do the folks on other planets prepare for winter? Find out – the third book in the Meniscus science-fiction series – Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb – follows the characters as they get ready for the chilly season.

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To help you get ready for a winter on planet Meniscus, I am running a free book promotion with Amazon Kindle. Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb will be free in Kindle edition from October 22 to October 25, 2017.

To order, just click here.

Although this is a series, Book Three can be read stand-alone. I hope you will enjoy the read!!!!

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Meniscus Winter by the Water-climb

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Winter on the planet Meniscus is brutal — the plenty of other seasons gives way to scarcity and desperation. Unprepared for the months ahead, Odymn and the Slain find shelter with the generous Argenops, furry, friendly creatures. When Odymn has to survive without the help of the Slain, she must depend on her own wits and her skill at parkour to survive the alien landscape of the Themble. But she is not prepared for new arrivals in the Themble Wood, a group of survivors, freed from slavery when their transport crashes in the Darn’el Desert. On a planet where Human relationships are not allowed, ten people and an alien child take the first steps toward building a community.

 

In the third book first of the Meniscus series, Winter by the Water-climb follows Odymn and the Slain as they try to survive a winter apart from one another’s help and protection.

 

Even in the dead of winter, you can build another home.

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All my best

Alexandra Tims