Friday, November 22, 2013

A Fine Review of The War of the Stolen Mother

Ki'shto'ba Stands Guard

Here is the text of a very positive  review of v.1 of the series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  I think it captures the essence of what I set out to do in the series.  The review  is by Marva Dasef, author of a number of entertaining MG and YA books including the 3-volume The Witches of Galdorheim, which you can find on Amazon or on Smashwords.

Epic Tale of War and Honor

This is the first volume in a series following the labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, a warrior of the Shshi race of intelligent termite-like people. It is set on an alien (to humans) world described in an earlier multi-volume novel covering the discovery of the world by humans. In the first book, the point of view is primarily that of Kaitrin Oliva, a human linguistic anthropologist who decodes the Shshi language.

This next multi-volume novel has no humans, only the termites. It's an epic tale told as if narrator Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer is dictating it to his scribe long after the events of the story. This is an effective means of narration because it allows for asides and personal thoughts of Di'fa'kro'mi about the story. I found it amusing when Di'fa comments how he used a bit of literary trickery to describe events happening elsewhere. That is, Di'fa invents a point of view shift. Clever of the author to come right out with it before I made a note about the "POV SHIFT!" Ms. Taylor uses multiple literary devices to get around some of the obstacles a termite might have recording a story for others to read, not just listen to in the oral tradition of the Remembrancers.

This novel is steeped in earth mythos from the role of Di'fa as the Homer of the Shshi to the obvious comparison of Ki'sh to both Ulysses and Hercules of Greek myth, the war with Troy, and a lot of other references I probably missed.

It's a really long first volume, but I'm almost getting used to Ms. Taylor's monolithic multi-volume novels. You certainly get plenty of words for your 99 cents (the price may have changed) and all of them quite necessary to the story. I will always have a problem with the names and the other con-lang (constructed language) features, but this one is footnoted for the most part. As for the names, there's a handy cast of characters and places at the beginning of the book.

What did I love about the book? Lots. The epic sweep of the story (and this is only the first volume of Ki'shto'ba's travels). The warrior is as knightly and honorable as any of King Arthur's court. The brotherly love between Ki'shto'ba and his twin brother, A'zhu'lo (highly unusual in the termite world) is touching and real. I quite enjoyed the antics of Za'dut the trickster outcast who just can't keep his claws off others' property. While playing the clown, he turns out to be quite clever and, at his heart, cares as much for the companions as any of the others.

I think what I want to say is that this novel is deeply and touchingly human although the termite practices are entirely unhuman. The concepts of honor, love, grief, fear, jubilation, caring are all there and I truly believed them.

Well done, very well written, squeaky clean grammar and spelling. Ms. Taylor has made me a fan of the termites even if I can't always remember who's who with the secondary characters. I didn't have a problem remembering the companions who travel on this epic journey.

Thanks for the nice words, Marva!  I hope other readers will be inspired to give my books a try!  The ebooks will remain at 99 cents through Cyber Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 (only $2.99 thereafter) at Amazon and at Smashwords, but remember that as a Christmas present, a print book looks much better wrapped under the tree!  Besides, if you buy a paperback, you can get the Kindle version FREE under Amazon's MatchBook program!  And one more bonus:  with a paperback you get extra features, like a map and extra illustrations on the back covers.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Publishing Progress: The Valley of Thorns

       Volume Three (The Valley of Thorns) of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head has been successfully published on Amazon, both paperback and Kindle, and on Smashwords! The Smashwords went easier than it ever has (unless they find something to quibble about in considering it for the Premium Catalog). You can download a 25% sample on Smashwords, which will include the preliminary material and approximately four chapters. Amazon hasn't linked up the paperback and the Kindle yet, but ultimately you will be able to get a Kindle version FREE if you buy a paperback.

        I'm having an Anniversary Party as a Facebook event on November 15. Two years ago I published my first book, Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder, on that date. Now I have six books published, plus the little free novelette on Smashwords, "The Blessing of Krozem." All my Facebook Friends are invited. If you're not my friend yet but are on Facebook, go in and friend me, and I'll invite you.
Why would you want to come to my party?
Witty conversation, free virtual food,
information about my books,
maybe a surprise reveal of the unfinished
cover for v.4: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear
Plus, I'm going to have special prices on all my books,
as well as a drawing for a couple of paperbacks
from the names of the people who attend.
and check it out!

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Cover Art for The Valley of Thorns! What Do You Think?

Ki'shto'ba reacts to learning the truth
about its misdeeds.
(Click for larger view)
       I'm presenting the new cover art that I concocted for The Valley of Thorns.  I honestly like it better than the other drawing, which I'm inserting at the bottom so you can compare.  The new drawing shows a scene from late in the book, but I can't tell you more about what's happening than I put in the caption.  It's enough to say that Ki'shto'ba isn't really murdering Di'fa'kro'mi and Za'dut no matter how it looks, but it is quite dramatic!  They are in the desert here, not in the Valley of Thorns.  The main thing I don't like about it is the depiction of the extinct volcano -- it lacks depth.  I may tinker with that a little.
       I can give you this much of a quotation, without revealing too much of the plot:
“You used the Great Spear on Pai’it’zei,” I said, dreading what was coming.  “You killed no one else with A’zhu’lo’s blade.”
“But … I killed … more than the General,” said Ki’shto’ba.
“You killed other Warriors in the battle,” said Za’dut, quailing.
“That is not it!” Ki’shto’ba jumped at us so suddenly that we both cried out, and it caught our necks in the grip of its forelegs, its mandibles thrust into the sand between us. “Tell me the truth! What did I do? What words did you say to me there at Min’seip’u, Di’fa’kro’mi, standing close like this?”

Back cover, color adjusted 
to match the new front cover.
(Click for larger view)
       The cover picture at the bottom shows an episode from the actual Battle of the Valley of Thorns, so it's more pertinent to the title.  My objection to it is that I'm not very good drawing hand-to-hand (or claw-to-claw) combat -- it's too static.  And the Shshi on the right are depicted with much more detail and drama than the opponents on the left, who are drawn more minimally.  Kind of inconsistent.  So the jury in my mind is still out.

       I'd really appreciate some feedback!  Which cover should I use?  Be sure to click on the images and look at the larger versions.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Defining Fantasy According to TermiteWriter

Ki'shto'ba and the Companions confront
"Trojan" Warriors in the marches of Thel'or'ei.
       I always have difficulty pigeonholing my books as to their genre. Are they science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, or a blend of the three?  The Termite Queen certainly is science fiction.  It has most of the characteristics associated with that genre: it's laid in a future period, it has space travel, extraterrestrials of several types, an off-world adventure, some real science (mostly softer sciences, like entomology and other biological sciences, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics), and some fictional physics.  It laps over into literary fiction with its love story, which could have been recast in a contemporary setting without the trappings of science fiction.
       But then it has giant termites and their conculture, which includes their religious beliefs and practices.  Should that be called fantasy?  The question becomes more pertinent in my series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, in which I retell Earth myths in the context of my termite conculture.  This series incorporates only minimal elements of science fiction (it's laid in the same century as The Termite Queen, the tales are edited by one of the characters in The Termite Queen, and there are frequent references to events that occurred in that earlier story).
       So let's examine the meaning of the term "fantasy."  To some people, it implies a particular and rather narrow literary genre, of which Tolkien's LotR is the prime example.  It incorporates a constructed world in which magic rather than science is the motivational force.  That, however, is hardly the only meaning of the word "fantasy."
       Here is the definition of the noun from :
1. imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
2. the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
3. a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision: a nightmare fantasy. 
4. Psychology. an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need; daydream.
5. a hallucination.
       Please note that the definition of it as a particular literary genre isn't even given.
       If you Google "fantasy definition," you get similar explanations with the addition of the following:
"a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, esp. in a setting other than the real world."
      If you Google "epic fantasy definition" you get referred to Wikipedia,.  The following is worth considering:
       "High fantasy (also referred to as epic fantasy) is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot. Quintessential works of high fantasy, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Belgariad, have both of these attributes. Accordingly, works where the fantasy world impinges on our world, or where the characters are concerned only with adventure or personal goals (as in sword and sorcery fiction) are less likely to be classed as high fantasy."
       I don't want to get bogged down in a discussion of the subgenres of fantasy (we also have paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, and all sorts of horror fantasy).   I only want to call attention to the fact that all forms of fantasy derive from "imagination" or "imaginative conceptualizing" and only one type of fantasy depends on the presence or absence of "magic" as a motivating force.  I started out writing "high fantasy," but I was never very comfortable with the magic element and always tended to base my plots on character.  In an early attempt to publish the novel that built on my free Smashwords book "The Blessing of Krozem," I was told that it had merit but didn't have enough magic.  Yet you can't deny it's a fantasy, with its race of spirit beings and presence of gods on that world.

     To return to epic fantasy, note that it is "defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot."  By that light, The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head has to be called epic fantasy.  Even though it's laid in a "real" extraterrestrial world governed by scientific laws, it has gods and Seers (which certainly fall in the general category of "imaginative conceptualizing"), it takes place in an imaginary (constructed) world, and its characters, themes, and plots have epic stature.  The only reason you might say they don't have epic stature would be if you felt the following Earth myths lack epic stature:  the events in the life of Hercules, the Trojan War, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, or myths to be included in later volumes (the story of Atalanta, Meleager, and the Calydonian boar; and Hercules, Chiron, and the Erymanthian boar).  And of course I mustn't omit the Golden Fleece!  Could anything be more epic than Jason's voyage to recover that lost item?  (Parenthetically, I previously wrote a couple of posts about the characteristics of the epic form.)
       In The Termite Queen, the termite conworld and the events that take place there also contain elements of epic fantasy:  war, single combat, a goddess who meddles and who speaks to the Seer (I maintain all gods are products of the imagination because their existence can't be proved, but that's a different topic).  Therefore, while the book is basically science fiction, it undeniably contains fantasy elements.
       And that brings me to my idea that all significant books have an element of fantasy in them.  My latest venture into that idea was in my analysis of The Great Gatsby over on my other blog.  Gatsby may not have magic, but it definitely has "imaginative conceptualization." 
       I really like that phrase! 

Friday, October 4, 2013


The following is an excerpt from a blog post of August 27, 2013.
by Marva Dasef, author of YA and MG fiction.
 To read the entire piece go here. 
Thanks, Marva, for allowing me to repost it!
Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my sons!
You won't find more beautiful trolls on this side of the moon.
Illustration of Walter Stenström's The boy and the trolls or The Adventure
in childrens' anthology Among pixies and trolls, 1915.
(Wikipedia, public domain)
There Be Trolls Here!
       I spent the last few days in Seattle.  ...  Another site I wanted to take in is the famous troll under the bridge in Seattle. Although we had lived on the east side for several years, we didn't go to the main city much. Somehow I managed to never visit the troll.
       Since my series, Witches of Galdorheim, has trolls all over it, I have a natural interest in the subject. I decided to post about my trolls as introduced in "Bad Spelling."


       Trolls. What do you imagine? Maybe something like the big ugly pictured here. In my Witches of Galdorheim series, I wanted a cave-dwelling bunch of uglies, but dwarves didn’t seem right for my book. Then I started hearing music inside my head. You know how that goes, right? It builds and builds until it has you screaming in frustration, willing to even listen to some other music to at least swap the tormenting sound.
       But before I could find a MP3 file of "Henry the VIIIth" by Herman’s Hermits, I stopped and listened. My muse was whacking me in the head via earworm. The music was Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite. Duh. Trolls.
       Despite the canards on trolls from the likes of Artemis Fowl or Pratchett’s Discworld, I thought they could be heroic if given sufficient ale.
       From the Free Dictionary/Encyclopedia:
       A troll is a fearsome member of a mythical race from Norse mythology. Originally more or less the Nordic equivalents of giants, although often smaller in size, the different depictions have come to range from the fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds.
       Hey! They’re not all flesh-eating giants who turn to stone in the sunlight. Some are devious little guys who live in wilderness areas (no doubt protecting endangered magical species).
       In Bad Spelling, Kat and her smart-aleck half-brother, Rune, (also happens to be a vampire, but has absolutely no resemblance to the Twilight guy except they’re both cute as hell) are directed by Kat’s flash-frozen dad (Rune calls him a popsicle) to visit the Troll King. At the Hall, she requests assistance from King Ole, the Norwegian Troll King. He arranges for her and Rune to ride the Trollercoaster, which starts in Norway and ends up in the Ural Mountains. From there Kat, Rune, and a changeling troll named Andy travel to Siberia to find Kat's family.
       Clearly, trolls are good. They are nice, helpful, cheerful, and sing fairly well too. Yet aspersions continue to be cast upon these misunderstood creatures. Shame on all of you for making them the bad guys all these years!
EXCERPT from Bad Spelling
     Kat ran to where her brother and the three trolls faced each other. The trolls stood shoulder to shoulder, their big, splayed feet firmly planted in front of the footbridge. They bared their chunky yellow teeth and growled at Rune. Although hardly reaching Rune’s shoulder, they each outweighed him. Clearly, the trolls did not intend to let him cross. Looking up and down the streamlet, Kat wondered at their careful guarding of the bridge. Kind of silly, she thought, since anyone could easily step across the rivulet without even getting wet feet. She wondered if these were children, given their short stature. However, their long knives looked very grown up.
     Enunciating each word, Rune held his hands out to show they were empty. Kat had no idea what her brother was saying, since Rune was speaking Old Runish. Except for a few spell words, Kat didn’t understand the ancient tongue.
     Evidently, neither did the trolls. Rune spoke again, louder this time, and took one slow step forward. At this move, the troll on the left lunged at them, jabbing at Rune with his knife. Rune sidestepped the rush, and the troll, taken off balance, stumbled and fell flat on his face. Kat stepped over the troll and grasped his arm but only caught hold of his sleeve. He screamed and pushed her away. The other two trolls ran at her with their knives raised, yelling as they advanced.
     Rune stuck out his foot and tripped the middle troll. The last troll standing went after Rune. The young warlock threw up his hands, arms crossed to fend off the attack. A bright red light arced from his hands to hit the charging troll in the face. The troll dropped his knife and fell to the ground, screaming and rolling around with his hands pressed over his eyes. Rune snatched up the knife and held it to the middle troll’s neck. Kat sat on the one she grabbed, pulling the knife from his flailing hand. The recipient of Rune’s flash attack kept his hands over his eyes.
     Rune spoke again in Old Runish, shouting to make himself heard. It didn’t do any good; the trolls all continued screaming and squealing at the top of their lungs.
     Kat jumped up from the troll’s back and grabbed Rune’s hand, pulling the knife away from the troll’s neck. “Rune,” she yelled, “tell them we won’t hurt them!”
     The thrashing troll froze then turned his cumbersome head toward her.  
     “You can speak our language!” He slapped the troll nearest to him, who abruptly stopped screaming. The one whose neck Rune held the knife to spread his fingers to peek at Rune and Kat.
     Rune released the troll and stood up, looking a little sheepish. “I just assumed—” He stopped then shook his head.
     Kat crouched on her knees next to one of the trolls lying on the ground and patted him on the shoulder. “We mean you no harm. We’re Wiccans from Galdorheim. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”
     Slowly, the trolls climbed to their feet, looked at Kat, then at each other. The three trolls huddled, conferring together. Kat heard a murmur but couldn’t make out what they said.
     Kat continued, searching for something to say. “My Aunt Thordis…” Three pairs of troll eyes turned to her and opened wide. They stared at Kat. The middle troll elbowed the one on his left, who giggled. The troll on the right gave a great whoop of laughter then slapped the middle troll on the back. All three trolls broke into huge guffaws and ended up leaning on each other, wiping tears from their eyes. Rune and Kat stared open-mouthed.
     Finally, the middle troll controlled his laughter long enough to say, “We thought King Ole said to watch for the ones Thor sent. He wouldn’t want any Viking warriors breaking into the hall. ” He broke out laughing again before snorting a couple of times to clear his nose. “Maybe we got the message a little mixed up?”
* * *
All three books in the Witches of Galdorheim series are available in all ebook formats and in print on Amazon.  Click here to view Bad Spelling on Amazon.

Addendum from Termitespeaker:

A little more information about the Troll under the Bridge (Wikipedia): 
The Fremont Troll (also known as The Troll, or the Troll Under the Bridge) is a public sculpture in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington in the United States.
The Troll is a mixed media colossal statue, located on N. 36th Street at Troll Avenue N., under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge (also known as the Aurora Bridge). It is clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle, as if it had just swiped it from the roadway above. The vehicle has a California license plate.  The Troll was sculpted by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. He is interactive—visitors are encouraged to clamber on him or try to poke out his one good eye (a hubcap). The Troll is 5.5 m (18 ft) high, weighs 6,000 kg (13,000 lb), and is made of steel rebar, wire, and concrete.
... The idea of a troll living under a bridge is derived from the Scandinavian fairytale Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Valley of Thorns: Publishing Progress, and a Word on Adaptation

My rendition of Archbishop Turpin
fighting the black Demon Knight
whose name is Abisme.  My version
 is named Sho'choi'jik'a (Abyss Dweller)
I've just about whipped the third volume of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head into publishing shape.  I done all the peripheral material -- the map (which will be the frontispiece in the paperback), the back of the title page, the Translator's Foreword, the facsimile title page (from where it was first published in the 30th century -- is that a logical contradiction?), a synopsis of v.2 (because this picks up exactly where v.2 leaves off), and a list of characters. 
       For the end matter, I've again included a glossary of words in my termite languages (Shshi language).  I also decided on providing an appendix analyzing the Shkei'akh'zei marching chant word-by-word.  The text includes the chant in the Shshi language, one of the few times I've done that in this series.  Of course, I also put it in English so people who have no interest in conlangs or alien languages in general can simply skip the gobbledegook.
       The origin of the chant is interesting.  The first half of The Valley of Thorns retells the Old French epic poem of Roland and Oliver (Chanson de Roland).  It's amazing how easily that story adapts to the termite culture!  When I read the tale in preparation for using it in my series, I was impressed by the repetition of certain lines.  Here are two different translations of them, followed by the Old French:
High are the peaks, the valleys shadowful,
Swarthy the rocks, the narrows wonderful.
High are the hills and dark the valleys,
Brown are the rocks and dread the defiles.
Halt sunt le pui e li val tenebrus,
Les roches bises, les destreiz merveillus.

And in another place in the poem:
 High were the peaks and shadowy and grand,
The valleys deep, the rivers swiftly ran.
High are the hills and great and dark,
Deep the valleys, and swift the waters.
Halt sunt li pui e tenebrus e grant,
Li val parfunt e les ewes curant.

Parenthetically, it's amazing how much easier it is to read the Old French (if you know a little modern French) than to read Old English.  It's obvious that French has changed less and in a purer line.

Anyway, I took those lines and adapted them into a marching chant as the termite army moves down the Valley of Thorns (my rendition of Roncescalles) toward their hated enemy.  Here's how I did it (even preserving the French poetic form of the half-line break):

The peaks are high   and the valley is shadowed.
Holy Nameless One!    Care for us now!
The boulders are dark    and the defile fearsome.
Holy Sky-Mother!    Stay always with us!
The mountains are high    and dark and great.
Hater of infidels!    Give to us mighty victory!
The defiles are deep    and the river runs always.
Creatrix of Warriors!    To the enemies, death!
Di'fa'kro'mi comments:
        "This went on endlessly and without variation, with the Lieutenants declaiming the forelines and their phalanxes responding with the supplications.  The repetitions contained just enough variety to be confusing, but I could not detect that any Warrior ever made an error in the words it was primed to recite.  When the terrain allowed, they moved in rhythm with the words, a step forward on each half-line.  I was soon falling asleep on my feet, but strangely the litany seemed to speed up the advance and keep everyone moving as one.  I wondered if some separate part of their Warrior-minds remained alert enough to respond in the event of a surprise attack.  I asked who had composed this recitation and my marching companion said it was simply a traditional war prayer, so old that no one any longer remembered its origin.  I found it impressive, but after half a morning of it, I thought I would lose my sanity!"
       I would like to print the Shshi version here, but I don't think the WingDings will display on in some browsers, especially Macs, and I haven't yet set up the text using the substitute syllables, so that will have to wait.
       Anyway, I think I'm about ready to begin formatting for publication.  I hope to get it done at least within two months.  If I can, I want to publish the Kindle, Smashwords, and print versions on the same day.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bird Myths, Pt. 6: Native American Myths

       In the first part of this post, which you can read here, Howie Brokenbow, one of the Ariana's engineers, explained the history and nature of the Aboriginal American Enclave (AAE) as an introduction to his part of the bird myth narrative.  At last I'm presenting his part of the tale. 
       This probably could have been divided into two posts because it's pretty lengthy and ends with some general bird tales that don't fit in other categories.  However, I wanted to finish up this series. 
       This will be the last of the Bird Myth posts.  You can see why I'm having to cut this material from the final version of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars.  It's fun but irrelevant in an already humongous story.  At least I've been able to present it here, and I do hope everybody has enjoyed the series!
       Here is Howie's narrative:

       “There were many tribes of aboriginal Ammerikens and their mythology varies greatly, but they all include many stories about birds of all kinds.  The one I’m going to tell today concerns the magical, or maybe divine, bird known as the Thunderbird – a giant avian who made lightning and thunder with his wing-beats and eye-blinks.
        “The Thunderbird could also be a shape-shifter like Garuda and some tribes believed Thunderbirds came in flocks.  They could change themselves into men by tilting up their beaks as if they were masks and by removing their feathers as if they were a blanket wrapped around their bodies.  It’s said that Thunderbirds sometimes mated with human women and so the lineage entered the human gene pool.  My own family’s lore says my mother descended from the Quileute people and that tribe had very special thunderbird tales.  I used to tease her about being part Thunderbird because she was so interested in the heritage.  And then when I decided to enlist in the ESC, my family teased me back about inheriting a desire to fly!  
       “The Thunderbird was a mighty, eagle-like creature with a wingspan the length of two canoes and feathers as long as a canoe paddle.  Its eyes flashed fire and its cry is described as like the crack of lightning or the whistling of the wind.  Sometimes it’s said to have beautiful multicolored plumage.  It controlled both storm and rain and its enemies were the Water Spirits, which it fought with its lightning.  In all legends, it’s an awesome creature not to be toyed with, but it was usually regarded as benevolent, protecting the people against evil.  It was sometimes said to be the messenger of the Great Spirit, which is how the name for God in the various AbAm languages is usually translated.  
       “A lot of variant tales exist of what the Thunderbird could do, but I’m going to tell the most famous, the one from the Quileute people.  They lived on the seacoast of what used to be called the State of Washinten, right at the border of Old Kaneda.  They took much of their living from the sea.  In those days the salmon ran in that part of the world and also there were whales along the coast, including the orca.  Today, the pollution of the coastal waters has killed off the orca or driven them to other parts of the world, but in those days they were plentiful.  And the Thunderbird was said to live in a cave in nearby mountains on the edge of an ice field.  If hunters approached its cave, it would roll big chunks of ice down upon them, so no one dared come too near.  Good explanation for the existence of avalanches!
       “The food of the Thunderbird was whales, especially the orca.  It would catch them out in the open sea exactly as the bald eagle catches salmon and it would take them back to its cave.  The killer whales didn’t submit quietly, though.  The orca and the Thunderbird fought many battles, some so fierce that whole swathes of trees would be uprooted.  To this day there are open stretches of prairie mixed in with the forests in that part of the world, all caused by the battles between whales and the Thunderbird.  To top even that, some of the battles were so fierce that the ground was torn up and huge rocks flung around, and that is how the AbAms accounted for the roughness of the terrain.  The factual scientific cause is terminal moraines from the glaciers that receded at the end of the last ice age.
       “Once upon a time disaster struck the Quileute.  There was a stretch of bad weather the likes of which had never been seen.  There were many days of torrential rain and a barrage of huge hailstones, some of which turned to boulders when they hit the ground and can be seen to this day near the village in question.  All that was followed by sleet and snow.  Nobody could fish, all the edible plants died, and the people were starving.  So the Chief of the Tribe called a counsel and there he invoked the Great Spirit for help, saying afterward, ‘Now we wait.  If the Great Spirit sends no aid, we will know he wants our lives to end now.  If he does send aid, we will know our deaths will not come until later.’
       “And so they waited, and as dusk was falling … lo and behold! … there came flashes of lightning and a great whirring sound as of wings beating, and out of the setting sun a huge bird-creature plunged toward them, with a great curving beak and glowing eyes!  It held a big whale in its talons.  It deposited the whale on the ground in front of the awestruck people and then it flew away, back to its usual hunting grounds in the lands of the Great Spirit.
       “And so the people were saved, nourished by the meat and fat of the Great Spirit’s gift until the food of the Earth became plentiful again.  To this day, they never forget to be thankful for what the Thunderbird did for them."

       [I had a picture of the Piasa Bird, but I can't get the darned post to take it, so if you want to see what it looks like, go to]
      “Now I want to tell one more story and it’s from a Midammeriken tribe called the Illinoi, like the region that’s now part of Mitchican-Indipol Prefecture.  It’s about a creature a little different from a Thunderbird.  They called it the Piasaw Bird, which means ‘the bird that devours men’ or ‘the bird of the evil spirit.’  When Uropian explorers first came to that part of Midammerik, they found a giant petroglyph on a cliffside depicting a truly fantastic creature.  It resembled Prf. Katsopolos’s griffon more than it did a true bird.  It had wings, but it also had four clawed feet, antlers, a beard and huge fangs.  Its head was turned to face the viewer and it looked more like a monster mammal than a bird.  I wish I had some of the pictures I have at home.  Like Prf. Katsopolos, I didn’t know to bring anything with me.” 
       “Oh, you know what?” cried Lea Register suddenly.  “I’ve seen that thing!  When I was first piloting cargo flyers, I was assigned to fly out of Sinsinatty to points along the Misipp River and one time the flyer needed some repairs and I had a little spare time, so I took a tour around the region and I saw that cliff painting!  They said it was a reconstruction and not the original, but that it had been there for centuries.  The local people had always kept it touched up because it was so amazing!” 
       “That’s it!” said Howie.  “I’ve never seen it myself – I wish I had!  Anyway, here’s the tale connected to it.  Once upon a time, the Illinoi people were being ravaged by a monster – a flying creature with a man’s beard, a deer’s antlers, and a bird’s talons.  It kept seizing and carrying away children and women and even big men, and not even the stoutest warriors were able to stand against it. 
       “So when a new Chief came to power, he went aside from the people to seek divine guidance.  After he had fasted and prayed for a month, the Great Spirit told him what to do.  He went back to the tribe and assembled twenty of the stoutest warriors and gave them poisoned arrows.  Then they went out and sheltered under a cliff while the Chief, singing the song sacred to dying warriors, exposed himself in the open as bait for the monster.  It was not long before the Piasaw Bird appeared, swooping down and seizing hold of the Chief.  But the other Warriors rushed out and shot all their arrows at the creature and it fell dead.  The Chief was wounded but he recovered, and so the tribe of the Illinoi rejoiced, being freed at last from the demon-monster that had harassed them for so long.  In thanksgiving to the Great Spirit for showing them the way, they carved the image of the Piasaw into the cliff-face and it remained there until a quarrying operation destroyed it.  But a restored form of it has been preserved to this day, just as Lea said.
       “One last note and then I’ll be done.  Throughout history in the Ammeriken part of the world, there have been sightings – almost never supported by any demonstrable scientific evidence – of all kinds of crypto-creatures.  Reports of giant flying animals have been quite common and there was a lot of speculation that they were pterosaurs – reptiles that were the biggest creatures ever to achieve flight – that had somehow survived in a remnant population for millions of years.  They had wingspans of over 10 meters and would have been capable of picking up and carrying away quite large animals.  The sightings stopped around the end of the 21st century; if pterosaurs did exist and were responsible for legends like the Thunderbird and the Piasaw, then environmental pollution and habitat destruction and climate change did them in the way it did a lot of other creatures.  Personally, I have my doubts they could have survived to such a late date, though.”
       “I’m familiar with those reports,” said Robbie, “and I have my doubts, too.  I think the human imagination simply exaggerated what were already sufficiently big birds, like eagles and condors and maybe distant memories of creatures like the elephant bird.  One thing’s for sure – I’m impressed by the size of all these mythical avians.  Except for Capt. Kibwana’s swallows, not a single one of your stories deals with little birds!  Can’t the human imagination construct something interesting that doesn’t require physical prowess?”
       “Oh, you bet, sir!” volunteered Lt. Brokenbow.  “I mentioned there are AbAm tales about all kinds of birds, but I thought we were supposed to do big creatures like the Phenix.  The raven is a small bird that’s particularly important among tribes related to my mother’s people.  He’s one of your trickster characters, Prf. Katsopolos, and a creator as well!  Just an example … one day Raven was flying around with a stone in his beak and when he dropped it in the ocean, it grew into the land where people now dwell.  And then he happened to discover timid little human beings living inside a clamshell and he coaxed them out to play with them.  He intended to stick them back inside the shell when he got bored, but then he found some female humans inside a different shell, so he decided to see what would happen if he put them together with the males.  You can well imagine what the outcome of that was!  Ever since then, Raven has felt protective of the lineage he brought into being.  Later on he stole the sun from the Eagle and gave humanity light and fire and fresh water.  There are a thousand stories about Raven – don’t get me started!”
       Then Clancy Mortimer spoke up a bit shyly.  “On the subject of little birds, I read  somethin’ at school once – it was a West British tale, I do believe, or maybe from Scottlend.  There was this contest, see, to determine who should be King of the Birds, and it was decided that whoever could fly highest, he should be crowned King.  So naturally it was the eagle who won out.  But the wee wren had hid in the eagle’s feathers and popped out at the highest point of the climb and flew up even higher.  So the wren became King of the Birds and was forever after held in great esteem for his shrewdness and cunning.”
       Robbie had begun to laugh with great pleasure.  “Ha!  There, you see?  Now, I’m really taken with those stories!  I’ve always revered eagles, but I have a fondness for wrens, too, and certainly for ravens!”
        “The weakling who outwits the powerful!” said Linna.  “It’s a universal theme!”
       And Clancy added, “If ye don’t mind me sayin’ a word more, ’cause I wasn’t scheduled to be on the program, there’s a couple of add-ons to me tale.  It involves why the owl flies by night.  One says, after the wren became King of the Birds, the other birds were so angry they tried to drown him in a bowl of tears.  But the clumsy owl overturned the bowl and the wren escaped, and then the other birds took out their frustration on the owl and doomed him to fly only at night.
       “And a better one yet … the clever wren volunteered to venture down into hell and retrieve fire for the birds’ use.  He made it home with a coal hugged to his breast, but a spark leaped out and burned off all his tail feathers.  The birds were so grateful that they each gave the wren one of their own tail feathers to make up his lack – all except the selfish owl, and that’s why the owl was exiled and fated to fly by night.”
      “You know what?  I think we’ve come full circle,” said Robbie.  “We’ve gone from my own tale of a real eagle through fantastic god-birds to pterosaurs and back to little wrens and ravens.  We’ve gone from King Garuda to King Wren!  I just hope all of you have enjoyed yourselves as much as I have, and learned as much as I have.  But now I guess the time has come that this meeting will have to adjourn.  Those of us who haven’t had a sleep shift during this pod interval need to get some rest.”  He looked up at the port screen, where the red-orange Garuda with the huge head still squatted, brooding over the assemblage.  “I’ll wager anything I dream about that big chap up there!”

Another look at the red-orange Garuda whom Robbie was talking about:
This work has been released into the public domain
by its author, GourangaUK at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two Front Covers for The Valley of Thorns!

Click for larger view
Click for larger view

Finished! Or as finished as it can be at this point! I did two versions. In the beginning I got frustrated with the clutter of the full battle scene, so I resorted to abstracting the element of the fight between Lug'tei'a the Warrior Priest and the Demon Warrior Sho'choi'jik'a and adding a border and a few thorn bushes to reflect the title. Then I decided to go ahead and finish the first one after all -- the one with the valley wall, the lookout up in the Awl's Eye, opposing armies, identifiable characters, etc.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: Bad Spelling, by Marva Dasef

       Bad Spelling is the first volume of the author’s fantasy series The Witches of Galdorheim.  It’s intended for Young Adults although I think children from age 11 up would enjoy it.  It deals with a colony of European witches who escaped medieval persecution by fleeing to an island in the Barents Sea (north of Norway, Finland, and Russia) and using a magic dome to “terraform” it into normal, livable space.  This region is remote enough to be unfamiliar to the average American and thus can substitute for a constructed world filled with trolls, ogres, shamans, and werewolves.  The story deals with a female adolescent witch named Kat who can’t for the life of her learn how to “spell,” that is, cast spells.  Finding out why and solving the problem is at the heart of the plot, which is lively and fast-moving, although a bit shallow in spots (but then in a short YA book one can’t expect much psychological probing of character).
       The book is filled with clever word plays comparable to “Bad Spelling.”  Chapter titles like “Scry Me a River” and “The Troller Coaster,” as well as allusions to modern conveniences unexpected in this remote witches’ world (Botox, satellite phones, and snowmobiles) form a considerable part of its charm.  I got a particular chuckle from this remark (spoken by a troll) regarding the snowmobiles: “That fat elf at the north pole runs a dealership in the off-season.  Gave me a really good fleet rate.”
       I was intrigued by the linguistic elements.  A poem about a troll from the Eddas of Snorri Sturluson is quoted.  I checked and it’s real.  The translation is slightly different from those given in Wikipedia; I don’t know if the author translated it herself or found another translation or simply altered the translation.  There is also a lot of linguistic give-and-take between Kat and the Sami.  I checked the word “lumooja” and discovered it’s Finnish for witch.  All of those allusions can simply be accepted as imaginary or they can be used to inspire the interest of young people in the languages of the region.
       The premise of the story is set in the Prologue, which is laid “November, 1490 – somewhere in Germany.”  Here we learn how it happened that the witches established their colony on the Barents Sea island.  The author chose to write this prologue in a stilted and phony-sounding dialect, which I presume is meant to suggest an archaic period (something already established in the dateline).  It’s full of sentences like this: “Why cannot they just leave us be?”  “I’m afraid ’tis nothing else we can do,” which isn’t even grammatically correct: “I’m afraid it is nothing else we can do (?)”  This dialect serves no function, because the people in question would not have been speaking English at all in 15th century Germany.  Thus, all the quoted dialogue is a translation.  I found that opener a little off-putting, but fortunately the Prologue is only one page long.
       But that’s just a minor quibble.  The book as a whole is very entertaining and educationally suggestive, and I heartily recommend it for the appropriate age group.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bird Myths, Pt. 6: Native American Myths (Introduction)

But first we'll learn something about the
Aboriginal Ammeriken Enclave!
Long ago (that is, May 20) when I posted my last installment of my Bird Myths series, I ended with the above statement.  As you may know, I've decided to work on preparing The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars for publication.  These bird myth posts were extracted from a much later part of that piece.  I intend to cut out this part, but I thought the material was too interesting to waste (I may add bits of it to the first volume of MWFB).  The character who narrates the Native American (or Aboriginal Ammeriken, as that ethnic group is called in the 28th century) myths first provides a glimpse into his own future history.  Here it is:
"That just leaves us with Lt. Brokenbow’s story," said Robbie.  "Have you got anything that can match all these others, Howie?”
With his infectious wide-mouthed grin, the young gravity engineer jumped up to sit on the table.  “Yes, sir, Captain!  And I thought you’d never get to me!  We’ve heard Inden stories, and Judish and Afriken and Middle East and Griek, but we haven’t heard anything from Midammerik, and I suppose that’s because all Midammerikens came from somewhere else originally so they have only borrowed traditions.  All, that is, except aboriginal Ammerikens.  And that’s what I am – I mean, a good deal of me is – I’m not sure there’s anybody left in the world with an undiluted AbAm genome.  But I do have the lineage from all four of my grandparents, which is a feat in itself.  I’ve got Osage and Hopi on my father’s side, and my mother descends from the people of the northwestern coast of this continent.  A group made up of different tribes fled their homeland at the beginning of the 24th century when the TWL Gerard ‘The Sapper’ Chance seized power in the Greater Northwest and the area seceded from the Old Ammeriken States.  Like so many people in those perilous times, they headed for the center of the continent and ended up in Okloh Prefecture.
“I was born and raised in the western part of Okloh Prefecture, on a Gov enterprise that’s dedicated to maintaining the prairie ecosystem while raising semi-domesticated bison for human consumption.  A livestock ranch, to put it in simpler terms.  But that doesn’t mean that my parents lacked education; my father was a school administrator and taught middle and upper form mathematics and my mother had studied business and accounting.  She started out as the ranch’s purchasing agent and ended up as Business Officer for the entire operation.  I spent all my summers riding horses and herding bison, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t good in school.  I liked math and science best, but my parents, and especially my mother, wanted me to learn something about my heritage, so she arranged for me to spend my third year of prep in Old Aridzone, studying in the Aboriginal Ammeriken Enclave.  I didn’t much want to go, but she insisted.  She had done that herself as an adolescent and she found the experience beneficial.
“Let me refresh your memories on the history of the AAE.  Its citizens are about 65 percent Navao, an AbAm people who lived in that area PDA on what was called a ‘reservation’ – a piece of usually worthless land where the governments of the time would stick uncooperative AbAms when they got to be a nuisance.  Actually, the foreign settlers of this part of the world stole all the land from the AbAms, but so much time has passed that that’s not relevant any longer.  The Navao had – and still have – their own language; it’s one of the few aboriginal languages to survive in spoken form, and they did a better job than most of governing themselves and preserving their heritage.
“Because they kept themselves isolated from the rest of the world and because they were used to hardship and lack of resources, they survived the water famines and the diseases and the destruction of the big dams on the Koloredo River better than the urban centers did.  When the ancient Aridzonan cities of Phenix and Toosen lost their water supplies and were abandoned, the Navao endured.  Gradually they spread out of their reservation and populated the entire northern half of Aridzone.  At the time of Unification they petitioned to be chartered as an Enclave.  They were granted the Charter on condition that they accept any individual who could prove AbAm ancestry and who wanted to join them.  That was because EarthGov didn’t want every little remnant tribe with a dozen members seeking to set up tiny Enclaves all over Northwest Quad.  And the Navao realized that such inclusiveness would in fact benefit the preservation of AbAm culture. 
 “The citizens of the Enclave are a bit xenophobic; they don’t relish publicity and they’re very self-sufficient, and since they have a peaceful ethic, the world pretty much ignores them.  But that doesn’t mean they’re backward.  Today they run not only their own Enclave – they’re also charged with administering the entire Aridzone Preserve, including the Great Koloredo Canyon.  The Navao are fanatical about caring for the land; they allow people to come in, but they regulate tourism severely.  For example, if you don’t have credentials as a field scientist, you have to obtain a special pass to visit the Canyon, and only a limited number are issued –  there is a waiting list five years long.
“The capital city of the AAE is Flagstown, just south of the Great Koloredo Canyon.  The Enclave residents have their own university there.  Actually, it’s not called a university – it’s called the Institute of Aboriginal Culture.  It provides pre-grad education for citizens of the Enclave, but otherwise it’s mostly for advanced studies in anthropology and archaeology, cultural history, native languages and art – and mythology, of course.  And they don’t study just aboriginal Ammeriken culture – they study primitive ethnic cultures around the world, like the aboriginal Ostrailiens.  They operate in concert with several of the NWQ Consortium’s Universities, exchanging Professors and providing specialized programs and a base for fieldwork, and they confer their advanced degrees through the Consortium. 
“They also have a special prep program where non-Enclave AbAms who want to learn more about their heritage can spend their Second-Form year.  That’s what I did and I found it just as rewarding as my mother had.”  Howie nodded at his attentive audience.  “So that’s the lengthy preamble to my tales!  I just wanted you all to know how I happened to have learned what I’m about to tell you, because I’m sure most of the world has forgotten."
Coming next:
The final installment of this series: Native American Bird Myths (continued)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Becoming Human: The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

       This is the only time I can remember finding a book I wanted to read (and one I ended up loving) on one of Amazon's bestseller email notices.  The title caught my attention for two reasons: my interest in Judaism and my interest in myth and legend as displayed in literature, which is one of the subjects of this blog.  The Golem and the Jinni is a perfect fit for that subject.

       Two creatures of legend, mysticism, and magic end up in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.  That in itself is an intriguing premise. 
       The jinn (sing. jinni), according to Wikipedia, are spiritual creatures mentioned in the Qur'an who inhabit a dimension beyond the visible universe and are made of fire.  They also have a physical nature and are able to interact with people and objects.  They can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent and so, like human beings, have free will.  Fiendish types of jinn also exist, notably the ghul (our word ghoul) and the ifrit, among others.  The ifrit is a brutish and wicked sort that has a part to play in Wecker's book.
       A golem, on the other hand, is just about the most corporeal creature that one can imagine.  It comes from Jewish legends, tales of certain Rabbis of medieval and Renaissance times who created beings out of clay and brought them to life with incantations incorporating a shem, or Name of God.  The shem was placed on the forehead of the golem or written on a slip of paper and placed in the golem's mouth.  However, only God can give true life; a golem must be forever flawed and will ultimately turn violent and destroy its creator.  The Hebrew word means simply unshaped matter; interestingly, Adam was originally a golem formed by God out of earth.  In modern Hebrew the word means dumb or helpless, or is used for a "brainless lunk."  (Wikipedia)  The golem legend turns up in numerous literary sources, including Frankenstein's monster.
       In Helene Wecker's book, the golem has been taken up a notch.  Rotfeld, a lonely Polish furniture maker asks an old Jewish mystic, Yehudah Schaalman, to create a female golem to be his wife. He requests that she be given qualities of curiosity and intelligence.  Then Rotfeld emigrates to New York City, taking his unawakenened wife with him in a crate.  Partway through the voyage, Rotfeld animates her, using the words written on a slip of paper; one set of words will awaken her and another will destroy her.  But then Rotfeld suffers a burst appendix and dies immediately after animating her, leaving her on her own, possessed of Rotfeld's meager possessions, including the slip of paper that carries her life and death written on it.  She ends up wandering the streets of New York City, where she is befriended by the elderly Rabbi Meyer, who recognizes what she is.  The good Rabbi decides not to destroy her, but to try to educate her to live as a human.  He names her Chava, or Life.
       Meanwhile, a tinsmith in New York City's Little Syria is repairing a copper flask and when he obliterates some of the engraved design, out pops this tall, handsome male  figure -- a jinni who has been imprisoned in the flask but can't remember how he got there.  He wears an iron cuff that keeps him bound to a human form.  The tinsmith gives him the name Ahmad and ultimately, he and Chava meet.  Fire and Earth attract each other, it seems.
       The plot of The Golem and the Jinni is quite complex.  There are a lot of characters, each of whom has a story.  These stories are interwoven a piece at a time, each a plotline of its own.  The author makes this work beautifully.  Somehow the reader never quite forgets what has gone before in any given plotline.  It reminds me of a Middle Eastern carpet, each little piece of story knotted into the whole until gradually the entire pattern emerges.  How will the tales of Fadwa and Ice Cream Saleh and Sophia Winston and Anna Blumberg and the Rabbi's nephew Michael all ultimately come together?  It keeps the reader champing to learn what will happen next.
       Meanwhile, the main characters are learning how to be human, a process far more difficult for the jinni than for the golem.  Before a wizard imprisoned him in the flask, the jinni had been accustomed to flying above the desert, building himself beautiful glass palaces at will, indulging his casual curiosity about human beings.  Now tied to earth, he retains his qualities of arrogant free will, unencumbered by any moral sense, any sense of right and wrong.  These instincts lie dormant inside him, however, and he emerges as a character the reader can't help liking and empathizing with in spite of some of his questionable behaviors.  Gradually, as the plot proceeds, he learns that loving and caring are a large part of what makes human beings unique and important.
       Because the golem was created to serve a master, she already knows that giving is an important quality and so she possesses a natural empathy.  She is a tall woman with immense physical strength and she learns from the Rabbi that she is likely to turn violent and destroy any threat to whatever she cares about.  But she was also created with intelligence and she recognizes that she must overcome this tendency if she wishes to continue to live.  For her to  become human, she must control her primitive instincts.  Surely that is something we all must do if we wish to call ourselves human. Since all humans possess bodies created of elemental substances and will return to those substances sooner or later, we have more in common with golems than we could ever have with an incorporeal creature made of fire.
       At one point Chava, who can read thoughts and feelings, sorrows over the sight of homeless men shivering under thin blankets on park benches.  It's obvious in the following exchange that it's Chava who is closest to attaining humanity. 
       "They need so much," she murmured.  "And I just walk by."
       "Yes, but what would you do?  Feed them all, take them home with you?  You aren't responsible for them."
       "Easy to say, when you can't hear them."
       "It's still true.  You're generous to a fault, Chava.  I think you'd give your own self away, if only someone wished for it."
       A final word on the book's style.  I often read the 2- or 3-star reviews in Amazon to see if I agree or disagree.  One of these stated that the prose was "elemental and pedestrian, lacking the poetics such as lyricism, imagery, metaphor and simile, that I so favor in my prose."  Strangely, I don't find that to be true at all.   The narrative style is simple and straightforward and very readable, never getting in the way of comprehension.  But it is also interwoven with wonderful metaphors and similes, like the bits of colored class embedded in one of the jinni's intricate necklaces.  Here are a few examples:
       "Sophia's mother was in one of her states, careening about the house like a loose parakeet."
       "The rooftops lapped each other into the distance, like an illuminated spread of playing cards."
       "He clasped the necklace around [Fadwa's] throat, his arms almost embracing her.  He smelled warm, like a stone baking in the sun."
       "The more he rode the trolleys and trains of New York, the more they seemed to form a giant, malevolent bellows, inhaling defenseless passengers from platforms and blowing them out again elsewhere."
       "Night was falling in the desert. ...  It flattened the hills and stones, so that from its mouth, ibn Malik's cave seemed an endless abcess in the earth."
      "The skies had refused to deliver on their promise of rain; the thick clouds hung low and unmoving over the city like the pale underbelly of some gigantic worm."
       There is another character in the book: the 1890s city of New York.  This squalid concatenation of different ethnic groups, coping with a life that didn't turn out quite as well as they had hoped, becomes a place of enchantment, a lyrical metaphor all of its own -- a world of magic and mysticism quite as enthralling as if it existed on another planet.
       I could write a lot more about The Golem and the Jinni and some of the deeper meanings embedded in this narrative, but I won't.  What happens as the relationship of this mismatched pair of mythical beings develops is something you will have to find out for yourselves by reading the book. It's a fascinating journey and one I wouldn't spoil for the world.