|Line drawing of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head |
and its helper, the Worker Twa'sei
Then I grew up and went to college and got serious. I really believed that adults didn’t do things like that and this delusion persisted until I read Tolkien at the age of 29. It was a revelation! Here was this brilliant scholar who created his own worlds and languages not just as a child but for his entire life! I immediately wanted to do that, too, so I started writing a version of high fantasy. The setting was really another world or planet. This milieu shared the characteristics of Earth, although it had no connection with our planet and was not particularly well defined. This always bothered me – can I talk about oak or willow trees or the moon when this isn’t really our Earth?
I also started reading fantasy, and I read it for years. At that time Ballantine Books had begun republishing a lot of classical fantasy authors, including Evangeline Walton. Anybody who has read The Termite Queen will recognize the influence she had on me. I also read writers like Patricia McKillip (The Riddle Master is my favorite thing), Miriam Zimmer Bradley, Terry Brooks, Fritz Leiber (LOVE Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser), Michael Moorcock, Ann McCaffery, Roger Zelazny, Katherine Kurtz, Andre Norton, Stephen R. Donaldson, and on and on.
But I also read Ursula K. LeGuin, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Charles Williams, and other authors who bridge the gap between fantasy and science fiction, and who have a more literary style. I have an academic background in literature, and I’m just beginning to understand what a large influence literary fiction has had on me.
This means that I’ve never read much of the stock SF writers of earlier times – people like Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. Most of those earlier standard authors leave me cold – flat characters and too much emphasis on technology (although I recall liking Asimov’s Foundation Series).
In later years I was influenced by a lot of TV science fiction: Star Trek, particularly The Next Generation; Babylon 5; Farscape; StarGate: SG1; etc. (I didn’t care much for Battlestar Galactica – too gloomy! I like a good injection of humor in my scifi!
I wrote until 1983, making some unsuccessful attempts to publish. Then family problems forced me to stop writing. When I started again in the year 2000, things took a different turn.
When I started writing again in 2000, I had a lot of pent-up creativity and the stories just poured out without my making any attempt to publish anything. Then I got bogged down in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, until I realized that I was probably never going to able to finish it. I also turned 70 and it hit me that if I didn’t want my books to die with me, I’d better get cracking. So I whipped The Termite Queen into shape and started querying agents. After a few months I realized I would definitely be dead before that search bore any fruit. Self-publishing was just getting big and so I started looking into it. I decided I had nothing to lose by going that route, since Amazon and other sites like Smashwords make it so easy. It also helped that I was retired, had an income, and didn’t have to worry about making money from my writing. By this point, I’m not at all sure I would want to tie myself to a bottom-line publisher who prevents you from doing what you want to do, doesn’t really do much promotion anyway, and hedges your royalties around with all kinds of rules. It helps that I’m fully qualified to edit my own books, or anybody else’s for that matter.
I retained that idea over the years and when I started to write again, I decided it was time to put it into words. I also wanted to write positively about giant insects – I was tired of seeing them portrayed as clichéd, evil, apocalyptic monsters. I know some people will be turned off by the idea of anything insectile, but they shouldn’t be any more than they should be turned off by a slimy cephalopod like an Alelliawulian. If we ever do make first contact, the ETs aren’t likely to be humanoids.
As for other social insects, of course it would be possible to do something based on them, but a lot of ant species are carnivorous and very warlike. And while the lifestyle of bees may be even more complex than termites’, a quintessential attribute is their ability to fly, and really big insects would be too heavy to fly. Termites are fungivores or eat cellulose, and they are basically peaceful, even though they have powerful soldiers who can fight in defense of the colony (against ants usually). One last quality that appealed to me: termites are just about the only insect that is (usually) monogamous and where the Queen and King mate for life!
I’ve written other books not laid on the termite planet. The first thing I wrote in 2000 was the novella “Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder,” which I don’t believe you’ve read, Walker. Kaitrin Oliva is a character in that one, about thirty years into the future. After I invented her for “Monster,” I thought she was the perfect person for the linguistic anthropologist who deciphers the termite language.
After I started self-publishing and joined Twitter, one of my early contacts was with Christophe Grandsire Koevets and I believe it was through him that I discovered the Language Creation Society. I was trying to identify people who might be interested in what I wrote and other conlangers seemed like a good bet.
I did a much more thorough job on !Ka<tá than on the Shshi languages because I thought it through better instead of simply improvising. I’ve also done some work on the other two basic languages of Krisí’i’aid (the Bird planet) – Towewa (spoken by the Wéwana, the Stork people) and Gro’at (spoken by the Gro’á’ata, the Grouse people). I also needed those languages for MWFB.
I’ve done even less work on Poz-até, the language of the monotreme people (the Pozú). I tried to give it more agglutinative characteristics, although it also has inflections. For example, the blessing phrase Trant-intusórama means “Trant (the Great Goddess) love you.” Intu is the infinitive for to love, sora is added to make the 3rd person present subjunctive and ma is objective singular of the second person pronoun. I also utilized elisions, e.g., yi-inta (I love) becomes yinta.
In my early writing days, I did a little work on a language called Demran for my first world, and then for my blue world (in “The Blessing of Krozem” and related stories), I got into the language of the Kairam, but it was more a naming language. I never constructed any grammar beyond a couple of verb tenses, but I did fill up a file box with vocabulary cards.
With the Birds’ more advanced culture, I figured I could do pretty much what I wanted grammatically. The interest here is in the musical and tonal elements that fit very well with avian vocal apparatus. I made it an inflectional language, SVO, adjective following the noun, three types of articles – and everything has number, including the articles (all plurals are formed by prefixing a warble [♫] and possessives and adjectives are made using a trill [♪] so you get all these fun musical notes scattered through!) The language can’t really be articulated with the human throat.
I do have a blog that deals only with my languages. I haven’t added anything to it for maybe a year and a half and some of the posts are not finished, but still there is a lot of information in there. http://remembrancer.conlang.org