I’m gonna go ahead and call this past week an “almost” week. That’s how it feels, for most of my goals set in my last post.
That’s not particularly disappointing for me. A new class started this week for my MFA, and I’m adjusting to the change in workload. My last class, a seminar on poetry, didn’t have a low workload by any definition, but the type of work was less time consuming. My current class is my first seminar on writing fiction – at last! – and it involves more reading than my poetry class did, or at least slower reading.
Not the end of the world, but something for me to take into account for the next couple months.
Last week, I read Caitlin Mazur’s debut novel, Him.
(I promise, this is the last time I’m gonna plug her book. Promise.)
It was pretty good. Definitely one of the stronger indie books I’ve read – though to be honest I’ve read more mediocre ones than good ones. It’s a bit difficult for me to evaluate, because while it was classified as science fiction, the story itself is really more about the character interaction and romance than what I would consider the sci-fi elements.
For that matter, the sci-fi was done pretty well. It’s more in the trend of “soft” science fiction – stuff like Dune and Left Hand of Darkness, so still high-quality stuff – where the technology is mumbo-jumbo, and what matters is the plausible effects.
And the effects are pretty interesting. Mazur posits a time-traveling visitor from a far-distant future, after the human race has destroyed itself through time-traveling nuclear war. As part of the after-effects, the handful of people who survived and built themselves a new society are strange. Ben – one of the two viewpoint characters – is strange. He has knowledge about the past (our, and the novel’s present) but knowledge doesn’t equal know-how, and at times he’s deliciously naive.
I found Amelia less interesting than Ben, probably due to my bias toward the weird. Amelia’s from our world, and Ben’s from, well, Earth, but it’s not in any sense our world. I feel like Amelia’s well written, but just didn’t have the story elements which tend to grab my imagination most strongly.
I feel like Him should be looked at as a drama or a romance first, with science fiction elements. Those elements are interesting, but they don’t hold primacy over the rest of the story.
I also spent a good chunk of time reading The Planet Construction Kit, by Mark Rosenfelder. I also have – and have been reading – The Language Construction Kit. The two volumes are intended to basically be a beginner’s guide to creating worlds and languages. I’ll get more to that as I go into my “Writing” section.
I’m not sure what I’m reading this week, apart from school stuff. I think I’ll go jump back into LeGuin’s Rocannon’s World, but I’m not going to set an active goal this week. It seems best to wait and see what my courseload looks like.
So I made my reading goal this past week – it’s in the writing (worldbuilding?) chunk of my time that I’ve been very “almost.”
Last week, I wanted to spend five hours brushing up my ancient Greek by translating from Plato’s Defense Speech of Socrates, as preparation for doing some work creating language(s?) of my own for Jiharel. I also wanted to get two more pages added to my handwritten manuscript of a chapter from Jiharel.
(For newcomers, I find it slower, but tend to enjoy the process of handwriting more. I’m also less distractible when writing by hand. I’ve been working on a sample first chapter of Jiharel in order to experiment in writing a more florid style, in mimicry of E.R. Eddison’s work.)
By my reckoning, I spent four hours working on Plato. I got about a page, maybe a page and a half written of Jiharel.
As I said, a pretty “almost” week.
Rosenfelder’s books are interesting. His Planet book is perhaps better suited for science fiction than fantasy, or at least the fantasy I want to attempt. He’s still looking at worlds from a “modern-science-can-explain” perspective, and leaving out blatantly impossible worlds (like flat ones, for example). It’s a great survey-style text of different aspects of a constructed world, but doesn’t go into great depth.
His Language book, on the other hand, goes into enormous depth. I’m about halfway through it, and planning to probably re-read and work as I go along once I finish. The material is well written for amateurs, but it’s still linguistics – the subject’s pretty dense.
I don’t have much written yet, but I have a few burgeoning ideas for languages. The two books go together well because languages develop in context with a world’s history and other languages. English is a great example of this – we have loanwords from several languages, we have bits of grammar from all over, and our curses are a relic of the Norman invasion. Most other real-world languages have similar characteristics. That’s why we have a whole family of “Romance” languages derived from Latin.
My mental “family tree” of languages starts with an impossible one. I’m calling it Draconic, or perhaps Dragonic, after the deity-dragons of my world. My idea is basically a symphony as speech, coming from creatures which can easily voice three, four, five, or more different sound tones at a time. (This isn’t meant to be a human language, but a divine one – a language which created the world.)
Naturally, that can’t be the first human language. That language will be where I actually start language-building, with something I’m currently thinking of as proto-Jihari. The Jihari are my focal ethnic group, and the major characters of Jiharel are Jihari. “Jiharel,” in fact, means “City of the Jihari.” That little tidbit is what I’m intending to serve as a core piece of my languages – namely because I don’t want to rename something I’m already cozy with.
Proto-Jihari will probably be a naming language. This is an interesting concept I’ve come across; people will use linguistic principles to very, very vaguely sketch out a language’s sound rules and a few words – maybe twenty, or fifty – so that they can name various places and people within a story or constructed world. Then, if the author chooses they can go back and fill in more of the language’s grammar and so forth, without needing to contradict themselves.
After proto-Jihari is just plain Jihari. That’s the main language the characters in Jiharel speak, and the lingua franca of Jairen. There’s definitely a few dialects – the main one being Vistari – and a whole group of separate languages in the southern chunk of the world, Nothen, which also sprout from proto-Jihari, but Jihari is the main language that I want to have some rules, morphology, and phrases for.
Mainly curses and casual phrases.
I don’t want a whole language, even if it would be kind of neat. I can get by easily without one. But, having a few fragments that I can draw from will be useful, I think. Portions of fictional language, done well, can add to a story’s realism.
Look at Tolkien.
This upcoming week, I’m going to type up what’s written of my Jiharel style experiment, and then keep chugging away at it. Our big assignment for my fiction seminar is a short story or novel excerpt, and I want to use this style thing as my workshop piece. So, I need to finish this chapter (I think I’m close), and then revise it a bit.
Last Week: Do five hours of Greek, read Him, and write two pages of Jiharel. All were worked on, but not quite completed. So close!
This Week: Read a bit from Rocannon’s World, adjust to the new class, and most importantly – get lots of work done on this chapter of Jiharel!