Tag Archives: Cyan

394. Today, everything changed

Today, everything changed. Those were Ramanda’s words when Viki picked up a chipped stone and the explorers of Cyan discovered that they were not alone.

Today, things will change in this blog, but perhaps more meaningfully for me than for you.

On the last day of August, 2015, I released the first post in A Writing Life and the first post in Serial. I immediately began a program of five posts of fiction and four mini-essays each week. It wasn’t long until I trimmed Serial to four posts a week to keep the two halves of the website in synch, and I have kept that schedule with very few breaks for nearly two years.

The early AWL posts were short, about 350 words, but they quickly grew and now they are typically about 700 words. Occasionally I repeated old posts, for various reasons, so my best estimate of how much I have written for A Writing Life (the blog) has reached over 200,000 words.

That’s the equivalent of a long novel or two short ones. I have never run out of material, but there have been times I have come close.

The content of Serial was already written, but even that takes a lot of time to convert into serial form. (see 245. Serializing)

I started preparing A Writing Life six months before its rollout. And yes, I know that it was dumb to name the overall website and one of the two posts with the same name. But I didn’t know it when I started, and it’s too late to fix it now. AWL (the website) came about when Cyan was accepted for publication, as a way to see that it didn’t die quick and quiet like A Fond Farewell to Dying had done. FFTD was a good novel. It deserved an audience, but it never found one.

It took a long time from acceptance to publication, but Cyan finally came out this April. In July, I went to Westercon to tell everybody who would listen that they ought to buy it. That’s how we do things these days. Hemingway would puke.

Where was I — oh yes, changes. I have spent so much time on this website that it has curtailed my actual writing. That can’t go on, but this site is how I met all of you, so I can’t quit it either. So here is the plan.

Starting today, I will no longer post on A Writing Life (the blog) to a schedule. When I have something to say, I will. For example, there will be a post August first about bears, and why they are in Spirit Deer.

If you haven’t followed me yet, this would be a good time to start, so you will get notification when I post. I will still have a lot to say, just not four days a week. This will get the schedule monkey off my back. I have a couple of sequels to Cyan that are calling me.

Serial will continue. Spirit Deer will be finished in early August. I will follow it with one of my favorite Harold Godwin novels from my childhood, now largely forgotten and in public domain. That will carry us most of the way to Christmas. Then we’ll see. There will be a post explaining all that on August 14, here in A Writing Life.

I’m not going away, I just won’t be around quite as often.

Download Cyan, or order it in paperback. If you like it, write reviews for Goodreads and Amazon. Tell your friends. Then in a year or so, you can tell them about the sequel.

In many ways, A Writing Life (the blog) has been less of a blog and more of a magazine. From now on it will be more like most blogs, with news, events, and updates of ongoing writing. But the magazine style mini-essays won’t disappear. They will simply stop dominating my life, so that I can get back to my novels.

388. Cyan Released Everywhere

Cyan was released in a sequence. First it was available in March for pre-order from Amazon.

On April 17, it was released, but exclusively from Amazon.

Today, it becomes available everywhere.

If you do your reading on another tablet, in EPUB or another format, you can finally download.

I thought the only hard copies available would be the fifty print-on-demand copies I took with me to Westercon, however once I made the POD order, they became available to everyone. I didn’t see that coming.


367. Alien Autopsy (5)

The other four Alien Autopsy posts were in Serial last week. After they were finished, I realized that I needed to give you a better picture of the Cyl. They are kind-of my favorites.

On Cyan, the dominant alien species of the torrid zone are the Cyl.  Viki Johansen, the scout specializing in Anthropology.—

. . . began a campaign of attrition and, after eight months, managed finally to enter the Cyl camp without disturbing them. They had become so used to her presence that they largely ignored her, and first-hand she confirmed her suspicions that the Cyl were of Australopithecine level intelligence

Their ears, she discovered, conveyed a complex emotive language that no one could hope to translate. Every position, every nuance of stance, was replete with meaning, and immense complexities of feeling could be portrayed by counterpoising irreconcilable emotions against one another. Yet there was no communication of ideas.

The Cyl are physiologically incapable of speech. After some changes you’ll have to read the book to find out about, “they” are taught to sign. Much later, Keir Delacroix meets up with a Cyl leader, and describes her —

The leader was an old female. Her scale filaments were sparse and shaggy, and her gel glands were puckered and no longer functioning. It was the first close up look Keir had had of a living Cyl. When she squatted at rest, her powerful hind legs jutted forward at a sharp angle and she rested her tiny forearms across her huge, scarred knees. Her mouth was broad and toothy, her bare facial skin stretched taut over massive bones and utterly impassive. She had no need of facial expression while her ears played symphonies of feeling.

Still later, Viki and her Cyl come to Beryl, Debra, and Tasmeen, needing help, and there is a dangerous moment of interspecies distrust.

The Cyl heads swiveled back toward Beryl and Debra again. There was no change of expression. There never would be, never could be, any change of expression on those bony faces. That fact alone would always keep humans and Cyl from completely trusting each other, for the humans, with their immobile, underdeveloped ears were as expressionless to the Cyl as the Cyl were to humans.

It comes near to a bloodletting as Beryl stands, armed, between the Cyl she has never seen, and her child. But then . . .

The Cyl ears moved in a symphony of sudden understanding, and of appreciation for the humanity of these strange creatures who would die — just as a Cyl would die — to protect their young.

The lead Cyl leaned forward and placed her darts, crossed, on the floor in front of Beryl and Debra. Her two companions quickly copied the motion, then all three shuffled backward. They were awkward inside the dome where the furnishings of the place made a maze for them to negotiate. As bounders, they were creatures of the unobstructed open plain. This human habitation was utterly foreign to them, not because of the steel from which it was made, or the interlocking triangles of its geodesic construction, but because it was cluttered. How could one hope to move about in it?

Beryl just stared at the Cyl. Their huge heads, their stone faces, and the heavy teeth showing through the thin slash of their lips, were too much for her to trust.

Cooler heads prevail, and Viki explains their need. Tasmeen is quick to come to their defense.

Viki was signing to her Cyl as Tasmeen spoke. It was not a translation. Cyl thought was too different for that. What she signed were a string of independent concepts. Had she been Cyl, the positions of her ears would have placed the concepts in an emotional context and tied them together into a rich and complex whole. When the Cyl spoke to Viki, that was what she received, the great subtlety of hands and ears in concert, but when she spoke, it was, to the Cyl, as if she were a halting child. She said:


The lead Cyl signed that Viki’s trust in Tasmeen was like the trust of the entire Cyl race for Viki; that in trusting Viki, they therefore trusted Tasmeen; that they too recognized the power in this woman; and that it was a lovely irony (the Cyl live for irony) that the sister of the mother of the race of Cyl was of an age to be the daughter of the mother of the race of Cyl, and therefore this woman of power who was their mother’s-sister was also their agemate-sister, so that the emotions of love and respect that they must necessarily have for her as the savior of their race were also the emotions they would choose to have for one who was both mother and sister to them all.

This she said in a three-second flurry of ear and hand motions.

Beryl watched, wondering if this hulking, stupid-looking creature was really of human intelligence, or if Viki was merely fooling herself.

A little irony never hurts.

The best aliens not only look different, but think differently as well.

Alien Autopsy (4)

In Jandrax, I was happy to use modified mammals and birds. That was all the story needed. When I wrote Cyan, I faced a different situation. My crew was set down on an alien planet for one year, with the task of coming to understand its weather, geology, and ecology in order to prepare for colonization. They were all scientists, so their actions and conversations called for a deeper understanding of their new world than any other kind of science fiction novel would have required. That challenge was half the fun.

When I began Cyan, I had been studying ecology for about twenty years, starting back when I had to explain what the word meant. I later came to understand the essence of Earth’s taxonomy in the most rigorous possible way — I had had to condense it to a level which middle school students could understand without dying of boredom.

Terrestrial taxonomy looks something like this:taxon

Drop a salmon egg on the gunwale of your canoe and it will dry out in minutes. A chicken or turtle egg would survive the same treatment. This is the meaning of amniote egg (although there are other, competing meanings). Creatures who lack them, must lay their eggs in water. The rest of the chart should be clear, although simplified. For example, birds have scales on their legs as well as feathers elsewhere, and I skipped Dinosauria altogether.

I built up Cyan from the taxonomic level. If I had hadn’t been showing the planet through the eyes of a team of scientists, I would never have started out there.

It had to be weird but recognizable — that’s the key to all science fiction invention. It also required restraint. You can only explain so much to your reader without losing them, and beyond a certain point, your backstory is wasted effort.

I took grasses and weeds for granted. I gave my trees multiple trunks bound together, like a strangler fig without its victim. For something like insects, I made Chitropods – chitro sounds like chitin, and pod means foot, so the reader can be expected to infer an exoskeleton. Continuing the idea of inference, if we call the flying creatures who eat the chitropods pouchbats, the reader will draw a better picture in his mind that we could on paper.

The number of legs is important to Terrestrial arthropods, but I bypassed that by giving all chitropods many legs, but with only one joint each where each meets the body. This gave them a rolling gait “like caterpillars on crutches”.

These are throw-away inventions. They could have been applied to any ecosystem and they are not systemically related to each other. They alone would be good enough for most science fiction novels, but not for one about scientists teasing out the essence of their planet.

Here we need a key differentiation, from early in evolution, from which a thousand lesser differences can be derived. I decided that on Cyan, early in the development of chordate life, the vertebral column doubled at the posterior, giving Cyanian sea life twin tails. That changed everything. Earth fishes evolved legs from their fins. Cyanian “fishes” evolved legs from their split tails, so every Cyanian land creature is a tail-less hopper, fundamentally different from anything on Earth.

On Cyan, the classes are Pseudo-pisces, Amphibia, and Inturbia. No reptiles, no birds, no mammals, no dinosaurs. The Amphibia are cold blooded. Inturbia are inefficiently warm blooded. The term Inturbia should imply “internal body temperature un-perturbed by external changes”. Not every reader will get that, but writers should reward their best readers by not spelling everything out.

There are a thousand other details, but for that, you will just have to download Cyan.

All this is not to say that I didn’t invent interesting alien creatures. Kavines are incredibly fierce. Dropels, especially after they became domesticated, are cute and tasty. In the southern part of the upper continent, the Cyl developed something close to sapience, leading Viki to . . . nope, sorry, that’s a spoiler. I just started with taxonomy so they would all fit together.

Of course, too much consistency without outliers would be boring, so I added the globe wombs. The explorers see them shining in the treetops from their first minutes on the planet, and it takes a while for them to figure out what they mean.

Inturbia have live birth. Cyanian amphibs have to return to water to lay their eggs, except for one group, the Sphaeralvids, who produce globewombs. When a Sphaeralvid mother comes to term, she moves to a sunny spot in the treetops and exudes a transparent, leathery sac filled with a clear fluid like seawater. Into this she deposits fertile ova, then defecates. Algae from the Sphaeralvid mother’s bowels convert the feces into biomass and the Sphaeralvid nymphs fed off the algae.  When the feces are gone, the globewomb walls break down, leaving the now sizable nymphs free to face Cyan on their own.

Neat, huh? That is entirely too much detail for most books, but Cyan was written to show, realistically, what exploration of a new world might be like. This is just the kind of detail a crew of scientists would be recording.

Aside:      Shortly after posting this, I received a digital copy of the print-on-demand version of Cyan to proof. I spent May 29 and 30 in close reading of all 315 pages. The taxonomy and ecology of Cyan are backstory, dribbled out in bits here and there, but what the reader sees up front and in their faces are the individual alien beings. I realized that I need a fifth Alien Autopsy post to devote to the Cyl (the cover critter), but there is no space for it here. You will find it next Thursday over on the A Writing Life side of this website.

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I began Cyan a few years after I wrote Jandrax, and set it in the same universe but hundreds of years earlier.

I also have in mind a third novel set in the same universe, but very different. It will take place on Stormking, a prison planet with a Uranian inclination to the ecliptic. The people who make up its population are not scientists, but outcasts. They have no interest in taxonomy. They meet the creatures native to their world one by one, and all they care about are which ones can they eat and which ones want to eat them. This time I’ll stop worrying about how these alien creatures make up a logical system, and just weird them up big time. That ought to be fun, too.

351. Who Is Listening?

When EDGE accepted Cyan for publication, I was less than enthused about publishing in eBook format. I’ve changed my mind.

It wasn’t the notion that science fiction authors should embrace technology that got to me. It was who responded to my website.

Building a website has been a learning experience, and I sometimes feel I’ve only begun. At first, no one was reading, but I expected that. Eventually, views began. Even later, likes began. I kept writing. I knew that gaining readership is a long-haul process.

I found it addictive to view the websites of the people who responded to me. One of the most surprising things I found was the number of respondents who were clearly from somewhere in the world other than America.

I regularly put out eight posts a week, many of which require research, and I have a life to live. That doesn’t leave me a lot of time to spend under the hood of WordPress, but I did find 

           https://wordpress.com/stats/day/(insert your own url here) 

which lets you click see how many views and visitors you had on any given day. More interesting, it shows a map that tells you which countries those views came from.

I was blown away.

To be specific, these are the results from this year, January 1 through April 21.

USA                    45%
Canada              28%
India                   8%
Australia            5%
U K                      4%
Switzerland       3%
South Africa       2%
Hong Kong       about 1%
Morocco           about 1%
Ukraine             about 1%
Romania          about 1%
Singapore        about 1%
Ireland             about 1%
Czech Rep.      less than 1%
Spain               less than 1%
Philippines      less than 1%
Japan               less than 1%
Kenya              less than 1%
Germany         less than 1%
Jordan             less than 1%
Israel               less than 1%

Global, indeed.

So, back to the initial statement — Yes, I would like to have Cyan on every bookstore shelf and in every library, not just available on line. However, no matter what happens from now on, I will insist that whatever I publish in the future will also be released as an eBook.

This goes back the the very beginning, to my childhood. Growing up on a farm, at first I had only G&D books (Tom Swift and the like) purchased from a local hobby store. Then I found the county library. I didn’t see a real bookstore until I was in college.

Those books were my window to the world.

Today, a book hungry young person with access to the internet can find — and afford — eBooks, even if her or she lives in India, South Africa, or Ukraine. I like that, and I’m proud to be part of it.

350. Master Basho’s Dojo (2)

Regular readers will notice that these posts are coming later in the day.

Keir, back from Cyan, has found Uke Tomiki after his disappearance. You really should read yesterday’s post first, if you missed it.

They ate supper with the master of the dojo as the evening fog rolled in to mask the hillside and hide the view of the slum. The old man introduced himself as Basho. At Keir’s puzzled expression, he explained, “The name is familiar, perhaps? Basho was a seventeenth century poet, famed for his haiku. I took his name when I opened this dojo. I was born under another name.”

They sat on tatami and ate rice with scraps of vegetables and fish. It was not fancy, but there was plenty of it. Keir suspected Uke’s back salary assured that.

Keir had wanted privacy to talk to Uke, but the master of the dojo was soon engrossed in his meal, and ignored them so completely that it was as if they were alone.

Keir said, “Uke, I need you.”

“For what, Keir?”

“Will you come with us to Cyan?”

“Of course,” Uke smiled. “I was only waiting for you to ask.”

“Why did you wait? You knew that you would be welcome.”

Uke looked serene, but it was apparent that it was a hard won serenity. Much pain lay beneath it. He said, “Keir, my arrogance almost cost you your life. Or made your life a thing not worth living.”

“How so.”

“My testimony.”

“You were in pain, and you only told what you knew.”

Uke shook his head. “No. If I had acknowledged my pain, I would have never put you in danger. I hid my pain, hid my uncertainty, and attacked the court-martial board. Their whole lives were dedicated to the acquisition of power, and I threw in their faces the fact that they had no power over me. If I had gone in meekly, they would have treated me gently, and I would never have been badgered into giving them the testimony they used against you.”

“You can’t blame yourself for what they did. I don’t.”

“Blame is not the issue, Keir. I cannot control what they were and what they did. But I should be able to control what I am and what I do – and I didn’t. I attacked when I should have been silent. I would never jump a kavine with my bare hands, because I recognize its danger. I did not recognize the danger that panel represented. Worse, I did not realize that my attack would put you in danger. And I should have.”

“And so . . .?”

“And so, I compounded my failure. I went from stupidity to stupidity. For a while, after the trial, I spent my time drinking, taking drugs, and walking dark streets alone, as if I were searching for death so that I would not have to face my failure. Eventually, I came to my senses and returned here, to regain my balance.”


Uke nodded. Keir pushed his empty rice bowl aside and said, “When Stephan told me you had come here, we agreed that it was unlike you. You never seemed to have much feeling for your Japanese heritage.”

“That is largely true. My father was a fifth generation citizen of USA. He and his elder brother were most unlike one another. His brother embraced zen, became a black belt in several disciplines and spent much of his adult life in Japan. My father, on the other hand, loved football, beer, and everything American. What he knew about Japan, he learned in college. When he became ambassador, he went to Japan as much a foreigner as if his name had been John Smith. And I am my father’s son.”

“But . . .?”

“But even as a boy, I loved my uncle and, odd as his ways seemed to me, I spent time with him when he returned to San Francisco to found a dojo.”

They were silent for a moment, and the old man raised his chopsticks in a kind of salute. Keir said, “How old are you, Uncle?”

With mock formality, Uke’s uncle replied, “I have had the privilege of seeing the year ’06 once before, although I was too young to remember it.”

“Uke, are you ready to take on the world again?” Keir asked.

Uke looked toward his uncle, who nodded and said, “It is time.”

This is your last freebie. What are you waiting for – go download Cyan.

349. Master Basho’s Dojo (1)

What! You haven’t downloaded Cyan yet? It’s been available for weeks.

OK, I understand. You want one last tease. Since you insist, here is Keir, on Earth, looking for his friend and crew mate Uke Tomiki after he has disappeared.

Keir took the jumper to the San Jose airport, and the Rapitrans to within ten blocks of Uke’s dojo. It was not actually in San Francisco, but south fifty kilometers in the hills overlooking Santa Cruz. Until fifty years ago, the hills had been covered with redwoods, but not even the most stringent conservation measures could stand against the urban guerrillas who slipped in at night to chop away at their half meter thick bark. In twenty years of nightly battering, the trees had died one by one, and as each one fell, shacks took its place. Now the forest of giants had given way to a forest of slum housing, growing like mushrooms on the bones of the ancient trees.

Keir found his way through the roadless maze of polyfoam, packing crates, cardboard, and stucco, with starving children staring like beasts from the darkened holes that passed for doorways.

The dojo was built of grey wood, laboriously split and sawed from the bodies of the downed giants. Three living redwoods remained, towering above the rubble, protecting the dojo from the sun, and in turn being protected by the ones who lived there. The dojo was a low, open building. Some of the inner parts were protected from sight by moveable screens. A stern young woman with a staff stood in the doorway, and made him wait while she sent word of his coming to those inside.

A young boy led him inside. Keir wondered if he was there to seek enlightenment, or food.

He was met by a wizened old man with sparse black hair and a wispy goatee, who was not quite the cliché Keir had expected, but close. They bowed slightly to each other, and Keir said, “I have come to see Uke Tomiki.”

“I have been expecting you.”

Keir raised an eyebrow and the old man’s face broke into a smile. “No,” he said, “it is not mysticism. I had not been expecting you, personally, but it was clear that eventually one of Uke’s friends would come for him. He is not the kind of man the world leaves in peace for long. A dojo such as this could never be his home; only a brief resting place. I will take you to him.”

The little man led Keir beyond the screens. There, a dozen men and women of various ages sat zazen, in two rows, facing an altar covered with flowers. Uke was third from the left in the back row, and he did not notice them when they came in. Keir looked at the old man, but got no help. He was simply waiting to see what Keir would do.

Uke had taught them all the pose of zen meditation, so Keir knelt quietly at the side of the room, mimicking their stance, but he did not attempt to meditate. He simply waited, watching the ones who were meditating. The old man considered him for a moment longer, then left quietly.

An hour passed. These people did not chant, so the only sound was the buzzing of flies and the distant, indecipherable sound of voices in the slum beyond the dojo. At first Keir considered Uke in his new surroundings, then he reviewed the work he had to do for the remainder of the week. It would take months of perseverance to achieve the no-mind state these people were searching for. You couldn’t just step in off the street and meditate successfully, so Keir did not attempt it.

Eventually, the old man came back and struck a gong. The meditators opened their eyes, shook their heads and began to swim back up to the world they had temporarily left. Keir was watching Uke when he stood and became aware of Keir. At first he seemed still off in that dreamy place, but suddenly his eyes cleared and a smile came to his face. He crossed the room, hand outstretched, and at the last moment, changed his mind and embraced Keir, saying, “My God, how I have missed you.”

To be completed in tomorrow’s post.