Tag Archives: Cyan

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.

340. Federated Space Service

Regular readers will note that posts now come later in the day.

A week ago today, Cyan was delivered to those who preordered from Amazon, and went on regular sale. If you’ve read past the opening segment, you know that the explorers who returned to Earth found it greatly changed.

From Cyan: All seemed well, on the surface, but something profound was happening to the people of Earth. They were waking up to reality. When interstellar exploration had begun, few had taken it seriously. Now the process was flushed with success, and that success carried the seeds of its own downfall.

Suddenly, all over Earth, people who had been indifferent to space travel, except to mutter about a waste of resources, became truly aware of what was happening. And they didn’t like it. In the vague common mind of the beast, numbers began to move in slow, painful calculations.

A few thousand colonists; billions of the rest of us.

They — the rich, the powerful, the smart, the educated, the lucky — they will go to the stars and walk the green valleys of paradise. We — the downtrodden, the ordinary, the workers, the plodders, the ones who really make things happen, the ones who always get screwed — in short, you and me. We will stay behind.

In the general elections of 2103, and in a hundred scattered elections and revolutions in 2104, the people of Earth turned on their leaders and said with a loud voice that the spacers who brought in the ore from the belt, and the workers of L-5, and especially those who were finding new worlds, were no longer heroic friends but dangerous enemies. They would no longer be given freedom to do as they pleased, but would be harnessed to the common good.

This was the Earth Darwin returned to in 2105. When Tasmeen signaled Ganymede Station, she received a taped reply.

“Welcome home, Darwin. You will find the language of this year somewhat different from when you left. When the Dog Star returned in 2088, we found that it would be best to train comtechs in the jargon of your departure year, and that is the reason for this tape.

“The biggest change you will have to be ready for is that NASA no longer exists … because after the general elections of 2103 the people of North America decided to combine all space efforts into one military organization. You are all now members of the Federated Space Service.”

Tasmeen said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

– – – – – – – – – – –

In point of fact, on our world, the war between NASA and the Air Force began on October 1. 1958, the day NASA came into existence and began to encroach on Air Force prerogatives. We’ll look at some of those early battles this week.

334. Making Videos for Cyan

I know from visiting your websites, that a lot, maybe most, of you either are or want to be writers. I’ve talked about some of the mechanics of that, especially in posts 133 and 134. During the last month, I’ve learned some more about how books are marketed in the age of the internet. I’ve had to make videos.

That proved harder than I thought it would, partly because of technology. Don’t think I’m a Luddite – I’ve been a computer nut since 1986 – but I don’t own a video camera. i don’t have kids to record as they grow, and I have no interest is seeing myself moving about on the computer screen.

Most of those who make videos to promote their books do so on their smart phones. I don’t have a smart phone. It is my firm belief that Alexander Graham Bell was an emissary of the Devil. I communicate the way God intended, by email, where I can correct my mistakes before I push send.

I finally used the camera built into my Mac. It makes a shaky, Skype-like picture, but that works well enough if you hold still and go into talking-head mode.

I didn’t want to ramble, so I wrote a script and tried out some videos. They stank (that’s the grammatically correct word that morphed into stunk about twenty years ago). It turns out that a glib, casual, conversational tone takes a hell of a lot of rewrites. I should have remembered that. I had to learn it two years ago when I wrote my first posts. I don’t mean numbers 1, 2, 3 . . .. I mean the ones you never saw because I trash-canned them.

Writing two masters theses and a bunch of novels did not prepare me to write posts. I had to learn a whole new, casual style. This month I learned that written-casual is not the same as spoken-casual — even if it is written as a script before it is spoken. It took quite a few tries to make the transition.

Eventually I made three videos for Brian at EDGE and he will put them on Youtube. They are an introduction to Cyan, the story of why I wrote Cyan, and a reading from Cyan. The first is already up; click here.

I’ve also tacked on the script I used in the Introduction to Cyan.


Hi. Welcome to my world, or at least to one of them. I’ve always been a fan of near future novels of exploration. There are so many things about traveling at sub-light speed that make for a great story.

Besides, it won’t be long until scientists have charted the actual planets around all the nearby stars. Then we won’t be able to make up our own planets.

Put those ideas together and you have Cyan, which is the name of me newest novel and the name of the planet that it takes place on.

In the year 2080 a crew of five men and five women, scientists all, set out for Procyon where they find a planet that stands straight up in orbit, with bands of unvarying climates. About 45 degrees north, is paradise.

But paradise with teeth — virgin, wild, beautiful, but very dangerous. Keir, our crewleader’s task is to keep his fellow explorers alive. He’s good at his job, but on a planet crowded with predators, that may not be enough.

For these scientists from vastly overcrowded earth, after years confined within the starship, the beauty and emptiness of Cyan is intoxicating.

They have one year to decide if Cyan is suitable for colonists, and it turns out to be perfect. But then one of the scientists picks up a flaked stone. This is not a natural occurrence. Someone, or some thing, has made it.

The explorers have discovered the Cyl.

The Cyl are a stone age group. They look nothing like man and their intelligence is low, but they are about to become much more. Evolution moves quickly under Procyon’s intense radiation, and the Cyl are poised to make the leap to full intelligence.

Earth needs Cyan to ease its massive population, and the Cyl need to be left alone to find their own destiny. Lines are drawn among the explorers and the resolution of the problem threatens to tear them apart.


When you get your copy of Cyan, you will see that this introduction actually only covers the first fifth of the novel. Giving a full summary would have made the video far too long.