Jan 24

Where is The Humanity Experiment?

The Humanity Experiment was supposed to be out in 2016, wasn’t it?  And this is 2017 already, isn’t it?  What happened?

Well, aside from the usual delays that come about from the vagaries of real life, where there is a lot going on, there is a lot going on in the story.  Heck, we have matter simulations, reality experiments, a thought transducer, precognition and telepathy, an evil galactic empire (there’s always an evil galactic empire), third- and fifth-order wands, bizarre aliens, saturation plasma bombing, ancient artifacts with mysteries to go with them, inter-dimensional transport, unseen forces, an impossible entity called Companion, synthetic human consciousness, torture, intergalactic teleportation, battleships, traitors, ghosts, near-death experiences, jimimbas, children who appear and disappear, the Plekton Key, and love. But all that’s easy.

When people fall in love, however, it often leads to sex. That, normall, is pretty easy, too. I don’t write much sex because by itself it doesn’t make for much of a story, and when it does make a story, it’s not my kind of story. I have zero interest in reading Fifty Shades of Grey, so it’s not likely I would have ever written it. Still, I’ve known since my initial conception of the series that this would be the book with most of the sex in it.

pot-pourriThe inter-species romance in A Hierarchy of Gods gave me no trouble because the Trarsani, for all their differences, see love and sex pretty much the same way humans do, so once you overcome any anatomical challenges, it’s smooth sailing. But the Kyattoni…. Hold onto your ever-loving hat! Here we have a race who have multiple sexual partners but are lifetime monogamous, who don’t clearly distinguish between adult and child because they have no life event matching puberty, who have multiple kinds of orgasms, whose names are broken down to signal different combinations of intimacy and pregnancy. We have Erik and Jaxidreshny, but we also have Jaxidreshny’s kid sister Triknikanthy, which makes Erik and Triknikanthy girl-linked bond-siblings, and that’s a whole adventure in itself. When a human says, “it’s complicated”, they’re usually trying to get out of something. To a Kyattoni, it really is complicated. And for a human trying to understand it…. Poor guy!  The ethics Erik learned growing up human are at best useless, and sometimes harmful.

On the other hand, it’s not just the sex. As Triknikanthy explains,

“…but even so it’s not really about the sex.  Well, it is, but….  Most TKK species can separate sex from love.”  She looked into his eyes for a moment in a strange, alien kind of union that transmitted messages he couldn’t understand.  “We can’t.”

Love is a paraphysical quantity, Jaxidreshny tells him, constant under a certain set of philosophical transforms, something real, not just an experience. Love is love across the universe, but Kyattoni bond-love turns up the gain on that to superhuman levels. There is an awful lot for the lovers to work out between them as they come to understand each other, and as the writer, I have to work all that out too.

Yes, The Humanity Experiment is written. It has been for a few years. Over those years it has been through more revision passes than I can keep count of. I don’t want it to be merely written, I want it written right. I have page after page after page of documentation from anatomical drawings to sexual terminology, from psychobiology to social structures, and I’m still not confident I have all the loose ends accounted for. I hate loose ends. I’ve run across inter-species sex before in science fiction, but most of it stops at “That’s exotic!” Oh, the angle is different and she has too many teeth (I forget what book that was), but no investigation into what happens when fundamental biology, psychology, and culture were never intended to mesh. Sarek and Amanda have it easy by comparison.

But never fear; I’m still working on it. As you can see, I’ve done more than a little 3D modelling and composition. It might be a little late, but I’m hoping the wait is worth it.

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Jan 23

Suppose You’re Not You

There have been a lot of jokes based upon the old expression, “I’m not myself today”. If your questionable identity should be any more than simply an adage, you would have to ask, then, who you actually are. Likewise, the idea has been the springboard for a lot of stories. Off the top of my head, I can think of several episodes of The Twilight Zone from the 1960s that took advantage of the possibility: “A world of Difference”, “Mirror Image”, “Person or Persons Unknown”, “The Four of Us Are Dying”, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”, “Death Ship”. There are probably more, but my memory is finite. And I can think of an episode of the The Outer Limits (the original; I was never crazy about the HBO clone except for a couple of episodes), not where someone doesn’t know who he is, but where no one else does: “One Hundred Days of the Dragon”, and one where two people exchanged minds: “The Human Factor”. Identity is pretty flexible in the world of speculative fiction.

If you’re not yourself, then there are only so many options. You’re somebody else. Somebody else is you. You’re dead and don’t know it (“Death Ship”). You’re a duplicate of the original without knowing it. And I suppose possibilities with no real explanation, like “Mirror Image”. Welcome to the world of cybertech, where we have options that didn’t exist during the ’60s: you’re a computer simulation (think “Matrix”) or a computer game character (think any of dozens of anime). In fact, scientists and philosophers are seriously considering the possibility that we are computer simulations.

But wait, the possibilities are not exhausted yet. I used this quote from Korvoros in another post of this series dedicated to teleportation, but let me repeat it here:

“So let’s proceed to utter insanity,” she continued. “If the information is all that’s important, suppose that two receiving stations happened to pick up the signal and each one makes a new instance of you. Which would be the real one? Or would either of them really be you? You could be dead and they could be fakes that no one could tell from the original because all the memories are duplicated too.”

Little girlsSo you haven’t traveled by teleporter lately? Well, you’re not off the hook. Suppose that every time you have even the slightest impure thought, your soul is immediately sent to hell, whereupon another soul with all your memories immediately takes its place. You could be 270,000th “you”, just waiting for that impure thought to send you away. Since all the memories are duplicated, how could you possibly know? Since you’re exactly the same, how could anyone else possibly know? Maybe the impure thought isn’t necessary. Maybe we’re all rebooted once a second regardless of what passes through our minds and our “true” identity lasts no longer than that.

One of my short stories that I haven’t finished involves a police investigator who is actually one of a series of robots created by other robots to replace living people, only a defect in the manufacturing left the first run not knowing they were duplicates.

So you woke up this morning with the smug assumption that you are the same person you were last night. You can’t be so sure of that, can you? That person could be gone forever.

From this point, let your mind wander. Is there some other way you might not be you? Some way that I’ve overlooked? If so, I’d be interested to hear about it.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.duanevore.com/suppose-y/

Dec 06

Children with Adult Minds

Here in the early part of December, this year’s National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo to participants, is fresh in my mind. I wrote Ik. Ik first saw the light of the real universe as a character in a role-playing game my brother-in-law invented. My first character, the one before her, was a rather non-original sword-and-sorcery type barbarian whose name I don’t remember, but mundaneness is what happens when you have to create a character in a matter of minutes.

Ik, Iznik the Destroyer, Kolaika Jinnlexa Kälienen came later, after I had time for my imagination to ruminate: something truly bizarre: an unassuming, frail-looking little girl who could be your worst nightmare, with the power to inflict ultimate agony with a mere thought. She possessed some unusual magic, too, but that didn’t make it into a science fiction novel. There, instead, she flies a stolen enemy starship.

I never actually played Ik in the game, but it dawned on me at some point that her story could make a cool novel. I had a very rough outline for years, but as I’m a productive pantser (those who write by the seat of their pants with minimal plotting ahead of time) the story came together quite well as November progressed.

One of Ik’s prominent features is that her mother had been a Golden Aura telepath. She would have been one, too, very usual in the next generation. Thus, her mind developed in constant awareness of adult consciousness, and so was born with an adult cognitive ability. She’s 11 years old, but able to talk and reason like a college professor. She was born with knowledge of space travel, weapons, sex, and exactly who the enemy was that she needed to destroy. And she was acutely aware of why she needs to fear puberty.

Now suppose that the next child you meet has such a mind.  Let’s say a six-year-old, who understands advanced mathematics, military strategy, social psychology, electronics and other technology, and has the clear understanding why she has to keep her true nature secret.

How could you know? Might she, like Ik, possess telepathic powers that allow her to manipulate your mind? If you were a child molester, would she deal with you as ruthlessly as Ik does? Could she manage to play the role of an innocent child? Would she have to ability to cope with adolescent emotions? What if she can’t?  If she’s evil, of course, you have a problem, and generally, evil children make for more thrilling movies.

If she’s basically good, you probably don’t have a problem, or do you? Ik’s prime directive is justice, but she’s messed up, with a demon inside you can’t imagine. She’s not entirely stable, prone to fits of rage and perverting justice into vengeance. She doesn’t hide her power, so even after saving Tockmulle on multiple occasions, the townsfolk remain terrified of her.

So there’s that little girl you just met. Six years old. Your mental equal or perhaps your superior, playing with dolls and erector sets just to throw you off. She’s manipulating your life, controlling your thoughts and actions, and you don’t have a clue. You might be reading this blog because she sent you here for some cryptic purpose.

Is she good or evil?

Ik is not completely original, it turns out. I didn’t copy her from any particular character, nor did I think of any others as I was writing, but I suspect writers retain a lot in their subconscious minds that influence their writing. After the fact, I thought of other such characters in science fiction.

Alia Atreides, from the Dune series by Frank Herbert. She got to be the way she was from effects of the spice, not telepathic linkage, but she’s nearly as dangerous as Ik. Alia, like most of Herbert’s characters, ends up psycho.

Jimmy Holden, from The Fourth R (a.k.a. The Brain Machine) by George. O. Smith. He got his adult mind through an education machine his parents invented, and has to use that ability to hide from his godfather, who’s trying to get the plans from him before murdering him.

Village of the Damned Children

Ik might fit right in here, though she wears white and is completely human and scarier. It could be these children were a subconscious inspiration for her.

The half-alien children in Village of the Damned. I cite the 1960 original because it’s vastly superior to the 1995 knock-off. They’re not exactly evil (or are they?) but they’re absolutely ruthless and unforgiving when it comes to protecting the project, whatever it is. Of all these, they’re probably the most like Ik in temperament, though individually much weaker in power.

I’m sitting here trying to think of other examples. I’m sure they’re there, but they’re not coming to mind. I’m not counting ordinary evil kids like Rhoda and Damien or mere geniuses like Peewee. Can you help me out? What others are there?

Will you ever look at your own kids the same way? The next child you see might be that one you need to fear….

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Oct 06

Beware of Ik!

Must be half demon if only half. She’s got a soul darker than the devil himself, and more fire and power, too. Notice how folks are scared to sit too close? … Pretty as an angel and quiet as smoke.  But I can guarantee that you don’t want to find out what’s on the inside.

That’s how Kilmor first describes Kolaika Jinnlexa Kälienen of Torprällin to the warrior Gurk. Of course, no one calls her that; they call her “Ik”, a contraction of “Iznik, the Destroyer.”  And you most emphatically do not want to fuck with her.


My first rendering of the ghost-like Ik in a random environment. I can’t seem to give her a scary enough look.

You should run from her into the arms of Freddy Kreuger.  Ask Pinhead for protection. Go on a date with Jason or Michael Myers in hopes she won’t know where you are. That’s if you’re a person who hurts others. If not, well breathe easy, she might even save your life. Either way, you do not want to try to hurt her. You. Will. Regret. It.

Ik is one of my many strong girl characters, but one much more frightening than most. She can inflict pain so brutal that it lies beyond the bounds of human imagination. Terror so penetrating it drives out all sanity. Despair so dismal that Azkaban’s dementors can only aspire to her level. And other dark emotions to which mankind has never even given a name as they are not natural to humans. She does this with a thought, and you can be 100 miles away. Gurk only experienced her wrath for a second, but during that time, if she had allowed him, he would have gladly cast himself into hell to find relief.

She uses this hellish power with enthusiasm against the cruel Blorzong. It is her goal to track down every last one and torture them to death. She is fully human, except that one foreign essence inside, and 11 years old.  She speaks several galactic languages fluently, handles exotic weapons from multiple worlds, and flies a Blorzong playship.

How she came to possess such a faculty is left a mystery through most of the book, but it does have to do with the Blorzong themselves and why she hates them so much. To avoid giving it away, I’ve included the explanation in a spoiler block for those who have to know right away.

Spoiler Inside: How Kolaika became Ik SelectShow

Gurk, as a fearsome warrior, is dismayed that she is mentally tougher than he. He is horrified that she has killed more than he.  He cannot touch her with his sword, as she anticipates his every move before he moves. He watches her hold a broken arm in the fire until her hand is blackened and cracked without crying out, without wincing, with no expression whatsoever.

When she asks him to go with her to help her punish Blorzong, he agrees. He knows she has a terrible power and is undefeatable in battle. Those skills he hopes to learn for himself, but he has no concept of what he is getting into.

This is what I want to write for NaNoWriMo this year. If I have time. I’m spending a lot of time in classrooms now. Wish me luck.

It occurs to me that Ik looks quite a bit like Ashley in The Emperor’s Daughter. Ashley has more golden blond hair, shorter, somewhat wavy, and blue eyes not nearly as startling. She is a few months older. But she has a power of a different sort.  Maybe that’s why I sometimes get those two confused.

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Feb 24

Would You Recognize Your Characters?

I mean, if you were walking down the street after leaving the bank, and one of your characters was walking the other way, would you recognize him?

Three Girls

Cindy Williams, a lucky shot of Kristy McNichol where she looks surprisingly like Kristy Zeigenfeld, and Sally Field

I got thinking about that because American Graffiti was just on. I get most into the stories of Steve and Laurie and John and Carol, if you want to know, but that’s really just an aside to this post. The significant part is that while it was playing, I was proofing The White Shamitz. I happened to look up at a time when the lighting and camera struck Cindy Williams (Laurie) just right, and I thought, “You know, she looks a little like Kristy Zeigenfeld”. Kristy, you see, is the protagonist of The White Shamitz.

So I wasted some time on Google looking up pictures of Cindy Williams when she was young. No, none of them were exactly right. I tried others. Kristy McNichol comes really close in some of her pictures. In fact, the one here is really close, but Kristy Z’s features are less angular than Kristy M’s (the name match is coincidental). Maybe if you morphed Cindy Williams and Kristy McNichol together? I don’t know; that would be a fair amount of work to satisfy a mere curiosity. I checked Sally Field, and she could work into the mix, too. But then, if you’re free to morph together an infinite number of real people, you can always get the look you want.


The boy who came to represent the soon-to-be world-famous Lesley Kellerman

In the end, I couldn’t find anyone who looks just like Kristy Zeigenfeld. I thought of Jennifer Love Hewitt as a teenager while I was washing dishes, but she looks more like Wendy Miller, a character in Korvoros. Speaking of Korvoros, I totally failed to get a good image of Risha Dyrrya. And I didn’t try to come up with images of some of the aliens. If you found someone who looks like a Shiiskituuki it would probably be because he has a rare, horrific disease.


The twin sisters who came to represent Nekalee (left) and Ritee (right)

What about my other characters? Well, you can’t always come as close as you want. The picture I licensed to represent Lesley Kellerman in A Hierarchy of Gods looks only a little like him, but he was as close as I could find in time for that post. Now, the two twins (yes, they’re really both girls), several pictures of whom I licensed to represent Nekalee and Ritee, are actually amazingly close. One of them ended up on the cover, and in that image is almost perfect. Better, one sister was made up more boyish than the other, and she made a good Ritee. Even more fantastic are the pink flowers in “Nekalee’s” hair; a romantic tradition on Trarsa. Sometimes you can luck out like that.


Jaxidreshny, the wildest ride Erik has ever experienced

Now, this image of Jaxidreshny (The Humanity Experiment) is almost exact because, you see, I went to the effort to actually model her in 3D, so I had the power to tweak all her facial features until I got them right. That takes some work and knowledge of modeling software (Daz Studio in this case) but it was the only way I could get her eyes the way they are supposed to be. If they look a little big, it’s because they are. Kyattoni eyes are relatively larger than human eyes, but not enough to stand out as bizarre on the street. Although I did a good job with her, I’m less satisfied with my renderings of her sister Triknikanthy.


Mellia, who is so adorable, but more fearsome than she looks

If you want big eyes, there’s always Mellia. She’s a Telosian also in The White Shamitz. Astorans have big eyes like that, too, but I don’t need a picture of Kambrik Zimz right now. For Mellia, I licensed a picture of a human girl and PhotoPainted (not Photoshopped!) the big eyes. She’s close, but only I would notice the difference.

Timothy Saugers looks sort of like Toby McGuire in Spiderman and Bradley McKenna looks a lot like Marshall Williams in How to Build a Better Boy.

The point of all this rambling is that I have a really good idea what my characters look like. I remember reading an article, or a post, or something, maybe a tweet, maybe a Facebook status, that the writer didn’t have a good idea how his/her characters looked. They are just rather  nondescript figures even if their personalities are sharply defined.

So I was wondering why some writers visualize their characters so accurately, and others don’t. I know when I write, my imagination is intensely visual; I see detail down to the grain density in rock. Maybe it’s connected to what type of learner you are, whether you’re left or right brained, whether or not your mother dropped you on your head when you were a baby (I don’t believe mine did).

So in the end, I don’t know why some writers do and some writers don’t. I’d be interested to hear what your visual imagination is like and if you have any suggestions about why we’re all so different.


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