Languages of the Otherworld: Virisai grammar overview

I don’t really want to get too deep into grammatical minutiae in this series, so I’ll instead make this post more of a high-level overview of the grammar of Virisai, the most central language of my Otherworld setting.

How it looks

As I’ve previously stated, I didn’t want this conlang to be anything too extreme. It’s spoken by humans, even if those humans aren’t from Earth. And while some parts of this world (the Americas, Australia, etc.) do indeed have some hideously complex languages, that isn’t necessarily a given. Especially with a literate language, there’s definitely a tendency to simplify. So Virisai doesn’t go overboard on the weirdness, and that’s by design.

Word order is about like you’d expect, broadly similar to, say, Spanish. Nouns come before most adjectives, verbs tend to sit between subject and object, and you’ve got a series of prepositions. But that doesn’t mean it’s a typical Indo-European language. Oh, no.

Virisai has no case for most nouns or adjectives, yet it does have different case forms for gendered nouns and pronouns. In the latter, it’s a bit like English: the triad of maa/maare/mei, for instance, essentially matches I/me/my. Gender, however, is only marked on nouns that represent humans and certain animals, typically those that have been domesticated. (Due to the timeline, Vistaan doesn’t have animals brought from the Old World, but it does have those that existed in America prior to the Quaternary extinctions at the end of the Ice Age, such as the American horse, faal, or even the saber-toothed cat, oceigal.)

Technically, Virisai recognizes four cases, but the accusative and dative are often merged, especially in the western dialect. The fourth case, the genitive, is even weirder. Instead of being marked on the possessor, as is normal for languages like Latin, the genitive marker -es appears as a suffix on the possessed, head, noun: he roun “the house”; he rounes vira “the man’s house”. Possessive pronouns don’t change this, either (rounes mei, “my house”), which points to it being a later development.

On the verbal side of things, there are a few other wrinkles. Virisai has no real progressive aspect (as in English “I am walking“); those cases where I write native speakers using it should be understood to use the more basic present—rather, non-past—tense instead. Concord exists, much to the dismay of students, and it comes in two forms, subject and object. The object concord markers aren’t strictly necessary, and are completely absent in the third person, but they’re considered a mark of formality.

Beyond that, I’ve got a mostly complete sketch of Virisai grammar, including a number of different derivational affixes, rules for adverbs, numerals, and prepositions, as well as much more. But I won’t bore you with that. Instead, I’ll give you an example of text in the conlang, and what better text than the one everybody uses?

The Babel Text

  1. Gyor, et graaten peis tei heis radvet ai et croin aat.
  2. Asta a besaalsar jaastal, hein danyetel he brel am e’taante Shinar, e sialanel trate.
  3. Asta hein radel almedenta a, “Jaasi! Vecrettei rouzin e peissar paitei heire.” E hein tei verouz mid vecaal, ai ciobren mid hamet.
  4. Asta hein radel a, “Jaasi! Esdeire sauteltei he tiran, ai h’alettis, vos mieses oos am et nin, e esdeire vecrettei he caar, a andeser deire fin kecoolit cie et damises et graaten peis.”
  5. A fied re virisin sauteleste e’tiran ai et alettis, et Laton ducselal.
  6. Asta et Laton radal a, “Fiesi! Hein saa heis mal, e tai heis radvet; asta heid pries saa et ilbares re yeten det h’id. Re raacen mos, gyor saa molyoris heire.
  7. Jaasi! Ducseltei, asta trate gulgortei et radvetes heiz, a hein mu cormenen ket et alrades almedin.”
  8. Hegis et Laton trate kecoolal heire cie et damises et graaten peis, e syukenel a sautel e’tiran.
  9. Hebal, oore fin carir Babel, ebra trate et Laton gulgoral et radvetes et graaten peis, e trate et Laton kecoolal heire cie et damises et graaten peis.

Orphans of the Stars setting notes 2

So I’m back. Since the last post about this series, I finished the draft of the second novel, Beyond the Horizon. It’s a little different, in that all the flashy space battle action is at the beginning. That, I think, gives it more tension, because you’re expecting more with each new step. I also left the story on something of a cliffhanger, which means I really should work on Book 3.

But that’ll come later. Today, let’s delve deeper into the setting of Orphans of the Stars. First, we’ll start on Earth. Home sweet home.

Lay of the land

After five centuries, you might expect Earth to be unrecognizable. After all, 500 years ago, there was no USA; there were barely even colonies in the Americas. China wasn’t communist, because communism didn’t exist. The Middle East was a different sort of morass than today. And so on. On the other hand, it’s a bit of a modern conceit to think that our current institutions are stable, that they’ll last forever.

For the Orphans setting, I’ve gone more towards that latter end of the spectrum. There are changes, but the broad strokes aren’t too different from what we know today.

First up, the US still exists in my version of the 26th century, and it has mostly descended into the corporate-controlled dystopia whose birth we’re watching in our era. California and New England remain bastions of liberalism (in both senses of the word), evangelical Christianity has lost a lot of its support, and the extreme polarization of nowadays has come and gone. Americans in the setting still hold both the First and Second Amendments in high regard, pointing to them as proof of American exceptionalism, even if they have been weakened severely through the centuries.

Across the pond, while the EU eventually broke up in my extrapolation, it reformed mostly along the same lines. Britain is in a curious spot, as it asserts its independence (Northern Ireland, I’m assuming, rejoined the rest of Ireland) and leadership of a Commonwealth trade pact, while also considering itself a member of this “new” Europe. Many of the other countries of the continent are in much the same position as today, if a bit more extreme. The Scandinavian nations, for instance, have an even heavier focus on quality of life. (Earth’s oldest living human at the time, as I mention briefly in the first chapter of Beyond the Horizon, is a Danish woman.)

Outside the Western world, things are a bit more hit or miss. Russia fell into decline, China gobbled up North Korea, some Pacific islands sank due to rising sea levels (and new ones appeared when the waters receded during a cold snap circa 2300), and so on. Essentially every equatorial nation profited from the rise of cheap, accessible spaceflight: Ecuador tried—and failed—to build a space elevator, while a spaceport in Luanda is the only reason most people even remember Angola exists. And the Middle East, well, it’s still the Middle East. Even 500 years isn’t enough time to fix that.

Slip the surly bonds

An adventure story set in space really needs places to go in space. And, since I’ve already established that Earthlike planets are common in the galaxy, and that FTL travel exists and doesn’t cause any ill effects to the universe at large, it’s only natural that humans would eventually begin to build colonies away from the mother planet.

First of those is Mars. The oldest and largest Martian city, in my setting, is actually named Tesla. (Because of course it would be Elon Musk that started it.) There are others, started by offshoots of the initial colonial push or later ventures. Terraforming remains a distant, if obtainable, goal. (For Mars, it’s considered okay, because there’s no discernible native biosphere.)

The Moon, by contrast, doesn’t have much of a permanent population. It’s more like Antarctica today, or offshore drilling platforms. People live there for a time, mostly to run experiments or oversee resource extraction, but they don’t stay there. That’s partially from the lunar dust problem, but also because of the known existence of other terrestrial worlds. Our nearest celestial neighbor just isn’t prime real estate.

The same really goes for most of the other parts of our solar system. Jupiter’s moons are interesting, the asteroids are valuable, and Titan continues to enchant those who ponder its mysteries, but my setting (as opposed to, say, The Expanse) makes interstellar journeys possible before in-system colonization really gets off the ground. Thus, most of the Sol system is left to automated mining and collection, with a few manned research stations and the occasional torus or O’Neill cylinder construction for those who really do want to live in space.

Economics of colonialism

That, more than anything, is my main assumption. With the galaxy (or at least our little corner of it) open to humanity, wars over living space really have no need to exist. Rather than fight a bloody war with only the barest hope of success, separatists, if they don’t mind packing up and leaving, have any number of places to go. Which brings us nicely to the colonies themselves.

Human colonization of the stars, in this setting, proceeded in waves. First, the initial push was more of a “can we do this?” kind of thing. Terrestrial planets in the Alpha Centauri and TRAPPIST-1 systems (I hope nothing in the next few years makes these impossible!) were first, because they were known quantities by that point, as well as good testing grounds. A few others then followed, once good news came in. This, I assume, would be in the latter half of the 23rd century.

Next were the profit-seekers. Larger corporations in our time have values exceeding the average country’s GDP; in future centuries, absent a revolution in the way we think, I see no reason why that would change. Thus, private spacefarers began setting up their own colonies in the systems that looked most profitable, a land grab and gold rush combined. For the most part, they would stay somewhat close to Earth, if only for the ability to easily escape if things went wrong. But one colony, named Marshall, was founded specifically to be on the frontier.

For the most part, the early 25th century continues that trend, though the attacks on Marshall (the prologue of Innocence Reborn) ultimately result in a 50-year moratorium on claiming new planets. Instead, new colonies are only allowed on worlds which already have a human presence. They’re big enough, after all.

The end of that ban, however, changes the game just a little. Now, instead of one group running off to take a new planet entirely for themselves, Earth’s governments (national, corporate, and larger organizations like the UN) have agreed to restrict the practice to partnerships. That’s why Malacca (the main “base” colony for the second half of Innocence Reborn) has not one colonial government, but five.

That’s the “current” era of colonization, in terms of the setting. It ends up being slightly cheaper overall, so the corporate bean-counters like it, and there’s less risk of a catastrophe, so risk-averse types feel a little better. And that opens up the many worlds to smaller groups. Marginalized sects were some of the first: Palestinians, Rohingya, Marxists, supremacists of every stripe. Utopia-seekers also joined in, as well as experimentalists who wanted the chance to try out different social philosophies.

I specifically designed Malacca to house one of each type of colony, purely to illustrate that. Rosaria, where the orphans make their new home, is a fairly typical corporate state, a company town projected into the future. Yuan Yang is the (Chinese) government-run colony, which keeps both its culture and economy very close to home. Windmore is a social experiment run by Brits wanting to try out direct democracy; it has the most distinct cities, but they’re all much smaller, and that’s how they like it. Pele is the research center, run by North American universities, with the feel of a college town. And Little Eden, though it hasn’t appeared on screen just yet, showcases the utopia option—specifically, that’s a retro-revival of older forms of Christianity.

All in all, with hundreds of colonies in existence at the time of the “main” storyline, there’s plenty of room for a writer to play around. And I fully intend to. I would like to do a few shorter stories set in different parts of the Orphans setting, those not touched by the all-kid crew of the Innocence. And I wouldn’t really mind if others wanted to do the same. Just ask, and I’ll be happy to help.

This is the end of this part, but not the extended postmortem that is this series. I hope to be back soon, because there’s still so much left to say.

Release: The Eye’s Mind, Part 1 (Modern Minds 1)

As part of my huge writing push last year, I wrote a few short stories about individuals with psionic abilities, partially inspired by such shows as Heroes and The Tomorrow People (I watched the 90s version of the latter, and had high hopes for the reboot a few years ago), but set in the 1920s. And, of course, much more low-key, as is usually the case with my writing. Anyway, here’s the blurb.

A teen’s eyes will wander, but Jessie’s truly have a mind of their own. When she looks at people, she sees them in a different light. Happiness and hate, anger and angst, every mood is revealed to her. And sometimes, that is too much to bear.

You can pick this one up over on my Patreon if you put up a pledge of at least $3. Maybe later on, once I have enough stories in this series, I’ll collect them into a larger anthology. Until then, I hope you enjoy this one.

The Shape of Things: Postmortem

A while back, I did a postmortem piece about my novel Nocturne. Well, it’s been awhile, and now I’ve got another book out. This one is The Shape of Things, and it’s another story that I feel needs a bit of explanation. Or venting, if you prefer. Either way, here are my thoughts, and beware of spoilers.

The seed

Every good story grows from a seed. So do the bad ones, like mine. In this case, the idea that spawned The Shape of Things came from my aunt. She’s a loyal reader, and she’s been there pretty much since the beginning of my writing not-quite-career. Most of all, she listens, and she responds with positive feedback and constructive criticism. (When she can get past “when’s the next one coming out?” and “what happens next?”, at least.) While I’m writing, I’m mostly in my own little world, insulated from everything around me. Great for focus, not so good for creating stories that appeal to, you know, other people.

Anyway, I was talking with my aunt one day, and she said something to the effect of, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for your next book.” Now, I’m not usually one for submissions, but there is nothing in this world more important to me than my family, so I’ll always give them a shot. And that’s what I did. She pitched the idea: What if all those monsters like Bigfoot are really people, but they change into the monsters?

At the time, I was thinking that, yeah, it might work. I put it in the queue along with a few of my own ideas, but I kept it in the back of my head. As I said, this is family we’re talking about here. And I did think it had potential. Couldn’t be much worse than some of the things I come up with, right?

The more I considered it, the bigger it became in my mind. I’ll gladly admit that the Dresden Files books are a huge influence on this one, and that series was very prominent in my thoughts as I ran through a few scenarios that might work out for my own paranormal story. I didn’t want exactly that, of course. No, mine has more in common with Sanctuary or Warehouse 13 or shows like those. We’re not dealing with actual magic, just the paranormal.

On a lighter note, since my aunt was the one who gave me the inspiration for The Shape of Things, she got a kind of cameo role. In fact, she’s basically the one who keeps the main story moving. And I made sure to give her character some of the same mannerisms and quirks. (She hates even the mention of zombies, for example. You wouldn’t believe the grumbling when I had her read Either Side of Night!)

The process

I didn’t want this to be fantasy. I wanted a story firmly grounded in the real world, but with the knowledge that our world might not be quite as real as we want to believe. Thus, the setting is here and now. Not so much a “mythic” America, but modern America, just with extra monsters.

The key here is the nature of the monster. In The Shape of Things (and the series that has spawned from it), the creatures themselves don’t exist per se. Oh, they’re there, but it’s much more of a Jekyll and Hyde thing. Some people have this…thing inside them. They don’t necessarily know it until something draws it out. Usually, that’s a traumatic, life-changing, and possibly humiliating experience. In general, the idea is that something challenges their notion of their own humanity, which becomes the cause of their transformation into a being other than human. The forms they take are varied, and they don’t always align perfectly with our familiar monsters of legend, but there can be some similarities. (As for why this is happening, and why it’s happening so much in the present, I’m getting to that in the sequel, The Beast Within, which I’m currently writing.)

The novel itself is about 94,000 words, so not all that long. Call it tight, because there’s not much extraneous information in there. I started it at the beginning of May 2017, and the first draft was done on June 13. But here’s where it gets interesting. Writing Chapter 7 (of 16, plus a prologue and epilogue), I got bored. Seriously bored, and just plain tired of writing. So I stopped for about a week, long enough to switch over to another story I’d been working on. That was the first time in about 4 years that I’ve ever felt that way about a book. I won’t say it was my proudest moment. (It happened again in November, when I was working on The Soulstone Sorcerer, but I pushed through that. And I still hate myself for it.)

Despite that hiccup, I do think the book turned out good. Better than I thought when I finished it, definitely. I hope you’ll feel the same, but I’ve got more to say before I go.

The setting

As I mentioned above, The Shape of Things is set in our world. It’s not a fantasy version of it, but the real thing, just slightly dramatized. The protagonist, Cam, lives in Georgia, because I wanted him to be Southern, though far enough away from where I live that I could plausibly say he isn’t supposed to be me. He’s a little younger, maybe a bit smarter, and definitely a lot more successful, but he’s still a good old Southern boy at heart. And he’s mostly normal, apart from his odd hobby of hunting the paranormal for hire.

Cam is a skeptic, though. Not necessarily in the religious sense, but when it comes to the things he’s searching for. His default assumption is that whoever called him must be mistaken, because he knows these things aren’t real. Everybody sees ghosts, and every one of them, he believes, has some other explanation. And he feels the same about aliens, crop circles, demons, Sasquatch, and whatever else you can think of.

When the monsters really do show up, that puts him out of his league, and suddenly I found myself writing a horror thriller. Not at all what I expected, but I had some fun with it. A lot of his “backstory” sightings are based on things that actually happened to me, my family, or people I know. Others are references, but also from my personal experience. A group of “demons” in Marietta are actually Smite cosplayers, because my brother played that game constantly while I was writing. My mother really was scared by a hanger rattling from the air coming out of the vent under it. As this series progresses, I plan on adding in more of these, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m doing it.

The conflict

Cam doesn’t really have to fight his monsters. He barely even chases them. Instead, this book is about the hunt. It’s about him learning the truth of the world, then conquering the fears that knowledge creates. And it’s about solving problems. He absolutely has to run from some of the creatures he finds, but there aren’t opposing forces trying to stop him. (Maybe not yet…)

In that sense, the monsters fill the role of villain, such as it is, but in the same way they would in a horror movie. I don’t mind that. I’m not great at writing fight scenes or cloak-and-dagger trickery. The Shape of Things is more about a man against a force of nature, that’s all. Sometimes, that even comes out literally, but it’s more often the nature of the beast.

The end

I wrapped up the novel fairly neatly. There aren’t a lot of loose ends left to pick up. Instead, the biggest question remaining is what happens next. Where do we go from here? Cam solves the case. He saves a man from a monster—the monster that man had become.

This was never going to be a standalone work. I knew that from the start. So the future of the series hinges on that part of the ending. The world is stranger than we think, and Cam now knows this. He’s seen it with his own eyes. Now, he has to learn just how strange it can be, and that is where we go. Future installments are going to look into that core mystery, even as they continue to follow our humble hunter on his investigations. Some of those close to him may be affected, but one thing is certain: his life will never be the same.

Amazon release: The Shape of Things (Endless Forms 1)

Just a heads-up today, as my latest novel, the paranormal investigation thriller The Shape of Things, is now up on Amazon, in both Kindle and paperback versions. The price is $3.49 for the ebook, $9.50 for the real thing, and here’s the blurb to get you started:

The world is stranger than you know.

Cameron Weir hunts the paranormal. It’s a hobby, a second job, a nice diversion from the rigors of life. Whether it’s ghosts or monsters or aliens, he’ll be there to find the answer. And that answer is never any of those things, because he well knows that monsters don’t exist.

But something is out there. Something lurks in the night. What started as a simple call with a mundane explanation turns out to lead to a much deeper mystery. Glowing eyes in the dark. Strange, animal-like sounds echoing through the night. And then the most monstrous of all: a dead body. In the midst of such weirdness, Cameron questions his own rationality, and that leads him on a trail that will take him to the most fabled monster of all: Bigfoot.

If you’d like to know more, head over to the page for the book, where you’ll find a link to Amazon, as well as my Patreon, where you can get The Shape of Things, as well as DRM-free copies of my other released works, for as little as $1 per month.

Release: The Red Magician (A Bridge Between Worlds 2)

The bridge is still being built, and here is the second step in its construction, “The Red Magician”:

All along, Ayla wanted to do one thing to this world, one thing she never dreamed she could do to the one where she was born. She wanted to make it better, make it into something respectable, rational, modern. She never expected it to be easy, but she always thought she had both the knowledge and the determination to achieve her aims. Now, with the help of her apprentice, Niel, she hopes to carry the light of science across the bridge from her world to this one, as she tries to reinvent a society and herself.

As always, the Otherworld tales are Patreon exclusives, and a pledge of only \$3/month gets you access to “The Red Magician” and a total of 9 other stories in the series. If that’s not enough to convince you to join me on this road, remember that the same money also lets you download DRM-free copies of all my other novels and short stories, including Nocturne, The Linear Cycle, and much more.

Next up is “The Control Variable”, coming May 22. Keep reading, and I’ll see you then!

Orphans of the Stars setting notes 1

With the recent Patreon release of my novel Innocence Reborn, I want to take a closer look at the setting I’ve created for the series as a whole. After Otherworld, it’s second in terms of level of detail, and being a futuristic science fiction setting means it requires a completely different sort of worldbuilding. So here we go. This may or may not become a regular miniseries. We’ll just see where it takes us.

By the way, this post is obviously going to have major spoilers for the book, so you can’t say I didn’t warn you.


Although it’s never explicitly stated in the text (mostly because I don’t want it to be too obvious when I get it completely wrong), I do have a sketch of the setting’s timeline. The Innocence Reborn prologue, for instance, is supposed to take place in the year 2432, while the main body of the story is set over a century later, in 2538. Plenty of time to develop technology, etc., but not so much that humanity is completely unrecognizable. That was what I wanted, though I did have to make a few assumptions to get there.

Almost all of those are currently backstory, and we’ll get to them a bit later. Before that, I do have to mention one of the most fundamental conceits of the setting. See, it’s intended to be slightly “harder” than a space opera, in that most things are within the laws of physics as we know them. There is faster-than-light travel, because that’s central to the story I wanted to tell. And that causes a bit of trouble with causality and even basic timekeeping. So 2432 is the time on Earth, but current physics tells us that ships traveling FTL would effectively be going back in time, which makes things difficult.

Well, that’s because of relativity, and the handwaving for Orphans of the Stars is that relativity isn’t quite correct. You’ve got a few loopholes, so to speak. (Behind the scenes, the story universe is, in fact, a simulation that explicitly or accidentally allows such “exploits”. The characters don’t know this, of course.) It also means there’s something like a universal or preferred reference frame, which may or may not solve the timing problems.


Now, on to those assumptions. The other ones, I mean.

As I said, FTL travel is possible in the Orphans universe. It’s not instantaneous, but it is possible. That opens up the galaxy to human exploration and colonization. And that leads to the next big assumptions. First, Earthlike planets are relatively common, especially around G, K, and M stars. This is a simple extrapolation of current findings; estimates using data from the Kepler mission indicate that the Milky Way could host billions of terrestrial planets, with a fairly good percentage of stars having them in the habitable zone. And that’s not counting those slightly smaller than Earth orbiting medium-size stars like ours.

Second, and less supported by the data, is the idea that life is also relatively common in the universe. The vast majority is single-celled (or the equivalent); sentient, advanced aliens are considered fiction even 500 years in the future. Spoiler: boy, aren’t they surprised?

Other assumptions include simple, workable fusion power, ramped-up manufacturing capabilities (including orbital and deep-space), ubiquitous computing, usable cryogenic suspension, and quite a few other technological improvements. On the other hand, I assume that genetic engineering doesn’t become a huge thing—it’s mostly used for treating diseases and disorders rather than making wholesale physiological changes—and AI never gets to the “destroy all humans” stage. Yes, there are expert systems, and automation has made many jobs obsolete, but human decision-making still beats that of computers. It’s just that AI simplifies things enough that even a bunch of kids can fly a spaceship.

More importantly, there are a few sci-fi staples that don’t exist in this setting. Chief among those is artificial gravity: when the Innocence (or any other ship) isn’t accelerating, the people inside are weightless, and that causes problems. Well, problems and opportunities, because we are talking about a bunch of kids. Also absent are tractor beams, shields, transporters, and other such “superscience”. Terraforming is possible, but it’s been avoided so far out of respect for native biospheres. Antimatter is horrendously expensive, and more exotic particles are as useless commercially as they are today. Nanotechnology hasn’t advanced quite as much as one would expect, and cybernetic augmentation, including direct neural interfaces, ultimately turned out to be a fad.


I could have gone all out on this setting. I could have made it one of those where it’s so far into the future that it’s effectively magic. But I didn’t. I didn’t think I could pull it off.

Mostly, this series started out as an idea I had when writing Lair of the Wizards, a fantasy novel I’m putting out next month. That story is set in a borderline-Renaissance world where people with advanced technology existed, and they left some of it behind. It’s Clarke’s Third Law, but seen from a different point of view, one where we are the sufficiently advanced race. By and large, the characters are children, adolescents, or young adults, and that made me wonder if I could write an adventure-filled, yet still scientific, space drama revolving around characters of similar age.

As it turns out, I can. Maybe it’s not good, but I like it, and I’ve always said that I write stories primarily for my own enjoyment. The same is true for the settings themselves. Just as Otherworld is my linguistic playground, the Orphans universe (I still need a catchy name for it) has become my futurism playground. It’s where I get to play around with the causes and effects of science and technology, then go and write books about what happens when a bunch of kids get involved. And that’s what I’ve done. In fact, two days before writing this, I finished the sequel to Innocence Reborn, titled Beyond the Horizon, and I’m already coming up with ideas for Book 3.

Settings can be as deep as you want to make them. With this one, I’ve found one where I just want to keep on digging, and so I will.

Languages of the Otherworld: Virisai Phonology

With this post, I’d like to begin taking a closer look at Virisai, the first of many constructed languages I created for the Otherworld setting. Along the way, I would also like to justify some of the design decisions I made, but we’ll take that as it comes.

The speakers

Within the confines of the setting, Virisai is the effective national language of the kingdom of Vistaan. Its speakers, numbering about a million, are genetically similar to modern-day Native Americans, though there are a few changes here and there, owing to the 10-12 millennia of separation. They are, however, fully human; this is not an alien language, as far as that goes. Thus, none of the sounds are impossible for human mouths to pronounce, and the general grammatical concepts are close enough to those of Earth languages to be recognizable.

Externally, I started the language in 2013 as part of the “linguistic playground” that was my original vision for the Otherworld setting. For the most part, I always intended it to be the “base” language for the story, the one that would be met earliest and most often. (At the beginning, I also envisioned a kind of pidgin or creole variant, but I scrapped that as I developed the conlang.) The idea of multiple fantasy-like—yet still human—races inhabiting the same world also arose around that time; Virisai is thus the primary language of the “normal” humans of the main story area. As I have expanded my worldbuilding to encompass other areas, I’ve had to revise my original outline, but the core has remained the same, and this conlang has stayed at its center.

As I have said, I wanted to make something that seems natural enough that it doesn’t strike the reader as obviously constructed, but also simple enough that a group of ordinary American college students could achieve a decent comprehension after no more than 80 days of immersion. Most of them are monolingual, with their only real exposure to learning another language coming in high school, but a few are different. Sara is fluent in Spanish, for instance, and Ramón obviously is as well. Jeff, of course, is the “token” linguist character; his job for most of the early series is that of the translator, the interpreter, and he doesn’t always pull it off.

Everyone, though, is basically starting from scratch. The vocabulary of Virisai bears no resemblance whatsoever to English or Spanish. Or, for that matter, Japanese (Alex likes manga) or even Navajo (Lee’s great-grandfather was a code talker in WWII). That means that, early on, there’s a lot of pointing and grunting, the kind of first-contact stuff that most TV shows and movies gloss over. But the characters eventually get past that, and they start to learn a bit about the speech of their new world.


All told, Virisai isn’t that complex in terms of phonology. It has 31 phonemes in total, which is fairly average. Twenty-one of those are consonants, and only one of those would really be considered “odd” to English speakers. Here’s the whole list in IPA:

Stops: /p b t d k g/ Fricatives: /s z ʃ ʒ h/ Affricates: /tʃ dʒ/ Nasals: /m n ɲ/ Approximants: /β̞ l ɹ j w/

In general, most consonants can show up anywhere, but the palatals (/ʃ ʒ tʃ dʒ ɲ/) are mostly forbidden from ending a word. An exception is the “good morning” greeting araj, which is a colloquialism. An English analogy might be yeah, which ends with a vowel not normally found word-finally.

One aspect of Virisai that makes it a little more difficult is the wide variety of consonant clusters it allows. These are no more than three consonants at a time, and at most two at the beginning or end of a word, but there’s an awful lot of them.

Vowels, by contrast, are relatively simple. “Standard” Virisai only has five of them, and they’re the basic five you know and love: /a e i o u/. There is a length distinction, which is tough to master, but I didn’t go with anything outlandish here. Mostly, that’s personal preference, as I find it hard to consistently pronounce about half of the IPA vowel chart; I don’t mind saying the characters have the same problem.

I did, however, add an extra wrinkle. Every language has dialects. One spoken in a pre-industrial society, where mass media is absent, the printing press hasn’t been invented, and 50% is a high literacy rate for adults, is bound to develop them more readily. So it is here. The western part of Vistaan (coincidentally enough, exactly where the story begins) has a slightly altered dialect. There, a set of front rounded vowels has developed from combinations of /j/ + /o/ and /u/, and this is reflected in the orthography. (For example, one native character, Nuelossin, has his name shortened to Niel by those who can’t pronounce [ɲyːˈlosin].) A few words are also different, but this hasn’t really come into play just yet in the story.


All in all, I think Virisai succeeds at the goals I set out for it. We’ll go over the grammatical details in a later post, but just from the phonology, I hope you can see what I was trying for. This could have been something complex, baroque, nigh unpronounceable, but I just didn’t go there. And that’s for multiple reasons.

First off, I don’t really like languages that I can’t pronounce. I don’t like throwing in a hundred consonants and fifty vowels just because they look cool. Give me something relatively simple (though it doesn’t have to be too simple), something that makes sense. If there are weird sounds in there, give them a reason to exist. That’s what I did with the Virisai /v/, which is usually realized as [̞β]. It’s there, and it’s a little odd, but I rationalize that by saying it was lowered from /β/ at some point in the past; at some point, it also merged with /ɸ/, but that came after the language’s script was created. Hence, some words are actually written with an initial f, but it’s pronounced like /v/.

Second, this mundane phonology makes Virisai easier to understand for those who aren’t used to having to listen to an unfamiliar language. I know how difficult that can be, and I know that adding in sounds you don’t recognize only makes it harder. (I’ve seriously tried listening to Arabic, for example, but it just doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m hopeless with tones.)

Finally, keeping the phonology of this most common and most important conlang simple makes it easier to write. I did give the orthography a few curveballs, like how the long vowels are written (aa ei ie oo ou) or the way the palatals come out (ci j si zi, except before /i/ or /e/). Sometimes, that even trips me up, and I’ve been playing with this thing for five years now. Story-internally, I handwave that as Jeff being inconsistent; externally, I just wanted something that looked different without resorting to diacritics.

I like to think I succeeded, with that and with the other aspects of this conlang. Later on, though, I’ll start looking at the grammar, and I may revise my opinion.

On the sea

Ah, the sea. The boundless blue. What is it about this trackless expanse that so captivates us? For the entirety of human history, bodies of water (oceans and seas alike) have been a fixture of our most timeless tales. From the ancient flood myths of the Near East and Homer’s Odyssey to more modern tales such as In the Heart of the Sea, storytellers have turned to the waters for help in their art. But why is that? And how can we, as today’s generation following in the footsteps of the great, do the same?

Into the blue

The sea, of course, is the true birthplace of life, in more ways than one. Life itself arose in the seas, as we know from science, but we can also say that civilization was birthed by the sea. While early humans started out in Africa, they quickly found their way to the coasts, and many of our oldest artifacts are related to fishing, to reaping the bounty of the sea. All around the world, we see the same pattern, and it’s no wonder that the Mediterranean, an ocean writ small, is the backdrop for Western advancement. Much later, in the Age of Sail, Europeans took to the vast Atlantic, then the Indian and Pacific; others had already been there, of course, and their stories are equally interesting.

Even today, when so many of us (myself included) focus on that more infinite sea above, the oceans of the world tug at the imagination. I can’t even swim, and I find myself amazed at the America’s Cup. As well, one of my favorite survival stories as a teen, alongside Into Thin Air, was that of Tony Bullimore, whose yacht capsized during the Vendée Globe around-the-world race. Add in The Perfect Storm and a few others, and you’ve already got quite the repertoire just in the last couple of decades.

And that, I believe, is because the sea fills a very important niche. It’s a wilderness unlike any other. Even the most hostile desert gives us a place to stand. A mountain has an easily recognized goal. The barren tundra of Antarctica still lets us control the direction in which we move. Yet the open ocean does none of that. It’s a true blank slate, and a place where (until the advent of steamships) mankind was so obviously out of place that he had to surrender to the mercy of the terrain.

The sea, then, can almost be like a metaphor for life. We don’t always know where to go, what to do. And even when we do, that’s no guarantee that we have the power to get there, or to even take the first stride in that direction.

And the sea is also a living thing. It has moods, as any sailor would tell you, as well as its own set of dangers. Storms are the most notable among those, whether hurricanes, cyclones, or merely the random squalls of the tropics; any good sea story is going to involve a storm at some point. Rogue waves, once believed to be sailors’ tall tales, really can strike, and they hit with a force as great as any weapon. But then we must also add the paradox of sea travel: the calm. Where else can good weather be bad?

Salt and sand

For a story, it might be best to think of what you want from the sea, and that requires you to think about what you want from the story itself. First of all, what’s the setting?

In today’s world, as well as more futuristic times, we don’t think of the oceans as being all that important. Other than The Perfect Storm (which took place in 1991) and a number of heroic WWII accounts, the last century has seen a kind of turning away from the sea. When we look ahead, we think of space instead. So, for a modern or postmodern setting, you really have to try to make the sea distinct, if you’re going to use it as something more than a backdrop. Why are your characters on a boat, for instance, instead of taking a plane? For a disaster tale, it’s a bit easier, but that obviously doesn’t fit every work.

Going back in time, it becomes ever easier to work the sea into your story. As recently as 100 years ago, crossing the ocean meant actually crossing the ocean. Five centuries ago, even that was almost impossible. In between, we have the golden age of sea travel, where we find pirates and explorers, buccaneers and missionaries and the great naval battles of history. For that era, the sea was the frontier, as space is for us today. It was the board on which the games of power were played. A story set in those days can be about a voyage at sea, and it can take advantage of the distance, the disconnection, of being out of sight of land.

That time also neatly intersects with the typical fantasy timeline. The High Middle Ages in Europe were before the compass, before the galleon, before the other advances that tamed the ocean. Yes, the Vikings sailed to America a millennium ago. On the other side of the globe, Polynesians had colonized hundreds of Pacific islands by that same time, some thousands of miles away from any other land. We can have some fun with that, but the more “traditional” fantasy cultures are going to look at the sea as more of a boundary than a frontier. (Unless you start adding in advanced seafaring races, in which case they’ll be more like the Age of Sail.) Thus, an exploratory voyage could make an interesting story in its own right, as in Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God series.

Mostly, stories set on the high seas tend to have some element of warfare involved, if only because that’s how we see this exotic locale. That is a function of our history, but also of necessity: out there, there’s not much else to do. And fighting on the ocean, out of contact with the homeland, frees characters from the rules of engagement. After all, who’s going to know?

That doesn’t mean that every sea story has to have cannons or swashbuckling rogues, but it is common. Equally common is the disaster, whether a ten-story wave slamming into a ship, a hurricane battering it for hours to days, or just the simple lack of winds leaving it adrift. Like the desert, the sea can be an excellent place for a tale of survival. In a way, it works even better, because it adds the conundrum of being surrounded by water that is effectively poisonous. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Last, the sea can be a setting, a place where the action unfolds. An anthology-like story might involve island hopping, because islands in the ocean can be far enough apart—especially in pre-modern times—that news can’t easily travel between them. Much like a space opera where the crew skips from one planet to the next, the sea provides the perfect reason for why these adventures are independent.

I could say much more, but I’ve rambled on long enough. Hopefully, I’ve given you something to think about. Our world is 70% water, and that majority portion really can seem endless when you’re standing on a beach or pier. But our imaginations truly are without boundaries. Put the two together, and it’s no surprise we have turned to the sea for some of our greatest stories throughout the ages.