Release: Beyond the Horizon (Orphans of the Stars 2)

Let’s get back to space. Back to the future, even.

They were lost, but they found themselves. Now, they will find a piece of their past that brings about a new chapter in humanity’s future.

Seventeen children inherited a ship, a mission, a legacy. Few among them truly understand what it means to be an officer, an engineer, or a medic. Youth is bold, however, bold and adventurous. Thus, the immature crew of the Innocence yet believe they know what they are doing. They believe they can navigate not only the endless void of space, but also the turbulent waters of life, a life marked by their shared history.

Something lurks out among the stars. Something turned these young people into orphans, into the last survivors of Marshall Colony. Only they have seen the truth and lived to speak of it. Only they are prepared to find what lies beyond the horizon.

I was really excited when I released Innocence Reborn last year. Rarely have I ever felt so good about a book, like it had so much promise. Maybe I consider Nocturne my best work, but Innocence Reborn was by far the most fun.

That’s all I ask from the Orphans of the Stars series. It’s my chance to have fun, to show that space opera and science fiction can still be fun. Whatever you think about our future, the one I’ve created in these books is bright. In my darker times, it’s one of the few lights that shines through. In better days, it outshines the sun.

You can head on over to my Patreon if you want to check this one out. It’s currently in the Serious Reader tier, which requires only a monthly pledge of $3. A cup of coffee, a small meal, or the future. It’s your choice.

And, in case you’re wondering, I’m already planning out Part 3 of Orphans of the Stars, tentatively titled Time in the Sun. Keep watching this space for more info on that.

🖼🗣 : the emoji conlang, part 3

As we have seen, 🖼🗣 is perfectly capable of writing simple sentences using nothing but emoji along with standard English punctuation. In this post, we’ll delve a little deeper into the script, focusing first on verbs.


Before we get started, let’s add in a few more simple words. All of these are verbs that represent actions, and I’ve tried to choose those best suited to “dynamic” phrasing.

  • 🛬 – to come
  • 💃 – to dance
  • ✈ – to fly
  • 🛫 – to go
  • 👊 – to hit
  • 🤗 – to hug
  • 😆 – to laugh
  • ⛹ – to play
  • 🏃 – to run
  • 💺 – to sit
  • 🏊 – to swim
  • 💼 – to work
  • ✍ – to write
  • 🔥➡ – to burn
  • 🚗➡ – to drive
  • 💕➡ – to love

Of course, most nouns can be “verbalized” by adding the ➡ suffix. In most cases, the resulting word can be interpreted in one of two ways. It’s either an action that uses the root noun (e.g., you drive a car), or one that is caused by the root (fire burns).

Adjectives can also take ➡, but their meaning is a lot simpler. Most of the time, the verb created is one that represents being in a specific state. Thus, 😃➡ translates as “to be happy”. Those are far more regular than verbs derived from nouns, but not nearly as flashy, so we don’t really need a list yet.

The usual suspects

🖼🗣 verbs express actions. As in English, they can also express when an action occurs. In other words, verbs have tense.

You’re probably expecting a table showing the different tenses in the script, because that’s what most language-learning texts offer right about now. But hold on just a minute. This is a little different. We don’t just have a simple three-way distinction, because 🖼🗣 combines tense and the linguistic notion of aspect into a single marker. So let’s slow down and take these things one at a time, since they can trip you up if you’re not careful.

First off, the present tense is simply the lack of any other marker. It’s the default. (Linguists can argue the point that non-finite verbs are also unmarked, but we’ll ignore them.) Also, the present tense here is best interpreted as the “imperfective” or “progressive” kind. That’s more in line with typical English speech, which is what 🖼🗣 tries to follow. Thus, a phrase like ♂ ✍ should read as “he is writing” rather than “he writes”. Obviously, that’s not set in stone, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Next up, we have your basic past and future tenses. These are ◀ and ▶, respectively, and it’s not hard to get the symbolism. As opposed to the present, you can assume both of these are “perfective” by default: ♂ ✍◀ “he wrote”, ♂ ✍▶ “he will write”.

Here’s where it gets tricky. If you’re familiar with both English and Romance languages such as French or Spanish, you’ll also know the perfect tenses. They’re the “have” forms of an English verb, or the separate conjugations in Latin, or however you like to look at them. They’re hard to explain without resorting to linguistic nastiness, so I’ll keep it simple. A verb in a perfect tense refers to an action that took place before the time it’s talking about. It talks about something that, from the point of view of the verb, has already finished.

For 🖼🗣, we’ve got a trio of perfect markers. Each simple tense has a corresponding perfect form, and they look similar enough to the basics that you can almost imagine they fit. ⏯ marks the present perfect (“he has written”), ⏮ the past perfect (“he had written”), and ⏭ the future perfect (“he will have written”).

Last are two linguistic aspects that English doesn’t mark in a simple way. Other languages do, however, and two emoji perfectly fit the bill for them. Rather than use the technical terms, I’ll describe them more informally. ⏺ marks an action that is beginning (“he is starting to write”), while ⏹ says that an action is ending (“he isn’t writing anymore”). As you can see, these aren’t easy to translate, but the concepts aren’t too hard to grasp.

Combining the tense and aspect markers works just fine. You can use one of each, and the order doesn’t matter. Add in the adverb 🚫 “not”, and you can express some fairly complex ideas in just a few symbols. 🤳 🚫 ✍⏭⏹ “I will not have stopped writing”. Wow.

Back to pronouns

About that last example, though. You’ll notice I used 🤳 as the first-person pronoun. Last time, as you may recall, I mentioned that this is an acceptable substitute, and now it’s time to explain why.

Any 🖼🗣 pronoun can take 🤳 as a suffix meaning “-self”. (Get it? Because it’s a selfie.) Most of the time, you’d use this as the object of a phrase: ♀ 👀 ♀🤳 “she sees herself”. But that’s a little repetitive, so there are other ways. Placing this “reflexive” pronoun as the subject lets you say the same thing in a more concise way: ♀🤳 👀.

So far, so good. But the other meaning for 🤳 is as an “intensifier”. Those of you who know Spanish may recall that subject pronouns are optional in that language. Indeed, using them regularly is one of the hallmarks of beginner speakers. But when they do appear, it’s usually to indicate emphasis. In effect, they say that I’m doing this, not somebody else.

While our emoji script doesn’t allow omitting most pronouns, the emphatic use of 🤳 works just fine. And that’s our loophole to let us use 🤳 as an acceptable alternative to 👁️‍🗨. Language geeks rejoice.

We’ve also got a few other pronouns to cover before we go. These are the indefinite sort, and they’re all formed as compounds using 🔳 “some”. Thus, you have the following:

  • 🔳◻ – something
  • 🔳👤 – someone/somebody
  • 🔳📍 – somewhere
  • 🔳⌛ – sometime
  • 🔳〰◼ – somehow

Moving forward

So that about wraps it up for this one. Next time around, I promise we’ll get more into making actual sentences. We’ll also go a little deeper into what makes up words, including some of the more regular compounding constructions. 👀▶ 💮 🔜!

Themis Dev Diary #1

Yesterday, I quietly released the second alpha of my current long-term software project, Themis. For the moment, you can check out the code on my Github, which has returned to life after lying dormant for three years. I’m developing this one in the open, in full view of all the critics I know are lurking out there, and I’ll be updating you on my progress with dev diaries like this one.

The Project

First off, what is Themis? Well, it’s hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot. What I mainly want to create with this project is a kind of successor to Usenet.

We have a lot of discussion platforms nowadays. There’s really no shortage of them. You’ve got proprietary systems like Facebook, Twitter, and Disqus; old-school web forums such as vBulletin, XenForo, and the more modern NodeBB; open, federated services like Mastodon and Pleroma; and the travesty known as Discourse. No matter what you’re looking for, you have options.

Unless you want the freedom, the simplicity, and the structure Usenet brought to discussions so long ago. That’s what Themis aims to recapture. My goal is to make something that anyone can install, effectively creating their own node (instance, in Mastodon parlance) that connects (federates) with all the others.

So far, that’s not too different from most of the “fediverse” platforms, but here’s the kicker. While Mastodon, Pleroma, GNU Social, and Misskey all focus on a flat, linear timeline in the vein of Twitter, Themis will use a threaded model more akin to newsgroups. Or Reddit, if you prefer. (Yes, there’s Prismo as the federated counter to Reddit, but bear with me.)

Also, while the current drama on most any platform is about banning, filtering, and censorship, I want to make Themis a place where speech is free by default. Rather than hand all the power to server admins, who can implement blocklists, filter policies, etc., Themis is going to be focused on user-guided filtering. If you don’t want to see what a certain user says, then you block that user. If you don’t like a specific topic, you can hide any threads where it’s discussed. And so on.

In my opinion, that’s a more viable model for open discussion. Rather than skirt around sensitive topics out of the fear of “deplatforming”, we assume that users are adults, that they have the maturity to know what they like and don’t like. The filtering system will need to be robust, powerful, and precise, but the key is that every part of it will be in the user’s hands. Yes, admins will still have the ability to ban problematic users (only on their server, of course) and remove posts that may violate laws or rules, but these should be the exception, not the rule.

Also, Themis is group-oriented. Every post falls into at least one group (crossposting isn’t implemented yet, but I’m getting there), and every group contains a set of threads. This will also fall into the filtering system, and here’s a place where admins can steer the discussion. A “tech” group on, for instance, would follow the rules of that server, and it might have an entirely different “feel” to the tech group on themis-is-awesome.tld. Configuration will allow admins to make groups intended only for local users, or invite-only, or moderated in the classic “all posts must be approved” style.

Where we are now

At the moment, most of this is a distant dream. I won’t lie about that. Themis is at a very early alpha stage, and there’s a lot of work left to even get it feature-complete, much less in a state worthy of release. To make matters worse, I’m not entirely sure how possible it is. I’m working alone, and I’m not the best programmer out there.

I’m giving it a shot, though. In only six weeks, I’ve gone from nothing more than a skeleton app in a framework I’d never even used to something that actually runs (albeit only on localhost). As of the 0.0.2 release, you can create an account, log in, view posts, add new ones, and reply to existing ones. The group creation functionality isn’t there yet, authentication is…haphazard at best, and the admin section is next to nonexistent. But that’s what alphas are for. They’re for getting all these pieces into place, even if there are a lot more of those pieces than you first anticipated.

What’s next

As I said, Themis isn’t even close to beta yet. I’ll likely put out quite a few more alphas in the coming weeks. The third release, if all goes well, will add in an admin control panel, plus the necessary scaffolding for site settings, preferences, and other configuration stuff. Alpha 4, in my vague mental outline, will fix up the posting functionality. Future milestones include group creation, filtering (a big one!), network optimization, and so on.

The beta releases, assuming I make it there, are all about getting Themis where I want it to be. That’s when I plan to start adding in federation, even better filtering, ActivityPub support, and an NNTP gateway, among others. (In case you’re wondering, I don’t have the slightest idea how to do half of that. And here I thought I’d be reading fiction in 2019! Nope, looks like specs instead.)

In my wildest dreams, all this somehow works out, and I can make a stable 1.0 release on October 1st. Stay tuned to see how that pans out.

If you want to help with Themis, or just take a look at it, check it out here. For the techies out there, it’s written in Typescript, using NestJS for the back end, Vue for the interface, TypeORM as a database abstraction layer, Axios for HTTP, Passport and JWT for authentication, and a whole bunch of other libraries I can’t remember right now. The project is entirely open source, under the MIT license (not AGPL, as so many other fediverse projects are), and I promise I’ll take a look at all serious suggestions, issues, bug reports, and advice.

Whatever the future holds, I’ll call this venture well worth it. Maybe I’ll burn out and fade away. Maybe I’ll change the world as much as Gargron and Lain are doing. I don’t care what the outcome is. I’ve found a passion, and this is it.