Release: Alignment Adjustment (Return to the Otherworld 2)

And here we go again. Return to the Otherworld continues with its second installment, Alignment Adjustment.

Things have changed.

The other world isn’t the same, nor are those whose lives have been touched by it. To truly understand how best to live in this new land, those who came from another must accept that first impressions are not everything. Only by recognizing their mistakes will they have the chance to avoid them in the future.

For the second expedition, readjustment is a necessity. Now that they have begun to dive deeper into the cultural waters of this world, they can no longer deny their place in it. Some may not like that place. Some may struggle with the preconceived notions of their new neighbors, their friends and lovers. But even that forces them into the mold they so desperately wish to escape.

Not a lot happens in this one, I’ll admit. It’s more getting things set up, moving people around, and a lot of character interaction. The expedition was gone for nearly a year, after all. It’ll take time to get back in the saddle.

As ever, Otherworld stories are Patreon exclusives for the time being. That means you can head on over to my Patreon and pick up Alignment Adjustment for a pledge of $3/month. And the list of things you can get for that low price keeps on growing.

Coming up next is Part 3 of the series, Waters Rising. Look for it soon, and remember to keep reading!

Release: The Second Crossing (Return to the Otherworld 1)

It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for a new season in the Otherworld. 2019 brings Return to the Otherworld, a new eight-part series following the further adventures of those who have visited this strange land, those who stayed behind a year ago, and the new faces seeking their first opportunity to glimpse the alien world for themselves.

Opening up this time is The Second Crossing:

A year ago, eleven college students stumbled into another world by virtue of an accident. An unforeseen, yet ultimately beneficial, accident. Now, they plan to return, this time with purpose.

New faces will join them. Old friends will welcome them. Enemies will show themselves. And the second crossing will test this expedition in ways they never anticipated. What new discoveries await? What new dangers lurk on the other side of the strange, inexplicable portal between worlds?

None can say, but the students and their companions know one thing for sure: they must return to the other world.

It’s going to be a fun ride, and you can see it all through the year over at my Patreon. All I ask is a simple pledge of $3/month, which gets you access to Return to the Otherworld and the previous series, as well as much more. How can you go wrong?

Look for Alignment Adjustment in six weeks. Until then, have fun and keep reading!

Release: The Candle’s Flame (A Bridge Between Worlds 6)

And so we come to journey’s end.

In the entire history of her people, Etanya was the first to travel to another world. Her new friends, including one who had become somewhat more, all came from theirs to hers, but she went the other way. No story, no tale, could prepare her for what she saw. Surrounded by unfamiliar faces, strange machines, and things she can only describe as magic, she wants nothing more than to find her place. That place, she well knows, is at Ramon’s side, but can he take that final step?

This is the end of A Bridge Between Worlds, but it’s far from the last you’ll see of the Otherworld setting. No, I have greater things in store for it. Season 2 of the main story, titled Return to the Otherworld, will debut in early 2019. Until that time, you can get all of my novels and novellas in this setting, plus the many other works I’ve written, at my Patreon. All it takes is a pledge of a few dollars a month. You can cancel anytime, and you get to keep anything you’ve downloaded. No DRM, no fuss. It’s almost too easy.

Whatever you do, I’d like to thank you for traveling with me down this strange and wonderful road. I’ll see you again soon, so keep reading!

Release: The Lessons Learned (A Bridge Between Worlds 5)

We’re almost done. Here’s Part 5 of 6 in A Bridge Between Worlds.

Summer vacation has to end sometime, even in the other world. Jeff understood that, and he accepted it. The coming of fall brings him a new sort of college experience, something he never could have imagined. Together with the woman he loves, he hopes to find first his feet in this new life, then answers to the greatest mysteries of all. Yet even in this place, he learns that some judge solely by appearance, never considering actions.

Remember, you can download this story, as well as the rest of those in the Otherworld setting, exclusively from my Patreon. It’s only a few dollars a month, and you get access to far more than just a single novella.

On November 20, this series comes to a close with the release of Part 6, “The Candle’s Flame”. Stay tuned for future plans, because the Otherworld endures. Until then, keep reading!

Release: The Dark Continent (A Bridge Between Worlds 4)

Halfway across the bridge now, and we’re still going strong.

For Damonte, crossing the bridge between worlds was like going back in time. Choosing not to return home was one of the hardest sacrifices he had ever made. But it might be for the best. Here in this world, among a different sort of people, he has a chance. A chance to make a difference, a chance to right a wrong. A chance not only to be free, but to truly understand what freedom means.

The Otherworld series remains exclusive to my Patreon, and you can pick up this installment, as well as the rest of the story, for a pledge of only a few dollars a month.

A Bridge Between Worlds continues with Part 5, “The Lessons Learned”, coming September 25. Check back for more info, and remember to keep reading!

Release: The Control Variable (A Bridge Between Worlds 3)

We’re still building those bridges. Here’s the third one, “The Control Variable”:

The other world was exciting, but theirs still has so much left unknown. Amy knows that, yet she finds her thoughts constantly drawn back to her time away from her home planet. She also knows that there are other crossings, other bridges. Even if those won’t take her where she wants to go, they need to be found. Alex can find them. He has the map. All he needs is the time, but that may be running out.

Otherworld stories remain exclusive to my Patreon for the time being, so you can pick this one up there, along with over 20 other stories, for only a few dollars a month.

Next in the series is Part 4, “The Dark Continent”, coming July 24. Until then, have a good summer, and keep reading!

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.

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!

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.

Sounds

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.

Justification

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.

Languages of the Otherworld: Philosophy

The main storyline of Chronicles of the Otherworld follows a group of eleven college students who are transported from an archaeological site in Mexico to a planet inhabited by descendants of the original settlers of the Americas. Over the course of eight books, 64 chapters, and some 400,000 words, they learn to live in this new world, and one of the primary barriers they run into is that of language. For this land is not Mexico, and the speakers use a language wholly unknown to our world.

Let’s talk

As the Otherworld setting originated as a linguistic playground, it stands to reason that I would place heavy emphasis on the speech of its natives. And I did. The first native words appear almost as soon as the first native shows up, in Chapter 8 of Out of the Past. (That’s the main reason why Jeff, the linguist character, has the perspective for that chapter.) As I write this, I’m a couple of weeks removed from finishing the 19th story in the setting, and new words and phrases are still popping up.

This is by design. It’s not that I’m trying to make the story hard to read, but it follows my preference for limited-perspective narration. The characters don’t always know what these words mean, so I leave them untranslated. Once they start gaining comprehension, the fake language slowly shifts to English. As the books progress, the native terms become fewer and farther between. Entire conversations can pass without them, but the reader is aware that the Earthlings are talking in a decidedly unearthly tongue.

Sometimes, they mix in Americanisms, and I’ve made this a plot point on a few occasions. “Okay” is such a common word that college-aged men and women use it liberally, and the dialogue reflects that. As they use it, though, the natives begin to pick it up, and the same goes for words for other concepts they wouldn’t have, like “phone” and “science”. (In the few cases where I’ve had native points of view, this gets a bit trickier, I’ll admit. There, the only words left untranslated are mostly those that don’t easily map to English equivalents.)

Speaking the truth

To make this somewhat more believable, the primary language of the setting—at least in the area where our story is concerned—couldn’t be too complex. Indeed, it has to be fairly simple, which led me to a conundrum. As you may know, the indigenous languages of the Americas are widely regarded as some of the most complex on the planet. They use unfamiliar sounds, unusual grammatical categories, and distinction that Indo-European languages either ignore or gloss over. Even if I did know enough about them (and I don’t), I doubt I could create something derived from, say, a Mayan language, let alone something a few kids in their twenties could pick up in less than three months.

Fortunately, that’s where the backstory helps me. The languages of the Otherworld don’t have to be derived from existing Amerind languages. They don’t even have to come from their ancestors. Because I placed the divergence point so far in the past, I consider myself to have almost free reign. After all, the last connection between our world and that one was at the end of the Ice Age (as confirmed in A Peace Shattered, Chapter 7). That’s about twice as much time as you need to evolve the whole Indo-European family.

Given that many centuries, anything can happen, so I felt comfortable creating something entirely from scratch. And thus we have what the natives call Virisai, the speech of the Virissea. In the next post, I’ll start going into greater detail about the language itself, but I’ll finish this one with a bit more philosophy.

First off, I’ve been adamant that the conlangs I make for Otherworld need to be written, and written easily. These are books, novels, and I feel that throwing in a cacophony of diacritics is just going to turn people completely off. (Yeah, because the story wouldn’t.) Also, I want something that isn’t too hard to pronounce, both for the characters’ benefit and because I imagine Chronicles as a TV series. Media conlangs aren’t complex, unless they’re Klingon.

So Virisai doesn’t have a horribly baroque phonology. As a matter of fact, it’s quite tame, especially compared to its supposed relatives in our world. There’s no /f/ sound, but that’s not too unusual; actually, my oldest active conlang, Suvile, has the same restriction, so maybe it’s a personal thing. The main /r/ sound is more like that of American English rather than, say, a Spanish-like trill. About the only real sticking points are the long vowels—it’s a proper length distinction, one of quantity rather than quality—and the odd realization of /v/, which does come out closer to Spanish ([β̞], in case you were wondering).

Grammar-wise, it’s also nothing too out there. I could have thrown in antipassives or some other bizarre (compared to Europe) ideas, but I didn’t. That’s not to say there aren’t oddities. Virisai does have a case system. Its genitives are head-marked, which is fairly weird. There’s a suffix -te used for things like naming, and that can catch the unwary.

All in all, though, I’ve endeavored to make this a beginner-friendly conlang, something that wouldn’t be too difficult to pick up. The vocabulary is entirely unlike anything anyone on Earth knows, but that’s probably the hardest part.

Later on, we’ll delve more deeply into that, as well as the other languages of Otherworld. For now, enjoy “The Code Breaker” and the rest of A Bridge Between Worlds.