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.

Release: The Code Breaker (A Bridge Between Worlds 1)

The cycle begins anew…but not really. The Return to the Otherworld won’t come around until 2019 (coincidentally enough, the year in which the original Chronicles of the Otherworld takes place). Until then, you’ll be getting 6 shorter novellas I’ve entitled A Bridge Between Worlds. As the name suggests, they bridge the nine-month gap between Long Road’s End and the next story in the “main” Otherworld sequence, The Second Crossing.

First up is “The Code Breaker”:

Lee never regretted his decision to stay in the other world. He knew it would be hard, but he believed his hard work would be rewarded. Nimiesa left everything she knew behind, and now she waits for the day when she enters a new world of her own: the world of motherhood. Together, they are the first to bridge the stars, but leaving their past behind is harder than it seems.

Once again, the Otherworld series is, for the time being, a Patreon exclusive, and you can get access to it for a pledge of only \$3/month. On top of that, you’ll get the complete first season of the series, as well as many other novels and short stories.

Next up is “The Red Magician”, coming in March. Until then, keep reading!

Languages of the Otherworld: Introduction

In this new year of 2018, I think my “Let’s Make a Language” series can be retired. Maybe it’ll come out of retirement at some point down the line—that’s all the rage these days, isn’t it?—but it’s at a good stopping point, in my opinion.

But that means I need something else to write about, something to do with constructed languages. Well, since I’ve been writing so much on my own fiction, and one of my main settings involves heavy use of conlangs, why not use that? So here we are. This is another one of my sporadic post series, and it will focus on the languages I have created for my Otherworld setting. So far, I’ve put out 8 short novels (or long novellas, if you prefer) over at my Patreon, with another 6 shorter novellas coming this year. All told, I have plans for a total of 50 stories in the “main” course of this setting, and the languages are a key element. They’re pretty much the reason I started Otherworld in the first place. (That, and because Stargate Universe got canceled. The one thing I can thank Comcast for, I guess?)

So here’s how this is going to work: I don’t know. Seriously. I’m just going to write, and we’ll see what happens. I do want to talk about the creation of languages in general, using my own as both inspiration and example. I want to show off a little, too, and I hope you don’t mind. Most of all, I want this to be a kind of “behind the scenes” set of posts, a producer’s commentary for one element of the Otherworld.

Lay of the land

For this introductory post, I won’t go into too much detail about the languages themselves. Instead, I’ll give a broad overview of my thought processes going into the creation of the Otherworld setting.

First off, when I started Otherworld back in 2013, I had a goal in mind: to create a believable world. I’m not opposed to the kind of generic fantasy that gives no thought to its own backstory, but my preference is verisimilitude. I like a “realistic” world, one that I can imagine myself visiting, living in.

Thus, when making the languages of Otherworld, I didn’t set out to create anything too outlandish. The core conceit of the setting is that the fictional world is inhabited by a parallel development of humans that branched off from the first inhabitants of the Americas at the end of the Ice Age. Given the time and distance differences separating them from our familiar Old World languages, I felt comfortable creating those of the Otherworld from scratch. Too little is known about the protolanguages of America to disprove me, but that also means I didn’t really have much to work with. No matter. I prefer the a priori approach.

Early on, one of my ideas was a multiracial world, though one where the races were superficially similar to those of fantasy literature. So I needed at least one language for each race, because we’re dealing with a pre-modern world that wouldn’t have the normalizing elements of TV, radio, and other mass media. To preserve my sanity, though, I’m only fully detailing the most prominent examples of each. I justify this in text by simple expediency: the protagonists are too far away from other examples. They’re placed in an area that sees members of other races, but doesn’t always recognize their internal differences. So they consider the “Arassea“, for instance, to have a single language, and they name that language after its only known speakers.

My main concession to bias, I suppose, would be the mild stereotyping I’ve done with some of these languages. The Fassea race, to take one example, inhabits islands and coastal regions, and I drew heavily on Polynesian grammar and phonology for them.

All told, Otherworld has nine living races, and thus nine main conlangs. The tenth belongs to the Altea, mythologized forebears that, I must admit, are heavily inspired by the legends of Atlantis. They were human, but highly advanced, and they were the ones who originally colonized (and, for that matter, terraformed) the Otherworld itself. The timing just barely works, based on current archaeological evidence and theories.

So that’s our jumping-off point. Next time, we’ll get to looking at “Virisai”, the common tongue of the main story area. It’s by far the most well-developed of the Otherworld set, so it’s only natural that it gets top billing. Later on, I’ll work the others in where possible.

Otherworld talk 8

And so it ends. Well, the first season, at least. I’ll be revisiting the Otherworld for some time to come. But today, in the aftermath of Long Road’s End, let’s see how far we’ve come, and maybe where we’ll be going.

Trajectories

Each of the 7 main characters of the story grew. They learned, they improved—or so they like to think. The experience of the Otherworld was life-changing in most cases. In a few, it was instead life-affirming, but the principle is the same. After eighty days of living in a different world, a different culture, each takes something away.

Amy was the first character we saw, all the way back in Chapter 1 of Out of the Past. She spent most of her first morning in the Otherworld hiding in a corner, and she often had to be dragged or cajoled into helping with the overarching mission of survival. But that all changed with her first visit to the village of Alwan. The tiny town fit her like a glove, to the point where she learned to love her strange surroundings, and she most definitely went out on a high note. Now, she wants nothing more than to go back.

Jeff doesn’t have to go back; he’s already there. That’s a complete turnaround from the timid, nerdy linguist having nightmares of being left behind, but he’s got a very good reason. Okay, two reasons, the second being that he’s a young man who’s been snared by a borderline nymphomaniac. At least he realizes that much, and he does remember his goal in the coming months: to learn everything he can about the locals and their history, so the next group won’t have to go in blind.

Jenn doesn’t want to stay in the Otherworld, but she doesn’t mind visiting every year—but only if she’s in charge. Her biggest discoveries about herself were that yearning to be a leader and her faith. Put the two together, and she’s the most like the last group of people to find a whole new world full of Indians. But she did prove herself, and she wants the chance to do so again. Whether that’s as a leader, explorer, or missionary, she doesn’t really care.

Ryan was his own sort of leader. He had the charisma Jenn lacked, and he used that to immerse himself more in the local culture. That, in essence, was his plan all along, but he was really the only one out of the group who could pull it off. Maybe he spent two months on a summer construction job, but he feels those were productive months. Even his injury didn’t stop him; in reality, it gave him a new respect for the abilities of the natives. And now he sees the Otherworld as an opportunity to prove himself to, well, himself.

Lee, of course, had the most dramatic time of it. He sprained his ankle while falling into a lake, got married to a thief, saw her get abducted, rescued her, and made an enemy in his new home. His most important aspect remains his race—he’s the closest to the locals of anyone—but he spun that into an advantage. Now, he’s among people like those he always to meet, and he’s becoming one of them. In a way, his story is almost done, but those around him will have their tales to tell.

Alex started out as the geek of the squad, and so he remains. But he was able to take that and run with it, because the natives don’t see him as a nerd, but a wise, intelligent man. A teacher. One of them hopes to see him as much more, which leaves him baffled, but his experience in the Otherworld is all about learning and teaching. It may not be his kind of adventure, and he went through a rough middle portion of the journey. Since that didn’t kill him, he hopes it will make him stronger. It certainly made him thinner.

Ashley, last of our original seven, began her stay in the Otherworld as the feminist outraged at being stuck in a society dominated by men. She made friends—almost all women—because that’s how she is. And her specialty was sociology, so she felt it her duty to learn as much about the local culture as possible. That brought about her two most surprising revelations. For the native culture does, in its own way, like women just as much as men…and so does she. For Ashley, the hardest part will be dealing with these discoveries without letting them consume her.

Still to come

The remaining four members of the expedition didn’t get as much screen time, but they’re not forgotten, and that leads us into the plan for the future. There will be a Season 2. Right now, it’s titled Return to the Otherworld, though that may change.

Before that, however, I have a series of 6 shorter novellas, A Bridge Between Worlds. These cover the intervening time, because, if you’ll recall, there’s still nine months to go before the next time anybody can go through the gateway in Mexico. I didn’t want to pick things up then, as I’m not really a fan of skipping ahead like that, so this was my solution.

First up is “The Code Breaker”, centered around Lee and Nimiesa as they deal with troubles in their home and their potentially growing family. This one builds on some of the storylines first introduced in Episodes 7 and 8, as well as setting the stage for the rest of the “bridge” stories and Season 2.

That’s followed by “The Red Magician”, which, as you may expect, is Ayla’s story; Niel, the native student first met in Episode 6, has a supporting role as he tries to figure her out while she’s figuring out how best to bring science to a world that doesn’t really want it.

Next up is “The Control Variable”. This one’s a bit out of place, as it’s set on Earth. Following Amy and Alex, it’s almost a bit of a travelogue. They’re coming to terms with their journey, but also going around the country in search of the other Altea sites. Do they find them? You’ll see.

Fourth on the list is “The Dark Continent”, which only has a single point of view: Damonte. Except for that brief interlude at the end of Episode 8, he’s been missing for quite a while now. This is his story, almost completely apart from the others, and it’s our first real chance to get into his mind. As it turns out, that place can be darker than his skin, as he’s haunted by his last real encounter with the rest of the expedition.

Following that is “The Lessons Learned”. That one is Jeff’s story, as he delves into the history of the natives, hoping to find references to the even older Altea. But it’s also a story for Irai, because she has a tale to tell. Her chapters are a marked contrast to, say, Nimiesa’s; though they’re essentially in the same situation (in love with an Earthling), they treat it in two very different ways.

And last we come to “The Candle’s Flame”. The final bridge between Seasons 1 and 2 remains set in Mexico, following the other interplanetary couple: Ramón and Etanya. He brought her back with him for a reason, and this story is that reason. It’s also the only one of the set where it’s the native who’s the main character, but there’s a good reason for that: she’s the one out of place. She’s learning about a whole new world, and doesn’t that sound familiar?

This set of stories will come out through 2018. Hopefully, they’ll tide you over until I can finish Season 2. I’m hard at work on that, though, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey of mine. It’s had its highs and lows, its ups and downs, but I like to think I’ve created something great. No, I want to think I’m still creating it, because there are many more stories to be told in the Otherworld.

Release: Long Road’s End (Chronicles of the Otherworld 8)

So here it is. We’re at the end of our road, our long road. Appropriately enough, Episode 8 of Chronicles of the Otherworld is the season finale, and it’s titled Long Road’s End.

The end is in sight.

Over two months ago, eleven students found themselves stranded in another world. Now, they have made it their second home, but the time has come to return to their first. Before that, all that remains is a week-long holiday. A festival. Surely nothing can go wrong now, can it?

The trials are not done, and the members of the expedition know that nothing is set in stone. Until they are safely on Earth once more, anything can happen. And what if some of them don’t want to go back?

I hope you’ve had fun. I know I have. I took this journey long ago, but I feel I’ve been reliving it over these past few months, and not only because I’ve reread the series many, many times since then. Whatever your December holiday of choice, I hope you’re having a good one, and consider this last story of 2017 my gift to you. Yes, you have to pay for it, and you can only get it as a Patreon exclusive, but I’d say that 8 novel-length stories (a total of over 400,000 words) for only $3 is a good deal. And if you don’t like them, you can always find a reader in your family who does.

This may be the end of Chronicles of the Otherworld, but it’s most certainly not the end of the Otherworld setting. Join me in 2018 for A Bridge Between Worlds, and keep checking back here and on Patreon for info on Season 2, Return to the Otherworld. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the year.

Otherworld talk 7

If the previous episode, Situational Awareness, was the high point of Chronicles of the Otherworld, sometimes I think its followup, A Peace Shattered, is the lowest. I don’t know why, honestly. It just doesn’t seem to stack up. It comes between two of my favorite parts, but it doesn’t compare to either of them. Maybe you feel differently, though. Anyway, let’s talk.

Shattered

First off, I will freely admit that I had a hard time coming up with a plot for this one. All along, Chronicles was intended to be 8 parts, each with 8 chapters. It was a formula. And after I finished up Situational Awareness, I saw how to plan out the ending. But I had nothing to cover the weeks in between.

Thus was born the kidnapping sequence. It’s not my best, but I think it does an okay job of filling the gap. It’s plausible, and the actors involved might conceive of such a scheme. It ties up a loose end (Olof, from Episodes 5 & 6) while setting out another (Elgaan, who will be a thorn in Lee’s side for a while). It also brings together a few disparate parts of the expedition, connecting Ryan, Lee, Jenn, and Amy.

The natives don’t have a real police force. They don’t have a dedicated investigator to help solve the mystery of the disappearing doctor. That fits neatly into Jenn’s idea of herself as a vigilante (Episodes 4 & 6). On the other hand, Lee spends much of the time frustrated by a cultural difference: he isn’t allowed to participate in the investigation or interrogation, as he’s considered too partial.

There’s a lot of barely restrained rage on his part, a sharp contrast to the easygoing Lee of the first six episodes. And maybe contrast is what I was going for in this one, because a lot of characters end up acting different. But this is an emergency. One of their own has been taken, so they have to get serious.

Discovery

The second subplot for this episode is the quick dig, with the bizarre trio of Alex, Jeff, and Ayla going back to the site of their arrival to find some answers. Well, they don’t find all of them, but they do get the big one: the timeline.

From the beginning, I imagined the Otherworld as a place first visited before the Ice Age. The Altea, whoever they were—even I don’t know yet—came from Earth, emigrating permanently once the glaciers started melting. True victims of climate change, if you will. They were technologically advanced, compared both to their Neolithic neighbors and the modern inhabitants of America, but they died out long ago, when their second world began to suffer the fate of their first. (This one comes into play a bit later.) The site in Mexico was not their only gateway between worlds, but it’s the only one in friendly territory, you might say.

We saw some evidence of advancement back in Episode 4, the first time our intrepid heroes began nosing around the site’s underground. Here we get even more, as well as ironclad proof of the timeline. That was an idea I had long before I started writing this episode. If the Otherworld can have some animals otherwise extinct (American horses, northern peccaries and tapirs, etc.), then why not others? Why not one of the most famous Ice Age extinctions of all? And that plants the seed in the characters’ minds, too: if these are here, what else is?

So the archaeological dig without any archaeologists finds two things that completely rewrite history. That’s the bombshell of the series, even more than the very existence of the Otherworld. But I like to think I played it well. The Altea didn’t guide Paleo-Indians or their Otherworld cousins. None of the native creations of the Americas belong to them, with the exception of the sites like Tamaulipas. And it’s mostly the same on the other side. By the time the Mayans came around, the Altea were nothing more than dust; by the time the expedition arrives in the Otherworld, they’re only remembered as legends.

Setup

After this, there’s only one episode left in the season. The finale, if you will, and it takes a bit of a different approach. So will I, in these talks, so I’m going to talk a bit about it now. First off, it uses a bit of a different structure. Because so many things are going on, it doesn’t follow the usual “POV rotation”. Instead, the first six chapters whip around, each following a single day of the story and changing focus as needed. Alex, Jenn, and Amy get a higher proportion of the attention, but that’s because they have more to do. Chapter 7 is even more different, as it’s made up of seven scenes, one for each character. And the final chapter of the season is an epilogue: five scenes, one each for the four expedition members who never got a chance to speak, and the last for their honorary twelfth member.

I’ll talk more about the happenings of Episode 8, titled Long Road’s End, after it’s out. But I’ll gladly say that it was a fun, enjoyable experience. It was a pleasure to write, unlike this one, where I sometimes felt like quitting. It’s a good thing I didn’t, as I hope you’ll see soon.

Release: A Peace Shattered (Chronicles of the Otherworld 7)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Sure, it’s a couple of days early, but it’s the thought that counts. And if you’re not from the US, then consider this a different kind of holiday, one where you receive the gift of the Otherworld. Episode 7, entitled A Peace Shattered, is out now. Here’s what you’ve got to look forward to:

Nothing can be taken for granted, not when you’re in another world.

Guided by ancient writings, a new excavation is in order, one which may uncover the secrets the expedition has spent two months searching for. But this one will be different. This one will require native and alien hands alike, and it will answer a question no one thought to ask.

Even as some of the students investigate the ruins, the location of their arrival in this other world, others must carry on. There are preparations to be made, loose ends to tie up. And there is a man out there, a man with nothing to lose.

Only a few dollars pledge to my Patreon campaign gets you this story and its six predecessors. That’s less than fifty cents per book! How is that not a good deal? And it doesn’t even count all the other novels, short stories, and novellas you’d be gaining access to.

The Chronicles of the Otherworld finale, Long Road’s End, is coming soon. Only four weeks from today, in fact, on December 19. I hope to see you then.

Otherworld talk 6

The latest part of Chronicles of the Otherworld came out the other day over at my Patreon. For those who are counting, that’s Episode 6, Situational Awareness, and it’s probably my overall favorite. For once, I felt like everything just…clicked. The two main plots meshed well, the characters all had a role to play, the overall story advanced, and I even had some good action scenes buried in there. I won’t say it’s perfect (nothing I write ever is), but I do believe this is the jewel of the series.

Relationships are a big part of Chronicles, and I’m not just talking about romantic and sexual relationships. No, the primary focus of the entire series is how the expedition members react with each other and the natives of the Otherworld. It may have started out as nothing more than a worldbuilding playground, but this story very quickly became a character drama. So let’s talk about that today.

Friends and enemies

Living among a people for two and a half months (it’s not quite that far yet, but it soon will be), it’s only natural that a group of intelligent, outgoing—except for Alex—and open young people are going to make friends. In the beginning, that was impossible, thanks to the language barrier, but now, later in the story, they have grown more comfortable in the Otherworld. Every one of the primary characters has at least one friend from the natives. Some, like Ashley and Ryan, have many more.

The indigenous people of the Otherworld are, well, people, so that’s why this is possible. It’s only natural. Indeed, I intended it that way from the start. Maybe not the exact faces that would fill the “friend” roles, but they were supposed to be making friends all along.

Their existing friendships also strengthen due to their shared experience. Ryan and Ramón, for instance, got to know each other in the original dig, and they only grow closer as the weeks progress. By the end of it, there is some strain starting to show, but they’re such good friends that at least one native sees them as like brothers. Amy and Sara are another example, as they were best friends before they left home; eighty days of living and working together, of relying almost wholly on one another, will leave them in much the same situation. (Although they do have one glaring difference, as you’ll come to learn.)

On the other side of the coin, not everybody is always friendly. Few are outright hostile from the start, a situation I feel is realistic. Yes, the Otherworld has its malcontents, and even racists, but the members of the expedition need time to earn even their ire. The Kaldea (Episode 5) have cultural reasons to be unfriendly; we’ll see more about that later on. This episode’s bandit leader Olof is a special case even for them, though.

Mostly, the reason there aren’t more enemies is simple expedience on my part. The main conflicts are environmental and personal in nature. There simply isn’t that much room for eleven (or more) enemies. Jenn has a nemesis now, and Lee is in the process of picking one up. Alex and Ayla hate each other…for the most part. And who knows what Damonte will get into in his solo adventure.

Natural urges

So that’s it for friends, but some characters have become somewhat more than friends. That was nowhere near part of the original plan, I’ll admit. At the start, I never intended the series to become so sexualized, but there it is. I justify this by saying that these are college students, young adults, and they’ve been placed in a stressful situation where they completely lack adult supervision. It’s only natural that some of them will give in to their baser instincts.

Ayla does it as stress relief; as we’ll see later on, she figures that, hey, nothing else works, so why not give it a shot? Lee was basically tricked into it, but it turns out that he doesn’t really mind. Jeff essentially thinks he’s won the lottery, and Amy—well, we’ll get to that soon enough.

In sharp contrast, Ryan turns down all such offers (mostly off-screen). Jenn, as you saw in this episode, is happy being friends with Bryn instead. Alex assumes his first time with Ayla is also his last (he’s wrong), and Ramón holds up his Catholic upbringing as a shield. It’s not that they aren’t tempted. They certainly are, as the culture they find themselves in simply doesn’t have the same sorts of taboos as ours. It’s a lot more open, a lot less restrained. But they refuse to indulge for their own reasons.

The natives pick up on all of this. After all, they’re not stupid. But they also see these newcomers (with a few exceptions) as the semi-mythical Altea. As Ashley explains in this past week’s episode: what poor, lonely woman wouldn’t want to improve her lot by getting together with what she sees as a demigod? It’s much different for the native men, a topic we’ll see picked up in Season 2, but many of the relationships that spring up stem from this.

And that was something I intended. Maybe I didn’t expect to take things this far, but…they did, and it works. Especially in this part. Next up is Episode 7, a case where I think much the opposite. I’ll see you then.

Release: Situational Awareness (Chronicles of the Otherworld 6)

Six down, two to go. With the release of Episode 6, Situational Awareness, the long-running saga is nearing its inevitable conclusion.

In another world, the strangest thing to discover might be oneself.

Whether caught in the standoff, fleeing the scene, or hiding away in a distant village, the members of the expedition are forced into an uncomfortable situation. The outlaws are not going away. No, they are seeking something, someone, and they have the force necessary to take what they want.

Miles away, down the river, new discoveries are being made. Archaeology it is not, but the research is no less difficult, no less vital to their ultimate goal of returning to their home planet. Yet the ancient writings are not the only object of interest. As ever, the most impact is made by the people of this land.

Not a lot to say that hasn’t been said already, so head on over to my Patreon for more information. A small donation of $3 gets you this episode and the previous five; keep it for the rest of the year, and you’ll have the remaining two parts to go with them.

Episode 7, A Peace Shattered, will come out November 21, so make plans to ignore your turkey and your shopping while you immerse yourself in the Otherworld.

Otherworld talk 5

The second half of Chronicles of the Otherworld has begun. You might say it’s all downhill from here, except…well, it’s really not. We haven’t hit the highest notes of this song quite yet. But we have seen a new episode released (The Bonds Between Us), so that’s a good excuse for a new chat about this setting from the man who created it. This time around, I want to take a deeper look at the “local” culture of the Otherworld, the Virissea. Personally, I feel they’re one of my greatest creations. To think, they started off as nothing more than a background element for their language.

The language

That one’s not even an exaggeration. As I’ve said numerous times, the initial seed for the Otherworld series came when Stargate Universe was canceled. Nobody was doing good “exploration” sci-fi anymore, or even exploration fantasy. (Monarchies of God is a great series in that vein, by the way.) Now, that’s not to say I thought I could do better, but I knew I could do better than nothing. Since nothing was what I had, how could I lose?

More importantly, though, the Otherworld setting started out as a kind of language playground. The details of the native tongue (as well as quite a few others in the setting) predate most other notes by months. And the one I called “Virisai” was first on the list.

As languages go, it’s nothing remarkable, and I intended that from the very start. This isn’t an alien language, because these aren’t aliens. That goes hand-in-hand with the “alternate timeline” setup. And yet I didn’t really want a typical Amerind language, because a lot of those are horrendously complex. There’s no way a bunch of college students could become anywhere near fluent in one of those in less than three months. But, I figured, since I had so much “alternative” time to work with, I could plausibly say that this is a whole new language family, as well, one that didn’t follow its brethren in development. In other words, it branched off too early to pick up some of the more convoluted aspects of American indigenous languages.

Beyond that, the language is fairly straightforward. It has a few hangups, a few unexpected complexities, and I’ve found ways to work some of those into the narrative. (Mostly, this comes in Jeff’s chapters, as he’s the linguist, though Amy occasionally notes one.) But I do intend it to be a “natural” constructed language. It’s meant to be spoken, written, read. In fact, I do have a translated Babel Text lying around somewhere, and I’ve considered doing other works when I have the free time.

The culture

The culture of the Virissea, like their language, shares that “same but different” quality. These people may look like your typical Native American, but they are certainly not American. They don’t fit the realities or the stereotypes. They’re there own thing, and most of the culture shock is about dealing with that other thing.

For those in the midst of the story, I’ve intentionally designed the culture to be not outrageously dissimilar from anything on Earth. The local Virissea are monotheistic, for instance, though there’s a strong hint of ancestor worship in there, too, and a fairly complex mythology regarding the otherworldly Altea, who supposedly helped to create the world after their own was destroyed in some previous cataclysm. As they looked different from the Virissea, those members of the expedition who look the most outlandish are seen instead as these mythical people: Jeff, Jenn, Ayla, Sara. Lee and Ramón, by contrast, get treated as some kind of prodigal sons, while Damonte is something else entirely.

Other parts of the culture likewise follow this trend. These people don’t have human sacrifices, but they do have some strange taboos and rituals. They may not play the Mayan ball game, but they’ve got one of their own. Their science isn’t nearly as advanced as ours, so advanced technology is seen as magic instead (following Clarke’s Third Law), but that’s okay, because they already have a mythos full of magic. They just fit computers and solar panels into that, and go on about their day.

That, I think, is my primary goal with this culture. Too often, we assume that modern Americans meeting a more “primitive” people will be treated as either gods or devils because of our technology, attire, beliefs, and general otherness. And to be fair, some members of the expedition get the godly treatment, but they don’t intentionally play to it—with one notable exception.

But there can be a third road, where we’re neither demonized nor canonized. Think about it. If you’ve never seen a tablet computer before, but you get told stories every week of a legendary hero who carried around a magic spellbook, it’s not that great a leap to equate the two. Either one is so far beyond you that it’s almost required by Occam’s Razor. But that doesn’t mean the guy carrying that tablet is a god, not when you’re also taught that there’s only one of those.

In other words, no matter how different the Virissea are, they’re still people. Humans. They have a civilization, a culture, and they’re desperately trying to fit these newcomers into their world without breaking too much. In other words, exactly what I would want to do if presented with a representative of an advanced alien race.

The others

And that makes a good segue into matters of race. For the Otherworld, the subject is a bit tricky. Everyone in it (except for our intrepid heroes) descends from the original inhabitants of the Americas. Yet some of them are…different. I’ll leave the whys for later, because I think the simple idea is enough to get started.

I did intend on having multiple human subspecies in the Otherworld from the start. (That is totally not me ripping off The Dagger and the Coin, except when it is.) And I even made them fit the classic fantasy stereotypes. The Lyssea, who show up again in this episode, are a reinterpretation of elves. The Kaldea beating down Ayla’s door fill the “dwarf” role. Even last episode’s Arassea work, as they started off in my head as vaguely orc-like. That’s not to say these races are their fantasy inspirations. Oh, no. But it’s a perfect excuse for some people—particularly a certain character very drawn to fantasy literature—to see them as such.

All told, there are ten total races in the Otherworld, if you count the Altea. (And if you don’t count the modern Earthlings of the expedition.) Some of them can interbreed; some of them would rather not. Each has its own culture, language, and outlook, and I use that to set up quite a few interesting plotlines. The Arassea slavery angle, for one, or the Kaldea and their cabal-like protection of their technology. On top of that, there are racial tensions, and even some outright racism. Why? Because the Otherworld is not a utopia. It’s imperfect, just like ours, and part of the story’s development is peeling back those layers to find the imperfections.

The upcoming

That’s all for this installment, but the chronicles will keep coming. Next up is Situational Awareness, which is my favorite episode of the first season. I loved writing it, I love reading it, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. Until then, have fun in either world, and be sure to look at my other stories.