A Sample of Magalhana

I have been very busy lately, not having time for much outside my family and my mundane job as a tech writer. But I work every now and then om my novel. I am catching snippets of the moods, smells, light of Magalhana almost every day. Here is a small sample.

I headed for the tall terracotta-coloured caravanserai through an uneven alley lined with ramshackle cottages made of wood and corrugated sheet-metal and with mongrel dogs guarding the entrances. Dark women in colourful skirts and blouses sat in groups here and there, doing household chores while watching toddlers and chatting. Their husbands should be elsewhere in Degauer Satna, working in inns, stables and garages for transients like me. The ladies scrutinized me, a pale-skinned woman wearing plus-fours and a man’s hat; to them I must be an odd-looking female erþīn – “a stranger from beyond the waves”.

An Fan-Made Star Wars Movie

I consider myself an orthodox Star Wars fan, thoroughly enjoying 2½ movie and disliking 3½. There are always serious risks with having to much of an SF/X budget.

Today, someone showed me the link to an interesting low-budget fan-made Star Wars movie. I like the fans’ initiative, I like their lean budget. And Italian (don’t worry; it’s subtitled in English) can be very cool when spoken sternly. So watch and enjoy Dark Resurrection:

A hot event in the Cold War

In October 1981, Sweden and the Soviet Union came close to a naval shootout. A Soviet Whiskey-class submarine, carrying nuclear-tipped torpedoes, on some sort of recon mission ran aground inside the naval exclusion zone of the Karlskrona archipelago in southern Sweden. She was snooping around a war-time anchorage for Swedish MTBs and fast missile craft in a heavily mined bay. (The mines were inactivated in peacetime.) I remember the incident quite well, at that time being a university student that followed the live news broadcast on TV every afternoon after the lectures.

Today, the Svenska Dagbladet morning paper has a multi-page feature on the incident. Some ex-Soviet officers have now told their part of the story and it appears that twice the Kremlin was ready to send in the military to liberate the sub.

When a Soviet military salvage flotilla approached the Swedish territorial sea at the beginning of the crisis, the Karlskrona coast artillery, not yet fully mobilized, activated its war-time radar protocol, indicating to everyone that live ammo was being loaded. It was actually a bluff, because the guns would not to be ready for combat until a few hours later. The Soviet ships stopped because the flotilla commander was uncertain how to handle the development: on paper at least, his soft-skinned ships were outgunned.

A few days later, the Soviets prepared to dispatch a few hundred naval infantrymen to get the “beleaguered” sub out before she was inspected by Swedish officers. However, that nightly mission was scrubbed half an hour before the planned go-ahead, because the Swedish shore and air assets had been strengthened significantly. Our air force was ready to blast the Soviet flotilla with anti-ship missiles.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the matter was resolved peacefully. The Swedish navy inspected the sub and interrogated her senior officers. Her nuclear warheads were identified by radiation detectors. The Soviet navy had to take the humiliation of being caught pants down.

But it was an close shave, much closer than we citizens believed in those days. If matters had turned foul, it would not have caused a full-scale war, but it would have been many dead for both nations to bury. The political repercussions of a Soviet commando raid on a neutral neighbor would also have been significant. It was Ronald Reagan’s first year in the White House and he was already raising the stakes in the final round of the Cold War.

Interlingua in my fiction

Auxiliary languages have been around for almost 150 years. In an era where people in general got very little formal education, it was an appealing idea to create a easy-to-learn language that could be used to overcome the Tower of Babel problem, i.e. making it possible for people to acquire a neutral method for cross-border communication. The first such language was the elegant but unusable Volapük and number two became the most famous one: Esperanto, created by a physician. It is a clunky but functioning language that has acquired quite some reputation for being THE auxiliary language, probably thanks to its proponents’ idealistic ambitions during the first decades of the XXth century. During the following decades, several more were designed created, some by professional linguists.

In 2002 I was seriously bored for various reasons, so I decided to do something out of the ordinary: learn a new language. With the help of internet I read about auxiliary languages and found out about Interlingua. It was a beautiful Romance language, created by a multinational team of linguists in the United States in the 1940s at the request of a wealthy American patron who financed the venture. However, Interlingua has never been particularly successful; its adherents number a few thousand and it is fairly unknown to the general public. I think the reason is simple: it arrived too late — the need for auxiliary languages had disappeared with the advent of the modern school systems of the XXth century. When children spend 8-15 years in school instead of three, there is time enough to learn one or two foreign languages properly.

Anyhow, after a few months I had acquired a decent proficiency and started using Interlingua in contacts with other language nerds. I realized that it could be useful, too, in my writing projects. It looks and sounds like a mix of Latin and Italian, has a simple, mostly Germanic grammar, and most of the vocabulary is understandable for anyone knowing English. So I could use it as a substitute for Latin — it has the right archaic flavor while it is easy to learn, speak, write and read (which Latin isn’t).

In my novel Spiran and staven (S&S; The Sceptre and the Quarterstaff) I use the same type of linguistic device as Tolkien did in his Middle-earth texts. He let the common Westron be represented by English and its archaic relative Rohirric by Anglo-Saxon, i.e. ancient English. In Vidonia and Dire-weald, the locations for the adventures of my novel, people use several languages. The common Termali is represented by Swedish. There is also a language called Azuli, which has the same status as Latin in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. I cannot use Latin, because I don’t master it, but I decided that Interlingua could play that particular role. It resembles Latin sufficiently while it is manageable by me, the author. For instance, a phrase like Que sapientia dona luce al mundo (“May wisdom give light to the world”) is easy for me to compose and it is not nonsense to an educated Swedish (or foreign) reader.

I also used Interlingua as the trade creole for the colonists on the continent of Lemuria in the role-playing-game world Krister Sundelin and I wrote together. Most of the colonists had Spanish or Portuguese as native languages, so it was plausible that the new cross-national creole would have a Romance base.

I spent four years dealing with Interlingua, coincidentally the years during which I wrote S&S. For instance, I wrote a lot of popular science articles in Interlingua magazines and translated a short-story by sir Arthur Conan Doyle (link >>>). In 2006, life got problematic in the private sphere so there was no longer time for that hobby. But what I have learned won’t go away. I still have occasional contacts with interlinguists. Yesterday I exchanged some emails with a Dane in that language — the first time in some years that I used it actively — and I realized that I still wrote it more or less fluently. So that’s how I got the inspiration for today’s blog post.

My first “meet the author” experience

Yesterday evening, I was invited to the monthly meeting of Forodrim (the Stockholm Tolkien Society) to speak of my books. I was one of the two main attractions, the other being a well-known filksong bard. It was the first time that I was asked to speak in public about being an author and about the in’s and out’s of my two books.

Fortunately, I have no problems with standing on a stage so I (hopefully) entertained the audience (about 40 people) for half an hour with my memories of getting hooked on science fiction at age 8 and a quick explanation how coming from a clan of engineers and Jules Verne & Heinlein have influenced my manner of writing SF and fantasy. I tell stories of resourceful women and men solving complex problems with their sharp minds and clever use of technology.

In the case of fantasy, I do not play in the pseudo-medieval field. My fantasy stories instead operate in some sort of pre-steampunk environment with e.g. alchemy as a substitute for technology.

I also spoke of how my personal experience of two wars — Bosnia and Afghanistan — have propelled me into writing novels. In 1993 I worked as a civilian in the Swedish logistic tail for our blue berets serving in Bosnia and in 2008-09 I served as a civilian expert in Kabul. I was profoundly affected twice and writing about what I heard and saw through the lens of fantastic fiction has been both challenging and rewarding.

I also added my 5 cents to why steampunk never has been a genre of significant interest in Sweden. Our concept of the late 19th century deals with farming (Raskens), poverty (Fogelström’s Staden books), and large-scale emigration to the United States. Steampunk was created by Americans who had read a lot of Dickens. It will not resonate well with the Swedish psyche, because we would have a hard time associating that era with the relevant phenomena of steampunk.

On the other hand, I claimed, dieselpunk/dieselretro works much better among Swedes. Its era was filled with rapid development, a mix of optimism (things are getting better) & fear (totalitarian movements threatening our liberty), and the Bauhaus aesthetics (we call it “funkis”, short for funktionalism, and it has been extremely important for our architecture and interior decorating). Therefore it is easier for me to create enjoyable diesel visions of alternate worlds.

The audience were also happy to buy a lot of my books afterward. So it was a most enjoyable evening for everyone. I will be happy to appear at similar events in other places in the future. And I got at least two preliminary invitations straight away.

Magalhana: A growing world

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I nowadays spend much time on writing Ökenvandring, the sequel to Iskriget, and therefore I have less time for the blog. I have been working a lot on this new book for two weeks, making one false start and thereafter resetting the story to chapter II. It is a matter of focus: the world I have created is rich and wide, so it is easy to get side-tracked.

The Iskriget novel describes the south polar continent of Alba. In this alternate-history diesel-retro world, I have removed Antarctica and Australia and replaced them with Alba and Magalhana, two continents that provide me with the backdrop for the dramatic plots. The two short-stories attached to the end of Iskriget introduce the reader to Magalhana and reveal one or two plot elements that will be of importance in Ökenvandring, like the titanic World Mountain at the continent’s heart.

Whenever I look at the new novel, the continent grows. Focus, focus, focus, I have to tell myself. This is the story of Adèle von Rosen, a 20-something graduate student of archaic linguistics in 1940, and her (mostly indirect) involvement in the European republican rebellion. Iskriget introduces the reader to this war, which began in 1936-37 when Germans and Czechs revolted against the autocratic (Habsburg) Empire. Sweden followed suit and as a consequence got crushed and occupied by tsarist Russia. However, my protagonists see the war from afar, because they move in Earth’s outbacks. I do not wish to show the trenches running through Bohemia and Bavaria to the reader: those places are too horrible.

My aspiration is to create suspenseful adventures in exotic places, where the protagonists face a harsh nature, deal with ruthless enemies (not only the Imperials as Johnny discovers in Iskriget) and are forced to make tough choices about what constitutes a moral course of action in the middle of a war. Adèle gets angry at one occasion, takes what she considers to be the correct action and thereby gets entangled in local issues in a completely unforeseen way. Life is unpredictable and strenuous. Free will — yes, within limits — but one must face its consequences, too. Adèle knows what is right and does it, but she doesn’t (nor cannot) know what impact that action will have on the rest of her life.

I once faced an analogous situation — though my stakes at that time were not as high as Adèle’s — and I still encounter the consequences of that particular choice every now and then. I took the tough path through life. It has brought me both joys and hardships. I hold no regrets. And I use my experiences when writing Adèle’s story.