Those of you reading this are about to learn a secret that I doubt the eventual readers of our eventual book(s) will ever imagine:

Our epic fantasy is science fiction in disguise. Really, really deep disguise.

I am often able to lose myself in someone else’s fantasy novel without questioning, for example, the provenance of human beings on a planet that is very obviously not Earth. When constructing my own, however, I want an explanation, if only so my brain will stop complaining about convergent evolution and crap like that.

So our planet’s humans are descendants of colonists that originated on Earth. Our magic systems are examples of Clarke’s third law; they are technological in origin, even if the wielders don’t know it and the readers never guess. And so on.

(It occurs to me that I do this for much the same reason that I slaved over villanelles and sestinas but rarely bothered with free verse. I don’t work well in a loose system; it feels … sloppy. Give me a tight framework, please, and let me weave something intricate around it.)

By the time we got a trilogy’s worth of plots and characters roughed out, we had four major countries, each with a distinct culture. Each of these peoples has its own language, but again — the secret is that they’re all descended from a future English, which was the shared language of the colonists over a thousand years before. They are all cousins, like French to Spanish.

Jak and I are both getting tired of the lack of names for our major characters; we’ve been making do with placeholders like ‘mountain king’ and ‘red herring dude.’

So late last week I began the complex process of creating four separate versions of ‘far future English’, learning the necessary linguistics as I go. I spent almost all of Saturday and Sunday on it, on little sleep, and nearly burned myself out. Now I’m progressing a bit more slowly. Language One is at the phoneme stage, Three is into morphemes and basic vocabulary, and Two, where I’ve spent the most time so far, is all the way into early grammar. (Language Four I haven’t even started; none of Book One’s major characters are named in it, so it can wait.)

I’m enjoying the linguistic geekery quite a bit, despite occasionally feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Plus it was totally worth it to read off a pair of sentences in Language Two, with translation, and watch Jak’s eyes go wide and his mouth fall open. Heh.


  1. 28 May 2009 at 7:41 am

    Clearly we need to have more discussions about quantum mechanics and parallel universes. :)

  2. 28 May 2009 at 10:45 am

    Nah, then you’re into alternate history, which has its own set of limitations … ones that didn’t seem to fit well with the stories we were discussing.

  3. 30 May 2009 at 9:04 pm

    this is one of the many reasons Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward is my favourite novel. It looks like fantasy, but if you think about the backstory it sets up, it’s SF. most awesome.

  4. 31 May 2009 at 7:40 pm

    (adding Only Forward to library queue)

  5. 4 Jun 2009 at 7:42 am

    By the way, Stacy, you might like Sheri Tepper’s The Awakeners — it’s the only example of SF-masquerading-as-fantasy I know of, and what gave me the idea.

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