Saturday, 3 March 2012

The last post (probably)

According to my stats, this is blog 188, according to Blogspot’s it’s 185. Doesn’t matter, though, because it’s (probably) the last one here. For the record, I think blogspot's a great place to have a blog - very quick and easy to use and demanding nothing in the way of expertise with codes, programming or any of those other terrifying skills which seem accessible to 7 year olds but not to me. In case you didn’t know, my reason for moving is that I’ve got a new website and I’ve attached my blog to it. It seemed to make sense at the time. So, if you’d like to see more of the living, writing and other stuff I muse over and you haven’t yet visited the new place, it’s here. Thanks for all the comments. I hope you'll keep on making them.

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Surprise! Aliens that aren’t humanoid.

A welcome visit from another guest blogger, my friend and fellow Pfoxmoor author, Greta van der Rol. I first came across her through her historical novel, Die a Dry Death. It’s a reimagining of an actual historical event and I found it completely absorbing. Since then, she’s produced many fine books, in a totally different genre. She says she loves writing ‘science fiction with a large dollop of good old, healthy romance’. Mind you, with a degree in history and a background in building information systems, perhaps her straddling of the genres isn’t so surprising. She lives not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia, where she takes great photographs and she’s apparently an excellent cook. This is part of her blog tour to celebrate the release of Starheart and, as part of it, she’ll be giving a $25 Amazon gift voucher to one person who leaves a comment on any of the blogs she’s visiting until 10th March. So leave her a note and that could be you.
It’s all yours, Greta.

Thanks for hosting me, Bill. I’m very grateful.

I’m here to talk about my new novel, Starheart, which is science fiction with a slurp of romance. Don’t let that put you off, though. You’ll find a slurp of romance in Doctor Zhivago, War and Peace and Gone with the Wind and some people quite enjoyed those.

During this blog tour, I’ve mentioned the story is set in the same universe as my two ‘Iron Admiral’ books but I’m given to understand that not everybody has read those, so I’d better introduce you to the aliens in the novels – the ptorix.

When I first dreamed up the ptorix, I was determined that my aliens were NOT going to be humanoid. To me, the probability of encountering another sentient species that looks like us is so far off the scale it’s come around the other side. On the other hand, I believe that if we are ever to be in conflict with another species, it has to be for a reason, such as we live on the same type of planet. I mean, why on Earth (pun intended) would some blob that lives in a gas giant want to come here? We’ll leave out how. Moreover, the species in my story would have to be not just intelligent but technologically advanced in order to build space ships. Whales and dolphins are intelligent but apart from anything else, they don’t have the physiology to manipulate building materials even if they wanted to. My aliens therefore have manual dexterity, even if they don’t have ‘fingers’. Enough of the theory – meet the ptorix.

Ptorix are essentially conical in shape, something they exaggerate with their clothing. They have no neck and the head ends in a dome. The body is covered in short blue fur. Their four arms end in a number of tentacles which can be deployed in a variety of ways. Think of a sea anemone and you’ve about got it right. They have four short legs but these are usually hidden beneath their robes. Three eyes which change colour according to mood are located almost equidistant around the top of the head, enabling a ptorix to see almost the whole way around its body without moving. They have two ‘mouths’, one – resembling a proboscis – for eating, the other for breathing and speaking. So from a human viewpoint, they’re pretty weird.

Now let’s go and talk to Professor Xanthor, who holds the chair of human-ptorix studies at  Shernish University on Carnessa. He plays a small, but important role in the Iron Admiral books. He has agreed to tell us a little about the background of the ptorix.

I found him in his study, resting on a platform at his desk (the ptorix don’t sit down). Eyes swirling orange, tentacles moving gently, he welcomed me in and directed me to a human chair. Note: the eye colour depends on the frequency of the radiation they emit – so red, being a longer frequency, is total calm, whereas violet indicates anger.

Good morning, Professor. Thanks so much for your time.
My pleasure, Greta. It is always nice to communicate peacefully with humans.

I appreciate that the ptorix have spread from their Galactic arm throughout much of the Galaxy. But do you know which world they originally came from?
Well now. The original home of the ptorix is lost in time. It has taken the Khophirate, what you call an Empire, many thousands of years to expand to its greatest extent – and, as you know, to contract to its current size.  But there is speculation, of course. For your audience, suffice to say it was a planet like this one – suitable for you humans as well as ptorix, with water, similar air and gravity and so on.

What can you tell me about your very early ancestors?
Oh, I think just looking at us will give some answers. The ptorix were originally prey animals. This is why we have such wonderful eyesight. We can see anything around us unless it is directly behind us and we see much more of the light spectrum than you do.

So what changed?
How did we become dominant? (His tentacles lashed a little and his eyes swirled through yellow and green – thoughtful) We had the advantage of a large brain, which we needed to process the image from our eyes. And we had our tentacles. We could make weapons at first to defend ourselves from the predators and later to kill other animals for food. We found, too, that living in cooperative family groups made us more powerful, even against the largest predator.

We had always been scavengers, living on the remains of flesh killed by others. (He rubbed at his proboscis) We ptorix find it strange that humans eat solid flesh. Please forgive me. We find it disgusting and so inefficient. We wait until the flesh has softened enough for us to suck up the nutrients. Of course, this is done with chemical additives, now. Only the best restaurants let the flesh putrefy of its own accord.
However, we were nothing if not adaptable. We learned to find other foods, modify our diet for different environments and eventually, different worlds.

But back to our ancestors on their first world. Soon enough, they ran out of natural caves to live in and were forced to build new dwellings. Even now, after all these centuries, we build homes that look like caves. (He waved an arm, taking in the curved walls of his office, the eye-watering decorations and the stalactite-like embellishments in the ceiling which emitted soft light).

I thanked Professor Xanthor for his time and went home to write this. So there you have it. Aliens need not be humanoid.

You can find out more about Starheart on Amazon here

I’ll be at another friend's blog on 5th March to tell you about the sparks that fly between Jess and the Admiral, the main characters in the book.

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