One of my early influences

I’ve always been a huge proponent of space flight, particularly manned space flight.  And one of my great disappointments with NASA is that if they’re working toward making it possible for me (or, more likely, my daughter) to be able to go, then they’re hiding that quite well when it’s what they should be selling.

I grew up during Apollo.  I watched the first men go to the moon.  I watched the last men go to the moon. (Dammit.)  I watched Skylab demonstrate that people could live and work in space.  And I watched the Shuttle go from a project intended to bring the cost of taking people and equipment into space to a finicky hardware system that had to be nearly rebuilt after every flight costing more per pound delivered to orbit than Apollo.

But there was more than just the “Moon race” that captivated me.  There was a book.  It was my favorite book in late first, early second grade.  It was the reason that I stated unequivocally back then that “black is my favorite color.”  For a long, long time I was trying to find that book.  I identified some of the pictures from it, pictures I found in a different context, but not that book.

Well, thanks to a friend’s posting on FaceBook, I found the book.  I found it, and I am going to own it.  The book is “You Will Go to the Moon” by Mae and Ira Freeman.

Survival Test, Snippet 2

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER ONE (Part two)

For three days, Karen Gold had been working eighteen hours out of every twenty-four on the Troy Mission. Harry Jordan’s call had come as a welcome break.
She commanded FTI’s Troy Mission, a research mission en route to one of the Earth-Sun Trojan points. Astronomers had recently discovered several small asteroids there and they were to investigate and conduct assays.
The drive core formed the center of the ship. The ion engines that drove them, now turned in the direction of their travel to brake the speed they had developed in the first half of their trip, dominated one end and the gossamer fine web of the solar panels dominated the other. In between and on either side were the living quarters, twin cylinders that rotated around the drive core to provide artificial gravity for the sixty-three crewmembers that occupied them. The living quarters connected to the drive core by a pressurized tube and tether assembly at the center and stabilizing tethers at the ends.
The drives were shut down. Their schedule had enough margin that, from this distance, they could have the engines down for more than ten days and still rendezvous with the asteroids ahead of them. A slight increase in deceleration would make up for the lost time.
Gold and her second in command, Harry Jordan, clung to the mesh of small handholds that covered the outside of drive section of the ship. A technician responsible for the upkeep of the drive led them.
Sweat clung to Gold’s upper lip, carrying its saltiness into her mouth.
“There,” Jordan said as they passed the edge of the shroud and the engine drive units came into view. “Number three’s the one.”
Gold followed his pointing finger to the number three, of twelve, drive unit. The housing had been rotated on its gimbals so that sunlight caught the ends of the drives at an oblique angle. The electrostatic rings, which accelerated the ions produced by the engines and produced the thrust that drove the ship, cast shadows across the porous tungsten ion generator plates. Even so and over the distance that yet remained, Gold saw the hole in the ion generator plate.
“That’s just great,” Gold said. “How did it happen?”
“Drive electrode erosion, but not even over the surface,” Jordan said. “A thin spot formed. Fuel pressure forced a crack that spread. The panel blew out.”
Gold pulled herself closer. The ragged edges of the whole twisted outward as if the plate had been punched open from inside. “What’s this do to our flight?” she asked.
“By itself, it’s not too bad,” Jordan said. “We can run on eleven engines if we have to and still have deceleration power to spare. I’m more concerned about the others.”
“I can see that,” she thought for a moment, remembering some of the reports she had read, reports that related to their engine fuel and power usage. “We can probably afford to lose two more and still make it, but if this happened to one, why can’t it happen to all of them?”
“Order’s, Captain?”
Gold swallowed. They couldn’t risk losing any more engines. The crew would have to inspect each one for any signs of weakness such as had damaged this one. They could seal small cracks before those cracks led to a failure such as this one. The repair would reduce engine performance, but it would be better than the loss of an entire engine. With the erosion of the drive electrodes continuing, those inspections would have to be an ongoing process, and they could not afford to shut down the drives every time they needed to make an inspection. She shook her head, hating the orders emerging from her mouth, “Have a complete inspection done of all the engines. Do it quick, but do it thorough. Then, set up a rotation of individual engine shutdown and inspects for the rest of the flight. We can’t afford to stop boosting for those, so pull each engine while the others are still running.”
“Dangerous,” Jordan said.
Gold nodded. “But that’s the only way we’ll make it.”
“Understood, Captain,” Jordan said, “Should I ask for volunteers.”
Gold thought for a moment. A call for volunteers would be romantic, and if this were an old science fiction movie someone would be willing to put his own life on the line to save the lives of the rest of the crew. They would probably die heroically to save the ship. She could not, however, take the chance. “No, Harry. Let the drives crew take it in turn.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And I’d better get on the horn with Clarke and make sure that they get a complete new set of drive electrodes, and spares, in that robot resupply mission.”
Suddenly, the thought of reviewing mounds of reports increased enormously in appeal to Gold.


Colonel Dave Mason, commander of Nasa’s lunar base, entered meeting room last. Although he had called the meeting, he felt more nervous than any of the others. He had spent the last two days speaking with various officials on Earth, including General Russell, his immediate superior. He liked each answer he got less than the one before it.
He needed a drink and he needed one badly, but not now.
Everyone, except in official communications, called the base Lunaville. Mason had called it that as a joke when he first arrived. In old science fiction stories the first moon colony was often called Luna City but they weren’t big enough to be a city, thus the nickname “Lunaville” since it was more the size of a village than a city. The name had stuck.
Mason’s four primary subordinates sat at the table. He liked to think of them as his officers although all except Major Brian Angel, his second in command, were civilians.
“We have a problem,” Mason could not restrain a grim smile at the understatement. “The North African Confederacy has made demands that, if followed, would mean the end of the space program, including all civilian projects.”
“The North Africans?” Tad Alexander, who headed the industrial section, shrugged. “Ignore them. What can they do?” Tad was the shortest person at the table, about 170 centimeters tall. His short stature and pot belly had created an impression in Mason’s mind soon shattered b yseeing Alexander performing Tai Chi forms with liquid grace in the gym, adapting them to the one-sixth gravity of the moon.
Mason smiled wryly. “They have threatened ‘dire consequences’ if we fail to comply with their demands.”
“‘Dire consequences’?” Alexander snorted. “Why does every tin pot country with a grudge think they can order the U. S. around with vague threats?”
“I agree with Tad,” Leonard Franklin said. “ibnAllah’s nuts. Ignore him.” As chief doctor, Franklin did more than dispense advice on how to remain healthy and fit on the moon. He took his own advice. When duty did not keep him occupied he spent fully twice as much time in the gym as regulations required, most of that time on the bicycles or treadmills. At fifty, he still retained a narrow waist and a slim, but muscular frame, topped by a close-cropped brush of gray hair.
“It’s not that simple,” Mason said. He tossed a sheaf of printouts onto the desktop. “I just got an intelligence report which I am cleared to release here. The North Africans have, over the past five years, conducted a number of tests of satellite launchers, solid fueled. All have failed, crashing seven to nine thousand miles downrange.”
“I don’t understand,” Franklin began. “Why do we care about failed rocket launches?”
“They may have failed to launch satellites, but does that mean they failed as rockets? They reached a range of five thousand miles or more,” Angel said. “That’s the range that defines an ICBM, isn’t it?”
Mason nodded.
“ICBMs?” Alexander half rose from his seat. “That’s not….”
“In addition,” Mason kept his voice level, “they have been secretly–or so they thought–developing thorium reserves. Those reserves have been vanishing. Nobody’s been able to find out what the North Africans are doing with them. At least, if they have, they’re not telling me.”
“Thorium?” This time Angel cocked his head in puzzlement.
“Thorium.” Alan Blanchard, head of the scientific team, nodded. “It can be bred into uranium 233 which is fissionable. I’ve never heard of it being used for a bomb, but I suppose it’s possible.” He frowned. “If it is, then we’ve got a real problem. Thorium is more than three times as common as uranium.”
Blanchard was the oldest person at the table. At sixty-three, he had somehow managed to acquire PhD’s in physics, geology, and mathematics. When Mason read his personnel file, he had learned that he also had the coursework for further degrees in chemistry and astronomy. Even more, Blanchard continued taking extension courses in engineering in the midst of his work with the Lunaville science team. Mason wondered where Blanchard found the time to have a wife, three kids, and four grandchildren back on Earth.
“Oh, God.” Franklin dropped his head onto his hands, while his elbows rested on the table. “A madman with nukes.”
“Exactly,” Mason said. “As a result, we’ve got to tread carefully. I’ve been told that we might have to shut down for a while; move everyone back to Earth until it blows over. I’m told that we’ll open back up once the current furor dies down, or when ibnAllah’s subjects have deposed him.”
Mason had to swallow. He did not believe that Lunaville would reopen in his lifetime if they shut down. Maybe it would never open again.
“So what do we have to do?” Angel asked softly.
“Prepare to shut down and evacuate,” Mason said. “Try to leave things so that those who come after us, to reopen, will have an easy time of it.”
He paused. “Tad, check over our equipment. Whatever we can mothball, we’ll leave here. The rest will have to be either scrapped or sent back to Earth.”
Alexander looked as if he would argue. Mason locked gazes with him. A moment later, Alexander nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I don’t think you’ll have much to worry about, Leonard. I don’t think you have any equipment that we need to worry about either mothballing or taking back.” He turned to Blanchard.
“We already share scientific data pretty freely, Blanchard said. “Maybe my team can stay?”
Mason shook his head. “Do you want to bet your lives on ibnAllah behaving reasonably? Frankly, if we do shut down there won’t be a ship out this way for the duration. That means no bus home for you or your team. It also means no supplies. The eating would get mighty thin, mighty fast. Sorry, but if we go, you’ll go too.”
Blanchard sighed and nodded. “I’ll try to get as much set up to run without us as I can. We can at least beam data back to Earth.”
“Good man,” Mason said. To the room at large, he added, “I’d like to point out that this is all worst case stuff. The suits in Washington may still convince the U. N. to reject the North African demands. The North African threats may be empty. Someone may put the brakes on President ibnAllah. Anything can happen.”
The looks in their faces told Mason that they did not believe him. Fair enough. He did not believe himself.
“All right,” he said. “You’re dismissed.”
Angel remained as the others filed out. “It’s worse than you’re saying, isn’t it?”
Mason nodded. “The North Africans have already rejected three compromises out of hand. They obviously believe they’re holding a strong hand, so they probably have both missiles and nukes. Gods, they probably think that they’ve got God on their side so they can’t possibly lose.”
“IbnAllah?” Angel shook his head. “Do you know what that means?”
Mason shook his head. “I never learned Arabic. Something about Allah?”
“I spent a tour in Riyadh before…. Anyway, ‘ibn’ means ‘son of’. ‘Allah’, of course, is their name for God. Since they haven’t already stoned him for blasphemy, yeah, I’d say, yeah, they believe they have God on their side.”
“If that’s the case, the current administration will probably cave in the end.” He sank into his seat. “You know my tour out here has destroyed my marriage.” His wife had “Dear Johned” him just a week before. He rubbed tiredness out of his eyes. “And now it’s all for nothing.”
“Not for nothing,” Angel said. “We’ve already accomplished a lot.”
“Nothing,” Mason repeated. “All we’ve accomplished will be undone in the next few years. I’ve seen it happen before.”
Angel shrugged. “Then we start over.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Mason sighed. “Whatever. I need a drink.”
This was all Schneider’s fault, Mason thought. If Richard Schneider and his company had not been so active in exploiting space, maybe the North Africans would have left everyone else alone. But he wasn’t content with just grabbing the launch market. He had to control transport between orbit and the moon, have two space stations of his own and launch the space stations built by the Japanese and Germans. Worse, he had to get the contract for shipping to Lunaville and, in exchange, get the metal Lunaville produced as a by-product of oxygen extraction and ship it out to where he was building that space colony.
While Mason had no argument with what Schneider did. Building space stations and colonies were all good things so far as Mason was concerned. That one man did it disturbed him. Schneider seemed set on becoming king of all space and that probably set off the North Africans.
Maybe someone should lock ibnAllah and Schneider in an arena somewhere. It would be fitting. Let those two people who thought they were God kill each other.

The Perpetual Decline of Civilization?

Back in the day on an old online service (the Internet existed, but it had not yet really begun to take off) GEnie, there was a Science Fiction Roundtable. As a member of SFWA (I was once under the belief that membership might help my career. What can I say; we’re all young and stupid once.) I had a “freeflag” to this group.

So, in one discussion I pointed out that one of the things I didn’t care about in Tolkien was this idea that that the world was in perpetual decline. Yes, I’m aware of the mythic underpinnings of such a structure–classic myth with it’s Gold, Silver, and Iron ages, each progressively worse than the one before. Still, it didn’t fit my world view and that was a source of frustration with the world of Middle Earth and since the world is very much a character, in some ways the main character, well…

I got jumped on by a Special Snowflake who insisted that of course the world is in decline. We’re all worse off than our ancestors were.

Wait. What?

I pointed out that all Caesar’s wealth could not have bought him a single Tylenol(r) for his headache to be met with a response that the Romans had access to Opium.

Wait.  What?

The answer to a proxy for modern medicine even at the low end was that they had opium?  And I’ll give them Ethanol and, are willows native to Europe?  I don’t know, but in the absence of knowledge, let them have willow bark as well.

Against that we have the contents of my medicine cabinet.

But the kicker was when someone else told me that she (yes, it was a she) would have to get used to having slaves do all the stuff we do with machines today, but it would really be no worse than living today.

Wait. What?

First off, having machines rather than slaves to do menial chores is not in and of itself a major improvement on past society? Did she really mean that?

But the real question is, what unbridled hubris led her to think she would be the slave owner instead of the slave?

At that point I just gave up.  The person in question was all holier-than-thou “I’m not interested in trying to convince you.” (Good thing given that you’re so utterly, egregiously, wrong.)

The world has generally gotten better over the years, the decades, the centuries.  It may have its ups and downs.  There may be reversals from time to time, but in the long run the trend has been upward.

And, thus, while I will occasionally venture into some dark explorations, my futures tend to be upbeat and hopeful.  Problems are problems to overcome, not some inevitable collapse into everlasting hell.  This is the kind of fiction I like to write.  This is the kind of fiction I like to read.

I don’t think I’m alone.

Survival Test, Snippet 1

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

David L. Burkhead

Full Earth and Gibbous Moon shown in the sky

Richard Schneider, President and CEO of FutureTech Industries, pushed himself off the construction hauler. He clipped his brake to the tether that ran from The Rock, the small artificial silicate asteroid that served as an anchor, to the O’Neill Construction Shack. The Shack and the Rock each revolved around the docking fixture at their common center of gravity to provide a modest artificial gravity in the Shack.
The moon hung to one side of the rock appearing to pull slowly away from it as the rock moved through space. The Earth lay sixty degrees away from the moon–four times its size and many times as bright. In the distance, the partially completed space colony, O’Neill sparkled in the sunlight.
Schneider slid down the tether, his brake restraining his speed until he landed next to the airlock. When ships arrived, a pressurized tube provided a shirt-sleeve environment from the docking fixture to the Shack. When no ships waited, as none waited now, entry and exit proceeded as Schneider entered.
Julia Markham, commander of the O’Neill construction project, met Schneider as he finished cycling through the airlock. “Everything go well?”
Schneider nodded. He removed his helmet and took a deep breath of the fresher air in the construction shack. A slight scent of pine tinted the air, not strong enough to be annoying, just enough to kill the sterile scent of recycled air. Schneider welcomed the change after six hours in a pressure suit. The corridor stretched in each direction, narrow as a concession to the need to cram so many people, their offices, and supplies into a limited space. Pastel paints covered the walls in shades of blue and green. Coves along the upper corners of the corridor hid the lights, providing a soft, even lighting as they reflected off the ceiling. The chirping of crickets sounded at the edge of hearing from hidden speakers.
Schneider had told the people designing the construction shack to make it as comfortable as possible for the people working here. They would be facing long hours, far from home, in cramped quarters. Anything they could do to relieve the unpleasantness would help. The shack had to come out in one piece so the capacity of their ships limited its size, but other things could be, and had been, done to improve its comfort.
“I found a few problems that I think we can fix. They’re mostly procedures and equipment that need updating. The few personnel problems I found are small and easy to fix. You’ve got good people.”
Julia smiled. Schneider had hired her not long before beginning his inspection tour of FTI’s off-Earth facilities. When he looked at her resume he had been about to pass her over. She had no technical training at all. He never did no what had moved him to offer her an interview. She stormed into his office like a small hurricane, full of sound and fury signifying . . . everything. On reflection, he decided that he did not need someone with technical training to supervise the construction of the O’Neill colony. He needed someone who could herd cats. Julia Markham seemed that person. So far, she had not disappointed him.
“I always thought so. I’m glad you agree.” She held the upper body of his suit while Schneider stepped out of the legs.
“I figure we’ll have the hull completed in about a year and a half,” she said, “the entire colony in about three. Ahead of schedule.”
Julia’s looked at Schneider with chocolate-brown eyes, wrinkles just starting to crease their corners. No gray yet touched her hair which she wore woven into a tight braid that wound around the back of her head.
“Officially–” Schneider grinned. “–I don’t want to know about that. If I did, then the board would want me to revise the schedule and any problems that cropped up would make us fall behind the new schedule and we’d look bad. Let’s just keep it at five years and if we come in ahead of that, we look good.” With Julia’s assistance, he hung the suit in the locker. She handed him a bottle that contained only water, but it tasted pure and sweet and helped to wash the metallic taste of canned air out of his mouth.
“If you say so, sir.”
“Good.” Schneider stretched kinks out of his muscles. A bad knot ached just above his right kidney. It seemed every time he turned around there were new aches. Still, he thought that he was doing pretty well for a man in his sixties. “John been giving you a hard time?”
John Millhouse served as Schneider’s second on this inspection trip.
“He’s been poring over our computer records. I think he’s examined every bit personally.” She shrugged. “He seemed a little put out that we don’t have any problems in the software. The last I saw of him, he was mumbling something about streamlining.”
“I’ll have to have a talk with him. Programming’s not his field and I know you’ve got eight top-flight programmers here. I hired them myself.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Julia said. The corners of her eyes crinkled. “It might do those eight programmers good to have Mr. Millhouse light a fire under them.”
“If you say so.”
A comppad at Julia’s belt beeped. She unclipped it. “Markham.”
A moment later, she looked up, her lips tight. “Mr. Schneider. It’s communications. They want to know if you can come down there right away. Mr. Cadretti needs to talk to you.”
Schneider scowled. What could Lincoln Cadretti, FTI’s executive VP, want? “Tell them I’ll be right down. Also, have John called. If Lincoln’s problem is as important as it had better be I’ll want him available.”
“Yes, sir.” She tilted her head to one side and waited, looking at him.
Schneider nodded. “You too, Julia, if you want.”
“Yes, sir.” She relayed the orders into the comppad.
A few minutes later, Schneider entered the Comm center. This small room housed the computer-controlled communications routing equipment as well as the stations where the communications technician monitored that automatic equipment. This room also housed the two-way video terminal.
Although the original design had called for computers to handle all the record keeping and scheduling for this room, that had not happened. Instead, plastic checklists and schedules clung to Velcro spots on the walls and marked in red and black with the grease pencils clamped in holders alongside the consoles.
“He’s here, sir,” the communications technician said into the microphone.
“Lincoln?” Schneider slid into the seat that the technician vacated. “What’s wrong?”
The nearly three second lag required for Schneider’s message to travel to Earth at the speed of light and Lincoln’s response to return seemed longer to Schneider.
“Mr. Schneider?” Cadretti’s voice came from the speaker at last, as his worried face stared out of the screen. “I’ve just got a call from the New York office. Things just went belly up at the U. N.”
“Talk to me,” Schneider said. “What happened?”
“We did as you said–our lobbyists convinced Congress and the President to support our position, at least at first. The Ambassador to the U. N. tried several compromises. We even offered cut back fares and assistance to less developed nations who want to go into space. The North Africans wouldn’t buy it.”
Schneider drew in a sharp breath. The North African Confederacy had unearthed old provisions of the 1979 Treaty on the Moon and Celestial bodies. They had reiterated the old claim that “common heritage” meant “common property” and the industrial efforts of private companies like FTI were in violation of that treaty. They denanded equal shares of all that production developed in space. Schneider had been watching the news with some alarm. Over that past several years President ibnAllah’s speeches, proposals, and policies slipped further and further from reality. In the last few months his comparisons came close to claims of divinity. Schneider shuddered. How could he, how could anyone, predict what someone like that would do. The last thing they needed was a holy war. That ibnAllah had pulled North Africa into the twenty-first century and tripled their standard of living in some ways only made things worse. It ensured that he had wide popular support for whatever he wanted to do.
“By themselves they wouldn’t be much,” Schneider said.
“No, not by themselves,” Cadretti agreed. “But they’ve got a lot of support from the smaller nations. Even a couple not so small. I think a lot of people are just plain jealous of what we’ve done.” Cadretti paused. “For some reason, the U. S. is dancing on eggshells around the North Africans. I don’t know why. I know this guy’s nuts but….”
“I see. Go on.”
“Finally, some fool diplomat undid all our work. America’s U. N. ambassador made a counter-proposal where private industry would have to share their production equally with non-spacefaring nations, but not government activities like Lunaville.”
“What!” Schneider levered himself half out of his seat. An instant later, he relaxed, collapsing back into it.
“I know,” Cadretti said a long three seconds later. “It didn’t do them any good though. The North African Ambassador laughed at the proposal. I mean he literally laughed. He got up out of his seat and laughed. He demanded that the U. S., and he named the U. S. specifically, give him everything they asked for or face the Wrath of God. He used those very words, I swear. Then he walked out of the hall. He spoke very calmly about it, but he seemed to be very serious.”
“Surely the U. S. isn’t going to give in to them?” Schneider asked.
“I don’t think so,” Cadretti said. “But this afternoon, less than an hour ago, North Africa withdrew all their embassy personnel from the U. S.”
“That sounds ominous,” Schneider said.
“Yes, sir. We think they’re going to make a military strike somewhere. With that big army they’ve been building it seems obvious they intend to use it. I don’t know if they plan to fight a drawn out war, or just do a little raiding. God, sir, the ground station for our SPS prototype is in Chad, right where the North Africans can get at it. If they intend to make us some kind of object lesson, they could kill or imprison our crew there–over two hundred people.”
“Lincoln,” Schneider kept his voice low. “I want all possible pressure put on Washington. Do whatever it takes but make sure that our people are protected.”
“What if Washington won’t cooperate?”
“Then hire mercenaries; I don’t care. I want our people protected. If you can’t protect them, then get them out of there. Whatever you have to do, I’ll approve.”
“Yes, sir,” Cadretti said.
As Schneider shut off the radio, he heard Millhouse’s soft whistle behind him. He looked up. “You heard?”
“Enough,” Millhouse said. “So is FTI going to war?”
“I hope not,” Schneider said. “Lincoln has enough sense to evacuate the plant if it gets bad. We’ve already proved the concept.” He shook his head. “I’d hate to abandon the plant, though. We’ve got a chance to fix the damage of thousands of years of subsistence farming draining the soils in that part of the world and I’d like to be a part of that.”
“I never expected anything like this,” Julia said.
Schneider stood up. “Let’s just hope that cooler heads prevail.”

Creating synthetic languages–my way

I’ve done some work with synthetic languages for use in my fiction.

J. R. R. Tolkien made that popular with his various varieties of Elvish, Dwarvish, Black Speech, and other languages in his Middle Earth stories.  Other writers hint at synthetic languages with select words and phrases, sometimes including a glossary in their stories showing what those words and phrases actually mean.  A few actually build something approximating a complete language, with grammar and vocabulary.

It’s this latter that I’m going to talk about here, using examples from some of my own writing (forthcoming works).

Languages, at least spoken languages, are made up of sounds.  This may seem trivial, but the choice of what sounds are, and are not, used within a language determines to a great extent how the language sounds.  Consider two of the languages constructed by Tolkien.

First Quenya:

“Ai laurie lantar lassi surinen”
Now the Black Speech:
“Ash nazg gimbuktul”
The two languages have a very different sound to them.  Real languages are the same in that way.  German sounds quite different from Latin which sounds quite different from Thai, which sounds quite different from Japanese.
So I start with the sounds and how they are put together.
In the appendixes for The Silmarillion, there’s a table for Elvish script that ties in to how the sounds are produced.  Generally speaking consonant sounds were categorized by where they were produced in the mouth and how open that portion of the mouth is.  Consonants were produced either at the lips, the teeth, the hard palate, or the soft palate.  There were four levels of “openness” and then voiced or unvoiced (using the vocal chords or not).  This led to a total of 32 separate sounds that could be written in Elvish script.
There are other characterizations possible for the sounds the human throat and mouth can produce but I found this one useful and adapted it to my own ends.
Vowels were a separate matter.  May years ago I took choir in high school.  Our instructor spent a great deal of time on vowels because vowels are what you sing.  They’re what you use to produce notes.  He characterized vowels by whether they are produced in the front or back of the mouth and how open that portion is.  This process produced nine basic vowel sounds, plus some “blended” versions (mixing production in front and back of the mouth) which are normally written as “umlauted” vowels. Note that many of what we think of as vowels would be, in this system, diphthongs.  The long-i sound would be “ah” followed rapidly by “ee” and so forth.
Most languages do not use all the sounds that can be produced.  English doesn’t use umlauts nor several of the consonant values except in borrowed words. (But then, English borrows, or outright steals, so many words that’s not so much of a limit.)
So, the first step is to select sounds from the list.  Which ones does your language use, and which ones does it not use.  This choice helps determine the overall sound of your language.
As important as which sounds are included is how frequently the specific sounds are used.  Look at the two Tolkien examples again.  Largely the same sounds and if you looked at larger passages of Quenya you’d see that all the sounds in the passages of Black Speech are present.  What differs is the frequency.  In Quenya, “l”, “r”, “n” and so on feature heavily.  In Black speech, “full stops” (g, t) and fricative/sibilant sounds (sh, z) are prominent.  This gives the two languages a very different sound.  Quenya has a very “flowing” sound.  Black Speech is harsher on the ear.
So pick what sounds are more common.  Rank them.  This will help determine what your language sounds like.
From sounds you have words.  Words are made of syllables.  Syllables are collections of the sounds you’ve selected for that language.  Different languages build their syllables differently.  Japanese is very strict consonant-vowel (or simply vowel) and sometimes with an “n” at the end of the syllable.  Russian, on the other hand, tends to string consonant sounds together in ways that frustrate native English speakers and cause native Japanese speakers to figuratively throw up their hands in despair.
So how does your language build syllables?  As an example for “Old Aeriochi” I decided that syllables would use the following pattern:
Where “C” is “Consonant”, “V” is “Vowel”, and brackets indicate an optional item.  Using the sounds I’d selected, and all the possible combinations of consonants and vowels in that pattern, I had all the possible syllables in the language.
Problems arise, of course when you try to combine consonants.  Not all combinations work well.  So I needed some rules for combining consonants in order to keep the words pronounceable.  For Old Aerioch the rules were as follows:
  1. When a syllable starts with two consonants, the first consonant must be a full stop (p, b, k, or g in this language).  The second consonant must be an “approximate” (w, r, l, or y).
  2. When a trailing consonant in one syllable is followed by a leading syllable in a second, the second syllable’s leading consonant moves to the mouth position of the first and if it’s a stop it opens to a fricative (p becomes f, and so on).

This gives me the tools now to build words.  As an aid, I did some programming in Excel to create a list of all the possible syllables, assign a numerical value to them based on the frequency I’d assigned for the sounds they contain, and then sort them so I have a large table with the syllables using more frequent sounds at the top and the less frequent at the bottom.  When building common words, I can pick from the top of the list, less common words from farther down.  And so my vocabulary reflects the linguistic sound I determined in setting up the sound system.

It makes more than just words to make a language.  It also takes grammar and syntax.  And this is where a lot of people who create synthetic languages for use in fiction fall down.  Here, having studied formal grammar is quite helpful.  When I was in the Air Force, before being assigned to foreign language school the Air Force put me through an intense, six week, English grammar course.  The purpose of the course was not to ensure we used “good grammar”.  That wasn’t how the course was structured.  It was so that when we encountered “dative case” or “subjunctive mood” or “perfect tense” in the _foreign_ language class, we’d know what it meant.

For Old Aeriochi, I used a fairly common pattern:  inflected language with loose word order. Tense and mood were determined by suffixes on the verb.  Roll that nouns play in a sentence (declension) was determined by suffixes on the noun.  This is a good system to use for synthetic languages because it’s easy to define.  It’s also easy to expand.  For instance English has “Imperative” for verbs.  In Old Aeriochi” there are “strong imperative” and “weak imperative”. (The difference is illustrated in that the weak imperative is used in a spell to help someone sleep despite pain from injuries while the strong imperative is used to send an opponent into slumberland in the middle of a fight and make sure they stay that way despite all that’s going on around them.)

For the Oruk language I used in another forthcoming piece, I used an abbreviated version of the above process.  I didn’t need as much language (Old Aeriochi was written for a series where I anticipate using it quite a bit, the Oruk language was written for a single short although I may re-use it at a different time.) I simply went “by ear” in selecting sounds and creating syllables and words.  For syntax I made it a word order language.  The word order is defined as follows:

[Interrogative particle] Verb [verb modifiers][te direct object[object modifiers]][subject [subject modifiers]]

That’s a very simple pattern but then I don’t need much for this story.  The interrogative particle is a short “word” that indicates that the sentence is a question.  “Te” indicates that the noun that follows is a direct object.  If I need more for future stories (no reason I can’t use the same language elsewhere), I can expand on it.

And that’s the basics.  It’s a pretty involved process, but even simple languages are pretty complex.  To make the language more real you should have multiple types of verbs and nouns that follow related but slightly different rules, and a few irregulars that follow rules all their own.

So, do you need a language for your stories?  Now you have at least a basic primer on one way to create one.

Flyers for my ebooks

Just recently went to a small, local, SF con.  I have some paper books to sell at these things (anthologies that include stories of mine), but I was wondering how to sell ebooks at a venue like a science fiction Convention.  What I came up with was these fliers:

Front side:


Back side:

FTI Beginnings (Two novellas):

The Future is Now:  Richard Schneider has a dream, a dream of cheap access to space not just for the few but for the world.  He founds a company to build that dream with a simple philosophy, when problems arise don’t cut corners, find better ways.

Match Point:  Inflicted with a neurological disease that slows his reflexes, Tom Striker’s career as a top-ranked professional tennis player is over.  But when Steve Bradshaw, number one player in the low-G version of tennis played in the space colonies makes snide comments about his play even before the disease Striker decides to try the low-G version of the game, a slower version where his ruined reflexes would be less of a handicap.  Would this new environment give him a second chance at success, and maybe a chance to put Bradshaw in his place?


William Schneider continues in his father’s footsteps, but not everyone within that organization shares that philosophy.  Meanwhile, Kristine, an EMT on the moon, learns that not all the problems she faces comes with the territory.  Their different problems lead them on a collision course in an attempt to avoid disaster.

Live to Tell:

Staff Sergeant Mike Yamada is the only person who has ever been recovered from captivity by the Eres, and the only one who truly understands the true horror that captivity entails.  When the hospital ship carrying him is captured by the Eres, can he find some way to rise above his fears and avoid the horror that awaits?

Heinlein’s Juveniles still relevant?

Elsewhere the suggestion was made that Heinlein’s Juveniles were not, in some way, valid, or maybe relevant is a better word, any more because, “children aren’t like that any more.”

I don’t know about that.  My daughter, age 9, loves them.  It started when I read them to her in installments a year or so ago as “bedtime stories”.  She kept saying “More!” and I kept having to insist “No, it’s time for you to go to sleep, sweetie.” This year, she has a school reading assignment where she gets to pick a book, read it (10 pages at a time for the assignment), and write something about what she read.  She picked Have Space Suit Will Travel. (Finished that and went to Piper’s “Little Fuzzy” but that’s another story.  She wants the other Heinlein juveniles but I only have the one in dead tree at the moment.  The rest are in e-format only.)

I don’t think it’s so much “Kids are different today” as it was more OK then to write about exceptional kids, ideals to aspire to rather than the mush of “everyday life.”

And, as it happens, “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” remains my all-time favorite book–not just science fiction, not just juvenile, not even just Heinlein, but book.

To emphasize, even when I was growing up, the kids in Heinlein’s Juveniles (or in the Tom Swift Junior books which were among my first introduction to science fiction) weren’t what I was.  They were what I wanted to be.  And I wanted to be that because they showed me something better, something worthy of being.

Maybe I’d never acquire a space suit of my own, but man if I did, I certainly hoped that I’d be as hot as Kip at getting it working and maybe, just maybe, that would get me into space.

There were no “junior” let alone “senior” prizes for rocketry back then* but even so I tried to be like the kids in Rocket Ship Galileo because, well, they were kids doing things worth doing.

And there was no “Space Patrol” to join, and chances were I’d never be able to make the cut if there were, but oh, how I wished there was so I could at least try.

And so on.  These people did things, made things happen, and sometimes . . . saved the world.

*As it happened, years later there was a prize, something that probably would have been one of the “senior prizes” in the world of Rocket Ship Galileo, the Ansari X Prize.  And, as fate would have it, it would appear that I actually helped make that happen.

And so let us end once again with a musical interlude:

Millenicon Schedule

I’ll be attending Millenicon in Cincinatti this weekend.  My schedule is:

Sat         6 PM        MR 1216        Then All the Scientists Groaned
              7 PM        Hotel Lobby    AUTOGRAPHS
Sun        11 AM      MR 1216         Atomic Force Microscopy
              1 PM        Reagan           READING
Come see me there.  I’ll have books (Sword & Sorceress and some of the Heroes in Hell books) for sale and flyers for my e-published stuff.

"The Kinmar", a snippet

I don’t generally snippet works in progress, partly because I don’t want to screw up any rights that a publisher may wish to acquire (say, for instance, if a magazine counts the snippet as a “prior publication” when they want First Rights), but I plan to release this one indie.

The story is set in a world I’ve used before.  I have a novel manuscript, currently sitting at a particular publishing house having been “pulled from slush for a closer look” (and the waiting continues).  “Time for Tears”, in Sword & Sorceress 26 is also set in this world.  It uses one of the characters and references the other.


The Kinmar


David L. Burkhead

Kreg knelt to examine the trail.  Hard to say how many raiders rode ahead of them.  Enough to have slaughtered the people of Three Oaks.

Shadows from the birch trees waving in the slight breeze dappled the ground.  Kreg reached out to touch a hoof print, measuring it with his hand.  Unshod.  That meant either Eastern raiders or a very poor band of bandits.

Tracks overlaid each in the packed dirt.  Kreg’s eyes narrowed as he tried, and failed, to count how many raiders were in the party.  That little girl–Kreg did not know her name–had been taken in the throat with an arrow.  A kindness of a sort putting her beyond pain when the raider swords had hacked her body to pieces.

Kreg  had recognized her tiny, mutilated corpse.  She had given him flowers the last he rode through Three Oaks.  She had given him flowers and he didn’t even know her name.

“Meritha,” Kaila said from her horse.

Kreg looked up at her.

“Her name,” Kaila said. “The girl.”

Despite his fury, the corners of Kreg’s lips twitched.  Kaila was in his head, much like she always rode I’m her heart.  He did not fully understand it.  The Knightbond did not work so for anyone else, but the bond was still new-forged and they were all still learning what it did.

“Bandits,” Kreg said as he stood up. “Some ponies, some larger horses.  Raiders would be more consistent.”

“Your counsel, Your Grace?”

Kreg’s lips twitched again.  Kaila loved to twit him about the new title, granted by king Keven, making Kreg a Duke in his own right instead of merely Kaila’s consort.

“They’re just hours ahead of us.” Kreg swung into his saddle.  He conjured a vision of a map in his head. “we’d lose days riding to…Zhaivan, I think, to raise the army.”

“You and me?”

“You and me.”


This time the smile escaped from Kreg’s lips. “Fear not for us.”

Kaila’s return smile, as she finished their old challenge, warmed Kreg to the core of his heart. “Fear rather for the evil we face.”

And yet…. Kreg let his gaze drop from Kaila’s eyes to her still-slender waist, then back to her eyes.  There were risks and risks.  But there was also duty, and that little girl … Meritha.  Let there be no more Merithas.  Please let there be no more Merithas.


As they trotted down the trail, Kaila watched Kreg from beneath lowered lids.  He nearly glowed black with his pain and anger over the destruction of Three Oaks.

She understood.  When they first met, she didn’t but now?  Now she did, perhaps better than Kreg did himself.

The Gods had brought Kreg to them.  This Kaila believed with every beat of her heart.  Shillond might speak of powerful magics but Kaila knew the truth.

Kaila had grown up facing  raiders and bandits and villages ravaged.  And Kreg, well Kreg had not and there was the end of it.  And while Kaila’s heart ached for the slain no less than did Kreg’s, long experience taught her to temper her fury until she could unleash it at a just target.

Kreg raised a hand.  Kaila reined her horse to a stop.  Kreg’s hand stabbed toward the ground three times, indicating where the trail had split.  Kaila’s eyes widened as she saw the third trail.  Just to the side of the main trail a single track bid fair to leap from the ground at her.  A heel pad, four oval toe marks, no indents from claws dimpling the ground.  Some form of cat, but larger than any cat should be, larger and deeper.  A cat that walked on two legs.  She looked up and met Kreg’s eyes.

“Kinmar,” Kreg said, echoing her own thought.

“I thought they were gone.”

“So did I.  So did everyone.  But…” He waved at the track.

Kaila scowled. The Kinmar, the half-men.  When Schah had invaded with armies that kept growing, seemingly endlessly, she, Kreg, and her father Shillond had discovered that the armies were changelings, animals transformed by magic into human warriors.  In the end, Kreg discovered a way to break the spell but the changeling warriors had not changed completely back into their animal forms.
They had thought in banishing the demon Baaltor once more from the world that the Kinmar likewise vanished.

“Perhaps,” Kaila said, “we should gather the army after all.”

Kreg shook his head. “Still take too long.  This doesn’t change that.  Although perhaps you could….”

“Think not of sending me back,” Kaila said, “not this day nor any other.”

Once again, Kreg’s gaze dropped from Kaila’s face, then returned.

“Would you have our child be born to a coward?  No, Kreg.  We fight together, as we always have since you came to this world.”

Kreg nodded. “Together then.”

“Which trail?”

Kreg pointed to the cat track. “The cat.  That is the greatest danger, I think.”

Kaila looked from one trail to another.  Neither she nor Kreg were a truly skilled tracker although Kreg followed a trail a bit better than did she.  Just this one print, distinct from the churned up dirt from where the other creatures–no longer was she so sure that these were mounted riders–had passed. “A single mistake, Kreg,” she said. “Mayhap they disguise their trail?  Hooved kinmar in the rear to trample the others’ tracks.”

“Could be.  But one cat form, at least, went this way.”

“And mayhap it is a deception,” Kaila said. She waved at the print.  A single print, clear in the dirt when everything but a few hoofprints was too obscured for either of them to read.

Kreg spread his hands, palms up. “We don’t have anything else to go on.”

Kaila thought for a moment then nodded. “You speak sooth.  And it would not be the first time we two had ridden, eyes open, into a trap.”

Kreg turned his horse to continue down the trail.  Kaila followed.  She frowned.  Kreg had always been the clever one.  To ride all-knowing into a trap, trusting to break it when it closed?  No, not without great need.  Three Oaks had struck him more deeply than she had surmised.

Movement in the trees caught her eye.  Her hand fell to her sword and closed about its grip. “Kreg!”

Ahead, Kreg twisted in his saddle.  His hand dropped to his own sword and he started to snatch it from its scabbard.

The kinmar leaped from the concealing foliage above.  Cat form, Kaila saw.  She finished drawing her sword.  The kinmar tackled Kreg and drove him from his horse.  As they hit the ground, the kinmar drew its legs up and raked, its claws scittering across the rings of Kreg’s mail tunic then across, and through, Kreg’s leather boots.  Blood spurted from Kreg’s torn thigh.


Kaila dropped her sword.  It had scarcely struck the ground before she had snatched her bow from its saddle-sheath and fitted an arrow to string.

The arrow flew true, striking the kinmar just beneath the left shoulder, but it struck bone rather than penetrating deeply.  The kinmar turned for an instant to look at her as Kaila prepared another arrow.  It snarled, with a face that blended human features and cat.  Kaila lifted the bow and started to draw. The kinmar turned and leaped into the surrounding woods.  Before Kaila finished her draw, it was gone.
Kreg lay very still.

“Kreg,” Kaila moaned as she dropped the bow and leaped from her saddle.  Blood continued to pour from Kreg’s thigh.  Kaila scooped up her sword in passing as she ran to Kreg.

Kreg struggled to rise, his breath coming in short pants.  Kaila knelt by his side.  She shook her head.  The experience of a hundred battlefields seemed to have deserted her.  Blood.  Too much blood.

A wounded knight, Kaila told herself, one of many she had dealt with over the years.  The mental discipline calmed her.  For a moment, she could convince herself that it wasn’t her friend, her lover, her husband that lay bleeding before her, but just another knight that needed treatment.

First the bleeding.  Four parallel gouges in Kreg’s right leg, running from two-thirds of the way up his thigh down to just past the knee.  She placed the heel her hand against his thigh, where the artery crossed the bone and leaned into it.  The flow of blood slowed.  She drew her dagger with her other hand and cut away the remains of Kreg’s boot.

Kreg moaned. “Hurts.”

“Rest, Kreg,.  Rest.” Kaila said.

“Chest,” Kreg said. “Hurts.  Ribs.”

Kaila’s lips pressed into a thin line. As she worked, she cast quick glances at the forest around them.  Quick, but thorough.  The forest remained still.  Kaila berated herself.  If she had been watching the forest instead of brooding over her concern for Kreg she might have spotted the kinmar.

“Don’t,” Kreg said, his arm quivering as he lifted it in the direction of her cheek. “Please.”

The bleeding had slowed to a trickle.  Kaila whistled.  Her horse—Kreg’s had fled with the kinmar’s attack—trotted to her.  After a moment’s hesitation, Kaila released the pressure on Kreg’s leg and stood.  More blood flowed but less, much less, than before.  Moving quickly, she opened the pack strapped behind her saddle and pulled out a spare tunic and undershift.  She again knelt beside Kreg and folded the undershift into a long pad.  She tore the tunic into long strips and used them to bind the pad onto the wound in Kreg’s leg.

Kreg’s eyes were closed, his face slack, his breathing short and ragged.  She closed inside her and reached for the Knightbond.  The power resisted her efforts.  It always did.  She called it anyway, called it and shaped it.  Slowly, the power responded to her will.  A portion of the power she directed to Kreg’s leg.  Shillond, her father, could have stopped the bleeding with a thought.  She could only encourage it to stop on its own.  The flow of blood soaking into the bandage slowed and stopped.
Once the danger of bleeding to death ended, Kaila turned her attention to his chest.  Kreg’s breath continued short.  After casting another glance at the forest she reached out with the Knightbond.  The break, breaks, in Kreg’s ribcage glowed black in her head.  Tentatively, she touched the breaks with the power.  One rib had been driven inward, piercing the lung.  Already that lung was starting to collapse.
She wished Shillond were there instead of on a diplomatic mission in far-off Merona.  She felt his love for her through the Knightbond, love and power.  Keven, in his palace in Norveth.  All of them, all the Knights of Aerioch bent power her way.  The Knightbond joined the Knights of Aerioch, making all their powers one.

“A knight of Aerioch is never alone,” she whispered.  She laid a gentle hand on Kreg’s side, reaching with the power for the broken ribs.  Even with the power, she could do so little.  The rib gradually slid back into place.  Again she nudged the power.  The puncture in the lung contracted.  She could not close it but it would leak no more.  Kreg’s blood ceased leaking into the lung, and into the space between lung and ribs.

Kaila sank back, exhausted and released the power.  She could do no more.  Kreg’s own strength would have to complete the healing she had started.

She struggled to her feet.  She had another task.  The kinmar would be back.