Latest Goings On

Before I get into the latest on me, let me take a moment to thank those of you that read, and have started following me. I’ve noticed a bit of higher traffic even though my posts are sporadic. I appreciate that some folks can put up with that.

On to the latest.

Firstly, you may notice a change to the website theme, and that it is no longer so dark. I had to realize at some point that reading light colored text on black background isn’t easy on the eyes. So, I switched to a much clearer and crisp layout to help avoid that.

In the meantime, I have been reworking and fleshing out a longtime project that really needs to be finished sooner than later. I found this site to be very helpful in fleshing out plots, characters, and acts in a story.

Writing A Novel Using The Snowflake Method

There is a book being sold on the subject as well at this site, but I found using just the outlines on that page to be helpful enough. I definitely recommend using this method, since it has greatly helped me get my ideas straight.

Besides writing, I have also been reading a great deal again. Just recently got into British author Neal Asher’s work, and I can’t get enough. The Polity novels have been my favorite. I really found myself loving the Transformation series. Dark Intelligence, and War Factory were amazing reads. I’m awaiting the third installment, Infinity Engine, when it releases in the US. I strongly recommend this author for those of you who love aliens, A.I.s, and far advanced tech.

The Transformation series of books is the only book I’ve ever done fan art for. I love the war drones, and a few of the alien creatures. I’ve only done two so far, but I plan to do others soon.

This one is of the war drone ‘Riss’. She was deliberately designed like a parasite that once plagued the ruthless Prador species. Just so happens that said parasites resemble a Terran snake.

riss2
“Riss, The War Drone”

 

The second piece is of the monstrous ‘Hooder’, and bio-mechincal war machines designed by an ancient alien race. They are like a horrible version of a millipede, with a front end with slicing/dicing ‘manipulators’ that pretty much dissect prey alive. I doubt I added enough of the appendages that do all that work, considering the scenes I read. It’s pretty brutal.

"The Hooder"
“The Hooder”

I’ll not spoil anymore for you. Be back soon.

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A Prologue From A Long Time Project

It’s been too long since I updated, but I’d like to share something I’ve been working on for a while. This is only the beginning. I would honestly like feedback on this if anyone’s willing to give it. Without further ado…

 

 

Prologue

The dark gray eyes of eleven year old Daya Evanoff glared icily at the home now occupied by the murderers of her family. She had a score to settle with these men.

It had happened three days before. A war was just beginning, and Daya had only heard hushed whispers of it between her parents. She was too busy thinking of how to convince her father to let her get a dog. Avi, her sixteen year old brother, laughed at her attempts to sway their father, as he already knew the outcome. At the dinner table, Daya inquired on the subject for what seemed like the millionth time.

“Dad, come on,” she pleaded innocently. “We’ve never had a pet, and other families have dogs all the time.”

Her father just smiled kindly, saying, “Daya, this is a rough time right now, and we can’t afford -”

That’s when the men with guns burst through the front door.

One of them shouted, “GET ON THE GROUND NOW! EVERYONE! NOW!”

One of the men walked forward, having noticed Daya’s brother, Avi standing in shock, and shot him in the head. Everyone started screaming. Daya’s mother stumbled over her son’s collapsed body, crying and screaming. The gunman grabbed her by her hair, and pulled her up to his level. He held her with the gun to her head, and met eyes with Daya’s father.

“Just so we understand who’s in control,” he said gruffly. “I’ll be holdin’ onto Mom for a while. In the meantime, we’ll be taking any food, medicine, anything you have. Don’t be stupid, and everyone walks away alive.”

Two of the men tied Daya’s and her father’s hands behind their backs, and shoved them face down on the floor. It was then that her mother began screaming again as the men tore off her clothes. Daya felt a hot rage boiling inside her as her father shouted in anger. Each of the men took their turns raping and sodomizing her mother.

Unbeknownst to Daya, her father had managed to cut the cords binding him. She remembered the hunting knife he always carried. He quickly whispered to his daughter, “As soon as I cut you free, I want you to run. I don’t care what you hear, keep running.”

Daya witnessed her father become a blur of motion, effectively dispatching two men with his knife. She stood frozen, and he turned for the last time and shouted. “Go!”

She ran for the door, and out into the forest nearby. She had wanted to stay and fight alongside her father. She knew he was a war veteran, having served once when she’d been very young. He knew what he was doing, but that didn’t make her any happier. A fair distance away, Daya could hear echoing gunfire. Deep down, she knew her parents were now dead.

Two cold nights she waited, drinking from a stream and eating tubers like her father once taught her to find. She also found his weapons cache. She never cried aloud. Over those two days in the forest, a cold rage began to seep into her bones, replacing what was once fear. A decidedly more predatory part of her had awakened.

On the third night, Daya spied her home from safe distance, watching, and waiting. She noticed one of the men wandering out of the house carrying a beer. Clearly drunk, and preparing to take a piss on the trash pile that littered the area just a few yards away from the house. Silent as a shadow, she slid out of the forest. As he emptied his bladder with a sigh of relief, Daya leapt onto his back.

A shard of broken glass dog deep into his throat from behind, robbing him of any death cry. As he fell to his knees choking on his own blood, Daya slid the shard across his throat to finish it. The man fell to the ground, his body twitching in desperation for breath that wouldn’t come. With one man down, she could begin what she came for. She had not come unprepared.

Among the many things her father taught her and her brother, one involved the mine cache. Just this year, he had taken them both out to the cache in the forest, and trained them on how to use the mines. Avi had already been through the procedures, but he went along to help Daya learn it just the same. A safeguard in case things got ugly, her father had said. The mines were little more than black discs about an inch thick and seven inches wide. It was only when the holo-controls were activated that they appeared more complex.

Daya crept up to the side of the house, just underneath an open window. Carefully, she peered around the corner to the backyard. Laying a few feet from the back door with three bodies piled like day old trash. In the darkness, she didn’t need to see any detail to know it was Mom, Dad, and Avi. A present, but distant sadness arose in her. There were no tears left to cry, and only one thing left to finish.

Under the open window, Daya layed out three mines; each one for a life taken. Activating the holo-controls, she programmed a thirty second delay to allow for her escape. No hesitation when she threw the mines through the window with all her hatred. She darted back to the safety of the forest, and waited.

Silence hung for a moment, then fearful shouting rang out too late. The first mine detonated with a thundering crack and vivid flame so intense it sent a shockwave that shook the trees. Daya ducked down to brace herself, she had to see this through to the end.

In the five seconds that followed, one screaming man ran out of burning home, he himself covered in flames. He didn’t get far before the second and then third blasts expanded out, propelling debris in every direction. A piece of the house impaled him, and he collapsed in flames. If there was anyone left screaming, their cries were drowned out by the roaring flames.

With only minor cuts and bruises, Daya watched the inferno consume her former home. In that moment, her bloodlust was sated. She managed to kill every one of the fuckers. She would’ve started grieving right then if only she could feel anything. Only a cold, numb emptiness seemed to take its place. Mental state aside, surviving the next few days would have to take priority.

For roughly a week, Daya stayed in the forest, subsisting on little each day. Days and nights seemed to blur, making her question whether or not she existed in some suspended dream. Something needed to change soon. After bedding down next to her father’s cache for one final night, Daya lay awake among the sounds of owls and howling coyotes. The cache held supplies other than the mines. Crates buried under a tree contained food rations, and medical supplies. Daya could stay here if she was stubborn, but eventually, someone else might come along wanting what was here. Alone, she wouldn’t stand a chance. She had to find a better option.

She set out at daylight into the nearest town, unsure of what she would find. Abandoned, and collapsed buildings were common sight. Broken asphalt to piles of rubble. Not surprising considering the toll of war, but still startling to see in the flesh. It was why her father had chosen to live so far out of town, nearer to wilderness. Even that forethought hadn’t saved them.

Her thoughts stewed until hunger gripped her stomach painfully. Cold winds of an approaching winter blew through her mop of unkempt brunette hair. The clothes she wore barely kept her pale, thin form warm enough. A numbness not from the cold had already made itself at home inside her.

A ruckus of crows nearby caught her attention. Daya turned off the asphalt to follow their chorus. She wondered if they were the same flock that roosted in the forest with her at night. For all their squawking, they were the only familiar company she had left. On occasion their calls had alerted her to food sources; trees bearing fruit or edible flowers. Once, they’d chased after a swarm of grasshoppers, almost as if to dare Daya to try the same. It hadn’t been the best meal she ever had, but it was appreciated nonetheless.

Presently, she found the flock tearing apart the remains of a wooden house. As she walked closer, the resident termite infestation became obvious. Some of the black birds were snapping up mouthfuls of the bugs, while others used sticks to dig further into the hive for grubs. Daya took her own handful as a quick snack, eating them quickly so as not to be bitten by the angry drones.

After watching for a few minutes, she recognized one of the birds; a crow baring a small white patch on one wing. This was the same flock from the forest after all. Just as they appeared sated with their share of termites, the crows took flight toward the heart of the town. Again, she would follow the murder of black birds.

She noticed more people passing her on the streets on the way. If the old stores were still open, they might have some stale bread, or dried meat. As she rounded on the old shopping square, she realized they were barely functioning, if not already abandoned. Busted windows, empty shelves, and a smattering of last minute scavengers told of a wave of looting now days over. Daya entered one of the stores, empty of anyone, and found a small bag of dried fish meat that had been kicked underneath shelving during the fray. She sat outside on an old bench eating a few pieces of the jerky.

Once more, the voices of crows drew her in again. Something was different about these calls. They were desperate and frantic. Sounds she had never heard before. Driven by instinct, Daya searched them out again. Near the side of one of the shops, a teenage boy kicked violently at a helplessly flapping crow. Already injured by previous blows, the bird couldn’t escape his attack. A spilled bag of old bread lay on the ground nearby, its contents being pillaged by members of the flock. Some of the birds dove, swiped, and pecked at the boy to no avail. A enemy proving too enraged to stop.

In an instant suspended in time, a white patch of feathers flashed from a battered wing.

The boy screamed and shouted angrily. “Stupid fucking animals! Stealing everyone’s fucking food!”

That’s when he he brought his foot down to stomp down hard on the bird. Daya took in the blood gushing from its mouth, and even more pooling beneath the pulverized body. None of her actions seemed to register after that point. Somehow, she was on top of him, bashing his head in with a brick. Blood spattered on her face and clothes, and brain matter clung to the brick each time she brought it down on him. When she stopped, she realized that he had been easily twice her size. How had she moved so fast she would never know. She stood, kicking the twitching body away. She picked up the dead crow, cradling it in her arms, and ran away as fast as she could from the square.

She buried the bird in a nearby park she often visited with her mother, and sat underneath a large oak tree. The bird hadn’t really been a friend, but she had grown fond of it over the short time she’d become familiar with the flock. The crow had only been trying to survive. Like her. Like the boy.

Daya couldn’t fathom the exact reason she killed the boy. Maybe, in some small way, to make up for what she couldn’t do for her family. At no other point in her life had she ever been so driven to kill. That night, she returned to her makeshift home in the forest. Eventually, she nodded off to memories of a better time with silent tears running down her cheeks.

A series of vibrations shook Daya from her slumber. A loud engine whine coming from the sky, booming overhead, and fading into the distance. She stood up, not quite afraid, but alert. Another aircraft zoomed over the canopy of trees. A copter-jet, black with white foreign lettering. There were several in the distance, all heading toward the center of town. She could see them start descending fro where she stood. Daya ran in their direction, knowing they could be carrying food and medicine. It was a chance she had to take if she wanted to keep herself alive. The will to survive seemed to be the last of her possessions.

When she arrived in the town square, she saw soldiers unloading medical supplies and food from cargo crates. Many of the town’s orphans, widows, and families lined up anxiously for their shares, Daya herself included. Soon after, one of the soldiers announced to the people that some of them could be flown to a neighboring region for hospitalization, and treatment. To the orphans, they offered to take them where they would be given a new life, a place to live, an education, and when ready, a job.

“For those of you who have lost everything, your country will give it back to you.” He said.

Daya made herself one of the number of children to leave the desolate town. Now strapped in her seat inside one of the jets, she watched silently as they rose from the ground. A sense of surrealism swept over her as the town became small and faraway, and the world outside became so much bigger. For many hours, she watched through the window as forests, lakes, and cities passed by below her.

When eleven year old Daya Evanoff next set foot to ground, she would become a new animal.

Why It Matters

Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask “Why do I care so much about my stories?” No one else has ever asked me why, since I rarely share that I write with anyone. Most people I’ve encountered don’t often care enough to read a random person’s writings, and I also don’t want to come off like person who’s pitching a pipe dream. I’m well aware my efforts may end up amounting to nothing. Just the same as any of the other thousands of writers.
So then, why does it matter to me? Is it because I’ve spent years developing these characters, living their scenarios and improving everything as I go along? Could it be because I used this medium as an escape from my real, and not so great life? All of the above. Over all this time, my projects have become a part of me, and feel like something special I alone made. Sharing it with an audience is the final step in a very long process of the initial drafts, editing, and polishing that goes on before ever thinking of submitting a manuscript.
My main goal now is simply finishing this project. Once all the first draft chapters are done, then I go back and get heavy on editing and polishing. After realizing all the work that’s yet to be done, I fully understand the mess I’ve gotten myself into. Now that it matters to me, I find that I want to share it with other fans of science fiction. I can only hope that I’m lucky enough to get the chance one day.

~ Lynn

If Sentience Had Arisen In Another Species

What would it be like? What species would be the most likely candidates for sentience? How would they have changed if sentience developed? Is it possible that sentience in another species might out achieve us in terms of intelligence and technology?

Sometimes I find myself asking these questions. I’ll never have adequate answers unless some course of events causes a sentient species to spring out of nowhere in my lifetime. But, I can always take a stab at guessing. That’s what science fiction tends to be concerned with; the multitude of paths the future could take, and all the plausible changes therein.

 

Circumstances alone can sometimes aid in the development of an intelligent species. Dinosaurs were dominant on Earth until the asteroid impact knocked them out, giving early mammal ancestors a chance to take hold. Early birds also showed up some time after.

 

I’m going to favor birds in this topic, because they are less obvious than chimpanzees or dolphins, and thus most people don’t notice them as much. Rarely do you hear of everyday people thinking of birds as contenders in the game of intelligence, but they are actually quite impressive. Corvids (crows and ravens), Psittacines(parrots), and even pigeons are counted as the most notable. They are known for problem solving abilities, and also being emotional.

 

Birds, in general, are very social animals, much like us. They are helpless from the moment they hatch out of the egg, and must be fed at regular intervals by their parent/s. They grow and learn to live in flocks, foraging for food, competing, sometimes working together, and pairing up to mate and raise young.

 

Intelligence is also supposedly linked to bipedalism, and birds are bipedal while not in flight. I wonder if that doesn’t give them a leg up in the statistics between animal groups.

The thing is, I tend to believe intelligence could arise in many species given enough time and the right environmental circumstances. Social species, even including insects and some reptiles, could become potential candidates in development toward sentience.

Some birds have a call system of vocally produced sounds, and also some physical gestures they seem to pass between each other.

Some birds have crests that they are able to erect on their heads to display great excitement or aggression. Tail wagging, similar to a dog’s, is a sign of contentment, and fanning out the tail feathers can be used as a threat display. Some birds, especially cockatoos, will tap their feet as a sign of dominance over their territory.

 

Posturing is also important in the world of body language for birds. Bowing with the head facing another bird is a request for grooming. If the head and body are rigid at attention, and feathers are flared out, this is a signal to others that the bird owns the territory. Aggression is expressed when a bird holds a rigid crouching position with tail feathers flared, ruffled feathers, and head down. Birds may also add a hiss as extra warning.

 

There is even a form of name that a parrot will call her chick by, which I learned only recently. It really impressed me. The parent will use her own natural call with an added new note toward the end in reference to her young. The chick then begins repeating this call as it’s own, eventually passing it on in the same fashion.

 

Youtube video from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed9A4HPdXgQ&list=FL3MgjOpviL5Lo796UYSR7uQ&index=131&feature=plpp_video

 

In talking about this subject, I realize that there have hardly been any avian-like aliens in fiction that I’ve read. The only example I know of is in Richard K. Morgan’s “Broken Angels”. Good read, by the way.

There were ruins described in the book that the civilization left behind, and it was not too far off what may have been a city for a sentient bird species. As such, they were quite difficult for flightless humans to access.

I have to wonder also what kind of technology this sentient species would develop, being that birds are quite particular about their various habits, likes, and dislikes.

Another idea is what they might create as art. Birds not only have vision that is excellent, but they see in the UV spectrum. They also have polarized vision, which aids in migration. So, with all the color they are able to see, I can only wonder what they might paint, sculpt, or carve. Like one of our early ancestors painting on a cave wall, would they illustrate what they saw, or even chronicle a time or journey in some un-thought of medium?

 

I can only wonder, and guess with the best of them. Then again, I am a daydreamer. Who knows, this may be good fodder for another project for me, or for others.

 

~Lynn

Evolving Stories & Current Distractions

It is nothing new to a writer when a story has to be written over at one time or another. Whether it’s the plot that needs changing, or characters that need cutting out, or changing the subject matter completely just because you’re bored with it. I’ve done this at least four to five times with one project, and then for the first time with a newer one.

At times you just need an infusion of something new when your previous fascination now dulls your senses. There is no need for feeling guilt over a change. If the work is yours, you should feel free to do as you damn well please with it.

I’ve also found that pre-planning a story from start to finish never worked for me. I’ve only worked a few chapter outlines at a time, and let things develop from there. I sometimes have a vague idea of where I’d like the story to go, and how it might end, but I don’t like to visualize it until I’ve worked my way there.

The funny thing is that a story can take on a life of its own, and instead of you being in charge, you are being lead by a muse, or something like it. I get bored less doing it this way.
In every little thing I read, or see, I may pick up new ideas to weave into the work I’m doing. It seems to me that an amalgum of concepts worked together in the right way can avoid the pitfall of a more formulaic premise. Though, there are writers who’ve managed to create fine works doing so. It’s just a little harder to do these days.

In other news…

I’ve been reading some of Greg Egan’s books. I really liked “Distress”. I just finished “Diaspora”, and “Crystal Nights & Other Sories”. I’m now reading “Schild’s Ladder”. I’ll admit right here and now that some of the physics bits go over my head. It’s definitely interesting nonetheless.

My other current distraction from reality is HBO’s Game of Thrones series. I have watched all of season one, and season two is nearly complete. It’s the most addictive story/series I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m not usually into too much fantasy, but this is so damn well written that it keeps me on the edge of my seat. I already have a few favorite characters, and the series goes a step further by having dragons and giant wolves involved.
I LOVE dragons, and giant wolves are also very awesome. I’d have one of each if they existed.
I may now have to read the books by George R. R. Martin, and I hear that they are quite thick volumes.

In real time…

I am trying to get more exposure for my art website. I’m trying to get more traffic there, and possibly more work using my skills. If you know anyone who loves wildlife art, please tell them to check out my website here:

http://vivid-dreams.jimdo.com

Feel free to pass the link around, and leave a guestbook entry if you really enjoy it!
Also, to avoid confusion, “Lynn DeRiso” is my writing pen-name, while “Angela DeRiso” is my artist name. I’m the same person. I do wonder whether I should just stick to one or the other though, and I do prefer my middle name “Lynn”.

Any thoughts on that?

Nov 21, 2011 : Sneak peak at short story “Chimera”

As promised, I am posting little sneak peaks of stories either in progress or finished. This is an unfinished work as of yet. Let me know what you guys think.

——————————————-

“Chimera”

 

I was once a terminal cancer patient right on death’s doorstep. In what I thought might be my last few peaceful moments, my fundamentalist Christian stepfather came in to insist I change my atheist stance and make my peace with God. I hated my mother for marrying this asshole after Dad died.

I couldn’t help but see how petty and meaningless the things people did were. Everything we do, and everything we’ve achieved amounts to nothing in the face of oblivion.

After having my arm amputated for the seventh time, death seemed a bit more reasonable.

As the medical technicians injected powerful anesthetic into my limb, I stare at the table of barbaric instruments that will sever it.

I made the mistake of watching the process the first time. Now, I’ve learned to look away.

Even though I’m numbed from the shoulder down, there is still a faint sensation of cold metallic tools violating flesh. Then there’s the whine of the bone saw they use to cut through my humerus. And finally, there’s the disturbing reality of my arm falling away from my body. I never get used to it.

My wardens are harvesting genetic samples from the procured flesh in order to manufacture new drugs to fight disease among the population. Contractually speaking, I owe them. It was in the fine print of the contract I signed before my would-be death. You’ll agree to just about anything when you’re dying.

A company called GeneTech, had offered the deal. They had patented the cancer cure that few could afford, which made a great lure.

Later on, I discovered that I was hardly the only dying patient to be propositioned. Dozens were offered the deal, and in return from agreeing to he terms, they received full room and board at undisclosed location, expenses paid, and a chance to live longer.

However, on paper we’re all officially dead. No one knows we’re still alive. The reason for our supposed deaths is that human experimentation is very illegal.

We may as well be the unclaimed souls of grim reaper.

The techs did their best to keep me comfortable while they stitched me up, dressed the wound, and administered painkillers.

My arm will regenerate within a couple of months thanks to the Axlotl gene proteins in my cells.

All of us were given gene modifications via retrovirus treatments. The Axlotl set was standard fair for everyone. There were several animal genes that were being used in the experiments. One of mine was feline, which improved my night vision manifold. It was incredible to experience such clear sight in the dark. The virus had caused the development of a highly reflective lens like a cat, and so I produced the same eye-shine an animal does when facing light.

Even with the improvements in health, and comfortable living, being a high-class guinea pig is getting old.

We aren’t even allowed out of this building, because we might contaminate the domes healthy population. Sure, the company included plenty of stimuli inside or ‘apartment complex’.

We had wreck rooms, a gym, a pool, cable TV, you name it. You can’t fabricate fresh air, the smell of grass, or even dirt.

Being isolated from everything you know for the sake of legalities is a heavy price. I want more freedom than this. I know someone else does, too.

A few hours later, I called my friend, Quinn Ashmore, to come down to my flat in the building in which all the experimental patients lived. One of my sweater’s sleeves hung limp at my side as I sat up in my bed, dazed from the strong painkillers.

Quinn and I had become friends since our ‘rebirth’ in GeneTech’s program. Both of us had been inches from death, marked by hair loss, and wasting bodies. Now, each of us had full heads of hair and renewed vitality.

I had long locks of black hair, while Quinn had a mop of shaggy auburn and a goatee.

“Hey, Michiko,” he said as he opened my door. “I see they harvested again. How’re you feeling?” He closed the door behind him.

“Other than being in a drug haze,” I started. “I’m getting tired of pretending I’m dead.”

Quinn came over and sat on the bed next to me.

“I know the feeling,” he said. “But, what are we supposed to do? Genetic chimeras are illegal nearly everywhere. We’re not entirely human anymore, so it would be another death sentence. They’d take us apart just to see what we are now.”

I sighed, feeling the hopelessness of our predicament.

“There has to be somewhere… The Novosibirsk dome is busy enough that we might get lost in there. I don’t know how strict their laws are on things like us though.”

“That was where a clone claimed political asylum a few years ago,” he replied. “We might have a chance there. But, firstly, there’s the issue of getting out of this place.”

“I have a plan.” I said.

Quinn looked at me deadpan.

“Michi, you do realize that some of the worst ideas start with that line, don’t you?” Then he smirked at me.

During the next months that it took for my arm to regenerate, one of the other patients suddenly died. He was a young kid, just shy of nineteen, named Riley. I didn’t know him well, but something one of his friends said made me never forget him.

“Nothing was wrong enough for him to die,” one of the boys said. “They just wanted a full harvest.”

The boy stared at me with dead eyes, knowing that none of us was immune if the white coats wanted our flesh. That was the true breaking point for me, and it hit home for Quinn as well.

Quinn and I went around the housing facility, subtly conversing with the others to see how willing they’d be to risk escape. Some didn’t believe the rumors about Riley, and while passively discontent, they felt they were safe. Others were either glad to just be alive, or outright too afraid to even talk about it.

We wanted others to break out with us, but in the end they were just too afraid. Quinn and I only had each other to count on. Maybe it was better just the two of us, rather than a large group.

In the downtime, a combination of phantom pains, itching, and random zaps from re-growing nerves kept me amused. If my body had been over this routine six times before, why the hell couldn’t it find a way around the side effects?

Not only was there fear directed at the company that held us in captivity, but for the world outside the Moscow dome. Venturing outside the protective layer of the dome walls was an assumed death sentence.

Before the 3rd World War, domes were hastily built over a few major cities, at least in Russia, America, and Japan, to protect them from nuclear fallout. These domes were strong enough that they held together during the nearby blasts of the bombs. However, while they protected the cities within, they effectively trapped the populations there for hundreds of years because of the radiation levels outside. The corners of the world were cut off from one another for very long periods.

All that was said to have happened at least 100 years ago. That’s what we’re told anyway.

Outside the domes, the world has become a wasteland ravaged by nuclear war, and loosed plagues. Sunlight is still rare because the black clouds of ash and other debris block it out. Some say the blast zones are still burning out there.

Knowing this, it seems possible our makers wouldn’t even follow us outside.

Even if we last only months, those months will be spent free.

—————————————————————————————-

I have more written than this, but no completed ending just yet. For those of you over at SFFWorld, I’ll be posting the finished piece for critique as soon as I manage to finish it.

Okay, that’s all for now. 🙂

More sneaks to come soon.  So keep an eye out.

~Lynn

Strange Earth Species, and How They Can Help Designing Aliens in Fiction

Before I start on this entry I just want to let everyone know why I haven’t posted any new content. I’ve been pretty busy setting up a small pet sitting business for myself, and it’s taking off rather quickly. I will be busy toward the end of this month, but I will be sure to find time to get the blog content rolling.

On to the main content:

I decided to share a bit of info on some really interesting creatures this planet has to offer, and later, how they can be used as models for creating alien life in fiction.

Deep Sea Isopod-

I admittedly have a soft spot for these guys since they are close relatives of the land faring pillbug, or rolly pollie, which I often played with as a child. It may seem odd, but I find they have an adorable quality to them. Though, I can see how the big guys could garner less cuddly feelings.

Known by the scientific name Bathynomus Giganteus, the sea dwelling isopod ranges in length from 12 to 16 inches. I think they may get a little bigger than that as well. They are found worldwide and at depths of over 2,000 feet.

It is also the largest known member of the isopod group, which is a family of crustaceans related to shrimp and lobsters.

The enormous size of the giant isopod is a result of a phenomenon known as deep sea gigantism. The reason for these size differences is a mystery, although some researchers believe it to be an adaptation to aid the animal in dealing with the enormous pressures.

Like its terrestrial cousin, the pillbug, the giant isopod’s body is protected by a hard exoskeleton that is divided into segments. This gives the animal strength and flexibility at the same time. When threatened, this animal can roll itself into a ball to protect its vulnerable underside. Similarly to its land-based counterpart, the isopod has compound eyes, with over 4,000 individual facets. This gives the animal a large field of view, and makes it extremely sensitive to fast movements. Because light is extremely faint in the deep sea, the giant isopod has developed large antennae to help it feel its way around as it crawls along the ocean floor.

The giant isopod is carnivorous, and spends most of its time scavenging the deep sea floor. Food is extremely scarce at these depths, so the isopod has adapted to eat whatever pickings sink to seabed. This includes bodies of dead whales, fish, and squid. It is believed that the isopod may also feed on slow-moving animals such as sea cucumbers and sponges. The giant isopod has a complex mouth with many components that work together to pierce, shred, and disembowels their prey.

The isopod can go for long periods of time without eating and has been known to survive over eight weeks without food in when kept in captivity.

Giant isopods reproduce by laying eggs. These eggs are thought to be the largest of all the marine invertebrates. The females develop a pouch known as a marsupium, where the eggs are stored until the young are ready to emerge. When this happens, the young isopods escape from the marsupium as fully formed miniatures of the adults. Their terrestrial relative shares the same traits in reproductive anatomy.

The isopods prefer mud or clay ocean bottom areas where they prefer to live solitary lives.

Mantis Shrimp-

These aggressive and typically solitary sea creatures of the order Stomopoda spend most of their time hiding in rock formations or burrowing intricate passageways in the seabed. They are both an ambush predator and active hunter. Unlike most crustaceans, they will actually hunt, chase and kill living prey. They usually only exit their homes to feed and relocate. Depending on species, mantis shrimp can be diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular. Most species live in tropical and subtropical seas (Indian and Pacific Oceans between eastern Africa and Hawaii), although some live in temperate seas.

Mantis shrimp employ different sets of modified claws to aid in hunting and killing. They are well known for having the fasting punch in the sea. Definitely a formidable creature.

  • Spearers are armed with spiny appendages topped with barbed tips, used to stab and snag prey.
  • Smashers, on the other hand, possess a much more developed club and a more rudimentary spear (which is nevertheless quite sharp and still used in fights between their own kind); the club is used to bludgeon and smash their meals apart. The inner aspect of the dactyl (the terminal portion of the appendage) can also possess a sharp edge, with which the animal can cut prey while it swims.

Both types strike by rapidly unfolding and swinging their raptorial claws at the prey, and are capable of inflicting serious damage on victims significantly greater in size than themselves. In smashers, these two weapons are employed with blinding quickness.

I’ve heard of a few aquarists who’ve received either nasty gash or a cracked fingernail from one of these things.

The eyes (both mounted on mobile stalks and constantly moving about independently of each other) are considered to be the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. These animals see on several spectrums including hyperspectral color vision, polarized light, ultraviolet, and ifra-red. Some species have at least 16 different photoreceptor types.

Obviously, our mammalian brains would choke attempting this feat. I’ve seen some computer generated images that simulate what they might see, and wow, that’s a hell of a lot more color.

Reasons behind this complex vision are many, likely having to do with identifying types of coral, prey species, and predators. There also tie-ins with a fluorescing ability during mating, and tidal phases occurring at that time.

Mantis shrimp are long-lived and exhibit complex behavior, such as ritualized fighting. Some species use fluorescent patterns on their bodies for signaling with their own and maybe even other species, expanding their range of behavioral signals. They can learn and remember well, and are able to recognize individual neighbors with whom they frequently interact. They can recognize them by visual signs and even by individual smell. Many have developed complex social behavior to defend their space from rivals.

In a lifetime, they can have as many as 20 or 30 breeding episodes. Depending on the species, the eggs can be laid and kept in a burrow, or carried around under the female’s tail until they hatch. Also depending on the species, male and female may come together only to mate, or they may bond in monogamous long-term relationships.

Cuttlefish-

If you’ve ever watched Nat Geo or Discovery, you may have caught sight of these fascinating little cephalopods. The most interesting features about this animal is its intelligence and their chameleon-like skin.

Their longevity is quite brief at about one to two years. The females typically lay their eggs, and die shortly thereafter.

Interesting fact about developing embryos and hunting instinct; the eggs are somewhat transparent, and the little cuttlefish within is able to see its outer world. This is believed to facility predator and prey behavior, and visual imprinting on common prey species. So, these little guys are curious while inside the egg, and taking notes apparently.

Another nifty feature is the cuttlebone, which helps the cuttlefish maintain buoyancy. It is comprised of calcium carbonate, and often found in pet stores as a supplement in the bird section. The rest of a cephalopod is usually made up of cartilage and other soft tissues.

The skin of a cuttlefish is a versatile tool for camouflage in the ocean realm. They utilize it to hide themselves from predators, or to wait and ambush prey. Pigment cells that can expand and contract, known as chromatophores, overlay a reflective whitish skin, which amplifies the effect of color and pattern. They can strobe colors over their bodies in what looks like a brilliant three-dimensional light show, and mimic the surrounding environment near perfectly. There are even muscles in the skin which can add the appearance of texture.

These displays are not only used in predator/prey behavior, but in ritual displays of mating, communicating with their own, and possibly emotional state.

They also have a pair of grappling tentacles about as long as their bodies, which shoot out to snare prey. They remain unseen under the rest of the eight arms.

Social Arthropods-

Social arthropods include ants, termites, wasps & bees, roaches, terrestrial decapods, etc., the list goes on for a while. These creatures have exoskeletons, and their numbers alone outnumber humans by the millions if not more.

Some groups organize loosely, while other have caste systems and build vast structures. They sense their world through sets of antennae, setae(sensory hairs), and pores within the exoskeleton.

Sight ranges from simple light and dark to the 360 vision achieved through multi-faceted lenses.

Antennae are covered with receptor cells that pick up on traces of pheromones, scents of food, and other chemical traces in their environment.

Setae are little hairs or bristles attached to the exoskeleton capable of sensing contact, air/water currents, taste, smell, pressure, etc.

While most arthropods lack actual ears, they have setae, internal membranes, and nerves that sense pressure and vibrations in their environment.

Roaches are one example of loosely organized social behavior in arthropods. There is a balance of both competition and cooperation in the group dynamics. Research has shown that group based decision making is responsible for resource allocation. These are not the only advantages to being among your kind, but it’s safety in numbers if any predator comes along.

Ants are one of the most strictly social arthropods, with a system that works mostly through chemical signals. An ant colony could justifiably be called a war machine. It’s worker drones stop at nothing to achieve their assigned goals, its soldiers will storm out of the mound willing to fight to the death defending their territory, and the queen is the egg laying machine at the center of it all.

The ant colony is incredibly industrious, and very powerful in terms of what it can do. Anything that is in the way is either consumed or mowed down. This system while admirable in its efforts, is driven by chemical slavery and working until death. FYI, ants don’t sleep, they just drop dead at some point.

The queen is actually not in control as most might think. She is in fact a hostage to her own constant egg-laying, and the workers who tend her. Her abdomen is swollen with eggs, and she is effectively immobile.

It’s a very alien and brutal society.

How they can inspire alien designs and biology?

Looking closely at the biology of some of our planet’s life, especially in its deepest darkest places, we find what looks like an alien world. Even if an imagined alien is based off some homegrown biology, changes here and there can be made to add some greater difference.

Knowing some of the basic relationship between organism and environment helps to add believability. Take gravity for example. If a planet’s gravity is greater than Earth’s, any life that lives there is likely to be short and close to the ground. If the gravity is lower, the life will be able to support taller, thinner structures.

Then, of course, you’ll have a few other parameters to account for such as what it eats, where it prefers to live, life cycle, intelligence level, etc.  You may want to start world building on your environments before you decide to design an alien, though I have to admit I done the process backwards. Do what works for you.

I’d suggest checking out some of the compositions of the planets and moon in our system for an idea of alien environments. There are a crop of new planets being discovered as well, so don’t miss those either. There are some that seem to be covered in ocean. Just look at the oddities we find here in our deep seas, and imagine what might be there. The organisms could be beautiful, or absolutely terrifying.

It’s not wrong to look around for reference material in the life we have on Earth when writing science fiction or fantasy. Mix the traits of biological oddities, and you will get interesting results. Just be sure to make it different enough to not come from our world.

It’s difficult to try to describe the unknown, but we should never stop trying.

~ Lynn