One of the most asked questions many authors hear is what books inspired us to join the community of writers? In the case of the Beta-Earth Chronicles, the most important influence in terms of the first four books’ structures is, surprise, surprise, The Beatles’ print version of their Anthology.
In fact, not just the Anthology but pretty much every oral history I’ve ever read, mostly about rock bands. That’s because such histories usually alternate from narrator to narrator giving a variety of voices the opportunity to tell their version of their own stories.
That approach is one of the first things I wanted to emulate when I began The Blind Alien. For one thing, this allowed the 7 principal characters the opportunity to reveal their own back-stories and express their own feelings, opinions, and thoughts about the unfolding events they participate in. I gather I wasn’t as successful in a related effort like I hoped, or at least no reader has commented on it yet.
And that’s my desire to allow the main characters’ personalities to be demonstrated in their speech patterns and word choice. For example, I thought I could show how the lesser-educated characters like Lorei and Elsbeth would sound slightly different from the college-educated wives like Joline and Alnenia. For example, the most simple of the women, Elsbeth Renbourn, uses verbs like “be” instead of “am”—“I be very uncomfortable talking about all these things, but I will tell my story with my sisters. I be the quiet one, and have always been that way.”
On the other hand, what nearly every reader has commented on is the “Beta-speak” dialect I created for all but one of the characters, that being, of course, Malcolm Renbourn who came from our planet. Again, I had several reasons for this. First, in science fiction we always have to create new vocabulary for locations, characters, technology, you name it. I thought I could make the Betans more distinctive by giving them a different grammar as well.
In addition, I created this dialect thinking about tightening up sentences and cutting down little words. This helped quicken the pace as well. For example, I created active verbs to cut down on passive verb phrases. Instead of “It was possible,” Betans say “It possibled.” “I stunned, “not “I was stunned.” Instead of “I don’t think,” they say “I think not.” In addition, I gave the Betans idioms like the first two words in the book, “True said, I was raised not to do the things I have done.” I also created new verbs, not just nouns, like “skol” for writing.
Some reviewers feel these structures remind them of old English, at least the English spoken during or near the time of Shakespeare. (I always thought “Old English” meant the period in which Beowulf was composed, not King Lear.) I have no problem with that observation, but admit I didn’t think of that at all when composing The Blind Alien.
What surprises me most is some reactions from readers who find the Beta-dialect especially challenging. I honestly thought by mainly tinkering with verb phrases and simple idioms—“simple said”—most readers could quickly get into the new cadences, the new rhythms quite easily. And many do. Others find the dialect something that takes time to adapt to. Well, I hope that time is worth the effort.
After all, science fiction should be, if not challenging, at least surprising and fresh. I’ve done my level best to be original and distinctive. Admit it—that doesn’t happen every day.