Sunday, September 25, 2011

Clay Woman

Do you remember playdough, that colored plastic clay people let their kids play with? When I was a kid, I played with that. Then in high school art class, I played with real clay for a few weeks, and later, at the local community center, I painted a few ceramic mugs. Oh, yeah, and I've occasionally played with homemade flour clay. That's the extent of my experience with clay.

One type of Atlan in my Atlan universe is the Clay Woman, those who specialize in all aspects of clay. By the time they reach adulthood, they have learned how to sift the tiniest grains out of regular dirt and combine those grains with water to create clay. They have long ago mastered the skill of creating and firing clay plates, bowls, jars and pots. They probably have started experimenting with other shapes, such as boxes or other items that have straight sides and definite angles, instead of curves.

I admit, I tried that, too, in that high school art class. My box had five sides of different sizes, and the tops of those sides made triangles. I may be wrong, but I think the teacher fired my box all by itself, because she was uncertain whether it would blow up. Clay does that, sometimes, for a number of reasons I never fully understood. My box and its lid – yes, I made a lid for it, otherwise it was just another pot – did not blow up. However, once they were fired, the lid did not fit the box as exactly as it had as dried clay.

But a clay woman would have made a lid that perhaps did not fit the box exactly as dried clay, but did fit it once they were fired, for such an Atlan understands everything about clay. She knows how to fire her pieces for the best results, the various colors of glazes ... . In short, a clay woman knows everything there is to know about making useful items from that humblest component – clay.

Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But despite the fact that Atlans are known as witches (what sane man would play dirty with a group of known witches?), most of their various Powers are not 'exciting'. They are specialties that make life easier for the tribe.

A clay woman has black hair, black eyes, and the heart birthmark. To an outsider, she looks like a BlackBird (warrior). If the tribe has to go to war, or at least look like it's ready for war, the Clay Women will take their places among the BlackBirds, to boost the apparent number of 'outstanding' warriors. It isn't a complete deception, because, like all the Atlans, a Clay Woman has been receiving fighting training since she first learned to walk.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vampires and Zombies Through History

Vampires have been popular for some time, and zombies are experiencing a wave of popularity about now, too. Certainly, my two sons love to hack them to pieces in their favorite video games. So I was a little mystified this week when I was scanning through some science headlines, and saw one about zombies in medieval Ireland. It caught my attention, so I read on. Apparently, archeologists have been digging up graveyards in Ireland, and came across the skeletons of two men who had each been buried with a rock shoved into his mouth.

That sounds strange to me, but apparently it's a known thing to archeologists who dig up graves in Europe. During the plague, people were buried in mass graves. Mass graves would be opened up periodically to add more bodies, and those already in the grave would be in various stages of decay. Some of them might be bloated, with blood emerging from the mouth, and these, it was believed at the time, were vampires. A brick or rock would be shoved into the 'sleeping' vampire's mouth so that they would starve to death.

But, those mass graves for the Black Plague were from the 14th & 15th centuries. These two men from Ireland were buried during the 8th century, long before rumors of vampires started making the rounds. So ... why did they have rocks shoved into their mouths?

The theory proposed in this article was that people of that time found comfort in having things be 'normal'. People and things that did not fit the pattern of life that they knew filled them with dread and suspicion. Sudden death, such as from heart attack or murder, might have meant the dead would arise from the grave and harass the living. Even if that person's soul did not return to the body, an evil spirit could do so, by way of the body's mouth. So a rock was shoved into that 'doorway' to keep that from happening.

Now, I always thought 'zombies' had started in the Caribbean after Africans were brought in as slaves, and that the historical Dracula lived before 1000 BC. But it looks like 'the walking dead' were feared before 1000 BC, and a quick check of history reveals that Dracula lived in the mid-15th century. Always check your facts, I guess.

And I used to wonder what 'research' a fiction writer was supposed to do.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Deception - An Atlan Power

What would you do if you could Deceive other people that you were someone else?  Deception is one of the universal Atlan powers in my world, meaning that all Atlans can do it to some degree.  Some Atlans can walk into a large city fully armed - two swords, bow & arrow, several knives - and everyone in that city will see her as a half-grown boy, or a one-legged beggar, whatever she wants them to see.  This is a useful skill to have, for an Atlan scout can mingle with other groups and learn what’s going on.

The one thing about this power that the Atlans don’t want to admit is that it’s not perfect.  In a group of 100 people, one of them might not be fully convinced by what they see.  Ever had the feeling that someone you just met or who you saw across the street was ... off?  That’s what this person would feel. 
Whether that person would say anything to anybody or would simply turn back to what they were doing ... that’s another thing entirely.

Other Atlans don’t have this power so strongly.  They can change their appearance, so long as they remain female.  Or perhaps they can only change their hair color, not their entire appearance.

Korla has scars on one side of her face from a childhood accident.  She isn’t sure she can erase those scars, even using Deception.  But then, she’s never tried.  Atlans use whatever they can to appear fierce to their enemies, and until a particular person proves they are not an enemy, Atlans assume they are.
A soldier might not think an army of women would be anything to worry about.  But if he is facing a well-armed woman who has been disfigured, whose mouth is pulled upward on one side into a blood-lust grin, he just might have second thoughts.  Some of Korla’s sisters use Deception to disfigure their face, too, when facing a potential threat.

Just one of the ways Atlans can be tricky.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

27 Atlans

One thing an author needs to do when writing fantasy and science fiction is to create the society (or societies) that one's characters are from. A society is a complex mixture of religion(s), politics, occupations, beliefs, interactions between classes ... and so much more.

I have been 'meeting' Atlan characters for a couple decades now, and I've got a pretty good idea how their society works. I suppose they are best described as socialists, or communists. That was kind of surprising, because there are 27 'types' of Atlans.

Atlans are all female, all descended – according to their lore – from 3 gods. Even they don't understand how they have 3 parents, but the evidence is there, and anyway, gods can do anything, right? Other tribes learn to recognize Atlans by their hair and eye color. Atlan hair is either jet black, snow white, or brilliant red. Atlan eyes are either blue, green or black. So, if you pair all the noticeable variables together, you have 9 color variations for Atlans.

What many outsiders don't understand is that Atlans also inherit a birthmark from one of the gods, either a white crescent moon, a pale heart, or a black sword. If you pair each birthmark with all the color variations, you have 27 different combinations. And each combination gives that Atlan a different set of Power to learn and master.

All Atlans have certain Powers in common, such as Deception, or Levitation. And those common powers appear in different strengths, without regard to the trio of tell signs. One Atlan might be able to Deceive an enemy that she is his father, while another can barely use Deception to blend in with a crowd. The most Powerful Atlan I have written about has just enough Levitation to make a small twig roll across the ground to the campfire, while her sister – whose Power is to talk to animals – can Levitate house-sized boulders and move them aside.

Atlans have a Queen, but it is not a hereditary position, and it actually is more of a clerical position, most of the time. It is she who decides who does what chores when and keeps the tribe flourishing. It is she who is presented to visiting dignitaries from other countries, but that is mostly because outsiders expect one person to be in charge. While the outsiders study the Atlan 'Queen', other Atlans study the outsiders and determine how much danger they present to the tribe.

I can't possibly explain all of Atlan culture in one blog, but perhaps this is a good start. Remember, when I'm writing stories about the Atlans, I can't just blatantly say all this. I have to allude to it in the course of the story and hope the readers catch on.