Monday, May 28, 2012


This week, Hubby and I flew to Orlando. Neither of us are enamored with flying, but for different reasons. I can’t stand being herded through the checkpoint, onto the plane and then off of the plane. Hubby can’t stand having to wait in the airport for a couple hours before we can get on the plane. Neither of us likes the too-small seats, lap trays that won’t actually come down flat, the inability to change position. Still, driving here takes two days each way, and sometimes we just don’t feel we can spare that much time. Since stuff from your real life is fodder for what you write, I try to remember our irritation and frustration connected with flying, and the impatience and boredom that can crop up during a long drive. On the other hand, if my traveler is NOT approaching his/her ‘golden’ years, then I can’t bog down the story by describing aches and pains that a younger person probably doesn’t have to endure.

Now, why would we come down to Orlando, especially in the summer? It’s so hot and humid! And hot! And humid!

Yeah, you’d think so, especially if you compared the relative positions of Orlando and Omaha on a map. Orlando is so much further south, it MUST be hotter! In the winter, yes, Florida is warmer than Nebraska. But I’ve seen hotter temperatures in Omaha in the summer, and surprisingly, the humidity can be just as bad in one place as the other.

I can explain the temperature. Nebraska is in the middle of the country, with nothing but miles and miles of dirt in all directions. In the summer, the sun bakes everything, and in the winter, the cold northern winds have nothing to stop them from covering everything in ice. Florida is mostly surrounded by water, which stores up heat during the summer (keeping everything on land from baking quite so badly), and slowly releases it during the winter, letting the area stay warmer than it otherwise would.

I can’t explain the humidity. The water surrounding Florida would be a quick explanation for that humidity level, but Nebraska doesn’t have large bodies of water, so how does that much humidity collect in the place? I can’t explain it, like I said.

But it brings up something else to keep in mind while I’m writing. Just because location A is miles closer to the equator than location B does not necessarily mean a great difference in the local weather.

Everything is more complicated than we think it ought to be.

This story of our May/June vacation and what I learn from it will be continued next week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Seeing What's There

Okay, I’ve told you about BlackBirds, MetalWorkers and ClayWomen in the Atlan tribe, all of whom have black hair and black eyes, and all of whom are often seen as a huge group of BlackBirds. There are still more Atlans who are easily mistaken as BlackBirds, especially at a little bit of distance.
The next batch of these ‘apparent BlackBirds’ has black hair and blue eyes. Those with the moon birthmark are WaterWoman, the heart birthmark denotes a LeatherWorker, while those with a sword birthmark are called Makers.
It seems to me that the occupation ‘leatherworker’ is pretty self-explanatory; they take raw animal skins and tan them into leather. They also use the leather to create shoes and clothing, wineskins and waterskins, gauntlets and sword sheaths and anything else they decide to make. Like many other types of specialists among the Atlans, this is not a glamorous type of Power, but it is supremely useful.
Understanding a WaterWoman’s Power is a little more complicated. This is the woman who can locate water, whether it’s running (like streams and rivers), standing (ponds and lakes) or underground. She can even feel an approaching storm front, although a WeatherWoman would probably be aware of storms before the WaterWomen were. A WaterWoman can get the water to take a new path to create a spring, thus avoiding having to dig wells. This also helps when crops need to be irrigated. A really strong WaterWoman can walk through a heavy downpour and not get wet because she directed the raindrops to change their path to avoid her.
And that leaves the Makers. On Earth, within the last couple centuries, an Atlan Maker might have been called a machinist or an inventor. These are the ones who first figured out wheels and axles, sails and rudders, and a whole slew of other items. They don’t do this entirely alone. For instance, it took a Maker consulting with a WaterWoman to figure out water pipes in order to invent sinks, showers and eventually, toilets.
So, these are not Mighty Warriors like BlackBirds, but they are definitely useful Powers for a village to have. And if the tribe finds themselves at war, the more women they have who might be mistaken for BlackBirds gives the Atlans that much more of a psychological edge.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Common Atlan Powers

I’ve talked before about Atlans having certain Powers. I think I’ve even mentioned that Atlans knew how to train their daughters because each combination of hair color, eye color and birthmark designates a particular Power.
But, there are other Powers that all Atlans have, to some degree. I thought I’d explain those to you. But remember, these Common Powers do not occur in the same strength in all Atlans. One may have nearly unlimited ability in Deception, while her sister can barely change the color of her hair. In a related vein, the Atlan who can make herself look like a crowd might be barely able to move a blade of grass with Levitation.
Deception – This is the skill to make others see you differently than you actually are. Perhaps they see you with brown hair and different clothes, or a different age or gender. Some Atlans have so little ability at Deception, they can barely change the color of their hair or the shape of their nose. Others have so much, they can make others see a crowd, and she would be the aged old man in the middle of that crowd.
Levitation – As you might expect, this is the ability to raise and/or move objects using only the mind. This ability ranges from barely being able to make a blade of grass wave in a breeze, to being able to lift a boulder the size of a hut a foot off the ground. There are very few Atlans whose power of Levitation is at either extreme; most Atlans must experiment to find their limit.
Telepathy – You are probably familiar with the ability to talk mind to mind. While all Atlans can do it, they can only do it with other Atlans. The typical woman can speak – briefly – with one particular sister Atlan at a distance of about half a mile. If that same woman needs to sound an alarm, she can ‘broadcast’ to every Atlan within about 2 miles. The two extremes include the inability to touch minds with a particular sister, and even when she ‘broadcasts’, she must rely on the stronger abilities of another Atlan to hear the alarm and send it out again.
These Common Powers are a source of comfort to all Atlans. No matter what their specialty is, these non-specialty powers unite all of them as a tribe.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Plant Oddities

In “Origins of Atlans”, I hypothesized the ship’s botanist had discovered a ‘snowball’ planet where the temperature was so cold, the native plants accepted fertilization by any other plant, and even by more than one. Consequently, all the plants were fairly similar, and yet, no two plants were the same.
I’m not a xenobotanist. I’m lucky if I can keep my houseplants alive. I created those plants and their unusual sex practices to serve a purpose within the story. I cringed at such whole-cloth imaginations, sure somebody would call me to task for wandering so far from the known facts about plants.
But the plants we know are Earth plants. At one time, we didn’t believe there was any possibility of plants existing on other planets, unless that planet was a twin for Earth. Fairly recently, that notion has been reconsidered. All sorts of life has been found in the superheated water surrounding submerged volcanic vents, as well as in and around the stinkpots of hot water that can be found in the company of geysers.
The plants I had made up didn’t live on an over-heated planet; they lived on a frozen planet. Does Earth have plants that live at the poles? No, I haven’t found any mention of any. But there are several plants that live in the tundra area of the arctic circle, and it gets pretty bitterly cold there. They may not bloom and thrive during the long dark winter, but they do survive.
Perhaps my imaginary frozen planet plants are not quite as fanciful as I first feared. Perhaps a planet of roughly earth size but located in an orbit analogous to Mars or the asteroid belt would have enough atmosphere/ice water to make it possible for plants to have evolved. Not exactly plants like trees and shrubs and roses, but something that managed to live, even at those temperatures. I briefly pondered about sap freezing and bursting the cells, but all sorts of plants on Earth manage to survive the winter without that happening.
Perhaps these plants create their own antifreeze. Earth plants are carbohydrates, as I understand it, and alcohol can be made by fermenting the carbohydrate we all know as sugar.
I don’t know how scientific that explanation might be, but I like it. Mainly because on the Atlan planet, I’ve introduced ‘drunk-berries’. If somebody mistakenly eats unripe drunk berries, they find them overly sweet, but they are ingesting a poison that will definitely make them ill, and possibly kill them. Ripe drunk berries are routinely juiced, and the juice bottled as a ready-made wine, still sweet but also powerfully alcoholic.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.