Print Story Reception - WFC2 Post-mortem
Yet another WFC2 post-mortem. So very long.

In an attempt to conceal the authorship of this story, my mini-review quoted another review of Ursula Le Guin: A not entirely unpleasant beating about the head with a sociology textbook. That praise was excessive. It's really more like Judy Blume, recovering from a debilitating stroke, wrote some Clan of the Cave Bear fan fiction, then wrapped it in a dust jacket from a secondhand introduction to Victorian anthropology, which someone had vomited on.

Nevertheless. The setting came first for this one: an apocalypse of agitated human voices. From this follows a society that lives underground and has heavy taboos on speaking, even developing a language made up of tapping and gestures. This led to the problem of names. I wanted the names to sound like words from the language, so I made up some phonemes. I am currently the world's laziest and slowest progressing long term Mandarin student, so word formation is a bit like in Chinese, but without as much tonality and with sounds made by tapping fingers.

Ss - scratching a nail across a surface
Ff - moving the index finger quickly against the middle finger
Sh - moving the index finger quickly against the middle finger, in reverse
Hmf - blowing through the nose with closed mouth

Tap - lower pitched tap with nail of finger on a surface
Tan - higher pitched tap with nail of finger on a surface
Ke - lower pitched tap with fingertip on a surface
Je - higher pitched tap (eg with little finger) with fingertip on a surface

Father: Je'ke
Aunty Ke
Elder sister: Ss'tap
Middle sister: Ss'tan
Younger brother: Je'tan
Messenger boy: Hmf'ke

An actual language would have a lot more phonemes; thank goodness I didn't have to think of them.

Initially the sister being married was Ss'tan and the protagonist was Ss'tap, but halfway through I started unconsciously writing them the other way, and I though Ss'tan sounded a better name so I swapped them around.

Having sketched out my setting I tried to hang a plot on it. For WFC1 I punched out a semi-biographical sketch set in my hometown, so I tried to vary. I tried to think of the least blokey first-person scenario I could, hopefully one that established this wasn't so much a Day After as the Century After. A wedding in third-person was the result, albeit a wedding disrupted by violent clan warfare. Oh well, one step at a time I guess.

I usually come up with setting ideas rather than plot. In fact usually the easiest way I find to move the plot on is to think of a new setting, and travel from the first to the second. I've also read a lot of SF, and become wary of its tropes, particularly classics like As You Know Bob, the Foreign Ambassador, the Child Discovering the World, and so on. Hence the result seen in my 2004 Nanovella, which troopers such as Kellnerin endured: an explosion of unfamiliar locations and over-digested memes, dumped on the lap of the reader without much explanation at all, and abandoned in favour of shiny new settings in the next chapter, for fear of their inconsistencies being exposed. I thought the tapping language deserved better than that, so I tried to put a lot of effort into that slow reveal. Some people even seemed to like it, which is a relief because writing this dragged out over an entire bloody long weekend (interleaved with life's normal distractions, mind). I used to be able to bang this sort of SF/F out without much effort, but now writing anything takes me an age.

What suffered though was the world itself, which I suspect doesn't work as such. Sound is actually quite hard to stop travelling long distances - the soundproofing described in the story, living so close to the surface, is pretty poor. Furthermore the climactic passage where Ss'tan goes outside without a head wrapping suggests the voices may not just be audible, but be somehow stimulating ear nerves more directly. That would explain the lousy, soundproofing, but it brings back the question of what causes such a strange sensation, and why it doesn't happen underground. I haven't got a good answer; we're in witches' curse / artificially intelligent nanobot territory here. It might survive the reading on the coattails of suspension of disbelief, but I'm guessing it wouldn't survive the post-reading analysis.

I also wanted to suggest that this was a uniquely human apocalypse - the world at large was otherwise doing fine, thriving even. That's what the Swiss alp moment was for. Dunno that this came across though.

The characters were a little neglected. Ss'tan has a bit of screen time and I hope she's plausible in an adolescent Mad Maxine way, but Ss'tap is a gloss, Aunty Ke is a cliche and poor old Hmf'ke and Je'tan may as well have worn red shirts.

However putting the setting climax and the character climax in synch seemed to work ok.

Finally, my wife asked who won the battle. I don't really know, though I imagine Ss'tan's clan had the advantage once the downslopers had lost surprise.

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It was cool by Kellnerin (4.00 / 2) #1 Tue Jun 20, 2006 at 05:13:11 AM EST
You'd clearly thought through the apocalypse and the origin of the society, but didn't get all in our face about it. At first I was all "WTF with the aggressively weird and unpronounceable names" (D's comment to me on reading it: "I know it's not yours because you hate apostrophes in names.") but really liked when it was revealed why they sound so strange to us. I'm impressed that you actually worked out some of the mechanics of the language even though it's not necessary for the story.

That disorienting aspect in the beginning made it easier to go along with the idea that the world aboveground would be strange and scary to Ss'tan. I get the feeling that her freakout is mainly psychological after a lifetime of being told of the dangers of the outside and the Loudness, not because there is anything intrinsically bad/threatening out there (maybe there once was, but that was ages ago). Either that or something really spooky and mysterious. Nice reversal, in any case.

I only had any idea it was yours because of your file naming convention ;)

"later" meant either "when you walk around the corner" or "oatmeal."

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