Yesterday we had a near record high temperature of 66 degrees. Tomorrow, the forecast is for snow and possibly freezing rain. Changeable weather is one of the joys of living in Michigan–Not. But the weather here inspired my subject for today...other world environments.
I think it’s easier to set our futuristic/SF romance on a planet with a similar environment to what we have here on Earth. Easier for us to write, easier for our readers to understand. It makes sense because our characters are human. Obviously they’re not going to be able to breathe poisonous gas or survive in conditions hazardous to human like...not for long anyway.
But too often I find most fictional other worlds are an almost exact copy of Earth. Oh, the names of flora and fauna may change but a rose is a rose by any other name, true? And as speculative fiction writers, we’re urged to call a cup of coffee...well, coffee. Why? Because odd words are confusing to readers. Okay, this makes sense too. But what do you call a fruit that has no equal on Earth? A blue-strawberry-banana apple? That’s a bit cumbersome. When Keriam and Eric (Heartstone) stop for a rest, he finds some native fruits to eat. Keriam, of course, has never seen these fruits before. All she knows is what she sees–they’re blue and round–then what she smells. Here’s how I resolved that issue.
The man chuckled, a deep warm sound of genuine amusement, as he pulled a narrow-bladed knife from his belt. He slid the knife through the succulent fruit, removing a wedge-shaped piece. The scent, a subtle blend of berry and banana with a tiny edge of citrus, wafted to her nose. This time her stomach rumbled like a freight train.
He lifted the wedge to her mouth. His unspoken message–she would eat from his hand or not at all–was clear. Tempted to tell him to take the exotic food and stuff it, her traitorous mouth opened instead. He slowly placed it in her mouth. As her lips closed around the fruit, taste exploded on her tongue.
Sweet with just an edge of acidic tartness, the fruit seemed to melt on her tongue. She chewed slowly, savoring the taste. Swallowing, she looked up and found him watching her intently.
"This is a tepe'en." His voice was oddly strangled as he offered the name of the fruit. His fingers glistened from the juice as he cut another slice. "It's native to Neraldi and to this continent in particular. We import quite a bit of it to Antiare. Most of our people consider it a delicacy."
Since this story is set on several planets other than Earth, I also had to have a bit of description about them. Neraldi, the first planet Keriam encounters, has a binary star overhead. Here’s a small description as seen from Keriam’s point of view.
She didn't have any idea where she was but she wasn't on Earth. That was obvious from the large, pink-orange sun and its small yellow companion. Even without that, the sight of the delicate winged-lizards leaping from branch to branch would have convinced her. If she hadn't been attacked by a mutant and kidnapped by an alien, she would have been gawking like a Tokyo tourist.
The trees grew in an odd triad formation, three boles rooted companionably together. The color of burnt cork, they were festooned with long, narrow leaves that glistened with a silvery aqua color and rustled in the light breeze. The central bole of each tree cluster hosted branches laden with tiny green berries.
As she trudged onward, she realized the small lizard-birds favored those berries both on the branches and where they had fallen on the forest floor. Keriam thought the little creatures resembled nothing less than wildly colored blossoms. And while they fluttered like busy little bees, they didn't appear to nest or roost in the trees. She watched, curious in spite of herself, as one ruby-colored creature waddled to a slightly raised patch of earth then flipped head over heels into its burrow.
These are things that a normal person would automatically observe when faced by a new experience. Colors, scent, plant and animal life (she later learns that the lizard-birds are called linlies) can provide warnings or clues as to the kind of place you’re in. They can provide life and death types of clues or warnings...if you know what to look for. In this next bit, you’ll see how Keriam reacts when she first sees a bursi.
The linlies fell silent, a living barometer of danger. Every line in Eric's powerful body tensed as he slowly scanned the surrounding woods. Keriam's heart kicked into overdrive. Her flesh tingled as she realized something was out there. Her mouth went dry.
Eric's sword hissed as it left its scabbard, breaking the deathly silence. He gestured her behind him as he faced the thick line of trees to their left.
She heard a noise; a twig snapped in the bosky depths of the forest. Eric turned slightly, orienting himself to the sound.
"What is it?"
He gave a single, impatient shake of his head.
The undergrowth rustled, shook. A heavy grunt broke the silence. Another. Frantically, Keriam glanced around for a weapon as she heard the sound of something large and in a sudden hurry.
It was coming right at them. Her hand settled on a thick branch.
Then a large, hairy creature burst out of the underbrush. Covered with patches of jewel colors, the animal looked as if it had been dipped into one too many cups of Easter egg dye. It was big, a monster-sized bull-shaped creature with a long, barbed tail. Tiny red eyes blinked at them as a pink tongue whipped between smiling, fleshy lips.
Keriam almost laughed–the creature looked so odd, almost cartoonish. Then it opened its mouth to reveal a wide muzzle filled with sharp, yellowed teeth and she didn't want to laugh at all.
Animals that have evolved on a planet beyond Earth may bear a resemblance to Earthly creatures. At least at first glance. But we as writers can’t go into the history of their evolution. We have to make it understandable to normal Earthlings...like us :D
Neraldi has plants and animals, forests and lakes, not too unlike our own. But Keriam ends up fighting the Gawan on the first planet it captured. Purlea, she learns, was a terraformed planet (yes, I had to use terraformed even though terra means Earth) but after the Gawan takes over, the mechanics of that terraforming are left in disarray and the planet begins returning to its natural condition. Here’s the description of that planet. (Oh, and Froggie, in the selection below, is a linlie who adopted Eric.)
The landscape was just as barren, bleak and desolate as it had looked on the holo-image. The wind moaned across the rocky plains like a tortured demon. Keriam pulled her cap down and her collar up to protect her face from the blowing dust and grit. The only signs of life were low, sulky bushes and a sooty yellow grass that hugged the ground stubbornly. Keriam thought it would be better off if it let go and flew into space. Eric resettled the pack on his shoulders after Froggie took wing. "Let's go."
With his long-legged stride, he set a brisk pace aiming for the red splotch on the horizon that had to be the singular mountain she'd seen in the holo-image.
In single file, with Keriam in the middle and Eric in the lead, they set off toward the rising sun. Froggie quickly resumed his perch on Eric's shoulder, tucking his head under a leathery wing. The plains weren't flat, she discovered. The land actually dipped and swelled like a vast, frozen sea. Small, bloated plants with waving filaments broke the surface like fishermen in solitary clumps. Whatever those filaments meant to attract, Keriam hoped not to see.
Here and there, when the wind died, puffs of bilious yellow gas burst out of the ground like tiny stinking farts. Obviously, Purlea would never draw tourists in its present condition.
They stopped at mid-morning, then again at noon, to rest and eat. Beyond the ever-present dust devils and a few high clouds, nothing moved. It was easy to imagine they were alone on the planet, but she knew that Purlea teemed with Gawan-spawn. And soon, at dawn the next day, the city and its nearby Defense Base would be bombarded.
Other worlds visited by our characters can be very Earth-like but they don’t have to be identical. Our characters see these unearthly landscapes in terms they understand. And I think it’s important that they see it in terms that reflect their fears or chances of survival. Those who read SF/futuristic/speculative romance are looking for something that takes them past Earth and its normal environs. They’re looking for adventure and new experiences and, yes, romance at its best. These readers are some of the smartest, most intelligent people around and it’s our job to satisfy them.
“Heartstone by Lynda K. Scott is an adventure that starts almost from the beginning of the book. Although there were times that I had difficulties with some of the terms, it was easy enough to follow the story. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and was fascinated by the worlds the author had created. Although the story of these characters was completed in this book, it is obvious that the back-story can continue and I would be interested in seeing what happens next.”
Reviewed by Kathy Andrico, Joyfully Reviewed