writing · poetry · conlang

Month: June 2023

It’s Not Just Mary Sues: A Case for Derivative Works (Sci-Bi Inspiration #3)

A few months ago, I went on the Podcast VJ Talks. The host, V.J. Harris, is a TikTok mutual of mine, and I was excited that they invited me on to talk about worldbuilding, conlanging, and Obligate—the mini-series I was best known for at the time. I had a great time talking with V.J., but there was one admission that I made on that podcast that I’ve been hesitant to talk about on TikTok, that the universe I write in started as a derivative work. 

Yes, the universe that my conlangs, my novel in progress, my short stories, Obligate, and most recently The Boston Androids exist in was originally a Star Trek original series that I called Star Trek: Apgar. The Apgar portion was taken from the name of the galaxy-class starship where the series would take place (I named the ship in honor of the scientist Virginia Apgar whose creation of the Apgar score has saved the lives of many newborns).

Star Trek: Apgar was a quarantine project. In the year 2020, I had just started my third year of college, my mom had just had major brain surgery, and we had just had one of the most contentious elections in US history. Emotionally, I wasn’t doing too hot. My answer to emotional instability was to start watching Star Trek: The Next Generation

I fell in love with the series. The characters, the setting, and the story spoke to me. I took the world building, and I ran with it. I started wondering what the show could look like free from the constraints of 80s technology and TV budgets. I imagined complex life support equipment and languages that didn’t translate. I developed a new alien species, the Beskarans, who were amphibious, quadrupedal, and clear-blooded.

I soon remembered that Beskarans sounded a bit too much like Beskar (a fictional material from Star Wars). As a consequence, Beskarans became Lacerti, based on the Latin word for lizard. Beskaran also became the basis for Beshan, the family name of my new protagonist, Ehno Beshan.

I wrote Star Trek: Apgar as an episode concept. In it, Lt. Cmdr. Beshan’s homeplanet is considering joining the Federation, and the USS Apgar is ordered to oversee talks. It dealt with Beshan’s conflicting feelings on her family, her home, and her decision to leave it all behind to join Starfleet. 

A drawing of a frog-like humanoid wearing a modified Starfleet uniform

I wrote somewhere around 12,000 words before I realized that Star Trek was being used as window dressing. I wanted to write a character-driven story that felt like Star Trek, but that didn’t mean that I had to write within the confines of Star Trek. I think that’s the beauty of derivative works; they give you a familiar space to process what kind of story you want to tell. 

There are a lot of stories that could be told in the sand box that is Star Trek, and I needed that sand box to assure me that I had the capability to write a compelling story. As soon as I felt confined by the preexisting worldbuilding of Star Trek, I realized that I could write compelling original content.

This was the push that got me to rewrite Star Trek: Apgar as my own original work, and I realized that once I took away the titles and transporters, there was very little Star Trek worldbuilding left behind. Now, my worldbuilding includes android societies, morally ambiguous parasites, and glassmaking physics that probably wouldn’t work out in the real world, but most importantly, it’s a universe of my own design. 

Though I still worry that the echoes of Star Trek could one day cause some overzealous fanboy to call Major Ehnno Beshan an OP OC or Mary Sue, I have the self-confidence to know that this isn’t the case. I’m grateful to Star Trek for inspiring me to write complex characters that go on compelling adventures, but Star Trek doesn’t have a monopoly on this concept. 
When we write derivative works, we write out of love for the franchises that give us creative insight. I’m not ashamed that The Astroauroran Chronicles is reminiscent of Star Trek. The nature of existence, the draw to the unknown, and the complexity of the human experience are universal themes, and there’s more than enough room for one more franchise that explores them.

Counting in Shiv’Jan

After I made Lacerti’s counting system base eight, I decided that I would stick to base ten for Shiv’Jan’s counting system. This was mostly for my own sanity.

There’s a bit of crossover with the Shiv’Jan words for six and eight and the Lacerti word for six and eight (Nosh and Os, respectively). I’m working on adding a few more loan words into each language, and while I don’t think Lacerti introduced the concept of six and eight into Shiv’Jan or vice verse, I think that a gradual incorporation of Lacerti numbers into Shiv’Jan would be a natural consequence of trade.

Additionally, the Lacerti word used for zero, Sonll, also means “deception” in Lacerti. I don’t think Lacerti naturally would’ve come up with a word for zero, so I think the Shiv’Jan word Sosh was incorporated into Lacerti and changed to Sonll, eventually evolving into all its aforementioned meanings.

Shiv’Jan NumberEnglish Equivalent Shiv’Jan NumberEnglish Equivalent 
The Shiv’Jan Number Table up to 59

Counting In Lacerti

Back when I was consistently drawing concept art, I found myself drawing all Lacerti (the amphibious, web-handed speakers of the eponymous language) with four fingers on each hand.

As a consequence, when it came time to come up with a counting system for Lacerti, I questioned if a base ten counting system (like the one English and most other languages use) would be appropriate. Why would a species that has eight fingers to count on make a language that is based in tens.

Lacerti is now base eight because of my drawing style. Though, it’s not 0-7, it’s 1-8 because Lacerti uses the word for “deception” to convey the foreign concept of zero (and totally not because I didn’t initially know how number systems work).

Lacerti NumberEnglish EquivalentLacerti NumberEnglish Equivalent
Nos1NoNos9 (2nd 1)
No2NoNo10 (2nd 2)
Sho3NoSho11 (2nd 3)
Sh4NoSh12 (2nd 4)
Shos5NoShos13 (2nd 5)
Nosh6NoNosh14 (2nd 6)
Osh7NoOsh15 (2nd 7)
Os8NoOs16 (2nd 8)
ShoNos17 (3rd 1)ShNos25 (4th 1)
ShoNo18 (3rd 2)ShNo26 (4th 2)
ShoSho19 (3rd 3)ShSho27 (4th 3)
ShoSh20 (3rd 4)ShSh28 (4th 4)
ShoShos21 (3rd 5)ShShos29 (4th 5)
ShoNosh22 (3rd 6)ShNosh30 (4th 6)
ShoOsh23 (3rd 7)ShOsh31 (4th 7)
ShoOs24 (3rd 8)ShOs32 (4th 8)
Sosh64 (1 sosh)
SoshNos65 (1st sosh 1)SoshNoNos73 (1st sosh 2nd 1)
SoshNo66 (1st sosh 2)SoshNoNo74 (1st sosh 2nd 2)
SoshSho67 (1st sosh 3)SoshNoSho75 (1st sosh 2nd 3)
SoshSh68 (1st sosh 4)SoshNoSh76 (1st sosh 2nd 4)
SoshShos69 (1st sosh 5)SoshNoShos77 (1st sosh 2nd 5)
SoshNosh70 (1st sosh 6)SoshNoNosh78 (1st sosh 2nd 6)
SoshOsh71 (1st sosh 7)SoshNoOsh79 (1st sosh 2nd 7)
SoshOs 72 (1st sosh 8)SoshNoOs80 (1st sosh 2nd 8)
NoSosh128 (2nd sosh)
NoSoshNos129 (2nd sosh 1)NoSoshNoNos137 (2nd sosh 2nd 1)
NoSoshNo130 (2nd sosh 2)NoSoshNoNo138 (2nd sosh 2nd 2)
NoSoshSho131 (2nd sosh 3)NoSoshNoSho139 (2nd sosh 2nd 3)
NoSoshSh132 (2nd sosh 4)NoSoshNoSh140 (2nd sosh 2nd 4)
NoSoshShos133 (2nd sosh 5)NoSoshNoShos141 (2nd sosh 2nd 5)
NoSoshNosh134 (2nd sosh 6)NoSoshNoNosh142 (2nd sosh 2nd 6)
NoSoshOsh135 (2nd sosh 7)NoSoshNoOsh143 (2nd sosh 2nd 7)
NoSoshOs136 (2nd sosh 8)NoSoshNoOs144 (2nd sosh 2nd 8)
Shev576 (8th sosh 8th 8)
ShevNos577 (1st shev 1)ShevNoNos585 (1st shev 2nd 1)
ShevNo578 (1st shev 2)ShevNoNo586 (1st shev 2nd 2)
ShevSho579 (1st shev 3)ShevNoSho587 (1st shev 2nd 3)
ShevSh580 (1st shev 4)ShevNoSh588 (1st shev 2nd 4)
ShevShos581 (1st shev 5)ShevNoShos589 (1st shev 2nd 5)
ShevNosh582 (1st shev 6)ShevNoNosh590 (1st shev 2nd 6)
ShevOsh583 (1st shev 7)ShevNoOsh591 (1st shev 2nd 7)
ShevOs584 (1st shev 8)ShevNoOs592 (1st shev 2nd 8)
The Lacerti Number Table up to 592

Death Was a Babysitter (Death Was #3)

Death was a babysitter. Not in the regular sense with homework to do and sock hops to attend after their employers returned from their monthly reprieve but in the temporary sense with two demon children chasing geese in a cemetery park. Death sat on a bench, their brown hair pulled into a neat ponytail and bangs framing their round face. They crossed one ankle over the other, and aside from the occasional chewing-gum bubble, they sat perfectly still, a sentinel watching over the children.

A man approached the bench, his nerves dissipating as he sunk down in the free seat next to Death. He looked at the kids, his eyes welling with relief.

“Who are you wearing today?” He asked, voice wavering.

Death took in his appearance without taking their eyes away from their wards. Marcin usually kept his shell in immaculate condition, but today, his black hair hung loose and limp from the half bun he normally kept it in, his pea coat was unbuttoned, and his white button up was untucked. 

“Betty Lis, she died on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle,” they said. Betty’s poodle skirt caught in the wind, and Death turned her head to look at Marcin. “But that’s not what you want to talk about.”

“No, sorry. I just…” He looked out at his two children, Parish and Beckette, gleefully playing a game of chase with the geese by the pond. “Thank you for watching them.”

“Thank your sister. She was the one who chased off Mephistopheles Henriette and Mephistopheles Adisa. I was here to take them.”

Angels and demons didn’t need to breathe; despite this, Marcin felt as though Death had taken all of the air from his surroundings. “Are you still,” He began before Death cut his thought short.

“No,” they said. “They don’t belong with me yet, but they still appear as two children alone in the park. I didn’t want any humans to bother them.”

“Where’s Sauriel?” He asked, realizing that if she chased off Henriette and Adisa, she could be in danger.

“I’m unsure,” Death said. “But I know I’m not needed by her side at the moment.” Death popped another bubble of chewing gum. “Perhaps, you should ask your other sister. Abiah keeps a close watch on you all.”

Death stood from the bench and held out Betty’s arm. All at once, the geese stood at attention, making the children stop and watch in bewilderment as they flew and morphed mid-air into one, giant golden eagle.

Marcin looked back to Death, now a Kazakh eagle hunter with warm, fur clothing wrapped in intricate, red patterns and a padded glove that strained under the grip of the talons.  

“Consider leaving your children with someone, maybe Gabriel. I heard she’s been rather bored lately.” Marcin glanced at his children, and though he felt nothing, he knew that Death had left his side.

Death Was a Shepherd (Death Was #2)

Death was a shepherd. Not in the religious sense with a flock of devoted worshipers but neither in the literal sense with a homestead and worries of icy winters. Death stood in ankle high, wet grass wearing wool pants, a study cap, and a border tartan wrap overlooking hills dotted with sheep. They whistled and four border collies bolted from Death’s side and made quick work of the scattered flock. 

Sauriel stood behind and off to the side, marveling at the dogs’ agility. “Who are you wearing today?” She asked. 

“William Barker but he preferred to be called Will,” they said. Death whistled again, changing the direction of the flock towards a fence off to the right. “He died this day, 1905.”

“And your reapers?” She saw the traces of mist that followed the dogs’ paths.

“Duncan, Malcolm, Lady Macbeth, and Banquo. They were Will’s herding dogs. They died the same day.” Death turned to face Sauriel, trusting their reapers to handle the rest of the sheep. “You seldom seek me out.”

“I came to ask a question,” she said. “You said that Lucifer sent the Mephistopheles after Marcin, but the things that attacked him, those weren’t demons.”

Death hummed. From their tartan wrap, a lamb popped its head out and gave a single, offended bleat. “You’ve upset Lamb-bert.”

“It…it has a name?”

“Yes, the farmer down the road was a single father with two young children caring for his weary parents,” Death ran Will’s hand across Lamb-bert’s head. “He died two hours ago. His last wish was for his flock to be returned. Lamb-bert was named by his children.”

Sauriel placed a hand on her hip and ran the other one through her hair. The light from her halo reflected off the gathering mist and gave Lamb-bert’s eyes an eerie glow. “Death, I need you to be honest with me. I’m begging here, what else is after Marcin and his kids?”

“There are things larger than you and I, Sauriel.” They pulled off their tartan and swaddled Lamb-bert, rocking him softly until his eyes closed. “All things dead are my domain, and all things living will eventually be my domain, but while they live, their choices, their definitions, are their own. I am not as omnipotent as most would like to believe.”

Before Sauriel could interrupt to ask another question, Death closed the gap between them and handed her the bundle of tartan-wrapped lamb. “Do me a favor and return Lamb-bert.”

The sheep corralled, Death called their reapers with a sharp whistle. As the mist settled on the group, William Barker blew away on the wind, and in his place stood a tall woman with sleek, black hair and bold, red lipstick wearing pointy stiletto shoes, a knee-length fur coat over a form-hugging, decadent silk dress, and oversized sunglasses. 

“I am needed elsewhere,” Death and their reapers, now borzois with thick, diamond-studded golden collars dissolved into the mist leaving Sauriel in the field, holding a cozy, sleeping lamb.


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