Language Notes

I began by staring at a blank page, as all authors do.

I wanted to write a story about the culture, families, and emotional lives of alien beings who are fundamentally different from human beings. I wanted to explore the way a core set of biological differences would play out to produce vast differences from anything we can imagine: a branching chain of causes and effects that would lead to differences in sensation, perception, cognition, social lives, politics, and culture.

I also wanted to explore how these differences might produce similarities to our own day-to-day lives as well.

Which is cool and all, until you sit down to actually write the story.

When out story begins, our main character is finding refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city by exploring one of his favorite… wait, no, I’m sorry: one of her favorite…? One of it’s favorite…?

The people of GJ-1214b reproduce by mitosis (asexual cell division): when their bodies are ready, they undergo a sudden involuntary process where their brain and body cells split and form two identical twins (or “clones”) who go on to lead two separate individual lives. The person before the split in some sense ceases to exist, and is replaced by two offspring; but in another sense, the original person continues on: living lives as two separate individuals who just happen to have a common history.

If you choose to look at it in the second, more cheery way, people rarely die. At least, they don’t die of old age. They might starve from lack of food or get killed by a predator or natural disaster. But as long as they are able eat and protect themselves, they will continue on in branching paths of ever-separating, individuating lives: forever cloning and evolving in a sea of sibling selves.

With sex and gender completely out of the picture, I have decided to use the singular “they” to refer to an individual person. It seems less awkward than the very old-fashioned “she/he” and is more recognizable than ultra-trendy pronouns cut fresh from whole cloth like “xe” or “ze”. You should be able to get used to this fairly quickly, since you almost certainly use this convention in your common everyday speech.

I didn’t like that salesperson, they were too pushy!

I think that’s our ride over there. Look, they are waving at us!

To prevent confusion, I use “they all” (or “all their” for the possessive case) when talking about groups of individuals, unless the meaning is clear from the context.

Describing their communication is also a challenge. Our main character doesn’t talk to friends and associates, so much as think at them. Their thoughts are encoded in RNA of base-pairs: complex sequences of adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. Their thoughts leak out of their brain cell into the surrounding water as plasmids where they are absorbed by the people around them.

This makes communication a little less sequential and direct than we are used to in human conversation. It also means that certain elements of grammatical structure, like recursive embedding, are impossible because of the mechanics of how RNA sequences get decoded into proteins during the process of thought-comprehension.

While I do my best to convey these unique qualities of their communication in the dialogue you see in this novel, I realize it also can be cumbersome. I don’t want you to be so distracted by the mechanics of their communication that you can’t enjoy the story. So, there are times when I will transcribe the conversations in a way that flows the way it would if it were a human conversation, and I will just ask that you keep in the back of your mind, while you are reading, that these “conversations” are actually exchanges of RNA plasmids exchanged between cells in a hot, shallow pool of water on the surface of Planet GJ-1214b.

Finally, I had to confront a way to deal with proper names. When you are writing a novel in one language about human beings who speak a different language, proper names are fairly easy: you can do your best to simply transcribe the phonetics of the sound of the name.

But when a “name”–in this case, a unique identifier attached to a “thought” plasmid that designates the person whose mind originated the thought–is a molecular chain consisting of dozens or even hundreds of base-pairs, there is no really good way to translate that into the English language.

So, I compromised: I made up names for these characters to help you distinguish between them; but to remind you that their names are really genetic sequences, I’ve created names using only the letters A, G, C and T: the first initials of the four molecular base-pairs that make up all genetic sequences. It is my own playful way of reminding you, in small ways throughout the text, that even though the characters in this story are people, they are in no way human.