Esperanto 2: What’s the little Idea, or Why Should I Learn Esperanto?

In the last post we discussed what Esperanto is and hopes to achieve. I call this the Big Idea. Today I would like to present the Little Idea, why you should learn Esperanto even though the Big Idea is still far in the future.

Why should you learn Esperanto?

The Flag of Esperanto

Number One: You want to learn a second language but it’s hard. So learn an easy one.

You are right on both counts.

Numerous surveys show that people wish they were bilingual. But there is a better reason to learn a second language than just desire. Being bilingual has health benefits. That’s right, learning a second language has proven physical and mental benefits.

But it’s hard. Even a relatively easy language (like Spanish) takes a couple of years of consistent study to reach any degree of fluency in it.

Meanwhile the time to master Esperanto can be measured in months or even weeks. It’s still a lot of work, but far more manageable for the average person. Some of this is due to Esperanto’s simplified and regular grammar. Some of it is due to its unique way of using prefixes and suffixes to create a huge vocabulary out of a relatively small number of root words. Finally, Esperanto draws most of its words from common European languages, so English speakers will find a lot of similar words.

Number Two: There is a secret to learning languages (but it’s ridiculous).

So here’s something interesting. Learning a second language is a very difficult proposition. But learning a third is, interestingly, easier than learning a second. Learning a second language teaches you, and your brain, how to learn language.

Once you’ve learned a second language you know what it takes. You know what you are getting into starting in on a third. Realistic expectations help keep you motivated because you don’t give up as easily.

But it’s more than that. Many of the health benefits of being bilingual are because your brain has to develop to accommodate the second language. It has to learn how to keep those two languages separate but accessible. Once it knows how to do that, the third language comes easier.

So if you want to learn Japanese, why not learn Russian first? After you’ve spent, on average, five years learning Russian Japanese will be that much easier.

Of course that is ridiculous.

But there is one example that isn’t ridiculous, Esperanto. A famous and often quoted study went like this. British primary school students were divided into two groups. One was given two years of French. The other was given a year of Esperanto followed by a year of French. At the end of two years, the Esperanto speakers were better at French.

Why is that? In part because of the bilingual effect, their brains had mastered holding multiple languages. In part because of Esperanto’s simplified grammar. Researchers compare it to giving children a recorder before teaching them another instrument. You learn to read music on a simple instrument and when you take on a difficult instrument you have that part of the task down.

Esperanto’s grammar works the same way, it teaches you how languages are supposed to work. Natural languages are messier, filled with exceptions to every rule. But memorizing the exception is easier when you understand the underlying pattern.

So what are you waiting for? Get out and learn Esperanto.

Best of all you can learn for free. Duolingo, a free phone app has helped millions learn a new language. They offer a wide variety of languages, including Esperanto. The Universal Esperanto Association also has a learning website and app, both named Lernu. There are several books as well, if you prefer.

Shoshone Station #2: To Be or Not To Be. Out Now!

The second installment of Shoshone Station, my ongoing science fiction serial, is out and available for sale now.

Shoshone Station: 

Less than a year ago, they arrived over earth’s sky. They call themselves the Galactic Consortium and they are human, or at least, simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They claim to have terraformed this planet centuries ago to serve as a base for their exploration of this galaxy. What happened to the settlers, why none of us remember this, remains a mystery.

For America the concerns are more immediate. Will the Consortium accept our independence?

Shoshone Station is the first joint enterprise, a solar power, space station parked in geostationary orbit over Denver, Colorado. Its been “gifted” to America, but as Sherman Lannister takes command he wonders just how much control the new American crew will really have. After all, what do they know about running a space station?

For Sophia, a homeless transgender youth from Denver, and many like her the station is a second chance at a new life. But what will she do living amongst the stars?

To Be or Not To Be: 

Sophia’s first day as liaison for the new medical wing starts out exciting, they have rescued a premature infant from the surface. But its new home, the bio-medical egg, sparks conflict between the healer, Bankim and Zeta, the diplomat.


Everywhere Else:

 

Does Bob Dylan Deserve a Nobel Prize for Literature?

The Nobel prize committee is no stranger to controversy. This year it was the literary community that they stirred up, by giving the prize for literature to folk singer Bob Dylan.

Dylan is without a doubt hugely influential in the music industry. Whether you love him or hate him, his career has spanned decades and reinvented the folk genre not once, but many times. His songs have a strong poetic feel to them.

But literature?

He’s never written a novel or book of poetry. While everyone recognizes his influence in music, many in the literary community aren’t happy to see him with a Noble prize.

What is my take on it?

Have you tried your hand at flash fiction? Flash fiction is a story in less than a thousand words. I’ve written a few and I think they are pretty good, or at least okay. But it’s hard.

That’s the point of flash. You have to condense your writing to the most sparse wording while hinting at the story. To get under a thousand words is work.

Bob Dylan did it in 130 words. I am referring to All Along the Watchtower. One hundred and thirty words that have been repeated thousands of times and lead to thousands of words trying to interpret them. I couldn’t do that. I doubt I will ever be that good.

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,

“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.

Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,

None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,

“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,

So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view

While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,

Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.*

Or look at the opening to the song It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child’s balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There is no sense in trying.

The line between poetic and poetry is razor thin. Does it hold up without the music? I say, yes.

I think it should be clear that I am okay with Dylan getting a Nobel prize. But then again, I’ve been a fan since I discovered his work in college.

*Source: Lyrics Freak

The Girl in the Tank Omnibus Edition is out!

For those who want the entire first season of my serialized science fiction story, The Girl in the Tank, an omnibus edition is now available. You can get it in print, kindle or Kobo Ebooks.

Girl in the Tank Omnibus front

Less than five months ago, lights appeared in the sky. Days later the ships started to arrive. They call themselves the Consortium. They are human, or at least Simian, descending from the same genetic line as humans. They terraformed this planet centuries ago, sent settlers a mere forty thousand years ago. Now they are back, ready to begin the exploration of this galaxy.

For Cheyenne Walker, Chief Petty Officer aboard the Cambridge, a USS destroyer, the arrival of the Consortium is just one more obstacle to finishing her final tour of duty and getting home to her kids. The political upheaval forces the US into an uneasy alliance with the Consortium against China, and puts the Cambridge on the edge of a nuclear blast.

Cheyenne wakes to find herself aboard the Corelean, a Consortium Medical Evacuation ship. Floating in a medi-tank, she wonders if they really can repair the wreck of her body, whether these newcomers are friends or foes and most importantly, will she ever make it back to children?

Omnibus: Get all eight episodes in one volume.

Print

Amazon

Kobo

 

Trivia Time: Thieve’s Oil

Go into just about any health food store, or shop online from health food company and you can probably find Thieve’s Oil, typically a blend of Clove, Lemon, Eucalyptus and Cinnamon essential oils. Thieve’s Oil is a panacea or cure-all, an herbal concoction with many claimed uses. It’s reputed to have strong antiseptic and anti-microbial effects when used as a cleaning agent, diffused in the air, rubbed on the skin or even ingested.

Two big cautions:

Some essential oils are potentially toxic if ingested. You must do your own research on the Thieve’s Oil you buy to determine if it’s food grade and how much dilution it needs. I am not recommending ingesting any essential oil. It’s all on you.

Essential oils are also potentially caustic. They are typically added in small quantities to a carrier oil before applying them to the skin. Add a few drops to something like Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil, etc. And test a patch of skin before using too much.

There is an interesting story behind how Thieve’s Oil got it’s name and what it’s original use was. The story goes like this, in medieval times there were four merchants or spice traders. (There are many variations of the story, and many different versions of exactly when and where this took place.) Their city was overran with the plague and they were destitute because of it. They decided to re-purpose the goods and clothing of some of their fallen comrades, ie. They turned to grave robbing. The endeavor was so lucrative that they authorities  became suspicious and the four thieves were arrested and dragged in front of the king.

Danse_macabre_by_Michael_Wolgemut

He had only one question for them, why hadn’t they gotten sick? To save themselves from the gallows, they made him offer. Let them go and they’d reveal their secret.

The secret was Thieve’s Oil, a blend of spices that prevented them from catching the pestilence. The king kept notes on how to make it and for much of the late medieval period recipes for Thieve’s oil abound and many believed it would prevent the plague. And they may have been right, though not in the way they, or modern health nuts, believe.

Yersinias Pestis is a peculiar bacteria that can spread in a number of ways and causes more than one disease. It lives in both humans and rats. It can be spread directly from rats to humans by bite, and causes the Sylvanic plague, which remains endemic in many parts of the world. Sometimes it can get into a person’s lungs causing high fevers and racking coughs, which spread the plague. This is called pneumonic plague.

Rats, or more accurately, the fleas they carried, spread the black death.

Rats, or more accurately, the fleas they carried, spread the black death.

But the black death was neither of these. When yersinia pestis becomes lodged in a person’s lymph nodes it protects itself by forming a thick casing, or buboe. The lymph glands swell and turn black with buboes and blood, hence the “black” death. The afflicted would spike a high fever. Large black lumps would appear on their bodies and they would die.

This form of the plague is spread primarily from rats to humans via flea bites. The disease spreads first through the rat populations in medieval cities. As the rats died, the fleas on them would jump off looking for a new food source. Fleas don’t prefer humans, but in desperate times will feed on us. And then humans would sicken and die.

Grave robbers would douse their gloves and cuffs in fragrant herbal concoctions because they believed they had magic properties to ward off the curse of their crimes. They didn’t, but the thieve’s oil did repel fleas.

Later plague doctors would take it two steps further. The signature bird masks they wore had hollow beaks, which they would fill with fragrant herbs and dried flowers, to both mask the smells they faced and purify the air they breathed. They would wear heavy coats that were covered in wax or grease to create as thick of a barrier as possible between them and the miasma, the bad air they thought caused the plague. And they would dab their cuffs in thieve’s oil. The result was to make it hard for a hungry flea to find any exposed skin, or any tempting way in to exposed skin.

Source: Wikicommons

Source: Wikicommons

Does thieve’s oil work for the myriad ailments that people use it for today? That’s an open question. There are so many variations on the recipes and so many competing claims that it’s hard to know. As with my cautions above, it’s up to you to do your own research and make your own decisions. But you might want to add a bottle or two of thieve’s oil to your apocalypse bug out bag, you know, just in case you need to go “re-purposing.”

For more information on thieve’s oil and how to make it: http://www.healthy-holistic-living.com/how-to-make-thieves-oil.html

For another take on the legend: http://www.secretofthieves.com/four-thieves-vinegar.cfm

Bad Reviews of Good Books

Every author gets bad reviews. It’s a fact of life. You should never, ever respond to a bad review.

So what do you do? I like to remind myself that everyone gets bad reviews from time to time. When that’s not enough, I go on Amazon or Goodreads and check out bad reviews my favorite authors have gotten. It helps me to realize that some of the writers I admire most have been called far worse things than I have.

(A note to reviewers: It is not my intention in this piece to attack anyone who reviews fiction or to perpetuate any bad blood between writers and reviewers. Rather I hope to do the opposite, to get some writers to lighten up about their own bad reviews. We are all entitled to our opinion, even if that means we hate on books that everyone else loves. Peace brothers.)

 

The Hobbit

With over 780,000 five star reviews on Goodreads, calling the Hobbit the most beloved children’s tale of all time wouldn’t seem a stretch. And yet it also has over 38,000 one star reviews. Reviews that say things like, plodding, ponderous, pretentious and yes, perfunctory”. One reviewer even suggests that Tolkien had a very good idea, yet he did not execute it in a way most readers will enjoy.”

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and on Goodreads Tolkien has fared pretty well, a lot of people just didn’t like the book. Check out Amazon for some amazing vitriol, from fans even. Tolkien’s problem on Amazon is how long he’s been around and how many versions/editions of book like the Hobbit there are. There is no wrath like a that of a Tolkien fan who ordered the classic 1973 edition and got a crappy 1976 reprint of the classic 1973 edition. Wow, some of those reviews really sting.

 

The Lorax

What’s not to like about Dr. Seuss’s classic book the Lorax? Apparently “stupid words.” Snark aside, I don’t think this particular reviewer deserves to be attacked for their opinion. Let the drama go, people.

The Lorax has picked up some interesting one star reviews on Amazon as well. This guy calls the book’s environmental message “brainwashing.”

 

War and Peace

Predictably the negative reviews of War and Peace focus primarily on two facets of the work, it’s length and it’s number of characters. However I feel obligated to point out that both things are often praised by modern readers of the Game of Thrones saga. Still it’s true, War and Peace is a long work and it has a lot of characters to keep track of. Historical fiction is not everyone’s forte and I will give critics a pass on this one, whatever my own opinion is.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter series has been one of the biggest sellers of our generation. Like the Hobbit it has legions of five star reviews singing it’s praise. J. K. Rowling hasn’t just been embraced by fans, she has plenty of awards from various publishing and literary groups, including a lifetime achievement award from the British Book Awards.

That doesn’t mean she’s escaped criticism by any stretch of the imagination. One reader can sum up their feeling about the book in one word, “poop.” This Amazon reviewer admits that he’s not (sic) intelligencia and might have missed the whole point of Harry Potter. Given his comments about Pokemon, I suspect sarcasm. I am not really sure what this reviewer is suggesting we do with Harry Potter, but I suspect it’s not particularly favorable.

 

Atlas Shrugged

To prove that I am not out to attack reviewers for not liking my favorite books, I am going to throw out one of my own doozies. Atlas Shrugged hit the bestsellers list a mere three days after it’s release. It has over 75,000 five star reviews. Many begin with the phrase, “this book changed my life.” One reviewer called it “the holy grail of how to live your life.”

But it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I am in the second category. In many cases the fault line for this book is political. Ayn Rand has been enormously influential to Libertarian philosophy. Depending on how you view that philosophy, you will likely love or hate the book. And I admit, my personal politics are far to the left of Rand’s. Yet, that is not my major complaint with Atlas Shrugged. I struggled to see her characters as real, not mouthpieces for her philosophy. By the same token the plot seemed contrived and convenient, just an excuse to give those mouthpieces a chance to spout her various views.

Atlas Shrugged did spawn my favorite snarky, negative review in all of history. Writer Dorothy Parker reportedly said of Atlas Shrugged:

“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but rather thrown with great force.”

 

Dear Authors,

I think I have proven my point. Any book with more than a couple dozen reviews is bound to have some bad ones. Any book with more than a hundred reviews will have some out and out clunkers, reviewers who think J. R. R. Tolkien ripped off J. K. Rowling or that Stephenie Meyers invited vampire lore and all other vampire novels are plagiarism. People dislike books for all kinds of reasons and that’s okay.

If you don’t feel better about your bad review yet, you can look up any other book on Amazon or Goodreads and see that they, too, have bad reviews. Likely their bad reviews are just as bad, snarky and unfair as yours. So relax. Embrace your fans, ignore the haters and write on.

Let Them Read Indies

The blogosphere is abuzz with news that ebooks sales are declining and print is surging again. Traditional publishing is safe from the ebook revolution and the self published hordes.

There are just two little problems with this. Traditional publishers seem to have forgotten their other recent victory. They’ve mostly won back the right to set the price they want from Amazon. So they have, increasing ebook prices to match print. Since both Amazon and bookstores still discount print, that means print books are now cheaper than ebooks in many cases. No wonder ebook sales are dropping and print is surging.

The other fact they fail to mention is that indie authors aren’t seeing the same effect, because most haven’t raised their prices. In fact the latest Author Earnings report shows that indies continue to gain ground in the marketplace.

So, I think it’s time.

Traditional publishing wants higher ebook prices?

Clears throat

Speaks in high, noble voice with French Accent

Lethemreadindies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original Image Via Wiki-Commons

P.S. A shout out to all the small presses out there that aren’t jacking up their ebook prices to force readers back into an outdated pricing structure. This isn’t all about trad vs. indie.

Why are Aliens so Fascinating?

Much of the science fiction genre is taken up with stories about alien species. Why are aliens so fascinating to readers and writers alike?

There are a lot of possible reasons. Alien species are a blank canvas, we can do with them what we like. We can create a race with superpowers. We can wonder what if…what if lions were intelligent? Read C. J. Cherryh’s the Pride of Chanur saga. What if people evolved psychic gifts? What if we could fly? The list goes on and on.

But I think underneath this there is a deeper root reason we are fascinated with alien races and society. We don’t ultimately, know who we are a race and won’t until we meet another race.

Are humans a war-like race? It seems so at times. Human history is certainly filled with many violent conflicts. Atrocities have undeniably taken place throughout history.

Or are we a peaceful race? We have an incredible capacity for cooperation. Even in ancient history we created incredible artifacts by working together.

All too often our peaceful cooperative nature and our brutal war-like nature are inexorably intertwined. The monuments of the ancient world were often built by slaves. Are they testaments to what ancient could achieve, or to a legacy of brutality? Likely, both.

War itself is a cooperative venture. The entire history of warfare breaks down to groups of humans putting aside their differences, banding together, and then killing other groups. Just look at either of the world wars. It’s paradoxical that the greatest examples of cooperation have been times when large number of humans have banded together to destroy other large groups of humans.

What about human intelligence? Are we as smart and quick witted as we like to believe? Are we as stupid and short sighted as we often fear?

The only really honest answer we have is, we don’t know. We won’t know until we have some basis for comparison. How war-like is war-like? How smart is smart? Without a roughly comparable species to compare to, there’s no yardstick to measure our behavior.

Many believe that dolphins and whales are both sentient and sapient. If so, they don’t paint a pretty picture of human life. Has there been an ocean wide dolphin war? Are whales doing irreparable harm to the ocean they live in? Then again they haven’t invented technology either, so score one for humans being clever.

Star Trek humans know. They know they are more emotional, more prone to war than Vulcans. We are more peaceful than Klingons. They have hundreds of other species to compare themselves to. They have many yardsticks to use. They can see where they fall on the spectrum of all sentient species.

And that’s my point. Until we meet another technologically advanced, intelligent race, we won’t know where we really stand. We won’t know if our war-like tendencies are natural to all species, or if we are better or worse than average. We can only speculate.

And speculate we do. We do it in both science fiction and fantasy. We create alien monsters that have no qualms about wiping out entire planets in one series, peaceful benefactors in another. Fantasy worlds often juxtapose numerous races around humanity. There are lofty, peace loving elves, warlike and brutal orcs, greedy dwarves, etc. Each races reveals something about humanity by comparison. We are a greedy race, but not as greedy as the dwarves. We aspire to greatness, but don’t possess it as naturally as elves.

These yardsticks for humanity are entirely subjective, all in the mind of the writers. But they still reveal a great deal about ourselves and our world view. We choose the yardstick that shows us what we want to see. And that is why we are so fascinated with aliens.

Children of a New Earth, cover reveal

My next release is Children of a New Earth. It’s set in a post apocalyptic America and tells the story of a young woman from a survivalist enclave deep in the Rocky Mountains. I posted the blurb just a few days ago.

Here is the cover art I’ve been working on:

Children of a new earth, front

And the full cover for the print:

Children of a new earth, in progress

I run about fifty fifty on the decision to buy a professional cover versus making my own. There are many factors to consider when deciding to do a cover on your own, such as do you have the skill set or aesthetic vision. Genre is also an important factor. My last release was epic fantasy and I wanted an illustration rather than a photo. I simply don’t have the skill set or artistic ability to do that on my own.

While working on this cover, I found that I really missed doing them. I enjoy working with graphics programs. I am slowly developing better graphic skills and I will probably continue to do my own covers at least some of the time.

I have to give a huge shout out to Cheryl Corbin of the Saturday Writers group for assistance and advice on this project.

What do you think? Do you like these covers?

Wattpad

My latest discovery has been Wattpad. I know, the website has been around for awhile and I’m a late comer. The saddest part is that I’ve had a Wattpad account for several months with the intention of publishing something on it, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

http://www.wattpad.com/home

http://www.wattpad.com/home

I’ve been trying to think of ways to build interest in the Bear Naked series. I decided to put it out on Wattpad, and for the first time I really started looking around the site. There’s some great writers and great stories out there. For those, like me, that don’t like reading on a computer, they have a slick mobile app for phones and/or tablets.

Bear_Naked_FINAL

I will eventually get all of the first Bear Naked book up on Wattpad. I will even get that science fiction serial I am writing for Wattpad, up on Wattpad one of these days, if I don’t get to distracted by all of the excellent stories out there.

While you are waiting for me to do that, Rachel Aukes has the entire first book in her Deadland series up here. And Hugh Howey, of Wool fame, has an excellent series of posts for writers.