Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fun with Altered Timelines

I’ve been pretty thoroughly neglecting this blog. I can sense your outrage (not really). But I have a good reason: I’ve been writing another book. Aside from the time required to actually write it. This particular one involves an altered timeline, which takes a ridiculous amount of research and speculation.

     Anytime you opt to change history, there is an inevitable ripple-effect from that point. We know this, because every science fiction series that has had an episode where this occurs has exhibited this phenomenon. Often the world is drastically changed. Major organizations/nations have different names, often several major characters are now on opposite sides in some conflict, and typically the female character(s) have different hair-styles.

     I’m not doing a one-off time-is-changed-then-fixed thing (No, this is not in any way related to my first book, Twin Suns). My whole setting is a world that, from a specific point, developed along a different track. Fortunately, that point is about 150 years ago. If it were a thousand, I’d still be doing preliminary research and possible institutionalized as a result of the strain. 150 years is doable, or as doable as the task of predicting the actions of several generations of humans all across the globe can ever be. Fortunately, accuracy isn’t really the goal, plausibility is enough.

     For the big events, it requires the analysis of a variety of linked events. For example, as those of you who can do math realized, my change in the timeline occurs at the end of the American Civil War. The results are far-reaching. By 2013 in my timeline, Israel, Cuba and Pakistan aren’t nations, but California is; India is Communist, and China isn’t. How, you ask? It’s complicated.

In my timeline there is a Confederate victory at Gettysburg. This doesn’t win the war, but results in Lincoln narrowly losing reelection. The McClellan administration signs an armistice with the CSA, and hostilities cease. A few years later, it’s not unlikely that California (combined with the Oregon/Washington territories) would secede. By this time the CSA has taken possession of the territory between California and the USA, which basically guarantees California’s right to secede. At that stage there would be little reason for it to remain in the Union, when the majority of their contact with the USA is sending them gold. At the same time, they would have little use for joining the CSA.

Jump ahead to the Spanish-American War. The CSA supports the Cubans in their fight for independence and Cuba joins the CSA as a state along with Puerto Rico (Guam and the Philippines would have been left alone since the CSA would lack a Pacific port at this time.)

World War I begins in much the same way, but the ending comes quickly. The CSA relies much more heavily on trade with the allies, and is quicker to enter the war. A quicker end to that war would have a wide array of effects. Most significantly, there would be less debt on both sides, and thus lower reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles. A less financially devastated Germany makes it impossible for Adolf Hitler to seize power.

There is a good chance that World War II, as we know it, wouldn’t have happened. As a result, the British Empire would have had the strength to hold on to their colonies like India and Pakistan, Mao Zedong would have been defeated by Chang Kai-Shek (The Japanese invasion saved Mao’s ass) and Israel would have never been formed in the wake of the Holocaust (because it no longer would have happened).

A likely result would be the early battles of the Cold War occurring on a much larger scale. Without the strong imperative to avoid “World War III,” (because much like Terminator films, two is simply enough) the Cold War becomes World War II, rather than a series of smaller wars. The allies are the European nations (and probably Japan) struggling to hold on to their colonies, and the axis is the USSR and the rebelling colonies. As a result, India gains its independence with Soviet support, becoming Communist, and isn’t partitioned to create Pakistan.

Because of my prediction that the USA would embrace a philosophy of greater central control, while the CSA would move in the opposite direction, I think it’s likely that the CSA would have closer ties to the Allies and the USA would likely support the USSR. However, I doubt that either would get directly involved, though perhaps they’d fight each other a bit.

I also predict that the Balkans will still be a confusing mess, purely because the Balkans have always been a confusing mess.

So that’s just one example highlighting a few major changes, to create consistency when off-handedly mentioning the rest of the world. The story is actually set in the USA and CSA, so all of that is just peripheral data that occasionally gets mentioned (or may never get mentioned).

The level of detail for events occurring in the USA or CSA requires a greater level of research. In order to have my protagonist buy something, I had to devise a new economic system independent of the government, which led to a lot of reading about the Free Banking period in Scotland, the Gold Standard, Reserve Banking, prominent Southern banks during the Civil War, etc. By the time I finish the damn thing I expect to have a bibliography longer than many works of non-fiction.

On the plus side, I think it’s pretty damn good so far. If you happen to be interested in reading the first few chapters, communicate these desires using some method of communication.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Post: Victoria Thompson

This is the first ever guest post on my blog (had I known how little work this would require on my part, I would have started doing it ages ago). This post comes from Victoria Thompson, author of the Gaslight Mystery Series, and one of my classmates in the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program. The series is set in New York City in the 1890s, a fascinating time when trains were in the air rather than underground, bicycles were a terrifying and dangerous new invention and they used gas for lumination. Here Vicki is writing about the fifteenth book in the series, Murder in Chelsea, which is coming out May 7th in both hardcover and ebook.(You may take a moment to pre-order it now. Don't worry. I'll wait.)
By now you're probably wondering what this has to do with science, or science fiction. The answer is: nothing. But that doesn't matter because this blog has only one true focus: ME. Vicki's post certainly meets that criteria. How, you ask? I'd elaborate, but I'll let Vicki explain that instead. She's a whole lot better with mysteries than I am. Enjoy.

So what does an author do when she’s written herself into a corner and can’t for the life of her figure out how to get out of it—all while thousands of fans are clamoring for her blood? That’s the situation in which I found myself last year at this time.
If you are a fan of the Gaslight Mystery Series (Berkley Prime Crime), you know that Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York City Police and Midwife Sarah Brandt have been solving mysteries and gradually falling in love over the first 14 books in the series. Unfortunately, I had started the series by creating insurmountable barriers to their ever getting together, never realizing that the series would become so successful or that readers would become so invested in Frank and Sarah’s lives.
Now let’s face it, how many mystery writers are lucky enough to have a series that runs for 14 books? I count my blessings every day. But in the spring of 2012, I realized that if I didn’t take care of Frank and Sarah’s relationship, readers probably would not keep reading. But how to do it without ruining the dynamics of the series? I was getting desperate, so I vented to my classmates.
Classmates? Yes, I was just finishing up my master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. One of my classmates, David Wilbanks, who writes Science Fiction and had at that time never read anything I’d ever written, took my challenge and sent me a list of about 20 things that could happen. Unlike me and my fans, Dave was unencumbered by knowledge of the characters involved, so his solutions didn’t have to be feasible or even sensible. His ideas were outside the box. Some of them were even outside the Universe. But one of them was the perfect solution to Frank and Sarah’s problems!
Since then I've read the first ten books in the series (which I've thoroughly enjoyed) and am hoping to be completely caught up by July when my parents are visiting me in Turkey and bringing me my copy of Murder in Chelsea.
If you’re expecting me to tell you what that solution is right here, I’m sorry.  I write mysteries, so I’m not giving away anything that might spoil the book for you. I will say that in MURDER IN CHELSEA you will finally get to see Frank Malloy propose to Sarah Brandt. Of course they also solve a couple murders and locate the birth parents of Sarah’s foster daughter into the bargain. This is a mystery series after all! And to thank Dave for his help, I named a major character after him in MURDER IN CHELSEA.
I hate to interupt again, but just so you know, she didn't even tell me which of my suggestions she decided to use...and I have to wait until JULY to find out.
So this is how a fellow writer rescued me, saving me from the wrath of frustrated readers! You can see how he did it by reading MURDER IN CHELSEA, a May 2013 hardcover release from Berkley Prime Crime. It’s also available in all electronic formats. Please let me know if you like the solution by contacting me though my website, or liking me on Facebook at Victoria Thompson Author or following me on Twitter @gaslightvt.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Obvious Ways to Ruin Your Chances of Employment

My good friend Kim Stiens asked me to do a guest post for her blog. Hers is about business (it's called Business for Good, Not Evil. There you can see this very same post, but in a different font! Oh, and also she writes stuff, too.). I’m just sharing some excellent examples of what not to do in an interview. Since I’m too lazy to write two blogs, I’ll post this on mine too (which you are aware of if you’re reading this from there right now). It shouldn’t matter much since I think Kim is the only person who reads both blogs, and thus the only person (aside from my mommy) who reads mine.

     I’m going to talk about the last three applicants we considered at Hasdil, the school I work at. Like most language schools, the requirements are pretty much a passport from an English speaking nation and whatever minimum requirements the government has for a work permit/visa, unless there is an easy way around it. One language school in the Ukraine, for example, had no requirements because they were getting their teachers missionary visas. Obviously, having things like experience, extra degrees and sanity are a plus, but not required.

This is sensible, as the job is comparable to being a stage magician with really lame tricks (and POOF the sentence is now in the present perfect continuous tense). You have to be moderately amusing, and 90% of the students will hide amongst the herd every time you ask for audience participation (while one or two eagerly volunteer every single time). There is nothing about this job that really precludes an under-educated crazy person from excelling at it their first time.

I’m saying all of this to provide background. The job is damn easy, and there aren’t many applicants (in fact, we’re looking for someone at the moment, hit me up if you’re interested). I want to make it absolutely clear that to fail to obtain this job you have to be a pretty serious screw-up.

Let’s look at screw-up number one: This woman had a TEFL certificate (a good one, not a shitty online one like me), a degree in English (but not an MFA, like me) and at least five years of experience (not three months, like me). Then came the Skype interview. While many things were discussed, she repeatedly hit upon two points.

First, she repeatedly said, “I am used to a very high standard of living.” While it’s a bit different when you’re applying to a job where they pay for your accommodation, it’s still something you really shouldn’t say. It essentially translates to “The accommodation you provide isn’t shit, is it?” For a lot of ESL jobs, this is a pretty significant concern, as is the likelihood of being able to live off of what they’re paying. However, that isn’t the way to ask. If you have questions of that nature, ask in specific, objective terms; “What size are the rooms?” “How far are they from the city center (centre)?” “Do they have air conditioning?” etc. For the general ones about the city, just use Google. Don’t waste your interviewer’s time.

The second point she made was that every one of her previous employers ripped her off. Again, it’s not all that uncommon in this field, but still probably something you don’t need to tell your interviewer. It not only comes across as a premature accusation, but generally suggests something is wrong with you. The possible reasons that you’ve been ripped off repeatedly are:

1) You got fired and they didn’t pay you your last month’s wages, as you were being escorted out of the country.

2) You quit before your contract was up, so they didn’t pay you all of your last month’s wages.

3) They recognize that you’re a useless drunk/incompetent, and rather than firing you and dealing with the hassle of replacing you, they start paying you less with the intent to fire you if you ever say anything (only recently heard about this in Taiwan).

4) Just bad luck.

     While having shitty luck won’t hurt your employment chances, it won’t help them. You might as well tell the employer about how each year in high school you developed a really big zit the day before prom. The first three things will definitely hurt your chances, and are significantly more likely than the fourth.

     Generally speaking, in an interview, you should really keep the conversation about topics relevant to the job. It seems like a no-brainer, but yeah. Also, try to appear sane. We still refer to her as “the crazy woman.”

To further impress upon you how desperate we were “the crazy woman” was actually hired. Fortunately, she got to Istanbul and sort of wandered off or something. Consequently, Hasdil had the pleasure of interviewing applicant number two.

Applicant number two illustrates what you should do in an interview. He was a charming, brilliant and sexy teacher with an MFA in writing, a BA in English, a TEFL certificate (shitty online one) and basically no experience. In the interview he excelled by asking specific questions about the job and accommodations, and talking about his previous jobs only to show that his experience, little as it was, served to perfectly prepare him for precisely this job (Yeah, that was me). Obviously, they hired me (otherwise I never would have heard the stories about the rejects).

The most recent applicant sounded like a shoe-in. Number three looked great on his resume. He’s a Brit, and worked at the Brighton branch, for the same school. Then my boss got an e-mail from him saying that he would need private accommodation away from the school, because he’s a writer and needs privacy to write (obviously an amateur). Hell, we have private rooms, and except for during the children’s classes, the place is pretty quiet. Aside from revealing himself to be a pretentious douche, he effectively asked for a 50% raise, prior to the interview.

What really makes applicant three so entertaining is the fact that he only worked part-time for the Brighton school, for a few weeks, before being fired. If you’ve been fired from a job, and want to lie about it, you will get away with it, in many cases, especially when you’re changing countries. However, it’s probably not a great idea if it’s THE SAME COMPANY.

So yeah, hopefully this has reassured anyone currently seeking a job. Some of your competitors are idiots, and that helps your odds. Also, again, we’re hiring. I’d continue to dither until coming up with a decent ending (as I usually do), but I’ve got class in five minutes and I need to prepare (by which I mean put my pants back on, have a smoke and locate the book).

Friday, February 15, 2013


     So just a week after the attack on the American Embassy in Ankara, I went to get my passport the American Embassy in Ankara. Fortunately, savvy traveler that I am, I was able to avoid both explosions and tedious paperwork. Waiting and disappointment, unfortunately, was inevitable.

     I began my journey at a quarter past nine, Turkish Standard Time. The time-zone is actually completely irrelevant, since I didn’t change time-zones at all. Mehmet drove me over to the Konya High Speed Train (that isn’t a capitalization error, the name of the high speed train company is High Speed Train) station. I got tickets, and got to practice my Turkish to confirm that he’d be back to pick me up.

     I learned the Turkish words for “Departing from” and “Destination,” after giving the chick the wrong ticket...Yes, I should have checked the times, but it was far too early for coherent thought.

     The interior was pretty nice. Like economy class on airplanes before they decided that only First and Business class passengers are likely to travel with femurs (Rumor has it they’re working on a drug that will temporarily liquefy your bones for the flight so they can cram even more people onto crappy domestic flights invariably and inexplicably bound for Atlanta). I guess where I was going with that is that there was actually a bit of leg room. It was as good as sitting in the same place for two hours can get without the addition of expensive electronics, copious amounts of booze or an attractive companion (and a little privacy).

     I elected to spend my time gazing out of the window at the stunning Turkish least until I realized the area around Konya looks about like southeast Idaho which I’ve driven through enough times that I know exactly where both of the trees are (perhaps I’m exaggerating). Instead I zoned out and started trying to come up with ideas for the sequel to Twin Suns which I am (supposedly) working on.

     The first disappointment came when I studied the monitors, and noted the train’s speed. It took a while to get up to top speed, but it topped off at 250 km/s. That’s right. As you no doubt just calculated, 559,234 mph. While it’s still only a paltry .08% of speedlight, it’s certainly respectable. The disappointment came when I recalled that "saat" is hour in Turkish, so we’re only talking 250 km/h. About 155 mph. Which is still slower than a 1992 Corvette (top speed 179 mph), which I’ve driven.

     When I got to Ankara, I wandered about in the underground portion of the train station, seeking an exit. Fortunately, the exploring-underground-structures skills I picked up playing Oblivion and Fallout 3 came in handy (though I refrained from killing anyone with an ax/plasma rifle). I found the weird subterranean market section (oddly enough, it's not all that different from how I envisioned the city on New Vladivostok in Twin Suns), and had lunch.

When I finally made my way to the surface it started raining (of course). I hopped in a cab, and made my way to the embassy, where they promptly told me to piss off, since my appointment wasn’t for half an hour. I had wishfully envisioned a dry waiting area where they serve complimentary (overpriced would have been acceptable) bacon-cheeseburgers and ice-cold Budweiser’s. I’ll certainly be writing to the State Department to suggest this. Fortunately there was a bar across the street so I slogged my way there.

The bar was closed (of course), so I trudged back, wondering how water had entered my right shoe. I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to this question. I loitered under the slight overhang afforded by a nearby shop, and waited. Since I didn’t have my iPad, or even a watch, I annoyed those around me by asking for the time every two minutes.

At long last, it was time, so I walked right past the massive line of Turkish people waiting for visas, flashed my blue passport, and went right in. I briefly wondered at the logic of detonating a bomb near the gate. The very prominent signs saying “walk right-in if you’re American,” make it clear that none of the people waiting outside are actually Americans, and all the security personnel are Turkish. You’d have a better chance of actually getting a few Americans if you hit the bar across the street from the Embassy around happy hour. Then again, I suppose most suicide bombers aren’t burdened by an overabundance of logic.

I got in and went straight to the special window for Americans, and got hassled by old people who didn’t get that the big-ass flag and the words “US Citizens Only” (printed in both English and Turkish) meant it was a special line. The person showed up, I signed the forms, paid them, and was in and out in a matter of six minutes. It was by far the shortest amount of time I’ve ever spent in a US government building.

The trip back wasn’t particularly eventful, though I would like to discuss the TV on the train. It cycled through random stuff, including cartoons, commercials and slide-show things that appeared to be compilations of pictures from e-mail forwards. I’m 95% sure my mom has forwarded some of them to me before. I remember some neat custom cars (including a purple double-decker bus turned into a spaceship that looked a bit like Astrotrain mid-transformation) and some weird hairstyles (None were as awesome as my mohawk).

The cartoons featured a penguin and a polar bear. Interesting, as they are the Arctic Circle (where I used to work) mascots, and two species that never ever come into contact with one another. It was moderately funny, and visual enough that you could get it without sound (there was no sound). The most bizarre part was that I heard the middle-aged businessman sitting next to me laugh, not only at each cartoon, but at the same cartoon each time it was played. They only had about twenty-minutes worth of material that they cycled through, and I watched the same cartoons, and heard him laugh at the same bits all four times. It was like clockwork. Weird and confusing clockwork.

I would write some sort of conclusion at this stage, but there isn’t much to conclude. After the trip, I went home, ate some kofte and taught a class. Pretty typical evening. So, yeah, That’s it.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: Beowulf: The Game

     As I write, I’m hiding out in a basement nargile (hookah) café. I was trying to get some “real” writing done, but then the music died, and an eerie silence descended on the place. It was far too unsettling to write fiction, so I switched to this. As it turns out, it they just killed it for a few minutes for prayer (meaning it’s only a little after noon, so I’ve still got about three hours to kill before I can go home).

     As I said in my previous post, I’m reviewing the last four games I’ve played in order from worst to best. Next up is Beowulf: The Game (not to be confused with the epic poem). I’m not sure what company made it, but I believe it’s the same company that did Laxdaela Saga: The Game (it did poorly until they re-released an online version called “”). It’s one of several games that I snagged at Play N’ Trade for next to nothing. At $2.50 it’s well worth it. It’s easily as satisfying as a pint of domestic beer, but not quite to the level of a micro-brew. It does, however, keep you occupied a little bit longer (even if you got bored and quit as early as I did).

     To begin with it was a pretty okay game. It’s not all that different from other third-person melee based action games (Think Dante’s Inferno or Assassin’s Creed). You push the stick in different directions to target different hostiles and mash buttons for a variety of attacks. In an attempt to be true to the poem, there is a bit of an emphasis on grappling. You can, by pressing “B” (it’s almost always “B”) grab your enemies and either kill them (generally by tapping buttons repeatedly or in a sequence), or toss them (with a poor level of accuracy) at other enemies. With enemies who have weapons, you can disarm them and steal their weapons, too (this comes in handy since any weapon you carry seems to break/vanish/get lost after a short amount of time).

     There is also a bit of climbing, but it’s generally on cliff-faces with poorly marked hand-holds, and thus mostly just annoying. In most cases, it’s to find a hidden something, or lower a bridge/open a gate for your merry band of thanes to follow you.

     Damnable Thanes. Anglo-Saxon kings may have had a use for thanes, but that isn’t the case in this game. When sailing, you have to tap buttons in a rhythm (like the banging of drums) to make your thanes row. This would be a kind of neat touch if it didn’t go on for so long. When you play a game like this, you don’t mind tapping buttons in a repetitive fashion, but something damn-well better die the majority of the time. They also seem to throw in random bits where a similar process is required to make your thanes move a big stone door out of the way. This seems pointless when (after filling up your badass meter) you’re capable of using a stone column twice your height as a club to beat Grendel senseless (before ripping him limb from limb), slaying a slew of slippery sea serpents, brutally bashing a bevy of barbarous beasts and splitting the atom with a single roundhouse kick (that last one may have actually been Chuck Norris, but you get the idea). Unless you’re trying to boost the poor bastards’ self-esteem by making them feel useful, I fail to see the point.

     That isn’t the main reason the thanes annoy me. Like every NPC ever, they’re next to useless in combat (this is why I’m confident I can put down any robot uprising). They demonstrate this fact by dying very, very quickly. This wouldn’t be so bad if some sadist at Epic Poem Game Studios hadn’t decided that you lose if you fail to keep at least one of them alive. This is especially true given that you lack any useful control over them (you can’t leave them some place safe, for example). Their primary strategy seems to primarily involve getting themselves completely surrounded and then being brutally slaughtered. On the plus side, they haven’t got automatic weapons or explosives, so you don’t have to worry about them killing you or one another (like Ian in Fallout with his stupid SMG).

     So, it’s a great game for the price, but overall, rather meh. I’d write more about it, but I actually haven’t actually played it since then. I also must take this time to apologize for not posting this earlier. I wrote it about a week ago, and then promptly forgot that I never actually posted it. Sorry about that.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Fable II

Lately, I have lots of free time, which I obviously don’t spend blogging. Instead I turn on my 600 watt transformer (why the hell don’t Xboxes convert the voltage themselves like every other piece of technology?) and play Xbox until my eyes bleed. Fortunately for you, I ran out of good games, and can’t buy any here unless I let someone do stuff that the guy in the shop wasn’t able to explain in English to my Xbox. Until I’m emotionally ready to let that happen, I’m stuck with Fable II (or something I’ve already beaten).

Fortunately for you, that (It’s not a very good game) means I can pull myself away from my Xbox long enough to write some reviews of the games that occupied my time for the last month. Since the title “REVIEW: Fable II, Beowulf: The Game (not to be confused with the epic poem), Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” is long, confusing, and violates the legal limit for colon usage, I’ll just do one for now.

     I’ll start with the worst. Fable II is really disappointing me. A lot. I played the first one quite a bit and had a pretty good time with it. I tried Fable II a while back, and switched to something else (back when I had choices). I’ve restarted and it’s playable (if you’re desperate).

     I do like the addition of the dog. Having a dog generally makes everything better, and I’ll admit they even did a good job of making him useful, rather than a burden (anyone ever try to make it through Fallout with Dogmeat still alive?). He can find treasure and growls at or occasionally kills bad-guys. You can also interact with him like you do with every other NPC in the game (Well, not exactly like other NPCs. Bestiality is not an option). You do get to name it, though due to some designer’s sloppiness, the name is almost never mentioned. It seems as though it would be easy to have the name you enter replace every instance of “your dog.” Nintendo games could do that. This is despite the fact that you can assign nicknames to EVERY OTHER NPC in the game.

     This sort of sloppiness seems common throughout the game. The menu is beast that requires a lot of up/down scrolling and clicking through sub-menus to do anything (they don’t seem to make use of the fact that an Xbox controller has eight buttons, two joy sticks and a D-pad). Multi-directional menus (like in Bethesda’s RPGs) could make a big difference, as Fable II isn’t that complex (compared to Oblivion or Fallout 3).

     They’ve also added mini-games, which I don’t think they had in the first one. You can gamble now, though it’s the Xbox equivalent of slot machines. They took the time to make a variety of different ones, with all the wacky rules and combinations of ways to win, but clearly never considered making the game involve any skill. Regardless of all the rules, every time you spin you either win some amount of money, or you lose. The only interaction other than pressing “A” to spin is selecting the amount of your bet. It’s nothing like gambling in Red Dead Redemption, where you actually play hold ‘em, blackjack or liar’s dice (my personal favorite). It’s just a matter of pushing “A” and seeing if you get money. It’s totally pointless, not unlike the jobs you can do in the game. These seemed nice at first, but are really, really tedious (especially if you’re the sort of person who likes to max out skills). Getting five stars in something like woodcutting or blacksmithing requires at least an hour spent tapping/releasing “A” at the appropriate time. The bounty hunter jobs aren’t too bad at least.

     Though they require combat...which is the next thing I want to complain about (I mean review). The very best thing about Fable (aside from kicking chickens, which you can still do) was one’s ability to zoom in with the bow and decapitate someone with a single arrow. That was pretty sweet. It brought joy to many. Now your ranged weapons just auto-aim and you shoot. That’s it. The melee fighting is okay, but the magic is nearly useless. The menu is just too clunky for any of the spells to be much help in combat (and I like smacking things with a big hammer anyway).

     I can’t say much about the story since I’m not that far into it, and it didn’t seem worth paying attention. I used to turn my music down and my TV up during the dialogue parts, but quickly realized it wasn’t worth the effort and gave up. Overall, I’m still unimpressed. That’s it for now (unless of course I am still unable to sleep, in which case, I’ll be writing the next review shortly).



Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, New Country

Happy New Year! Yeah, it’s late. It turns out I’m just as effective at procrastinating when I don’t have a massive hangover. Who could have guessed? (Aside from people who know me, obviously) It’s been awhile, so this is mostly an update on things. I’m in Turkey now (for those of you didn’t know). I’ve got a job teaching ESL at Hasdil, a British Council school, in Konya. It’s pretty much in the dead center of Turkey, so if you point to Turkey on a map, you’re probably pointing at Konya (and also everything in a 100 or so mile radius, depending on the scale).

When I first got here, I almost immediately found that the fan in my laptop had died. I struggled through the process of ordering one (I had to set up a Turkish PayPal account, in Turkish, despite the fact that I couldn’t speak a word of Turkish... It took a while). The fan then took three weeks to get here, so that’s my excuse for not posting anything for a month and a half (I know that didn't add up). So, yeah, now I’m back. Also future posts will be the usual sort, rather the unfocused babbling you’re reading now (they’ll be slightly more focused babbling).

Aside from teaching, writing and eating Adana kebabs, I’m also studying Turkish. It’s a fascinating language (note to self: add teaching and languages to list of blog topics). It’s actually read exactly as it’s written (and rarely uses diphthongs), unlike certain western languages I can think of (Okay, mostly just English). Like most languages that do that, they have more vowels (Thai has 18). They use a, e, i, o, u, (but they each only make one sound) along with Ӧ, ϋ and I (I without a dot is a different vowel than i with a dot). The Ӧ makes a “e” sound, like at the end of “hooker.” The ϋ makes a long “u” sound like at the end of “prostitute,” while the I makes an “ah” sound like at the beginning of “prostitute.”

Turkish also uses the same consonants with a few variations. C and S both also exist with a little swishy thing underneath them (I’m too lazy to scroll through a bunch of symbols again). These make the “Ch” and “Sh” sounds, respectively (Pneumonic device to remember that: Chimpanzee Shit). C inexplicably makes a J sound, and I don’t think they have a J (so if someone asks if you want “to spark up a C” you know what they mean). G comes in both standard form, and with a little curvy thingy over it. That one is silent, but extends the vowel sound. It’s a bit like the silent “gh” in English. They also don’t have a W (as in whore).

In terms of how it works, it’s basically a cross between Japanese, Latin, English and Arabic (Simple, right?). The sentence structure is pretty much the opposite of English. Objects go first, and verbs go last, and everything gets interspersed with particles (usually these particles are suffixes). This is similar to Japanese (according to Karen, who also works here, and speaks Japanese). In Turkish, the particles are usually suffixes, and can change the sentence to a question, make it negative, and probably do other stuff. Prepositions are also suffixes, and get stuck on the object. The subject technically goes before the verb, but it’s often dropped because the verbs are conjugated like in Latinate languages so the subject is often given by the verb ending, so actually saying it is superfluous.

The other tricky bit involves the suffixes (I mentioned those, right?). As in Spanish (and presumably other Latinate languages), the verb ending is partially dependent on the vowel ending with the verb. In Spanish that means -ir, -ar or (this is a word, and not a possible verb ending) -er. In Turkish, a verb can use any vowel, and each changes it to one of four possible endings. Vowel harmony (that's what one website called it) doesn't stop with verbs though. It is also applied to other suffixes, with two possible endings for prepositions. On top of that, any time you modify anything consonants may (USUALLY) change. Fortunately, lots of these are only noticable if you screw up in writing. Turkish is also a bit like English in that some tenses are normally conjugated, (I only know two, so I’m assuming a bit here), while others are just stuck with some form of the verb “to be.” In Turkish this verb is (like most things in Turkish) a suffix. In English we do that for present continuous. In Turkish, they do it with present simple.

According to one of my students (ϋmar) Turkish was originally written with Arabic writing (but spoken the same as it is now), but they switched over to their modern characters later on (This probably explains why their alphabet is so reasonable). They also retained some words from Arabic like “merhaba” (hello) and “portakal” (orange). I can’t really speak Turkish much yet, but I’m learning more and more words from my students, and I’m starting to figure out the grammar. I occasionally catch myself conjugating recreationally (that sounds dirty). I also have my iPad keyboard setup so that I can switch between English and Turkish. Oddly enough, auto-correct is actually useful for a new language. Who knew it was anything other than a scourge on humanity? I have to admit though, if you type a sentance in English on the Turkish keyboard (or vis-versa), auto-correct severely mangles it.

Thanks in part to my Turkish keyboard, I was able to acomplish a task that is a significant milestone for anyone learning a new language: I ordered a pizza (Yes, I did it online, and yes, it took me longer to order it than it took to arrive). If I keep up my current rate of improvement, I should be able to have the language mastered in just 10-12 years (ok, maybe less). So that’s all I'm saying about Turkish for now. Feel free to comment (actually, feel as though you’ve been begged for your comment). The next post will be more timely and all around better (inshalla).