Monday, August 13, 2007

Earth as a Vacation Destination: Jorie's view

Writing THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES was a fun challenge, predominantly because--and I deliberately did this--I had to view our planet, our cultures, our daily lives through the eyes of someone who'd never been to this planet.

In figuring out how we'd appear to such a visitor--and yeah, I think about this stuff a lot--I was forced to remove all my long-time ideas and knowledge of Life As We Know It. I tried to look at my surroundings with fresh, virginal eyes. Things like traffic lights caught my attention. Why would someone used to space travel even know what they were for? What kinds of misinterpretations could occur? How about our slang expressions? Our ubiquitious, um, hand signals? Our holidays?

In short, I had a ball writing ZOMBIE.

I'm sharing a snippet below. To set the scene, Jorie and her team have arrived at night on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, oops, I mean Bahia Vista, Florida. They have little accurate information to go on about the locale, other than the local language is somewhat similar to another galactic language Jorie is familar with. Similar, but not quite (think Spanish and Portuguese, or perhaps, Spanish and Italian...).


“Nice work, Trenat.” Jorie laid both hands on the vehicle’s guidance wheel and, looking over her shoulder, offered the young ensign an appreciative smile. He had done very nice work locating a well-concealed storage area of land vehicles and using a combination of mechanical and technical skills to override a series of locks and security devices. All in under ten minutes. Hopefully, determining Danjay’s status and returning him and his critical T-MOD unit to the ship would go as smoothly.

Trenat all but beamed at her from the rear seat, most of his earlier unease gone. “This power pack,” he said, holding out a thin box slightly smaller than her hand, “will create an ignition sequence and activate the engine.”

She followed his instructions as to placement and tabbed on the power. The vehicle vibrated to life, a grumbling noise sounding from its front. “No aft propulsion?”

“No, sir.”

No antigravs either. Well, damn. But when in Vekris, one must do as the Vekrisians do. She draped the headset around her neck and studied the control panel with its round numbered gauges. Other gauges had symbols like those she’d seen on signs as they walked the short distance to A-1 Rental Cars. Danjay’s reports noted that the local language was similar to Vekran, which Jorie spoke along with three other galactic tongues. The two languages shared a similar—though not identical— alphabet which explained why many of the signs she saw didn’t made sense.

As to why the local language was similar to Vekran, she had no idea. That was out of her area of expertise and Danjay’s. His report had noted it and had been forwarded to the scholars in the Galactic Comparative Cultures Division of the Guardian Force.

Jorie was just happy the locals didn’t speak Tresh.

Tam Herryck, rummaging through the vehicle’s small storage compartment on the control panel, produced a short paper-bound book. “Aw-nortz Min-o-al,” she read in the narrow glow of her wristbeam on her technosleeve.

Jorie leaned toward her. Tam Herryck’s Vekran was, at best, rudimentary. “Ow-ner’s Min-u-al,” she corrected. She took the book, tapped on her wristbeam, and scanned the first few pages. It would be too much to ask, she supposed, that the entire universe be civilized enough—and considerate enough—to speak Alarsh. “Operating instructions for the vehicle’s pilot.” As the engine chugged quietly, she found a page depicting the gauges and read in silence for a few moments. “I think I have the basics.” She tapped off her wristbeam, then caught Trenat’s smile in the rectangular mirror over her head. “Never met a ship I couldn’t fly, Ensign. That’s what six years in the marines will teach you.”

The vehicle’s control stick was between the two front seats. She depressed the small button, eased it until it clicked once.

The vehicle lurched backwards, crashing into one parked behind it.

“Damn!” She shoved the stick again and missed a head-on impact with another parked vehicle only because she grabbed the wheel and yanked it to the left.

Herryck bounced against the door. “Sir!”

“I have it, I have it. It’s okay.” Damn, damn. Give her a nice antigrav hopper any day.

Her feet played with the two pedals, the vehicle seesawing as it jerked toward the open gate.

“I think,” Herryck said, bracing herself with her right hand against the front control panel, “those are some kind of throttle and braking system. Sir.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I know that. I’m just trying to determine their sensitivity ranges.”

“Of course, sir.” Herryck’s head jerked back and forth, but whether she was nodding or reacting to the vehicle’s movement, Jorie didn’t know. “Good idea.”

By the time they exited onto the street, Jorie felt she had the nil-tech land vehicle under control. “Which direction?”

“We need to take a heading of 240.8, sir.” Herryck glanced from her scanner over at the gauges in front of Jorie, none of which functioned as guidance or directional. “Oh.” She pulled her palm off the control panel and pointed out the window. “That way.”

They went that way, this way, then that way again. Jorie noticed that Trenat had found some kind of safety webbing and flattened himself against the cushions of the rear seat.

“What do you think those colored lights on their structures mean?” Herryck asked as Jorie was again forced to swerve to avoid an impact with another vehicle, whose driver was obviously not adept at proper usage of airspace.

Jorie shrugged. “A religious custom. Wain mentioned that locals hang colored lights on their residences and even on the foliage this time of the year. Nil-techs can be very supersti—hey!” A dark land vehicle appeared on her right, seemingly out of nowhere. Jorie pushed her foot down on the throttle, barely escaping being rammed broadside. There was a loud screeching noise, then the discordant blare of a horn. A pair of oncoming vehicles added their horns to the noise as she sped by them.

“Another religious custom,” she told Herryck, who sank down in her seat and planted her boots against the front console. “Their vehicles play music as they pass. And they’re blessing us.”

“Blessing us?”

Jorie nodded as she negotiated her vehicle between two others that seemed to want to travel at an unreasonably slow rate of speed. “They put one hand out the window, middle finger pointing upward. Wain’s reports stated many natives worship a god they believe lives in the sky. So I think that raised finger is a gesture of blessing.”

“How kind of them. We need to go that way again, sir.”

“I’m coming up to an intersection now. How much farther?”

“We should be within walking distance in a few minutes.”

“Praise be,” Trenat croaked from the rear seat.

Jorie snickered softly. “You’d never survive in the marines, Ensign.”

The book won't be out until November, 2007. But in the meantime, if you want to have some fun and try living in Jorie's shoes for a few hours, look around your world with fresh eyes--outer space alien eyes, if you will. It's worth a grin and a giggle.



  1. Anonymous12:42 PM EDT

    love this scene! reminds me of the Beverly Hillbillies movie when they're arriving in Hollywood ... //snicker//

  2. Great scene! I'm eagerly looking forward to this book, since "fish out of water" is one of my favorite motifs, and I love stories that show our world through alien eyes. (That Arnold S. movie where he's a superhero from a comic book universe -- the taxi DOESN'T blow up when it's hit, and he marvels that our world has "indestructible cars.") In Robert Heinlein's JOB, the protagonist is jerked at random from one parallel world to the next. He lands on our Earth and is highly impressed by the ingenious custom of traffic lights. Drivers actually obey an inanimate object as if it were a traffic cop! Your driving scene also reminds me of Kirk and Spock trying to pilot a car in the Mob-controlled-planet STAR TREK episode "A Piece of the Action."

  3. I'm getting odd looks from the dear hubby as I sit here giggling at the scene.

    I love the 'blessing' explaination and the comment about not surviving long in the marines :D

    I will have to keep an eye open for when tha thits the shelves here in the UK

  4. This was one of the things I loved most about ZOMBIE. We take so much for granted in our everyday lives!

    Hardy-har to the rest of yas, I've got an ARC! I reviewed it on my Enduring Romance blog way back in...

  5. Thanks for the comments! Yep, traffic lights and driving customs and even the way we configure our vehicles was fair game in the book. Jorie never quite gets used to traveling in a land vehicle that doesn't have flight capabilities (she tries to direct Theo to "turn now!" when that would put them smack into a building). She's also never had peanut butter...!

    Fish out of water is just great fun. Moreso when it's not one of "us" going "there", but one of "them" coming here. ~Linnea

  6. Anonymous11:34 PM EDT

    Fish-out-of-water, aka culture clash, is one of my favorites as well, and kudos to those who can temporarily suspend their ingrained cultural training. It's harder than it looks.