The Five Year Plan has come in from the Marketing Commissar here at the Zompist Fortressplex. That is, I thought I’d talk about the next books I’m working on.

First: a book on Quechua. Long ago I actually wrote, for myself, a reference grammar and dictionary. That was a good start, but they need a lot of refinement. Plus I need to work through my best sources to absorb more of the language myself.


One reason I wanted to visit the Seminary Co-op bookstore last weekend was to check if they had anything on Quechua… if there was a really good book on it in English I might have just recommended that.  But they didn’t (indeed, their stock of language and linguistics books is, sadly, less than a quarter of what it once was). The best materials on Quechua are all in Spanish; I think there should be a good introductory textbook/dictionary in English, and so that’s what I’m aiming to produce.

After that I’d like to write about India, parallel to my book on China. I’ve already started the research on this, and the books I did pick up at the Co-op were grammars of Hindi and Sanskrit. I’m already excited about the material: India has an incredibly rich history, and it’s even less known in the West than China’s. But I want to spread out the research and reading a lot more, partly because I’m starting much more from scratch, and partly because I can already see that finding the narrative through line is going to be more difficult.

Chinese history is a story— you can tell it well or badly, but it’s hard for it not to be coherent, because it’s the story of one ethnicity, one language family, and for the most part one empire, which collapses and suffers invasions but always returns to itself.

India is not like that. India is unavoidably miscellaneous, and Indian history has no coherence at all. Empires rise and fall, but they’re not the same empires. You can list the major kingdoms of a particular time and it tells you nothing about other periods. (Plus there’s a lot we just don’t know. One of my books mentions that a particular king probably lived in the first century, but we can’t pin him down for sure anywhere within a 200-year period.)

Now, this is pretty much true of Europe and the Middle East too, but there we have the advantage of familiarity, and traditional identifications… Americans are not 99.6% not Greeks, and yet we read about the ancient Greeks as if there were the direct ancestors of our civilization.

One fascinating bit about India, which I get from Alain Daniélou, is that whenever some group started a kingdom or a religion in India, they’re still there. Ancient hunter-gatherers, Dravidians, Indic peoples, Persians, Muslims, Mongols, Portuguese, Brits, all came to India and you can still find them and their religions today.

It also strikes me that Westerns don’t know much about India in part because our maps stop too soon. A map of Europe + India stretches out too far; to make it fit nicely on the page, we cut it off somewhere east of Palestine. So one of the neat bits in reading Indian history is discovering the eastern half of many stories. Most of the big conquerors in the West— the Greeks, the Persians, the Huns, the Mongols, the Arabs— showed up in India too. The Greeks set up kingdoms in the Indus valley; the Romans traded with South India; the Mughals claimed descent from Genghis Khan.

Finally, for the few but anxious people who wonder if there will be another Incatena book: yes, though being able to pay rent and buy groceries is the higher priority, which is why the non-fiction books go first.  I have a few chapters written. Though honestly, this year has been discouraging for satirists. How do you top the absurdity that the daily news has been piling on us?




Now that I have one more title, it was time to convert my book sales records to the exciting technology of 1997— Excel!

This allows me to do some more data wrangling, such as this chart of sales for the last month:


(I had to label it myself, though. Separate legends for pie charts are dumb and should fail the designers out of Tufte school.)

If you’re curious, the all-time sales chart looks very similar, but the older titles get bigger slices. Total sales for the LCK are now over 8,000.  That’s a lot of conlangs inflicted on a  world which may or may not be ready for them.

For fiction fans, the good news is that Against Peace and Freedom sales just reached 201, which is the level I set for creating an Incatena conlang. So that will happen sometime this year.  The bad news is that, as you can see on the pie chart, fiction sales are crappy, which is why I mostly write non-fiction books.  The next one is probably going to be a manual on Quechua.

More data wrangling: Google ads are barely worth it, rarely reaching $10 a month.  I mostly keep them because I like having the search engine widget.

Also: print is far from dead. In fact it’s 62% of sales. But it varies by book: people apparently prefer to read fiction, and about China, on their Kindles.

My best month is always December, for obvious reasons. January is usually pretty good, presumably because if people didn’t get the books they wanted for Christmas, they buy it for themselves.  (Go do it now!)  The months in between tend to form a saddle shape, with the depressing low point around May or June.

Thanks to everyone who bought books!  Happy reading!

I’v e been proofing China Construction Kit, plus incorporating reviewers’ suggestions.  It’s about time to print another proof; I think I’m still on target for a release at the end of the month.


Dowager Empress Cíxǐ, the de facto and disappointing late-19C ruler

But I find myself with a few opinions that didn’t get into the book. A few opinions made it in, but opinions take up a lot of room, you know, so I’ll put them here instead.

The biggest point is in reaction to William Rowe’s China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing.  He notes that scholarly tradition, in East and West, has been to divide the Qīng (Manchu) dynasty in 1842, with the first Opium War.  The preceding period goes with the rest of imperial China; the later period is part of modern history.  He describes his book as “revisionist”, incorporating a new overall picture of the Qīng, in which the Opium War is only one incident, and the Qīng were stronger and better than they looked.

He then spends the rest of the book basically showing, despite himself, that the traditional view is more or less correct.

Now, it’s not that he’s wrong, exactly. Early European visitors tended to be impressed with China, until the 19C when they suddenly saw it as backwards yet arrogant (and, more to the point, ready for plucking).  It’s hard sometimes not to just exclaim that 19C Westerners just sucked.  At the same time they were roughing up China, they treated Chinese immigrants, well, about like the West is dealing with Syrian refugees today– that is, with a maximum of ignorant fear and horror.  And when the West got around to the scholarly study of modern China, they were way too interested in the history of Westerners in China.

From a Chinese point of view, an answer to the burning question of why China was slow to modernize was: it came down to really bad luck.  A pattern going back two thousand years is that Chinese dynasties move from active and prosperous, to divided and chaotic. When a dynasty is started, a lot can get done: distribute land, expand the borders, establish internal peace, promote scholarship.  The dynamic period rarely lasts more than 150 years.  Large landowners start to take most of the land, which reduces the tax rolls, which leads to tax increases on the poor, which eventually leads to starvation and revolts.  Often later monarchs are dominated by the eunuchs (or in the Manchu era, their families).  The scholar-officials get bogged down in acrimonious debates, which bring down any serious reform movements. Finally everything falls apart.

The Manchus produced some especially fine early rulers, who lasted till about 1800… which means, the Westerners became powerful just at the worst possible time, after the 150-year mark when the dynasty started to decline fast.  From a purely internal point of view, there was more destruction caused by the White Lotus Rebellion and the Taiping Rebellion than by the wars with the West.

At the same time… well, the Manchu response to the West was pitifully inadequate.  But then, the same can be said of almost every other non-Western nation– it’s not a particular shame for the Chinese.  The Japanese ability to adapt Western ways with great speed is the real outlier.

Development is a tricky problem, and I’d venture to say that almost all the Western advice that China received, for a century, was useless. Not only did 19C Westerners not know how to develop a country, they didn’t even want to.  They wanted to trade, do missionary work, and if possible take over. If they couldn’t take over, they wanted local leaders who would guarantee stability and safeguard Western interests.  To the extent that the West had some good ideas about democracy, free speech, science, civil law, and free enterprise, they did their best to keep it to themselves.

Anyway, see the book for the actual course of events. I do try not to over-emphasize the West, though of course it has to be discussed in the modern period. So I’ve left out (say) what the British ambassador thought of China in 1793, something that tends to fascinate British authors.

And while I’m offering opinions, here’s another one: the Empire was better governed than perhaps any Western monarchy; but monarchy still sucks. This was realized, of course, in both East and West. The Western path was to limit the absolute power of the monarch– basically, in favor of the other power bases of Western society: the nobility, the church, and the towns. The Chinese way was to inculcate in both monarchs and officials an ideology of public-spirited rule.  Mark Elvin quotes some remarkable letters from Manchu monarchs expressing personal shame over reports of droughts and other poor weather. The teaching was that Heaven might show its displeasure with a ruler by bringing such catastrophes; one may wonder if the emperor 100% believed in what he was saying, but he obviously thought it worth saying, and it’s hard to imagine George III or Napoleon or Frederick the Great ever saying it. When the emperor was scrupulous, hardworking, and respectful of his officials, government was more effective than Westerners managed until very late in history.

But of course emperors could also be lazy or incompetent, or paranoid and vicious, or dominated by the court. And in between dynasties, you generally had warlords of varying ferocity. And worldwide, no one ever really achieved a better record with monarchy; see here for more.

(I know, we look at Donald Trump and things don’t seem much better.  But Trump is– thankfully, so far– an opposition candidate, and nothing about democracy guarantees that the opposition is any good.  When you really have a stinker of a president, you can get rid of him in 4 years; a bad monarch can afflict you for decades, and act much more opposite the interest of the masses.)





I’m almost done with the second draft, so it’s time for a page all about my China book. Ordering information will be there when the book is out.  I’m trying to get the book out before Christmas.  (I’m not certain about the cover yet; I have to see what it looks like as a physical object.)

A little pénjǐng

A little pénjǐng

Based on a suggestion from alert reader John Cowan, the title is now China Construction Kit, which fits neatly into my œuvre, and also avoids limiting the book to conlangers.

If you volunteered to read the second draft, I’ll be in touch shortly. I would still like to get readers who know Mandarin or Old Chinese well, so if that’s you, contact me.

I think I have a book written. If you’ve followed this blog carefully, you’ll probably say, “Heh, I bet it’s about League of Legends.” No, my fine friend, it’s about China.

Handy reference map

The book is still tentatively titled China for Conlangers, mostly because “conworlders” is more unweildly. You don’t have to do conworlding at all to read it, of course.  It’s a short but comprehensive intro to both China and Chinese:

  • A history of China from ancient times
  • Sections on medicine, architecture, cooking, technology, architecture, and clothing
  • An overview of Chinese poetry, philosophy, and literature
  • Grammatical sketches of Mandarin and Old Chinese
  • How the writing system works
  • A chapter on how to create fantasy or sf civilizations based on or influenced by China

For conlangers and conworlders, China is an amazing but forbidding resource.  It’s a ticket out of the Standard Medieval Kingdom, and away from standard conlang tropes too.  And for Westerners in general, to say nothing of Western gnolls, I think we ought to know more about what is, historically and perhaps in the future, the dominant civilization on our planet.

It’s required a lot of research, and it would be pleasant to spend another couple of years on that. However, that might not improve the book that much.

I think I’m at the point where I need readers.  If you’re interested, write to me. The language section is not quite as baked as the rest of it, so I won’t send that out unless you really want to see it.  If you know a lot about China already, do tell me; readers who can correct mistakes or suggest additional info are valuable. But so are readers who know very little about the subject, as they are the best judges of whether the book teaches them anything.

Edit: I have a bunch of readers now.  Thanks to all who responded!  I may need more readers for the second draft; watch this blog!

(I also have a book in progress on Quechua, but that won’t be ready till some time next year.)

Just got the numbers from the Accountancy Wing of the Zompist Fortressplex. Since the beginning of time I’ve sold just under 13,000 books in all formats.  Print and Kindle run about even.

Nearly half that— 6351 books— is the Language Construction Kit. That’s pretty respectable sales for a book; Amazon tells me it’s #39,836 on their print books ranking (#39 in linguistics). This year it’s being used as a textbook in two different university courses. (Not the first time; last year I visited a class at Purdue that was using it, which was a lot of fun.)

The news if you’re hoping to sell your sf/fantasy novel is: keep the day job. Babblers, along with its supplementary volumes, has sold 71 copies. That’s actually better than Against Peace and Freedom did in its first four months (42 copies). APAF still hasn’t reached the 200 sales where I said I’d create a conlang for it. (It will probably be Hanying, by the way.) I’m not complaining– doing Babblers this year was a labor of love, and the people who’ve read my novels tend to like them a lot– but the next book will definitely be non-fiction.

What will that be? Well, might as well start building interest: I’ve been working on a book about China and Chinese, tentatively called China for Conlangers. I think most conworlders know enough about European history to create classical and medieval worlds, but don’t know where to start with China, so the book will tell you what you need to know about Chinese history, religion, literature, art, technology, and architecture, as well as the Chinese language and writing system. As with all of my conworlding books, it’s also a sneaky way to impart actual information.  I haven’t thought of a better title, though.

(I’m also tempted to write an English-language grammar of Quechua, since such a thing isn’t readily available. Feel free to lobby for this…)

The hardcover LCK is now available!


It’s published through Lulu rather than Amazon. The price is a little ouchy ($34.95), but it’s solid and looks like it’ll stand up to the sort of intensive, exhaustive reading you should apply to my books. And if someone doesn’t approve of conlanging, it’s heavy enough to hurt when thrown at them.

It’s also a new edition! The typography is redone (same font as ALC); typos are corrected; and I’ve taken the opportunity to rewrite the aspects section, which has bugged me for years. I will update the softcover and Kindle versions sometime early in the new year (it’s too disruptive during Christmas season).

Oh, you want to hear more about aspects? Well, the problem is that terminology has become more precise. The traditional grammatical term “perfect” was used for a lot of things, but mostly for completives (the activity has been completed) or perfectives (the event is seen as a whole, not as a process).

“Perfect” should now be used for events of current relevance. It’s like saying “This happened, and you can draw the obvious conclusion from it.” E.g. “I’ve already eaten (so I don’t want dinner)”, or “John has arrived (so we can start the party)”, or “I’ve been to Greece (so I know all about gyros)”. “John’s arrived” also implies that John is still here, unlike “John arrived”; similarly “I’ve eaten” implies that I’m not hungry, unlike “I ate”. The Russian ‘perfect’ is really a perfective, while the French imparfait is an imperfective.

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