Varin is the name of the world in which my debut novel, Mazes of Power, takes place. It’s a secondary world of sociological science fiction, which means it’s designed as a world which is not connected to ours, but which operates according to the scientific principles (including sociology, psychology, etc.) that we are familiar with. The Varini have their own language, Varinin, and they have their own writing system, which I invented over twenty years ago. Since the novel is written in English, you won’t see any Varin alphabet in the text of the story, but I’ve been told they might put Varinin versions of the names of the castes, cities, and characters in the book.
Now, if you’re familiar with the basic principles of alphabets and would like to skip forward to the details, you can skip ahead to the paragraph that follows the image below. The alphabet we use for English is the Roman or Latin alphabet, and often when people start inventing alphabets for the first time, they do it by substituting different symbols for the preexisting letters of our alphabet. This is basically creating a code for English. To create a new alphabet, you need to think about what sounds the language has (which phonemes it has) and which shapes it uses to symbolize those sounds. (Note: I’m not currently talking about languages that use syllable symbols, or semantic symbols.) The place where readers can find out the most (quickly) about the sounds of Varinin is in the naming of people and places.
The characters in alphabets generally have a consistent set of stroke components. This picture shows the stroke components of English letters. These stroke components get put together in various ways in order to create the characters of the alphabet.
When I was working on Varinin, I wanted to be very principled. I wanted to have a finite set of stroke components, and an axis on which they would be executed. At the same time, I wanted them to be very different from the Latin alphabet. The Latin alphabet runs along an axis at the base of the characters, with a guideline slightly above it (think about the kind of paper we use when we’re taught how to write it as children). Once I had all my components, I set about combining them to make the characters. This process turned out to be very helpful later when it was made into a font (see below). The Varin alphabet runs along a central axis, with guidelines above and below it.
Varinin is also a cursive-style alphabet, where you are expected to drag your pen. This pen-dragging also has principles. Essentially, you drag your pen between letters, but not within letters. Take the following example, which is the name of one of my characters.
If we were to write each of the characters separately, it would be written like this (Varinin does not capitalize letters):
When we write the word, though, it looks like this:
In the Latin alphabet, we also have serif styles of writing, and sans-serif styles of writing.
Serifs in the Varin language come at the start and the end of words, like this:
After I had invented all of the characters of the alphabet, I continued to work on it and practice writing in it. Then, quite recently, my friend, amazing linguist and language creator David J. Peterson (of Dothraki fame) offered to take the alphabet and make it into a font. This means he spent hours in a font-creation computer program taking the characters I’d invented and turning them into computer form so that I could install a font on my computer and type in Varinin on my computer. You can watch videos of David working on the creation of the Varin font here. This last step is also what will allow the Varin alphabet to appear in my book! While he worked on that project, he consulted with me, and added punctuation and a number system to the font. Punctuation consists of small marks made on the central axis at the start and end of a sentence.
I play the yojosmei.
Does he play the shiazin?
Wysps are here!
Varini use a base eight number system that has different principles from the alphabet, much as we use Arabic numbers that have different principles from our alphabet. Here’s a sample, the numbers 0-7 in order:
If I’m fortunate, these numbers may also appear at the start of chapters in the book.