S. L. Gilbow, author of “Terra-Exulta”

Tell us a bit about the story. What’s it about?

“Terra-Exulta” starts off as a seemingly academic exercise of futuristic translation. Doctor Galwot Kradame, a linguist and member of the Galactic Society of Ancient Languages, provides a translation of text chosen randomly from his files to prove that Galactic Standard can be translated into Archaic Planetary English, a language long since dead.

In the text, Harald K. Jeribob, a terrologist, responds to a previous request from Doctor Kradame to document the words he has coined throughout his career. Most of the story revolves around Jeribob’s account of how he learned to use language as he terraformed planets around the galaxy.
As Jeribob recounts the key points in his career and the words he coined at each phase, his character is slowly revealed. As with many of us, his true nature may not be what it appears to be at first.

What was the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I began writing the story as a study of the history of the word “grimpting.” The origin of the word is almost exactly as it is recounted in “Terra-Exalta”: “The young woman turned as red as a glamik and explained that she and her sister had made up ‘grimpting’ as children and to define it would be difficult. They had, in fact, never defined it; they had merely used it.”

My wife, her sister and a childhood friend coined the word in junior high. I will allow an e-mail from my sister-in-law to help define the word:

Teeb [This is the name she has coined for me. No, you are not free to use it], I feel honored! When I was in junior high, three of us girls created that word from some really weird rhyming that I’m too embarrassed to even discuss. We were SOOOOO strange…. Anyway, after several years of using that word, it evolved into an expression of annoyance or inconvenience. “That teacher is so grimpting. She gave us a pop test and I hadn’t even read the chapter yet.” Something like that. Or there is, “I am really grimpted by all this junk email.” It can also be a noun: “The police officer was a real grimpter when he pulled me over.” You can even use it as an “expletive.” When you’re frustrated just say, “GRIMPT!” What an all-purpose word! Hope that helps.

Now I use the word myself, but I try not to use it outside the family because I get strange looks. I have accidentally used it at work a couple of times. I act like it’s a real word and press on.

My wife and I tend to give it a more serious connotation. We use it to cover those things that are so bad you can’t think of another word for them. “According to the news, it looks like that woman in jail actually killed her baby. That’s the most grimpting thing I’ve ever heard.” That’s kind of how I’ve used it in the story.
Once I worked out the origin of the word in the story, I just took it from there. It was obvious to me at that point that the story would be about language and how words can be created and used.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

This story was a blast to write. It was fun getting into the head of Harald K. Jeribob. The story is really a sort of galactic “Heart of Darkness.” And who couldn’t help enjoying getting into the head of an inter-stellar Kurtz?

I wrote the story several years ago, but for a long time I didn’t send the story off because I was afraid some readers might actually think I was advocating some of Harald K. Jeribob’s methods. Now that I’ve got a couple of other stories under my belt, I can always point to them and say, “See, I’m not really insane.” And then again, maybe not.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

It is personal in that the origin of the story is taken from a word used only in our family, as I mentioned earlier. But beyond that, I’m not really sure if it’s personal. I think this is the first story I haven’t slipped my wife into. Oh wait, I forgot about the terrologist booted off the terrology station. Disregard that last comment.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

The toughest part was coining words that hadn’t already been coined. I googled my heart out to make sure the words I was coming up with words that hadn’t already been use. Not sure how successful I was with that. “Terra-Exulta” actually gets some hits in some languages. I’ve learned that most anything you type into the computer gets some hits in some languages. But I liked “Terra Exluta” anyway. Lets just say that Harald K. Jeribob revived it.

What is the appeal of the type of fiction—stories that take place in interstellar societies? Why do so many writers—or you yourself—write about them? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I think there is a fascination with what happens when different societies meet (or should I say collide). Our history is replete with examples of diverse societies coming into contact with one another, and someone usually gets the short end of the stick. I certainly didn’t write the story to be political, so I will allow the readers to draw their own analogies.

Taking this societal conflict and scattering it across the galaxy gives it a grand scale. I never start a story by thinking of another story. However, I usually make some connections with other works in the writing process. To me Harald K. Jeribob is a galactic Kurtz from Heart of Darkness. He is living at the very edge of civilization and making up his own rules as he goes along. If you think Kurtz is bad stuck in the middle of the jungle, imagine him traversing the galaxy, spreading his “horror” from one planet to another. Unlike Kurtz, Jeribob not only doesn’t recognize “the horror,” he embraces it and brings it home to Earth(lucky Earth).

What are some of your favorite examples of interstellar SF, and what makes them your favorites?

Three words: Heinlein and Asimov. These were the guys I cut my SF teeth on. Starship Troopers has always been one of my favorite novels. I remembering rereading it shortly after completing Officer Training School many years ago. It moved me as no novel ever had. Asimov’s Foundation series drew me in and gave me years of fun (slow reader). The series gave a scope to the universe I had never seen before.

And did I forget Clarke? I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in a theater when it first came out. I think it is still my favorite movie.

One other work to mention: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Oh, you say, not serious enough to be an example of interstellar SF. Are you kidding me? I take my humor very seriously. I hope the readers see the humor in “Terra-Exulta.” I plan on going to the home of every reader and look over their shoulder to make sure they’re laughing. It may be more of a nervous, uncomfortable chuckle, but I’ll accept that.
And of course there is my favorite novel of all time: Slaughterhouse Five. Not galactic enough, you say. Have we forgotten the Trafamadorians. How galactic can you get?

In short, this little sub-genre, interstellar SF, is wide, diverse, grand—it covers such a scope it can take you anywhere.

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like me to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

Yes. Right now I’m writing the great American novel. I’ve got the first line: There once was this guy. That’s really all I have right now. But trust me. It’s going to be great, and it’s going to be American.