All posts by SFF Book Bonanza

Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Author of Japanese Historical Fantasy

Takiyasha-hime, the sorceress, is shown carrying a sword in one hand, a bell in the other, and a torch in her mouth; the toad, her familiar, is shown in the inset with her father, Taira no Masakado. Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1884 (via Wikipedia)

Interview by K. Bird Lincoln

Both Laura VanArendonk Baugh and I (K. Bird Lincoln) write Japanese historical fantasy featuring kitsune, trickster fox spirits—we both happen to be Caucasian females. I was thrilled she agreed to answer some writing-the-other questions I often get myself.

1. So….why Japan? Why kitsune? What about them speaks to your myth loving heart?

LVB: It actually wasn’t kitsune specifically. I liked the idea of writing in a wholly different setting and approach from typical Western fantasy, and onmyoudou is a significantly different take than most Western-based magical systems in fiction. I liked the idea of a natural structure behind the magic, and the power and limitations that would bring. I’ve always had a thing for foxes—some of my earliest fiction was about foxes, kind of a vulpine Watership Down—and the popularity of kitsune meant western audiences might feel more confident about approaching the book, more so than if I started with a makura-gaeshi or a suzuri-no-tamashi.

Also, kitsune are really cool.

KBL: Yes, it’s true. Cool and beautiful while Western were-wolves are more terrifying. I love the cerebral aspect of the kitsune trickster—the riddles and such.

2. Is it harder to write male characters than Japanese characters in general?

LVB: Ooh, great question! And yes, all characters who aren’t me are different than me, to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t think we can ever say we can totally grasp another personality or that we cannot possibly grasp another personality. The first is hubris, the second is our job.

I work pretty hard on my male characters, as I often tend toward too chatty and emotive. But that’s why we call it fantasy, right?

KBL: I think this is why I tend to focus my writing on female characters—Japanese or North American.

3. Nisi Shawl writes in “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation” about  Diantha Day Sprouse’s categorizing those who borrow others’ cultural tropes as “Invaders,” “Tourists,” and “Guests.” Invaders arrive without warning, take whatever they want for use in whatever way they see fit. Tourists are expected. They’re generally a nuisance, but at least they pay their way. Tourists may be ignorant, but they can be intelligent as well, and are therefore educable. Guests are invited. Their relationships with their hosts can become long-term commitments and are often reciprocal.”

KBL: I hope I write the Tiger Lily series like a Guest: I have had a long relationship with Japan, and Japanese culture, and my life is now intricately bound to that country through family ties. But sometimes I think the characters in Tiger Lily are a bit stereotyped…or not Japanese enough. What do you feel about your role as cultural mediator of Japanese culture for North Americans for the Kitsune series?

LVB: This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, especially in today’s politico-literary climate. But I draw hope from feedback I’ve received. I do presentations on Japanese folklore and mythology, specifically to educate people to better understand manga, anime, or films they pick up, and after one I received an email from a Japanese grad student visiting the US to complete some sociology work, who had wandered into my class. He complimented me on the presentation and said I’d given him some good ideas for cross-cultural education and communication, and that was a huge compliment.

A couple of months ago I was at a business conference. There a Japanese colleague turned to her Japanese friends and excitedly explained that I wrote books set in old Japan. What affirmation, knowing she could promote me to her friends! So I think my efforts toward interpretation rather than exploitation are holding steady.

Check out Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Kitsune Tales Series starting with Kitsune-Tsuki.

Winner of the 2012 Luminis Prize!
“Once I started reading, I could not put it down. The story is thrilling and magical.”

“Twisty! Turny! Magical! Wonderful!”

“…I figured I knew exactly how it was going to end. I was completely wrong.”

How does one find a shapeshifter who may not even exist?


Check out K. Bird Lincoln’s Tiger Lily series starting with Tiger Lily.

“A beautifully-written genderbending tale of rebellious girls, shifting disguises, and forbidden magic, set against the vivid backdrop of ancient Japan.”

Lily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the forbidden old, Jindo religion songs. But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls.





Genre Blending, Mashing, or Bending

by Alan Tucker

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

We love them! Those stories that don’t fit neatly into one particular box or label. The exploding popularity of comic books in literature, movies, and television shows is a prime example of this. Superhero stories are most often a generous mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Characters like Iron Man and Batman excite our imaginations because they feel ever so close to real possibilities — the science and mystical elements are just beyond our reach, which makes them so tantilizing.

But comic books don’t have a corner on the market for twisting the conventions of genre. One of my favorite genre-mashing authors is Jack L. Chalker. Best known for his Well Worlds series, he also penned over forty other novels and short stories, and nearly all blur the boundaries of what people considered “science fiction” and “fantasy.” My personal favorite is his Soul Rider series, which starts out reading like a classic fantasy story, with swords and sorcery, but morphs into science fiction as we learn more about the world and the “magic” encountered there.


The lines also become fuzzy once science fiction becomes science fact. Things like satellites, space travel, microwave ovens, and cell phones were once the domain of fantastic stories. Now, they are common and even ever-present in our world. Science fiction staples like artificial intelligence, human cloning, and virtual reality are within our grasp or just a few years away. Even faster-than-light travel, once shunned by hard core science fiction devotees as “fantasy” has recently been revisited as something that may not violate natural law as we currently understand it.

All this begs the question: What is science and what is fantasy?

As Arthur Clarke stated in the quote at the top of this post, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Bring someone from the middle ages into our present day world and they would undoubtedly claim we live in a magical place. Are phenomenon deemed “paranormal” by today’s science just waiting for someone to crack the code to bring them into the mainstream? Our current notions of time and space may seem set in stone, but there are scientists and mathematicians who work every day to poke holes in the current theories of reality. Much of the observable behavior of the universe is still awaiting explanation.

In this light, what if we take a look back at the stories told from medieval times, or those of the Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians. Are there kernels of truth to be found in our ancient myths and fables that could only be explained at the time by magic? What about concepts like Heaven and Hell? So many religions contain references to similar places, it seems folly to dismiss them out of hand. Could they exist as parallel universes? Maybe angels and demons are extra-dimensional beings who do occasionally pierce the veil between worlds and pay us a visit to inspire the tales we see in our religious and fictional texts.

What are your most cherished genre-bending stories? What lines do you like seeing blurred to the point of non-recognition? Let me know in the comment section!







Given Powers, Are We Heroes? Or Are We Villains?

by Jeremy Flagg

The question I’m most often asked is, “What super power do you want the most?” I’m a geek, I’ve thought about this every day since I started reading comics. I want to be able to teleport. No traffic, no lines, no travel, just being where you want to exist. The question I ask in return, “If you had super powers, would you be a hero, or a villain?”

In science fiction, one of my favorite themes to explore both as a reader and writer is, good versus evil. I find the most alluring aspect of this struggle to be when a character struggles with the responsibility of his own power. If I woke up tomorrow with incredible power, I’d be the villain. I hope through reflection and struggle I would rise above it, but truth be told, I’m not quite sure I’m capable of winning that battle.

I write superhero stories and much of my inspiration comes from the early 90’s comics. The most notable character for me has always been Erik Lehnsherr, more commonly known as Magneto. His intentions have always been good; protect his species at all cost, even if it means committing unthinkable acts. His power is awe-inspiring, but the allure is his inner demons battling. We see ourselves in his struggle. What would we do to save those we love? He’s been put in a morally compromising position and for decades now, we’ve watched him walk back and forth over the line. We’re sold on his conflict because there is a reflection of truth behind it and we’re left asking ourselves if we’d do the same.

In Max Landis’ Chronicle this struggle between hero and villain both internal and external takes center stage. Gaining telekinetic powers, Andrew, Matt and Steve find themselves pondering the morality of being more than human. Bullied, Andrew finds himself using his powers for self-gain, and we sympathize with his rise to villainy, again, because we are left asking ourselves, “Could that be me?” Even Steve, the movie’s protagonist spends points in the story debating how he should proceed with this gift. Ultimately, Steve finds himself opposing Andrew not because it’s the morally right thing to do, but because he’s the only one capable. This ambiguity allows us as the audience to continue self-reflecting.

While my writing gravitates toward the dark aspects of this debate, it can also be viewed with humor and sarcasm. In Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will be Invincible, he tells the story through two points of view, Dr. Impossible, the dry wit super genius and former cop-turned-cyborg, Fatale, newest addition to the New Champions. Grossman makes it a point to have Dr. Impossible reflect on how he became a villain and as we see the story unfold, we find a super genius falling short at every turn. Even knowing there is a strong chance his newest machinations will result in failure, he continues simply because, “It’s what you do.” Meanwhile, Fatale finds herself fixated on Lily, another teammate and the former girlfriend of Dr. Impossible. She wonders what would make her turn her back on a boyfriend, choose right over wrong, and even exploring if wrong is subjective. The entire time these dialogues are being delivered, Grossman interjects sarcasm, dry wit, and moments of humanity in these godlike titans.

The question continues to provoke a great deal of writing. Characters in my Children of Nostradamus series have been given powers through a cosmic fluke and each of them comes to the table with vastly different motivations. They unite to stop the antagonist, some for revenge, others out of a sense of right, others because they have no idea what they’re doing. I believe we’ve all wondered what super power we’d want given the chance, but I continue asking, would you be a hero, or would you be the villain?

Jeremy Flagg is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes.

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How Writing a Review is the Best Way to Support an Author

by A.L. Knorr

A surprising portion of an author’s time is spent trying to garner positive reviews for their stories. Leaving a review requires an effort that many readers don’t see value in. It takes time, their review will just get buried and no one will ever read it. So why bother?

What most readers don’t realize is that leaving a verified (the book has been purchased) review has a larger impact than they could even imagine. Aside from helping other readers decide if the book sounds like something they’ll enjoy or not, sharing your thoughts about the story helps the author become a better writer. You have an opinion that is unique to you, and author’s need to see the world through readers eyes to grow.

Readers are far more likely to purchase a book that has lots of positive reviews, and of course, less likely to purchase those who have poor reviews. By writing your review, you are either encouraging or forewarning other readers. Who doesn’t appreciate guidance on whether their money will be well spent or not? Search engine algorithms also take into account the number, frequency, and rating given by reviewers. Every positive review is an air bubble that helps the book rise and become more visible. You also help to protect authors from trolls, not the kind with green hair, the kind whose sole desire seems to be to spread negativity on the internet. Every author will be hit by a troll at some point in their career, lots of positive reviews help buffer the occasional random negative attack.

So how do you best rate a book? Making your own personal criteria for what a 1 star looks like vs a 5 star is helpful. Here’s an example of some rating criteria:

⭐️  A lot of mistakes, maybe it wasn’t ready for market. Didn’t make sense, or I fell into a plot hole while reading and couldn’t get out.

⭐️⭐️   I think there was a story in there somewhere.

⭐️⭐️⭐️   Finished and mostly enjoyed. Would even consider reading more by this author.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️   Good story! Looking forward to more by this author!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  Couldn’t put it down and I’m sad that it’s over! Still thinking about this story!

Next time you read a book, please consider writing a review. Even 1 or 2 sentences is enough. The author will thank you, and other readers will thank you!

The Science in Sci-Fi: How Important Is It?

by D.M. Pruden

How important is actual science in Science Fiction? Does anyone care if an author gets the physics right in their space battle scenes? Do any more than a handful of geeks even notice when the science is off? Does it even matter?

These are all questions that occupied me when I first ventured into the world of authorship. I am a scientist by profession, having spent the better part of 36 years as a geophysicist. To say science is an interest of mine is like saying basketball is of interest to Koby Bryant. This puts me into a camp that may be different from the rest of society, or more specific to this article, the science fiction reader community. It certainly colours my perspective on the kind of sci-fi I like to read and write.

Some would (perhaps rightly) argue that sticking too close to the real world detracts from the purpose of a good story; to transport the reader into another realm. There are certainly some very popular books that have “broken” the laws of physics in favour of a good tale. Andy Weir, the author of the wildly successful novel, The Martian, admits to taking some liberties with the real effects of windstorms on Mars. He and his editors, rightly, opted for dramatic storytelling and a bending of exact science to facilitate a good story. Does this devalue in any way the novel? I don’t believe so. The Martian, for the most part, gets the science right in the parts that matter and tells an amazing story. It is, by far, one of my favourite modern science fiction novels.

Some would argue that I am an advocate for the school of ‘Hard Science Fiction’ and perhaps I am; or not. What I have witnessed within some of the sci-fi writer forums online is that many who brand themselves as hard science fiction authors are not so much caught up with the science in their stories as with the technology. Some of them will wax on about the proper configuration of a particular ion drive design, citing why it will work, and someone else’s idea is not viable. While writers like this are certainly well researched and far more knowledgeable about these topics than I, I can’t help but wonder if they are missing the point.

There is a difference between science and technology. Science is an activity; an act of exploring the world around us to uncover how it works. It has birthed Newton’s laws, Maxwell’s equations and Einstein’s relativity. Nowhere does it speak to smart watches, brain implants, FTL drives or star gates. Those fancies are all manifestations of science being applied to invent technology, and this is really the stuff that gets drawn up into science fiction for many readers and writers alike. The actual laws of physics are very few. The permutations on their practical applications are manifold.

One has only to observe the explosion of modern technology to realize this. We are in an age of technology, not an age of science. Most recent scientific research is under pressure to produce practical, economically exploitable results. Pure scientific research is rare and diminishing. It still happens, but not nearly at the explosive pace of its exploitation.

It is precisely this explosion of technology that is currently taken for the science in sci-fi. Our technology is advancing at a phenomenal pace. New inventions, only fantasy a decade ago, now adorn our wrists and homes. To explain our contemporary lifestyle to a person living in the 1950’s would have been to describe a science fiction world beyond their ability to conceive. Imagine how difficult it is for a modern writer to stay ahead of this rampaging techno-tsunami and write a sci-fi story. It is a daunting task. Every day, inventions that I believed to be far in the future are being turned out by companies. What is a writer to do?

In my opinion, first and foremost in any writing, including, or maybe especially in science fiction, the story is everything. More specifically, a good story about someone to whom the reader can relate is the most important part of writing. Too many times I have picked up what promises to be a good read, only to discover the author has spent far too much time developing their fictional world, replete with all of its amazing technology, and forgotten to tell a story about the people in it. I believe that, while paramount to good science fiction, world building is like the skeleton of the story. It is meant to be something upon which the entire plot is built and should sit in the background, only referred to when necessary. There are times when the setting can become a major character in a novel (books like Dune, The Martian and Lord of the Rings are but three examples), but in no case does the author shove his research at us proudly and say, “look at what I built”. The setting is woven into the intricate pattern of the story and thus becomes an integral part of it. It becomes a tale of how the character reacts and relates to others within such a world.

Whether a novel is set in deep space or inside a virtual reality game world, the stories of science fiction are best when they are well-told fiction. The setting happens to be what it is, and that is okay with me, and probably for most readers as well. It is why sub-genres like steampunk work.

As for me, I’ll continue to calculate orbital velocities and gravitational constants in my stories, just to keep the characters honest within their world. But after that, telling their story within that world is my primary goal. Yes, the science matters to me. The fiction just happens to matter more.

Doug Pruden writes under the name D.M. Pruden and is the author of two books, so far: The Ares Weapon and Mother of Mars. A retired Canadian geophysicist, he lives in Calgary, Alberta. When not writing science fiction, he enjoys spending time with his granddaughters, working on his golf handicap in the summer and his squash game in the winter. You can get to know him better at his website:



Character Building: Inside the Mind of a Burglar

by Andy Peloquin

As a dark fantasy author, there are two things I enjoy writing about most:

  1. The underside of society. This includes assassins, thieves, killers, brutes, thugs, mercenaries, and all the other seedy elements of a fantasy world.

  2. The dark side of human nature. I love delving into the psyche of my characters (antagonist and protagonists alike) to better understand the darker elements that make them tick.

In my latest series, I follow the adventures of a girl sold to the Thieves’ Guild of her city. She is raised as a thief—not just any thief, though. A burglar.

Burglars are a unique sort of thief. Pickpockets will steal while out in public. Muggers will threaten violence. But burglars tend to be much more artistic than other thieves. They look at architecture (buildings) and find ways to use the design elements to penetrate highly secure areas.

An article on Science Daily caught my attention as I was researching the character (Ilanna). It talked about a study done to understand the motivations and techniques of burglars. The researchers evaluated both male and female burglars to understand their mindsets, attitudes, and approaches. They found some truly fascinating things:

  • Factors considered – Before burglarizing a house, the burglars would evaluate proximity to people, police, traffic, and business. They would also evaluate escape routes (or the lack thereof), apparent security, surveillance, and the likelihood of being discovered.

  • Alarms matter – Up to 83% of the burglars looked for a security system before deciding whether or not to burglarize the home. 60% would choose another target if they discovered an alarm present. This was particularly true among the careful, planning type of burglars, rather than the “spur of the moment” burglars (the ones who tend to smash and grab).

  • Residential vs. commercial – Roughly 50% of burglars entered homes, while only 31% entered commercial residences.

  • Why? – Drugs were the most common motivation –51% of respondents. Money drove 37% of burglars. Oddly enough, only one burglar ever broke into homes to steal firearms.

  • Planned or not – 41% of burglars committed the crime on the spur of the moment, while only 12% planned all their burglaries in advance.

  • Male vs. female – Male burglars tend to be more deliberate and plan in advance, while female burglars tend to be more impulsive. Women entered homes in the late afternoon, while men entered in the evenings. Women were more likely to be dissuaded from their burglary by an alarm system than men.

I found this study a fascinating way to understand my burglar character. By understanding the mindset of a burglar, I was able to write a character that was realistic in her motivations, approach to the crime, and her decisions of whether or not to burgle homes.

To check out Andy’s books, click here.




Sci-Fi & Fantasy Heroines: Why They’re Amazing, and Why We Need Them

by Alesha Escobar

A hero is someone we can look up to and aspire to be like. And, it’s a bonus when that hero shares something in common with us (culture, moral strengths, flaws, or gender). Growing up in the ‘80s, I remember rushing home from school with my older sister so that we could plop down in front of the TV to watch the latest episode of Wonder Woman, which starred Lynda Carter.

We loved watching a strong woman rush into danger to subdue criminals and save others. We also enjoyed that she did so while embracing and celebrating her femininity. As I grew up, I’ve realized that “strong heroine” can mean more than one thing, because there are many ways to display strength. Sure, it’s fun to watch Black Widow or Agent Carter high-kick a thug in the head without breaking a sweat, but what I also love about them is that their sharpest weapons are their brains.

This isn’t to say I can’t (or won’t) be inspired by a male protagonist–and there are quite a few in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that I think are amazing! However, now that I’m a parent and watch how my daughter perks up just a little more when she sees someone who looks like her appear on screen to save the day, or in a comic book to set off on an adventure, it hits home how the stories we tell, and the characters we use to tell them, can have an impact on our audience.

So why do we need heroines? Because their stories matter, just like real life heroines who’ve made history.

Have you heard about the woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands? Her name was Nancy Wake, and she had one of the highest bounties on her head during WWII as she fought alongside the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France.

Nancy Wake (c. 1945)

Or, think of Harriet Tubman, the famous American abolitionist who bravely spoke out against slavery and personally led men and women to freedom despite many perils.

So if there are heroic women throughout history, I say let us also have them in our books and stories. International Women’s Day is March 8 of every year (and some territories have designated the entire month as Women’s History Month). This is a great time to remember and discover some of the earth-shattering accomplishments different women have made to the world.

If you’re a bookworm like me, and enjoy escaping into fantasy worlds, dare I say that we’d also like to see female protagonists with the same heart, intellect, bravery and determination of the real life women who’ve earned their place alongside our heroes.


Alesha Escobar writes and blogs to support her chocolate habit. She loves reading everything from Tolkien, to the Dresden Files and Hellblazer comics. Alesha is the author of the bestselling Gray Tower Trilogy fantasy series, of which the first book is now being adapted to screenplay. Her latest novel, House of Diviners, will be released in the Daughters of Destiny Boxed Set (March 15).

To keep up with Alesha’s latest shenanigans and grab free books, please visit:


Basic Types of Magic

 by Andy Peloquin

One of the most common elements in fantasy novels is magic. Just as technology is what drives many sci-fi novel plots, so too magic is the driving force behind many fantasy stories. But the truth is that there are SO MANY different types of magic to use.

Below is a rough “guide to magic types”, based on my experience reading and writing stories involving magic. Each universe/novel can have their own rules to follow, but this is a general outline of some of the more popular types of magic to use:

Mage – Mages tend to fall into the category of “scholars”. Most mages belong to an order or scholastic organization that trains them to use magic. The sort of magic used by magic may be innate (within them), or they could use magic that comes from the world around them. They may also be able to use talismans and other magic-imbued items. Mages usually use spells, cantrips, and incantations to access magic.

Wizard – Wizards also tend to belong the “scholar” category, but their magic is often far less academic. Some wizards will use books to learn their wizardry, but many will have access to it innately or instinctively. They tend to have an inner wisdom that grants them access to magic, and often are talented in wizardry. Study and practice can hone the talents, but wizards often inherit or acquire magic from outside sources.

Sorcerer – Sorcerers almost exclusively use innate/inner magic, which comes from within them. Sorcery tends to be more “soul magic”, meaning sorcerers control the magic using their internal power. Sorcery is also more instinctive. It can be honed, but the power is usually connected to the power of their soul. Some sorcerers also have instinctive access to the magic in the world.

Cleric – Clerics are given access to divine powers, which come from their particular god or goddess. They may rely on religious talismans, or they may access the divine powers using a spell or ritual. Clerics belong to a religious order or sect, and they are almost always priests (or paladins).

Druid – Druids, like the druids of ancient England, tend to rely on the powers of earth, stone, wood, wind, fire, and other forces/objects of nature. They may have knowledge of lore, herbal medicines, and the hidden properties of plants and herbs. However, their magic is almost always connected to nature.

Alchemist – Alchemists are like “magical scientists”. They may use magic to transmute liquids and solids, or they can create new substances with magical-like properties. A great deal of alchemy is based on modern science, though with a distinct “fantastical” twist to it.

Remember, there are exceptions to every rule. These are the “broad strokes” categories of magic, but the rules aren’t hard and fast. Every fantasy author will use their own take on magic, including the means of accessing it, the cost of using it, and the origin of the magic used.

You can check out Andy’s books here.

Inspiration for Alien Characters in Science Fiction

by Aurora Springer

Science fiction readers and writers love aliens. In order to create alien characters, a writer must describe the physical appearance, behavior, method of communication, and possibly the society of the aliens. We must extrapolate from what we know about humans and other living organisms on Earth. Here, I aim to inspire writers with ideas from the perspective of a scientist with a life-long interest in the diversity of life on our planet.

First, what are aliens? In science fiction, aliens are the inhabitants of other planets. They may, or may not, be intelligent. I believe life exists on other planets. In my opinion, the majority of alien lifeforms is likely to be microbial like bacteria on Earth. Microbes are robust and versatile. Different types can survive in a variety of extreme environments, including deep sea hydrothermal vents, Antarctica, underground and inside humans. Bacteria can exchange genetic material and communicate with chemicals. Has anybody used microbes as “characters” in their stories?

Little green men”, or human-like aliens are common in science fiction. Humanoid characters have a head, two arms and two legs. Humanoids predominate in video media, partly because they are easier to describe. Consider Dr. Who: even the exterminating Daleks are mutant humans in a robotic shell. I have mutated or genetically engineered humans in my stories.

Animal-like aliens are also common. Felines are popular, such as the lion-like Hani of C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey’s Hrubbans, and the Kzinti of Larry Niven.

Mythological Dragons are clearly related to reptiles and fall into the category of animal-like aliens. I have dragons and other alien reptiles inhabiting the Planet Sythos in my series, Grand Masters’ Galaxy.

We can move from vertebrates to invertebrate animals. Giant insects make vicious opponents, although they might be friendly. Adrian Tchaikovsky endows humans with insect characteristics in the Apt series, which is more fantasy than science fiction. I had fun with human colonists on the planet of giant arthropods in A Tale of Two Colonies. Insects resemble us in structure. They have one head with two eyes and a mouth, and three pairs of limbs on their bodies. Can we go beyond animals with this body structure?

One early example of non-humanoid aliens is described in the War of the Worlds (1897) by HG Wells. Piers Anthony in his Cluster series imagined a variety of non-humanoid sentient aliens. He used the unifying theme of aura as a means of communication and exchange of minds into different bodies. In Thousandstar (1980), a humanoid woman falls in love with an alien resembling a giant amoeba (my description).

Consider the myriad varieties of animals living in the sea. Many are spineless invertebrate animals such as jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and squid. Squid and octopuses may be highly intelligent. They can manipulate objects with their arms and exhibit familiar behavior like playing. Their “brains” are distributed throughout their bodies and they communicate by changing color. How would you talk with an octopus?

What about plants? Carnivorous plant-like aliens include the walking plants with lethal stings from John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951). One of the characters in my Grand Masters’ Galaxy is a planetoid shaped like a giant flower with three pink petals, short stem and trailing roots. I named this character, Amarylla, to help readers visualize her. Amarylla communicates by rustling her leaves, folding or opening her petals like an umbrella, and by emitting scents. In fact, plants, fungi and microbes manufacture chemicals for communication and defense. Adding odors in your scenes is a great way to evoke emotional responses in your readers.

If we move beyond life on Earth, aliens might be entities of gas or pure energy. Sir Fred Hoyle, the eminent English astronomer, was a stubborn opponent of the Big Bang theory. His 1957 novel, The Black Cloud, explores the idea of an intelligent interstellar cloud. The key problem for the human characters was discovering the cloud was intelligent and devising a means of communication. Aliens of pure energy may be completely oblivious of us.

I hope some of these weird life forms will inspire you to create unique and believable aliens in your stories.

You can check out Aurora’s books here.

A World of Lawlessness Breeds Crime

by Andy Peloquin

As a fantasy author, I have the joy of being able to create my own worlds, societies, and environments for the characters and stories I write. As a DARK fantasy author, it’s a thrill to delve into the underside of human nature and see just how low people can stoop—as well as how high they can rise.

My latest novel, Child of the Night Guild, follows a girl sold to and raised by a Thieves’ Guild. In researching the novel, I spent hours poring over criminology, the art of thieving, burglary, and more. One fascinating article I came across in Psychology Today looked at the environment that led to crime.

In the article, it talked about a Caribbean island that had a very high crime rate. Not only were there unsanitary and unsafe environments, but the police paid little attention to reports. Some tourists and locals even said that “calling the police is usually a waste of time”. Despite all the “unsavory” elements, the police did little to prevent or deal with the problems.

It seems odd that such a potentially idyllic, “perfect” place could have such a high crime rate. And yet it all comes down to a simple formula: “It is the criminal who commits the crime. It is the responsibility of public officials to deter criminals. Crime flourishes in areas that tolerate it!”

Modern law enforcement organizations have established not only ways to deal with criminals, but even ways to DETER crimes from occurring in the first place. The modern judicial systems are equally equipped to deal with lawbreakers. But the laws that govern a fantasy world are often lacking. Not only are the laws less comprehensive than modern laws, but the organizations that enforce the laws are often less vigilant than modern law enforcement.

A common fantasy trope is a “crooked guard or soldier”, someone who could be easily bribed to look the other way. In a society like that, it’s no surprise that crime flourishes.

But even in fantasy worlds where there are strict laws and law enforcement agencies (city guard, Palace Guard, etc.) to enforce it, the lack of modern technology often makes finding perpetrators more challenging. Crime is able to flourish even in these lawful environments because law enforcement is unable to deter it.

In a fantasy world where law enforcement is too lazy or unethical to prevent crime, it’s to be understood that crime will flourish. But even if the law enforcement bodies are willing to stop crime, the lack of resources (manpower and technology) is often the main thing that prevents them from being truly efficient. This is the main reason that crime is such a common element in fantasy worlds—for better and for worse.

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