Category Archives: Genre Delving

Helping Heroes, One Pet at a Time

by Carol Van Natta

One of the pleasures of world building a science fiction universe is the change to imagine how medical science has improved. Considering how much has happened in the last century (antibiotics, organ transplant, cancer treatments based on genetics), it’s fun—even therapeutic—to invent further improvements that seem miraculous by today’s standards.

For example, as far as we’ve come today in making injuries sustained in war survivable, we aren’t as far along in helping military personnel deal with the aftermath. Most modern societies assume its constituents are autonomous and able-bodied, and don’t quite know what to do about things like post-traumatic stress, mobility impairment, or loss of a limb. In my space opera series, I can assume much better repair and long-term treatment options, including cloned parts, cybernetics, and rapid-healing protocols.

Even so, there’s nothing like the healing power of pets. They love us, they entertain us, and they help us engage in the world outside of our own heads. Even when naughty kittens climb the curtains or bumbling puppies knock over the water dish again, we’re just as likely to laugh as to scowl. When (not if) we make it to the stars, I guarantee we’ll take our pets with us. That’s the theme of the science fiction romance anthology, Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2. Twelve authors wrote stories that all involve pets, from alien lifeforms, to conventional and exotic Earth animals (cats, dogs, emus(!)…), to genetically modified, designer creatures of history, myth, and legend (how about a dire wolf as a guard dog?). I probably got carried away with the number of pets in my story in the anthology, “Pet Trade,” but I couldn’t pick just one. In all the stories, the pets act just as they do now, as companions, as catalysts, as troublemakers, and sometimes as quiet saviors.

In that spirit, the authors are donating 10% of the first month’s profits to Hero Dogs, a U.S. charity that provides hand-raised and specially trained service dogs to disabled veterans, to improve their quality of life and give them independence. The dogs are provided free of charge, and Hero Dogs works with both the veteran and the service dog for life. It’s an amazing charity, and we all love the idea of helping heroes, one dog at a time.

Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 features twelve stories by today’s best-selling and award-winning authors, and is available at all major retailers.


Carol Van Natta writes science fiction and fantasy, and is the author of the award-winning Central Galactic Concordance space opera series that starts with Overload Flux. She shares her Fort Collins, Colorado home with a resident mad scientist and various cats, and they all want to explore the galaxy.

Save

5 Reasons Why Readers Like Urban Fantasy

by Antara Mann

Urban fantasy has always enjoyed a significant readership, but in the last decade and a half its popularity has significantly risen. No doubt, TV shows like Shadowhunters, Teen Wolf, Supernatural, Lost Girl and the oldie but goody Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, have increased the popularity of the genre. Yet, there are certain reasons why people enjoy exactly UF and such shows and prefer them over, say, high fantasy.

1. Urban Fantasy feels very realistic

The urban setting makes the reader associate themselves with the magical world building and the different types of creatures that populate it — magic and the supernatural feel almost real. After I read an UF book, I feel the supernatural much closer than before reading the book. In comparison, high fantasy is usually set up in some distinct ancient kingdom with different governmental structure than ours, usually ruled by different noble houses, royals or warring noble families. While it is very compelling and builds a very interesting and unique world, as a reader I am aware it doesn’t relate with our current political and social order or reality.

Readers like to relate themselves to the setting and characters, and contemporary fantasy delivers that.

2. Urban fantasy’s trademark is a kick-ass hero/heroine who fights off an evil antagonist

No matter if it’s the Dresden Files, The Iron Druid Chronicles, Kate Daniel’s series or Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress, the main hero is strong, powerful, is on the good guys’ side; sometimes they are snarky and flawed, but have redeemable qualities. In high fantasy, there are often a few main characters with different antagonists and the focus is not on a primal MC. The advanced technology and urban setting help too in the overall bad-ass attitude of the main character. Skyscrapers, jet planes and tech-savvy protagonists are way cooler than castles, horses and say, a protagonist writing on parchment.

3. Urban fantasy borrows from other genres and is a crossover

Fantasy, horror, romance, mystery, crime and suspense, paranormal romance — you name it — urban fantasy accommodates them all under its umbrella. UF is a multitude of other genres thus it makes the overall story more complex, multilayered and diverse. While a lot of readers enjoy a good portion of super power battles and action and adventure, quite a few enjoy the mystery and detective storyline, and yet more readers enjoy some paranormal romance. Urban fantasy has it all offering a wide range for diverse tastes. There is also a spiritual element since most magical creatures and magic have a root in mythology and folk tales. UF like any fantasy draws inspiration from legends and myths.

4. Urban fantasy reconciles old myths with new ones and legendary magical creatures with new

In short, IMHO, it has one of the richest magical folklore worlds varying from dragons and dragon shifters to elves and gnomes, to demons, angels and gods. Not to mention the Seelie and Unseelie courts.

Last but not least:

5. Magic, the occult and alternative religions like Wicca have been on the rise since mid 90s.

A quick fact: After the release and success of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, Wicca has grown as a religion and added nearly a half million practitioners. Occult and magical shops have also become very trendy and the general populace has started to believe in the existence of supernatural powers and magic. Since knowledge and personal experience in the occult and metaphysical world is hard to gain and generally hidden to ordinary humans, people have begun to devour books that present a possible fantasy to what they wonder might be on the other side beyond the visible, mundane world with its laws of physics. It is also a return to the child who lives in each of us. Remember when you were a little kid afraid of vampires? Well, in my case I was afraid of Baba Yaga 🙂

No matter what type of fantasy you like, I am sure UF literature offers a good deal of fun and entertainment even to hardcore fans of Wheel of Time or Malazan Book of the Fallen. So, what are you waiting for? Go and grab your own UF novel now!

Fantasy and Fiction is What Makes Us Human?


by Andy Peloquin

Humans are the only species to attach significant value on any form of art. Let’s be clear: animals can be taught to paint, draw, even write, but only humans go out of their way to create art.

So what if that innate sense of creativity plays a larger role in our humanity than we think? What if the desire to create art—stories, paintings, poems, sculptures, music, and more—is what makes us human?

I found something fascinating in an article on Psychology Today. The article talks about how a think tank believes exposing artificial intelligences to stories could make them more human. Essentially, exposing AIs to stories, they showcased human values and social norms. The AIs were then rewarded for mirroring the decisions and behavior of the protagonists of the stories.

Running through the simulations of human emotions (jealousy, the thrill of a new love, pain, sorrow, etc.) actually helps US to feel more empathy for others. Fiction puts us through that simulation by taking us on the emotional journeys of our characters. It increases interpersonal sensitivity, enhances empathic abilities, broadens perspective, reduces gender stereotyping, and reduces prejudice. If it can do all that for humans, imagine what it could do for artificial intelligences trying to learn what it means to “be human”.

But that’s not all fiction, fantasy, and stories can do for humans. Our past experiences—the good, bad, and ugly—are what have made us who we are. All the stories we can tell, the memories we can relive, and the positive and negative emotions we experience affect current and future behavior. Our view is colored by the unique combination of everything we have lived.

An AI is like a baby: no experience, no understanding, no relation to anything in the world around it. It has to be exposed to human experiences in order to gain understanding of what it means to be human. Stories—fiction and real-life–help to create all the above-mentioned feelings, basically helping to “build” the AI by giving them stories to shape their perceptions, beliefs, and understanding.

In Westworld, all of the “hosts” (robots) were given back-stories to make them seem more realistic. All humans have stories to tell, so that back story addition played a major role in bringing the theme park to life.

Humans want to tell, hear, and read stories—it’s what makes us who and what we are!

Faith During the Apocalypse


by Joshua C. Chadd

Okay, I’m going to jump right in since I am talking about one of those dangerous topics: Religion. Now, I do not want this to come off as me trying to push my beliefs on anyone, it is to provoke thought on a concept and belief and how that translates to writing. I’m going to give you a little background on me and then move on. I am a Christian, but before you cringe and close the window, hear me out. I am not one of those “fire and brimstone” kind of Christians, and in all honestly I don’t like organized religion as a whole. My faith is something that is personal and unique to me, it is a relationship with Jesus—that’s it! Now you know where I’m coming from, so I’ll move on to the meaty part of this.

I recently released my debut novel, Outbreak, and have the second one, Battleborn, coming out soon. The books are set during the zombie apocalypse. Are you starting to see my dilemma? If not, keep reading. The books follow two brothers as they set out to rescue their parents. As they’re on the road they inevitably face worse things than just zombies and people trying to kill them, for one reason or another. The brothers respond by killing them to survive. They are faced with more hard choices and walk the line between surviving and taking proactive measures to survive. There is a difference there. As the story continues they come face-to-face with some true horrors (especially in the second book).

Now, the problem I have is twofold. First, how do I portray an honest, gritty, real look at the apocalypse while still staying true to my own beliefs? And how do my characters show their faith when faced with the end of the world and the things they not only see, but have to do? Well, I don’t have a right answer to this, but I do have what I’ve found so far and what I think is true.

The first answer is to be honest with myself. I have the same opinion as Stephen King when it comes to writing, in that I am not really creating a story as much as I am uncovering something that is already there. In storytelling, I do my best to stay true to the story I uncover. I want to portray a realistic view of the apocalypse, so there is plenty of violence/gore and even cursing. Now, neither of these are “Christian” books, but they do have a faith-based undertone. But how can I write the violence and language and still make it known that I’m a Christian and so are the characters? Easy, have I ever cursed? Hell yeah! What would I do in a situation where I had to defend my family? Simple, I’d end the threat, one way or another. See, I am not worried about writing this stuff because I would be willing do to those things and I’d curse in those situations. By staying true to the story it might not be seen as “Christian”, but I can still tell it from a faith-based point of view, because real life is not full of rainbows and roses. Life is full of pain, heartbreak, violence, murder, cursing, and a whole lot of other things. So I write the world as I see it, real, flawed and, at times, evil. At least that is how I see it—so take it for what it is.

The second question is much easier to answer. While the brothers, James and Connor, have their faith, it’s a constant struggle to believe, especially for Connor. They go back and forth, and finally James begins to just believe in spite of everything, and that belief is tested at every turn, while Connor sort of gives up on his faith and does what needs to be done. This question is much easier because I have struggled in my faith throughout a normal life, and while I have retained that belief it has been seriously hard at times. So I can imagine if the zombie apocalypse did happen, how hard it would be at times. After seeing or doing the things I’d have to do to survive, I’d ask: How can I still have my belief after this? How can God be real with all this going on? Well, it actually poses something that is really interesting to write about, while also being tough. I get to dive in and say well, I don’t know (even as the author), but I think it would be this way or that way. I found those responses to the character’s questions are founded in my own belief but I cannot say anything with certainty because I am not God. But I feel like, and I hope this is true, that my answers are at least somewhat close to reality. Either way, it’s fun to write because having characters that have faith during the apocalypse is really intense with their constant inner struggles.

My point in all this, and I hope I articulated it well, was not to try and convince you about my beliefs. My goal was to show you something that can be challenging as a writer: staying true to not only the story, but myself as well. Because these are not just random stories, they are all a part of me—a part of who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be. I hope that gives you some food for thought. As you dig into more stories try to look for those small things that show you a glimpse into the heart and soul of the author—you can tell a lot about an author from their stories. But that’s all for now, until next time!

From my desk to you,

Joshua C. Chadd

Save

Save

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.

soulriderseries

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!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

 To follow Jeremy’s escapades join his newsletter: www.remyflagg.com/news

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: www.prudenauthor.com

Save

Save

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.



AUTHOR BIO

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: http://bit.ly/FMMReads

Save

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.