Support Your Local Villain

by LC Champlin

We love the hero and hate the villain. That’s just how stories work. Right? But if it wasn’t for that the despised villain, who’s usually more of an antagonist than a master of evil, that hero would have no darkness to shine his light against. So let’s take a minute to appreciate the most overlooked character in fiction: the antagonist.

While many people assume the hero is the most important, they don’t stop to consider why he is a hero. Oh, you say, he’s a hero because he’s brave and self-sacrificing, or because he has special powers he uses to save the world. I’ll give you those. But why does he have to be a hero in the first place? If there’s no danger to be faced, he can’t be brave. If there’s no choice to be made, he can’t be self-sacrificing. And if there’s not some super-powered villain bent on taking over the world, or maybe just holding it hostage for a million dollars, there’s nothing for the hero to use his powers on. Though I suppose Superman could use his super strength to build roads, or his laser eyes to do some welding. But he really shines when there’s a villain to face. The stronger the villain is, the stronger the hero has to be.

Think about it: If it wasn’t for Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and their Empire, Luke would never have become a Jedi. He’d still be a nerf herder on Tatooine. You might argue that Luke would have been fine being a desert scrounger. Ah, but think of all the good he can do being a Jedi! So in a way, the antagonism of Darth Vader and his henchman brought good in the world by forcing Luke to grow up.

We agree we need an antagonist. But not all villains / antagonists are created equal. Some are truly memorable – and I go back to my example of Darth Vader. Others, not so much. I don’t have to point out the meh Star Wars villains.

What makes a good antagonist? Is it having more than their fair share of evil? Is it cruelty? Well, those can help. They raise the ante, meaning a villain isn’t just content to wipe out a village, but will instead take out an entire planet. What makes a villain memorable and powerful is that it we have to like him to a certain degree. Like the villain? Okay, so maybe like isn’t the best word. “Identify” and “sympathize” with might be better. We may even admire certain of their traits, such as their ambition, motivation, and style.

Let’s go back to Vader. First off, he just looks cool. Don’t deny it. He’s also intimidating, but without having to be freak-out crazy and evil all the time. I mean, he doesn’t have heads on pikes around his ship when he gets off. No, he has his henchmen lined up instead. Even before he Force chokes people, you know you shouldn’t mess with him.

As we get deeper into the story, we begin to relate to him more. He’s had to fight his way through many difficulties in life. He took the route he thought would give him power and success. Those are things we want, and haven’t we all done something wrong to get them? He suffered a lot, and I mean a lot. We understand that pain and trauma of any kind can warp a person. We wonder what we would do if we were in his situation.

Motivation is another key factor in whether a villain makes the Hall of Fame. If they just want to cause havoc, that’s one thing. Even that, if done well, can be fascinating. Take Joker for example. But others actually have good intentions. The Empire wanted to bring the Pax Romana to the galaxy. Ra’s al Ghul and Poison Ivy want to save the world from humanity. But of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There’s another thing that seals the deal when we’re talking about truly great villains. It’s their capacity for good. Darth Vader really did care about his son – SPOILER! – Luke. He wanted Luke to join the Empire as a father and son team. In the end, he fought for Luke. It’s these “pet the cat” moments that show us some spark of humanity that really make us like the villains as characters, even if we don’t agree with what they do.

What about you? What are some of your favorite villains, and why do you like them? I have way too many favorites to name. They usually are my favorite characters, and it shows in my books.


About the author: LC Champlin
Writer, traveler, adventurer, prepper. Lover of all things Geek and Dark. INTJ. I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls.

The Dystopian Future According to You

by Jonathan C. Gillespie

I recently read “We fear death, but what if dying isn’t as bad as we think?”, an article in the Guardian which outlined, among other things, how the perception of death often changes for those suffering from late-stage terminal cancer and ALS. The article posits that dying is something we’re all afraid of, until it becomes a savior from our afflictions.

That’s one angle, sure, but more to the point is another of the piece’s central premises; that human beings are adaptable creatures with a wholesale ability to mold our lives. We don’t just survive circumstances that we would have thought unbearable, we even find moments of peace within them.

If we consider the myriad experiences on Earth, we find other examples of this adaptability. For example, I’m in the process of reading an excellent book about a North Korean refugee’s former life in that totalitarian state, and I’ve seen in her that same hardiness and resolve.

We are, collectively, tougher than we think.

As such, when authors dare crafting dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, I think they have to keep in mind that a setting is not necessarily soul-crushing for our characters in the sense that we imagine it must be. Instead, we must consider if it merits such based on the perspective and past experiences our characters.

Take North Korea’s populace, for example. Many of its escapees describe happiness within its borders, and had reluctance about leaving family and home behind, even as the state repeatedly showed its brutal hand. This seems hard for many of us to accept. How could life in North Korea ever be anything more than oppressive and ugly? But we forget that the average North Korean isn’t exposed to the outside world; that transmission or possession even of something as innocuous as South Korean pop music can bring swift and terrible penalties.

Thus, if we as authors were to posit such a system in one of our books, with similar restrictions present on our characters, it wouldn’t make much sense to portray one’s emotional state within that system as sunup-to-sundown misery. And yet this happens in too many books.

I’d suggest a different approach. For characters who have never lived outside of the author’s dystopian setting, especially those with no knowledge of any other lifestyle (or especially liberty itself) , it is safer to illustrate the circumstances and allow the reader to come to their own conclusions. Should an event provide the protagonist with a sudden moment of clarity–an eye into what they are missing–then let the emotions fly upon the page.

My all-time favorite book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, models this approach perfectly, and I’d argue its sublime methods have helped make it a classic. Its lead character, Winston Smith, doesn’t mope through the opening chapters. He isn’t a seething near-caricature of resentment, in fact Orwell didn’t spend much time early in the novel on Winston’s emotions at all. And why would he have done so? Smith has virtually no frame of reference for what life under Ingsoc (the novel’s omnipresent political party) has cost him. It is only when he encounters one of the book’s other leads in a startling, personal manner he and we are unprepared for, that Winston begins to understand what the Party has denied him.

The transition from Party worker bee to determined revolutionary is paced with precision, showing us George Orwell’s restraint and empathy for his character’s life experience. In reading Orwell’s masterpiece, an author can gain better understanding of perspective as it applies to the fictional worlds speculative fiction writers populate. Orwell doesn’t need Winston to hate every moment of his existence, because that wouldn’t be realistic. Winston is mildly unhappy until he is forced to take a closer look at his own circumstances, and then the character evolves.

An additional word of caution is in order. Treading carefully around dystopias is a good idea, but we must also be especially careful when positing our characters’ responses to any imagined environment that is more benign in its differences to our own. Many of us live our lives crowded into cities, surrounded by granite and an endless wall of human noise. That would have likely horrified men of several thousand years ago. But such a life isn’t necessarily terrible; many even seek it out. Man is adaptable; he has adapted. For some city dwellers, the idea of a return to any sort of pastoral existence might strike them as tedious at best, dangerous as worst. So which has become the dystopia? The post-apocalyptic setting? The answer is: that depends, so be careful about being absolutist in describing your characters’ emotions.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, were people cheering? Many were. There were also quite a few rioting at what they felt was a loss of stability. It’s all a matter of perspective. Experience.

“What,” an author must constantly ask, “have my characters experienced?” From that starting point, everything else falls into place, for better or worse…and usually for the better in terms of the book’s quality.


Jonathan C. Gillespie writes worlds on paper, then destroys them. Find his books at jonathancg.net/books. If your taste runs to the post-apocalyptic or dystopian, try Revenant Man, Book One of The Tyrant Strategy, or The Complete Beacon Saga. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tidal Locks and Tech-Driven Telepathy: An Introduction to Pendomus

by Carissa Andrews

For some authors, trying to build new worlds for their stories can be a challenge. This is especially true in science fiction. We want to immerse our readers in a realm that’s believable and relatable, but different enough to stand apart from everything we already experience in our real lives.

When I first started getting ideas for the Pendomus Chronicles trilogy, I wasn’t expecting to write a science fiction book, much less three of them. In fact, when I started writing the first book, I wasn’t even truly aware I was world-building at all. I was, for lack of a better word, the vessel of Pendomus and all of the details it wanted to divulge. At least, that’s how it felt when the ideas started rolling in. The story also felt more fantasy in some ways than scifi—but looking back, the great stories that resonate most with me have always been genre-bending in some way or another. I am a fangirl of Joss Whedon, after all.

What Makes Pendomus Different?

At this point, you may be wondering what makes Pendomus different? As opposed to life here on Earth, there are a lot of things actually. Granted, I started Pendomus in 2010, and as time has gone on, a couple of these items are getting precariously close to true existence. (Thanks, MIT!) Here are some of the main differences, but trust me, there’s so much more under the surface, too.

  1. Tidally Locked – When I started mapping out Pendomus, I fell in love with the idea of people inhabiting the temperate band on a tidally locked planet. Not because I liked the extremes, necessarily, but I wanted the opportunity to slip in a permanent sundog in the sky. Honesty, how cool would that be? Plus, I liked the idea of thinking about what that would mean, how it would manifest in daily lives, and why humanity would set up where they did.
  2. Helix – Humanity has set up residency in a large industrial building called the Helix. Just like it sounds, it looks like a double helix rising and falling out of the snow. Life is routine but fulfilling for those inside the Helix who’ve never questioned it. This is, in part, because society has been deliberately engineered to function toward their optimal purpose. Each person receives their professional appointments meant to be ideal for them based on aptitudes and years of observation. The way this is done has a lot to do with the other technologies the Helix has put in place. This includes:
    • eLink – People no longer speak anymore, as it’s not necessary with the eLink implanted in their brains. This tech allows people to “download” information and have all personal communication done mind to mind. Only a handful of people still know how to speak out loud.
    • RationCaps – To control the way the society functions, food has been eliminated. No more obesity, no more noncompliance, etc. The RationCaps serve as sustenance and much more.
    • Lotus Chairs – Sleep is another thing of the past. Five to fifteen minutes in the Lotus Chair and your brain has been reorganized and cleaned for optimal time usage.
    • Labots – For those who do slip through the cracks, there are Labots. If anyone is noncompliant, the eLink can be triggered to manipulate just about anyone—turning them into a faceless militia.
  1. Lateral – Interestingly, there are others on Pendomus. Those who got away from the Helix’s control or who were never a part of their system. Living in an underground cavern somewhere nearby, humans exist in a much less controlled manner.
  2. Native Inhabitants – The planet has four major native inhabitants, each with their own elemental correspondences.
    • Salamanders – Fire. You can’t miss the gigantic black salamanders with flames at their feet and the ability to teleport.
    • AirGliders – Air. Numerous in nature and controlled by someone nefarious, these guys can be difficult to distinguish at first.
    • TerraDwellers – Earth. You won’t find many of these inhabitants around, but it’s mostly because they’ve hidden themselves away.
    • Waterbears – Water. Based on tardigrades, these badasses are not to be trifled with, as my main characters find out.

What’s in a Name?

I get asked the question a lot: What does Pendomus mean?

It’s actually a fantastic question. No, I didn’t just pluck it from the sky because it sorta sounds/reads like pandemonium. I actually studied the etymology of Latin words in order to create the perfect name for my planet.

So, here’s the gist… Pendomus is the combination of two words: Paene and Domus.

Paene means “almost” but when combined with another word, it’s shortened to pen. Ever hear the word penultimate? Penumbra? Yeah, they’re both using Paene.

Domus, in short, means “home.” Put the two words together and you get Pendomus. Or, as I like to think of it, “almost home.”

As you can see, Pendomus has a lot going on. It’s a planet of extremes on one hand, and deliberate control on the other. In order for things to come back into balance, a prophecy was put in place ages ago. This is where the story of the trilogy begins and how you’re introduced to Runa Cophem, my main character. The world building and interesting elements all play their own important role, as I’m sure you’ll agree if you read the series. Everything was deliberately chosen, right down to the names. So, if you like books with Easter Eggs and plenty of twists, you’ll love Pendomus. Happy Reading!


Carissa Andrews is the author of the Pendomus Chronicles trilogy. She’s also an award-winning graphic designer and freelance writer who strongly believes everyone has a story to tell. To learn more about her and the books she writes, visit her website at www.carissaandrews.com

Cowboy Bebop is More Than a ‘Gateway Series’

by Ashley Capes

Obviously, I won’t be able to add much in the way of new ideas to discussion of a series that folks have been talking and writing about for twenty years but I still wanted to mark Cowboy Bebop’s anniversary in some way. [Editor’s Note: This was written in 2018.]

To dip but swiftly into the category of ‘things already said about the show’ I’m sure words and phrases like bounty hunters in space, gateway series and trailblazing or greatest anime of all time and genre defying would be on that list and for me, most of those things feel true but one of them is also reductive.

It probably is a pretty good introduction for Western (sceptical) audiences looking to trial the genre of anime; a genre which is just as varied, in terms of content and quality, as any other. The show largely works as that introduction because both the cultural references and aesthetic tend to be very recognisable to western audiences – creator Shinichirō Watanabe mentions Dirty Harry, Bruce Lee and John Woo among his influences, and of course the OST is a veritable library of US and UK-influences.

But I still fear the words ‘gateway series’ are too often used to suggest that Cowboy Bebop is a creation of a certain depth and value only, a stepping stone toward works that are either better or more ‘difficult’. It can feel as though the series is ‘merely’ an entry point into an unfamiliar art form, the way that maybe you start with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue before trying Bitches Brew or Agharta. Yet that accessibility common to both Kind of Blue and Cowboy Bebop belies a depth and complexity that – like all great art – is better revealed during subsequent encounters.

I believe part of what makes the show so rewarding is how heavily intertextual Cowboy Bebop remains but also the episodic structure, which invites repeated viewings. Obviously, I won’t present any sort of exhaustive list here but I still want to mention a few things at least. Sometimes that intertextuality is quite overt – like the similarities between Spike’s costume (and his frame for that matter) and Lupin the III or our hero’s Jeet Kune Do fighting style and the famous ‘water’ speech he gives in episode eight (Waltz for Venus) which Bruce Lee fans will certainly recognise. Another episode that many viewers often single out to demonstrate the intertextuality is the Star Trek/Alien tribute, Toys in the Attic – but which I won’t spoil here 😀

Sometimes the references, depending on any given viewer’s cultural literacy, become subtler like the Spike/Vicious weapon swaps a la John Woo, or the setting recreated from Desperado in episode one, Asteroid Blues, (which I didn’t pick up on during my first viewing but felt like I should have when I did finally put it together second time around). Later in the series, as the oppressiveness of the odds stacked against the Bebop crew really starts to build we’re given session twenty: Pierrot Le Fou. In this episode the colour palette becomes far more muted as greys and shadows really start to dominate in a way that evokes both film noir (without Jet this time however) and Gotham City. The Batman references won’t be surprising to folks who are aware that members from CB’s production team Sunrise also worked on Batman the Animated Series prior to Cowboy Bebop. In the episode, antagonist Tongpu himself clearly evokes (at least) both the Penguin and the Joker and much of the imagery throughout brings Batman to mind. (It’s also one of the more harrowing episodes in the series, one that refuses to paint heroes and villains as wholly good or evil).

There’s a lot more to love about Cowboy Bebop (it’s fun, it’s fast-paced and it’s not clumsily front-loaded with character back-story and there’s not too much fan-service either) but in closing, I want to quickly mention another aspect that I’ve always enjoyed about the series.

Blessedly, CB isn’t one of those shows that drags on until the character and story arcs are rehashed in an endlessly sad cycle of diminishing returns and contradictions. No, it actually presents a complete story – it has an ending! In part because of this, viewers are treated to some great character development, none perhaps more striking than that of Faye Valentine. Now, my personal favourite character remains Jet but Faye has the better character arc, I feel. Considering where she begins the series emotionally and where she ends up, it’s pretty grand. Again, I don’t want to offer spoilers in this post but Faye’s fear and her quest for belonging really plays out in a touching way – though there’s a certain montage involving other characters that’s probably just as moving, damn thing nearly gets me every time!

Now, I’m aware that I’ve only really offered three points to support my assertion that Cowboy Bebop is far more than a gateway series but I could far too easily get carried away so I won’t go on. However, if you’d like to see other folks exploring the depth of the show, there’s a series of posts available at Overthinking It which are pretty ace or if you wanted to offer any thoughts of your own below, I’d love to hear what you think!

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Can Dystopian Stories Ever Have a Happy Ending?

by Alison Ingleby

Endings are important. They can make or break a book. However good the rest of the story is, if the final scene leaves you feeling dissatisfied, then chances are you won’t be picking that book up again. Or recommending it to a friend.

Of course, a good ending doesn’t have to be a happy one, but it does need to be satisfying. And as readers, we have different views on what makes for an acceptable finish. Some people enjoy the uncertainty of an open-ended novel, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, which leaves the reader to mull over how the story finishes. Others feel bitterly disappointed that the story hasn’t been neatly wrapped up and throw the book across the room.

The same can be said for depressing endings. They can shock us, yes, but is it really what we want from a novel? I ran a quick poll in The Last Book Café on Earth (a Facebook group for lovers of dystopian fiction) and was surprised that views were fairly evenly split on what endings people preferred between an open ending, a happily ever after, or a bittersweet ending. No votes yet for the unhappy ending…

Many dystopian literary classics are pretty bleak, particularly those in which there is no change in the society depicted. The final scenes of 1984 might wrap up the story and make you think, but they hardly leave you feeling good about the world. Still, that’s kind of the point. It’s a chilling reminder of how bad things could be, and we happily put our book back on the shelf, feeling that our world isn’t quite that bad after all.

But can dystopian stories really have a happy ending? Well yes… and no.

One thing dystopian literature doesn’t typically include is a ‘happily ever after’. This is almost compulsory in the romance genre where readers want a nice happy ending in which the couple finally gets together. But the dystopian genre is different. The reality is that the transformation from a dark, unjust society to a perfect utopia doesn’t happen overnight. Arguably, it never happens at all.

No, with dystopian stories, the best you can hope for is a bittersweet ending. Things turn out alright for your hero or heroine in the end, but they have suffered and lost along the way. They have been irrevocably changed. This is a hallmark of many of the young adult dystopian novels that have been so popular over the past decade, and fans of this wave of dystopian literature have come to expect this style of ending. Which can make authors unpopular when they don’t oblige (*cough* Veronica Roth *cough*).

Some readers say The Hunger Games has a happy ending. I would disagree. (Spoiler alert!) Sure, Katniss and Peeta survive and the world eventually becomes a better place, but at what price? The loss or estrangement of everyone they love, and, to some extent, their own sanity. Even in the epilogue, the sweetness of children running through the meadow is tempered by the bitterness of the trauma that Katniss still experiences.

You may disagree with me. And that’s fine. There is no ‘right’ way to enjoy a book, just as there is no ‘right’ way to write one.

In my humble opinion, a bittersweet ending is the best way to end a dystopian novel. Why? Because it brings together that all-important thread of hope and the realism that a perfect world doesn’t exist and ties them together in one great big knot that tugs at your heartstrings. It is both sad and uplifting. It leaves you with the hope that the world can be a better place.

I don’t need a happy ending. I just want a sparkle of hope.


Alison Ingleby writes fast-paced dystopian fiction for young adults and adults who are young at heart. She spends her days wondering what the future will be like and hoping it’s not as bad as the worlds in her head. Find out more about her books and get a free story by visiting her website: alisoningleby.com

What is Point of View and Why is it Important?

by Ann Gimpel

In fictional writing, point of view refers to which character is observing/driving the action in a particular part of a story. The reader can’t know anything the POV character doesn’t know which makes writing an entire novel from a single POV somewhat daunting, but far from impossible. I’ve done it a few times, but I prefer alternating POVs. In urban fantasy, I’ll often have as many as five or six POVs in a long series.

I’ve picked up a lot of novels where the writer switches POV many times in the course of a single page. It gives the story a jerky aspect that feels rather like a tennis match. I don’t think readers need to know what each character’s internal process is at all times. The writer can use dialogue and observation of body language to good effect. This avoids “head hopping.” For example:

Amanda glanced across the room through eyes glistening with tears. Ty’s jaw was set in a hard line she recognized all too well. The muscle under his eye twitched, too, always a dead giveaway he was furious.

Even though it’s Amanda’s POV, we get a bird’s eye view of Ty’s mental state from her observation of his body language. Dialogue can serve the same purpose.

From a writer’s perspective, I see the story through my characters’ eyes. It makes my life easier if I’m telling the story from, for example, the heroine’s POV until either a section or chapter break when I may switch to the hero or an important subsidiary character. Each character has their own personality and way of viewing the world. While two or three POV characters can enrich a hundred thousand word novel, introducing half a dozen can be confusing.

George RR Martin simply labels his chapters with whomever the POV character is. That works great because I could click to the table of contents in my Kindle and skip over the chapters about the characters I hadn’t warmed to. For a multi-book series of hundreds of thousands of words, it’s actually a solid approach.

Most writers do a decent job maintaining the POV rules. Others thumb their noses at them. I’m currently reading an old Nora Roberts romance, Courting Catherine, which would have been ever so much better if it didn’t head hop every paragraph or two. Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying it. Ms. Roberts is a wonderful writer, but I’d like it better if we could stick with CC or Trent and skip CC’s three sisters and aunt.

While we’re at it, how about some of the other writing conventions like third person past tense? I’ve written my share of first person past, but I have to admit I prefer third because it gives me much more latitude. First person present drives me nuts. I find it hard to read, although I admit to slogging through all three Hunger Games books because the story was intriguing. I’d love to know what you think. What person/tense do you prefer to write in and what do you like to read?


Ann Gimpel is a USA Today bestselling author. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in several webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Once upon a time, she nurtured clients. Now she nurtures dark, gritty fantasy stories that push hard against reality. When she’s not writing, she’s in the backcountry getting down and dirty with her camera. She’s published more than 50 books to date, with several more planned for 2018 and beyond. A husband, grown children, grandchildren, and wolf hybrids round out her family.

Keep up with her at www.anngimpel.com or http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

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Suspended Disbelief

A 1965 press photo of actors portraying the Robinson Family being placed in suspended animation for their space voyage, in Lost in Space.

by Joshua James

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A space traveler awakens from cryosleep and …

OK, I’ll stop right there. Every sci-fi fan who knows their way around the Kessel Run should be raising a hand.

The idea of going into long-term hibernation during space travel is one of the bedrock concepts of modern sci-fi, one of those take-it-for-granted-of-course-it-will-be-invented concepts that sits alongside FTL travel and instantaneous communication.

I’ve certainly succumbed to the siren song of cryonics to move my characters around in time-defying ways, glossing over the details with a deft (or not-so-deft) display of technobabble.

I’m not alone. You’d be hard-pressed to find a list of well-regarded modern science fiction works, from novels to films, that doesn’t include storylines that depend on this popular trope.

There is, of course, no crime in using a popular shorthand to move a story along. But it’s worth taking a closer look at this narrative device, if for no other reason than to understand just what it is that we all accept with a nod and a curt “Get on with it already.”

In fiction

Like so many modern science fiction concepts, this one isn’t new. Before it was scientific, it was magical.

Think of the magic at the heart of “Sleeping Beauty and “Snow White.” Or the mysterious potions behind the indistinguishable-from-death suspended animation at the heart of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

But for science fiction, magic won’t do. I often consider how Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-quoted third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” is applied in reverse with science fiction.

Any technology that we assume will one day come to pass is simply allowed to magically exist in our stories, with the unspoken assumption that it will pass from magical into practical with time and the application of science. (I am not, of course, referring to you hard science fiction writers and readers. As we will see, though, the hard science behind this concept isn’t terribly hard.)

In modern science fiction, it has been cryonics to the rescue. Instead of a magic potion, a deep freeze is used to cool the core of the body to the point where bodily activities slow to an imperceptible crawl. The big freeze is easy and often instantaneous, of course, as is the big thaw that comes after. Almost like magic, you might say.

The reality

The concept of suspended animation has fascinated man for as long as he could look to the animal kingdom around him and see bears, squirrels, and groundhogs checking out for months at a time.

Hibernation remains one of the great mysteries of the animal kingdom. For all our efforts to use medically-induced hypothermia to replicate short-term hibernation, the simple act that your average squirrel undertakes is beyond the understanding of science.

That’s right. Squirrels have us beat.

Consider the typical hibernation scenario. An animal finds a safe spot away from predators and slows its metabolism to less than a quarter of its natural state. This cools the animal’s body down and slows the heart rate to only a few beats per minute. It can keep this up for months at a time.

But how? The short answer: We don’t know.

No deep freeze is required. No magic, for that matter (other than the indistinguishable kind). Yet scientists haven’t found any unique genes in hibernating animals. There is no clue as to why some animals hibernate while others do not. Nor is there a clear understanding of what triggers the act or what allows for the regulation of bodily processes in such a state.

The sci-fi

None of this should put a damper on our enjoyment of the trope in modern science fiction, of course. There is no reason to believe that this is a nut that humanity can’t crack. Betting against human ingenuity and the march of scientific progress have proven to be a bad bet indeed.

But the next time you catch an author casually awakening his characters from a deep freeze somewhere in deep space, ready to tackle the adventure before them, stop and consider that the most fantastical part of this story might have already taken place.


Joshua James writes military sci-fi thrillers. They definitely feature cryosleep. Grab a free story at LuckyShotBook.com.

An Author’s influence

by Aiki Flinthart

I doubt anyone would argue that the pen is mighty, indeed. Ok, it has to be pretty pointy to actually, physically draw blood, but even the bluntest nib, if wielded well, can pierce a metaphorical heart. So how much responsibility can – or should – authors take for the direction of society and the thoughts of the people who read our books?

It’s true that authors spend a vast amount of time and emotional energy worrying about whether readers will like the book. But, instead of manically treasuring reviews that bolster our own self-belief, we should be worrying about how our words affect what readers think about THEMSELVES.

As a child, books opened worlds of possibility to me. They banished naivete, revealed people’s motivations, explored the evils of power and the joys of love. I grew up in a small, regional area of North Queensland, Australia. My brother and I didn’t have a lot of companions nearby, so books were vital windows to a larger world; several worlds.

They broadened our understanding of what we could do, where we could go. One of my teenage dreams was to be the first geologist on Mars. (Then I discovered how horribly motion sick I get and the loss of that dream was a bitter disappointment. I had seen myself in space through Heinlen, Asimove and countless other author’s eyes.)

It didn’t even matter that most of the protagonists I read were male and I was a girl. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be an astronaut, or a extra-terrestrial geologist, or the pilot of a fighter space-ship. Magic was a little harder to envisage myself doing, but it didn’t stop me hoping that, one day, I’d suddenly develop telepathic abilities. I still hope that, if I’m honest.

Science Fiction & Fantasy tends towards the Hero’s Quest style of story – with epic battles between Good and Evil. Star Wars the original movie was a classic example. A child growing up on a diet of SFF is being exposed to awareness of how to be a Good Person, over and over. Every time the flawed hero makes the right choice at the end and defeats Evil, the neural pathways around those ideas is strengthened. The reader feels satisfied that Good has triumphed.

They take that satisfaction and that awareness into their own lives and apply it – sometimes only in small ways – to their own goals and obstacles. Maybe they just query the overcharge on a bill instead of avoiding conflict. Or maybe they rally friends to stand up to a despotic government.

The point is, the idea to stand up for what’s right; the idea of what’s right in the first place…that comes not only from parents and society, but from what we read and watch.

None of this is new information, I realise. But as this world rushes on its headlong pace towards apparent self-destruction, it occurs to me that authors have an obligation to influence peoples’ thoughts.

Deliberately.

We need more hopeful, solution-focussed SFF stories. We’ve been subsisting on dystopian and broken-world fiction for a long time and we’re starting to live it: environmental destruction; rampant consumerism; emotional isolation. While there is some resistance to stupidity-in-power, the vast majority of people are still mired in apathy. Still thinking that ‘they’ will fix things.

“They” won’t. The millions of readers have to.

The world runs on ideas. Ideas come from brains exposed to thought-provoking moral quandaries. Science Fiction and Fantasy is utterly brilliant at exploring those fictional dilemmas and coming up with fictional solutions.

The kids now need solutions. They need authors who can open minds and hearts to possibilities. They need hope. They need ideas.

It’s our job to use our crazy imaginations to show them worlds that are better than this one, so they can become the engineers and scientists who make those ideas real.

Then it’s the readers’ jobs to get off their asses and live the heroic fantasies they’ve been reading all their lives.


Aiki Flinthart writes YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her latest book is Shadows Wake – YA urban fantasy.

She has been shortlisted in the Writers of the Future competition and the Australian Aurealis Speculative Fiction awards.

She can be found here: www.aikiflinthart.com

Follow her on twitter: @aikiflinthart

Instagram: AikiFlinthart

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aiki.flinthart

Flash Fiction: The Beginning: A Vampire Origins Folktale

by Betsy Flak

Centuries and centuries ago—back when magic ruled the planet—a girl and a boy fell in love. On the eve of their wedding, the girl walked along moss-covered cliffs like she did most every night.

But this night was different. Normally sure-footed, she slipped. Her feet slid over the cliff’s edge, her legs and torso following close behind. The earth tugged at her hanging body. She scrambled to find a handhold, but her fingers skipped over the slick rocks.

Down the girl tumbled. She smashed into black sand closer to a field of pebbles than powder. Beneath a night sky speckled with happy twinkling stars, the girl lay broken. Waves tickled her toes, but she felt nothing. Beneath her, the volcano smoldered. The wind whipped her hair off her bloody face.

The girl’s heart faltered. Her breaths became labored. In one step, she’d ruined their future.

Somehow, the girl’s love found her moments before she died. He cradled her in his arms. Tears rolled down his cheeks. There was no way to save her.

And maybe if she’d been anywhere else with anyone else, that would have been true. Maybe she would have found her peace.

In a desperate plea, the boy begged the earth around him to save his one true love. He begged the animals and the flora of the sea, the sand and the rocks below them. He begged the rushing wind, the raging waters. He begged the fire burning below. He begged anyone and anything out there to save her, to keep her from dying.

He thought no one and nothing listened.

He thought she would die.

He was wrong.

When the ground trembled beneath them, he shifted her body onto his lap, protecting her. When the wind ripped at his bare skin, he curled around her, shielding her. When the sea rose to claim them both, he gripped her harder and squeezed his eyes shut. If she couldn’t live, neither of them would. The waves collected the couple into its watery embrace.

A rumble—great and terrible—roared over the island. Lava spewed into the starry sky. It rushed into the waiting ocean.

It met the drowning boy and dying girl.

It swirled around them.

It caressed the girl’s face, her arms, her legs.

She breathed it in.

It scorched her throat.

It saved her.

With more strength than she’d ever known, the girl dragged herself and her unconscious love out of that angry ocean. Where once she delighted in the black sand scraping against her toes and heels, there was nothing. Where once she gazed at the millions of shining stars in wonder, there was nothing. Where once she longed for her next adventure, there was nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Except the blood humming in her lover’s veins, the sweetest of serenades. He was still alive!

The girl crouched over him, her hands resting on his bare chest. It hitched during each inhale and exhale, like every breath pained him. The scent of her love’s blood wafted up her nostrils.

The girl’s incisors lengthened. Her throat burned. A thirst unlike any she’d ever known overtook her every sense, her every thought. Mesmerized, she dipped her face to his neck. Her cold cheek tingled where it brushed against his warm skin. Her fangs throbbed with need.

The girl kissed her love on the lips.

On the cheek.

In the hollow behind his earlobe.

On the neck.

Again, she kissed him on the neck. Her teeth scraped against skin as fragile as cracked parchment.

He shuddered beneath her.

Her canines dug deeper. A drop of blood hit her tongue.

Both sweet and tart, it tasted like a cherry on the verge of being ripe. A breath later, it morphed to buttery with a hint of caramel.

The girl’s body shivered. She needed this. Her fangs cut deeper.

Her love’s blood filled her mouth. It was thick like molasses, yet smooth.

The girl’s every nerve sparked. A gleeful excitement raced through her veins. Her entire life she’d waited for this.

Her hands tightened around his shoulders. Talons sprang from her nails. They bored into his flesh.

As did her teeth.

Blood poured into the girl’s mouth faster than she could swallow. It spilled over her lips, her throat, her chest. With every gulp, she grew stronger and faster. With every gulp, she lost her humanity.

The first vampire was born.


Betsy Flak is the author of The Clan-Vampire Clash book series, a series of YA paranormal fantasy books. If you like sinister villains, complicated heroes, and supernatural suspense mixed with high school drama, you’ll love The Clan-Vampire Clash book series. Find out more at https://www.betsyflak.com/.