Posts Categorized: Feature Article

Happiness for a Fish

Zhuangzi and Huizi cross a bridge over the Hao river. Minnows dart below, silvery and swift. Zhuangzi leans so far over the railing he almost falls. “They swim about so freely—they go wherever they like. That’s happiness, for a fish.”

Huizi crosses his arms; he realizes he’s wrinkling his silk gown, and crosses his arms differently so the gown’s sleeves hang smooth. “You’re not a fish,” he says. “On what basis do you claim to know what fish like?”

Zhuangzi turns back and raises one eyebrow in that way he knows pisses Huizi off. “You’re not me. On what basis do you claim to know what I know?”

We’ve all been there.

We sit across from a friend or an enemy at dinner, standing beside an acquaintance in a bar, we lean against a con party wall, we walk side by side along the river with a lover or a friend. Maybe the conversation skidded out when one of us mentioned unions or the inheritance tax, expecting reflexive “oh sure” agreement and finding a defensive, pointed entrenchment; maybe we’re talking about our feelings and they’re not listening; maybe they said something we find unconscionable, or the other way round. And we feel that hot pressure behind our forehead, because they are just… not… getting it.

We’re homo sapiens on paper, but sapientia’s worth squat without communication. When the first proto-human had her first thought, she looked around for someone to share it with. How many times do you think we, as a species, got that far without reaching the next step—without managing to say “Hey, check this out?”

Cognition research suggests that animals do a lot more of it, cogitating I mean, than we used to think, which won’t surprise anyone who’s tried to keep a poodle in their back yard, so it’s hard to say when that leap happened. We made it back when we were habilis, if not earlier. (And we’re not the only ones who did—whales have languages and dialects.) But still, every once in a while I think about those occasional isolated nodes, the stars that burned before there were other stars to shine against. Think about the loneliness of having a thought and not being able to pass it along.

And we go back there again and again—at the table, at the bar, near the wall, by the riverside, and for all our hundreds of thousands of years of practice, the gap from mind to mind seems uncrossable.

How do we talk to one another? Read More »


I get to put the monsters centre stage once in a while, give them a good run, even make the heroes.

The characters I liked most in The Empire Strikes Back were the bounty hunters – not Boba Fett, that grandly over-rated amateur jetpack enthusiast, but the other guys: the lizard guy, the insect guy with his insect-headed droid, because if you were an insect guy, you’d do that, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t want that disconcerting standard model human mask staring at you while you travelled from bounty to bounty.

And there was a lizard guy in Battle Beyond The Stars, too, that bizarre Corman space opera that I still have all the feels for, no matter what. It’s full of weird and memorable characters, but for me it was always Cayman of the Lambda Zone, last of his species, and yet with a good fistful of decent lines and some self-deprecating humour thrown in. And he dies heroically which, along with looking like a bug or a lizard, has always done it for me.

So, “From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were”. Thank you Mr Poe. It’s true though: there never was someone to root for the monsters quicker than me. Now, as a writer, I get to put the monsters centre stage once in a while, give them a good run, even make the heroes. Read More »

(or, This is What I Meant)

What if I wrote an epic fantasy series that grounded readers first in the familiar, then took them to the stuff I’m doing that I feel is unique and new?

The journey to Trial of Intentions began in the year 2000. It started with a simple notion: What if I wrote an epic fantasy series that grounded readers first in the familiar, then took them to the stuff I’m doing that I feel is unique and new? That journey takes its next step on May 26th, when Trial of Intentions is released. But like any good story, there’s much more to it than that. And some of it is painful.

About the time I wrote the first book of the series, The Unremembered, I landed a literary agent. I won’t share his name. Suffice it to say he’s a noted agent in the field of science fiction and fantasy. He decided to represent me on the strength of a short story collection I’d had published by a small press. So, cool, right?

As we got to know one another, I shared with him my desire to write and publish books in horror, science fiction, thriller, and even (gasp) mainstream, in addition to fantasy. He nodded sagely to all this.

When I turned in the manuscript to book one of my epic fantasy series, he proceeded to tell me we should shelve it, and that I should focus on my thriller ideas, which he said he liked very much. I think my brow pinched in confusion. I’d just finished a book. He could go market it. Sell it. Make a commission. But I saluted and went off to write the thriller books that I was also eager to write. Read More »


Have you ever seen an entertainment franchise, and thought to yourself, “I’d love to write a story in that world”?

Have you ever seen an entertainment franchise—be it Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones—and thought to yourself, “I’d love to write a story in that world”?

Well, some people do, post it online, and it’s called fan fiction (and there’s some awesome fanfic out there, don’t you doubt). At the same time, other people do, get paid for it, and it’s called tie-in writing. I fell into the latter category when I was contracted to write stories for Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales, a tie-in fiction line to the Pathfinder roleplaying game. So far, my work has included short stories such as “The Weeping Blade”, “Hunter’s Folly”, “The Price Paid”, and my novel, Forge of Ashes. Read More »

Rayguns, spaceships,
and selfie-sticks

Ever noticed how the computers in Star Wars are so unbelievably dumb? C3PO, a being of pure logic and electrons, needs therapy more than anyone else in the galaxy. R2-D2 doesn’t have a method of communication that is, you know, intelligible to its owners without a peripheral. The Millennium Falcon doesn’t even have autopilot. It’s no mystery why, of course. Star Wars is a product of its time: a time when a computer behaving like a human being was as far advanced as we could imagine.

We loves our technology in science fiction. Time machines, cloning machines, robots. Space elevators and spaceships, ansibles and universal translators. A lot of the science in science fiction is machinery, and a lot of the fiction is tracing through the implications of those technologies.

You know what you don’t see a whole lot of, though? Text messages. Video games. Selfies. Dating sites. You know, the everyday stuff we have right now. Read More »