• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



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Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Part II Tips for Writing Non-human Sentience

Sentient non-humans are like people dressed up in fur or circuitry, right? Not quite. They are in non-human bodies for a reason and the non-humanness will have its impact. JARROD in The Spell of Rosette is a quantum computer that attracts consciousness. He has human traits—programmed as an Aries, he’s fiery, assertive, inventive and brave. He’s also virtually enlightened, considering the speed at which his cognition is running, so there are some differences between him and the boy next door. For one, it’s hard to surprise him. He doesn’t get lonely and his perspective is vast – think galaxies and millenniums. Still, he has the human touch.

Rakka, Kim's Torresian Crow, a sentient being

Rakka, Kim's Torresian Crow, as a bird, he has a unique view and angle on life

Writing a sentient being that can relate to people means giving it one or more of the five senses—sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Remember C-3PO and his relationship to oil? If the character is a dog, think about where dogs have the edge on humans—like their acute sense of smell. Birds have uncanny navigational and migratory skills and there is also that ‘bird’s eye view.’ Taking these attributes into consideration when writing non-human intelligence means building authentic characters.

Kim's granddaughter Kayla communing with the plants

Kim's granddaughter Kayla communing with the plants

The same goes for sentient plants. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy gets a slap when she tries to pick fruit from a talking tree. In Tolkien’s LOTR we encounter Old Man Willow, who uses what he has (roots, soil, crevasses) to ensnare the Hobbits. The trick in writing non-human sentience is observation. Think about what is important to their survival. What motivates them? What frightens them? What makes them unique? A computer may be less aware of the environment than a horse but it probably talks faster than a carrot. A snake would make reference to surface textures and vibrations in the ground; a crow might talk about the prevailing wind or the nearest eatable carrion.

Using a technique borrowed from Psych-K, 4 questions 3 answers, can help writers get into the non-human mind. If writing a sentient horse I might ask:

1. What would I see?

a. Auras
b. Body language
c. Far into the distance

2. What would I hear?

a. Meaning in birdcalls
b. Other horses’ thoughts
c. Beyond human frequencies

3. What would I say?

a. Ideas my human companion hasn’t thought of
b. Premonitions, prophecy
c. The scent of water

4. What would I feel?

a. The earth as I roll in the sand
b. Whole apples crushed to juice in my jaws
c. Endurance, power, speed

Each sentient being has a unique perspective that can move the story forward, add insights and also connect the readers to life in a new way. What are some of your favorite SF/F non-humans? What makes them appealing? How do they think in ways that are different to people? Comments welcome.

Read Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Part I

Read more posts by Kim Falconer

Kim Falconer is the author of The Spell of Rosette (Quantum Enchantment Book 1), which was published in January by HarperVoyager. Kim lives in Byron Bay and runs the website Falcon’s Astrology as well as a website dedicated to the Quantum Enchantment series.

Read the Australian Bookseller & Publisher review of The Spell of Rosette.


4 Responses

  1. One of my favourite non-humans is the Terminator in Terminator 2. The relationship he builds with the young John Connor is very moving, especially at the end when he melts away – and although I *know* he is a machine, what matters is what has happened between him and John – the shared experiences.
    The tree spirits in the Narnia books might be another good example of personifying a non-human entity, albeit very obviously as the naiads and dryads take on human form as spirits – but I remember in The Last Battle when her tree is being cut down, the dryad acts as thought she too is being chopped in half (which effectively she is).

  2. I also appreciated the Terminator in #2. The thing that really grabs me is when characters grow and change through relationship to another–human or otherwise. That draws me in, hook, line and sinker.

    The Matrix takes the notion of sentience through wide horizons. Here we have interactions with AI ‘programs’–the Oracle, Mr. Smith, the Merovingian. We also have humans interacting through simulations–humans only experiencing ‘reality’ through a computer program. It’s quit a mix. The scene in #3 where Neo is trapped in the train station has revealing dialog with the programs waiting there–waiting to smuggle their creation to safety before they are deleted. Just like in Terminator, we know they are ‘machines’ but how different are they to any refugee hoping their child will survive?

    I like the mention of Narnia’s tree spirits. It reminded me also of David Eddings’ dryads–spirits who mingle with humans creating halflings like Ce’Nedra.

    This is what I love about the SF/F genre–the freedom to treat these possibilities as if the were ever day. We can get that close to them!


  3. Love the 4 questions, 3 answers! Thank you for sharing that one.

    I realise now that while I love reading non-human sentient characters, I’ve never tried writing one. And yet I spent 20 years playing them. As a puppeteer I’ve played spiders, platypus, reeds, dinosaurs, aliens, sheep, dogs, wallabies AND kangaroos, odd socks, you name it. They all had human emotional landscapes and I LOVED nailing the emotion sufficiently to make the audience cry (yes, I’m a harsh mistress…)

    This inspires me to include a non-human sentient in the novel I’m currently planning. Wa-hay! I wonder who s/he will be?

    I thought of another collection of sentient beings I adore – the Stonor Eagles (William Harwood). Wonderful examination of loss of habitat and its slow recovery, seen through the eyes of these wonderful birds and their mystical belief systems. Also an excellent exploration of the artistic process.

    Makes me want to reread it 🙂

  4. Janette,

    What a wonderful perspective for this topic–20 years of playing non-human beings! How do you prepare for that kind of acting? Do you have a method to get into alignment? How does a spider think? A pair of socks?

    Thanks for the reminder of the Stonor Eagles. Your voice is appreciated here. 🙂

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