• 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!



Kim Falconer: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Part I The Science of Sentience

What is sentience? Is it sapience, intelligence, consciousness? The definition can blur between self-awareness, compassion, identity, ability to suffer and also to adapt, judge and change. Sentient entities are generally considered deserving of moral rights, respect, and freedom. Do these qualities belong to humans only? If not, where do we create distinctions?

It’s interesting to watch the answer shift over time. Not long ago the question was do these qualities belong to all humans? The line then was drawn between skin colour and gender. Once those issues are resolved we ask can sentience belong to animals? Plants? Machines?

The answer is a problem of both science and philosophy, at least in the Western world. In Eastern Philosophies, it’s simpler because there we find sentience a quality of all living things. It’s a given. That’s why there are no Buddhist chicken farms. But in the West, we call such concerns for animal rights anthropomorphism—attributing human emotions to non-human beings.

Kim with new foal Storm

Kim with new foal Storm, photo by Candida Baker

When a mare is separated from her foal, she runs up and down the fence line, whinnying for days, sweating, pawing the ground, going without food or water. If we say she is anxious, tormented, desperate to find her baby, we are anthropomorphizing. I think it’s more the other way around. When a human mother is anxious for her child she is exhibiting emotions like the horse, passed to her through the process of evolution. Mothers have been worried about their children long before the first human stood up and said, ‘I am.’

I am. Self awareness. Consciousness. Sentience. These are all ideas explored in speculative fiction where machines can think for themselves, animals can become spirit guides and trees are warrior allies. Like other Voyager authors I have looked at sentience in The Spell of Rosette through JARROD, the temple cat familiars and other animals. Tolkien’s subtle uses of non-human beings, especially eagles and trees, paved the way for us. These alternate forms of sentience not only move the story forward, they add spirituality, a connection to nature, to the divine.

Hence there is perhaps less Speciesism—the assignment of worth and rights based on species alone—in SF/F than other genres. At least we are free to investigate human verses non-human thought. Asimov’s I, Robot, and many Star Trek episodes, challenged sentience through holographic and android circuitry. Data’s autonomy comes under question as he stands trial for his rights in The Measure of a Man and Voyager’s EMH struggles with copyright issues when he attempts to publish his first novel. Initially his book was released without accreditation. The legal issue questioned whether The Doctor was an “artist” within the meaning of the laws that granted rights to control the dissemination of intellectual property. – Author Author. I’m guessing the HC Rights Department would not want to unravel that case!

Do you have a favorite novel or film that grapples with these notions? What makes sentient plants, animals or machines ring true? Tips on writing non-human sentience in Part II (to be posted on Monday 16 February).

Kim lives in Byron Bay and runs the website Falcon’s Astrology as well as a website dedicated to the Quantum Enchantment series. She is the author of The Spell of Rosette and the forthcoming Arrows of Time.