How much did you draw on your background as an ecologist to write “Fingal’s Cave”?
I did draw from my limnological and ecological knowledge. But, in truth, I also did a fair bit of research, from the significance of Fingal’s Cave in Ireland to the symbolism and science of the hexagonal shape. I discovered and learned about some very cool things—electro-magnetic energy, vortexes, exobiology, and infrasound, to name a few—which helped shift the story in various directions. At one point I didn’t really know where the story or the main character would end up because of these awesome discoveries.
Was it difficult writing a story set in a world similar, but yet so different, from Earth?
It was a little challenging but also very intense and relevant for me. This is truly the power of our genre: to reflect our current world through another using metaphor and other storytelling devices.
Your main character is an apparent outsider, seemingly because of her knowledge and commitment to her work. Is this something you experienced while working as an ecologist?
My scientific community, particularly at Concordia University and the University of Victoria, was a great group of scientists, teachers and students who were very inclusive and supportive. As a practicing ecologist with several consulting firms in industry, I worked with clients, regulatory governments, and other stakeholders to come to terms with environmental issues. While tensions and conflicts occurred frequently, they were usually resolved through respectful communication.
I purposefully made Izumi an outsider and poor communicator, so she could be a kind of wild card maverick, disobey orders (for the right and the wrong reasons) and experience what she does in the story … a way back to her own humanity—even if that is right at the end.
What do you believe the connection is between ecology and science fiction, optimistic or otherwise?
I think they are inexorably linked. World building in science fiction involves elements of ecology, whether overt or subtle, with powerful allegorical and metaphoric applications. Think of Frank Herbert’s Dune without the ecological elements. There would be absolutely no story without them.
The science of ecology studies relationships. It looks at how things relate to one another. Ecology is the study of communities and ecosystems and how these interact—often in a global setting. Science fiction writing explores the interaction of humanity with some larger phenomenon involving science. Robert J. Sawyer calls it the fiction of the large. Large ideas, large circumstance, large impact. Both ecology and science fiction explore consequence in a big way. Ecology—like “setting” and “world”—manifests and integrates in story theme more than some of the hard sciences, which may contribute more to a story’s premise or plot. This is because, while most sciences study the nature and behaviour of “phenomena”, ecology examines the consequences of the relationship of these phenomena and the impact of their behaviours on each other and the rest of the world. It is in this arena that science fiction becomes great: when it explores relationship and consequence.
Aside from your ecology background, what motivated or influenced this story?
I wanted to write something about water (water has been my major pursuit for a few years now, both in fiction and non-fiction: our use and abuse of it; and its very strange properties). I wanted to incorporate elements of water’s anomalous properties into an allegorical story of human flow and connection.
Your story is intriguing in that in the beginning your character states she hates the colonists, and by the end she is willing to risk personal harm to save them. Was it difficult to illustrate such a drastic character change in only 5,000 words?
I saw her as always caring about her fellow colonists, but not able to relate to them. She was a driven scientist and just didn’t know how to show her compassion because of the distancing mechanisms she’d put into place to protect herself. And some of those walls she’d erected were high indeed. Izumi’s way of showing she cares is in her tireless and obsessive quest to find fresh water and energy for the colony. Something, she does in the end, despite going against all the rules etc…In some deep way, she blames herself—her dedication to her work to ironically save lives—for her family’s demise. So, in the end, when she saves the colony, she can forgive herself and reconnect with her humanity.
Reality Skimming Press brands itself as optimistic sci-fi. What does that phrase mean to you?
Optimistic SF is the antithesis of pointless SF. The reason I define it that way is because I believe many would box the term too tightly, equating it to “happy ending” or the equivalent of “and they all lived happily ever after.” Others may even include a certain requisite language and tone, and subject matter that must be excluded to make it optimistic.
For me, it is enough that the story resolves and has a point to it; that the reader is able—even if the hero isn’t—to see a way out into the light. The story itself need not be “optimistic”; but the reader is fulfilled somehow. I suppose one could elucidate Optimistic SF through the “Hero’s Journey Myth”, a plot approach that describes the metaphoric journey of a character or set of characters toward some destiny that involves change and learning. Ultimately, for a story to be worthwhile, it must have a point to it. Otherwise, it’s just “reality TV”.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on two large projects: the first one is a non-fiction book on how to incorporate ecology as science and metaphor in world building for science fiction. It is something I’ve wanted to put together for some time. I am currently giving a series of workshops and lectures on this topic with much interest from all kinds of writers. I will be including case examples of SF novels and short stories in the book.
The second project is a novel about our water crisis in near future Canada. I just released a non-fiction book on water (Water Is… by Pixl Press) and it seems the right time to complete this work of fiction. It must be the right timing because it’s writing itself and I’m a willing witness.