Dansplaining the Churachian Classics
The first novel I ever wrote was titled “Journey to Mars”, and I wrote that in 1987-1988. It was good science fiction, if I say so myself, but regrettably, no publisher was interested in it. My second novel, PROOF!, was completed in the late 1980s and accepted for publication by a small publisher in Huntington, West Virginia - University Editions. The ‘Second Edition’ of PROOF! now available at Amazon is the same manuscript as the original.
I completed “Back to Paradise 2000” in the mid-1990s, and Commonwealth Publications in Edmonton, Canada, accepted it for publication. The process got as far as galley proofs of the paperback, but sadly, Commonwealth went bankrupt before the book was actually in print. A decade-and-a-half later, I updated the storey that is now available at both amazon.com.au and amazon.com under the title “Back to Paradise.”
Interestingly enough, I finished Back to Paradise right in the throws of finishing up my doctoral dissertation, accepting a job offer in Western Australia and moving our lives from the Hawaiian Islands to the Kimberley. Well, surprise, surprise… that put a bit of a dent in my fiction writing schedule. I also had an academic career interfere with writing novels since I spent more than a decade researching science education and managing education programs for two Australia-wide Cooperative Research Centres. By 2016 I finally found time to turn my creative interests back towards book-length stories and have been writing technothrillers ever since.
FEVER began to take shape in 2017 and 2018, with DREAMS close behind. I’ll give you more insight into all these “Churachian Classics” below, but I believe it’s important to include real science in writing good science fiction. For that matter, I think it’s critical to incorporate current events to as great an extent as possible to make the story seem more relevant, more believable to the reader. I say this to emphasise that I spend a great deal of time researching a topic and the surrounding setting and environment before beginning to write. I have written most of my novels in six to nine months, but the time required before I actually set pen to paper requires that much time or more beforehand.
So now you know…
Dansplaining FEVER (published June 2019)
For starters, I relish in telling you that my novel FEVER plays out on a truly global scale, though the bulk of the novel is set in 2024 Australia. The tale investigates a series of microorganism mutations that seem to be happening at an accelerated pace. Could Mother Nature be acting up in ways that could cause us problems?
The novel is set in Australia locations from Townsville in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria to Fremantle in Western Australia. The theme running through FEVER has been chasing around in my brain for years and incorporates the Gaia Hypothesis into a creative story that might make it more understandable. This all comes from work done by an Englishman, chemist James Lovelock and his American colleague, microbiologist Lynn Margulis, back in the 1970s.
I first learned of James Lovelock while teaching high school chemistry and physics back in the late 80s when he published his book, Ages of Gaia. Though their notion of Gaia was around for a decade or more at the time, it was misunderstood by many science and non-science people. The trouble with the Gaia Hypothesis (Gaia was Mother Earth in ancient Greek) was that many people erroneously concluded that the theory somehow argued that the Earth to be a living organism. That was never Lovelock and Margulis’s point. Rather, they believed that Mother Earth was a system of physical laws that maintained a planet that was singularly hospitable to life.
Lynn Margulis is gone now, but James Lovelock is still with us at the ripe old age of 99! They were the amongst the first to warn of a heating Earth and considered just how our homo sapien species interacts with the planet and the impact that has on the observed changes. So, consider when microbes infect a human, one of the first natural defences that your body throws up is a fever. Could the Gaia theory also portend that when a planet has an ‘infection’ with one species threatening the existence of all others that Earth, too, might get a fever? I trust you like the cover, both because we see Australia from space for a change and that the Earth is on fire! Enter FEVER.
The story starts with a terrorist event over the Great Barrier Reef off Townsville and leapfrogs to a team of journalists chasing deadly zombie microbes crawling out of melting permafrost in Alaska and Siberia. Global News Network journo Asha Sharma, a Fremantle native, returns to Australia chasing the ‘biggest news story ever’. She quickly discovers the explosion of the research vessel over the Great Barrier Reef was not an accident and inadvertently stumbles across the first “murder-by-Ebola” case in Melbourne, the first active Ebola infection to ever impact Australia.
The pursuit of the bad guys follows local police, federal police and a keen ASIO agent. One of the elements that make FEVER different from other crime thrillers is that in addition to the police tracking the perpetrators, they are joined by a team of scientists and several journalists in the search for the facts.
I’ve always enjoyed reading a thriller, but I guess that coming from a scientific background, I like a tale that has some meat to it. For that matter, I enjoy a good, old murder mystery, but that same technical background makes me want more than just another ‘cops-and-robbers’ mystery. I reckon there are basically three professions that are based on the common premise of finding facts that are open to corroboration amongst peers. The three career paths I speak of here are in law enforcement, scientific research and journalism.
We certainly hope that our law enforcement officers all commit to getting to the bottom of a crime no matter how far they need dig and the check and balance over their work is the court system, at least in most of the western world that is the case.
The same is true for scientists. I realise there has been a concerted effort to point to researchers as somehow ‘bought off’ by grant money, but anyone who has spent weeks or months of work to win a few thousand dollars in funding knows that claim is laughable. Scientist work long hours chasing answers that may never be found, but they are held to the most rigorous accountability of all – peer review through the process of the replication of findings. Scientists thrive on pulling apart colleagues’ findings, and that is precisely what allows the scientific method to produce evidence-based facts.
I can argue that the final career path that seeks to dig out the ‘facts’ is legitimate, top-line journalism. I reckon if I hadn’t chosen the path of science in my career, I’d have been a journalist. I think that journos are the unsung heroes of the 21st century, what with cries of “fake news” and “enemy of the people”… I always appreciate the words on the masthead of
THE WASHINGTON POST that read, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. Oh, how true. As a science nerd, I often think many people miss the point that a true journo is every bit as exposed to peer review as a scientist. Consider for a moment that when one media outlet gets a story wrong, just how quickly the rest of the pack are eager to correct them!
I hope you enjoy FEVER and if you do, give it a good review.
Researchers at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) image of the structure of a central component of the Ebola virus at near-atomic resolution.
Dansplaining DREAMS (Published September 2019)
Hey, it’s probably not fair for me to say this, but I think DREAMS might be my favourite novel so far. It results from my frustration with how to communicate the urgency of a scientific reality that may not be obvious for decades into the future. Frankly, it bothers me that though I will be dead and gone, our children and grandchildren will all face the consequences of my generation’s excesses. How can I possibly communicate that in a novel? Dreams?
It’s funny how I got the idea for this, but like all ideas, the best inspirations seem quite unexplainable. It started out with me sitting in my dentist’s waiting room reading David Wallace-Wells book The Uninhabitable Earth. [I highly recommend it as an excellent read.] In short order, I went into Sash’s office, and we had a bit of a pre-treatment chat, which for some reason turned into a conversation about dreams. Well, we all know what it’s like in a dentist’s chair... You lie back and open wide, Dr Sash on one side and dental assistant Taylor on the other, both determinedly moving equipment in and out of your mouth with great gusto. It tends to keep even me about as quiet as anyone ever can keep me! Somewhere in the middle of the anaesthetics, the rubber dam, a high-speed drill or two and some composite resin, it dawned on me that just maybe the best way to span a century-plus within one novel and within one character would be to use dreams as a literary device. Well, I won’t go farther than that here, since I do want you to read the story, but that is the source of the inspiration – Wallace-Wells, my dentist, Shashika, and her trusty assistant, Taylor.
That said, my best mate and wife, Karn, spent her entire working life as a registered nurse and the last portion of her career was in the aged care sector. I learned from her that aged care can offer some of the best of memories and yet some of the saddest memories all at the same time. We are all heading in the same direction as long as we maintain our health long enough to wind up in aged care. Regrettably, we all expect old people to die, so when they do, we mostly don’t give it a second thought unless it’s one of our own rellies and those closest to us. But what happens if a series of deaths in aged care facilities become “in-your-face” blatant murders? How do you get to the bottom of that?
Again, I tried to span the globe in DREAMS, starting with a bombing of an aged care facility in Washington, DC, that kills over 20 seniors. Metro Police Detective-Sergeant Nick Corcoran and Investigator Jo Satterfield head a team looking into who set the explosion. Close on the same trail is journalist Samantha Holloway who quickly learns that similar suspected murders of older people were popping up in England, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Australia…
As has been the case in all my novels to date, I have great fun painting differing settings from around the globe as a background to the search for answers. Several behavioural researchers in America and Australia play a big role in trying to decipher the common threat in all of these suspicious deaths. They eventually realise that every oldie involved in foul play reported a series of episodic or serial dreams before their untimely deaths.
Sam’s hunt for answers leads her to Western Australia where she meets Leah Ferguson, a young emergency department doctor who’s 78-year-old grandpa, Laurie, is experiencing a similar series of dreams. There is particular local interest here since both Leah and her best mate Akiko Nakamura both work at Fiona Stanley Hospital, not far from where Karn and I live. As is always the case with Dansplaining, I’m not going to spoil the story here, but it all does come together in the end.
I guess I had so much fun writing this novel because I could relate to it. No, no… I don’t remember having many dreams, so that isn’t that aspect with which I identify. To me, the interpersonal relationships I’ve had with so many young folks over the years is what pushed me into writing DREAMS. I just can’t tell you how strongly I feel about somehow trying to leave them with opportunities open to them that were open to my generation. There are days I don’t feel as optimistic about that as I would like. When I look at the website World Population History and put in my birthday, I’m amazed to see that there were less than 2.5 billion people on the planet the day I was born. Next I go to the World Population Meter and find that there are well over 7.7 billion folks around today. Damn… that works out to close to a 310% increase in global population in my lifetime... in ONE lifetime! Then I read that the most wealthy 8… eight… EIGHT… people have more wealth than the bottom 50% or humanity (that’s more than 3.8 billion humans!). I don’t know about you, but that startles me. Do you think there’s a refugee problem today? Just imagine what it’ll be like tomorrow, next year, next decade.
These are some of the things that were rattling around in my head when I wrote DREAMS. I am anxious for you to read it and have high hopes in with be published before the end of this year. As usual, let me know how you liked it.
Pueo (not really, but a clipart version of a Hawaiian owl)
Dansplaining Back to Paradise (Published 2017, Second Edition 2019)
Karn and I lived in the Hawaiian Islands for 18 fantastic years and absolutely loved the place, the culture and the people. We lived in Kaneohe on the windward side of Oahu for a couple of years and then in Honokaʻa and Hilo on the Big Island for 16 years. The Islands truly are a very special place and rightfully gets that tag of “paradise”.
It’s difficult to believe that I’m too young nowadays, but I can unequivocally say that I am too young to have known the Territorial Hawaii that is the setting for the first half of Back to Paradise. No matter what your age is, you might just find the whole idea of the 1950s as though it were another world, and to twenty-first-century folks, it really was another world.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Visualise climbing onboard a modern-day aircraft in Chicago, flying through a bit of turbulence and then landing in Territorial Hawaii with absolutely no clue as to how it all happened. And since we are in a creative frame of mind here, suppose you not only left behind the present-day world and all the luxuries you are used to, but you also left behind your family, friends and all that you know. We’ll include one more feature in our thought experiment here and add one more ‘imagine’ to our little exercise by saying supposed you met a beautiful young Hawaii woman and quickly fell head-over-heels in love. Of course, it is perfectly logical to turn the table and approach the entire scenario from Leilani’s perspective and to meet and fall in love with a “man of the future”, an equally life-changing event from her side, too.
From whoever’s point-of-view, that is the scenario that lead character Ben Decker finds himself in when he meets Leilani Kealoha. The trouble is, Ben’s family, his failed marriage and his potential booming ‘tech company’ are decades in the future with no obvious way for him to ever return there. The two of them spend a romantic week together and form a bond that transcended time and space. Ah, but it seems that every paradise has the nasty snake rearing its ugly head, and in Ben’s case, a couple of FBI agents think he is tied up with some Cold War Russian spies. Before he knows it, he is high on the FBI’s wanted list.
Just as unexpectedly as he stumbled into Paradise of long ago, Decker stumbles back out again and finds himself on the present-day East Coast, realising at once that he much more wanted to be in Territorial Hawaii with Leilani than anywhere else. He now focuses his entire life on somehow getting ‘back to paradise’ and reuniting with Leilani. Ben flies back to modern-day Honolulu and tries everything imaginable to track down Leilani across Oahu and over to Hilo on the Big Island where he knew she had come from originally.
And then there's the owl! There is an endemic species of short-eared owls in Hawaii, the pueo, and for whatever reason, I always think of that bird quite fondly. In Hawaiian mythology, an aumakua is a family god that looks over you and can appear in everyday life as a shark, a sea turtle, a hawk and whatnot. I use the pueo in Back to Paradise as an Uncle Kapena's aumakua when he 'talks story' to his niece, Wailani. Somewhere in the background, the pueo watches over their family from start to finish.
At the end of the day, Back to Paradise is, above all else a love story. Yes, of course, that there have been many others who have played with this ‘back-in-time’ romance theme before I did. But Back to Paradise is different because of its Hawaiian setting allowing me to show off one of the most beautiful spots filled with the most beautiful people on Earth.
Dansplaning PROOF! (Second Edition published July 2019)
True confession… I have always been interested in the idea of alien life and the possibilities of UFOs being something other than the product wild imaginations. Of course, having academic credentials in the physical sciences and pursuing a career as a teacher and university lecturer, I know full well how unlikely it is that homo sapiens will even come face-to-face with intelligent alien life. Why?
Frankly, there are two ways of looking at this. First of all, what are the chances of life having evolved elsewhere in the universe? Let’s dissect that notion. Our solar system is 4.6 billion years old, and life has been on Earth for something like 3.5 billion of those years. That is the only sample of life we have, though. Considering there are billions and billions of other possibilities that life has evolved over the 13.7 billion years the universe has been around it is almost unimaginable to think there isn’t other life… other intelligent life, for that matter.
But that brings us to the second point, namely, the laws of physics. We are hemmed in between the speed limit of the universe, namely the speed of light, and the incredible distances between stars and galaxies. Considering we can observe galaxies from light that has travelled for 13.7 billion years to get here, those galaxies must have travelled even farther away during the time that it took for that light to reach us. The point – the distances are so great, and the speed of light limit is so absolute that it is difficult to think we have a great chance of simply bumping into other intelligent life anywhere soon.
All of that said, there are US Government reports in the news lately and it still causes quite a stir. Concerning PROOF!, I've had many conversations with mates and colleagues over the years as to just what one would do if you did see a UFO. Even more, what would you do if you had a close encounter… if you interacted with aliens? I always had a pretty quick answer to that by simply saying that I sure wouldn’t tell anyone since they would think I was crazy. But still, consider that it somehow did happen. I guess the only way I would feel able to share it with anyone would be if I had some proof, a physical object or some artifact that would make me seem less crazy.
All these thoughts were part of my rationale for writing PROOF!, my first published novel. That was thirty years ago. I recently have gone through and spruced up PROOF! and now publish it as a Second Edition, but I didn’t change the contents any. The story plays out in the northeastern part of the USA in 1990, and the setting certainly dates itself. But I thought it worth reprinting in a Second Edition simply because the ideas behind the story haven’t dated at all. Is there a God? What would any god have to do with aliens? Is doubt a part of being truly human? Can physical proof of anything ever alleviate doubt?
PROOF! is worth a read. Please feel free to drop a note and let me know what you would do if you came face-to-face with an alien. Would YOU tell anyone? Would you want PROOF!