Category Archives: Science fiction

Cathedra

“‘Cathedra’ is a wonderful–and memorable–story.”
Susan Shell Winston, author of Singer of Norgondy

Metaphorosis April 2018

My story “Cathedra” is featured in the latest issue of Metaphorosis. It’s free online all week.

Ben Kaplan is a loner who considers himself the best astrogeologist in the Asteroid Belt. But when he’s blamed for the deaths of two miners on Enceladus, Saturn’s most mysterious moon, he confronts more than a threat to his reputation. When a previously unknown species that rules the moon’s sub-surface ocean captures Kaplan, the only way to save himself is to stop the creatures from destroying the entire colony.

Cathedra

In a wondrous yet deadly setting of underground oceans, organic atomic reactors, and sunlit geysers shooting into space, “Cathedra” is a tale about the individual’s quest for identity and purpose within society, as well as one’s connection to the universe. The title and theme came from this beautiful anecdote:

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”

This is my first appearance in Metaphorosis, which bills itself as “a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults.” “Cathedra” is hard sci-fi inspired by an article in Astronomy magazine about Enceladus, one of the most promising sites for life in our solar system. (That’s a NASA photo of Enceladus on the cover.)

I want to express thanks to my wife Julie and to my comrades-in-critique at the Charlotte Writer’s Club for their invaluable suggestions and insights. I hope you enjoy “Cathedra.”

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Science Fiction as Improvised Religion

Science Fiction

Our need for a new mythos, that is, a narrative that helps us understand our role in society and the universe, has never been more urgent. Declining church membership, the rise of alternate religions, and the increase in visibility and number of those who consider themselves non-deist clearly indicate that the old narratives simply don’t work for us any more.

And the daily news forces us to realize that our institutions no longer inspire confidence, or instill social order. The division and alienation driving people to acts of madness are red flags telling us we’ve lost our way.

Many commentators claim we need a new mythos to unite and inspire — others say we need to stop speeding down the dead-end road we’re on and get back to the basics. How do we reclaim our humanity and sense of purpose? This short essay from Dispatches from the Cusp looks to science fiction as a signpost leading toward that new mythos:

Within the last couple of centuries, science fiction has served humanity as part searchlight, part sentinel, part prophetic voice.

Originally known as “fantastic fiction” and “speculative fiction,” this artistic genre – genre almost seems an understatement in this context – has not simply entertained us for generations or, for that matter, divined our future. In many instances, science fiction has supplied a kind of evolutionary tug. It not only has also pointed the way toward scientific and technological innovation and our role within this expanded conceptual landscape but has also inspired us to reach for this future – not only to reach toward it but also to conceive and to refine the nature and terms of this quest. To put it another way, science fiction now seems to be integrally bound up in scientific and technological progress, an essential facet of the equation. Much of the scientific and technological progress we have achieved arguably would not have been possible without the clarifying effects of science fiction.

I have also been intrigued for a long time with how science fiction has taken on many of properties of religion, not only in terms of helping us divine the future – no pun intended – but also enabling us to identify, improvise and refine the moral and ethical scaffolding to cope within this emerging future.

I think this writer is on to something. We know that fantastic stories engage deeper responses from readers than mundane exposition. And in a world that’s been flattened by globalism and stripped of its mystery by behavioral psychologists, a renewed sense of wonder is a good place to start if we’re to define a mythos that helps us find our way.

Let’s get started …

Why we need fantasy

Explore!

The great struggle of our age is to re-assert our humanity against those institutions that define and treat us as simple automatons. Freudian “Drive-Reduction Theory” attempted to minimize all life into simplistic, mechanical terms. B. F. Skinner went so far as to claim that ALL behavior results from external reinforcement: Reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior, and humans can be conditioned for the better. Utopia, therefore, is just a few conditioning sessions away …

Problem is, living things are inherently complex. Life refuses to be contained within formulas. So when behavioral scientists observed subjects ignoring rewards and spontaneously exploring and experimenting, they had to admit this impulse was internal, rather than external, as Skinner had assumed. A new term arose to describe this activity, as this refreshing article from Medium reports:

Intrinsic motivation refers to the spontaneous tendency “to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, p.70).

Exercise, games, travel, reading, and even watching TV all satisfy the seeking system to varying levels of effortful operation. On one side of the spectrum someone could climb Mount Everest, and on the other they could browse Netflix. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp defines this exploratory behaviour as being driven by the organisms innate seeking system. To reiterate, the anomaly behind seeking is that it provides seemingly very little utilitarian value — it does not fulfil some physiological needs deficit, but we do it anyway. We create our own value from within. Also fascinating, we now know that organisms behave in intrinsically motivated ways even when they are lacking ‘basic’ needs such as food, water, or shelter. How many times have you seen a homeless person reading a book? Do you think they’re practising for a job interview? No, they’re seeking.

The drive to seek, to explore, and experience new things is what attracts us to fantasy. We revolt against the dreary uniformity of globalism by seeking out realms of imagination. That’s why science fiction and fantasy fuel so much popular culture these days. The fantastic is that place where we can once again experience wonder.

Manly Wade Wellman: The Voice of the Mountains

Manly Wade Wellman

My article on Manly Wade Wellman, once known as “the dean of fantasy writers,” is featured on the Abbeville Institute’s blog:

Manly Wade Wellman never penned an autobiography, despite the fact he published 500 stories and articles, won the World Fantasy Award and Edgar Allan Poe Award, and even edged out William Faulkner to win the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award in 1946.

Yet, in one of his most famous short stories, Wellman did reveal how he must have seen himself throughout his career, from a crime reporter for The Wichita Eagle, to Assistant Director of the WPA’s Folklore Project in New York City, and finally as “the dean of fantasy writers.” In “The Desrick on Yandro,” the protagonist, John the Balladeer, has to sing for his supper to a group of “ladies and men in costly clothes.” Confident and entertaining despite his modest attire and outsider ways, John charms the crowd with forgotten classics, including “Rebel Soldier.” Like John the Balladeer, Manly Wade Wellman was a rustic but worldly singer of old ballads, as well as a walking, talking ambassador and promoter of traditional Southern culture wherever he went.

Read the rest at the Abbeville Institute, and Like here.

Unbound II: Changed Worlds now in paperback!

Unbound II

This anthology is a mind-blowing collection of science fiction and fantasy tales. Here’s what Ben A. Sharpton, author of 2nd Sight, had to say about this unique anthology: “I enjoyed M.C. Tuggle’s “Hunting Ground” for its unusual antagonist… CHANGED WORLDS (Unbound Book 2) is a great read for those wanting to spice up their lives with something new.”

Unbound II: Changed Worlds is now available in paperback from Amazon and from the publisher, Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications.

Kindle version also available at Amazon.

Unbound II: Changed Worlds

Hunting Ground

Award-winning DAOwen Publications has just released its latest anthology, Unbound II: Changed Worlds.

Unbound II Changed Worlds

It features my story “Hunting Ground,” which is set in a brooding wetland in rural North Carolina. I grew up in the country, and the farm next to ours had a two-acre marsh where I stomped and rambled and dreamed away many an afternoon. It teemed with exotic plants, frogs, copperheads, and dark, mysterious pools. Now those were the days …

In my story, police discover the body of a fracking engineer buried near the marsh where he’d been working, and they arrest an anti-fracking activist who’d threatened him. Buddy Vuncannon, the defendant’s attorney, discovers the marsh hides a bizarre secret that could clear his client — if there were a way he could prove it in court.

My fascination with all things swampy and a Science Alert article about a mysterious stretch of land near Lake Michigan inspired the story. “Hunting Ground” is lively and entertaining, but its topic is serious. Fracking involves pumping a cocktail of chemicals and water deep underground where it cracks open layers of shale to unleash natural gas. The threat to the local water supply is profound.

Exposing the truth about fracking is all well and good, but the real goal is to renew respect and appreciation for nature. No one understands this better than poet/novelist/activist Wendell Berry. In his fiction and essays, Berry argues that the excesses of industrialism, from environmental piracy to the over-concentration of wealth, can be countered only by a rebirth of affection for the local, by which he means love and loyalty for the land we live on and for the people we live with.

Here’s how the National Endowment for the Humanities describes Berry’s literary/political mission:

In the debate that set Thomas Jefferson against Alexander Hamilton—and rural farms against cities, and agriculture against banking interests—Berry stands with Jefferson. He stands for local culture and the small family farmer, for yeoman virtues and an economic and political order that is modest enough for its actions and rationales to be discernible. Government, he believes, should take its sense of reality from the ground beneath our feet and from our connections with our fellow human beings.

And it is my passionate belief that one way we can strengthen or even restore those connections is through a good story. I hope you enjoy “Unbound II: Changed Worlds.”