Interview With Citizen Orlov Author, Jonathan Payne 

In an unnamed central European country after the Great War, a humble fishmonger gets caught up in a world of espionage and intrigue when he answers the wrong phone call.

This thriller meets absurd comedy of errors is currently on Apple Book’s Best Books of May list. They call it “the most fun spy thriller we’ve read in ages.” And Publishers Weekly calls it “a stellar debut.”

I had the pleasure of discussing this novel with the author himself and have included our chat below. Not only did we talk about the book, but we also discussed the process of writing and publishing with an independent publisher.

Jessica: What inspired you to write Citizen Orlov?

Jonathan: I caught COVID-19 and had some weird fever dreams. In one dream, I was back in my government days and they sent me on an assignment to a strange, foreign country. Somehow I managed to get there without knowing where I was. Anything is possible in dreams, of course. As soon as I arrived, someone started shooting at me. I remember a sense of indignation about this. I was only following orders. Who was trying to kill me and why? In the morning, I wrote down the dream and it became the kernel of CITIZEN ORLOV.

Jessica: What is your process as a writer? When do you find time to write? How long did it take you to write the novel? What was your editing process like?

Jonathan: I’m not an x-words-every-single-day sort of writer. I do a lot of pondering and planning before I get into drafting. On my masters course they called this pre-writing. I like that concept. Once I get into the first draft, then I write every day, but I need to know where I’m going first. CITIZEN ORLOV began life as a novella, but my writing group encouraged me to expand it into a novel. So, the writing process was a little on and off, over about a year.

I was nervous about the editing process because I thought: what if my editor doesn’t ‘get it’? What if they don’t understand what I’m trying to do? Luckily, my editor, Elana Gibson, absolutely got it. It was clear to me in our first meeting that she understood what I was going for and could help me get there. On that first call we spent ages talking about Wes Anderson and Coen Brothers movies and I immediately relaxed. After that, the process was a pleasure. Elana had some great ideas for drawing out and clarifying the themes and tone of the story.

Jessica: Describe the experience of publishing a book through an independent publisher. What made you decide to go indie? How do you think the process might have been different than publishing with one of the big 5 publishers?

Jonathan: I started out pitching agents for a few months but I was getting no feedback aside from some rote rejections. I still don’t know if any of those agents read a single word of my work versus my query letter. So, I switched to pitching small presses and got an offer almost immediately from CamCat Books, an independent publisher based in Nashville, TN.

I was drawn to CamCat because their submission process was way more onerous than most; it was like an exam. I really liked that because I thought: at last, there’s a chance someone is actually going to read my stuff. They loved it and made me an offer. It was an easy decision, because they were so enthusiastic about the novel.

This is my debut novel, so I don’t really know how to compare my experience with the Big 5 process. Of course if you go via an agent there’s an extra step where the book is out on submission. I imagine the editing process is similar, but the marketing process is probably different, given that the Big 5 have bigger budgets.

Jessica: What were some of your favorite moments?

Jonathan: Honestly, the process has mostly been a pleasure. I’m learning new things about publishing every day. Although CamCat is a small team, they have a ton of experience in publishing and so it’s been like a crash course for me in how the industry works.

Jessica: What have been some of your challenges in this process?

Jonathan: One of the most nerve-wracking moments was when they sent me five cover concepts and asked me to make detailed comments about them. I’m not really a visual person, but luckily I’m married to a professional artist and former graphic designer, so I asked my wife to take a look and that was a big help. The concepts were all so different and it felt like a big decision.

Jessica: What was the marketing process like for your book?

Jonathan: Well, the marketing process is still ongoing. I’ve been working with CamCat’s marketing team and also an external publicist. I think the most important part of that process has been the team sending the book out for reviews, which mostly hasn’t involved me as the author. My inputs have been doing interviews with magazines and in some cases writing articles about the books that have influenced my work, and so on.

My publicist is going to continue working with me for about a month after publication, and we’re expecting reviews to keep coming in over that period.

I’m also looking forward to attending ThrillerFest in NYC for the first time. I’m in the International Thriller Writers debut authors program, which means I’ll get the chance to pitch my book to the whole conference, just a week after it’s published.

Jessica: What did you learn in this process of publishing your first book?

Jonathan: The biggest single lesson I’ve learned so far is that publishing a book is a team sport. Writing often feels solitary, but publishing is definitely not. I can’t count the number of people who’ve had a hand in bringing CITIZEN ORLOV to the market, but the process has involved lawyers, finance folks, editors, designers, marketeers, a production coordinator, a publicist, a printing company and a distribution company, as well as reviewers, and the bookstore that’s agreed to host the launch event.

Jessica: What advice would you give other people looking to publish a book?

Jonathan: For those looking to get traditionally published, my advice is: make your work stand out. Find ways to make your work different. And, of course, make sure the quality is good enough to publish. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems that everyone in the publishing industry is awash with manuscripts. No surprise there. So, there’s not much point in pitching work that’s not ready for prime time or—dare I say it—work that’s boring. Publishing folks are run off their feet. Send them something that will stop them in their tracks and make them take notice.

Jessica: Thanks for your time, Jonathan Payne! I highly appreciate your deep dive into the process of publishing with an independent publisher.

For the rest of you, be sure to check out CITIZEN ORLOV. It’s a fun novel and a page turner to be sure.

It is available for pre-order on Amazon right now, and will be published May 23rd.

Citizen Orlov Links:

Order Citizen Orlov on Amazon

Order Citizen Orlov on Barnes and Noble

Citizen Orlov on Good Reads

Citizen Orlov on Book Bub

Absurdist Spy Thriller Giveaway

Camcat Books

Related Content:

Mango Publishing Interview – Starting an Independent Book Publisher

Interview with Tannhauser Press – How to Start an Independent Book Publisher?

Interview with Space Squid – How to Start a Fiction Magazine

Avatar The Way of Fire (Fan Art)

Above is a fan art concept I generated for Varang, the female leader of the Volcanic Na’vi clan of ash people.

After seeing Avatar The Way of Water in 2022, I wondered what other kind of Na’vi lived on the moon Pandora. And my next thought was Fire Na’vi, Desert Na’vi and a Subterranean Na’vi who live in a fungal biome. Above you can see a gallery of fan art based on the fire concept.

I produced the art with Lexica, an AI art generator. See more fan art for Volcanic Na’vi here.

Apparently two of my three Na’vi predictions were correct. According to the Avatar Wiki, there are plans in the works for the third movie to focus on the element of fire. The Na’vi in this movie are supposed to be “ash people,” or an aggressive volcanic clan led by a female Na’vi known as Varang. And unlike the first two movies where the Na’vi are portrayed in a positive light, Avatar 3 will show the opposite.

There are also plans for an additional culture known as the Windtraders who come from the desert and trade items.

See Avatar 3 Wiki for more information.

ChatGPT Writes About Entropy as if It Is Stephen King

Me: Can you write about entropy as if you are Stephen King?

ChatGPT: Sure, here’s my attempt:

The concept of entropy has always fascinated me. It’s like this inexorable force that drives everything in the universe towards chaos and disorder, like a demonic puppet master pulling all the strings.

You see it in everything. In the way ice melts and water evaporates, in the way buildings crumble and cities decay, in the way people age and memories fade. It’s like death itself, this slow, steady decay that eventually engulfs everything in its path.

And yet, there’s something beautiful about it too, in a twisted sort of way. The way that entropy can take something that was once ordered and turn it into something new and unpredictable, something that no one could have foreseen. It’s like watching a monster being born, this writhing mass of chaos and confusion.

In my stories, I’ve always tried to capture this sense of entropy, this creeping horror that slowly, inevitably, overtakes everything. Whether it’s a haunted hotel slowly driving a man insane, or a shape-shifting monster that feeds on fear and uncertainty, or a town slowly being consumed by a supernatural mist, I’ve always been drawn to this idea of entropy as a primal, unstoppable force.

And perhaps, in some strange way, that’s what makes horror stories so compelling. They’re a reminder that no matter how ordered and rational our lives may seem, there’s always this lurking darkness, this inexorable force that we can never fully understand or control. A force that, in the end, may consume us all.

Image Source

Reclaiming My Body as a Hijabi – Happy Hijab Day

Here is my 2 minute explanation of my choice to wear hijab on video.

Happy Hijab Day, everyone!

World Hijab Day is an annual event founded by Nazma Khan in 2013, taking place on 1 February each year in 140 countries worldwide. Its stated purpose is to encourage women of all religions and backgrounds to wear the hijab (Islamic head covering) for a day and to educate and spread awareness on why hijab is worn.

Why do I wear the hijab (the Islamic head covering)?

As I wrote all this out, the content matter actually got a lot darker than I originally intended. This brought up themes about how women are objectified sexually in society, and how this objectification leads to mental and psychological distress. It’s a dark conversation, but I think it’s one that is more relevant today than ever. So if you are willing to read something with a bit of a heavier theme, please continue.

Part of my answer as to why I wear the hijab is an explanation of what I am attempting to leave behind. Of course if any kind of sexual harassment happens, it’s the sexual harasser’s fault. But there are a set of extremely toxic social standards that I no longer wish to associate with or even pretend to accommodate.

If there is one thing that men need to understand about being a woman, it is that we grow up being bombarded constantly with the message that our worth as a human being is directly connected to how sexually attractive we are. This sexual objectification happens everywhere in every culture. Of course attractive men are treated better than unattractive men as well. But I feel that the amount of pressure and attention given to a woman’s appearance is far greater.

A particular enlightening conversation on this issue was one that Dustin Hoffman had about his role in the movie Tootsie. In this movie, they do as much makeup as they can to make him look like a real woman. And yet when he saw his female self on screen, he felt disappointed that he wasn’t more beautiful. He started crying because he realized that he wouldn’t even talk to his female doppelgänger at a party because she didn’t fulfill his own standards of female beauty. And in that moment, he realized how much female attractiveness was tied in with concepts of self worth as a human being.

If I say the name, “Hedy Lamarr,” you may know her for being a beautiful actress. Fewer people know that she was also a brilliant inventor who invented the frequency hopping technology that would lay the foundation for wi-fi. If I mention Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, you may think of their sex tapes. You might not think of the fact that Kim Kardashian has done political work to help prisoners, or that Paris Hilton has lobbied for youth home reform. If I mention Dolly Parton, there are two big things about her that may come to mind. Those two things are probably not included in the millions she has donated to charity.

Millions of Americans feel uncomfortable about their bodies. Seven million women and one million men in America have an eating disorder. Women represent 90% of all people with Anorexia.

Women will spend a quarter million dollars on their appearance in a lifetime. And women today are spending thousands on new silicone breasts and new silicone bottoms. They are vacuuming out fat from parts of their bodies to put in other parts of their bodies. They are injecting fillers into their faces that have potential to cause their facial muscles to droop so they have to constantly get more fillers. They get burning hot wax ripped off their skin and private parts. And if a woman simply allows the hair to grow on her body that is natural, complete strangers will loudly and rudely comment that she looks unnatural.

People may think things are getting better today for women with the body positivity movement and new and inclusive beauty standards. But I am not sure if this is the case. Ever since kids have started using social media more in the 2010s, self harm behavior has been spiking severely for young women, while remaining steady for young men. Why is this the case? The theory is that boys are mainly looking at YouTube videos about video games, while the Instagram and Tiktok feeds for young women are overwhelmingly full of beautiful Influencers. The anonymity of the internet is also conducive to bullying. Teens can more easily bully a young woman for not fitting in or not looking “the right way.”

And today it’s no longer just that young women feel as if they must compete with the most beautiful women. Now they also have to compete with digitally enhanced women who look way better on screen than anyone could ever appear in real life. This is a cruel social battleground where a woman’s declining self worth not only leads her to develop health and psychological disorders, but also opens her up to other forms of exploitation and abuse. I’m astounded by how many beautiful women out there think they are ugly. I astounded by how many young men just can’t be attracted to a woman who is clearly attractive. And I am saddened by the women who tell me they feel pressured to dress in a certain way by society in order to be liked or accepted.

I remember one time as a teenager I saw something on television about how Saudi Arabia had a contest to see which woman was the best person. They evaluated a group of women all hidden under their black niqabs, and gave a prize to the woman who spent her time taking care of her elderly parents.

In the West we like to look down our noses at the Muslim countries. We’d like to think we’re so much more enlightened. I’m not saying there aren’t problems in Saudi Arabia. But how likely is it the U.S. would have a beauty pageant based solely on a woman’s personality, and not her appearance? That would happen on a cold day in Hell, right?

I remember the most socially comfortable I’ve ever felt anywhere was when I was dressed in my Mass Effect Quarian costume at AwesomeCon. I was wearing a helmet that hid my face. And the rest of my body was hidden as well. When people interacted with me, they were interacting purely with my personality and the cool costume I constructed. My body and sexuality were a private thing that was just for me.

After some twenty-five years of enduring weird, inappropriate and sometimes life threatening statements about my appearance (I am in my mid 30s), I feel like I’ve finally reclaimed my body for myself as a hijabi. I’m not saying that people are never rude to me. But what I am saying is that I am setting a clear visual boundary. Psychological boundaries are very important for social interaction. For me, physical boundaries are important as well.

Obviously sexual harassment can happen regardless of what a woman is wearing, but at least dressed like a hijabi I feel like I have some control over what I want to show and what I don’t want to show. I feel like my body is mine, and not some product that exists to be judged by today’s shallow, consumer obsessed, hyper capitalist society.

I feel empowered and free to be me.

How to Write a Character with Cancer – From a Cancer Patient

We’re all familiar with the depiction of cancer on TV. Someone goes to the doctor for a couple of tests. In the very next scene, they are in the doctor’s office. The grave faced doctor gives them the bad news. A minute later, they are in the hospital hooked up to an IV in their arm. Shortly after that, they lose all their hair and spend most of their time bed ridden.

Unfortunately, this isn’t everyone’s cancer experience. Some of this is also an oversimplification of the whole cancer experience. I will tell you about what I learned from my won experience. However, I encourage you to do your research, because everyone’s cancer experience is different.

Why should you listen to me? Because I had cancer myself and went through a very strong chemotherapy regimen.

Disclaimer: You might not want to read this if you are currently going through chemotherapy or about to start. This article has emotional triggers. It discusses much of the hardship that can happen during chemotherapy.

First, let me go through some of the things fiction often gets wrong.

Chemotherapy is not often delivered through a needle in a vein in the arm.

If someone is getting chemo on a regular basis, they would most likely be given a device called a port.

The port is a device used to draw blood. It is surgically placed under the skin, usually in the right side of the chest. It is attached to a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) that is guided (threaded) into a large vein above the right side of the heart. It is placed there because that is the biggest vein in the body. During chemo sessions, a needle is inserted through the skin into the port to draw blood or give fluids.

The port must be cleaned with a saline flush every few weeks. The port will stay in the patient for many weeks, months or even years. When I had a port, it looked like a bump beneath my skin. My doctors gave me a heart-shaped port–as if the heart shape was supposed to make the whole experience of cancer more cheerful. I was put to sleep when the port was surgically put in me. Yet when it was taken out, they actually did the surgery while I was awake. My doctor simply used a local anesthetic to numb the area.

Getting surgery while awake was a very bizarre experience. Even though it wasn’t painful, the pressure on my chest and the noise of the drill made it all very unsettling. I cracked a lot of jokes with my surgeon to put myself more at ease.

Giving your character a port can serve as a way to dramatize the experience of cancer while also showing the audience that you did your research.

Cancer patients don’t always get their diagnosis right away.

In the movies, a patient gets their diagnosis in like five minutes. In real life, it often takes a month of tests and waiting to hear one’s results. People in the cancer community call the anxiety induced by this waiting period, “scanxiety.” Even though I understand that things can’t happen in real time in fiction, overlooking this waiting period is a missed opportunity. This waiting period is an opportunity to build tension.

Many forms of cancer today are survivable.

Of course this all depends on the type of cancer and the stage. But often in fiction when someone gets cancer, the immediate assumption is that they are going to die. The reality is that for a well researched and well funded disease like Breast Cancer, about 85% of patients will survive. Especially if they are young and have no other pre-existing conditions.

Survival is less certain for people with a Stage IV cancer. So if you want to heighten the drama or the risk of death, give the character a rare form of cancer or a late stage where the cancer has metastasized throughout the body.

Chemotherapy patients can live healthy, normal lives

A common fictional depiction of a chemotherapy patient is that they have lost all their hair, or are stuck in bed for months. While this is the case for some cancer patients, this isn’t the case for all of them. There are many different types of chemotherapy treatment, and different people have different reactions. And not all patients need chemotherapy. For some, surgery or radiation is good enough.

Some chemotherapies don’t cause hair loss. Some chemotherapy only makes a patient sick for a few days, and then they go back to work afterward. Some chemotherapy doesn’t even make the patient nauseous. It really all depends on the person’s diagnosis, treatment plan, as well as their own health.

I did lose my hair and become nauseous. But I was actually able to work throughout the majority of the chemotherapy process. Usually I would be nauseous for a couple of days after treatment, but then feel normal for the next few weeks until I got another infusion. I got one infusion every three weeks.

Overlooked Realities of Cancer:

Below I will list the realities of cancer that are often not captured in fiction. And yet these realities can still make for good drama, characterization and story telling.

Even though there are many forms of cancer that can be survived, there is drama to be found in the struggle after survival.

Many people assume that once the patient is finished with chemotherapy, all the hardship is over and they go off to live happily ever after. Yet the reality is that there are struggles to be found in the aftermath of cancer. Some patients experience a decreased quality of life. Some patients had to make large sacrifices in order to survive their prognosis: giving up a job, leaving an unhealthy relationship, surgically removing a body part or even giving up their own fertility.

Medical Abuse:

While I am sure that most medical professionals have a genuine interest in “doing no harm,” there is the unfortunate reality that medical abuse does happen. Often it’s not out of malevolence. It’s from medical professionals being tired and overworked, or it’s from inept employees keeping their job because the practice is short-staffed.

Regardless of the reason, many people with chronic illness have had a case of their health providers making a mistake, not taking them seriously, not being professional, or causing a problem by trying to rush.

I myself had a chemotherapy nurse who made mistakes on me three times. After the third time, I reported her to the clinic’s supervisor. He said that they basically had an entire book of complaints about this woman, but that there was nothing they could do since they needed the staff. I then even wrote to my state medical board to complain about her, since other patients and nurses privately told me they were unhappy. And yet nothing happened.

Medical Racism:

In the U.S., black women have the highest rates of death from breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Studies have shown that the African American community faces discrimination and implicit bias in the medical setting.

Dayna Bowen Matthew’s book, Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Healthcare (2015), explores the idea that unconscious biases held by health care providers might explain racial disparities in health.

If there was an author who wanted to highlight this disparity, I think that would make for a compelling and powerful story that needs to be told.

Cancer patients can experience denial about their illness.

Facing the reality that one has a deadly illness is not easy. There are different reactions to threats. Fight, flight, or freeze. Some people choose to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Some people engage in magical thinking or buy into snake oil solutions. Even Steve Jobs (one of the wealthiest men on the planet) refused medical treatment for his cancer, because he thought he had other solutions. He ended up dead.

My doctors have told me sad stories about patients who had entirely treatable cancers, but ended up dead because they refused treatment.

There are people who try to control a cancer patient’s treatment.

When I was undergoing treatment, I had the experience of people pressuring me not to get chemotherapy or surgery. I had to tell these people in the most polite way to leave me alone.

Cancer patients often have to make a series of life altering decisions in a short amount of time.

This is another reality of cancer that could make for good drama in a book. People often have just a few weeks to make choices about their surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy regimen, and fertility preservation procedure. Surprisingly, there are many different options to choose from, and doctors often make their patients choose instead of telling them what to do outright. This can definitely lead to decision fatigue, as most people are not used to making a bunch of life altering decisions about their bodies in a matter of weeks.

Romantic partners can become MORE abusive after a diagnosis.

Most people would imagine after a cancer diagnosis that a person’s romantic partner would become more supportive. It’s hard to imagine a person being abusive to a cancer patient. It seems downright rotten in fact. And indeed, many people do have partners that step up and become extra supportive after a diagnosis.

However, this is not the case for everyone.

Unfortunately, what I have learned from being part of the online breast cancer community, is that partner abuse can actually escalate (rather than de-escalate) after a diagnosis. This was something I saw numerous women discuss. They often had stories about how once they started going through chemotherapy and surgery, their husbands would start becoming more distant or abusive.

What explains such horrible behavior? My own theory is that if a person is in a partnership where they are doing much of the housework, child care, or finances, and then they suddenly stop, the other person can become more stressed out as they take on a greater load. Not everyone is capable of taking on this extra load without becoming stressed out and toxic in the process.

There are also people who cheat on their partners or leave them after diagnosis.

Men more likely than women to leave partner with cancer (Reuters)

Divorce Risk Higher When Wife Gets Sick (The New York Times)

Cancer patients and domestic violence: More common than you might think (MD Anderson)

The Loneliness of Cancer

After I shared this article, many other people who experienced cancer also mentioned the loneliness of cancer.

On TV they often make it look like cancer patients are constantly surrounded by a large, supportive group of friends and family members. This certainly is the case with some people. But this isn’t always the case. There are often people who go through cancer alone. There are also people who had family members supporting them at first. But then when these family members realized that the ordeal was going to go on for months or even years, they backed off.

Cancer patients have to spend a ridiculous amount of time consoling OTHER people about their own illness.

Cancer is a scary thing. And when the loved ones of a cancer patient find out about their illness, they do a number of things. They freak out, cry, and go into panic mode. Indeed, most people aren’t taught how to deal with the reality of a loved one having a chronic or deadly illness. So unfortunately, many people can start unloading on the cancer patient themselves with the expectation that the cancer patient is supposed to do the emotional labor of dealing with all their fears and woes.

And yet the cancer patient does NOT want to hear someone tell them, “You’re gonna die! I’m so scared you’re gonna die!” People would say this stuff to me all the time. I had enough of my own worries to deal with, I didn’t need other people unloading on me at the same time. I had to tell people in the kindest way possible to STFU.

Some women lose their fertility after their battle with cancer.

The battle with cancer is already traumatic enough. But it’s an extra stab of the knife afterward when a woman may have to give up her dreams of being a mother. This isn’t always the case. If a woman is young, there is still a good chance she could give birth, but it becomes harder the older a woman gets.

There are medical treatments that can potentially preserve fertility, but they are not full proof.

Egg freezing, for example, is ridiculously expensive. It usually costs over $10,000, and most of the time, health insurance won’t cover it. Also, when I did my own research, I found that the results weren’t even that effective. The overall chance of a live birth from a frozen egg is 39%.

Many cancer patients become more spiritual as a result of their struggles.

So far, much of what I said was negative. But, there are some positives as well.

As the old expression goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. When someone has to face their own mortality in addition to going through scary and uncomfortable medical procedures, the belief in a higher power can go a long way.

Many cancer patients end up realizing what is truly important in life.

There’s nothing like confronting your own mortality to make you realize what’s truly important. Many cancer patients change their lives for the better after defeating their illness. This can involve making healthier choices, getting out of a toxic relationship, pursuing a job that they always wanted, prioritizing family and friends, and becoming internally stronger overall.

Despite all the negatives I’ve mentioned, cancer survivors are often very emotionally strong people.

I hope this was helpful to you. Now go write something cool and feel free to share it in the comments.

Related Articles:

Coping with Global Pandemic – Thoughts From a Cancer Survivor (Stories From Tomorrow)

My Stories About Illness:

“Artisanal Cancer” (Teleport Magazine)

How far will an influencer go to get likes? In this short story about a post scarcity future, people are literally killing themselves out of boredom. Chemotherapy treatment has become the next edgy fad.

“The Red Devil” (Vine Leaves Press)

This is a 50 word story about chemotherapy treatment.

“Fibromyalgia Fire” (Cuento Magazine)

This is a microfiction about fibromyalgia.

Avatar 2 Review – Jake Sully’s Kids Need a Babysitter

(Image Source)

The Avatar sequel, The Way of Water, was overall an enjoyable movie experience. If you want three hours of breathtaking CGI along with action packed scenes, you will definitely be entertained.

However, I will say that a majority of the movie’s plot is moved forward by kids not listening to their parents.

[This review is for people who have already seen the movie. So…yes, there will be spoilers.]

Kids not listening to their parents is a common enough trope in television and movies used to move the plot forward or create tension. And if it happened once or twice in The Way of Water, I wouldn’t mind. But it happened at least 9 times!!! Let me walk you through it below. And some plot holes are detailed as well. Don’t take this as me hating on the film. I liked the film. I’m just having a bit of fun riffing on a recurrent plot problem.

  • In the beginning of the movie, we’re told that humans now want to colonize Pandora to live there. (Whatever happened to the treaty the humans made in the first movie with the Na’vi to leave the planet? Clearly the humans have violated the treaty, but…this seems to just not get addressed??? At the end of the first movie, did the humans go into cryo, go all the way back to Earth, which probably consumed immense amounts of resources and time, and then just be like…”Wait a minute!”). Anyways, Jake is valiantly leading a guerilla warfare type resistance against the humans. We see him and his people destroying a train and fighting human baddies, who have lots of cool mech armor. However, Jake’s kids are supposed to stay back and function as spotters. Instead, they Leroy Jenkins their way into battle and almost get killed. (My first thought is, if they function as spotters on a regular basis, why did they randomly do that in this battle? Is it because the plot called for it?) Regardless, Jake Sully is now pissed and tells his brood they are grounded from combat for a month.
  • After being grounded, Jake’s kids decide that this is a perfect opportunity to go wander off without adult supervision. Off in the woods all by themselves, they happen to spy the resuscitated bad guy from the first movie, Stephen Lang’s character Miles Quaritch, along with his squad. (Is there no one else in the Olo’eyktan Clan patrolling the woods?) Instead of running to safety, the kids stick around for a better look (and of course) get captured.
  • After Jake Sully and Neytiri rescue their wayward children, Jake realizes the threat to his family and abandons his post as leader of the Olo’eyktan clan (sorry not sorry Olo’eyktan clan). He decides to go into hiding . He seeks refuge with the Metkayina clan (a Maori like tribe of Na’vi who live in the water). The NUMBER ONE rule Jake tells his kids is to not get into trouble. But of course, when some of the boys in the Metkayina clan bully Kiri (Jake’s adopted daughter), her brothers step in and get into a fist fight.
  • After Jake yells at his sons once again for causing trouble, his second eldest son, Lo’ak, decides to smooth things over with the Metkayina boys by going on a excursion with them to…yes…you guessed it…a place they are not allowed to go because it’s dangerous. Lo’ak soon realizes the boys tricked him by leading him to the lair of a giant sea monster (you know, typical harmless teenage pranks, trying to get someone murdered). Lo’ak evades death by being incredibly lucky. He’s rescued by Payakan, a tulkun (a whale-shark looking species revered by the Metkayina).
  • Lo’ak’s new friendship with Payakan apparently causes tension with the Metkayina clan, because the other tulkun exiled Payakan. But of course Lo’ak doesn’t listen.
  • Meanwhile, Miles Quaritch is tasked with hunting down Jake Sully and killing him. He discovers that Jake is hiding with one of the water tribes. Miles Quaritch decides to draw Jake out by killing tulkun to anger the Metkayina. Jake Sully recognizes that this is a trap, and thus doesn’t take the bait. But of course of course of course his children don’t listen and take matters into their own devious blue hands, and once again they get captured. (I’m starting to feel like this movie should be called The Way of Not Listening To Your Parents).
  • When Jake Sully’s kids get captured, he offers to turn himself in. But as he’s making his way to the boat that contains Miles Quaritch, Lo’ak’s tulkun friend, Payakan, attacks the boat. As the humans start fighting against a tulkun, this causes the Metkayina to get angry. They loudly proclaim they are now going to battle the humans and then…valiantly disappear from the movie for the next 45 minutes, leaving Jake and his family to fight against Miles Quaritch’s forces all by themselves. The only reason I can think this happened is that the writers simply forgot that the Metkayina were in the battle.
  • Once Jake’s kids get liberated from capture, Jake tells them to go to safety, but of course, of course, OF COURSE, they don’t listen, and then get kidnapped AGAIN for a third freaking time! Is this getting repetitive yet?
  • At the end of the movie, the kids end up helping to rescue their parents by ignoring their orders to flee to safety. And then Spider (the feral human child of Miles Quaritch, rescues him in secret, and doesn’t tell anyone). Which of course opens the possibility to a third movie. I included this example with Spider because he’s like a pseudo adopted child for Jake Sully and Neytiri. It’s not so much him not listening to them, but him going against what they were trying to achieve, which is close enough.

If Jake Sully and Neytiri locked up their kids, or at least found a decent babysitter, the movie would have been about ten minutes long.

Now, despite these silly plot issues, I did legitimately enjoy the movie. I loved the environmental message. And I do think the world building was very cool. I definitely encourage people to go out and see the movie so that James Cameron can make his sequels. The Way of Water was neat because it explored a new biome in the Pandora world we didn’t see in the first movie. I would hope in the sequels we see even more diverse Na’vi and biomes. Perhaps a tundra Na’vi, or a desert Na’vi, or even Na’vi that live in caves with biolumenescent fungus. There’s many fun future possibilities to be explored. I would just recommend that Jake Sully and Neytiri get themselves a reliable babysitter before they go on any future adventures.

“The Spider and the Stars” – Science Fiction, Insect Farming, [Review]

(Image generated with Playground AI)

A new, controversial idea for saving the climate has been getting press lately. Insect farming.

Well…when I say “new,” I mean new for the western world. Eating insects has been a traditional cuisine in some African, Asian and Latin American cultures. In Ghana, for example, there are people who collect winged termites during the spring rains, fry them, roast them, and make them into bread. See more examples at National Geographic.

Even in Western cultures, the idea of insect farming isn’t completely revolutionary. After all, we eat a delicious, sweet, sticky substance farmed from insects called “honey,” which is basically bee vomit. We wear a comfortable fabric called silk, farmed from worms.

Of course there is that Fear Factor image of people putting writhing spiders or meal worms in their mouths. But realistically, if industries did start selling insect meat on a commercial basis, they’d probably find a way to make it look less disgusting and be more edible. After all, we do love crabs and lobsters, which are basically large sea insects. At one point lobsters were considered disgusting enough to be prison food. Now it’s a luxury cuisine. I imagine with insects, they’d probably be crushed into some kind of protein powder and then blended into things. The less they can look like insects as food, the better.

Despite the controversy, there are environmental benefits to insect farming. Our current animal agricultural systems are destructive for the environment.

“This sector relies heavily on water and carbon-intensive farming of grains at a time when the cost of agrochemical inputs are climbing and freshwater resources are becoming increasingly unreliable. Globally, animal farms consume more than a third of the world’s total grain production. In the U.S. the share is closer to half. Insect-based animal feeds could be this industry’s best shot at building climate resilience, while also helping to manage a food waste crisis.” (Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, insect farming has potential to utilize less land and leave less of a carbon footprint on the planet. “Black soldier fly larvae, in particular, hold promise: Known in the industry by the acronym BSFL, these infant bugs serve as high-quality chicken and fish feed and require 1,000 times less land per unit of protein produced compared to soy production, between 50 and 100 times less water, and zero agrochemical inputs.” (Bloomberg)

The EU has even approved three insects for human consumption: crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers.

Now enter DK Mok‘s wonderful short solarpunk story, “The Spider and the Stars,” published in Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers.

True to the solarpunk genre, the story is focused on themes of ecology and sustainability. DK Mok is truly a talented hard sci-fi writer who immerses the reader into the bright and optimistic world of cyberpunk with much vibrant detail. She brings us such interesting details: tree planting drones, glowing festive solar fairy lights, biogas produced by cheese, cabins built of photovoltaic glass and reclaimed timber, snappily dressed proxy droids, and most revolutionary of all–spiders in space!

She goes into depth about how insect farming would work. And yes, she does tackle the issue of peoples’ inherent disgust and how such a thing could be made palatable.

Like all great science fiction, this story brings up a current world problem and paints a picture of how futuristic solutions would pan out.

I will add that the story also carried my attention with its good sense of humor and a likeable main character, who clearly has affection for her small, multiple legged friends.


DK Mok

Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers

Ten Wild Predictions for 1899 Season 2 [Spoilers!]

For those who love the mind trip of a show, 1899, it’s going to be hard to wait the potential two years for season 2 to come out. And that’s if season 2 gets renewed (fingers crossed).

To tide you over, I have put together a list of ten predictions for what’s going to happen next in Netflix’s 1899.




#1. Elliot is dead or dying and Maura trapped the crew in an endless time loop so she could be with him.

This is one of the most common predictions for the show I have seen across the internet. The idea is that Maura’s son, Elliot, is either already dead or on the cusp of death in real life. She can’t accept this, so she has created an endless loop in the simulation in order to stay with her son forever (and unfortunately has trapped the rest of the crew). As we know from the show, the simulation restarts every 8 days. It’s possible that Maura’s son may have died by day 8 in real life on the Prometheus‘s voyage in 2099, so she programmed an endless loop into the simulation for it to restart every time before it gets to that point.

Clues to this theory come from the fact that Elliot’s room is beneath a grave. And the key that ultimately gets Maura out of the simulation is one of her son’s toys, meaning that her son is the key to understanding why everyone is trapped. The YouTuber, Heavy Spoilers, made an interesting point about how Maura told Elliot it’s cruel to keep a beetle trapped in a cage–a lesson she has clearly ignored for herself by keeping her dying son trapped in a virtual loop. Maura’s father even talks about people refusing to let go of the attachments they have.

Also, the simulation has a unique mechanic that when Elliot dies (such as when he was so rudely thrown overboard), he comes back to life appearing in a cabinet. Perhaps Maura hacked the simulation to give her son some sort of invincibility cheat and made the cabinet a respawn point.

Maura may have also deliberately altered her own memory, along with the memories of the rest of the crew, to forget the incredibly painful reality of her son’s death. She potentially went as far as to make herself believe that she was incapable of having children.

In episode 1, she says that she’s a doctor who studies the human mind. So it is definitely possible she would know how to manipulate the mind and memories of herself along with others.

#2. Ciaran launched a coup and took over the ship in 2099.

Before escaping the simulation, Maura learned that her brother Ciaran took over the program. Her father, Henry, is apparently no longer in charge. When Maura awakens onto a spaceship in the year 2099, she finds a note on a computer monitor that reads, “May your coffee kick in before reality does.” (This is a message we have seen before on the steamship in 1899.) The message is from Ciaran, who appears to be welcoming his sister back to reality.

Some fans have noticed that one of the pods on the spaceship is empty. There are theories that this was the pod that contained Ciaran, who potentially woke up from the simulation, and then launched his coup.

There are also theories that Henry may have been using the simulation to conduct experiments on the crew of the Prometheus, running them through different situations over and over again. Perhaps Ciaran launched a coup to stop this from happening, and then left clues in the simulation to help Maura wake up so she could in turn help him rescue the rest of the passengers.

However, the message, “May your coffee kick in before your reality does,” gives me pause. Does Ciaran really want Maura to wake up? We have already watched the scene where Maura is injected with a black liquid before appearing back in her room on the steamship, the Kerberos. Perhaps this black mind altering liquid is the “coffee,” which is intended to protect her from reality by her brother. It was also mentioned that Ciaran was potentially jealous of Henry loving Maura more. Perhaps in Ciaran’s jealousy, he’s seeking to keep both Maura and her father trapped in an endless simulation so he can control and torment them. Or perhaps he’s determined to finish his father’s work and win his love.

#3. The book The Awakening is a clue about Maura’s circumstances.

We see the book The Awakening in Maura’s room on the Kerberos steamship. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, was first published in 1899. The plot centers around a strong, independent woman named Edna Pontellier. Edna struggles to be her own person against the prevailing social norms of her time. Her male family members try to control her against her will. The novel is seen as a landmark of early feminism.

Perhaps the novel is a clue that Maura left herself to suggest that her male family members (father and brother) are conspiring to keep her trapped so they can control her.

Here’s more on this theory on reddit.

#4. Daniel is an NPC

There are some interesting theories that Daniel (Maura’s husband) is an NPC because we don’t see him in the pods when she wakes up on the spaceship (but then again, we don’t see her other family members either). The theory is that Daniel was an NPC programmed (potentially by Ciaran) to help Maura break free from the simulation. For instance, when Daniel shows Maura photos of them together, she says she doesn’t feel like they are real.

#5. The characters in the love triangles have been matched with someone who is not their partner in real life.

Up until now, most of these theories I have listed have centered around the main character Maura. But of course, this is a show full of other dynamic, interesting, international characters. So their stories will (hopefully) matter to the plot as well.

Triangles are a frequent symbol on the show. And there are many characters who are in a love triangle. There is the Angel-Ramiro-Krester triangle. The French Lucien-Clemence-Jerome triangle. And much more subtle, but definitely interesting, the Maura-Daniel-Eyk triangle. So we literally have a triangle of love triangles (gotta love the creators of 1899 for all the complexity!)

It is possible that the people in the simulation who are in love triangles are actually intentionally paired with the wrong partner. And the person they feel drawn toward is the person they are actually in a relationship with in real life. In other words, Angel is actually with Krester in real life. Clemence is actually with Jerome. And Maura is actually with Eyk. While the show doesn’t outright state that Maura and Eyk are an item, we definitely see chemistry between them. Whereas Maura shows no interest for Daniel, and even shows a physical aversion for him when he touches her.

Why would people be intentionally put with the wrong partner?

This could be part of the greater experiment on human memory. If people have their memories erased, will they still be drawn to the person they love by some subconscious longing? Henry talked about how his wife lost her memories. Perhaps this is all part of his larger experiment to understand how to revive the memories of a loved one (and how to revive the memories of his wife).

Some redditors on the 1899 subreddit have even cleverly suggested that Eyk’s name is an anagram for “key,” and that he is the true key to Maura getting out of the simulation because she loves him.

Of course, not all the lovers are in love triangles. Olek and Ling Yi clearly have a mutual love for each other. But perhaps the obstacle keeping Ling Yi away from Olek is her madam, Virginia, who wants to sell her to the highest paying John she can find.

Another interesting thought that occurred to me as I wrote this is that the multi-lingual nature of the cast may also be part of Henry’s experiment. Perhaps he was testing the ability of love and latent subconscious memory to triumph, even amidst the challenge of navigating different languages and cultures.

#6. The Earth is dying in 2099 and the simulation is preparation for a new world.

So far, I have covered theories that the simulation is some sort of twisted mind experiment originally launched by Henry in order to understand his wife’s failing memory.

But another more noble theory posited by internet fans is that the simulation was originally a test preparing the crew of the Prometheus for their trip to a new world. It has been noted that the creators of 1899 like to handle larger themes, like they did in the show Dark. One large theme is that of human beings destroying the environment. Another theme is international conflict. Indeed, when I watched The Making of 1899 on Netflix, the show creators said they were inspired by the refugee crisis which took place in Europe. Perhaps the characters of the Prometheus were put into a simulation to learn how to work together across cultural differences. But then the simulation went awry when it was hacked by Henry for his own selfish ends.

#7. The spaceship Prometheus is actually a prison colony.

Now for a less noble theory. The ship itself is actually a prison colony. The crew has been sentenced to a simulation that will punish them with mind torture for their crimes. This theory makes sense, because multiple passengers on the Kerberos have committed murder, including Ramiro, Tove, and Ling Yi. Virginia could be in prison for being a madam. Henry, Ciaran and Maura could be in prison for conducting mental experiments. Lucien could be in prison for defecting from the military and perhaps Jerome is in because Lucien threw him under the bus.

The name of the ship in the simulation, Kerberos, is a clue to this theory. Kerberos in Greek mythology was the three-headed dog that guards the underworld. The symbolism of the triangle could be a reference to these three heads. The triangle in the show is also a symbol for the element Earth, and beneath the Earth, you have the underworld.

This Reddit post goes into this theory.

#8. The spaceship in 2099 is a simulation in a larger simulation.

Okay. Time to twist your mind even further. Does it feel like a pretzel yet?

For those who watched the series Dark, we know that the show creators love complexity. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the spaceship in 2099 is not in fact real life, but actually another simulation inside a simulation. Season 2 could revolve around Maura wrestling control of the spaceship away from her brother Ciaran, and then waking up in the even greater reality nesting 2099.

#9. Season 3 will be an LSD experiment in the 1970s

You might want to take a breath for a second, because this is about to get a whole lot weirder.

In season 3, the crew is not actually in the future anymore, but they are all part of some drug experiment that is taking place circa the 1970s.

One of the clues to me that the show was potentially in the 1970s was the music. A frequent song we hear is “White Rabbit”, by Jefferson Airplane, which came out in 1967. But there are also several other songs by bands which were prominent in the late 60s and 70s. Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevans and David Bowie.

One thing we know about the creators of 1899 is their amazing attention to detail. I doubt these songs were picked arbitrarily. And all songs from the same time period? That would be an awfully big coincidence.

The 1970s was a time well known for rampant drug experimentation. The whole show could be an LSD trial being conducted by Henry.

Indeed, even the “futuristic” technology has a retro 1970s vibe. The tech looks more analog than digital. It’s almost as if the depiction of the future is how people in the 1970s would imagine the future.

Even the final scene in the spaceship has an artistic style that is very iconic of H.R. Giger, the mastermind behind the set of the movie Alien, which came out in 1979 by the way. The tube television that Henry is watching to monitor the crew also looks like it came from the 70s. Even the computer terminal on the spaceship doesn’t have a GUI (graphic user interface) like modern computers, but is just showing bare minimum text reminiscent of the classic era of VDU (visual display units) that began in the 1970s. So if this show is only from the future, why the retro tech?

I was pleasantly surprised to see this theory on Reddit as well. So I guess I’m not the only one who thinks this.

# 10. The show is actually taking place in infinite realities.

Here’s one final theory to completely blow your mind into tiny grey pieces all over your wall. Perhaps there is no “real reality.” Perhaps the crew is trapped in an infinite level of different realities. This would be similar to the theme explored in the movie Inception, that if you have dreams within dreams within dreams, who is to say what is real and what is not?

This proposes a similar idea brought up by Simulation Theory, which is that if we are all in one simulation, then we could also be in an infinite number of simulations.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was brought up in the show. If you have people only living in a cave, they can’t possibly know the real world outside of the cave, but only what is inside of it.

If I learned anything from Dark, it’s that the creators of this show love to explore spiritual and philosophical themes.

I hope you enjoyed this! Check out the links below. And don’t forget to clean your grey matter off the wall behind you.


The Revolutionary Filming Technology Behind Netflix’s 1899 (Stories From Tomorrow)

1899 Ending: Season 2 Theories, Predictions And [SPOILER] Explained (Heavy Spoilers | YouTube)

1899 Ending: Season 2 Theories & Biggest Questions Explained (Cortex Videos | YouTube)

#PitDark is Today!

“#PitDark is the first and only Twitter pitch event to highlight literature of a “darker” nature. Importantly, this is not limited to horror works; however, any pitched manuscript must contain an element of horror or darker writing. Examples of such categories include pure horror novels, dark fantasy, murder mysteries, psychological horror stories, non-fiction works about darker subjects, etc. MG, YA, NA, and adult age categories are welcome.”

See More Details Here