It’s Alive! Geeking Out About Inhuman, Yet Sentient, Beings

I’ve always been fascinated with things that have a mind of their own. I’m not sure why, and never quite understood it, but I’m always happy to find someone else who shares that passion. This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction! I welcome guest Karina Sumner-Smith, speculative fiction author and fellow lover of sentient beings.

Image: Talos/Skyhorse
Image: Talos/Skyhorse

I’ve never been a geek for architecture. Don’t get me wrong; I love ancient monuments and urban skylines, interesting libraries and houses that feel like home from the moment you walk inside. But it’s never been the buildings themselves that catch my attention so much as the thought of the stories that might happen inside them.

Yet, of everything, it was the Towers of the title that made me geek out while writing Towers Fall.

Buildings, yes. But living buildings, thinking buildings, flying buildings. Creatures of grown steel and concrete, shaped by need and circumstance and their own inhuman will. A whole city of such creatures, each home to thousands, battling for altitude and position in the sky.

Towers Fall is the third and concluding book in a trilogy that is, despite the name, not really about buildings. It’s about a sharp, fiercely independent girl in a magic-run city–a girl with no money, no magic, only the ability to see ghosts–and what happens when she saves the ghost of a young woman with the power to change their society. These books are about class and privilege, a world where magic is life and currency. They’re also about a powerful friendship between two very different young women from opposite ends of their society, and how their world changes because they save each other.

In so many ways, these are the books of my heart. The main characters have been a part of my life, in one form or another, for a decade now. I expected to love their story, even as I struggled to write a conclusion I felt was worthy of them. I just never expected to fall in love with the buildings.

Yet I’ve always loved stories of things–cars and homes and spaceships–that aren’t just vehicles or places but, in their own way, people. I obsessed over Herbie the Love Bug. Forget Michael Knight (AKA David Hasselhoff); I was glued to Knight Rider episodes by my infatuation with KITT, the sentient car. Watching Farscape, as much as I enjoyed the human–and, ahem, alien–drama, I always wanted to know more about Moya, the living Leviathan spaceship in which the characters traveled.

Such beings were characters in their own right; beings–if inhuman ones–with their own thoughts and minds, wants, and emotions. But, with no language of their own, I did not expect the Towers of my books to take on a similar role. After all, throughout two books I had established what they were, and knew that their only method of true communication was pure, raw magic–power enough to kill a person. They were supposed to be the background, the setting, the place in which the drama unfolded.

And then they began to sing.

It was only through writing the living structures of the Towers Trilogy that I truly understood the idea of an inhuman character–that the wants of a car or a spaceship, a building or a home, would be so entirely different than our own as to border on incomprehensible. (Especially when such beings are not constructed or programmed by humans, but sparked to life by other means.) Even those that we might think of as home or protector or friend are neither simple nor safe. It’s as reasonable to imagine befriending a storm front or sharing secrets with the living spirit of a mountain range.

And speaking with such a being? Arguing with them? Appealing to their–dare I say–humanity in the face of great ruin and destruction?

A challenge to say the least–and one in which I found the heart for this final story.

Photo: Lindy Sumner-Smith
Photo: Lindy Sumner-Smith

Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a small dog, and a large cat. Visit her online at karinasumnersmith.com.

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Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available April 12, 2016.