Wicked Duck Otters
Did you know that the male platypus is venomous?
Yeah, so I'm doing research for Book Two of The Firebird Chronicles--which I'll write this November--and I'm reading about venomous mammals (there's 12 known in the world, in case you were wondering). And there, on the second page, is my beloved platypus. Except that my duck-billed, web-footed, egg-laying friend has massive spurs on his back feet. And they're poisonous.
Even better, the venom is one of the strangest protein compounds in the natural world, so there's almost no way to medically reduce the excruciating pain of a platypus stabbing. (The proteins resemble those of the spider, snake, and jellyfish, to name but a few.)
My point? Well, there's so much I don't know about this planet. And I'm only a few pages in to my first of many books of research. As I write fiction and world-build, and dream of exploring the stars, I'm a little in awe of my own world.
And that's so important.
Sometimes, people ask why I "waste my time" writing fiction, when there are so very many nonfiction stories that are just as powerful. And I have to pause, because they're not totally wrong. I mean, wouldn't it be a better use of my time if I could inspire people to learn more about their own world and cultures, rather than reveling in magic and myth in mine?
But the answer is right here. I'm writing a fiction world, set about a thousand years in the future. There are Mages who can read minds, alter realities, and sync with animals. I've got space ships, winged horses, glowing trees, and giant spiders running rampant under a purple sky. And I just learned that the male platypus is poisonous.
Fiction does more than teach people about the world--it lets them experience it. Lord of the Rings inspired me to research Medieval society, Redwall taught me that it's love that make a house a home, and Harry Potter...well, Harry Potter opened the door to my world.
My point is, fiction does inspire people to learn about their own world and cultures. It's a gentle nudge, wrapped in magic, and it changes lives.
I had an Evolutionary Psychology class in college, and one of the first questions the professor asked the room was, "Why do we tell stories?" Okay, it might not have been the first--it was an economics class--but that's the question that stuck. Why does fiction exist? Why did we evolve to cherish what is, fundamentally, a lie?
And while I still don't have the answer, it's something my mind chews on daily. Who would we be without stories? What would inspire us? What would open the secret places in our hearts?
I don't know. And I wouldn't ever want to know. That world sounds cold and sharp, and entirely devoid of magic.
There are little truths tucked in to SciFi and Fantasy novels. And when I read, my mind is seeking them, pulling them into the light. I learned that the male platypus is poisonous today, and that is just one more nugget I can stack on the mountain of knowledge I've found because of fiction.
More than that, fiction inspired me to experience the world. And while I might know more facts if all I read was nonfiction, I wouldn’t have the first idea of what to do with them. There would be no “what if”, and in my opinions the “what if” is what changes the world.