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Spaceships, Machetes, and Sentient Fungi: Science Fiction is AWESOME, fellow nerds! Meet J.S. Fields

Today’s guest on the blog is J.S Fields, author of the Ardulum series! Ardulum: First Don has received great reviews (including mine, here on Goodreads), and Ardulum: Second Don came out this autumn, continuing the exciting space opera adventure of the outcast Neek and a young female who just may be one of the mythical beings Neek’s planet worships.

Thank you for stopping by the blog today!

For readers who are unfamiliar with the term “don” as it is used in your series, can you please define it?

A ‘don’ is a life stage specific to the Ardulan race. First don lasts twenty years, second don lasts ten, and so on. I really wanted to play around with life cycles that weren’t yearly, and types of growth that weren’t slow and methodical. With the don lifecycles I used more of a metamorphosis idea, where a person goes from child to adult much like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. This allowed me to both play with mental expectations (is a 19 year old Ardulan an adult? No, technically not.) and to move characters forward in leaps instead of increments.

It’s a great lifecycle to contrast to a yearly one, like for humans on Earth, especially if the humans have to interact with the Ardulan. We’re not used to knowing someone as a kid one day, and an adult the next. That takes a lot of mental gymnastics to work through, and that’s what a lot of Second Don is about—Neek coming to terms with adult Emn instead of child Emn.

You are a scientist – a rather specific kind of scientist—and your writing in the Ardulum series is heavily drawn against that background. I found it highly original and fascinating and never thought of cellulose-based technology before. Was this story conceived as a result of your work, or did you just weave your expertise into the background?

Yes and no. I wrote the bones of this story first—the story of Emn and Neek and the Mercy’s Pledge crew fighting Risalians. Emn started off as just a generic space opera telekinetic. About a year or so into drafting it sort of hit me that hey, wait. I’m a scientist. Why am I writing a science fiction book without any actual science in it? Physics and I aren’t friends but I am pretty decent with cellulose. My job, conveniently, exposes me to a lot of cutting edge tech that uses cellulose, which made weaving a technology of cellulose spaceships and cellulose telekinetics a lot easier than I’d thought.

The book changed a lot, after that. It took on a lot more subtext about forests and natural resource use and genetic engineering, which I had never planned. But science comes with a lot more baggage than just a pew pew shoot em up space opera. I think (hope) the book is stronger for it.

And as fair warning, my real area of expertise is in fungal degradation of wood, and I get super nerdy with it in Third Don.

You list your hobbies as terrorizing students with machetes and tangarana ants. Heheheheh. Tell us more.

I work with rare wood pigmenting fungi, and those fungi are found in large quantities in rainforests. Hence, I travel a lot, and spend at least one month every year in the Amazon rainforests of Peru, usually with students along for the ride (and the grunt labor). Every student needs a machete when we go into the forest, and the ants, well, they’re just an inevitability. The best part is when one slips down your collar and bites you underneath your clothes (repeatedly, unendingly, and oh so painfully), so you have to strip naked to find it, but then stripping naked leaves the rest of you exposed to the mosquitos the size of footballs…

Really, I have endless stories about the jungle. Last year I had an unfortunate anaconda incident while swimming in piranha-infested waters. It was not my greatest moment. All of the forest-terror scenes in Second Don with Arik were written while I was at base camp in the jungle, usually right after one of the students needed medical intervention.

Do you write in other genres besides science fiction? What is it about science fiction that inspires you ?

I write science nonfiction, and I also write fantasy. Science fiction is by far my favorite though, as I can take all the neat parts of my job, and all the cool tech, and twist it into more exciting settings. For instance, cellulose films for electronics are cool, but cellulose films on spaceships are cooler. Fungi that leak bright color onto wood are cool, but sentient fungi that throw pigment around while trying to negotiate with an alien race is exciting.

What’s happening next for Neek and crew? Anything you can share regarding Third Don?

Third Don is a mix of Neek trying to navigate her new role on Ardulum (and with Emn!), as well as a filling in the missing timeline from book two. Second Don readers will have caught on that a large war was once again brewing in the Charted Systems, although it was only really discussed in the chapter kickers. That piece of the puzzle is fleshed out in Third Don, and the two timelines come together about three-quarters of the way through. A much-loved character once again plays a prominent role, and Neek finally gets to pilot a settee.

There will be a final showdown on Neek’s homeworld, reunions, epic space battles, sentient fungi and, finally, the long awaited sex scene.

What animal or mythical creature best represents you as a writer?

Uh… a bunny? I’m really industrious for short bursts, and mostly I just want to eat things and sit on warm floor vents.

Thank you so much for hanging out on the blog today! Where can readers interact with you on the web?

Thank you so much for having me! Readers can always see where I’m at with upcoming books, as well as read book reviews of f/f spec fic, on my website:

I’m also active on Twitter:

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