Nina Munteanu Interviewed on her latest short story “Robin’s Last Song”

Left: cover of Apex Magazine Issue #128 in which my story appears; Right: cover of 2021 anthology published in fall 2022.

I was recently interviewed by Alberta writer Simon Rose about my latest eco-fiction short story “Robin’s Last Song”, which was recently published by Apex Magazine in its 2021 Compilation Anthology. Below is the interview:

Simon: Congratulations on publishing your short story “Robin’s Last Song” in Issue 128 of Apex Magazine and soon in the Apex Magazine 2021 Compilation Anthology. I’m curious about the title? Whose last song is it? Is Robin the name of a human or the bird?

Nina: Both, actually. The title is both literal and metaphoric. The premise of the story is based on the alarming trend of disappearing birds. The robin, a common bird in Ontario where the story takes place, is a good sentinel for what is happening with bird populations around the world. Robin is also the protagonist’s name; she was named after the robin, her mother’s favourite bird.

Recently fledged robin rests on patio chair, Mississauga, ON (photo by Merridy Cox)

Simon: Robin’s Last Song is obviously eco-fiction. What’s it about?

Nina: Robin’s Last Song first appeared in the #128 Issue of Apex Magazine in 2021. It tells the story of Robin, a blind elder whose digital app failed to warn the world of the sudden global loss of birds with disastrous ecological consequences. After years of living in self-exile and getting around poorly on sight-enhancing technology, a discovery gives her new hope in rekindling her talents in the field of Soundscape Ecology.

Discarded robin’s egg to deter predators, found on a woody trail in Ontario (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Simon: How did you come to write this particular story about birds and what is “soundscape ecology”?

Nina: Since I was a child, the burgeoning SF writer in me had dared to imagine a world without the sound of birds—I thought it utterly bleak and, recognizing an ever-polluting world, I feared for my feathered relatives. I didn’t follow through with a story until September 2019, when I was approached by Oliver Hockenhull, the guest editor of subTerrain Magazine, to write a piece on technology and the environment. The timing was interesting; I’d just read two impactful things that resonated with me.

The first was the October issue of Science Magazine that reported a staggering decline in North American birds. Kenneth V. Rosenberg and his team of researchers had estimated that three billion birds of various species had disappeared in Canada and the US since 1970. That’s a third of the entire bird population lost in five decades. To make it clear, we aren’t talking about rare birds going extinct; these declines are of common birds throughout the world. The wrens, sparrows, starlings, and, of course, the robins. I was devastated; I could not imagine a world without the comforting sound of birds. What would it be like if the birds all disappeared? This brought me back to my childhood fears.

The second article I ran across talked about an emerging bioacoustics tool, soundscape ecology, that measures biodiversity and the health of an ecosystem, mostly through bird sound which well represents ecosystem health. Bernie Krause, a soundscape ecologist who had been conducting long-term recordings for decades noted how the dawn chorus in many areas had greatly diminished if not vanished altogether.

Bernie Krause, soundscape ecologist recording a soundscape in Florida

I now had my premise and my connection with technology. The title of my original story for subTerrain was “Out of the Silence”. This story focused on the technical aspects of the premise and solution. When I was approached for a story in February 2021 by Francesco Verso, the guest editor of Apex Magazine Issue #128, I rewrote the story with a stronger focus on the protagonist’s personal journey and connection with the bird catastrophe, how she coped with Asperger’s syndrome and the failure of her tool to predict the disaster. Hence the change in the title to “Robin’s Last Song”.

Cover of subTerrain Issue #85 in which “Out of the Silence” appears

Simon: Without wanting to bring in spoilers, isn’t there a twist to the story, suggesting a cautionary tale that touches on the dangers of genetic engineering?

Nina: Yes, thanks for bringing that up. I was already primed with research into genetic engineering for the sequel to my 2020 eco-novel “A Diary in the Age of Water.” I wanted to make the bird disappearance in “Robin’s Last Song” into a dramatic catastrophe linked to our own dangerous ecological tampering. I had the notion of using a gene hacking disaster to create ecological calamity and how this might affect birds. I wanted to make “Robin’s Last Song” a realizable work of fiction in which science and technology play both instigator of disaster and purveyor of salvation. Our biogenetic technology comes to us as a double-edged sword in the form of gene-editing, proteomics, DNA origami, and CRISPR—just to name a few. These biotechnological innovations promise a cornucopia of enhancements: from increased longevity and health in humans to giant disease-resistant crops. But, for every ‘magic’ in technology, there is often unintended consequence. Unforeseen—or even ignored—casualties and risks. I suppose my ultimate question with this story is: will synthetic biology redesign Nature to suit hubris or serve evolution? Science doesn’t make those decisions. We do.

Simon: Tell us a little bit about the Apex Magazine 2021 Compilation Anthology (that came out in both print and digital versions August).

Nina: The 350+ page anthology compiles all original short stories published in Apex Magazine during the 2021 calendar year. Published through Apex Book Company, it features 48 stories from a diverse group of new and established writers and the cover features award-winning artwork “Entropic Garden” by Marcela Bolivar. Check this link for more about the anthology and where to get it.

Cover art for Apex 2021 Compilation Anthology (art by Marcela Bolivar)

Simon: Are you still coaching writers and such?

Nina: Yes, I am, Simon. Did you know that I’ve been coaching writers to publication for close to twenty years? When I’m not teaching writing at the University of Toronto or George Brown College, I help writers with craft on their novels and short stories through my coaching services. You can find out more at: www.NinaMunteanu.me.

Nina teaches a writing class in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia

Simon: Tell us a little about any writing projects you’re working on these days.

Nina: I’m always busy with science articles for various online and print magazines and my own blogs. I’m also currently finishing a speculative eco-fiction novel that is a loose sequel to “A Diary in the Age of Water.” It’s set throughout Canada, from the Maritimes to the Arctic Circle, and spans a wide timeline from the Halifax Explosion of 1917 to the vast NAWAPA reservoir created a century and a half later by drowning British Columbia’s Rocky Mountain Trench. It’s a fast-paced thriller that focuses on four homeless people who battle corporate intrigue, kidnapping, human experiments and a coming climate plague.

Robin’s First Song: fledgling sits on a black walnut tree branch, ON (photo by Merridy Cox)

NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit  www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Love Among the Ruins…

 

Log over water forest-DeasPark copy

Swamp on Sekmet

EXCERPT from Inner Diverse, Book 2 of The Splintered Universe Trilogy: after a daring escape from Hades on the bog planet of Sekmet, Rhea finds herself stumbling through thick wet scrub, past gnarly drowned trees then plunging with gasps into surprisingly deep crevices filled with bog water. The glacial wind whips her hair and wails through her shivering body as rain pelts her. Her breaths stutter and gut burns with black longing for the wakesh root. She sobs in her breaths, struggling over islands of soggy hummocks that cave under her weight, plunging her into deep frigid murky pools and thrashes her way across deep bog water. As a convulsive tremor of withdrawal runs through her, Rhea despairs and begins to wonder if she will survive her escape. No one got off Sekmet, after all, so the saying goes. Then she remembers glimpsing Serge at the penal colony. Her lover. Her nemesis. Had it been a dream? Had he come to rescue her only to disappear?

Rhea-marsh02

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

A twig snapped behind me and I jumped, heightened senses inhaling musk and strawberries.

Serge!

“Rhea.”

Relief and panic competed inside me. Serge was the last person I wanted to catch me this way: filthy, junked-up, vulnerable…and longing for him. Suddenly tearful, I scrambled to my feet with a grunt of effort. I fled into a staggering run, tripping and stumbling over a tangle of roots in the muck. I didn’t dare look back.

“What?” I heard him quip. “No warm welcome like: ‘It’s so good to see you Serge, I missed you so much.’” Then after a pause of huffing breaths, he added in exasperation, “Rhea! Wait up!”

“Why are you following me?” I threw a withering look over my shoulder at him. He’d gone back to being a human, those ugly lumi pants recklessly low-riding his hips and revealing taut abdomen muscles and the alluring curve of his pelvis. I noticed with some satisfaction that he was having a hard time negotiating the underwater root tangle as well.

“What do you think?” he answered in a sarcastic tone.

“I don’t need your help!”

“That’s a matter of opinion. You’re hurt and you’re crying—”

“You’re the one making me cry.” I glared at him. I hadn’t noticed I was crying. “This is all your fault. I never cried before I met you.”

He barked out an exasperated laugh then added, “That’s because I woke up your senses. I made you alive.”

“You made me miserable!”

“Alive and miserable, then,” he conceded. “Let me help you.” He broke into a sprint, splashing in awkward steps.

“I told you, I don’t need help from a lying scoundrel,” I huffed and threw myself into a frenzied lopsided gallop to keep ahead of him. “I don’t need help from a God-damned Vos, Nihilist, anti-Nihilist, spy, thief—whatever you are!” I tripped and fell. Serge was bending over me, pulling me up, even as I struggled to get free. My chest heaved. Black bog juice dripped off my face. I turned to face him and caught his intoxicating smell: a cottonwood forest in spring cut by musk and a hint of strawberry. It overwhelmed my senses and made me dizzy with desire. I stared up into his face and longed to fling my arms around him and kiss him. I bit out, “I’m perfectly fine on my own.”

“Oh, you are, are you?” he retorted. “In case you didn’t notice, I saved your scrawny flat butt.” His face was close to mine, eyes blazing and breathing hard.

“Where were you the rest of the time? Sun tanning in the penthouse suite? Get off me!” I twitched my face from his and pushed away. I didn’t like how he’d described my butt.

“It took me over a month just to get in,” he huffed out, clinging to me and fighting off my struggles. “By then you were already running the place. I was stunned. I’m amazed at your talents, particularly in escaping. Frankly, Rhea, I didn’t expect you to be in any shape to do anything—”

“Well, thanks for the encouraging thoughts and incredible faith in my abilities,” I said tartly. “I had a little help from several friends and none of them was you.” I thrashed out furiously to get free. “I didn’t ask for your help back there. I could have managed, damn you!”

“You ungrateful little witch!” he growled, pinning my arms in a forceful embrace. He glared at me. “You’re too jagging proud to admit that you need my help.”

Lips snarling, I jerked out of his grasp but slipped in the wet sod with a shriek and took him down with me. We fell with a splat, black oily mud oozing over both of us. He scrambled on top of me, straddling my hips, and pinned my flailing arms with his hands.

For a hesitant moment I inhaled his heady aroma and felt myself tumbling dangerously into his tempest eyes. He held my gaze and I drew in a shuddering breath. So much passed between us in that gaze and for a moment we were staring at each other like the time when we’d first made love. It was an exquisite moment of infinite devotion, wonder and tenderness. And mutual surrender. And I felt as though I’d loved him and trusted him all my life—

Desperate, I shifted with a shrill grunt into a massive Venik, realizing too late that my clothes tore to shreds off of me. I struck out. Within a heartbeat, Serge matched my form, lumi-pants ripping off, and countered. I tried an Azorian. He matched. A Khonsus—he was already one! I finally returned to my human form and Serge followed suit, barking out a laugh and breathing hard like me. His dark eyes grew large. We were both naked.

“Good try,” he panted with a rough laugh. He glanced down my body before locking eyes with mine. “Just look at you…You’ve chopped off your beautiful hair. The drugs have wasted your skin, done something to your eyes…But you’re still so…”

I dreaded what he saw and met his thunderstorm gaze with my own vulnerable gaze. I knew I was a spectacle: wet and bedraggled hair plastered over my face in tangles of mud—yet I returned him a plaintive thirsty look…How I’d missed those eyes.

They blazed into mine. “…so beautiful,” he finished in a hoarse voice. Then he slammed his mouth against mine in a crushing embrace. Like a spring released I yielded and we kissed. I flung my arms around him, clasping his neck and pulling him close, feeling the hard heat of his response. I savoured his body stirring over mine as I rocked my hips up against him. His lips flamed over my face, defining every feature, and I trembled at the tantalizing rasp of his whiskers. His hands mauled my body with uncontrollable ardour. I was all his…except—

“No!” I slithered out from beneath him and kicked out. He barked out a yelp. I scrambled to my wavering feet, slipping, and stuttered out in a shaky voice, “I won’t let you take advantage of me.”

“Advantage!” he exclaimed and rubbed his thigh. “You want it too, damn it. You were kissing back.”

 

 

 

Inner-diverse-front-cover-WEBInner Diverse is the second book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy:

When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

 

Love At First Sight…

EXCERPT from Inner Diverse, Book 2 of The Splintered Universe Trilogy; Galactic Guardian Detective Rhea Hawke is travelling in her AI ship Benny in search of the “assassin” Serge to return him to the precinct for questioning:

rhea-contemplative01

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

…I slouched in my pilot’s chair, cosy in Serge’s old crewneck sweater, the one he’d worn—and taken off—when I’d last seen him. I hugged myself and tucked my nose into my elbow, breathing in the delicious fragrance of old wool and Serge’s faint but intoxicating scent—

Benny signalled me: “Scimitar class ship ahead, Rhea. I believe it’s Serge.”

I jerked up, feeling an irrational thrill surge through me. I let a predator’s smile slide across my face as I sat back and pulled out a wad of soyka gum, threw it casually in my mouth, and chewed lazily with an open mouth. “Well, let’s catch ourselves a little prey, Benny.” I blew out a bubble, popped it, then carved out a ferocious smile. “I’m hungry.”

I seized the controls and banked hard toward the stolen ship. “Lock on the scimitar, Benny. On my mark…Now!” I watched the ship shudder in the violent concussion wave.

“The scimitar is disabled, Rhea. We are being hailed.”

The holo-com lit up with Serge’s distraught face and I felt my own heat. He looked stunning in a grey crewneck sweater and black trousers. The sweater was identical to the one he’d worn when I’d last seen him—the one I was now wearing. As soon as he saw me, Serge’s face relaxed and he gave me a rakish smile. I noticed his fleeting glance down at what I was wearing and felt an awkward moment of recognition pass between us as our eyes locked. My face blazed with embarrassment.

“I should have guessed it was you, Rhea,” he said casually. “That your way of saying hello?”

“It is with you,” I bit back, casually chewing and throwing the gum around with my tongue, despite the warmth surging up my face. “We’ve disabled your ship and intend to dock and take you aboard. Don’t give me any trouble, Serge, and I won’t have to kill you.”….

*****

…I kneeled down and gruffly pulled at the restraints to check their strength then rose and paused. I locked eyes with his, lips smirking, and played the gum in my mouth with my tongue.  “Feels familiar, doesn’t it? Only in reverse.”

Serge took in a long breath, eyes roaming my body, then met my gaze head-on. “Go ahead.” His fragrance of musk and strawberries flared. “I know you want to kiss me.”

I jerked back, face flushing with anger. “You’re so full of shit, Serge. So hubristic about your powers of seduction―”

“Not hubristic, Rhea. I just know,” he said calmly, inching toward me even as I recoiled. “Haven’t you ever wondered about love at first sight?”

“Hormones,” I said flatly and blew out a bubble.

“Karma,” he returned.

I abruptly popped the bubble with my tongue and sucked my gum back into my mouth.

“You were wearing my sweater,” he said.

“I was cold.”

Inner-diverse-front-cover-WEBInner Diverse is the second book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy:

When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

 

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.