FIVE FOR FRIDAY: Five Questions for Arlene F. Marks

Welcome to the end of another week, and another FIVE FOR FRIDAY interview! This week I welcome Arlene F. Marks to the table to discuss Space Opera series structure, near-future prognostication, and her upcoming alien vampire novel, THE EARTHBORN. Hit READ MORE to check it out!

Why don’t we start by going around the table and introducing ourselves? Tell us who you are, why you’re here today, and one interesting thing about yourself.

Well, my name is Arlene F. Marks, and after a total of twenty years in the high school classroom and another twenty as an author, editor, and micropublisher, I’ve retired to be a full-time writer of speculative fiction. I currently live with my husband on the shore of Nottawasaga Bay in Ontario, Canada. Writing is my consuming passion, but my other greatest love is talking about writing-related things, so thank you for giving me this opportunity to do something I truly enjoy.

The SIC TRANSIT TERRA books are all directly connected but not in the linear, ongoing single-story manner many readers might think of when they hear the word “series.” What influenced the decision to approach these books in this way?

Mainly, it was the sheer scope of the narrative and the size of the cast of characters. A visual representation of this would be a painting of village life by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (a mid-16th century Flemish artist), containing literally hundreds of figures, all the same size, engaged in dozens of stories that are all happening at once. It’s a very busy canvas with any number of focal points for the viewer to select from, and that’s how I envision the Sic Transit Terra universe.

Now, in order to present it to a reader in a way that wouldn’t set eyeballs spinning in their sockets, I had a choice to make. I could squeeze three separate casts of characters and their three different plot threads into each book in the series, whipping back and forth among them to maintain chronological order (the G.R.R. Martin model); or, I could introduce cast A and their story in the first book, cast B and their story in the second book, and cast C and their story in the third book, and then proceed to weave their plots together, all while keeping things in chronological order (the J.R.R. Tolkien model). I chose the Tolkien model. However, I also chose to give each book its own story arc within the greater narrative, permitting the reader to enter the series at any point (the Brueghel model).

Science Fiction in general, and Space Opera specifically, requires writers to peer into the future and report on what they see. Reining the timeline in a bit, what are some advances, innovations, and challenges you see humanity grappling with in the next fifty years?

Space opera, which is what I write, is more about the technology of the future than it is about the science, so my extrapolations tend to focus on how technology and applied science affect the way humanity lives and evolves. Based on recent history, I think things are going to get a lot worse before they begin getting better, an upturn that I pray won’t take until 2073 to happen. That said, I can foresee three main challenges among the many that we’ll be facing in the interim.

First, if you’ve ever seen a large dog on a leash drag its owner down the street, then you’ve seen the relationship that exists between humans and cyber technology. The leash gives us the illusion of control, but on a societal level, an illusion is all it is. Part of the reason is that we’ve put this runaway technology into the hands of children whose brains are still developing, and for some time now, devices have been programming humanity, not the other way around. I’m predicting that by 2073, barring drastic worldwide measures or a global cataclysm that destroys all advanced technology, AIs are going to be running every aspect of our lives, served and serviced by people who are technically cyborgs. In addition to the artificial joints, valves, and organs in their bodies, they’ll be connected by subdermal implants to a network of data processors. In that situation, the very definition of humanity will come into question, including in the courts.

Second, the human lifespan in first world countries has been steadily increasing. Thanks to advances in medical and pharmaceutical technology, even people with serious health issues are able to live into their 80s and 90s. Each time there’s a pandemic, medical research gets a huge boost of importance, and you know there will be more of those coming, right? So, in another five decades, the majority of seniors could be active, creative, and productive up to the age of 110 or more, and many could survive well beyond that, in long term care. The challenge this poses is the strain that will be put on the health care system (itself currently on life support), as well as on many other aspects of society. Remedies will be proposed, but there will be no right answer.

Third, I think that humanity is finally going to wake up and do right by Mother Earth, not because of concern for the planet but rather spurred by our own instinct for survival. Astroscientists are optimistic about finding other places for humans to settle, but all we have at the moment is possible candidates, and given the distances to be traveled and the problems to be solved once we arrive, the technology needed to transport and establish a viable colony on another world or moon may be as much as a century away. Meanwhile, there are things we can do in the intervening decades to preserve the habitability of our home world. We repaired the hole in the ozone layer. We have the means to do this too, if we’re smart about it.

Your upcoming book, THE EARTHBORN, kicks off a new series about the descendants of alien vampires who came to Earth as refugees long ago, living alongside humanity in secret. What can you tell us about the main character, Bilyash, and his struggle to find his place in a world which both is and is not his home?

Bilyash is the child of immigrant parents, a first-generation Terran of Nash’terel descent. Back on their home world, even before they mutated into drinkers of life essence, these beings had always lived in isolation, studying and developing their supernatural talents. It was when the other inhabitants of that planet discovered the vampiric nature of the Nash’terel that the genocide occurred, forcing them to flee to Earth. Living in hiding, then, is the only way the older generation can be certain of remaining safe. However, their Earthborn offspring have grown up sheltered from the past. They’ve assimilated into human society and are rejecting the traditional ways, and this creates unsuspected danger for themselves as well as conflict within their families. In other words—and this is a major theme of the series—these aliens are no different than any other refugee newcomers having “the immigrant experience.”

Bilyash abandoned his Nash’terel studies after catching the movie bug. He has followed his dream and trained to be a special effects makeup artist, much to the dismay of his Uncle Maury and Maury’s partner, Gershred. Showbiz, after all, is the antithesis of the secluded Nash’terel lifestyle. And it gets worse. A human girlfriend and a rescue dog? Blasphemy! Not until the genocide follows the Nash’terel to Earth does Bilyash come to appreciate the value of those traditional survival skills.

Is there a genre or type of story you haven’t yet written, but want to tackle at some point? Or, perhaps, a genre you enjoy reading but would not want to try your hand at writing?

Early in my career, I wrote some children’s stories, including a middle-grade novella set in 1986 and a picture book. They were never published, but some of my seasonal kids’ stories appeared in the “Writers’ Corner” of local neighborhood magazines. I’ve often admired authors like Neil Gaiman, who writes in multiple genres and for every age group, and I think it might be fun to try again with these children’s tales of mine, perhaps even using them to launch a series of children’s or middle-grade books.

Thanks for taking part in Five for Friday, Arlene! Have a great weekend!

Arlene’s Links



Chris Patrick Carolan is an author, editor, and hovercraft enthusiast, originally from Glasgow but now based in Calgary, Alberta. He writes science fiction, fantasy (urban and epic), and steampunk, though he has also been known to turn to crime to make ends meet. Crime fiction, that is. His first novel, THE NIGHTSHADE CABAL, was published by Parliament House Press in 2020, and was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence ‘Best First Novel’ award. He can be found on Twitter as @cpcwrites but – consider this fair warning – it’s mostly wisecracks about McNuggets.

49th Parallels Analemma Books Anthology Aurora Awards Book Review Bundoran Press Canadian Writers Cosmic Horror Costume Doctor Who E.M. Wright Emily Skye Enigma Front Fandom Fantasy Five for Friday Halifax Hayden Trenholm Horror Humor Inspector Eddings Interview Isaac Barrow Leather Making Movies and TV NASA Nathaniel Garaven Parliament House Press Penitent's Gold Prairie Gothic Prairie Soul Press Publishing Review Science Fiction Self Seventh Terrace Short Guy Problems Steampunk The Monster Within The Nightshade Cabal The Rankin File Urban Fantasy Writers Community Writing