Writing scifi and fantasy, I need to come up with creatures to haunt my worlds and hunt my characters. But there is a lot of inspiration in the animals of our real world. Here are three great animals to base book beasties on.
Mostly octopuses, but squid too.
Why do I love them? Well, the Kraken, for one. But seriously…
First they’re smarter than I expected them to be. I still remember the wow when I heard the story of the octopus that would go over to the tank next door to snack on the fish it held, then shuffle back to its own tank, all innocent like.
Next, they’re masters of camouflage. And that doesn’t just mean they blend into the ocean floor; some can mimic other animals. How sure are that the squidgy person on the bus is not a cephalopod? Hmm?
And just in case you think you’re safe, there’s even one that hunts on land.
If you need more proof that octopuses are great inspirations for terrifying creatures, check out this video:
Okay, the tongue was firmly in cheek there. And don’t get me wrong — I love cephalopods. I think they’re fascinating, and I still have The Soul of an Octopus on my TBR list. But they’re also alien, and can definitely be turned towards terrifying, especially when combined with deep, dark, frigid sea…or seagulls.
I’m pretty sure I’ll have an octopus-like creature in my books someday…oh I have an idea!
Well, all corvids really. I just like ravens the best. They have such a deep-throated cackles.
Why do they make a great base for a fictional creature? In this case, it definitely starts with the alien intelligence. We know they’re smart, easily besting dogs – and possibly some children – in tests of intelligence, but we don’t really know what goes on behind those beady eyes. And, like octopuses, they hold grudges.
Along with their intelligence is their ability to adapt things in their environment to serve a purpose…to make tools. Now, we’ve long had to accept that tool-making was not what set us off from animals, so maybe it’s that we play in a way other animals don’t? Nope, many corvids have seems to have a very human sense of play. Have you ever seen the video of the sledding ravens?
Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the avairman in M. Pax’s The Backworlds so much, even though they’re not corvid-like.
This list wouldn’t be complete without spiders. I don’t have the same love for spiders that I have for octopuses and ravens. I’ve gotten better with spiders, partly because my night of terror on a Costa Rican mountainside, but it’s more toleration than fascination. Though this list is starting to increase the fascination factor. Here are some highlights:
- The Darwin bark spider — I’m guessing Australian — creates the strongest material made by a living organism…10 times stronger than Kevlar. Wow, imagine a bullet-proof vest made out of that.
- Some species of spiders can see light we cannot, including UVA and UVB.
- A female black widow needs to mate only once. After she has mated, she can produce eggs for the rest of her life! Okay, her life isn’t that long but still.
- Hummingbirds use spider silk in their nests (they also feed on spiders — need to put up that hummingbird feeders).
I still have that knee-jerk reaction when they’re in the house. I think I might have channeled my own feelings when developing the character Bee in Bloodborne Pathogens.
“You shouldn’t, those things are evil — you can see it in the way they move, clickety clack.”— Bee, in response to Mina saying she has a hard time even killing a spider (A Scarlet Fever)
And she encounters spiders that are perhaps not your average arachnids in A Circus of Devils. Hmmm, I’m thinking of writing more books set in the same time, and I might have to bring in some more arachnids. Ugh, that would mean research and exposing myself to spider pictures.
I haven’t included any spider photos because I know they can be triggering. But if you’re also a recovering arachnophobe, I recommend Jurgen Otto’s Youtube channel. He has videos of the objectively adorable, dancing peacock spider (include one set to Stayin’ Alive).
What about you: what are your favourite creatures, either out of this world or entirely ordinary?