Welcome to today’s blog topic: Fish! And inspiration.
Why fish you ask? What do fish have to do with dark speculative fiction? Consider such dark and watery masterpieces as Moby-Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, and Jaws by Peter Benchley, just to name a few. (I know that whales and giant squid technically are not fish, but they are magnificent, are they not? And yes, Jaws has contributed to public fear and misunderstanding of sharks, but it’s also been associated with increases in marine biology studies admissions, and Peter Benchley has worked tirelessly for shark conservation over several decades. Plus, it’s still a powerful example of speculative fiction).
I may ask you in turn, what don’t fish have to do with speculative fiction? But perhaps that’s just me.
Inspiration is a personal thing. To me, fish, are mysterious and evocative (and delicious). I love studying them, raising them, catching them in the wild (although I am terrible at this), eating them (I am much better at that), reading fiction about them, drawing them, and, yes, writing them.
Symbolism of Fish:
Around the world, fish have come to represent a wide range of human experience: the unconscious, luck, fertility, abundance, charity, determination, enlightenment, intuition and dreams, to name a few. Fish can also identify, and have great meaning as symbols for, groups of people like the Salmon clans of the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast or Christians. But here, I’m going to focus more personally, on what fish have come to mean to me as a fiction writer and a community/mental health researcher.
Since childhood, I have been captivated by fish, by the mysterious, fluid way they move, their enigmatic eyes, their shimmering scales, or dramatic skin markings. And when I say “fish”, I include aquatic mammals and cephalopods. On a personal level, my subconscious apparently equates undersea creatures with the discovery of missing meaning, searching for the hidden in life, and sometimes finding it.
As a researcher, they appear in my dreams when I’m stuck on a problem. The more complex the question and the more elusive the answer, the deeper beneath the ocean I go, and the weirder the fish I see, often over the course of several nights. Once, with a particularly intense work puzzle, I brought in a colleague for assistance. That night, I dreamed of a fisherwoman showing me a million tiny fishes that had come to the beach to spawn in a glittering mass beneath the moon. The next day, I solved my dilemma. Sure, the symbolism seems obvious now, but it was a visually stunning and emotionally compelling dream. [And far more pleasurable than the horrible Christmas shopping nightmares I get when I’m overwhelmed with too many tasks.]
Fishy Musical Interlude:
Surprisingly, I do not have a fish playlist to accompany me while I write. A quick Google search of fish music suggests a lot of floaty relaxation aquarium music, which can be lovely. But as an alternative, here is some music created by fish - okay, whales, and we already covered how they are not fish but here they are anyway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWPVJlyJkbg. My cat enjoys that one. And for a different mood entirely, there is always Barnes and Barnes classic 80’s “Fish Heads” song. See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn73Wtem0No.
As a fiction writer, I often include a fish or two in the story. Here are some personal statistics:
The Scaly Truth By The Numbers:
# of novels completed: 2.5
# of novels with fish: 1.5
My novel-seeking-a-home has none, but the one I’m currently working on has a few, including significant kraken action.
# of unpublished short stories with fish in them (in a starring symbolic role): 3 out of 12
# of published short stories with fish in them: 0 out of 8
(Although one was accepted for publication by a press which seems to have itself vanished beneath the waves, which perhaps should tell me something. Hmm.)
And, something I hadn’t realized until writing this:
# of poems written with fish (in them, as opposed to co-authored by): 0.
I do have one with an alligator, but I don’t think that counts. Perhaps fish are poems in and of themselves, and don’t need to have words wrapped around them like so much newspaper at a fish and chips stand. Or, maybe not.
But regardless of my fish tale success, I love writing about fish. And even if it I end up being the only one reading these stories, the fish in them inspire me. Perhaps fish, or some other mysterious element inspires you. Go with it. I urge you to celebrate the fish, in all its elusive mystery, both real and fictional. Also, Omega 3s.
I think I feel a poem coming on . . .
MENACING ENTITY OF THE MONTH: THE ANGLER FISH (Lophiiformes).
The feature this month is longer than usual, but who could resist? Come on, just look at those teeth? There are over 300 varieties of this bony fish with the gigantic, inwardly pointing teeth and massive distended jaws. They get their name from the lure (the esca or illicium) formed of flesh from a modified dorsal fin spine which hangs seductively over those jaws. The fish range in size from less than a foot (30 cm) long to three and half feet (1.0 metre) long, and may weigh up to 110 pounds (50 kg). The deep-sea varieties have an esca that glows due to bioluminescent bacteria.
In some varieties, the tiny males, who are esca-free, attach themselves to the bodies of the females and live off them (no comment). Thus, the male can release sperm whenever she releases eggs. To make this attachment possible, the males secrete an enzyme that dissolves the female’s skin and fuses their bodies – forever. Now, there’s a fate to carefully consider. The angler fish are ambush predators, lying in wait (okay, drifting in wait) for innocent fish and squid to come to them. And, come to them they do, down in the deep, dark sea, dazzled by their bright appendage, like so many hopefuls to Los Angeles. So, do take care – when you are surrounded by utter blackness, approach with extreme caution any floating, juicy, worm-like objects - no matter how appealing.