The spark for The Flock was born in the early 1990s when I read about the discovery of a bone in a Florida spring. A paleontologist had found a piece of the fossil puzzle for the animals commonly referred to as “Terror birds”. These were enormous, flightless, predator birds that lived during the Pleistocene along the Gulf Coast of North America. No one had ever found their wing bones, and it was assumed that such bones would indicate a vestigial limb, such as those on their ratite relatives, the ostrich or emu.
But the new fossil indicated something else entirely. It seemed to show that the wing had evolved back into an arm and that in this case, for a time, the form and behavior of the theropod dinosaurs had been reconstituted in their closest living relative, the bird. Titanis walleri was, for all intents and purposes, a dinosaur reborn.
As with many speculative thrillers, my next thought was “What if?” While I love the concept of cryptozoology, my problems with the subject have always been how any undiscovered animal could remain hidden from the heaving masses of insatiably curious Homo sapiens. To answer this question I had to assume certain environmental conditions and to endow the animals with an intellect that would give them the ability to have remained hidden for literally thousands of years. And more than that, I had to assure that my Terror birds had not only intelligence, but also a cohesive society and even a kind of philosophy that had guided them to continued survival.
In short, I had to make the “animals” characters in the narrative, as unique and complicated as any human protagonist.
Having dealt with my major structural problem, I didn’t have to dig too deep for the conflicts. One has only to look at the world around us to see the problems that we create as industrial civilization sprawls farther and farther afield, spilling into formerly rural and wild lands.
While I had to wonder how an undiscovered and sentient species would deal with this, I didn’t have to imagine at all how humans would handle such a situation. In many ways, Mankind is in some ways a very predictable creature, and in circumstances like these, conflicts of interest are virtually inevitable, so I was confident I could make the human characters as interesting as their more alien counterparts.
The Flock was born out of my respect for the creatures with which we share this planet, my life-long interest in paleontology and evolution science, and my casual observations of our own society. Truth be told, it all goes back to my childhood days as a dinosaur buff, and is rooted in my life-long fascination with animals. I hope the book reflects my own understanding—and that of any person who has ever lived with a pet—that animals have feelings and emotions, and make conscious decisions.
The Flock (978-0-7653-2801-4, $15.99) by James Robert Smith is available from Forge this November.
From the Tor/Forge November newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from our November newsletter:
- Turn on the Wayback Machine! by Mercedes Lackey
- “Magic calls to magic” by Alyx Dellamonica
- The Rope Roads by Karl Schroeder