Morgan Burke, part-time computer programmer at the Tri- University Meson Facility (TRIUMF) and aspiring fiction writer, is a day-dreamer by his own admission.

One of Burke's dreams recently came true when his short story, A Prayer for the Insect Gods, won the 1996 L. Ron Hubbard Gold Award for science fiction writing. Given annually to an amateur writer who has never been published, the win comes with a purse of $4,000 US.

Burke's story is about mechanical insects living in a city's junkyards and sewers that steal parts from cars and appliances to rebuild themselves.

"I can't remember where I got the idea," says Burke. "But having a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy and physics, and a job at TRIUMF, means that a lot of the ideas I come up with are science-fiction related."

Burke was flown to the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Fla. for the award ceremony, which was attended by some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy writing, including contest judges Jerry Pournelle, Greggory Benford, Frederick Pohl and Tim Powers.

Burke's story, and those of the other finalists, will be published in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Vol. XIII anthology, sold at major book shops.

Burke has since completed the manuscript for a novel, which concerns a sacred sword and the secret cults which continue to battle over it at the turn of the millennium.

And he's busy working on his second novel, a satire he says is about someone who aspires to be a terrorist suicide bomber.