Me and Jay Lake at the Nebula Mass Signing yesterday. I taste of executive power. For another few weeks, anyway.
Picture borrowed from jay’s site, here.
Me and Jay Lake at the Nebula Mass Signing yesterday. I taste of executive power. For another few weeks, anyway.
Picture borrowed from jay’s site, here.
Welcome to Saturday.
First: Look! A video interview with me from RT Book Reviews, taken during the Booklover’s Convention a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City. I talk about The Human Division, the RT convention and some SFWA matters:
Second: Jamie Todd Rubin reviews The Human Division in Intergalactic Medicine Show, and has nice things to say about the book. For example:
The Human Division is not just John Scalzi at its best, it is science fiction at its best.
Yup, that’s a jacket blurb right there.
Third: Nebula Weekend fabulous so far. Wish you were here.
And to answer the age-old question, no, I don’t know the way to San Jose, on account that for the last two days I was driven around by other people and have no idea, navigationally, how I got here. Thank God for GPS.
Nevertheless I am here, in San Jose, and about to formally embark on my last ever Nebula Weekend as president of SFWA. It’ll be fun. Those of you who are in or near San Jose, remember that there is the mass signing today at 5:30, with me and dozens of your favorite science fiction and fantasy writers; here are the details. See you there!
Want to see literally dozens of SF/F writers in one place at one time? Who are there to sign books? For you?
Then come on down to the San Jose Hilton (300 Almaden Blvd), from 5:30 to 7:30pm tomorrow (Friday, May 17) for the SFWA Mass Signing. It’s free and open to the public. Come see me! Not just me: Here are the some of the others signing books:
John Joseph Adams
Sonja A. Bock
Jason V Brock
Aliette de Bodard
William C. Dietz
Sarah Beth Durst
Karen Haber Silverberg
Joe W. Haldeman
Maria Dahvana Headley
Howard V. Hendrix
Mary Robinette Kowal
Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Edward M. Lerner
Michael J. Martinez
Diana L. Paxson
Michael H. Payne
Kim Stanley Robinson
Deborah J. Ross
Lawrence M. Schoen
Honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to show up. It’s science fiction/fantasy Nirvana. Borderlands Books will be on hand with books to buy, or you can bring your own. We’ll be happy to scrawl in them.
See you there!
Oh, yes. My “just woke up” hairdo brings all the girls to the yard. And yes, of course, I am seriously considering this for my next author photo. Because, obviously, why wouldn’t I.
My Thursday will be spent in SFWA board meetings, followed by my appearance tonight at Books, Inc., in Mountain View, Ca at 7pm. If you are in the vicinity of Mountain View, come on by. I promise what little remains of my hair will be under control at that point.
The headline says it all, but in case you need more information, here are all the details, including the address of the store.
This will also be useful for those of you who are in San Francisco but for some reason can’t make it to see me tonight. Yes, it’s an extra jaunt for you, but that will make the appearance all the sweeter, I think. Right? Maybe? Hmmmmm?
Come on by. We’ll see you there.
And it’s a very good read (and also a positive review — the two are not always related), looking at THD in the context of the military science fiction genre, and giving readers a useful overview of that storied sub-genre. Here’s the takeaway, which hearkens back to the overview:
Entertainingly exemplifying the maxim that “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means,” The Human Division is the type of intelligently crafted and inventive military-political science fiction that reminds us that though we might be able to pinpoint a genre’s takeoff point, nobody can predict how far it it will fly.
I’ll take that. Check it out.
It is: I am almost always able to wake up within five minutes of when I need to wake up.
Today is a perfect example. I wanted to be at the airport in time for my flight, which is at 10:20 am. This being LA and me needing to travel on the 405 and return a rental car with a full tank of gas, and me generally preferring to be early than late, I decided that I needed to be up at 6 am.
I woke up, wide awake, at 5:56.
This is a very useful unearned talent.
It impresses my wife, who does not have a similar talent, and who in the morning hits the snooze button enough that the poor thing probably had PTSD at this point. There have been at least a couple of times where she has not wanted to be woken up my the alarm and has just asked me to take her up at a specific time. I think this shows maybe a little too much faith in my innate abilities to wake up in a timely fashion, but on the other hand I haven’t yet failed to get her up at the requested time, so you tell me (note: when I do this, Krissy does not hit me repeatedly, in snooze button fashion).
Please note that this talent is not infallible: about five percent of the time I manage to sleep until my own alarm goes off. This is why, I will note, I actually do set an alarm. It’s nice to have backup (and not to miss important things). I’m confident in this brain quirk of mine, but I also have a healthy respect for the fact that human brains are less than perfect machines. What it ultimately means is that nineteen times out of twenty I don’t have to wake up to a harsh buzzing in my ear, and that is its own reward.
This is actually my second superpower; the first one was that when the phone rang, I could pick up the phone and tell the person on the other end who they were. This was not because I was psychic (I’m guessing) but because I was good at making educated guesses as to who would be calling me at any particular point in time. I was rarely wrong. However, these days, announcing to people on the phone who they are does not mean you have a superpower, it means you have Caller ID. Thank you so much, march of progress.
And I’m very excited about it, because Borderlands is one of my favorite bookstores in all the land, and it’s always so much fun to be there. Will you be there? You should be! That is, if you’re in the San Francisco area. If you’re, like, in Idaho, it’s okay if you sit this one out. One day I will come to Idaho, I’m sure. But if you’re in or near San Francisco, Borderlands is going to be the place to be.
The details are on Borderlands Books events page; scroll down a little bit.
See you there!
First thing’s first: If you wanted to get a signed copy of The Human Division and are not able to get to one of my tour dates, here’s what you do:
1. If you want it signed and personalized, order the book from one of the stores on my tour I have yet to visit and they’ll be happy to set aside a copy, which I will be happy to personalize to you (or whomever you wish to have it personalized to).
2. If you just want it signed, the better to sell it on eBay when I am smothered in a tragic kitten avalanche, then check with the stores I’ve already been to, they probably will still have signed books in stock. For example, Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego has tons of signed Human Divisions, and after tonight, so will their Redondo Beach store, and so on. Alternately, my hometown bookstore, Jay & Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio, has signed stock on hand and would be delighted to send one along to you.
Of course, if you can come to the signings, please do come to the signings. They’re fun. And I don’t want to be alone.
Second thing’s second: A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist who was doing a story about authors who have a book coming out on the same day as Dan Brown’s new book Inferno, presumably because it will be amusing to hear us wail and gnash our teeth about that particular juggernaut crushing our books. I wasn’t home when he called and he never got back to me about it, so I will not be in that article. But if I had been, what I would have said is this:
I am in fact entirely unconcerned. I have no doubt that Inferno will sell rather more copies than The Human Division, but I doubt seriously that it will take away any sales from my book; which is to say I doubt that someone is going to walk into a book store, see Brown’s book and mine, and have a great existential crisis about only being able to choose one or the other. There may be overlap between our audiences, but I suspect that the overlap we have would choose to get both.
This would be the place to say something snarky about Brown, but I have nothing snarky to say about the dude. I read one of his books; it was entertaining and I was entertained and if there was anything about the book that was supposed to be deeper than that it went right past me. Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad; it’s really missing the point. You don’t want the cupcake? Don’t eat the cupcake. Apparently lots of people like cupcakes. They don’t care that you want them to eat salad. You eat salad, if it’s so important to you.
But beyond this, I suspect that the article this journalist fellow was writing might have been predicated on a zero-sum thinking, which is that the money spent on Dan Brown today takes money from other writers. It doesn’t actually work that way. There are a certain number of Dan Brown readers who read one book a year, and the book they read this year is his. Bluntly put, that’s not money taken from me or other writers because we were never in contention for that cash. There is the another category of Dan Brown reader, which are the sort of people who love to read books, and also read Dan Brown. Someone in that category is going to cruise through Inferno in a couple of days and be on to the next book — perhaps mine, perhaps someone else’s. The point is in this scenario Dan Brown doesn’t take money away from any other writer in any significant way, because people who love reading read a lot of books.
And then there’s a third scenario in which people who didn’t know they like to read, read a Dan Brown book, enjoy it and then say “what else is out there?” In which case Dan Brown just did me and every other author a favor, because now there’s a new reader to shop our wares to. This is one reason why you won’t hear me gripe about Dan Brown, or E.L. James, or Stephenie Meyer or [insert frequently maligned author here]. They don’t hurt my career, and have the potential to benefit it.
So good luck to Dan Brown on his sales today, not that I think he will need it. And good luck to me, too. I suspect when the day is over, both of us will be perfectly happy with how it’s turned out.
The hardcover (and compiled, DRM-free electronic edition, and also the compiled audio version) of The Human Division, the latest novel in the Old Man’s War series, is officially out today, May 14, here in the US and also (because Tor owns the rights worldwide) in the rest of the world as well. You can buy it at your local booksellers (which I encourage if you like your local bookseller) or online at just about any major online book retailer; please note that not all online retailers will turn on the “sell” button at the stroke of midnight. The hardcover/compiled eBook edition includes a couple of extras not (yet) available separately. People who bought the individual episodes online need not fear, however, as those extras will be available online in the near future (i.e., you won’t have to buy the rest of the book, again, to get them).
In addition to being the fifth novel in the Old Man’s War series (after Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale) this also my ninth novel in total, and my nineteenth book overall, all published since 2000 (and all the novels since 2005). Time flies when you’re busy writing. I will say that although The Human Division is the fifth book in the OMW series, it was intentionally written so that people new to the OMW universe would not have to read the rest of the series to know what’s going (and to enjoy the proceedings). I’m a big believer in getting every OMW book to stand on its own, even as they form a series.
This book is unusual in that it comes to the print market not just a bestseller, but a multiple best seller — in electronic form, each of the book’s thirteen episodes made it onto the USA Today bestseller list, one after the other, for thirteen straight weeks. I don’t mind telling you that when “Earth Below, Sky Above,” the final episode, made it onto the list, I breathed a sigh of relief. The book stuck the dismount. Thank you, those of you who bought the book in the episodic form.
I’m also happy to say the book has been getting some really excellent reviews, which is also an occasion for a sigh of relief. You never quite know how people are going to respond to you, as a writer, returning to your best-known universe, even if they have been clamoring for you to go back into it. By and large, people seem to have taken to this new installment, for which I am grateful.
I’m also grateful for having gotten an opportunity to go back into the OMW universe in this way. Over the last couple of years, I knew I wanted to tell more stories in this world, but the stories I wanted to tell wouldn’t necessarily fit comfortably into the convention novel format. The fact that Tor not only allowed but actively encouraged me to aggressively play with the traditional structure of the novel is the reason this particular novel works and (in my opinion) is something special. They also did an amazing job with book — everything from art to advertising. I have never been happier to be a Tor author than I am with this book.
As most of you know by now, I am on tour to support this book; the official tour, which starts today in Redondo Beach, takes me to fifteen different cities throughout the USA. If you are in or near one of these cities, I hope you will come down and see me on tour. I promise you a fun time.
I’m really proud of this book, folks. It’s already done some amazing things, and I’m looking forward to where it takes me next. I hope you’ll read it and like it as much as I do. I think you will. I hope you will, anyway.
Yes, Los Angeles, the major metropolitan area of my youth, where I was raised on In-N-Out Double-Doubles and Thrifty ice cream scoops, listened to KROQ and yearned for checkerboard Vans. You are the perfect place to begin my tour. And so I shall, at the Redondo Beach branch of Mysterious Galaxy, tomorrow, May 14. The festivities kick of at 7:30 (which will give you enough time to trek from wherever it is you are to the store, because LA traffic remains an enduring joy, does it not) and of course I will be reading, doing a Q&A and signing the books you care to bring (although if you buy The Human Division at Mysterious Galaxy, that would be best. Support the stores that support me, and all that). Once again, the rumor is that there will be cake! There was cake at the last event, so I think this is a positive trend.
One thing to be aware of is that this is a “numbered event,” which as I understand it means that you’ll be given numbers to signal where you are in the signing queue. Or something. The details will be on at that link above. Don’t worry about the numbers. You can totally show up. I totally want you to show up. Please please please please please show up. Yes, I still have that anxiety that I will do a signing and nobody will come, and I will just sit at a table, increasingly fake smile on my face, while the customers who are in the store do everything they can to avoid eye contact with me. It’s the author equivalent of the that dream where you come in late to that final test in high school, have no pencils and somehow skipped wearing your pants.
I assure you I will be wearing pants tomorrow. Promise.
So: The Human Division Tour kickoff, tomorrow, May 14, 7:30 Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, Redondo Beach. See you there!
A bad thing happens, and we want justice for it. How far would we go for that justice? And what happens if in the pursuit of justice, we are tempted to act injudiciously? It’s the question that confronts author Chelsea Pitcher in her novel The S-Word.
I’m a pretty pacifistic person. I don’t shoot guns or get turned on by knives. I’ve never even been in a physical fight (outside of sibling roughhousing). But once in a while, I dream of being a vigilante.
Vigilante-me sits atop a darkened high-rise and looks down at the city below. She scours the alleys for murderers and rapists, fingers twitching at the thought of revenge. She doesn’t wear skin-tight leather or a cape, but she does have a penchant for black, and there are probably boots involved. She makes the world a better place, picking up the justice system’s slack.
She’s a heroine.
It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Deep down, I think we all have vigilante versions of ourselves hovering just beneath the surface of our skin. We see injustice in the world, we feel horrified, and we don’t know what to do to make things right. But the hero-inside knows, and she is ever vigilant, waiting for the right moment to break free and save the day.
I started writing “The S-Word” with this real-world vigilante in mind. Seventeen-year-old Angie is strong, determined, and wicked smart, but she isn’t a masked avenger bringing villains to justice in the dark. She’s a high school student living in a world where bullying is commonplace and suicide is seen as a viable escape. When her best friend, Lizzie, is bullied by the entire school and takes her own life, Angie stops playing the bystander and starts taking action.
That inner vigilante comes out.
After that, everything should be simple, right? The villains are caught, and the hero lives, if not happily, at least contentedly ever after. But trying to pinpoint villains in a society where everyone contributed, through action and passivity, to a teenage girl’s undoing, was harder than I anticipated. Where, even, to begin?
What followed were a series of interrogations, where both Angie and I attempted to uncover the events leading up to Lizzie’s demise. Who participated in the bullying, and why? Who tried to intervene? Who did nothing? Slowly a tapestry revealed itself, made up of dozens of interwoven threads. Angie was able to see, through careful sleuthing, not only who contributed directly to Lizzie’s torment, but also whose silence allowed the bullying to flourish. Now, all she had to do was take that information to the school administrators, and justice could be served…
Except, she didn’t.
Angie, in fact, had very different plans. That’s the problem with vigilantism: you can only work around the law for so long before you feel like you’re above the law. And Angie had done such a good job interrogating her suspects…Why shouldn’t she be the one to punish them? Why shouldn’t she take an eye for an eye, and make them sorry for Lizzie’s suffering—
Wait. What was happening to Angie?
Suddenly, my big idea shifted to something much darker than I’d expected. I was no longer dealing with a heroine’s noble attempt to bring justice to a broken world. I was dealing with the very real possibility of Angie losing her humanity and becoming a villain. After all, how many times can we exact vengeance before our sense of right and wrong becomes blurred? How many times can we be cruel, even to cruel people, before we forget how it feels to be kind?
So my big idea morphed, and mutated, and had little idea babies of its own. “The S-Word” stopped being a story about vigilantes, and became a study in that oh-so-flimsy line between good and evil in us all. And, by the end of it, I couldn’t help envisioning a vigilante and a villain crouching inside of me, each holding the other’s hand, two sides to the same coin, whispering: Let us out, just for a moment…
What could go wrong?
Not dead! Just taking long Sunday lunches with friends in LA, to be followed by long Sunday dinners with friends in LA. What are you doing? Tell all! Omit nothing!
First: Don’t check luggage. I have a dozen flights in these three weeks. That’s a dozen chances for four separate airlines to lose my luggage. If you give them that many shots on the goal, they will score, and your luggage will be lost, and as you’re rarely in the same place for more than one day, your luggage may never catch up. So: Carry on. I have a roller bag, in which are my clothes and toiletries, and a travel bag into which I put my electronics and other things I want to be able to unpack at a moment’s notice.
Second: Decide to have a casual look, which is to say you’ll do better with clothes you can tightly jam into a carry-on, like tee-shirts or short-sleeved polo shirts and jeans, all of which de-wrinkle on their own after about ten minutes of you wearing them. I’m going to be the first to admit that this is much easier to do if, say, you are a dude writing science fiction, as I am, since the level of expected sartorial sophistication for science fiction male is “Don’t show up with Kool-Aid spilled down the front of your tee shirt.” Yes, this is a very low standard. When I am on the road for three weeks, I am happy to let a very low standard work for me.
That said, you can pack better clothing than I do into a carry-on and still make it work. Mary Robinette Kowal can pack as many days worth of clothing into a carry-on as I can, and still — unfathomably — have space for a ball gown. No, I have no idea how she does it. Ask her. I do think an iron is involved somewhere. But in a general sense, casual is better if you can get away with it.
Third: Have a scheduled laundry stop somewhere in the tour, which means that what’s on the schedule for some portion of one day is you shoving your clothes into a washer (and then a dryer), either at a laundromat or at the residence of a sympathetic friend. I don’t care how good you are at clothing Tetris, if you’re over a meter tall, you’re not fitting three week’s worth of clothes into a carry-on. At some point you will need to wash things. You must put this on your schedule; if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.
For what I think are obvious reasons, it’s best if the laundry day is scheduled at (or just after) the halfway point in your tour. My laundry day on this tour is on Day 12, which is slightly less than optimal for a 21-day jaunt, but still perfectly doable. This means I have twelve days of clothes in my bag plus the clothes on my back that I wore the first day of the tour (13 days in all). This means a very tightly packed carry-on.
Laundry day is also another reason to pack casual clothes: I’ll be jamming all my shirts and socks into one load and all my jeans and underwear into the other. Two loads, done.
Fourth: Rolling is magic. The key to putting twelve days of clothing into a single carry-on is have each bit of clothing take of the smallest amount of room as possible, with a minimum of surface area. The means taking every bit of clothing and rolling them into a highly compact tube, and then pushing them as tightly as possible next to each other. There are other ways to make your clothes small and compact, but this is my favorite, for two reasons: One, it’s easy to do — you don’t have to be a scientist to roll a pair of jeans — and two, it makes it easy to both extract and replace clothing during the trip: Pull out one clean tube, replace it with one worn tube (I turn my worn clothes inside out before I put them back into the carry-on so I know at a glance which things are clean and which are not).
So, having said all that, what’s in my bags?
Six pairs of jeans (plus one pair on my body at any one time): You can wear jeans for more than one day (provided you don’t make a mess of yourself), they’re durable and they can take a fair amount of abuse. This makes them excellent tour clothing. They can be bulky but again you can wear them for more than one day so it evens out.
Seven polo shirts: Easily packable but can be worn to places where t-shirts are not appropriate. I have business meetings during this trip, for example, so I’ll be wearing those then.
Five tee-shirts (plus the one I wore on the first day): These are good for travel days and other casual events; I’ll mostly be wearing t-shirts when I am at Phoenix Comic Con, for example.
12 pairs of socks; 12 pairs of underwear (plus the pairs I was wearing on the first day). Because you do need these. Really.
Toiletry bag: Which includes toothbrush, floss, Q-Tips, razor, beard trimmer, Claritin, tissues and underarm deodorant plus a couple other things. I don’t tend to bring my own shampoo or soap because those are generally available in the hotel rooms; also on the road I tend to use soap for when I shave.
Laptop: because I am doing writing/doing other computing-intensive things on the road and want a fully-capable computer.
iPad: for more casual use (tweeting on planes, reading books etc)
Phone: this stays mostly in my pocket but occasionally gets stuffed into the bag. Aside from all the things a modern smartphone can do, it’s also a portable 4G hotspot, which means that in general I do not have to suffer at the hands of terrible hotel/airport wifi. Also, this phone is a Razr Maxx, which means that it has an extra large-capacity battery, which is handy when one is on the road.
Battery: This is a 9900mAh outboard battery that I use to recharge my phone and iPad; it can charge each of these a couple of times (or one of them a few times) before it’s totally drained. This is great for travel because I never worry about not having a charge for my portable electronics (except the laptop). It also means that I don’t have to do the Sad Airport Wall Socket Walk, desperately looking for someplace to plug in my phone.
Paperback book: Because they still make you turn off your electronics on the plane, which is stupid, but whatever. I will replace the paperback a couple of times over the course of the tour; fortunately, I’m often at bookstores, where doing this is easy.
Extra pair of glasses: Because it would suck not to be able to see.
Pens: For signing books and writing on other things. Not every store that has me come for a signing remembers that in order to sign a book I need a pen. Also, in a general sense when I have a preference for medium-weight gel ink pens, and not every store has those, so I bring my own in case.
Sweatshirt: Because planes and other spaces can be cold, and casual shirts are good at keeping one warm. Also makes an acceptable pillow for air travel if necessary.
Baseball cap: For when I am out in the sun and don’t want to get a sunburn on my bald spot and/or for mornings when I need to briefly leave my hotel room before I take a shower, because then my hair looks like hell.
Snacks and gum: For long plane rides and times when I’m so busy I will forget to eat, which happens more often than you might think. The temptation is just to stuff Snickers bars in there, but in fact I do try to snack more responsibly than that. I’m also careful to balance out snacking with a) counting calories so I don’t gain a bunch of weight on tour b) actually eating well when I’m taken places to eat. Be that as it may, it’s not a bad thing to have something to eat at your fingertips, especially if, like me, low blood sugar tends to make you cranky. This is no good when you’re supposed to be nice to people, as, for example, one is supposed to be on a book tour.
The one drawback of traveling so compactly for such a long period of time is that I have almost no space to add anything to my packing. This can be a problem because fans do occasionally like to give me gifts, which is awesome (usually) but then presents the issue of what do I do with the gift. If I have a handler at the stop (someone who drives me around, makes sure I’m where I’m supposed to be, and keeps me on schedule), I will ask them to mail that stuff home for me; otherwise I might have the bookstore do it. So if you are a fan and you give me something, be aware it’s not going with me to the next stop; it’s being shoved into a box and will catch up with me at the end of my travels. I don’t think this will bother most folks but you never know, which is why I note it.
And that’s how you (or at least, I) travel for a three-week book tour.
Why, hello, Los Angeles. You don’t change much.
A brief time recovering from the 405 Freeway, and then I am off again, to dinner with friends. Don’t wait up. See you tomorrow.
That’s right, San Diego, I will be at Mysterious Galaxy’s 20th Anniversary Party tomorrow at 2pm to sign books, meet people and otherwise be a happy performing monkey for the whole lot of you (and yes, apparently, there will be a limited number of “pre-publication copies” of The Human Division, or so it says on Mysterious Galaxy’s Web site, so come early if you want those). I won’t be the only author there by a long shot; click on that link above to see who else is coming by to celebrate. It’ll be a fun time. There are rumors of cake. And you know what they say about cake. It is never a lie.
Please come! Bring a friend! Bring two! Have them bring friends! Have those friends bring enemies, and then we’ll all eat popcorn as they fight in the parking lot! It’ll be fantastic.
In his Big Idea piece for Portal, a series-ending novel that he’s written with Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor delves into two things critical to today’s modern science fiction writers: The secret to writing hard SF, and the secret to bringing a hard SF series to a realistic but (hopefully) satisfying close. Curious? You should be.
RYK E. SPOOR:
Back in 2004, I’d just published my second book with Baen – the short novel Diamonds Are Forever, as the first third of the Mountain Magic collection. This had been written based on an idea sketched out by Eric Flint, and the two of us had both been pleased by the way that turned out. I now had no books under contract and, while Digital Knight hadn’t done terribly badly, Jim Baen wasn’t quite ready to give the go-ahead to another solo work by me.
So Eric mentioned that there was this idea he’d had, and tried to write twice, about a weird fossil being discovered on the K-T boundary that also turned out to have a connection to an alien structure found by space probes (his original plan, as I recall, had it be on Ceres). He’d never gotten very far, because he felt it needed something that would give it the “hard edge” of real SF in some manner that was also accessible… and he thought that the kind of stuff I liked to do with characters like Jason Wood and Clint Slade was exactly what he was looking for.
For me, this was kinda scary. HARD science fiction wasn’t an area I’d contemplated getting into. Oh, it wasn’t entirely out of my feasible zone (like Eric’s big moneymaker, alternate history, which I wouldn’t touch with a forty-foot adamantium pole) but my preference lies definitely in the Space Opera and Fantasy realms. And Eric wanted real hard SF – near-future, using extrapolations of real technology, with parts of it solid enough to ring like steel when someone hammered on them.
Despite my nervousness over this, I realized this was a big opportunity, so I took a deep breath and said “Sure, sounds great!”
The result was Boundary. Published in 2006, Boundary followed a varied cast of characters including paleontologist Helen Sutter, engineer Joe Buckley, sensor genius A.J. Baker, and superspy Madeline Fathom in a pure-science adventure that started in a dusty desert fossil dig and ended in an alien base on Mars. In some ways this was one of the hardest pieces of work I’d ever had to do, because I had to study up on a lot of technology and science that I’d only known peripherally – NERVA rockets, spaceship design considerations, Martian landscape and characteristics, and others – and then figure out two crucial things:
1) How to present all the necessary, hard-science details to the reader without boring the living hell out of said reader, and
2) When to STOP.
That second bit is a crucial, and very scary, part of writing hard SF. You cannot get it all exactly right, not without writing textbooks on each and every subject, and you don’t have hundreds of pages to make your technical points. If you’re lucky, you have two paragraphs to make the point before the reader’s attention begins to wander down the page, looking for the next thing that isn’t an infodump. And even if you think you can get away with a few paragraphs on everything, to learn everything you might need well enough to write authoritatively on it… well, it’ll take you a lot longer than your contractual deadline allows you.
At the same time, you have to get enough right that the reader’s willing to either trust you, or overlook your flaws later on. A feeling of versimilitude has to pervade a hard-SF work. One of the tricks to do this, of course, is make sure that something you as an author do know something about is brought to the foreground frequently, so anyone who reads it will say “hey, this guy knows his stuff”. For me, that was various sensor technologies, and A.J. Baker was my go-to guy to provide commentary – and realistic technology with gee-gosh-wow capabilities – that helped provide a foundation to build on.
But there were – and still are – areas in which I had to decide that I would ignore details of reality for the sake of dramatics; for instance, many space-travel times are based on idealized distances and circumstances in many cases. Even there, though, you’ve got to be careful; disregard the wrong aspect of reality, or do it too cavalierly, and you’ve lost all the solidity and trust you might have had.
Boundary sold quite well, so I guess Eric and I didn’t do too badly on that score. So Baen contracted for two sequels. With various delays, it wasn’t until 2010 that the second book, Threshold, was released. Threshold took our heroes from Mars to Ceres and eventually to the Jupiter system, in ships both new and very, very old indeed. Threshold also contained the only real interpersonal violence and combat in the entire trilogy, mostly caused by the actions of one particular individual.
The original plan for the series had been for the adventures of our crew to arrive at Saturn’s moon Enceladus for a final great discovery and wrap-up; but the ending of Threshold marooned them on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and we came to two realizations: first, getting them off that moon and home was going to take most, if not all, of the third book. And second – these guys are starting to get kinda old to be traipsing around the solar system. Over thirteen years elapses between the opening of Boundary and the ending of Threshold. The youngest member of the main cast, Jackie Secord (a teenager at the beginning of Boundary), is over 30, with former boy genius A. J. Baker just about reaching his forties and his wife Helen well over 50. While I assumed that their future had improved medical care and lifespan, that’s still pushing it for people heading into the most dangerous and remote areas of space.
So now – May 7th – the third and final adventure of the Boundary trilogy, Portal, will be released, and I think it is the best of the three, because it draws on everything I’ve learned in the ten years since I was first published and gives our heroes what I think is their grandest, purest adventure of all – finding a way to not only survive disaster, but find a way to return home on their own, despite all odds… and with one last, wonderful discovery for all mankind.
The realization I had to finish their adventures was, itself, a bit daunting. Yet in a hard SF universe, your heroes can’t really be immortal, can’t be dashing hither and yon throughout the cosmos without a care for the fact that reflexes dull, bodies age, dangers suffered take their toll. Even cosmic chew-toy Joe Buckley has to get cut a break in the end; the latter is, of course, a running joke at Baen, in which characters named “Joe Buckley” suffer various amusing demises at the hands of multiple authors. Eric and I had decided that we would not, in fact, kill Joe – just make it look like we were going to kill him off.
As of this writing, off the top of my head, Joe has survived three spaceship crashes, a fall off the top of an arroyo, a spacesuit puncture, being marooned below Europa’s ice, and shot with a spaceship’s main cannon (which was intended for shooting large vessels or stationary bases). Of course, he hasn’t been alone on all of these, and the entire main cast has gone through various deadly situations.
Despite all the dangers, though, Eric and I painted a positive world, and one I liked visiting; here the excesses of the past couple of decades had been finally moderated, the world had not fallen into some kind of dystopia, the USA had been joined by multiple other countries as true superpowers, and the new space race was helping to fuel a new technological renaissance with the help of the clues left by the alien “Bemmies” in their deserted bases. Medical science was advancing, international cooperation was working, and people were basically living their lives as well as could be expected.
I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to write these stories with Eric’s help. He did a lot of handholding – and writing, and rewriting – in the early days. As time’s gone on, he’s given me more and more leeway in writing them, to the point that Portal’s mostly my work from end to end… but based on an idea that Eric had, and infused to a great extent with his viewpoints and always, always guided by his advice on how to handle various aspects of the story.
I’m a bit sorry to say goodbye to most of these characters; I’ve spent a lot of time with them over the last eight years, and most of them are good people. Some I knew from the beginning, and saw where they were going – Helen Sutter and A.J. Baker’s relationship was clear to me pretty much as soon as I had them meet, for instance – while others decided they were going to surprise me. Dr. Nicholas Glendale was supposed to be a very minor character, appearing in a couple of scenes and then disappearing. Instead, he insisted on staying around, and became a strong secondary character in all three books. General Alberich Hohenheim was originally slated for death… but not only Eric and I, but a number of the beta-readers as well, felt that he deserved better than an unseen, unsung death on that floating tomb, so he gets a chance at survival and redemption. Larry Conley was supposed to just be a Tuckerization and handwave – and instead he ended up being a continuing character who plays significant parts in Threshold and Portal.
Madeline Fathom was originally meant to be an antagonist, colder and deadlier, but Eric wisely remodeled her and she instead became the rock on which most of the characters could lean… while she leaned on quiet, patient Joe Buckley when she had a rare moment of doubt. I hadn’t seen that one coming at first, but once it started the relationship became obvious in hindsight.
All things do come to an end eventually, though, and in this case I had to work hard to bring that end to a conclusion that I really felt good about. In a hard-science context, I had a huge challenge in arranging the events of the last major sequences – anyone who reads it will see the really tough part probably right away. The principles of everything that happens from the time that our heroes descend into Europa until the time they leave are correct, but how well the details of certain events would really hold up… I don’t know. Heck, I don’t have the scientific background or the computer resources to even set about trying to model a lot of it.
But dramatically they work, and for the sake of a story… probability has to just take a bow and get out of the way. In my works, the heroes triumph over their odds, and they get to come home, and come home they all do in the end, with the few bad guys having gotten their just deserts and the heroics recognized and rewarded.
You’ll note that I said I’m sorry to say goodbye to the characters, but not to the universe. That’s very deliberate. For while the adventures of one set of people may be over, as long as there are people, there will be others picking up that torch and carrying it, outwards to wherever humanity travels, to the edge of possibility… and perhaps beyond. As Helen says at the end of Portal: “To the end… of the beginning.”
The universe of Boundary is not over, and you will see it again… in a different light, through different eyes, but, perhaps, not all that different, after all, when the universe challenges ordinary people to do their best … and they become extraordinary.
And all of it started when Dr. Helen Sutter looked at a single little fossil…
Honestly, I never imagined myself in my mid-40s.
Which is not to say that when I was younger I expected I would be dead by now or anything. I never led a life that was either that exciting or depressing. I just simply never imagined myself as a middle-aged dude, because honestly, who does? Who imagines themselves being no longer young yet not exactly old, balding and somewhere in the middle of whatever career one is doing when one grows up? Being middle-aged is no great accomplishment in itself; you just have to make it through your 20s without getting hit by a bus then wait a bit from there. There it is: Your forties.
So, no. Never imagined myself in my forties. But I suppose that just means that everything here in my fifth decade is both a surprise and a thrill. I have a career I love and it’s going well. I have a daughter I love who gives me constant joy and occasional (well, constant) sarcasm. I have friends reaching as far back as second grade who are amazing, accomplished people, who I am delighted I get to know and snipe at. I have a wife who is the core of my life and who after 20 years together I still openly gawk at and wonder what I did to deserve such a spectacular women, whose physical gorgeousness is the least wonderful thing about her. I travel across the country — and in fact will travel across the country today — and get to meet people who like what I do enough to come out and see me when I show up in their city.
Basically, the forties kind of rock for me.
There are some downsides, I suppose. I am balding, and at the moment (not visible from the picture above) am rocking a kind of “Friar Tuck” tonsure hair pattern. I do have a little arthritis in one of my hips, although at this point I have to really torque it to notice (I am told that will eventually change). And when 10pm rolls around, what I really want to do is go to bed, because my body is going to wake me up by 6am whether I want it to or not. So I’m not exactly Mr. Excitement. But honestly if these are my downsides at the moment, I should just shut up about them right now. Here’s me shutting up about them.
As noted, I will be celebrating my birthday by going on the road: I travel to Los Angeles today to begin my book tour, which will take me all over the country over the course of the next three weeks. On one hand, yeah, it’s not great to be traveling on my birthday. On the other hand, I think about why I’m traveling and I have to admit there are far worse reasons to get on a plane on my 44th, and besides this means I get a Double Double animal style on my birthday SO I WIN. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you (well, some of you, anyway) through May. And also to my Double Double. And to being 44. Let’s see where things go from here.
If you did pre-order The Human Division from Jay & Mary’s Book Center, one, your book is in this picture somewhere, and two, I signed it as specified and it will soon be on its way to you. Thank you for supporting my local bookstore, they are awesome and so are you.
If you did not pre-order The Human Division from Jay & Mary’s Book Center and are now filled with regret that you did not get a signed copy from me, there are two things you can do at this point:
One: Call Jay & Mary’s Book Center and order a signed (but not personalized) copy from them, because they have, like, 20 copies that they will put on the shelves on Tuesday. They will send you one! Happily!
Two: Call any of the bookstores that are participating in my book tour, order a copy from them and ask them to have me sign it for you when I get there (that is, if you’re not coming to the event itself, which you should because OH GOD OH GOD WHAT IF NO ONE SHOWS UP TO MY EVENTS).
Either of these works.
In any event, you’ll be able to get one of these babies Real Soon Now. I’m excited! I’m excited for you!