I’m doing things and stuff in the real world over the weekend, including my appearance this Saturday at the LA Times Festival of Books with Wil Wheaton, and then flying home. So this is very likely the last you’ll see of me in this space until Monday (or possibly late Sunday). If you’re in Los Angeles, come see us at the Festival — and if you’re not, have a fabulous weekend anyway. See you on the other side.
Mostly because this person is here with me at the moment.
And that’s all you get today, people. See you tomorrow.
In the wake of one of John C. Wright’s Hugo-nominated stories being disqualified for the ballot because it was previously published on his Web site, howls of bitter indignancy have arisen from the Puppy quarters, on the basis that Old Man’s War, a book I serialized here on Whatever in 2002, qualified for the Hugo ballot in 2006 (it did not win). The gist of the whining is that if my work can be thought of as previously unpublished, why not Mr. Wright’s? Also, this is further evidence that the Hugos are one big conspiracy apparently designed to promote the socially acceptable, i.e., me specifically, whilst putting down the true and pure sons of science fiction (i.e., the Puppies).
1. The first irony is that Old Man’s War actually wasn’t originally on the 2006 Best Novel Hugo ballot at all; it finished sixth in the nomination tally. It ascended to the ballot when Neil Gaiman, who I did not know at the time (and who was almost certainly entirely unaware of my existence, or that I had placed sixth in the nomination tally), declined a Best Novel nomination for Anansi Boys. Neil (who I do know now), explained later that he’d felt he’d won his share of Hugos at the time and imagined the nomination would be better served helping someone else. He was correct about that. The point is that if you buy into the conspiracy theory of Old Man’s War being on the ballot, you have to believe that the conspiracy somehow convinced/forced Neil Gaiman to decline his nomination strictly for my benefit. Which is some conspiracy!
2. The second irony is that at the time, based purely on the content of Old Man’s War, to the extent that fandom presumed to guess my personal politics at all, much of it assumed that I was a US conservative. Hey, not everyone reads my blog. So the idea that I was on the ballot because of some ideological nod is, well, suspect at best.
3. It was no big secret in 2006 that Old Man’s War had been serialized on my blog prior to publication, so it seems doubtful to me the Hugo people were entirely unaware of its provenance. To the extent that it was discussed at all between me and other folks, to the best of my recollection at the time, there was the feeling that serializing on the blog did not, in itself, constitute publication (interestingly, I thought that it was Agent to the Stars, also published in 2005, that might be more of a tricky sell for the ballot, as you can see here).
4. Aside from my notification of the nomination, I had no contact with the Hugo Award committee of that year prior to the actual Worldcon, nor could I tell you off the top of my head who was on the committee. It doesn’t appear that anyone at the time was concerned about whether OMW being serialized here constituted publication. Simply put, it didn’t seem to be an issue, or at the very least, no one told me if it were. Again, if this was a conspiracy to get me on the ballot, it lacked one very important conspirator: Me.
5. So why would OMW’s appearance on a Web site in 2002 not constitute publication, but Mr. Wright’s story’s appearance on a Web site in 2013 constitute publication? There could be many reasons, including conspiracy, but I think the more likely and rather pedestrian reason is that more than a decade separates 2002 and 2013. In that decade the publishing landscape has changed significantly. In 2002 there was no Kindle, no Nook, no tablet or smart phone; there was no significant and simple commerce channel for independent publication; and there was not, apparently, a widespread understanding that self-publishing, in whatever form, constituted formal publication for the purposes of the Hugo Awards. 2013 is not 2002; 2015, when Mr. Wright’s story was nominated, is not 2006, when OMW was nominated.
I don’t think it’s all that difficult to conceptualize that major changes in culture can significantly alter the perception of what is legitimate and what is not; after all, in 2002, no state in the US allowed for same-sex marriage, whereas in 2015 the majority do, and it’s very likely by the end of the year that all will. The recognition of web publication as formal publication for the purposes of science fiction awards is not exactly a greater cultural shift than that, I would propose. No conspiracy required.
6. But it’s not faaaaaaiiirrrr, waaaaaaaaaaaah. Well, one: Life is not fair, so gut up, children. Two, it’s the Hugo adminstrators’ call to make, and they made it, so again, put on your big kid pants and just deal with it. If this year’s Hugos have a theme, it is of people just having to deal with shit they don’t like. I’m not sure why the Puppies feel they should be special snowflakes in this regard. The good news for Mr. Wright is that Hugo voters are not left bereft of chances to enjoy his Hugo-nominated prose, as he is still on the ballot a prodigious five times.
7. What would I have done in 2006 if I had been disqualified from the Hugo ballot because OMW had been serialized on my Web site? I imagine I would have been very gravely disappointed and would have probably groused privately and possibly even publicly. Then I imagine I would have put on my own big kid pants and dealt with it. Because here’s a home truth: No one is owed a Hugo award, or a Hugo nomination. If you start thinking you are, you’re the problem, not the Hugos, their administrators, or anyone else who might have ever been nominated, or even been awarded, one of the rockets.
Let me preface by saying that I’m not a scientist. I’m just a layperson who took some classes in college and enjoys researching and learning on my own. That being said, I love science! More specifically, I love physics and quantum mechanics. That might sound strange coming from a fantasy author, but I love how physics can put complex ideas into relatively simple terms: force equals mass times acceleration, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, etc.
But, I really geek out about quantum mechanics and how it seems to turn everything we understand about the universe on its head. Concepts like wave-particle duality, superposition, entanglement, and the uncertainty principle are endlessly fascinating to me. As our understanding expands, it seems that the lines between not just science fiction and science fact blur, but also science and fantasy. With that in mind: can a system of magic be explained using quantum mechanics? That is my Big Idea, or perhaps I should call it my Big Theory.
My novel, The Forgotten, has two points of inspiration. The first is Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It seems straight forward. Without understanding the scientific principles behind something, it might as well be magic. An LCD screen would be like a magic window to someone from the Dark Ages.
The second point of inspiration is the double-slit experiment. To grossly oversimplify, the premise is this: if you shoot particles at a screen through two slits, you would expect to see two stripes on the screen, mimicking the slits. But you don’t, not even if you send the particles through one at a time. Instead, you see an interference pattern of many alternating bars. That means that individual particles are actually behaving like waves and interfering with themselves.
However, when you place detectors at the slits to see what’s happening, the interference waves go away and you get two straight lines, matching the two slits. The particles cease to exist as waves of probability—existing in all possible locations at the same time—and coalesce into a single location just by observing them! Even more remarkably, setting detectors anywhere after the two slits produces the same results. If they’re on, you get two lines. If they’re not, you get an interference pattern. So not only does observing the experiment change the results from that moment on, it changes the results before being observed.
These two concepts birthed a single question in my mind. What if the observer is what changes the outcome, rather than just the act of observing? That would mean we’re actually, unconsciously, altering reality. The next logical question is: could someone do so consciously and to what extent? If so, how would this be at all distinguishable from magic? After all, every magical effect you can think of can be explained scientifically. Teleportation? There’s quantum teleportation and worm holes. Throwing fireballs? Fire is just particles moving at an energy level that generates sufficient heat to combust a fuel. It’s theoretically possible, or rather not theoretically impossible, for particles to be acted on by an outside force to generate enough heat to combust the oxygen in the air.
Now, I hear you saying, “But Bishop, some of those effects require vast amounts of energy!” You’re right, and there are unimaginable amounts of energy all around us—dark matter and dark energy to name just two. We just don’t know how to utilize them…yet. What if our will, our belief, was the key to harnessing them?
Enter my main character, a homeless girl named Wraith. She sees the waves of probability all around us in the form of equations and symbols——quantum information. With conscious effort, she can alter those equations, thus changing the probability of specific outcomes and, in turn, the very nature of reality itself. Things that are so astronomically improbable that they can be called impossible become certainties. But what impact would this ability have on a person? And what if the person in question already had little more than a tenuous grasp on reality to begin with?
What I found was that I couldn’t imagine any situation where a person could do all this and stay sane or even maintain a sense of self. Who we are is defined by how we act and what we think. But if the structure of existence is less like a bedrock foundation and more like a giant sand dune, shifting and ever changing, how do we define ourselves? How do we know who we are? That’s exactly the question Wraith has to face. Naturally there are complications to answering that question. She isn’t sure how she attained this ability or how to control it. All the while, street kids—her friends and peers—are vanishing, some turning up dead.
Perhaps all these questions are just a sign that my own grasp on reality is less than firm. Luckily, I’m a writer, so that would actually work in my favor. But, to quote Dr. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.
(For a video demonstration of the double-slit experiment, see this video clip from Through the Wormhole)
I’m working normal human hours at the convention over the next couple of days and then flying back to the United States the day after that, so updates here will be sparse, if present at all. If you can’t survive without me over the next few days I’m likely to be on Twitter a bit, especially if the convention floor has Internet.
So: See you (probably) Tuesday!
Short version: My leg got painfully sore last night walking back from Strictly Business: The Musical, I went to sleep hoping it would get better, it did not, and thus this morning I went to the hospital today at the urging of the hotel doctor, who was worried about the possibility of deep vein thrombosis, given my extensive travels recently.
It was not deep vein thrombosis. What it was, was a tear in my calf muscle, probably brought on by walking fairly strenuously for several hours straight the other day when I visited King’s Park in Perth. I will survive, but I’m on crutches for the rest of my stay in Australia and have to not overexert myself for the next few weeks. Stupid calf muscle.
So this is how I spent my Friday morning. How are you?
Quantum physics gets a workout in Superposition, the new novel from Philip K. Dick Award winner David Walton. He’s here to catch you up on how abstruse, higher-order physics works for action and adventure.
I love stories that tie my mind in knots.
Stories like the film Inception, that juggle multiple layers of reality, each of them affecting the others in complex but logical ways. The kind of stories that take big chances and then deliver. I wanted to write a novel like that, but how? What idea could I have that would be big enough to drive such a story?
Two things happened to answer that question for me. One, I was reading non-fiction books about quantum physics. Two, I had jury duty and was picked for a trial. The trial was a doozie: a grown brother and sister were illegally spying on their father, trying to catch him having an affair. The father, however, had plans to fake his own death, collect his own life insurance, and flee the country with his mistress, a Russian native with mob connections. It wasn’t until the father turned up murdered that the police got involved. The femme fatale herself took the witness stand, hostile as a wolf, defending her dead lover’s good intentions. Sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction.
And nowhere is that more true than in the world of quantum physics. At the subatomic level, nothing behaves the way we expect. Particles exist in more than one place, or more than one state, at the same time. Electrons move from point A to point B without ever existing in some of the places in between. Measurement of one particle instantaneously influences another, regardless of the distance between them.
From these two unlikely parents, the Big Idea for my novel Superposition was born. In the novel, as you might have guessed, the crazy properties of the quantum level start showing up in the larger world—thanks to a new technology and the interference of an alien quantum intelligence. Everyday objects jump through walls. Bullets diffract instead of photons. People exist in more than one place at the same time.
Superposition is mind-bending, but it’s no cerebral drama. It’s a fast-paced thriller, with high-stakes danger and a race to the finish. It starts when a former colleague shows up at Jacob Kelley’s door full of unbelievable tales and fires a gun at Jacob’s wife. When the colleague shows up dead, Jacob is accused of murder. Soon he and his teenage daughter are on the run, pursued by the police and by a quantum intelligence unconstrained by the normal limits of space and matter. Father and daughter have to pick up the pieces, following multiple paths of possibility to get to the truth and put their lives back together again.
It’s a whirlwind from beginning to end, and it was great fun to write. I hope you’ll give it a try!
First, isn’t that cover gorgeous? It’s from John Harris, of course.
Second, as you know, The End of All Things, my next novel, is comprised of four novellas, each of which to be released electronically before the debut of the print/combined eBook edition. If you follow this link to Tor.com, you will get to see all the novella covers, each from the fantastic John Harris, and the release schedule for the novellas. The hardcover will be out (in the US) on August 11.
Click that link, folks. Lots of John Harris awesome on the other side of it.
Wherever you go, home draws you back — for good or ill. This is something the hero of Emissary learns in the course of novel; author Besty Dornbusch is here to expand on the concept for the rest of us.
A decade ago I wrote a book called Exile in which a man called Draken is (predictably) exiled for a murder he didn’t commit and has to scrape together a new life in an enemy country. I’d thought upon writing it would be a standalone, but a few years ago I realized I wanted to torment Draken some more. The idea for Emissary took root when I asked, What’s the worst you can do to a guy who’s been exiled?
It’s send him back home, of course.
You can’t every really go home again, or so Wolfe’s book title has passed into adage, but a lot of us try. Even if we were unhappy there, early homes often draw us back, even the places where no one we knew lives anymore. I just saw got a text from my brother who visited our grandparents’ town in Kansas. (Grannie and Granddad’s house is gone, but the town pool and park and water tower look just the same.) For other people, it’s taking school breaks from university, or bringing our children to visit family, or returning to help a loved one die. It can be simple economics: after trying to make a go of it on their own, many young people move back to cramped childhood bedrooms and even more cramped lifestyles.
Sometimes it’s tough to decide which is closer to exile, the new life or the old. In Draken’s case, his old life started with abandonment by his mother, a disgraced royal cousin. All he built for himself, despite never fitting in with the royal family, ended with the murder of his wife. Draken crawled ashore in his new country with nothing.
Still, with help, he made a decent success of his exile. When Emissary starts, he has a girlfriend and a baby on the way. A stable career. Friends. Money. Magic. Sure, he’s got secrets. Who doesn’t? His are an ocean away and the people here regard him as a hero.
But when old compatriots blackmail him into helping his cousin-King settle a religious revolution back home, he has no choice but go back. Upon his return, Draken sees the cultural and family dynamics with the fresh vision of a man who has traveled the world and changed his life. What he once believed to be a magnificent, enlightened country is rife with gilded flaws—not the least that the revolutionaries crave Draken’s magic for their own. Ugly undercurrents threaten the foundations of an ancient city; betrayals pit nobility against kings and priests against gods; and a pervasive new faith in magic has parents willingly sacrificing their children to protect it.
Emissary tells the story of Draken’s struggle to stop a war that could destroy both his old and new countries. But more importantly, his journey home forces him to shed the assumptions, habits, and hatreds that kept him going in the darkest of times. Like many people returning to their childhood homes—and the same old hurts and dynamics—he must decide if he’ll succumb to the wounds from his past or fight for a better future.
I’m awake too early to leave for the airport but too late to go back to sleep, so as long as I’m up, some additional thoughts on the recent Hugo-related drama.
* I’m feeling increasingly sorry for the nominees on the Hugo award ballot who showed up on either Puppy slate but who aren’t card-carrying Puppies themselves, since they are having to deal with an immense amount of splashback not of their own making. And to this you may say, well, but the Puppies maintain that everyone on their slate was notified, so they knew what they were getting into. But as it turns out, we know that at least some of the people on the Puppy slates weren’t contacted before the nominations came out — see Andromeda Spaceways In-flight Magazine on this — so this is not a 100% sure thing.
Also, let me suggest that when Brad Torgersen (or whomever) went off notifying people of their presence on the slate, he probably did not lead with “Hi, would you like to be part of a slate of nominees whose organizers whine darkly and incessantly about the nefarious conspiracies of the evil social justice warriors to infiltrate all levels of science fiction, and which will also implictly tie you and your work to at least one completely bigoted shitmagnet of a human being?” Rather more likely he played up the “we’re trying to get stuff on the ballot we think is cool that doesn’t usually get on it” angle and downplayed, you know, that other stuff.
And you might think, well, how can you miss that other stuff? The short answer to that is that, as difficult as it might seem, not everyone actually spends a lot of time following the Hugo and the controversies therein. It was, until very recently, kind of an insider sport. So it’s possible to have missed this stuff and/or not fully grasped the implications of it until after the awards came out. Not for me, clearly, and possibly not for you. But it is possible.
It’s difficult to miss them now, of course. But this increases my sympathy for these nominees. The whole reason the Puppies are so transparently covetous of the Hugos is that they are a big deal in a (relatively) small community. So imagine being part of this community, being told that you’ve gotten a Hugo nomination, and then finding out that there’s this metric load of toxicity around it, manufactured by the people who got you the ballot — or at least claim that they did.
It’s easy to say, well, they should just withdraw. Speaking as a past Hugo nominee, I’m here to tell you that the emotions around that decision are likely not to be that simple, especially because at least some of that work and some of those people are (in my opinion) deserving of the sort of recognition the Hugos offer.
Thus the irony of this being an excellent year not to be on the Hugo ballot, because you get to pass on the entire shitshow around it. To be clear, some of the nominees affirmatively signed up for a shitshow, hoped for a shitshow and are now reveling in the shitshow that’s happening. That’s their karma. Give some thought to the ones who didn’t sign on for it, or might have not fully realized that it was coming. I think of them as the human shields of the Puppy campaigns. Personally, I’m cutting them a bit of slack.
* Matthew Foster, husband of the late and missed Eugie Foster, has a nice two-part recap of the Puppies situation (1, 2) and the personalities involved on the Puppies lists, and makes a cogent observation about the Puppy assertion of a SJW cabal, which is that it’s complete nonsense:
Eugie and I were acquainted with, or friends with most of the people the Puppies point out as leftist leaders. We were both directors at Dragon Con, just about the biggest genre convention around, and know the organizers of many other conventions. Eugie was a Nebula winner, female, and Asian American. Trust me Puppies, if there was an organized society or just a clique working against you, we’d have been in it.
Yes, this. The entire paranoid theory of a social justice warrior cabal is predicated on the rather narcissistic hypothesis the Puppies have that those they see having opposing political and social view spend countless hours thinking of ways to thwart politically conservative writers and keep them off award ballots, for reasons.
Speaking as someone who the Puppies have a rather disturbing hate-boner for (yeah, I know, think how I feel about it) and who is certainly a high poobah of whatever cabal they imagine: Honestly, who has time for that? I’m busy enough! Thwarting the careers of people I don’t know or care about is not actually high on my list of things to do, be they conservative or otherwise. The idea I am going to take any time out of my schedule to do that is ridiculous. I barely have time for people I like.
But look at these statistics that show — show! — that Scalzi and Charles Stross gamed the Hugos! (Yes, this is an actual thing.) Dudes. You give me soooooo much more credit for personal industry, and also, you don’t know how to read the numbers. I mean, I get it: When you want to do something obnoxious in furtherance of your own personal agenda, you want to be able to say other people did it first; when you want to front a slate of nominations with an explicit sociopolitical goal, you want to assert that you’re just doing what other people have already done. You want to posit bad behavior to rationalize your own, as if other people being assholes excuses you being one, too. But there is no SJW cabal, and this is on you.
Saying there’s no cabal is just what a cabal member would say! Well, yes.
* Continuing the personal aspect of this, it’s been noted by several that the Puppies have a rather unseemly interest in me: I’m accused of creating my own slates (I didn’t), of gaming the Hugos in some manner (I haven’t) and Redshirts is used as an example of how the SJW cabal is secretly controlling the Hugo voting, because how else could a bestselling, widely-liked book by a well-known author who had nine previous Hugo nominations and a Campbell Award possibly have taken an award in a popular contest? It beggars the mind, people. The idea that this particular book, by a straight white male, that might not even pass the Bechdel Test, is somehow the perfect vehicle for an SJW cabal Hugo win is its own case study in just how poorly constructed the logical underpinnings of the “SJW Cabal” hypothesis really are.
These accusations are generally accompanied by a rather lot of spittle, enough so that people are beginning to mock the Puppies for it; the best joke of this I’ve seen comes here, in a comment on a File 770 post (the post, appropriately enough, speaking of paranoid hypotheses having no relation to reality, about a Puppy assertion that Terry Pratchett never being nominated for a Hugo shows how the system is gamed being undermined by Pratchett turning down a Hugo nod in 2005):
Q: How many Sad Puppies does it take to change a light bulb?
A: 100, one to change the bulb and 99 to say, “Gosh, I hope this makes Scalzi’s head explode!”
I think it’s pretty evident why I’m a poster boy for Puppy hate: The primary drivers of the Puppies (Beale, Correia and Torgerson) don’t think warmly of me for their own personal reasons, I have politics and social positions they oppose, and I strongly suspect the fact I have a successful career in science fiction confounds them, which is, among other things, why they and other Puppy partisans spend so much time trying to assert that I don’t actually sell any books, and so on.
I’m a useful target for them, in other words, and someone they can use to whip up their partisans: Scalzi’s the problem! There’s no way Scalzi could be successful without a shadowy conspiracy! He’s been doing what we’re doing all along! A victory for the Puppies will make Scalzi weep salty tears! And off they and their lackeys go, to the comment threads and to Twitter, to use me as justification, in so many ways, for the stupid and tiresome things they do. Not just me and not just my work, mind you. The Puppies have a full enemies list. But on that list, I’m top five, easy.
I have no control over this, although I do find the Puppy version of me interesting. He appears to simultaneously live in a volcano lair, evilly stroking a cat whilst planning the next SJW pogrom against the valiant writers of pure and true science fiction, and also lives on the streets, giving handjobs for a nickel and raving how he used to be somebody. I should like to meet this John Scalzi; I would give him a hot cup of soup and a warm jacket, and then ask him if I could borrow his laser cannon.
Be aware that me writing about their obsession about me will be viewed as proof that it is really me that has the obsession, hah ha! I’m also aware that some people think this is a thing where the Puppies and I are two sides of a coin. Again, not much I can do about that, except to say I didn’t make the coin or be asked to be put on a side. If I’m on the enemies list, fine. Just ask why it is I’m on the list, and for what reasons. And ask what that says about the Puppies.
Myths and legends and ancient stories come down to us to be told and retold, but what needs to be done to keep those retellings fresh — and to avoid cliched narrative traps? Ken Liu gave this question very serious consideration for The Grace of Kings, and presents his own solution here.
At its heart, The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the rise of the Han Dynasty in a secondary world fantasy setting. It is the tale of two unlikely friends, a prison-guard-turned-bandit and a disinherited heir of a duke, who lead a rebellion against tyranny only to find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly rivalry over how to make the world more just once the ancien régime is overthrown.
The aesthetic of the book is what I call “silkpunk”: filled with technologies inspired by predecessors from Classical Chinese antiquity: soaring battle kites, silk-draped airships, chemistry-enhanced tunnel-digging machines, prosthetic limbs powered by intricate mechanisms made of ox sinew and bamboo. There are also jealous gods and goddesses, magic books, wise princesses, heroes who follow a heroine with a greater share of honor, women and men who fight in the skies, and water beasts who bring soldiers safely to stormy shores.
These are things I’ve always wanted to see in fantasy fiction. I want my book to be fun.
But it all started because I wanted to find a fresh way to tell an old story that is at the foundation of my own transcultural literary upbringing.
When I decided that I wanted to write a novel, I examined a list of favorite stories I’d written and noticed a constant theme running throughout: the idea of crossing boundaries, of translating between languages, cultures, ways of thinking, of disassembling a literary artifact in one frame of reference and reassembling it in another—challenging viewing communities and artifact alike.
“You and I both grew up osmosing Chinese historical romances,” my wife, Lisa, said to me. “Echoes of these stories can be heard from time to time in your work. Why not embrace this aspect of your writing and give an old tale a new life?”
And a light came on in my mind. I had found my novel: I wanted to re-imagine the story of the Chu-Han Contention.
Two Narrative Traditions
Like many of my fellow writers in the Anglo-American tradition, my literary models are drawn from a long lineage that pays homage to Greek and Latin classics, starts with Anglo-Saxon epics and histories, runs through the great poets and novelists on both sides of the Atlantic whose names are found in various Norton anthologies, and ends with the increasingly diverse, contemporary literary marketplace that gives more room for the voices of the historically marginalized.
But at the same time, I’m also indebted to a parallel Chinese tradition that starts with classical Western Zhou poetry, traverses Spring and Autumn philosophies, Han Dynasty histories, Tang Dynasty lyrical verse, Ming and Qing Dynasty novels, oral pingshu performances, and ends with martial arts fantasies of the 20th century and contemporary web-based popular serials.
Just as readers in the US often absorb the stories of Achilles and Odysseus, of Aeneas and Beowulf, of Hamlet and Macbeth not by reading the original, but through simplified children’s versions, popular film adaptations, and re-tellings and re-imaginings, readers in China absorb the stories of great historical heroes like Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) in similar ways.
The Chu-Han Contention of the third century B.C., an interregnum between the Qin and Han Dynasties, is a historical period that has proved especially rich for fictional treatment. Many important ideas about Chinese politics, philosophy, and identity can trace their origin to stories from this era. Upon the foundation of the core events and biographies penned by the historian Sima Qian, countless mythical legends, folk operas, oral traditions, and poems have accumulated over the millennia. The literary re-imaginings continue to this day in new media like video games, TV miniseries, and scifi adaptations (see Qian Lifang’s Will of Heaven).
As I grew up, I absorbed tales of the friendship and rivalry between wily, gangster-like Liu Bang and noble, cruel, proud Xiang Yu along with lessons about Chinese characters (I share Liu Bang’s family name), with Chinese Chess (the board is modeled upon the standoff between the two factions), with references and allusions in popular entertainment and textbooks, and with schoolyard games.
This is a story that is at once deeply Chinese and personal; mythical, historical, political, and fantastic; I wanted to try my hand at re-creating it for a new audience and readership.
There is, of course, a long Western tradition of literary creations based on re-interpreting and re-imagining the old: James Joyce’s Ulysses, John Gardner’s Grendel, countless contemporary stagings of Shakespeare’s plays in new settings that the Bard never imagined, and even Milton’s Paradise Lost can be understood as a reworking of the tropes of classical Greek and Latin epics in the service of a new Christian epic.
But re-imaginations must be done with a purpose, and to be successful, they must appeal both to those who are familiar with the source material and those who are not.
Early on, I rejected the idea of setting the story in a secondary world version of Classical China, in the same way that Middle-earth is a secondary world version of Medieval Europe. Faced with the long history of colonialism and Orientalism in Western literary representation of China dating back to Marco Polo, I felt that it was no longer possible to tell a story of “magical China” without having it be lost through the mediation of centuries of misunderstandings and stereotypes.
And so I went with a bolder plan. I decided to create a new fantasy archipelago—as different from continental China as possible—in which the peoples, cultural practices, and religious beliefs are only remotely inspired by their source material. This was a way to strip the source story to its bare bones and to give them new flesh that would better serve my vision.
But it is in narrative technique where I took the most risk. Melding traditions from the Greek and Latin epics, Anglo-Saxon poetry, Miltonic verse, wuxia fantasy, Ming Dynasty novels, and contemporary chuanyue stories, the novel is told in a voice and style that should be at once familiar and strange. Here you’ll find kennings and litotes, gods who speak like a chorus and Water Margin-style backstories, dead metaphors from another language given a new periphrastic sheen. The title is an allusion to Henry V while the core chrysanthemum-dandelion image is inspired by a Tang Dynasty poem. I tried to write something that reads at the same time as both old and new, and which interrogates its source material as well as our assumptions about what is West and what is East.
Because it’s always fun to do a post-mortem on one’s books when one is finished writing them.
* First, some of the fiddly bits: This book is a direct followup to The Human Division and continues the scenarios, events and characters found there. It also wraps up the larger story arc begun in The Human Division (i.e., you will find out who is behind all the cliff-hangery stuff and why), so those of you worried that there will be some things left unresolved and to be dealt with in a third book: Relax. It all gets settled.
Like The Human Division, the book is made up of smaller, discrete episodes — four novellas this time. Also like that previous book, those episodes will be released electronically first, with a print/combined eBook version to follow (for those of you who preordered the book, you’ve preordered the print/combined eBook version). There will also be an audiobook version, which will be the complete version; I don’t believe Audible plans to do episodes this time around.
The print publishing date is August 11; the episodic releases will be shortly before that. The print/combined version may contain extra material — if it does, that extra material will be released online as well (free!) so that people who buy the episodes will not feel left out in the cold. We learned from the last time, we did.
* As to the novellas that make up the book, I will be stingy on the details except to say that two are from the point of view of major characters in The Human Division, one from a previously minor character, and one introduces a brand new character who I think is very interesting indeed. The novellas average just under 25,000 words, with the longest at 33,000 words and the shortest at 17,500. They feature the usual action, adventure, explosions, aliens and snappy dialogue, in various percentages depending on events. And yes, the actual end of all things is a very real concern in this novel.
I’m quite happy with the novellas and with the arc of the overall story. I think fans of the Old Man’s War universe are going to like where this story goes, and where it ends, and what it means for the universe in general.
* For those of you concerned, the title The End of All Things does not mean that I am forever done with writing in the Old Man’s War universe. I’m not one of those writers who declares he is never going back to a universe he created, only to do so at some indefinite point down the line with some slightly embarrassed rationalization. I might come back to the Old Man’s War universe! Sometime! In the future!
However, The End of All Things ends this particular story arc in the OMW universe, and at the moment in time there are no other OMW books planned. I have other things I want to write and do, and six books is enough for now. My philosophy behind writing the OMW series (which I expect I will extend to any series I do) is only write books in the series if I enjoy the process and have someplace new to take the universe. Grinding out books in a series is a drag for both writer and reader. I have better things to do than crank out books in a series just for the cash, and you have better things to do than to read a book created in those circumstances. So while I never say never to more OMW books, for the moment, this is it.
* This book took longer to write than any other novel I’ve done so far. I announced that I was officially starting it on May 12, 2014, and I finished it on April 3, 2015, so there’s a total travel time of eleven months there. That bests the previous record-holder, Zoe’s Tale, which if memory serves took nine months. So what happened?
The answer I gave here at Swancon (the convention I’m current attending in Perth, Australia) is that the thing I find hardest to do with novels is to begin them: I fiddle, I hem, I haw, I try out different approaches and basically I bang my head against a wall until something works. Usually, with any novel, I only have to do this one time. But with TEoAT, I had to “start” the novel four separate times, because as it happens my writing process for novels and novellas is very much the same (short stories I don’t have this problem with, it seems). So that put a dent in my schedule.
I also had a pretty substantial false start to the book. Those of you who saw me during the Lock In tour remember me reading an excerpt from TEoAT, which I mentioned was an excerpt from the third chapter of the novel. Well, that excerpt is no longer in the book at all; neither are the chapters immediately preceeding it, nor the ones I wrote after it, either. It’s not that those chapters were bad (they weren’t) or that what I wrote was not telling a good story (it was). It was that the story I was telling there just wasn’t the right one. So out it went. Repeat this process at several points.
The End of All Things is 99,000 words long, but for the book I wrote about 140,000 in total — basically the equivalent of another long novella (or very short novel). All of that extra writing was necessary, but none of it is in the novel. Writing it, chucking it, reconfiguring and starting again adds time to the schedule.
The other thing is that quite honestly I did not manage my time as well as I should have while writing this. I have a lot of things going on and I ended up letting myself be pulled in several directions and not being as disciplined with the writing as I should. Normally this isn’t much of a problem — once I get going I write very quickly and generally hit the deadlines that I set for a project — but this particular novel, with its four beginnings (and one major and a couple of minor false starts), was more difficult for me than others.
What I’ve learned: Writing a novel comprised of four novellas is difficult (for me, anyway) and that if I do it in the future (which I don’t plan to), I need to both budget more time into my writing schedule and do a better job managing my distractions. Also, my next novel will definitely be, like, a normal novel. Maybe.
The difficulties with the novel meant that for the first time, I blew a book deadline, which kills me, but more unfortunately, also puts pressure on the folks I work with at Tor to rush to get the book out on schedule. I’m very annoyed with myself that it happened and that other people will now have to deal with my lateness. So, Tor folks: Sorry. I’ll try not to have it happen again.
* As an aside, I noted a while back that when I turned in The End of All Things, I would be out of contract with Tor, which is to say contractually I owe them no more books. This comment has apparently led people with more spite than brains to allege out there on the Internet that Tor’s dropped me, possibly not amicably, possibly because of low sales, etc. Let’s just say I find this a very amusing interpretation of events. It’s also a reminder that people say stupid things online, often about me, with remarkable frequency.
* Which segues into: What am I doing next? Well, for the next couple of weeks — not much! I’m going to finish my trip here in Australia and then I’m going to be in LA. I think I’ve earned a break. After that, yeah, I have several projects lined up, none of which I want to tell you about until they’re done. But they are all very cool. I will say that yes, I do have a novel planned to write later in the year, which would then presumably be out in 2016. Is it with Tor, which has dropped me because of low sales?!?!? We shall see! Suffice to say I don’t believe you will be at a loss for entertainment from me.
For Lent, I gave up ego searching, i.e., checking Google and other places to see if people were talking about me, and if so, what it was they were saying. I thought giving it up would be difficult, but after the first couple of days, it was actually really no problem at all — although I will admit that it probably helped that I removed my search bookmarks, and likewise the search for un-@-ed references to my name on Twitter, so that if I wanted to do a search, I would have to type it in manually. Seriously, who has time for that.
As I said, I thought I would miss it, and I was really surprised to find out that I don’t. Not knowing what everyone else in the online world was thinking of me at any particular moment was… surprisingly restful. Not knowing also did not materially change my life in any substantial way as far as I can tell.
Now that Easter is here, I can start ego surfing again, but I don’t think I’m going to — or at the very least don’t plan to do it with any regularity. I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I just don’t really care what the Internet thinks of me. Scratch that: I think I reached that point a while back, and I was just clicking on the searches out of habit. Stopping for Lent gave me a nice long time to break that, and now I don’t see what I would want to go back. Thanks, Lent!
(Also: Happy Easter, folks.)
1. Yes, I’ve seen the slate. The slate shows up even in Australia! And I woke up early because I crashed from exhaustion last night before 7pm. Finishing a book takes it out of you.
2. I’m very pleased for the several friends and/or writers who are on the ballot this year. This includes everyone in the Best Novel category, all of whom I consider friends, and any of whom I would be happy to see take home a rocket this year. And as always, I congratulate all the nominees for the Hugo and the Campbell. It’s fun to be nominated, and nice to get recognition. I’ll be voting.
3. This year I’ll do what I always do when voting for the Hugos, which is to rank the nominees every category according to how I think they (and/or their particular works in question) deserve to ranked. Preferential balloting is a useful thing. I will be reading quite a lot.
4. If, in the fullness of careful consideration, I come to believe certain nominees in a category do not merit being on the ballot at all, then I will do two things:
One, I will leave those nominees off my final ballot. If they’re not on my ballot, they can’t be ranked.
Two, after ranking the nominees I do believe deserve to be on the ballot, I will use the “No Award” option to signal that I would prefer that no Hugo be awarded, rather than to give it to any of the remaining nominees. Like so:
HUGO FOR BEST USE OF YOGURT
1. Deserving nominee #1
2. Deserving nominee #2
3. NO AWARD
And thus undeserving nominees number 3, 4 and 5 receive no benefit from being on the ballot, and my preference for no award to be given to those people/works I deem unworthy of the award in that category is registered.
5. And yes, in fact, “No Award” can be placed first in a Hugo category. It has done so several times in the history of the award, when the voters for the Hugo Award decided that nothing deserved to take home the rocket. Voting “No Award” at the top of your ballot is not a new thing; it’s a perfectly allowed and legitimate way to register one’s opinion of what’s available in a Hugo category.
6. This year in particular there are going to be questions about whether some nominators more or less blindly voted a slate of candidates to make a statement, rather than voting their own personal set of preferences (if they had personal preferences) at all. My thought about that is what it always is: It’s done. If the rules of voting were followed, then game on.
I also think it’s worth remembering that not everyone who was placed on a slate (or had works placed on a slate) asked to be on the slate, or necessarily supports the intention behind a slate or the people who created it. Another way to make this point: Even people you might think are assholes can have decent taste from time to time. I’m not inclined to punish creators strictly on the basis of who has nominated them, or why.
7. That said, when a slate of nominees is offered whose very title explictly carries in it a desire to vex and annoy other people, it’s legitimate for people to ask whether what’s been nominated on the slate has been placed there solely on the basis of quality. It’s also legitimate for people to decide that in general, slates of nominations are not something they’re comfortable with, or wish to support. There is no rule that disallows nominating for the Hugos from a slate; there’s also no rule that disallows Hugo voters from then registering their displeasure that these slates exist.
I also think it’s okay to penalize graceless award grasping by people who clearly despise the Hugo and what they believe it represents, and yet so very desperately crave the legitimacy they believe the award will confer to them. Therapy is the answer there, not a literary award.
The good news, for me, at least, is that it’s generally obvious in the reading what’s on the ballot on the basis of quality, and what’s there, essentially, as trolling. Good stuff will be on my final ballot, ranked appropriately. Trollage will not. It’s just that simple.
8. In sum: I think it’s possible for voters to thread the needle and give creators fair consideration while also expressing displeasure (if indeed one is displeased) at the idea of slates, or people trolling the award. This might take a little work, but then voting on the Hugos should be a little bit of work, don’t you think. This is a good year to do that.
This is also a very good year to make sure that you do vote.
Finished Saturday, April 4 at 9:02 am, Perth, Australia time. 99,000 words, give or take.
And it’s pretty good.
Immensely relieved to be done.
For those wondering: Hardcover release on August 11, 2015. Electronic release of each of the four novellas that comprise the novel will happen in the immediate weeks before. Yes, we’re platforming it like we did with The Human Division, but there will be less of a wait between the ebook episodes and the printed book (and the compiled electronic book). And yes, there will also be an audiobook version.
More thoughts to come later, but for now: Wheeeeee!
Is the novel finished: NO, but soooooooooooo close.
Today’s question: So, how ya doin?
My answer: I’m sooooooo close to being done with the novel, but I’m also literally falling down fatigued (remember I’m in Australia at the moment so it’s evening for me as I write this), so I’m going to go to bed, get a little sleep and then attempt to finish the thing before my first panel tomorrow. Wish me luck.
Is the novel finished: NO, but it’s pretty close now.
Today’s question: What’s the longest you’ve been away from home? For this exercise, we’re not counting military deployments, college stays, or things like LDS missionary work or the peace corps. We’re talking like “I’ve left the house and will have nothing resembling a permanent address until I get back.”
My answer: You would think it might be one of my book tours, but it actually was rather earlier than that. In the summer after my freshman year in high school, I went on a “peccary trip,” which was a fossil-hunting trip organized by my high school, across the US western states. It was four weeks long, and much of it was spent either in a van, driving from place to place, or out in a field or alluvial valley, searching for fossilized bone. It was actually pretty fun.
Is the novel finished: NO
Today’s question: April Fool’s Day: Love it, hate it, indifferent about it?
My answer: I like it as a concept but am generally disappointed in the execution, as most “jokes” or “pranks” on April Fool’s Day aren’t really funny or clever. Being funny and clever is harder than most people seem to think it is.
Is the novel finished: NO
Today’s question: What’s the longest amount of time you’ve ever slept, from head down on the pillow to head up? “Sleep” in this case meaning actual sleep, not a coma, trauma-induced unconsciousness or any such thing (actual sleep related to things like colds and flus totally count, however).
My answer: In high school, I stayed up for four days (not 96 hours, but through four calendar days) and finally went to sleep when I started hallucinating. I put my head down on Friday night and woke up on Sunday morning. Since when I woke up my bladder wasn’t exploding (and my bed was not damp and smelly) I assume that at some point I got up to use the bathroom, but if I did I have absolutely no memory of it. So: About 30 hours, more or less.
Taken earlier today, before I took a jetlag-laden nap. I was mildly concerned that if I took a nap in the afternoon I would be unable to sleep this evening, but now it’s evening here in Perth and I’m here to tell you, I will have no trouble sleeping. 34 hours of travel is exhausting.
First impression of Perth: Seems nice, and more than a little bit like San Diego in terms of climate and vibe. There are worse places to be like.
Off to do a little writing and then sleeeeeeep.