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The Big Idea: Wesley Chu

Time Travel! It’s a thing in science fiction. But after all this time, and time-travel stories, what is the thing about time travel that can still make it fresh for readers? In Time Salvager, author Wesley Chu thinks he’s got a wrinkle in time travel. What is it? Read on below.

WESLEY CHU:

Remember that classic 80s cartoon Voltron? That was one badass robot. Not the stupid Vehicle Voltron but the real deal Lion Force Voltron with primal roars and shit. The Big Idea for Time Salvager is like that, a bunch of bad ass lions forming Voltron, except there’s only two ideas (instead of five), no sword, and nothing is color coded. I’m Asian, so that has to count for extra Voltron points, right?

Let’s start with the first and obvious idea: time travel. Time travel stories that try to change history need to check themselves. I guarantee you, any scientist, real or fictional, who is developing time travel technology, knows about the butterfly effect and the consequences of changing history. So, why the hell would anyone mess with that? You mess with science, you get the horns. Trust me.

I mean, sure, killing Hitler or preventing Yoko Ono from breaking up the Beatles is all well and good, but have you really thought it through? We’ll give Yoko a pass. News flash, Sir Paul already debunked that little rumor.

Hitler, however, deserves killing. He deserves killing bad. Maybe more than any other asshole in history. We’re on the same page here. But, let’s say some dumb genius invents time travel with the express purpose of killing Hitler. He goes back and whacks twelve year old Adolf walking out of water coloring class.

Yay, Hitler’s dead. What happens next? The scientist doesn’t know. I sure as hell don’t. For all we know, the Third Reich happens anyway and instead of Hitler’s insatiable craving for St. Petersburg, they have a leader who reads a little Napoleonic history, looks at the map, and thinks, “Man, that’s a lot of land to cover. You know what? Maybe attacking Russia is a bad idea.”  Before you know it, we’re seventy years into the Thousand Year Reich. Well done, Mr. Scientist, well done. You just ruined the future for everyone.

So, if changing the past is too dangerous and we’re not here to kill Hitler, what is time traveling good for? Since the 1980s hold the answer to everything, I want you to remember Biff Tannen. He used a Grays Sports Almanac to win a crap-ton of money. Before you get excited, sorry, that counts as changing history. However, Biff had the right idea. The answer to the question is all about profit. How does a time traveler make it rain in the present by plundering the past?

Thankfully, I had one of those trippy Wayne’s World dream sequences. I was a time traveler on the Titanic, tasked with stealing the Hope Diamond. My job was to jump onto the ship, locate the rock, and get out as she was sinking so that any traces of my activities would be washed away (literally) when she went down.

I woke up, thinking, “I need to write this down five minutes ago.”

In a resource-starved dystopian future, what if the past is the primary source for power, technology, and materials? And what if the only way to safely retrieve these resources, without affecting the time line, was to jump back to the moment right before a disaster occurs so that the time traveler’s activities are easily ignored by the space time continuum?

Now, as much I’d love to ice Hitler, making fat stacks is a decent consolation prize. As I delved deeper into time travel profiteering, another idea from the darkest reaches of my psyche also crept to the top. This one wasn’t quite as romantic as Leo painting French girls.

I read an article about a South African photojournalist named Kevin Carter.  He took an iconic photo (warning: graphic) of a child during the Sudan Famine crawling toward an aid station. There was a vulture behind the child, just hopping along, waiting for him to die. At the time, Kevin thought it was his job to record the events, but not intervene. He took the picture and left. He won a Pulitzer and then, haunted by the things he saw, committed suicide a few months later. Some of the facts have been subsequently contested, but that was the version I read.

The more I explored the idea of these time travelers (or chronmen as I called them) jumping into the past to witness the last terrible moments of someone’s life, the more I saw Kevin Carters, people whose job gave them front row seats to terrible events but were unwilling to do anything about them. I began to wonder about that mental toll. How do they cope? What happens when they break?

In the end, the Big Idea for Time Salvager isn’t about time traveling or resources or saving the world (though the world does need saving). The Big Idea for Time Salvager is about coping, and how we deal with pain, sorrow, regret, and, hopefully, find the redemption Kevin Carter never did.

And, fuck it, we also kill some Nazis along the way.

Big idea Voltron, folks. We’ve formed the feet and legs; form arms and body; and you, dear reader, form the head. Let’s go, Voltron Force!

—-

Time Salvager: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

 

The End of All Things Tour: Cities and Dates and an FAQ

A new book means a new tour, and this year I’m hitting 18 cities over three weeks. Yow! As always, if you’re in one of the cities I am visiting, please come to see me and bring every single person you’ve ever met in your life with you. It’ll be fun! I’ll read from an upcoming work (this is an exclusive for people who show up for tour stops — no one else gets this) and from other stuff, answer questions, maybe massacre a song on a ukulele, and of course sign books and participate in other mischief. You want to be there; we’ll have a good time.

Here are the cities and stores I’ll be visiting, on these dates at these times. Immediately after the tour information I’ll have an FAQ addressing some common questions. Ready? Here we go:

Aug 11 – Memphis, TN: Booksellers at Laurelwood, 6:30pm

Aug 12 – Raleigh, NC: Quail Ridge Books & Music, 7:00pm

Aug 13 – Athens, GA: Avid Bookshop, 6:30pm*

Aug 14 – Lexington, KY: Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 7:00pm

Aug 15 – Cleveland/Westlake, OH: Barnes & Noble, 2:00pm

Aug 16 –Lansing, MI: Schuler Books, 4:00pm

Aug 17 – Madison, WI: A Room of One’s Own, held at Madison Public Library, 7:00pm

Aug 18- Portland/Beaverton, OR: Powell’s at Cedar Hill Crossing, 7:00pm

Aug 19 – Seattle, WA: Elliot Bay Books, held at Seattle Public Central Library, 7:00pm

Aug 20 – Boise, ID: Rediscovered Books, held at Downtown Boise Public Library, 7:00pm*

Aug 21-22 – Spokane, WA: Sasquan (Reading date/time to come)*

Aug 23 – Fort Collins, CO: Old Firehouse Books, held at Midtown Arts Center, 3:00pm*

Aug 24 – San Francisco, CA: Borderlands Books, 12:00pm  and Menlo Park, CA: Kepler’s (Kepler’s Premier Event Series, in conversation with Tad Williams), 7:30pm*

Aug 25 –Los Angeles, CA: The Last Bookstore, 7:30pm

Aug 26 – Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ: The Poisoned Pen, 7:00pm

Sept 1 – Dayton, OH: Books & Co, 7:00pm

Sept 3 – Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Bookstore, 7:00pm

The stops with the asterisks denote new cities for me, which is to say, ones I’ve not been to on tour before.

And now, a brief FAQ about the tour:

Can you also come to [insert town here]?

Nope. The tour dates are locked for this year.

Why aren’t you coming to [insert town here]?

For various reasons, but mostly due to a) who wanted us when we asked earlier in the year, b) what made sense for travel this time around. This tour is slightly shorter than the one last year, so some hard choices had to be made. It’s not you, it’s me. Don’t worry, I am very likely to tour again, so I may end up visiting your town sooner or later. Honest!

What do the events cost?

With the exception of the Spokane, Fort Collins and Menlo Park events, all events are free, although depending on the event stop you may be asked to RSVP. Check with the stores for details. At Spokane, I’ll be appearing at Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon, so you would have to pay the membership fee to attend (that will also get you in to all the other Sasquan events). At Menlo Park, my event is part of Kepler’s Premier Events Series, so paid tickets will be required. At Fort Collins, tickets are $5, but if you buy The End of All Things from Old Firehouse Books, you’ll get $5 off, so it’s kind of a wash.

While all events except those three will be free, I strongly encourage you to buy a book from the booksellers who are hosting my event. It’s a good way of telling them “thank you” for bringing me into town. Obviously I will be happy to have you buy one of my books, but honestly, any purchase from the bookseller would be good.

Again: Please buy a book from the bookseller hosting my event. It’s actually really important. Thanks.

Will you be signing books?

Pretty sure I will be doing a signing at every stop, yes.

May I bring previously purchased books for you to sign?

I’m fine with with it but doublecheck with the venue to be sure (if you buy a book there I’m sure it will help with your request). Note also that depending on the size of the signing line, I may only sign three books at a time, after which you’ll be asked to get back in line for any additional books you want signed.

Will you sign my eReader/limb/other non-conventional object?

Generally speaking, sure. If you’re asking me to sign something dark, please bring your own sparkly/light-colored pen; I don’t usually carry those with me.

Do you allow pictures?

I generally allow pictures but again, check with the venue for their policy. If you want a picture with me, please have your camera ready before you get up to the signing table; you’d be surprised at how much time it takes to fire up a camera if it’s not ready. And that’s not great for everyone else in line.

May I give you a gift?

Sure. If it’s something edible please have it secured in something I can take back to my hotel room with a minimum of fuss. If it’s something else, smaller is better. Please note that I am usually traveling very tightly packed for these tours so you may see me hand the gift over to the bookstore in order for them to ship it to me at a later date.

May I take you to a meal/show you around my city, which is awesome if you know where all the cool things are, which I do?

Well, one, thank you, and two, I’m generally very tightly scheduled on tour stops and/or have already arranged to see friends who are local to the area, so probably not. I do appreciate the thought, however.

I’m a member of the local media in a town to which your tour is coming and I would like to interview you. May I?

Possibly! Please contact my publicist, Alexis Saarela, at Tor Books (alexis.saarela@tor.com). Please note that if you contact me directly for an interview, I will ask you to contact Alexis, because she’s the one who will be keeping my schedule straight. So please eliminate the middleman (in this case, me) and check with her directly. Thank you in advance.

I will not be in a town to which your tour is going but I want a signed book anyway. Help!

Here’s what to do: Contact any of the bookstores hosting a tour stop and order the book you want from them, and ask them to have me sign and personalize it when I come through. I will be happy to do so. Alternately, I am likely to sign stock for each store at which I have an event, so if you contact a store that I have already been to on the tour, they will likely have signed stock on hand.

As a third option, Subterranean Press is offering signed editions of The End of All Things. If you want to order through SubPress, however, do it now, because they will have a limited number available.

I have an additional question you have not addressed. 

Ask it in the comments.

See you all soon!

Starred Review of The End of All Things in Publishers Weekly

Well, this is a nice way to start the week: Publishers Weekly give TEoAT a starred review, which means they find the novel especially notable. Along with calling it “polished and powerful,” they also note:

Scalzi knows just how to satisfy his fans, providing tense, thrilling action scenes while turning a critical eye on the interstellar equivalents of the military-industrial complex.

Nifty! The full review is here.

This is the second starred review for the book, the first coming from Kirkus. It’s nice when people like your work.

Happy Fourth of July

For the Americans: Enjoy yourself, keep your pets from freaking out and try to get through the day with all or at least most of your fingers still on your body.

Everyone else: Uh, we Americans are gonna mostly be drunk and setting off fireworks for much of the day. You maybe want to stay out of our way until tomorrow. Thanks.

Neil and the Bear: Perhaps Not a Children’s Book After All

Once upon a time, an author looked out the window of his writing shack.

Yes, this is what we do when we’re supposed to be writing.

The Big Idea: S.K. Dunstall

There’s what we know, and what we used to know — and sometimes the latter might be more valuable than the former. What does this have to do with the new novel, Linesman? S.K. Dunstall, the author(s), is ready to explain.

S.K. DUNSTALL: 

Two images—neither of which made it into Linesman —were precursors to this book.

In the first, we read about an early Comdex or Macworld exhibition where the first Apple Mac was on show. An old man stopped to look at the Mac. He picked up the mouse and moved it in front of the screen to see what would happen. Not surprisingly, nothing did, for this was an early generation trackball mouse that you had to roll along the desk.

The two young guys manning the booth laughed and laughed. For they ‘knew’ the complex, intricate, not-really-natural ways you had to move the mouse around on the desk to make something happen on the screen.

You know what? That old man had the last laugh, for nowadays we use touch screens, which is a lot closer to what he was trying than it is to moving a piece of plastic around perpendicular to the surface.

The second thing that inspired us was an article about old ways of healing which had fallen into disfavour but were coming back, because there was a scientific basis in their use and they worked.  Maggot therapy, where a diabetic woman’s heel became infected and she was close to having her foot amputated. The doctor went along with her request to use live maggots onto the infected skin to eat the necrotic flesh.  It saved her foot. Leeches, used as far back as Ancient Egypt, which are nowadays sometimes used to drain blood from limbs after reconstructive surgery, particularly in places were blood clots form easily.

It was the article on maggots that got us talking one night after dinner (we’d finished eating by then). The old techniques—like the maggots and leeches—are still dismissed by most medical practitioners. Humans don’t look back much. We like to look forward. Unfortunately, it means we lose a lot of knowledge that we once had.

Out of that dinner came one idea that stuck. How little we know and how much we have lost.

More, what if we didn’t know it to start with?

For example, we have no idea what the statues on Easter Island were built for. We can make educated guesses, but we’ll never know for certain. The only people who do know are the people who built them.

History is littered with artefacts we can only guess about.

Take it even further. What if the artefact wasn’t of human origin?

What if the first humans in space found an alien spaceship? A sentient alien spaceship?

Would they recognise it for what it was?

Probably not. Especially not if humans had been slowly expanding outwards on old generation ships that they had cannibalised over the years so they were nothing like the original ships.  They had lost contact with Earth a long time ago.  If the ship was abandoned, how were they to know it was alien? And how could the ship communicate with them, for it wasn’t built to interact with humans?

Going back to our Apple exhibition. Who is more likely to finally communicate with the ship? The two young guys who ‘knew’ that you had to roll the mouse along the table? Or the old man who waved the mouse in front of the screen?

Better yet, a child, still young enough not to question an alien ship talking to her, still young enough to listen when the ‘lines’ on the ship spoke to her.

That young girl was Gila Havortian, and she opened the way to the stars. Instead of travelling at sub-light speed, taking years to get to other worlds, humans learned to clone the lines of the alien ship and jump through the void to get from one place to another instantaneously. They gained instant communication within sectors of space.

Humanity expanded, and was still expanding five hundred years later.

But …

In five hundred years the initial knowledge of what the ship could do—small as it was—would be lost as people discover new ways to use the technology.  Like maggots as medicine, we find better ways to do things.

At the start of Linesman, line ships underpin the galactic economy.  The small number of humans who can ‘feel’ the lines and mend them are in high demand.  Especially the tens, who can fix the full set of ten lines.  Higher level linesmen are contracted to cartel houses and work from there.

Then humans find another alien ship.

Enter Ean, who came into the cartels late and is mostly self-taught. Even though he’s a certified ten, he is more akin to the old man holding the mouse up to the screen than he is to the young kids who ‘know’ what to do because they’ve been shown.

____

Linesman: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the authors’ site. Read their blog. Follow them on Twitter.

The Big Idea: John G. Hartness

Sometimes the band breaks up and the members go solo — but is the resulting music triumphant or discordant? Ask John Hartness, because in In the Still of the Knight, the latest installment of his Black Knight Chronicles, the band breaks up, so to speak… and the tone changes.

JOHN G. HARTNESS:

What do you have when you lose everything? Who are you when there’s no one around? Are you as good as you think you are when your support network is gone and it’s all on you?

These are the questions I wanted to play with when I started working on In the Still of the Knight, the fifth book in my Black Knight Chronicles series. Over the first four books I built a pretty solid ensemble of protagonists, a good little team of X-Men (or Avengers, if you prefer), and now it was time to see if I had a Wolverine in the bunch. In other words, it was time to see if my protagonist, Jimmy Black, could stand alone and become the hero he needed to be.

Let’s back this up a little, because there’s some credit due that I need to give. I’m a big Kim Harrison fan. Her Hollows series was the first urban fantasy I read, and it dragged me deep into the genre and never let me go. In one of her books, she does exactly what I’m doing here – she breaks the band up to force her character to stand alone and become stronger. So it’s not like I’m doing anything terribly original. Hell, the WWE is doing the same thing right now with its champion, Seth Rollins. They’ve taken away a lot of his supporting characters to make him become (or appear to become) a stronger villain.

So I wanted to see what would happen if I took everything away from Jimmy. I’ve spent four books giving him a girlfriend, slowly building their relationship through all the troubles a poor vampire nerd has while trying to date a living cop in today’s world. Now I yank that away from him.

I’ve spent four books giving him a best friend that will stand by him through thick and thin, and you know that no matter how much they fight and bicker, these blood-sucking besties will have each other’s backs no matter what. Until Jimmy makes a decision that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and suddenly his best friend isn’t there anymore.

I’ve given him secondary characters that are willing to pitch in whenever they can – gone. I’ve given him connections to the local police force that he can use to solve crimes – gone. I’ve given him a tense but cordial working relationship with the city’s Master Vampire – gone. I’ve given him a human Jiminy Cricket, a conscience with legs to help keep him on the straight and narrow – gone.

And then I put him into a fight he can’t possibly win, and can’t afford to lose.

All of this to see what kind of character I’d truly crafted. Had I built someone strong enough to stand alone and take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? Or would he be unable to bear his fardles?

Of course, right about the time I really got rolling on the writing of the book, life decided to imitate art and I got far closer to Jimmy Black than I ever wanted to. A series of unfortunate events led me to leave two different jobs over the course of one year, so I spent about half of 2014 unemployed and looking. And let me tell you, unemployed at forty with a theater degree is not where you want to be.

While I was looking for work, and trying to work on the book, I was also dealing with my mother’s declining health. She battled Alzheimer’s and dementia for well over ten years, and at the beginning of last year, her health took a nosedive. On Labor Day, on the last day of DragonCon, I got the call that she had died.

I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. I guess no matter how it happens, you’re never prepared, no matter how you intellectualize things. I found myself sitting at this computer the day after we buried my mother, staring at a screen and feeling very much like someone had done to me what I was doing to Jimmy Black. I felt like my whole reality had been stripped away, and that all that was left was the raw core of me.

Turns out that raw core can crank out some words. I finished the last 20,000 words in the book the month we buried my mother, and when I finally typed “The End,” I put my head down on the keyboard and wept.

Don’t do that, it types all kind of stupid letters at the end of your manuscript. Much better to close the laptop first.

Last year taught me that if you strip away all the extras, you find out who you really are. In the rewrites and edits of In the Still of the Knight, the amazing Deb Dixon worked with me to do that to this book. I’m pretty sure we’ve done that to this character. Over the course of early 2015, Deb and I took out the parts that were “too much John, not enough Jimmy,” and left me with a deeply personal book that still fits with the series and everything that’s come before.

Jimmy Black and I have run through the fires together, and we’ve come out tempered, hammered, and sharpened. I hope that you enjoy the forging process I put myself and my character through; I think it made a hell of a story.

—-

In the Still of the Knight: Amazon|Barnes & Noble

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

 

To Stand or Fall, Episode Four of The End of All Things, is Out Now!

This is the end of The End of All Things — or more accurately, the final novella episode of the book. And just what happens in this one? Here’s the official synopsis:

“Back on Earth, the beginning and end of all things. The nations of humanity’s home planet have parted ways with the starfaring Colonial Union, the human interstellar empire originally established to keep the home planet free. The Union needs to regain Earth’s trust. The alien races of the Conclave have their own hard choices to face. All of these threads culminate in this, Part Four of the four parts of The End of All Things.”

It’s all so climactic! Here’s an excerpt, if you’d like a sneak preview. And here (for US folks) are some retailers where you can get the ebook:

Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks|Kobo

Obviously I don’t want to spoil the events of this particular novella for anyone, but I will say I was very happy with how this one turned out, and that I think it goes in a slightly unexpected direction; I did a zag where I think people might assume I was going to a zig. We’ll see! But in the meantime, I think we put the Old Man’s Universe in an interesting spot for whatever happens next, whenever it happens.

Happy reading!

The Big Idea: P.W. Singer and August Cole

What happens when two authors with combined decades of experience working in and chronicling the defense industry attempt to plausibly devise a war scenario only a few years into the future? You might find the book has uncomfortable parallels with the real world. But of course, as P.W. Singer and August Cole might tell you about their book Ghost Fleet, perhaps that’s the point.

P.W. SINGER and AUGUST COLE:

The two of us didn’t meet until we were in our 30s, but both grew up on a similar diet of science fiction, technothrillers, and big sprawling novels. We’d prepare for summer vacation trips by getting a stack of books from the library, that might range from Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and Herman Wouk’s Winds of War to William Gibson’s Count Zero and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. A classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle read on the beach might then be followed by staying up late to cram in just one more chapter from Michael Crichton.

Both of us would go on to become professional writers in the non-fiction world: August as a journalist working the defense beat at places like The Wall Street Journal, and Peter writing books on topics like private military contractors, drones, and cybersecurity. It was this work in the real world of DC policy that we met, as August explored topics like the story of China hacking our fighter jet programs and Peter writing books on the ramifications of cybersecurity becoming a new realm of battle.

But when we decided to team up on a book exploring the future of war and technology, we kept coming back to this summer reading list we had in common. So we set out to write a book that wouldn’t just peer into the potential future, but also try to take readers back to that kind of experience.

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, out on June 30, explores what would World War Three be like. The idea that the looming Cold War between the US and China/Russia could ever turn hot is fiction today, but a real risk in the years ahead. After Russian landgrabs in Ukraine, NATO is on its highest alert since the 1980s , while China’s regime newspaper declared “war is inevitable” if the US doesn’t change its policies in the Pacific. Indeed, a US Navy P-8 patrol plane was chased away from a Chinese military facility this month…which happens to be the opening scene in our “fiction” despite being written 18 months ago!

The structure of Ghost Fleet reflected this idea of returning to the books we enjoyed . Rather than following one character or a single story thread, the story  follows multiple characters and settings, akin to the structure of Red Storm Rising, World War Z or Game of Thrones. This allows us to cover more ground and play with more “what if’s?,”  as well treat the war itself as a character. But here also, there was a point  in this structure in how fiction can be useful in laying out the underlying truths: the novel lays out how a 21st century war between the great powers would be different than the wars of today. Battles will take place not just on the land, but also at sea and air (where US forces haven’t had to face off against a peer power since 1945), and in two new places since the last world war: space and cyberspace. So to tell the story of the war, you have to dance across the settings in a way beyond anyone character’s single journey.

But what makes Ghost Fleet perhaps something different is we’ve experimented with melding two classic book genres, the technothriller and the nonfiction book. Think of Ghost Fleet as a new kind of “novel,” where the story is backed by 400 endnotes that show how real it all is. Every technology and trend in the book, no matter how science fiction-seeming, is drawn from the real world. The realistic scenarios and moments that we hope will thrill and chill were actually built by using nonfiction research that included everything from unearthing DARPA contracts to sharing lessons from various Pentagon war-games that we organized. Moreover, we put facts to work for our fictions, including using the story to reveal real world concerns from new Chinese drone prototypes to how certain US weapons have already been hacked. Similarly, we met with real people who would fight in such a war (from US Navy destroyer captains and fighter pilots to Chinese generals and Anonymous hackers), which improved the realism but also let us really get to know our characters.

Even the name reflects this approach. “Ghost Fleet” has a cool, ominous sound to it, but it is actually the real nickname of the National Defense Reserve Fleet. These are the old Navy ships kept in mothballs in places like Suisun Bay near San Francisco, just in case we ever need them again; they are the Navy’s version of the Air Force’s “Boneyard” of retired planes kept in the desert. Those dusty warplanes get their day too in our book.

There is a real world policy question of just why we keep these old ships around, which connects to bigger issues of whether a world war could happen again? But this then raises an uncomfortable issue: Could it go badly enough that the US would actually need to bring back these faithful old ships and planes? Answering these questions also led us down neat story and plot pathways that are often overlooked when planning for future conflict, like how would the old gear, and the old sailors who know them, relate (or not) to digital age warships and sailors?

It has been rewarding to see how people are reacting to the project so far, which we think reveals that the mix of fiction and nonfiction can be both entertaining and helpful in thinking about the unthinkable. We’ve been able to talk about the real world lessons from the novel with groups that range from 600 Navy officers at the Naval War College to the Defense Science Board, as well as share early versions with readers who range from 4 star Navy Admirals (for the military side) to one of the inventors of the Internet (for the technical side), to the writer of HBO Game of Thrones and producer of Hunger Games (for the entertainment side). The result is perhaps the strangest ever Venn diagram of blurbs and reviews, but hopefully one that entices people to check it out, whether they are a military officer looking for insights into the future, or someone just looking for a read with a beer in hand at the beach. Or maybe both.

So that’s our big, but also classic, idea: that you can enjoy a novel, but also find the fiction “useful.”

—-

Ghost Fleet: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book site. Follow P.W. Singer on Twitter. Follow August Cole on Twitter.

This New America

I was in the airport last Friday when the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage came down, and one of the first thoughts I had on that was, “Looks like I picked the right week to go to San Francisco.” And you know what? I was right! The city was, verily, bedecked in rainbow flags and happiness. After my events at ALA on Saturday I went with friends to City Hall, where the pride celebration was in full swing, and watched people being happy, all over the place (plus occasional hippie nudity, because San Francisco). It’s very rare to be in the right place at the right time, when history is actually and genuinely happening around you. But I was, and I was delighted in the happy circumstance that put me there.

I’m even more delighted that my country is now a better place than it was at 9:59am on June 26, when a minority of states still didn’t allow gays and lesbians the simple, basic right of marrying the person whom they loved and wished to spend their life with. Those days are now gone, thankfully, despite a few pockets of resistance, which I don’t suspect will last very long. Texas, as an example, is a place where the Attorney General is telling county clerks they may defy the Supreme Court; it’s also a place where two octogenarian men, together for more than 50 years, became the first same-sex couple to wed in Dallas County. Who do you think history, and Texas, will celebrate more: The two men confirming their decades-long love to each other, or the government official symbolically standing in front of the courthouse door to oppose their right to confirm that love?

Bluntly: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is going down in history as a bigot. So will Texas’ governor and lieutenant governor. So will Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and all the other politicians (and would-be politicians) who are thumping around now, pretending not to understand what it is that the Supreme Court does, or the legitimacy of its rulings under the Constitution, and pretending that their religion makes that feigned lack of understanding all right. Dan Patrick, the Texas Lieutenant Governor, has said “I would rather be on the wrong side of history than on the wrong side of my faith and my beliefs.” Well, Mr. Patrick, you’re not only definitely on the wrong side of history, but you’re also on the wrong side of your professed faith. Jesus never once said “be a bigot in my name.” If you believe He did, you might want to recheck your Bible. That admonition is not there, although the admonition to love your neighbor as yourself is.

On a related topic, this Time magazine article by Rod Dreher on orthodox Christians being “exiles in our own country” struck me as a bit dramatic. Not being in step with the mainstream of American life and opinion does not make you an exile, especially when you suffer no estrangement under the law. When the mainstream of American life did not include the idea that same-sex marriage was a viable thing, which was an opinion different than mine, I was not in exile in my own country — although same-sex couples may have been, as the law estranged them from the rights they should have had under the Constitution, now affirmed by the Supreme Court. The affirmation of those rights did not and does not take away rights from anyone who believes same-sex marriage is wrong. You may still believe they’re wrong; you just can’t stop those couples from getting legally married. Unless you think it should be your right to deprive others of their rights, everything’s the same for you as it was before. And if you do believe it’s your right to deprive others of their rights, then you’re a bigot, whether you cloak it in religion or not.

I suspect that this is the thing Dreher is really worried about, whether he’s aware of it or not — that the perception of certain religious sects will change from them being depositories of rectitude to cisterns of intolerance. Well, this is a fair concern, isn’t it? Over the last twenty years in particular, nearly every American learned that someone they cared about or even loved — a family member, a friend, a co-worker or neighbor or a person they admired — was not straight, or 100% conforming to society’s ideas of gender. Over the last two decades, Americans decided it was more important to tell those people they still loved them and that they deserved the same rights as everyone else, than it was to listen to those people who said, through their words and actions, that these people we loved represented some sort of threat. Your mom is not a threat to America, if she happens to be gay or bisexual. Nor is your dad. Nor your sibling, or your best friend, or Doug from Accounting or Jillian down the street or Ellen DeGeneres. Who are you going to choose to stand with? Your sister, or some dude at a pulpit demanding we believe the bowels of Hell will empty if she marries her girlfriend? Your sister’s girlfriend is awesome! That guy is a jerk!

Which is the thing: the religious sects terrified that they will now lose their moral standing lost that standing long before, when they said, in so many words, in so many actions, that the people we love and know and know to be good, and their desire to have the same rights as everyone else, are what’s wrong with America. Dreher laments we now live in a “post-Christian” America, but he’s wrong. The Americans who are standing with their loved ones and neighbors are in fact doing exactly what Jesus asked them to do, when he said that we should love each other as we love ourselves. It’s possible, however, that we live in a post-accepting-bigotry-cloaking-itself-in-the-raiments-of-Christ America. And, you know. I can live in that America just fine.

Regardless, the America we do live in now lets anyone person marry any other person who they love. I like this America. I am glad I live in it.

The Big Idea: Sam Munson

If I knew nothing else about the book, I would give a thumb up Sam Munson’s novel merely for the title alone: The War Against the Assholes. Fortunately, there’s more to the book than the fabulous title, as Munson explains below.

SAM MUNSON:

What animates The War Against the Assholes philosophically (its author asked, rhetorically and pretentiously)? I am too close to the book to speak with critical authority, here, but I suppose there are two questions or two groups of questions.

Why do clerical, hierarchical ideas of magic dominate our thinking on the subject in literature? From the unfortunate Lucius, protagonist of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, to the eager students at Hogwarts and Brakebills, we can find a deep-rooted view of magic as governed by learning, by essentially academic ability: mastery of rituals and formulae, penetration into theories of physics and biology, philological skill.  This view — which it is quite reasonable to find so widespread, being, it seems to me, anchored in the real-world history of magic — informs even departures from the trope, where magic that exists outside the ambit of a secret clerisy carries with it a tint of darkness, excites suspicion, and often undoes its practitioners.

As a lifelong poor student and reader of novels of the fantastic, I found this preponderant view fascinating and also provoking. The basic principle of magic, as it has been understood historically and in literature, is the unmediated effectuation of one’s will. It seems psychologically unlikely, to say the least, that defeating the immutable physical laws of the universe would leave one much attached to the reclusive and repetitive tasks scholarship entails.

This is doubly true, it seems to me, in the case of young people, of adolescents – a perennial subject in fantastic works. Here the fidelity of literary magic to historical magic diverges: the magical young appear most often as studious, serious, well-intentioned, and highly moral bearers of a world-shaking imperative (the discovery of which is inseparable from their initiation into magic). The youth of this world, sadly and joyously, are free of such burdens by nature; if they bear them they amount to little more than an affectation. And how could they not? To be young is to be more or less a sociopath, more or less a fragment, more or less nothing; add to this the world-defying power magic by definition brings with it, and the idea of

being at once a young magician and scholarly do-gooder seems like a contradictio in adjecto. I do not want to cite any such figures by name; I do not want to be invidious, here — merely to point out that this is a trope and as such warrants investigation. Why not posit, for example, a theology of magic that rests far more on the ability to harness willpower, irrespective of academic ability? Why not posit a formal theory of magic that does not rest on reliable tools — fetishes or incantations — but rather on the particularities of the magician’s personality? Why would magic, being the effectuation of a will, necessarily be uniform from one practitioner to another?

The magicians who form the narrative core of The War Against the Assholes practice that form of magic — and they and their colleagues suffer massive and violent oppression as a result, albeit oppression totally invisible to larger, non-magical society. Mike Wood, the narrator, is an academic failure, a violent football player; his close colleagues are, for the most part, his equals in animal cunning and suspicion of received authority. Their opponents, the titular assholes, are the academic magicians, servants of authority. This antinomy is of course an oversimplification – compromise, often at a murderous cost, forms another central narrative strand in the book. But the idea of approaching the formal side of building a magic not from a clerical standpoint but from an anticlerical one, I admit, was a task that drew me on and on into the book.

This of course leads into the other central question: whence authority? Whither authority? Does it proceed from expertise or from innate virtue? Does talent justify its own excesses? Is the power to command purely and solely resident in a system or does it spring from the person commanding? The hierarchical world Mike and his colleagues struggle against is opulent — they own, for example, a private magical academy on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one that obtrudes into an enormous forest in another reality, making them masters in two worlds, not just one. They nepotistically promote their own kind above objectively more talented magicians. And they greet any threat to their authority, even a comparatively mild one, with orders-of-magnitude-greater-than-necessary violence and speed.

Again, this tension is not meant to be taken as a formula for moral understanding: Mike is a child of real-world privilege, as are all of his younger colleagues (his older ones less so), and their insurgency is colored by concomitant anxieties. The war he and his friends conduct is blessed by no obvious superiority to the war being fought against them. Authority comes, as much for Mike as for his opponents, from the will to seize it.

At least he’s not an asshole, though.

—-

The War Against the Assholes: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

 

View From a Hotel Window, 6/26/15: San Francisco

It’s a nice view!

Here in town for the American Library Association meeting; I get to hang out with librarians, who are some of my favorite people in the world. Also, rumor is, there might be some celebrating here this weekend. Well, I’m up for that as well.

Don’t expect too much here over the weekend; they’re keeping me busy. But I’ll be back on Monday for sure. See you then.

Love Wins

I’m traveling at the moment so I can’t add much more to this than: Hooray! Marriage for all!

Also: Hey, I’m an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. I can marry people. I’m just saying.

Here’s the Supreme Court decision. Read it and enjoy.

I’m going to be in San Francisco this weekend. I suspect it’s going to be a hell of a party. I’m delighted I get to be there for it.

Oh! And! I wrote this eleven years ago, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same sex marriage. I’m delighted to say that now it applies in every state.

It’s a great day. I’m glad to be here for it.

I Have a Note From My Brain

It says: “Duuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhoi.” Which I think means it’s taking the day off? Maybe?

Anyway, yeah. Sorry, it seems like my post-vacation daze has gone on a bit longer than expected. Maybe I’ll have something for you tomorrow. Maybe.

Anyway, how are you?

Can Long Endure, Episode Three of The End of All Things, is Out Now!

It’s Tuesday, and that means another episode of The End of All Things. “Can Long Endure” is now out and available from your favorite eBook retailer. Here’s the official description:

“They signed up to defend humans from hostile aliens, but this group of Colonial Union soldiers finds themselves, instead, repeatedly sent to squelch rebellious human colonies that want to leave the CU. It’s not a sustainable situation. Something has to give.”

Yup, that’s about right. Here’s an excerpt of the story for you. And for the US, here’s a stack of eBook retailers to get it from:

Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks|Kobo. Other countries, please check your local retailers.

For those of you who like the military science fiction side of the Old Man’s War universe, this is your novella — it’s focused on a single squad and features lots of action, adventure and explosions in all their various forms. Plus, you know. Other stuff too.

It’s a good one. I hope you enjoy it!