The Double Bubble

For those of you thinking to yourself “Huh, I wonder if Scalzi is going to talk politics ever again,” today is your lucky day, because over at the Los Angeles Times site I talk politics! Namely, about the fact that I simultaneously live in rural conservative America and liberal cosmopolitan America, and what that fact means for what I think about both, and how I approach my neighbors in both communities.

This was a difficult piece for me to write, one, because it’s a complicated subject, and two, because one thing I really wanted to avoid was that “hey, both sides are equally correct here” fence-sitting nonsense that so many pieces like this have. I’m really not on a fence — Trump and his administration are terrible for the US, certainly for people who are not white and straight, but even for them, too. I mean, shit, look at Trump’s proposed budget today, and the “replacement” health plan. There’s little there that’s not going to be terrible for everyone except defense contractors. For all that, I know my neighbors pretty well and I have empathy for them, even as I disagree with them politically and feel like they really screwed themselves as much as if not more than Trump is going to screw with liberals.

Did I manage to convey what I was hoping to convey? Maybe? I think this piece has a lot of places where I can be criticized, including for omissions and elisions — it’s a piece to be published in a print outlet, so it has a hard limit in terms of words — and I think it’ll be fair to point them out. Over on Twitter, someone’s already noted I might have pointed out that my ability to more-or-less-comfortable live in both bubbles is in no small part due to the fact I’m a straight white cis male, which I think is perfectly correct (I’m well-off, too, which doesn’t hurt). There will be other places to pick at the piece. This is fine. Pick away! In the comments! Er, politely, please. Standard Malleting protocols apply.

Moving aside slightly to the subject of frequency of political posts here at Whatever in the immediate past and the near future, I’ll note a) I was on vacation, b) have been prepping for a book release and long book tour, c) start said long book tour on Tuesday, at which time my focus will be on touring, and less on politics. So expect probably fewer political posts than usual through April, simply because my attention will be elsewhere.

Also, I mean, frankly? There’s only so many ways I can say “Jesus, but Trump’s an ignorant bigot” without getting exasperated with myself. The snarky bits are better formatted for Twitter; here at Whatever is where I will do deeper dives from time to time, when time and scheduling allow. Here or on at the LA Times, which has, delightfully, given me a fine mainstream venue to discourse at, a fact which I appreciate immensely.

In any event, I think the LA Times piece I’ve written is a good one and I hope you find it thought provoking. Enjoy.

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

It’s relatively easy to start a book series — you just start writing. But ending a series on a logical and satisfying note? That’s a slightly more complicated trick, which Ryk E. Spoor attempts with Challenges of the Deeps. In this Big Idea, Spoor is here to tell you about sticking this particular dismount.

RYK E. SPOOR:

In two previous Big Idea columns, I wrote about the challenges of first building the larger-than-life universe of Grand Central Arena, and then the scary challenge of following this with an exploration of both adventure and personal understanding in Spheres of Influence. Writing the third Arenaverse novel, Challenges of the Deeps, presented me with a very different set of problems.

These stemmed from a purely practical issue – for various reasons, Challenges might be the last Arenaverse novel for quite some time (until I could write and self-publish another), barring Challenges or my forthcoming magical girl novel Princess Holy Aura suddenly taking off big-time.

That meant that I had to figure out a way to make Challenges of the Deeps a reasonable, if not conclusive, final volume to the series – one that might leave the reader with a lot of questions, but would still, somehow, feel like a conclusion – not leave them frustrated when they closed the book.

I first considered the idea of actually finishing the series – of getting to the true Big Reveal of what the Arena really was, the reason it was built, and what that meant for Humanity and the other Factions. But I quickly concluded this was impossible. There remained so much to do that I simply couldn’t imagine that I could get to that point without at least three books to work in, and more likely five or six if I wanted to really tell the story properly.

When I thought about it that way, I realized that what I was really doing was ending the beginning, while setting up the chance to begin the ending – just as if I was concluding the first book in a trilogy. And just like Phoenix Rising, the first in the Balanced Sword trilogy, the challenge was to figure out what themes and plots had to be brought to a conclusion now in order to provide a moment for the universe to, in effect, take a breath, look around, and prepare for the next great arc in the progression towards the ultimate mysteries.

Put that way, it became clear that the purpose of Challenges of the Deeps was to complete the process of establishing Humanity as a true force in the Arena – not just a group of peculiar newcomers, not just a nine-days’ wonder, but a group that others would ally with, would commit to, would look at and know “these are the people who may change the Arena”.

Looking back through Grand Central Arena and Spheres of Influence, there are of course a huge number of overt and implied plot threads that remained. The overarching one – which I had to accept I was not going to answer in this or even the next book – was the question of the Voidbuilders – who and what they were, why they had made the Arena, and what would happen to those who discovered the answers to those questions. But while I couldn’t answer it, I could – and in fact would have to – provide at least some movement towards obtaining that answer.

Another – present since early in GCA – was the issue of the Molothos. Humanity had been effectively at war with one of the most powerful factions in the Arena practically since their arrival, and I had already planned that it would be in the third book that the Molothos finally found Humanity’s Sphere. But I’d also planned on the Molothos War taking at least one or two more books to resolve. Could I resolve it in one? I knew that if I could, I should; having Humanity survive and resolve a conflict with the most feared of the Great Factions would certainly go a long way to cementing their place in the Arena, and would give the reader a good sense of resolution in plot.

Another dangling thread was Ariane Austin. In Spheres she had been forced to confront her own failures as Leader of the Faction of Humanity, and to decide to really shoulder that burden, but the question of the strange powers sealed away was still left unaddressed, and had been hanging fire since GCA. If I could, I needed to resolve that – let us see Ariane begin to really unlock that power and establish that she needed neither Shadeweaver nor Faith to do so. Fortunately, I’d already set up the opportunity to do that in Spheres, with the mysterious mission into the Deeps that Orphan had asked them to get a crew for.

Similarly, Simon Sandrisson had his mysterious … connection to the Arena that he had only begun to explore and understand, DuQuesne and Wu Kung also had some strange anomalies that needed to be addressed, and other characters such as Oasis and Maria-Susanna were themselves dangling plot threads that needed to be if not tied up, at least brought to a point that they were no longer merely nagging questions.

There were also some personal story arc threads to complete. Wu Kung had suffered a terrible loss of his entire virtual world – which, as AIs in the Arenaverse are as much people as those of meat, meant he had lost his friends and family to the actions of an unknown enemy. That needed resolution, as did the question of the Genasi – the native species of the Arena that now had a chance to become true citizens of the Arena.

And … I really, really needed to start moving the personal relationships along. Ariane, Simon, and DuQuesne had been doing a sort of dance around the issue since the first book – for, admittedly, damned good reason, what with all the sudden-death situations, paradigm shifts, and pressure, not to mention Ariane ending up in the position of commanding officer for both of them. But even with those reasons, it had to come to an end somehow.

The most obvious plot thread, of course, was at the ending of Spheres, when Ariane announced her intention to fulfill her commitment to Orphan and accompany him on a secret mission into the Deeps of the Arena, a mission I knew the purpose of and that was vital to completing part of Ariane’s own arc.

I started thinking about that mission, and suddenly I realized that it provided the opportunity I needed to do everything necessary, if I changed one thing: kept Simon Sandrisson from going on that trip. Originally I’d intended that journey to be an entire book in itself, the three main characters plus Wu Kung traveling with Orphan to his unknown destination, with only minor flashes of what was going on at home, culminating of course with the Molothos discovering the location of Humanity’s Sphere. But seeing everything that needed to be done in this book, it was clear that what I needed was to split Challenges of the Deeps across two locations: the Deeps themselves, where Orphan would take them, and Nexus Arena and Humanity’s Sphere, where all other action was taking place.

Leaving Simon behind was a wonderful opportunity. It threw Ariane and DuQuesne together under circumstances that their relationship could grow, while allowing them to help Orphan address his problem  — and bring Ariane to a place where she could truly learn about what she had become.

More importantly, it put Simon in a position where he had to take charge of his life, without being able to rely on Ariane or DuQuesne to backstop him. The Molothos could discover Humanity’s location early on, and have an honest-to-goodness space-opera style battle of fleets be the final climax of the book – and Simon would be the one who would be heavily involved in defending Humanity. As a character it would force him to become more of what he currently was only in potential.

The resulting book, Challenges of the Deeps, ended up being one of the most densely-packed things I’ve ever written; I start by sending our heroes to a meeting with Orphan, and a chapter later get Wu Kung and Humanity involved in the Genasi’s Challenge to the Great Faction of the Vengeance – and from that Challenge (which is itself one of my favorite sequences I’ve ever written) charge into the Deeps with Ariane, DuQuesne and Wu Kung while throwing Simon in the deep end of the political pool… and set him and Humanity up for warfare, while putting the others in danger from a more personal, but even more mysterious, opponent. Along the way I throw some light on Oasis/K, the Analytic, Maria-Susanna, and finally discover the name of the adversary who murdered four Hyperions and destroyed Wu Kung’s virtual world.

I end the beginning – bringing Humanity to a point where they have true, powerful allies and a victory that leaves no one in doubt of their position. And I also begin the ending, by giving us hints as to some of the deep past and showing, I think, a vague outline of where the ultimate direction of Humanity – and especially Captain Ariane Austin and her friends – will take them.

It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, and I think that it’s as good a temporary stopping point as I could possibly have imagined. I hope the readers agree with me.

—-

Challenges of the Deep: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Randy Henderson

In today’s Big Idea, author Randy Henderson and his protagonist have a chatty conversation about Henderson’s new novel, Smells Like Finn Spirit. Let’s see what they have to say to each other this time, shall we?

RANDY HENDERSON:

Well, Finn, this is it.  A trilogy!  As its main character, how do you feel?

“Like you had three chances to imagine me in a paradise with pizza trees, milkshake rivers, and unlimited sexy time for me and Dawn.  Remind me, which book had that?”

I’m afraid the readers wouldn’t have enjoyed that as much as you.  Well, the sexy time, maybe –

“Which you made as awkward as possible, the little you did allow.”

What, and milkshake rivers would have made it better?  Do I need to remind you what happens when you drink milkshakes?  If you think sexy time in the Land of Dairy Pain would have been–

“Okay!  Aren’t we supposed to be talking about big ideas?”

Yup.  So then, what do you think is the big idea behind Smells Like Finn Spirit?

“Oh, I don’t know.  A number of words come to mind.  Autozombitons.  Waer-Bear Stare.  Merlin-lite.  Groin pain.  Feypocalypse.  None of them make me feel warm and fuzzy for some odd reason.  What do you think the big idea is?”

I guess for me the big idea is how the series and I have evolved over these three books together.  It has been as much a journey for me as for you.

“You say evolved, I say escalated.  I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss when all I faced were gnome mobsters and sasquatch mercenaries.”

Well, Finn Fancy Necromancy was fun, to be sure –

“I didn’t say it was fun.”

— but the sequels needed to offer something a little deeper in the worldbuilding and the characters so that they weren’t just repetitious repeats, and supported a trilogy arc.  And as I look back at them, it is interesting to see how the events in this world, and my life, seeped into that world.

“You mean more so than your questionable taste in music?”

For the hundredth time, Finn, there’s nothing wrong with Milli Vanilli’s music!

“I was actually thinking of Right Said Fred and ‘I’m Too Sexy,’ but you were saying?”

Well, I can look back now, and see how I was channeling some the darkness of the real world into the growing darkness in the books.

“You mean like the growing darkness that culminated in Limp Bizkit’s cover of George Michael’s ‘Faith’?”

No.  Book 3 only goes up to 1992 culturally, you know that.  In 1992 we were riding high on Grunge, there was no way we could have foreseen a future that terrible.

“Then do you mean the growing cultural darkness foreshadowed by the Jerry Springer show?”

No!  What I meant was, Book 2, Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free has elements of racial tension and a group of feyblood rights activists pushing back against the abuse of power.  Bigfootloose was begun at the end of 2013 after the Trayvon Martin decision and a number of other difficult events in our nation, and written over the course of 2014, a year that saw great upheaval in my personal life.  Looking back, it all seems pretty obvious to me how that seeped into my work.

“It also has demonic male underwear models, and yarn bombing sasquatches.  You didn’t exactly write a revolutionary text there.”

Well, no.  I wasn’t writing a political piece, I was trying to give readers a fast-paced and funny fantasy adventure.  But in a series that’s been labeled “dark and quirky,” book two tipped a little more onto the darker side and book one on the quirky side, I’d say.

“So then was book 3, Smells Like Finn Spirit, influenced by Trump’s rise?”

No, at least not the plot.  I actually conceived book 3 in late 2014 well before the Orange One dominated the election season.

“Wait.  You have Arcana Supremacists who are making their big moves to control the arcana government, allying with a traditional foreign enemy under the belief they will get the better of the deal when inevitable betrayal occurs, and risking the equivalence of magical nuclear war in seeking ultimate power – and that’s all coincidence?”

Oddly enough, yes.  There are some strange parallels in retrospect, so maybe I was just tuned on some subconscious level to what was coming.  Like the Oracle from the Matrix!

“More like Season One Deanna Troi.  And you know I love politics even less than I like lentils, and that’s saying something.  So how about you get to the point?

Fine.  Having (I feel) grown as a writer during this journey, and gotten the hang of writing to deadline, I feel that in Smells Like Finn Spirit I successfully blended the humor and pacing of book one, plus the best aspects of world-building and character development from book two, all with half the calories.

“You also made me fight for my life in the Fey Other Realm, and face an apocalypse.”

These things build character.

“I’m already a character.  Literally.  And literally.”

Right.  So in short –

“Too late –”

– I’m pretty dang proud of how this “dark and quirky” urban fantasy trilogy turned out, and our growth together.  And, well, I’m proud of you, Finn.

“Wow.  I, uh, well that’s really – wait a second.  You found out I requested Character Protective Relocation, didn’t you?”

Maaaybe.  But come on, Finn, would you really be happier in some other author’s head?  What if they renamed you, like, Blaine, and put you in a 1600’s love triangle with a vampire and a pirate or something?  I mean, you wouldn’t even have decent plumbing, let alone access to a Commodore 64.

“Well, you did give me a Sega Genesis in this last book.  And all those RPGs: Curse of the Azure Bonds, Bard’s Tale, Ultima, Wasteland –”

That’s right, I did!  And introduced you to Nirvana, Boys II Men, Blur – come on.  Would you really take Dawn away from her music?

Sigh.  “No.  I suppose not.  But if we are staying in your head, then we want –”

Oh, look, the links!  That means it’s time to go.

“Hey!  Don’t think this is the end of –”

Smells Like Finn Spirit: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Athena Gets Into College

Specifically Miami University, down the road in Oxford, OH (to head off any comments on this score, the Miami in Florida is named after the Miami Valley of Ohio, which is where we live, and Miami University was actually founded before Florida became a state). We’re super-thrilled about this; Miami was one of Athena’s two top choices for college and it has an excellent reputation for undergraduate education — among national universities, in fact, it ranks #2 in the nation for undergraduate teaching (#1: Princeton; #3: Yale; my own University of Chicago isn’t even in top 20, alas). And it’s one of the “public ivies.” So I feel pretty sure she’ll get, you know, a decent education. Krissy is happy it’s not too far away — it’s about an hour down the road — so we have a decent chance of seeing our kid on more than just the occasional holiday. And Athena is happy, because now she knows she’s going to college. In all, a happy day.

One thing different now than in the past: Athena found out her status by checking in online (they posted acceptances at midnight), so she didn’t have to wait for either the happy big package or depressing thin slip in the mail, like I did 30 years ago. I figure this is actually a positive step forward. It seems slightly less stressful in any event.

So: Yay! My kid’s going to college! If you would like to congratulate her in the comments, I would not look askance upon it.

New Books and ARCs, 3/14/17

A couple dozen books came to the Scalzi Compound whilst we were on the cruise — here’s the first stack of them. See anything you like? Tell us which ones in the comments!

The Big Idea: Tom Merritt

Sometimes, as a fan, you hope your a new book or show or album from your favorite creative people will give you the experience you want. But sometimes it doesn’t. What then? If you’re Tom Merritt, you use that as an inspiration to create a novel. Here’s Merritt now to talk about how his book Pilot X came out of a moment that wasn’t.

TOM MERRITT:

When I was 18 I went off to college, hours from the only house I ever lived in, barely knowing anyone, and scared to death. When I was 23 I moved to Texas with my then-girlfriend, leaving everything in my home state behind, and scared to death. When I was 29, the girlfriend no longer with me, I moved to San Francisco alone, barely knowing anyone, in a job I wasn’t sure I knew how to do, scared to death.

We’ve all felt alone and we’ve all made decisions that felt too big for us. What do we do when there doesn’t seem to be a right decision? Knowing someone else who’s faced the same thing helps, even if that person is fictional.

In 2006, Doctor Who returned to TV. I was captivated by Christopher Eccleston’s lonely, haunted portrayal of the Doctor. I loved that he was the last of the time lords, sole survivor of a time war, driven mad by what he had to do, and running from that past.

When the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who promised to show us the moment that made him that way, when he had to destroy his own people to end a war, I got very excited. Finally, we would see the moment that drove a good man to make an impossible decision.

But that’s not what I got. I enjoyed the episode, don’t get me wrong—it was fun and thrilling in all the right ways. But it didn’t deliver the big moment I was expecting, at least not in the way I wanted.

What should a good person do when faced with a choice between the survival of the universe, and the survival of their own people? How could you live with yourself if you had to destroy everything you knew, to save a universe? Those were the questions I wanted to see explored.

Those questions haunted me for a year.

So, I wrote several pieces of a story about a timeship pilot who had to face that moment. I created a character who did not want fame, did not seek power, but just wanted to do what he enjoyed: flying his ship. Events beyond his control thrust him into a situation where he, and only he, could decide the fate of the universe. He would have to destroy his whole culture and orphan himself or watch everything in existence burn.

I didn’t want any easy outs for him either, so I created strict rules of time travel. If I made it possible to go back in time and assassinate the folks who caused everything to go bad, it would be a short story. Even if our hero didn’t do it, somebody else would have. Besides, I don’t think time travel would work like that.

I think time travel is rigid. If you could go back in time, the effects of everything you did in the past should already be felt in your present. Headache-inducing, I know. Suffice it to say you can’t change the past. What you did in the past already happened. Trying to change the past would be like trying to escape a planet’s gravity—you can’t do it by ordinary means like jumping or even flying. It takes a lot of energy and explosions. Of course, with sufficiently powerful and advanced technology it might still be possible.

I also didn’t want to rip off Doctor Who. The comparisons were close enough as it was. Sure, I was going to have a time traveler, a ship, and race of time travelers, but that was it. No Earth, no companions (I made the ship the companion) no sonic screwdriver, no Daleks, et cetera. The main character is never a doctor, and not a madman in a box. Jelly babies and fezzes do not once make an appearance. There is, however, pie.

All that scene setting, all that character creation, all that work on the mechanics of time travel, served to make one moment inescapable. Pilot X must face the heart-breaking moment when he must destroy everything he knows, to save everything but himself, then try to live with the consequences.

Why does that situation appeal to me so much? I think it has to do with those moments in our life when we have to break with the past. When it feels like we must leave everything behind and no matter what we do, some part of our self will be destroyed. Maybe it’s a metaphor for growing up. When we leave home for the first time we end our childhood. We can’t keep it. We can try to cling to it but it won’t be childhood any more. Or, we can leave it behind and set off to make ourselves something new.

My growing up (if it’s even done) took a long time and I traveled far from home often on my own. I know that feeling of having to leave everything behind and starting over. Granted, I never had to destroy a people or save a universe, but I have felt events force me into making big decisions and then had to face the consequences of those decisions alone. That’s what I saw in the Doctor. That’s what I put into Pilot X.

My hope is that I captured a bit of what I felt back in 2006.

—-

Pilot X: Amazon|Audible|Barnes & Noble

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

Still Life With Author Copies and Cat, Plus Audiobook News

While I was on the JoCo Cruise, the US and UK editions of The Collapsing Empire arrived at the Scalzi Compound. Here they are, with cat for scale.

Also, there’s this tweet from last night:

And if you’re asking, “Gee, isn’t the audiobook out next week?” the answer is indeed it is! Wil would have done the narration last week, but he was on the JoCo Cruise too, with me, and on which we discussed the book while lounging on the Lido deck, as one would. Which is to say we knew this well ahead of time and scheduled everything to move quickly this week. Don’t panic, we meant to do this.

Also, it’s eight days before release date here in the US, ten days in the UK. Still enough time to pre-order your copy (via your favorite local or online retailers) so you can have your copy on the day it comes out.

Also remember that I’ll soon be on tour, with Lexington, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Richmond, Nashville, Austin, Houston, Dallas and Chicago on the first leg. If you live in one of those towns, you should come see me! I’ll be reading new stuff that no one else gets to see or hear probably for a year or so. Lots of bragging rights going on there. Plus I’ll sign your books and stuff. You know, like you do. Or at least, like I do.

Eight days! I’m really excited.

The Big Idea: Jake Kerr

It’s Thursday! No, not the date (it’s still Monday, sorry about that), but the novel, written by Jake Kerr. And in it, Kerr attempts an update on a classic, if dated, fantasy novel. How hard could it be, right? Well

JAKE KERR:

So, my new novel is about a future Earth where the population escapes the polluted and dying planet by logging into linked virtual reality servers. They take on roles as fantasy characters, live in former time periods, cruise the Tinder server—all in an effort to get away from the sad world where they live. A mysterious group wants to destroy the virtual reality network to force the citizens to wake up and force the corporations and governments to clean up environment. Their belief is that the planet was purposefully polluted to move people to the corporation-controlled virtual reality operating system. Our hero infiltrates the supreme council of this group and finds that her life is constantly in danger as she moves from secret meetings to administration buildings and virtual reality fantasy servers where she is a level 73 mage. Along the way, everyone betrays everyone else and nothing is what it seems.

That is the description of Thursday, and based solely on that you would never know that it is an adaptation of G. K. Chesterton’s classic The Man Who Was Thursday. And therein lies the following tale.

I first read The Man Who Was Thursday in college, and it immediately became one of my favorite novels. The humor. The plot twists. The intrigue. I was entirely enthralled. Michael Moorcock called it one of the top 100 fantasies of all time, and it’s a seminal novel in the thriller genre, with its series of chases and pursuits. It’s an amazing book with one significant problem—it’s very dated.

The humor references have little cultural meaning to many readers today. The surrealist/spiritual metaphors and allegories are highly specific and jarring for many. And the expositional and philosophical prose is far out of fashion. To make matters worse, the frightening bad guys are anarchists, a group that provides little sense of dread today.

It always struck me that this extraordinary novel deserved to be updated in some form or fashion so that a new generation of readers could enjoy Chesterton’s genius. The more I thought of it over the years, the more I considered doing it myself. Chesterton wrote the plot, the scenes, and the characters. How hard could it be? I thought. Well, I found out when I took on the project last year.

Updating the story wasn’t the hard part. With its surreal nature and the themes of deception and truth, I immediately knew that I wanted to use some kind of virtual reality framework. I’m also a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and two of his common themes are favorites of mine: What is reality? And what does it mean to be human?

Specifically, I thought of another favorite novel of mine—Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a fifties era paperback that centers on the protagonist living in a world that isn’t what it seems. Taking The Man Who was Thursday and moving it to a virtual reality setting where it’s hard to tell what is real and who is who they say they are while adding AIs who may or may not be considered human seemed like a perfect way to update Chesterton’s tale.

Easy, right? I even mirrored the scenes and chapters.

There was only one problem: It didn’t work.

My first draft was awful. I had stayed too true to Chesterton’s dialogue, and it sounded quaint and anachronistic. I had stripped out nearly all the exposition, and that left threadbare scenes. I had followed the plot so closely that some of the scenes that made sense in 1908 were absurd in a virtual reality setting.

What I thought would be easy was suddenly looking like a formidable challenge.

My friend Matt Mikalatos (who wrote the afterword) basically said I had written “too G. K. Chesterton and not enough Jake Kerr.”

While I grumbled about the hard work ahead of me, the more important concern was that the more I changed, the less I was staying true to the original novel. Yet if I didn’t make significant changes, many of the problematic things I wanted to fix would remain.

I’ve written homages before (namely “The Old Equations” and its thematic tip of the hat to “The Cold Equations”), but this was an adaptation. I needed to keep the connection to the original source alive and clear.

So I waded in with what I hoped was a scalpel and not a machete.

I knew I had to keep the plot, including the sparse and thin scenes without the exposition. I also wanted to mirror the chapter structure to make it feel as close to Chesterton’s novel as possible. Beyond that, however, I realized I had to make significant changes.

I had originally intended to have fun and keep as much of Chesterton’s dialogue as possible and overlay it on the SF setting. I loved the idea, but it just didn’t work. So the first thing I did was re-do practically every line of dialogue. I worked hard to keep some, but only if it made sense. After I finished, I had a much more readable and contemporary-sounding novel. While I didn’t keep the words themselves, I worked hard to keep the spirit of the them.

Now Chesterton’s plot is fantastic and truly one of the best of all time, with twists that build on twists. The trouble was that it is limited by 1908 technology, with trains and pistols and slow travel on horseback. I ended up dramatically changing some scenes, including a tense race against the clock. Chesterton based the scene on the arrival of a train. I had it based on a server pending a maintenance lockdown.

As I noted earlier, Chesterton filled a lot of scenes with expositional philosophical musing. While perfect for his novel, it simply doesn’t work in a contemporary SF novel. So I had to actually flesh out a lot of scenes with action that are only described or mentioned in passing by Chesterton. This happens in the opening chapter when Gabby Simm meets Lucian. For Chesterton it was a philosophical meeting of poets. I added a scene-specific goal for Lucian with Gabby narrating with snark.

I also couldn’t ignore the opposite point-of-view of updating a book—the demands of contemporary genre conventions. You can’t simply adapt a book to a new setting, you need to apply the setting to the book. For example, much of my book is set on a fantasy virtual reality server like Warcraft or Elder Scrolls Online. How could I set a thriller in such a setting without having a virtual reality fantasy battle, complete with a castle, spells, NPC warriors, traps, and unique magical items? I made the battle fit within Chesterton’s plot, but it is new and gives the book the contemporary feel it requires.

The final piece was the biggest challenge for me. Chesterton’s background was decidedly religious and based on the secular, frightening, and chaotic anarchist forces in 1908. My background was of a modern world dying from neglect, with virtual reality the way the population escaped this dismal reality. The world is even described as “IRL” and the IRL spaces where people live are delineated as “inside” and “outside.” Making all this work required me to add some scenes and change some of the ways that the characters interacted. For example, the opening scene in my book doesn’t exist in The Man Who Was Thursday.

At its heart, The Man Who Was Thursday is steeped in Catholic symbols and Christian messages, and this is where I am most curious about how the book will be received. I’m an atheist and removed all of those pieces from the novel. Yet I’m convinced that I’ve kept the spirit of the novel enough that if you are religious or a Chesterton fan, you will still see those things there, just not as overtly as Chesterton made them. Christian speaker and author Matt Mikalatos addresses this in the book’s afterword.

Earlier I wrote: Chesterton wrote the plot, the scenes, and the characters. How hard could it be? The answer turned out to be very hard. I’m not exaggerating in saying that each chapter of Thursday took about as long to write as two chapters in a book that I would create from my own imagination. It was, in no uncertain terms, a significant time commitment. I do believe it was worth it, however. Even if readers hate my book, maybe the spark will be there for them to search for Chesterton. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

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Thursday: Amazon|Barnes & Noble

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

The JoCo Cruise 2017 Final Concert Photoset

How I spent my first post-JoCo Cruise Sunday afternoon: One, weaving slightly, because I still do not have my land legs back, and two, going through the roughly one thousand photos I took of the JoCo Cruise 2017 final concert to bring you all a curated selection of highlights and portraits of the performers as they did their thing. If you were there, you can relive the moment. If you weren’t there, well, I think it’s an argument for why you should consider going on the JoCo Cruise next year.

Here’s the link to the Flickr album. Enjoy!

Back From JoCo Cruise

And we had a lovely time. Probably a longer write-up later, and definitely more pictures, but for now please enjoy this picture of Krissy having a windy day moment. She seems to be okay with it.

The Big Idea: Cat Sparks

In today’s Big Idea for her novel Lotus Blue, Australian author Cat Sparks talks about the enduring power of stupidity, and what it takes to save the world from it… or not.

CAT SPARKS:

I’ve been a fan of science fiction – in particular, post-apocalyptic narratives – since I was a child. Unsurprising that I eventually turned my hand to writing a novel set in a landscape created by the dismantling of long-term, sane, evidence-based civilization. If a lifelong interest in sci fi has taught me anything, it’s that the genre, at its best, serves as a kind of cultural decoder, telling us what we fear and feel about changes to the here and now.

As much as I loved the fictional and filmic apocalyptic landscapes of adolescence, they never really worried me. They weren’t serious real-life threats because I thought, nobody could ever be that stupid. Had I been paying more attention at school, I might have noticed human history groaning with the weighty burdens of stupidity, from the Treaty of Versailles to whoever cut down that last tree on Easter Island.

One week out from Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s 1984 became the best-selling book on Amazon.com. Back in 1948, Orwell was writing satire about the deficiencies and dangerous leanings of his own era. We’re not quite living in Orwell’s future, despite Newspeak cutting closer and closer to the internet’s linguistic bone. North Korea under Kim Jong-un is more aligned with Orwell’s dystopic vision.

My home continent Australia is a vast, inhospitable place with its 24 million residents mostly clinging around its more comfortable coastal fringe. Our mixed market economy relies on agriculture and service sectors, plus mining exports: iron ore, gold, uranium, coal, and liquefied natural gas. And don’t forget tourism: all those lovely golden beaches. Our greatest tourist attraction – the Great Barrier Reef – is bleaching and being killed off as I type.

Future Australia is the landscape of Lotus Blue. Australia got cut off – it’s its own world now. There are no countries, only towns and tribes. Weakened governments, desperate for new solutions to unsolvable problems in an increasingly fragmenting and uncaring international climate, sold off the country’s “useless”, inhospitable interior to anyone who’d pay, granting the buyers carte blanche to do anything they wanted with it, no questions asked.

Such a move is not without historical precedent. In the 50s and 60s the Australian Government permitted the British to test nuclear bombs in our deserts, regardless of the long-term consequences, most famously at Maralinga in South Australia. The indigenous people were shuffled off their traditional lands, and suffered health issues as a result of radiation, as did Australian service personnel, many of whose children died young or were born with severe deformities.

As if that weren’t bad enough, today, Australia is considering importing 3000 tons a year of other countries’ nuclear waste, planning to bury it in the outback — out of sight and out of mind. It’s clear that the government just wants the money and is incredibly short-sighted for the long-term health of our continent and the world. Even worse is the Queensland government’s approval of the infrastructure for a coal mine that will threaten the Great Barrier Reef with massive and continual dredging and dumping – all for an industry with an admittedly limited lifespan.

The real world seems particularly awash with stupid right now: alarming reserves of poorly stored biological toxins, development of lethal autonomous weapons systems against advice from science and industry leaders, a mindboggling denial to accept that manmade climate change is real. A collective refusal by too many governments to rehome the millions of refugees displaced by violent events beyond their control. People across the globe voting against their own best interests for things such as affordable healthcare, public education, environmental regulations and other vital social services. Voting against human rights and equality — or even worse, not bothering to vote at all, believing the future is not our concern or responsibility.

Lotus Blue is set in the future of a world that didn’t listen; a world in which reasonable self-interest and planetary concern was abandoned in favor of short-term profits for the elite. Humans lost control of the deadly, autonomous machines they had invented, as the oceans got warmer and the weather got wilder, the air got hotter and seas rose high, destroying homes, devastating agriculture and resulting in mass transience. A man-made, whole world of stupid.

Everything in the novel is extrapolated from genuine science, technology and current events. Fancifully embroidered, sure, but none of it came out of pure imagination.

We have never known so many ways and means of stupid. There have never been more of us and we have never demanded more from our environment than we do now. The fanciful, perpetual motion machine known as late stage capitalism stands as the greatest stupid in our arsenal, pushing the planet beyond the threshold of sustainability.

Today, eight individual men hold the same wealth as half the planet’s population. Silicon Valley and NYC super rich are reportedly building luxury bunkers and buying up ‘safe haven’ real estate as that doomsday clock ticks closer to midnight. As if any kind of bunker could protect them from the kind of darkness achieved when the lights go out on civilization itself.

In Lotus Blue, we meet the descendants of those bunkered, nervous rich — the powers-that-were, who ignored humanitarian and science-based concerns and kept up their high-grade exploitations until there was nothing left to dig up, farm or sell. Nothing but a vast, toxic expanse crawling with semi-sentient quasi-military hardware left over from other people’s experiments and skirmishes.

Against all odds, some of the hardy, abandoned surface-dwelling poor adapted and survived. Lotus Blue’s protagonist is a girl who discovers her unwelcome connection to the landscape’s deadly past. She must learn to use her resourcefulness to fight for and save the future from even greater stupid.

Which, let’s face it, we’re all going to have to do eventually. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

—-

Lotus Blue: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Outta Here

About to get on a plane to go to where I will get on a boat to be with a couple thousand other nerds. Not planning to be on the Internet whilst at sea. Definitely not reading the news. Please don’t blow up the planet while I’m away. Most times I’ve said that before it was a joke. Less of a joke this year, alas.

There’s a Big Idea piece scheduled for next week, but otherwise it’ll be pretty sparse here; at most I’ll post taunting pictures of gorgeous Pacific sunsets or such. Fortunately there’s the whole rest of the Internet for you to see! Go see it! Otherwise, be back in the real world in about a week.

Later!

The Big Idea: Jack Cheng

As someone who knows the joy of naming a character after a particular astronomer and popularizer of science, I’m delighted that Jack Cheng continues in this tradition with his novel See You in the Cosmos. In his Big Idea, Cheng talks about how our mutual brain crush inspired his story.

JACK CHENG:

I remember the exact moment it happened. I was at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, hanging out in my younger brother’s room, when I saw on his shelf a copy of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. I remembered an episode of a podcast I’d heard years before, in which Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, talked about how the two fell in love as they worked to gather sounds for the Voyager Golden Record. When I woke up the next morning, it was there, like the remnants of a dream: A story about a boy and his dog trying to launch a golden iPod into space, with his own sounds—his own record of life on Earth.

Very quickly I had the idea to tell the story using the iPod itself. The novel would be written as transcriptions of the recordings my main character, Alex, was making for intelligent beings millions of light-years away. But I hadn’t yet realized the implications of the choice. In fact, it didn’t even feel like a choice at the time. It was just the MacGyvering that you do as an author—you try to make full use of what’s already in the story. And this story had a golden iPod bound for the far reaches of space.

As I worked on the novel, I began to notice strange entanglements between Alex’s quest to launch his rocket and my own quest to write the book. I saw how his devotion to his task came from his very human desire to connect with others, and to understand his family’s history and circumstances. The setting was inspired by a solo road trip I’d taken in the Southwestern U.S. in the summer of 2013, but it wasn’t until after spending time with Alex that I remembered one of the main reasons for the trip in the first place: So I could, at the very end, retrace a Greyhound bus ride my father had taken from LA to Detroit when he first arrived in this country.

I found myself again and again in Alex’s story. It seemed even to mirror the very acts of writing, reading, and publishing. Alex embarks on his mission alone—save for his dog—but he eventually comes to meet people who support him and become a kind of found family. And wasn’t this also the journey of an author? Of moving from the solitary experience of writing the first drafts to getting feedback from trusted early readers, to working with agents and editors and so on, until the team around him or her becomes its own kind of found family? Even the book’s opening line—Who are you?—took on new meaning for me. Not only was it the question that Alex was asking of the recipients of his message, and the question he was asking of his father he never knew, it was also, I realized, the question a reader asks of a main character at the beginning of every novel. It was the question that I was asking of my reader, across the vast ocean of fictional space-time. Who are you?

That initial choice to tell the story on the iPod, it turned out, was indeed the Big Idea. Not just because it was a clever and interesting way to tell a story, but because it placed both the myself and the reader on Alex’s Earth and simultaneously away from it—far away—as the eventual recipients of his message. And with this vast distance comes, I think, a deep empathy; when you put yourself in the mind of someone so far away, and then look back on yourself from that person’s perspective—like Carl Sagan encouraged us to do when he described Earth as a “pale blue dot”—you end up seeing the things you have in common with your fellow human beings. You end up seeing your own story in the story of another. And their story in yours.

—-

See You in the Cosmos: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

New Books and ARCs

I’ve got a super-sized stack of new books and ARCs for today, because apparently March is like that. There’s some fabulous stuff in here — what grabs you? Tell us in the comments!

Asus c302ca Update

You’ll recall that last week I got a new laptop, the Asus c302ca, a 2-in-1 Chromebook; some of you wanted an update from me to let you know whether I thought it was a good investment.

My answer: Yes, I think so. With the caveat that it’s a $500 Chromebook and not $1000+ Windows or Mac rig, and thus one’s expectations should be set accordingly, I’ve been very happy with it. I’ve used it primarily for browsing and writing and within the scope of those two activities it’s done everything I’ve asked it to do without complaint; its processor (an Intel m3) would be pokey on a more intensive rig but zooms along here. The touchscreen is sharp and pretty and perfectly responsive in tablet mode, and the keyboard is, to me, very nice, with the layout the right size and the keys with just about the right amount of travel. This is a very comfortable machine for me.

I’ll note there are things I haven’t tried to do with this machine, in particular photoediting, which is a thing I do on my desktop. I’ll also note that I didn’t get this laptop for photoediting, and if I had I would have been silly. Again: Chromebook, and be aware of the limitations there. But within those limitations, it’s pretty great. I have no hesitation taking this along when I travel, which is a good thing as I have a pretty serious book tour coming up in a couple of weeks.

So, yes, if you’re in the market for a light-to-medium duty laptop for not a whole lot of money, then this is a pretty sharp choice, and I can recommend it.

March/April Big Idea Housekeeping Notes

Which are:

March Big Idea slots have been filled. If you asked for a March Big Idea slot and have not heard from me, sorry, full up.

April Big Idea slots will be filled probably in the week of March 12. If you’re waiting on a response for an April Big Idea slot, don’t panic! Wait a couple of weeks. Thanks.

The Big Idea: Chuck Wendig

When Chuck Wendig is not drinking Febreeze smoothies or arguing with people about their burrito choices, he writes books! For example: Thunderbird, the newest entry in his Miriam Black series. In today’s Big Idea, Chuck talks about what it took to extend the series into new territory… and how the real world might have caught up with it along the way.

CHUCK WENDIG:

I’ll preface this by saying: I had no idea what was coming.

Two years ago, I wrote the fourth book in my Miriam Black series: Thunderbird. In it, Miriam seeks to end the curse that causes her see how people are going to die, but that path cuts straight through a right-wing militia nesting in Arizona.

It’s a militia, but it’s also a cult of personality, run in part by a charismatic man and his psychic wife. They have visions of an America in ruins, left so in part by those “others” who come across the border or from overseas. They also distrust their own government—these people are paranoid, driven by visions of a new world order or state-sponsored super-flu or other forms of impossible control. They want to break it all down. Blow it all up. They want to heal the divide by eradicating the other side in a civil war that proves their version of justice. They have weapons. They have bombs. They’re going to kill people to—in their minds—save people. And then they have visions of taking over the government that they destroy.

The book comes out this week, and suddenly it seems hopelessly naive. It now seems like a thing less out of fiction – or, at least, less a thing at the fringes and the margins – and is now a very real infection slithering right to the heart of American life and discourse. It’s gone off the pages. It’s gone off the rails. Here we are, in thrall to a cult of personality who sees enemies everywhere, who imagines threats that aren’t real, who seems to distrust the government even as it takes it over. It’s a group that claims that it wants to heal the divide, but its mechanism to do so again seems to be to create unity by destroying those would disagree.

Well, shit.

At the time, I thought, I’m going to talk about this thing, this sickness forming in the roots of the tree, and I was stupid enough to think that’s where it would stay. Trapped in those pages like a prisoner behind paper walls. But here we are. The big idea, the bad idea, has taken over. It’s escaped the prison. It’s gone beyond just the roots—it’s in the trunk of the tree and in the soil around us. I didn’t think the ideas I put forth in the book would become mainstream, in a way. I didn’t know we would climb so high only to fall back so far, so fast, to a broken world.

The Miriam books have always posited a broken world, of course. The characters contained within – save maybe one or two – are never really good people, they’re all just varying shades of bad. Some are bad because they are made that way, some are bad because it serves them. Some are bad because they’re as broken as the world around them, some are bad because they want to break the world further. There’s bad, then there’s real bad, and sometimes, there’s downright motherfucking evil.

I try to look at the book now, long after I wrote it, as it’s coming out onto bookshelves in a world whose own special horrors have exceeded the story’s own in many ways, and now I’m forced to find a different big idea contained within, one that maybe seeks to find hope in the hellmouth. And I’m forced to look at Miriam herself, because though she’s by no means a good person, she still tries to be better. Her capacity to do the right thing when surrounded by wrong is something noble. Her drive to be better even when she knows she’s easily one of the worst people in the room gives me a weird kind of hope. And the fact that even in all the darkness, the book still lets in rays of light—grimy light, light that flickers, but still light that clarifies and chases away shadows—well, I find that hopeful, too.

And sure, it’s just a book. It’s just a story. But like I said, sometimes the things inside books find a way outside the books. Sometimes they were never really the realm of fiction. Sometimes stories know things and tell us things even before we’re really aware of them. So that’s what I’m hoping is happening here. Maybe Thunderbird is showing us not only the reality of the darkness, but also that there’s a way through, too, toward the light. Maybe the big idea is that no matter how bad it gets, we can always make it better.

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Thunderbird: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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