View From a Hotel Window, 8/23/15: Aurora, Colorado

Ahhhhh, yes. Parking lot, I missed you so.

Today: As noted previously, Fort Collins at 3pm. Be there or be square. Seriously, you’ll turn into a cube if you don’t go, Fort Collins. An evil wizard has cast a spell on your town, you see.

Tomorrow: Bay Area, you have two  — yes, two! — chances to see me on Monday. If you’re in San Francisco and not doing anything in the noontime hour, come to Borderlands Books to see me do my thing. I’ll be very curious to see how this does as an event, being it’s at noon on a weekday, and presumably many of my fans have those whatchamajingies called “jobs,” but no matter what, we’re gonna have some fun. So come on down.

Then, in the evening, specifically at 7:30pm, I’ll be at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, and I’m sitting down with the fantastic Tad Williams for an evening of discussion and pie (note: the event is BYOP — bring your own pie). More seriously, this is a Kepler’s premier event, so you’ll have to splash out some money for a ticket. But I promise the discussion between me and Williams will make it soooo worth it. Come see us do our thing.

A Brief Comment on the Hugos

I remember, when the Hugo nominations came out, Brad Torgersen crowed that the Puppies had taken over the Enterprise.

So, to extend the metaphor, this is what happened to the Puppies last night at the Hugo Awards:

And if you remember, afterwards the Federation built the Enterprise back up again, just as good as, if not better than, before. So, yes.

I’ll have more and longer things to say on the topic, but right now I’m operating on a deficit of sleep thanks to George RR Martin’s epic Hugo Loser’s party, so I’m going to take a nap before my event in Fort Collins (today! At 3!).

In the meantime, if you want more detail on events, this Wired article (in which I am quoted) is pretty comprehensive, and this Wall Street Journal article features immediate post-Hugo reactions from me and several others.

Comments off because of nap, followed by several hours of me being busy at an event. My upcoming longer entry (probably within the next couple of days) will have the comments open. Hold your fire until then.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/22/15: Spokane

For Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon, I splurged on a penthouse suite (I’m paying for it, not Tor). It has a view not of a parking lot. Also, today the sky is actually blue, as opposed to being mainly composed of smoke and ash, as it was yesterday. A very pretty day to have a Hugo ceremony, which will happen this very evening. I am having a lovely Worldcon so far.

Tomorrow: Fort Collins, I will be visiting you for the first time. Come see me at the Midtown Arts Center at 3pm, sponsored by Old Firehouse Books. This is a ticketed event with the tickets being $5 (cheap), and the tickets also count as $5 off when you buy The End of All Things. See you there!

View From a Hotel Window, 8/20/15: Boise

Parking lot in the foreground, state capital in the background. Basically, this view has got it all.

Tonight! I am at the Boise Downtown Library! (I understand it has an exclamation point in its name) at 7pm, with the event sponsored by The Rediscovered Bookstore. I’m very excited, because this is my first time in Boise and my first time in Idaho. So I hope you’ll come out and welcome me to your state and city.

Tomorrow and Saturday: Sasquan bound! Here’s my schedule there in case you missed it earlier. I sincerely hope it is not consumed by fire before I arrive.

The Big Idea: Aliette De Bodard

Aliette De Bodard’s Big Idea piece for The House of Shattered Wings may have the best first line of any Big Idea piece yet. That’s all I’m going to say. Get to reading.

ALIETTE DE BODARD:

My novel didn’t come together until I nuked Paris.

After I finished Obsidian and Blood, my trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, I was a bit uncertain as to what to write. I finally settled on a urban fantasy set in Paris: I’d always wanted to tackle magic in a more modern setting, and Paris, as a city I’d lived in or around for years, felt like a natural candidate.

The novel, though, never really came alive for me.  I went through several drafts with increasing degrees of frustration–and finally realised that what I needed was better worldbuilding. My intended setting, of a 21st Century with magicians’ families fighting each other for power, had never really convinced me; because I felt, deep down, that the presence of magic should have a bigger effect on the city and its people.

At the same time, I was also taking the novel further back in time, to the 19th/early 20th Century, for a more old-fashioned feel. I was therefore reading a lot of books from that time period, all carefully set against the devastation wrought by WWI. And that’s when I realised that what I really needed was a magical equivalent of this–one whose effects wouldn’t so easily be shaken off. The kind of conflagration that still left the city devastated and bobby-trapped with spells, decades later. A war between factions that had grown too arrogant and powerful and tired of being at each other’s throats–except, of course, that even after the war they’d still be fighting each other on battlefields of intrigues and politics and magical influence…

Yup, that sounded about right.  

It turned out that nuking a city was harder than I’d thought. First, I needed a good idea of what life had been before the war: not only to assess what had been lost, but because my post-war society would be clinging to the idea of a golden age before the war, and modelling itself on its memories of it.

My pre-war society differed massively from the actual historical one, because it had Fallen angels–ageless and immortal beings who, with their talent for magic, naturally gravitated to positions of power. And it also had magical factions: the Houses, a quasi-feudal network of protections and obligations that turned into impregnable fortresses after the war. I imagined them as a loose cross between the Houses in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series and the Chaosian Houses in Zelazny’s Amber; and I spent a lot of time coming up with their various characteristics, from philosophy to coats of arms and major magicians (among which was Lucifer Morningstar, because where would be the fun of Fallen angels without him?)

Second, I needed a good idea of the geography of the city, past and present. There I was fortunate, because I could do most of my research by walking and going to local libraries. In particular, I decided that the major focus of the narration, House Silverspires, would hold Ile de la Cité, one of the islands in the centre of Paris. I had to research a bit, in order to get an idea of the lay of the land before I completely nuked said land. By the time I was done, most of the island’s monuments were destroyed, Notre-Dame was ruins open to the sky, and the neighbouring Seine had become a dark and dangerous river, whose tendrils would snatch the unwary from bridges and quays.  Fun times!

Once I was reasonably confident of my Ile de la Cité, I extended the devastation further, into the rest of Paris. Some areas would be under the sway of Houses and enjoy a modicum of safety and resources, and others would be Houseless–in varying degrees of distress and poverty, ranging from lower middle class to working class, to areas beset by gangs of roving, starving youths who fought for scraps of food and magic.

As I delved deeper into this new, odd and bleak world and its politics of survival,  understood immediately that I’d been entirely right: this was something I felt passionate about, something that came alive for me when I was writing about it and begged to be explored further with every new chapter. This was the book I really, badly needed to write.

And that is how I ended up writing The House of Shattered Wings, and setting it in a universe that felt much more engrossing to me than the one of my abortive urban fantasy. I hope I managed to get some of that fire across in the book!

—-

The House of Shattered Wings: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

View from a Hotel Window, 8/19/15: Seattle

There is no place where the parking lots cannot reach!

Tonight: Seattle, at the Downtown Public Library, at 7pm. You know the downtown public library; it’s the one that looks all funky. Co-sponsored by the Elliot Bay Books. Come by, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Tomorrow: Boise! For the first time ever, I am visiting you! I hope you will visit me too, at the Downtown Boise Public Library, at 7pm. See you there!

The Big Idea: Charlie Fletcher

How to suss out the intricacies of a new idea, not just for a story, but for an entire world? For Charlie Fletcher, author of the Oversight series, of which The Paradox is the latest installment, the answer was simple: Go for a walk.

CHARLIE FLETCHER:

The setting for The Oversight and The Paradox began with a fragment that I wrote in my notebook without entirely understanding why:

On the benefit of Mongrels, and the perils of Cold Iron”.

It’s a fine near-sentence, full of atmospheric period capitalizations and so on, but it’s also maddeningly opaque, and needed unpacking. So I did what writers do when ideas need to be nailed down. I whistled up my terrier Archie, and went for a long walk up the hill in the driving rain.

Of course there was rain. It was summer. This is Scotland.

I set off knowing one thing: I wanted to write an adult supernatural adventure set in early Victorian London. I like the period, I know the history and the terrain of the city, it’s a good and numinous place to hunt story.

What the generous host of this blog calls The Big Idea, I call True North because once I’ve found it I can always navigate my way through a story: it stops me getting frustratingly lost and instead allows me to get interestingly lost, which is quite a different thing altogether, being where the fun and serendipity happens.

In the world I was beginning to imagine there were two groups of people: those with supernatural abilities kept strong by keeping their blood ‘Pure, living hidden and apart from the other normal ‘natural majority. The Pure have freedom to roam where they will, as long as they obey ancient prohibitions – ‘Law and Lore’ that protects each side from harming the other. Being disinclined to mix, the Pure have usually always kept to the wild places.

As I walked through the rain wondering how to dramatise this – and maybe because I was watching my dog trot ahead of me it seemed logical that this unseen picket-line between the natural and the supernatural was best policed in an even-handed way by mongrels those with the blood of both sides in their veins. From this the idea of the ancient Free Company for the Oversight of London was born.

The Oversight have thus never been pure, and have always been imperfect. Theyre real and fallible, doing the best they can with inadequate tools and limited resources – just like the rest of us. But like Archie my terrier, who is of course mongrel to the bone, they’re resilient, scrappy, a little unpredictable and totally don’t know how to back off, even when they’re losing. They have all taken a vow to uphold Law and Lore to the death: hence the ‘benefit’ of Mongrels.

Having discovered I was going to tell the story through a kind of uncanny border patrol, I had to think about exactly what those inadequate tools were that they would use to try and enforce the balance they were sworn to. And that’s where Cold Iron suddenly made sense.

Amongst the strongest and most widespread articles of old folk belief is that you can escape the pursuit of supernatural entities by crossing running water, and that if none is nearby you can defend yourself with ‘Cold Iron, which they abhor.

This idea of Cold Iron as a sure talisman against the power of the supernatural made me understand why I wanted to write this story at this particular point in time: the 1840s mark the transition between the First and Second Industrial Revolution, iron production has leaped forward, steam power is perfected, and the onslaught of the railroad, spreading its web of iron across the virgin lands of the world is just starting to bite.

So, if the Pure have always been free to move wherever they will as long as they don’t prey on ‘normal’ people, what happens when the ‘normal’ start caging the landscape beneath a grid of uncrossable iron rail track, and cutting new canals of flowing water across the traditional trails, rendering them unpassable?

What in fact always happens when you get ancient treaties swept aside, and the old world realises it’s time to fight a last stand against the unthinking rapaciousness of modern?

I think you get resistance…

Writers tell you walking helps, and it does: I came off the hill with my True North, my Big Idea: history in flux, players in motion, unintended consequences – a reason to tell the story I was drawn to, and a question that hopefully resonates forward into our own world.

And speaking of the wider world, I also knew London was now just the place where it all begins…

—-

The Paradox: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

View From a Hotel Window, 8/18/15: Portland

If you look closely, you’ll see a parking lot in the picture.

Tonight: Powell’s in Beaverton, OR, at 7pm. Be on time because the Doubleclicks are opening!

Tomorrow: Seattle! I will be amongst you, for my event at the Seattle Public Library, co-hosted by Elliot Bay Books. 7pm!

The Big Idea: Linda Nagata

In today’s Big Idea, Linda Nagata explains how short stories were the gateway to her “Red” series of novels, of which The Trials is the second. Short stories! Gotta keep an eye on ’em!

LINDA NAGATA:

Stories can be dangerous, demanding things.

The Trials is the middle book in a trilogy of military thrillers that took over my imagination. I had never planned to write a military novel—not until an alliance of small ideas infiltrated my subconscious and gained control, insisting that together, they were the Big Idea behind a new science fiction story world.

The first incursion came in the fall of 2012 when I was struggling to write a hard SF short story. The reason I was having so much trouble? This was a completely new story world, so everything about it had to be worked out: the state of the Earth, the level of technology, the extent of solar system exploration. All of this for a storyworld that I didn’t expect to revisit—until I found myself writing this odd bit of background about an AI antagonist known as “the Red.”

“…it bled through every aspect of life—a relentless tide of information and influence shepherding the thoughts and actions of billions along paths determined by its unknowable goals.”

Yeah…what does that even mean?

I wasn’t sure. Not at first. Nevertheless, I had a strong feeling I’d just found a key element of a new novel.

In fiction, AIs are often depicted as self-aware entities with relentless survival instincts and a hunger for power—a lot like people, just smarter and faster. But it’s narrow AI that’s used everywhere these days, non-sentient and focused on a specific task. Self-awareness is not expected, wanted, or required. So what if an AI of that sort—let’s say a marketing AI, one originally designed to gather data on individuals, to assess their wants, and to manipulate their behavior in ways both subtle and overt, simply evolved to do its task better?

I mean, we’re already on our way to that. I’m sure you’ve gone shopping online, only to be pursued around the web by whatever product you were looking at. If you have an Android phone, Google is certainly aware of where you are and often has a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for. Facebook presumes to know us well enough that its algorithms can decide what posts we want to see in our newsfeed. Amazon has our browsing, buying, and reviewing histories going back years.

The NSA may have a lot of cached data, but surely it’s the consumer programs that know us best—and when they chase us around with ads, they are trying to influence our behavior by matching us up with products we might want to buy. So in the classic science fiction tradition of “if this goes on…” I wondered what might happen if a marketing AI began to more overtly shape potential consumers. Instead of matching people up with a specific product, it begins to match them up with the life they would have chosen if only they’d had the opportunity—and the courage for it.

There is a special sort of excitement when I sense a novel coming on. I felt it as I finished up the short story (which you can read over at Lightspeed Magazine—it’s called “Nightside on Callisto”). But in the end this concept was just a nice bit of background. I didn’t have my Big Idea yet.

Then, several months later, I was ambushed by another short story.

(You see? Stories are dangerous. They are demanding. They mess with your head.)

“Through Your Eyes” (Asimov’s April/May 2013) is set in a very near-future New York City. It’s a tale of surveillance, civil rights, the corruption of corporate-controlled government, and the power of hidden cameras in the hands of citizens. Just like the earlier story, this one had a background element that intrigued me: the idea that the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago has come to control US foreign policy, and war is a business decision.

This is another “If this goes on…” scenario. After all, the United States has been at war for a very long time, and is likely to continue to be at war on some scale for many more years to come. In a long-term market like that there is money to be made—a lot of money—and defense contractors stand to reap large profits.

Again, a nice bit of background, but still not the Big Idea I needed—until I put the two scenarios together: a paranoid defense contractor declares all-out war against an elusive, rogue AI with unknown goals. The two ideas combined in an explosive rush of writing that yielded the draft of a novel in only four months—record time, for me.

That was The Red: First Light, the story of US Army Lieutenant James Shelley, who finds himself a frontline player in a widening conflict that forces him to question who he’s really fighting for—and just how far a soldier’s duty will allow him to go.

As soon as The Red was done, I was faced with writing a sequel. I knew The Trials would open with Shelley and his squad of cyborged soldiers facing the consequences of the decisions made and the actions taken in the first book—even as they find themselves locked into the hero’s role.

And that, I realized, was the Big Idea behind The Trials.

In a world linked by cell networks, satellites, mass media, and surveillance, the subtle but far-reaching machinations of the Red have begun to turn the lives of individuals into real-life stories—some quietly heroic, and some harrowing, some that derail lives, and others that inspire.

I freely admit that I’m addicted to adventure stories, and I suspect many of you are too. Action, struggle, discovery, facing your fears, overcoming the odds, doing the right thing in the face of danger, in the service of others. It’s all great to read about.

But what if you found yourself caught up in one of those harrowing stories, actually confronted with the hero’s role? Would you want it? Would you take it, even knowing that your life was being manipulated—and that not all stories have happy endings? That’s the choice Shelley has to make. As the world is gradually redesigned by an entity no one understands, he has become an actor handed a plot whose end he can’t know.

So the Big Idea behind The Trials is that it’s telling a story about being caught within a story—and as we all know, stories are dangerous, demanding things.

—-

The Trials: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

View From a Hotel Window 8/17/15: Madison

No parking lot. I hardly know what to do with myself. Also, very modern. Feels like Piet Mondrian might have a pied a terre here.

Tonight! 7pm! Madison Central Library, and sponsored by A Room of One’s Own. Very much looking forward to tonight’s event.

Tomorrow! I leave the middle of the United States and head west to Portland! And thence to Beaverton, where I will be appearing at the Powell’s there, also at 7. Get there on time because The Doubleclicks are opening for me and will be playing a couple of songs. And they are awesome.

And that’s where things are at the moment.

My Sasquan Schedule

It’s here. I’m doing five events: A reading, a signing, two panels and a kaffeklatche. I’m only there on Friday and Saturday, however, so if you’re looking for me before or after then, I regret to say it will be in vain. I’ll be in Seattle on Wednesday, Boise on Thursday, and Fort Collins on Sunday. The tour. You know.

Also, when you click through, you will see my name presented without capital letters. This is an error made when I bought a membership. I have not suddenly become precious about this.

Notes For New (and Potential) Twitter Followers

(To everyday Whatever readers: This is a post I’m putting up for Twitter folks; I’ll be pinning a link to this on the top of my Twitter page.)

Dear New (and Potential!) Twitter Followers:

Hi there, I’m John Scalzi, and if you’re reading this, you may have just decided to follow me on Twitter, or may be thinking about doing so. If this does in fact describe you, here is what you should know before clicking the “follow” button.

1. If you have no idea who I am besides some guy on Twitter, here’s a brief bio.

2. I post on Twitter a lot. 40 to 60 times a day is not unusual, and some days I can put up more than a hundred tweets. Many of those are replies to people, so you might not see all of them. Nevertheless, I am a high volume tweeter. If you’re not prepared for me stuffing your tweetfeed full of my silliness, it’s okay to bail out. I don’t mind!

3. I’ve written a bit about how I use Twitter, and how I interact with followers, and why I happily mute and/or block people who want to start fights with me on Twitter. That piece is here. It’s worth the read. Short version: I often use Twitter as a performance space; I respond to tweets from followers but not all of them because of time and other factors; I’ll mute and/or block you if I think you’re obnoxious.

4. I am often asked for retweets, enough so that I have an official policy on retweets. Here it is. Also, if you’re an official Twitter account of a business, or someone trying to sell/promote things on Twitter, you should look at this.

5. I don’t automatically follow everyone who follows me, so if that’s your hope or expectation you will probably be disappointed. Please don’t ask me to follow you (and please don’t do it multiple times). Also, don’t ask me to follow you in order to send me a Direct Message. If I don’t follow you and there’s something you want to ask me privately, you can send me an email.

6. I very often tweet about politics and social issues. In the US, I am considered a liberal, and everywhere else in the English speaking world I suspect I am middle-of-the-road and maybe leaning ever-so-slightly to the right. If you get annoyed with these sorts of politics, my Twitter feed may also annoy you. Fair warning.

7. Because I tweet about politics and social issues, from time to time groups of people who don’t like my positions like to try to gang up on me on Twitter. So from time to time you may see me tweeting about the fact that stupid people are trying to annoy me and/or see the tweets I put out where I belittle and condescend to them. When that happens, don’t worry, it’s usually over fairly quickly (because I mute and/block them immediately thereafter).

8. Other common tweet subjects include: Writing and publishing, food, pets, travel, family and various things I think are funny. I retweet a lot of cool stuff my friends are doing so you can find out about it too. I will very often have conversations with these friends, on matters both snarky and serious. Feel free to follow along.

9. If you see me tweeting in ALL CAPS, it is very likely that the portion of the tweet in all caps is meant to be sarcastic and/or sardonic and/or silly. I tweet in all caps a lot. Do not be alarmed. I am not having a stroke.

10. If eventually you find me an exhausting and/or annoying part of your tweetstream, please unfollow me! I will not be in the least offended. I want my presence in your Twitterverse to be a fun and enjoyable one, and if it isn’t, then I’m okay with you taking your leave of me. There will be no hard feelings.

And now you know what you need to know! I hope you enjoy my presence on your Twitter feed, and thanks for following me.

View From a Delta Sky Club, 8/16/15: Detroit

It’s not a hotel window. It is, however, in a sense, a view of a parking lot.

Today: I’ll be in Lansing, Michigan, at Schuler Books & Music, at 4pm. A good time will be had! By me, at least. And hopefully, you too.

Tomorrow: I’ll be in lovely Madison, Wisconsin, for an event at the Madison Central Library, presented by A Room of One’s Own. That’ll be at 7pm. Plan your life around it!

Update: 2:07pm: In Lansing now. And the view from my window? You guessed it!

Parking lots are awesome.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/15/15: Cleveland/Westlake

Parking lot? But of course!

(The room is lovely. I do not wish to imply complaint. It’s just that parking lots out my window really do seem to be a recurring theme this tour.)

Today! The Barnes & Noble in Westlake, OH at 2pm (i.e., not long from when I am writing this). Hey, they haven’t started playing college football yet, Ohio. Come on by.

Tomorrow! Lansing, Michigan — the state capital, no less — at Schuler Books and Music. 4pm! Please come see me. I do not wish to be all alone.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/14/15: Lexington

Another very fine parking lot. Which, you know, is perfectly fine with me, actually. I don’t demand gracious views from my hotels. I want a nice bed, a distinct lack of bedbugs and/or soiled linens, and an Internet connection. Everything else is optional. Also this hotel has the distinct advantage of being a minute’s walk from tonight’s event venue, which is pretty great. I’ve stayed here before. Can recommend.

On the subject of the “views from a hotel window,” I am occasionally asked if I’m ever worried that people will be able to stalk me with the pictures. No, not really. One, I have a lock on my hotel door. Two, it’s not like I’m the Beatles or One Direction. Hordes of screaming fans are not hovering in the lobby and needing to be dispersed by an exasperated cop or anything. I’m fine, really. Most of my fans are delightfully polite and save their moments of squee for the events. Which is the right place for it.

Speaking of which: Tonight, Joseph-Beth Lexington, 7pm. Come on by, we’re gonna have some fun. All the tour stops so far have been excellent and Lexington is always a great place for an event. If you’re in Lexington or the near environs, I hope to see you there.

Tomorrow: Cleveland/Westlake, 2pm at the Barnes & Noble. I don’t frequently get to northeast Ohio, so if you want to see me there, tomorrow will be the time. And place! Come on up. Cleveland rocks.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/13/15: Atlanta

Parking lots are beautiful, man. My event tonight is in Athens, GA, but my hotel room is in Atlanta, in part because it’ll be easier to get to the airport in the morning this way. Ah, tour logistics!

As noted, my event tonight is in Athens, Georgia, and although it’s being hosted by the fabulous Avid bookshop, it will be taking place at the very nearly Cine Athens theater. All the details are here; show starts at 7pm.

Tomorrow (Friday): I will be in Lexington, at Joseph-Beth booksellers. These are awesome folks and it’s going to an awesome time. Again, at 7pm. Please come and bring all your friends, most of your family, and also that one guy you just sort of tolerate.

The Big Idea: Stephen Moore

 

As a person with some infamous ancestors in his family tree (ever hear of John Wilkes Booth? Yeah, he’s an uncle), Stephen Moore’s Big Idea for Graynelore speaks to me in several ways. Read on to discover why.

STEPHEN MOORE:

When I talk about a big idea in relation to Graynelore I find myself looking back to the very start of the project. Not to the main themes, or the twisting plot. No. Rather, I want to tell you about the big idea that set the ball rolling, so to speak, and ultimately changed the very direction of my writing.

A few years ago I had a revealing conversation with my mother about her family roots and discovered something amazing: my ancestors include links to the infamous 16th Century Border Reivers.

Who? The Border Reivers were inhabitants of the English/Scottish Borderlands; family groups who considered theft, kidnap, blackmail, murder and deadly blood-feud as all part of their day job. While the crown heads of England and Scotland were engaged in an endless bloody conflict over sovereignty that reduced the borders to a virtual no-man’s-land, ordinary folk were effectively left to get by as best they could. And if that meant turning up on your neighbour’s doorstep and beating the hell out of them to take whatever little they possessed (up to and including their lives) then so be it! Reiving, as it became known, was very much a way of life for close on three hundred years. The Reivers even gifted the word bereaved to our dictionaries!

What’s my connection? My mother’s family name is Kerr, and they originally hailed from the Scottish Borders. Let’s be blunt. The Kerrs were notorious Reivers back in the day. Blood-feud a speciality! If one fact about them tickles me! Unusually, the Kerrs were left-handed. It meant they fought with their swords in their left hand and built their fortified tower houses with left-handed spirals to their staircases. It just so happens I’m also left handed. I like to think it’s in the blood.

I was instantly intrigued by my infamous ancestors. Right there and then, the big idea was born! What author worth their salt would not want to write about them? I only had to find the right tale to tell.

So, I took the historical world of the Border Reivers; their way of life, their society, their homes, their landscape, their goods and their chattels. In true Reiver fashion, I stole it all, misused and abused it and made it my own. (With my family links, I’m just a little bit proud of that.)

Mind you, if I’m claiming that as my big idea, there was an issue to overcome: I’m an author of fantasy, not historical fiction. To satisfy the writer-within-me I had to combine the two; fantasy with my own version of Reiver society the bedrock to stand it upon. I like to think of it as twisting history.

Where did my fantasy tale find its birth? I’ll tell you. One hot summer’s day I was sitting in a beautiful garden overlooking the Welsh coast. In the middle distance, out upon the sea, I could see the Isle of Lundy. There were warm currents of air rising off the sea, and as is the way on hot summer days, they slowly obscured the scene, until at last Lundy Isle disappeared. There was only the sea and the endless blue sky. Of course, it was a simple trick of the eye. But in that moment I knew I’d found the idea I was searching for. This wasn’t Lundy Isle at all, but the Faerie Isle. Sometimes there, sometimes not, ever moving…

And so began a long and winding journey of research and development that ultimately lead me to my novel, Graynelore. You might call it a Reiver faerie tale. But believe me, not a faerie tale as you know it.

At the outset I had to make one further inspired leap of faith. You see, up until this point, all of my books had been written for children; and I’ve been writing for almost twenty years! However, I knew that if I was going to write authentically about Reivers, the story might well be a faerie tale but it could not possibly be for children (for me, a big idea in itself!) A Reiver’s world is naturally brutal, sometimes cruel, and often graphically blunt. If I could pull it off, Graynelore had to be my first novel strictly for grown-ups. And so it is.
—-

Graynelore: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Kobo|iBookstore
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site and his blog.  Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: David Nabhan

Energy is on author David Nabhan’s mind, and in The Pilots of Borealis, it’s on the mind of a lot of his characters too. What do they all know about energy that you might not? The author explains below.

DAVID NABHAN:

The Pilots of Borealis is many things: a study in athleticism and strength, experiencing a world of the future that still trucks in the sins of the past, and survival, by any means necessary. However, what I hope to tackle in this novel, the concept that drove me to explore a world fueled by dwindling Helium-3 and sub-zero lunar dog-fighting, is actually an idea that’s existed since the day the universe exploded into being: energy, and the things people will do to have it and to keep it for themselves.

Historians always a make a point to describe what exactly wars are fought over: fertile fields and plains, mighty timberland, mineral-rich terrain, rivers and oceans and more. However, one thing I always found interesting is that there is never any focus on what goes into those resources after they’ve been conquered, accrued, or won; how many hours go into plowing a fertile field? How much lumber will a lush forest reveal? How many fish can one catch in a given day?

Having the resources isn’t enough; one must work the resources and tame the land, in order to show any yield for a given material. The human race had a rough yet intrinsic understanding of the ways the Earth had to be fashioned to provide life, first with muscle power, then beasts of burden, harnessing wind, water and gravitational power. The greatest empire of the ancient world, Rome, at its height conducted its business on the backs of five million slaves, watered its cities with thousands of miles of gravity-powered aqueducts, employed tens of thousands of water-wheels and wind capturing devices for flour and saw mills, hydraulic mining, marble quarrying, irrigation for farming, and for transportation by sea.

It is said that coal and the steam engine produced the Modern Age, and that’s hard to deny.  But there is nothing that altered the world as dramatically as the incredible changes wrought by petroleum. One gallon of gasoline contains energy equivalent to roughly three weeks of human labor. There is nothing else like it on Earth, liquid power to be transported at ease, shaped to fit any container, making it the most strategic material in the world.  

The Pilots of Borealis doesn’t take up the story here though. It picks up after the horrific wreckage of four Petroleum Wars. It’s the twenty-fifth century, and gasoline is useless and primitive.  Humans haven’t changed much, even though their civilizations now stretch out to Titan. And instead of clashing arms over earth-bound material, the sabers are now rattling for a resource that is running low, one that feeds the countless fusion reactors that make everything go, from the Alliances on Earth, to the Jovian Colonies and further: Helium-3. Infused into the regolith of the Moon, this rare commodity now spawns a ruthless death struggle between the great powers, desperate to protect what they consider is their rightful share.

And yet, the big idea here, the underlying conceit throughout all of The Pilots of Borealis, is actually that, regarding energy, we’re utterly clueless. For the human race to wring its hands about the next great energy crisis is tantamount to fish worrying about when and how they might die of thirst. They are awash in a sea of water, and we are just so, but in an unfathomably extensive ocean of energy; aware of it, yes, but unaware of how to tap into it.  

Our very universe was born in a blinding flash of pure energy. Before there was anything, there was light in its most ferociously radiant essence. The characters of Pilots of Borealis exist in this beautiful, light-filled universe, fighting over a dwindling resource when the real secret exists all around them. These characters strive, fight, prevail, succeed, fail—and sometimes die—without ever realizing the truth around them.

Ultimately, they must come to realize the nature of the universe in which they live, but only after paying a price that makes all previous choices pale in comparison. But what will they do with this knowledge? And how will they move forward, and survive in an ever-changing universe?

We are, indeed, children of the universe. But that universe is not one of just matter, but also one of pure energy, too. And I think that deserves some more thought, don’t you?

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Pilots of Borealis: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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View From a Hotel Window, 8/11/15: Memphis

This part of Tennessee is apparently quite lush. 

Reminder to everyone: Tonight! I will be at The Booksellers at Laurelwood! Event starts at 6:30pm. Don’t be late! You’ll miss the puppet show!

(Note: There will not actually be a puppet show. Sorry).

Tomorrow: Raleigh and Quail Ridge Books. There are a lot of reasons I really like North Carolina. You could be one of them.

The End of All Things is Out! The End of All Things Tour Begins!

Today is the day! The End of All Things, the sixth novel in the Old Man’s War universe and my eleventh novel overall is now out and available at your favorite local bookstore or online retailer. Get it! Get a copy for your friends! Get a copy for the people you would like to be friends with! Get it for people who are currently your enemies but with whom you hope for some sort of détente! Get it for your dog! Your dog won’t be able to read it, but it certainly knows when you are doing something nice for it! It will appreciate the thought!

Don’t get it for your cat. Honestly, like your cat gives a shit about anything.

And while you’re picking up The End of All Things, remember that my book tour starts today! The first four stops are Memphis (tonight!), Raleigh, Athens, GA and Lexington. If you are in or around those cities, please come to my events and being along every single person you know. It’ll be fun. And, because you’re making the effort to show up, I’ll be giving you something special: A sneak preview of “The Dispatcher,” the new novella I just completed that’s coming out later this year. Plus other cool stuff.  And yes, if someone brings a uke, I might even play it. You’ve been warned (please make sure it’s tuned). The entire tour itinerary is at that link above, or (if you’re on the actual site) in the sidebar for the duration of the tour.

Want a signed copy of the book? Order it from one of the bookstores I’ll be at for the tour, or visit or call up Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio and order one from there — I signed a bunch of them yesterday.

I’m very happy with The End of All Things — it’s not the last Old Man’s War book ever (my Tor contract specifies at least one more), but it’s likely to be the last one for a few years. I think it leaves the universe in a good place. I’m excited for you all to read it. And I’m excited to see at least some of you on the tour. We’re going to have fun. So much fun. Like, nearly illegal amounts of fun. See you soon.