The Big Idea: Steve Nedvidek

A love of family history and a desire not to wander the fairlanes in their spare time led Steve Nedvidek and his co-creators to make The Jekyll Island Chronicles, an alt-history graphic novel series. How did these motivations end up combined into a colorful artistic creation? Nedvidek explains it all.

STEVE NEDVIDEK:

I was a kid who grew up enthralled by heroes and the worlds they inhabited: aliens with super powers, talking apes on another planet, and musketeers in some place called Paris.  Heck, even Charlie had a chocolate factory. But one day, much later, I realized my biggest heroes were a part of my family. They were REAL people who did REAL things and made REAL differences to me.

My father was a Marine who fought in Korea, taught me to draw, and worked in a factory his whole life. My grandfather was an immigrant from Bohemia who joined the US Cavalry to gain his citizenship, raised three sons, and could handle a bullwhip. So cool…

I began to wonder. “What were their worlds like?” Especially Grandpa. With little or no information kept by the family, my imagination kicked in and I began to dig into a time of our history that I had learned very little about—the early 1900’s. I found this world interesting and fresh and, really for the most part, unknown to me: the Great War, the League of Nations, Henry Ford, tech that was changing the world, and people who parented the kids that would become “the greatest generation.”

A convergence occurred that I noodled on for subsequent years: Why were none of the heroes I grew up with in THIS time frame? Why were superheroes only after WWII and why were they either aliens or somehow mutated? Wouldn’t it be awesome if veterans like my grandfather had access to the coolest gadgets of the time? What if Tesla and Carnegie designed superhero costumes? What would THOSE heroes be like?

In my adult years, with a family, mortgage, and full-time job, I found two friends in the same situation. Like me, my long-time friends Ed Crowell and Jack Lowe had familial connections to WWI, had read Tolkien and Bradbury and Wells and Stan Lee as kids, and wanted to tell a compelling story.

None of us played golf very well, especially me. So, we set off to do the next best thing.

“Let’s make a graphic novel,” I said. “That’ll be fun!”

Working on our short game would’ve actually been easier. Writing something that was basically an elevator speech—action heroes battling anarchists right after World War I—wasn’t easy. Especially when we had done NOTHING like this before. And while we did have great vigor and energy in our inexperience, we also had some pretty great assists.

First, we had Jekyll Island: THE Jekyll Island with its iconic Jekyll Island Club. The place where the Federal Reserve was created. The Golden Isles were winter home of Pulitzer. And Rockefeller. And Morgan. And Carnegie. 1/6 of the world’s wealth called Jekyll home. These Golden Isles are magical. They are REAL. The homes of many of these industrialists are still intact for visitors to see. Jekyll was the natural locale for our story to take place.

We also had SCAD—the Savannah College of Art and Design. That was one of our other “big ideas.” We sponsored a class in Savannah for high level sequential arts students to help us visualize our heroic characters, the cabal of evil anarchists, and the machines that would dominate our alt history/diesel punk world. The students of SCAD were charged with creating a pitch packet for us, that would help us persuade publishers and production companies to take a look at the story we were trying to tell.

We had a successful Kickstarter campaign that gave us financing. Here’s a fact: a graphic novel is insanely expensive to produce. Every word on the page must be laid out, drawn, inked, colored, and all sound effects and copy bubbles must be added. I had been a cartoonist most of my life, but I cannot do THAT.  It was going to cost us.

We had history. A typical writer’s meeting in my basement had each of us with our computer open, scouring and verifying weird and little known facts of the Gilded Age. “Hey, look at this!”, “Did you guys know…?”, and “Oh man, this is amazing!” were often heard. In a way, stringing together these factoids (like the explosion of a blimp over Chicago or the mail bomb campaign of 1919) created a narrative that in many ways wrote itself. This is the blessing of history and the extra blessing of alt history.

And, this sounds corny, but we had each other. There are three of us on this team. Having three co-creators makes it easier to handle the load of writing duties, setting up social media (newsflash: men in their 50’s aren’t good at this), talking to newspapers, paying bills, getting cosplay costumes ready for Comic Con, and doing whatever was required to finish Book One. To be sure, there were times of tension, arm wrestling, and frustration with each other. But, in the end we know that this thing does NOT GET DONE if we don’t cooperate. So, we do.

Plus, we are still having fun! Book Two is done and is released this week, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Our publisher is making a donation to the WWI Centennial Commission for each book in the series sold in November and December. This will go to help complete the memorial in Washington, DC to those that fought in the Great War—it’s the only modern war still without a memorial in our Capital.

Book Three is started and should be out in mid-2020.

And although our golf games still stink, we have our world:  weird facts, exotic locations, supercharged machines, historical characters, a dollop of fantasy, and super cool heroes–all of whom are vets of the first World War.

I think Grandpa would be proud.

—-

The Jekyll Island Chronicles: A Devil’s Reach: Amazon|Indiebound|Powell’s|IDW

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

What a Difference a Week Makes

Same tree, a week’s difference in weather.

Looks like it might be one of those winters. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

And Now Are All My Travels Ended, 2018 Edition

Here’s a painterly view out of my front door today — I’ve arrived back home from work-related travel, once again, and finally, for the rest of 2018. If I travel anywhere else for the rest of the year, and to be clear I have no plans to, then it will be for personal reasons only. But honestly at this point, between now and the end of 2018, where I really want to be is home.

Since October 16, I’ve been five days home. I very much enjoyed touring, and seeing France, and getting to do a couple of dates with Cixin Liu, but spending most of a month on the road is tiring no matter who you are. I’m going to catch up on sleep, petting cats and spending time with Krissy and Athena for the next week at least, and then see where everything goes from here.

If I saw you on the road this year, it was lovely to see you! I hope I get to see you again. Just, not yet. I’m sure you’ll understand.

The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

Wiping out a terrible disease that kills millions each year: An unmitigated good, yes? Well, hold on there — Nancy Kress is here to explain how there are consequences to every action, and what those consequences mean for you, and her new novel, Terran Tomorrow.

NANCY KRESS:

Why should you care about gene drives?

Right now, I can see you thinking: I don’t! Next! But give me five minutes to explain why you should.

First, the five-second-or-so version (depending on how fast you read): Genes drive can, and soon will try to, eliminate an entire species.  Sparrows, wolves, mosquitos, and you are all species.

The five-minute version: A gene drive is an artificial “selfish gene” capable of forcing itself into 99% of an animal’s offspring, instead of the usual 50%. Theoretically, they could affect promoter genes, which are in charge of turning other genes on and off. In actuality so far, we know that they can affect reproduction by turning all males or females (pick one) of a species sterile. We know this because London researchers, supported in large part by the Gates Foundation, have succeeded in creating this gene drive in females of the malaria-carrying mosquito Anopheles gambiae sterile. At the same time, as part of the international effort Target Malaria, a small field trial with sterile male Anopheles will begin in Burkina Faso by the end of 2018. If all goes well, Anopheles may eventually be eliminated, and with it malaria.

What if all does not go well?

What if it does?

What if the same technique is used to eliminate other species?

These are the places that hard science fiction looks for stories—the impact craters of major technological advances like gene drives. I write hard SF, and my new novel, Terran Tomorrow, is interested in the impacts, good and bad, of genetic engineering on the natural world. Since those impacts are made by people, Terran Tomorrow deals not only with how people mess around with genes but also, and more importantly, why.  For what good or bad reasons, under what circumstances, with what consequences. How do we clean up other people’s genetic messes? How do we clean up our own—and at what personal sacrifices? Science is much more about people than petri dishes.

Terran Tomorrow is the conclusion of my Tomorrow’s Kin trilogy, which began with the Nebula-winning novella “Yesterday’s Kin.”  In the first book, aliens came to Earth. In the second book, humans went to World. In this third book, humans and a few aliens return to Earth, and are startled and shocked by the changes since they left. Environmental changes, personal changes, a complete upending of the social order. Time dilation, if it brings a decade of genetic warfare, can do that.

Marianne Jenner, evolutionary biologist, is caught between the clashing philosophies of her now-grown grandsons, ecologist Colin Jenner and his brother, U.S. Army Colonel Jason Jenner. Geneticist Zack McKay and his fractious scientific team are trying under impossible conditions to create a planet-saving gene drive. Alien visitors are rebelling. So are ex-wives. A civil war rages. And sparrows are now deadly.

Sparrows? Yes, because, as I mentioned in the five-minute version of why gene drives matter, they can theoretically affect other genes besides those regulating the reproductive system. There are also promoter genes affecting various metabolic pathways in organs such as the brain.

In real life, scientists are exploring links between microglia, a form of brain cells, and both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, in which microglia don’t seem to be functioning optimally. Could a gene drive change that? Or cause it? What else in the brain can be permanently changed with a gene drive?

In Terran Tomorrow, people must confront and act on two of the most difficult questions in genetics: How much risk do we undertake in experimenting with the building blocks of life? And if others have experimented and the results are catastrophic, how much risk do we undertake trying to clean up their disaster?

There are no easy answers to those questions, not in real life nor in fiction. That’s what makes the questions worth doing what SF does best: rehearsing one possible future. Because gene drives are already here.

—-

Terran Tomorrow: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

View From a Hotel Window, 11/12/18: San Diego

And the weather is perfect, because it’s San Diego and why wouldn’t it be.

Tonight: Come see me and Cixin Liu at the Clarke Center for Human Imagination as we talk about our work, worldbuilding, and all manner of things science fictional! Here are the details. We’d love to see you there!

How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2018

It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a fabulous local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Consuming Fire), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. (That’s a Monday this year.) That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 10, all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize, and we can’t 100% guarantee Christmastime delivery.

Ordering early is encouraged — it makes sure we will absolutely be able to order your book and have it to you on time.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: This year we have two new hardcovers for 2018: Head On, which takes place in the same world as Lock In, but can be read as a standalone if you like, and also The Consuming Fire, which is a direct sequel to The Collapsing Empire. The Collapsing Empire is also still probably available in hardcover if you ask. Also, the small-format hardcover of Old Man’s War (which looks great and is the perfect size for stocking stuffers) is available as well.

(Virtue Signaling, my collection of essays, will be available for the holidays, but only via pre-order at the Subterranean Press site, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll need go order from there. These copies will be signed but I won’t be able to personalize them.)

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to). There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The Collapsing Empire, Unlocked: An Oral History of the Haden Syndrome (this is a novella), The End of All ThingsLock InThe Human DivisionFuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2. You can also purchase the Old Man’s War boxed set (which features the first three books in the series), BUT if you want that signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited), and Don’t Live For Your Obituary (a collection of essays about writing, will also need to be special ordered).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock InThe Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you. Check with them about other titles, which may or may not be available on CD.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!

Taking Pictures With the Pixel 3: Some Thoughts

When I was heading to France last week, I considered taking my Nikon d750 with me, because I thought, not unreasonably, that France might be a photogenic country and that I might want to get some high quality photos of the place. I decided against it for a number of reasons, but one of the major reasons was that a couple of weeks ago I got myself a Pixel 3 phone, which reviewers have suggested may have the best camera on a phone out there. I’d previously had a Pixel 2, the former “best cell phone camera out there,” so I was curious as to how the Pixel 3 would improve on the camera.

So I left the Nikon at home and used only the Pixel 3 to take shots while I was in France. I ended up taking something around 500 pictures while I was in country (many of the best of which I have collected in this Flickr photo album), and can now tell you what I think about the experience. Here are my notes, in no particular order, with occasional art. Please remember that these thoughts are from someone who loves taking pictures but is not a professional photographer, so I’m not going to go into the weeds with technical issues and jargon. I’m mostly noting the experience of just trying to take pictures.

1. Overall I was very happy with the quality of the photos and the intelligence of the camera — the latter perhaps being a weird thing to say, but the fact is what separates the Pixel line of cell phones as cameras is not the hardware (which is mostly high-end but standard issue for a cell phone), but the processing Google applies to the photo data once the photo is taken. The camera makes choices, basically, about how it interprets the data you give it once you snap the photos.

And those choices are generally very good! There wasn’t a situation where I thought the Pixel 3 wasn’t capable of handling itself. As with nearly all cell phone cameras (and, honestly, nearly every camera, period), the Pixel 3 works best when it has a lot of good, bright, natural light, but it did very well inside and also very well in visually challenging environments with a lot of contrast between bright and dark (like, for example, the interior of the Notre Dame cathedral). Not every picture I took was perfect or even good, but the reason for that had as much to do (and perhaps even more so) with operator error as it did with the camera itself. Which is to say I can’t blame the bad pictures on the cell phone camera; a lot of it was me.

2. What do the photos look like coming out of the camera? Here are five, which I’ve not done any post-processing to (i.e., no tweaking with the various photo editors I have). These pictures were taken with the settings the Pixel 3 has right out of the box, including the HDR+ processing turned on, without zoom, and recording to jpg. Right-click on the pictures to get a larger versions of them (choose the “open image in new tab” option), and see the various details.

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Right out of the camera, the Pixel 3 a pretty good job of things. The colors are correct and not overly saturated, and the HDR+ mode does a good job of bringing out details in shadows without making them look overly processed. Note in particular the picture of the musicians in the conference room; the light’s behind them and their faces are shadowed, but the Pixel 3 does a pretty good job of balancing the data so you can see their faces clearly. In the rose picture there’s decent depth of field — not a lot, but the Pixel 3 knows what it’s looking at. There are limits, and you can see some of the choices the Pixel 3 has to make in the photo of the Notre Dame alcove, but those limits mostly show themselves in challenging situations where most any camera would show limitations of some sort.

I personally do a fair amount of photo-editing of my pictures, both to bring up details and for aesthetic effect, and the Pixel 3 gives me a fair amount to work with, even as it records the data into a lossy format like jpg (there is an option to have the camera record in RAW — the lossless format that gives photographers the most information to work with — but I didn’t turn that on and don’t really plan to except on very special occasions, because the files sizes are huge). It’s a fact that for a lot of photos, I don’t really have to do much editing at all — I merely straighten out sightlines or crop for better composition as much as I tweak colors or bring up shadows.

Out of the box, the Pixel 3 takes pictures that are better than “good enough,” and that’s a good thing. For people who like fiddling with photos like me, what comes out of the camera is even better than that.

3. One of the — perfectly reasonable — knocks on the Pixel 3 is that where other high-end cell phone cameras have an optical zoom function, the Pixel 3 doesn’t, Google instead opting to try to deal with zoom through processing (involving the minute unsteadiness of the human hand, or something, to help fill in interpolative gaps). I used the zoom function a lot while walking around and trying to get details that would otherwise be too far away. My verdict on the zoom is: well, it does something, but razor-sharp details isn’t it.

This is again probably best viewed, so here are four photos at or close to full zoom, three of statutes or architectural details at the Louvre, and one, of that tower they have there in Paris. Again, right-click on the picture for details (or in this case, lack thereof). Again, these pictures are straight out of the camera and otherwise unedited:

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My impression of these zoomed in pictures is that they don’t look like photos, they look like pastel drawings, or what happens when you use a very light “oil painting” photo filter from Photoshop or some other photo app. They don’t look bad? But at the same time, this is not what I want when I zoom in. I zoom in because I want a closer look at something, not an artful, detail-smoothed representation of that thing.

I read in a review of the Pixel 3 where a reviewer notes that the zoom works as intended up to about a 1.5x zoom, and after that things start getting overly interpretive. My experience has been that this estimation is largely correct. I have some pictures that are moderately zoomed in that are perfectly good. But too much zoom means you’re getting the AI version of impressionism. My thought on this is that this iteration of AI zoom is only the first, and that Google will probably get better at it as it goes along, because that’s what Google generally does. So two Pixel generations from now, this will likely be a solved issue (or alternately, Google will throw up its hands and just put an optical zoom on future Pixels). Here with the Pixel 3 and today, however, be aware that the zoom works up to a point (1.5x or so), and then it gets kind of wacky.

4. The only other real issue with the Pixel 3 that I’ve noticed is that it feels a bit slower than the Pixel 2; sometimes there seems to be a lag between when I press the button to take the picture and the camera registers the picture being taken. It’s a relatively small issue but it’s been noticeable to me, and I wonder if other people have been experiencing it as well. I’ve not missed any photos because of it, fortunately. But be aware of the possibility of a bit of shutter lag.

5. On the selfie front, the Pixel 3 features a “wide angle selfie” mode — an optical zoom out, if you will, thanks to two cameras on the front of the phone. This actually is very useful for when you’re trying to get a lot of people into frame while taking selfies:

Do be aware the the wide-angle selfie mode has some distortion. But then, selfie cameras have distortion anyway (it’s why your nose always looks big in a selfie), so I guess you pick your poison with selfie distortion. What I do know is that I’ve used the wide-angle selfie function several times already, so this was a smart add-on on Google’s part.

6. This is not meant to be an exhaustive review of the Pixel 3 camera, but one that touches on how I’ve been using it. I’m not covering a lot of the functionality of the thing — I haven’t used the video mode, or the panorama mode or tried the “HDR+ enhanced” mode, or sideloaded the apparently super-cool but not-officially-released “night mode” into the phone to try it out (the night mode apparently makes it possible to take super clear pictures in very low light, and the key as far as I can tell is a long exposure time, which, well, yes, it would be, wouldn’t it). I’m not covering any of those things because, as noted, this is not how I’ve been using the camera. I’ve been using the camera in a pretty straightforward fashion, as I suspect most people will.

And as a “daily driver” camera, the Pixel 3 really works. It takes great pictures and in all sorts of circumstances, and with the exception of the zoom above a certain point, steps up when you need it to (also, as an aside, the fact that the Pixel 3 comes with unlimited storage in Google Photos is a point well in its favor, since you can store your photos there and keep your phone’s memory relatively uncluttered). We’re now well past the point where the average person has to wonder whether they’re missing out on really excellent photos if they only have their cell phone with them. With the Pixel 3, the answer to that is definitively “you’re not missing out.” This phone will get that great shot for you, most of the time.

7. Does this mean I’m ready to ditch my dSLR for the Pixel 3 full time? No; the dSLR still has a better sensor, better lenses, and does specific things much better than the Pixel 3 does or will (like, sorry, Google, zoom). But this isn’t an either/or situation; this is a “this, and” situation. I no longer have one excellent camera and one camera that I just happen to carry around; I have two excellent cameras whose use cases overlap but are not a perfect circle on the Venn diagram. I don’t suspect I’ll ever stop using a dedicated camera for particular things where a high-end, single-use piece of machinery makes sense. But, as noted above, when I have my Pixel 3 with me, I don’t worry that I don’t generally have enough camera with me.

8. Does it make sense for people to upgrade to a Pixel 3? I’m very happy I did, but I also acknowledge I’m a tech geek with a particular interest in photography, and I have enough money to indulge in this sort of thing (my other phone stopped working, which prompted me to get the Pixel 3, but let’s not pretend there wasn’t a good chance I would have gotten one anyway).

If you already have a Pixel 2 (or the first generation Pixel), some of the new capabilities of the Pixel 3 camera are going to be available to you with software upgrades. So unless you’re already at the part of your upgrade cycle where you’re getting a new phone anyway, you can probably sit tight and be fine. If you have the latest generation of “flagship” phone from Apple, Samsung or any other high-end phone manufacturer, you’re also probably just fine. Cameras are the new hotness on phones and every manufacturer will tell you why their iteration of cellphone camera tech is the best. It’s getting a little silly (some upcoming phones will have up to five cameras on the back of a phone, which seems much of a muchness), but on the other hand if you’ve got a high end, recent phone, you probably have a very good cell phone camera no matter what. Finally, if you just don’t care about photos, either from your cell phone or in general, the Pixel 3’s camera capabilities won’t matter regardless.

But if you are looking to upgrade, do like taking pictures and want to have the possibility of taking genuinely good photos with your phone, are fine with Google knowing everything about your digital life, and (not trivially) have between $800 and $1,000 to splash out on a phone (or have Verizon, which will let you slide it into your existing plan for a monthly fee), then I can really very highly recommend the Pixel 3. Aside from (yes) taking some of the best photos possible on a cell phone, it is also otherwise a very solid high-end phone, with some features (call screening, I’m looking at you) that are amazing differentiators, and an operating system upgrade cycle that means you always have the best, most recent version of Android first.

For me, in any event, it’s been well worth the upgrade, and not just for the photos, although the photos probably would have been enough. I really like this camera, and I really like this phone.

Wandering Through Paris: A Photo Album

As most of you know, very recently — just yesterday, in fact! — I was in Paris. And while I was in Paris, I wandered about the city, visited the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Musee d’Orsay, and took photos as I did so. If you’re at all curious to see my wanderings through city, I’ve created a Flickr album of photos, which you may see at this link.

I’ll note I took all the pictures with my Pixel 3, which I thought performed generally very admirably but has a few notable quirks worth mentioning. I’ll be posting my thoughts about the Pixel 3 as a camera in a separate post, probably soon.

The Big Idea: Alexandra Rowland

Sometimes you start write something for fun, and then suddenly… the stakes become higher than that. Just ask Alexandra Rowland about that, as it concerns her new book, A Conspiracy of Truths.

ALEXANDRA ROWLAND:

Stories are in everything. If the human brain has been optimized for one purpose, it’s storytelling.

Well, okay, I’m being poetic. It’s pattern recognition, technically, if you want to be dreadfully literal about it. We look into the night sky and see a random scattering of stars, and we impose order on it, drawing constellations and filling up the void with patterns—stories. We see a piece of paper with green ink making pictures, and we impose a story on that too: Not just paper and green ink, but money, a dollar, and suddenly that same scrap of paper and ink has the arbitrary worth of approximately one candy bar.

Show someone a story, tempt them into giving one percent of their attention to it, and you can hack right into that part of their lizard brain that evolved to make educated guesses about the world around them, the better to keep them alive in a hostile wilderness. And once you’re in, once you have them by the throat, you can do all sorts of things to a person. You can lead them all sorts of places.

These days, the hostile wilderness is made of stories—it’s not just the effortless access we have to movies, TV shows, games, but also the battering tempest of the unending news cycle, the way social media amplifies the audience’s every scream of response. Someone realized once how irresistible patterns are to our brains and, because capitalism, monetized it and set it loose on an unsuspecting population. Half of the reason it feels so good to take a day or two away from Twitter is because your brain gets a rest from endlessly and reflexively sifting through clickbait and propaganda. There’s such a torrent of false positives that we survive by resisting the instincts of our lizard brains, armoring ourselves against the very stories that we’ve evolved to embrace. And it’s hard. We’re just not wired for that.

When I began writing A Conspiracy of Truths, it was only ever supposed to be for fun. It was supposed to be my procrastination project – a low-stress, low-stakes, low-pressure thing for me to screw around with, experimenting and tinkering and fucking up as freely as I pleased while I avoided the other book I was working on, the one I was Serious about. “I wonder how much worldbuilding I can cram into one novel without it getting annoying,” I thought to myself, blithely ignoring the other project I was allegedly committed to. “Let’s try it for the sake of science and see what happens. No gods, no masters, eh?”

But stories are in everything, and the human brain is optimized for them, and… things rather got away from me. Things seem to have, uh, really gotten away from me.

First, the damn thing disregarded all my intentions and grew its own plot – a story, initially just a framework to support the weight of the world I was constructing on top of it, but gradually taking up more of the space, more of the weight, more of my attention. And then, I suppose, either to spite me or to prove a point, it made its story about stories: About the power of the right lie whispered in the right ear, about the power of truth deployed strategically, about the ways we take strength from stories, what they do for us, how they change us.

The main character and snarky first-person narrator, Chant (a member of an order of wandering storytellers going back thousands of years) gets arrested, accused of witchcraft and espionage, and thrown in jail. He is looking at a very real possibility of being killed for crimes he didn’t commit, and he has nothing—no money for bribes, no friends in high places—just the clothes on his back, the words on his tongue, and a complete inability to give up and accept defeat.

When all you have is a hammer, every problem in the world looks like a nail: So, for the lack of any other tools at his disposal, Chant hammers stories at every ear he can reach. He knows he doesn’t need to change someone’s mind completely—all he needs, in most cases, is to plant a seed of doubt, to make them empathize with him for a split second, to make them pause, and wonder, and listen. He saves his sorry neck with stories.

I finished writing this book in mid-September of 2016, about six weeks before the election that brought us a painfully sharp reminder of the undeniable and overwhelming efficacy of propaganda. The book was only supposed to be an experiment in worldbuilding, but it became more about manipulating reality. The moral, if there is one, comes down to this: “It doesn’t matter if it happened that way in real life, as long as the story is good, as long as it’s truer than truth.”

Let me tell you the truth.

—-

A Conspiracy of Truths: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (scroll down on the page). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Heading Home, 11/7/18

It’s a rainy day here in Paris and it’s time for me to go home. I have a whole day in airports and planes before I get there. But then I get to be with my family, so it will be worth it.

I woke up this morning, caught my breath and then checked the election results. Then I let out my breath. Not a perfect showing but good enough for now. I’ll have more to say on it when I’m back home and caught my breath (and slept!), but the short form is, I’m not displeased, and now things will get interesting. It’s a new day.

Catch you all tomorrow.

Head On AND The Consuming Fire Are Semi-Finalists for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards

Well, this is somewhat unexpected: Head On was an opening round nominee for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards in the category of Science Fiction, but The Consuming Fire was not, mostly, I expect, because it just came out and hadn’t garnered enough reviews, etc to make it on the initial ballot. But people can write in favorites if they’re not on the first ballot, and lo and behold, on the semi-final ballot, both Head On and The Consuming Fire are present.

Thoughts:

1. To the people who voted for Head On: Thank you!

2. To the people who wrote in The Consuming Fire: Thank you!

3. And now I expect them to split the vote and neither to make it to the final ballot. But that’s all right, getting two works on the semi-final ballot is a pretty neat trick and I’ll take it. So, again, thank you.

If you would like to vote for either of these novels, or some other nominated science fiction novel (because there are many fine choices and you should vote for what you love the most), here’s a link to the 2018 Science Fiction Goodreads Choice Awards Semi-Finalist ballot. You may also, of course, vote in the many other categories as well.

Which will I vote for? Well, I feel this would be trying to choose between my two children, as it were, so I will abstain from voting in this round. But don’t let my reticence stop you. Vote! Vote away!

(Oh, and, as I’m writing this on November 6, i.e., the actual election day in the US: If you’re a US Citizen, also vote in your national, state and local elections, please. It’s actually really important. Thank you!)

View From a Hotel Window, 11/5/18: Paris!

The hotel I’m in is cozy and on a quiet street here in Paris, and the internet connection is, like, 50 times faster than what I have at home, which fills me with rage, but never mind that now. The view is, I suspect, typically Parisian.

Tomorrow: Come see me and Robert Jackson Bennett at Librairie La dimension fantastique, 106 rue La Fayette, 75010 Paris, France, where we will be signing and also maybe talking and stuff. He and I will be there from 6pm to 8pm, so if you’re in Paris, please come and bring along everyone you know!

Also tomorrow: If you’re in the US, and a US citizen, and have not already done so: VOTE. It’s kind of important, folks.

New Books and ARCs, 11/2/18

When I came home for a single day this week, I got together all the books that came to the Scalzi Compound whilst I was tour and put them together for a Super Sized double stack of new books and ARCs. Surely there is something here (more than one thing, I suspect) that you would put on your “to be read” list. Tell us what they are in the comments. And if you need a closer look at the titles, here’s a larger version of the picture.

View From a Hotel Window, 10/31/18: Nantes, France

My view is of the front of the convention center where the Utopiales festival is happening. It’s like a ten-second commute from my hotel to the event space, which I appreciate.

I am currently on about one hour of sleep for the last 30. I’m a little loopy.

Also, my AC adapter here turns out to be completely useless, so I borrowed an AC adapter from the hotel, which only has USB connectors, not great for my laptop. Remember how I said not to expect too many updates here while I was in France? Yeah, that.

Aside from being tired and AC-challenged, I’m having a lovely time in France so far. People are lovely, which is not a surprise. They’re all apologizing for having poor English skills. I remind them that their English is far and away better than my French.

On My Way to France

Where I will be busy with French things! So don’t expect too much here between now and when I get back, which will be, uhhhh, the 7th or 8th or something like that.

In the meantime, and if in fact I don’t post again before I get (which seems mildly unlikely, but even so) — VOTE. If you’re a US citizen. Vote early, vote absentee, vote on the day, but VOTE. It matters, folks.

Okay, later!

Tor Announces New Paperback Editions + News re: My 2019 Publishing Schedule

First, next May Tor will release new versions of Agent to the Stars, The Android’s Dream and Fuzzy Nation, with new cover art and new introductions (by me, yours truly). This refresh will, among other things, bring them more visually in line with each other and the other standalone novels, and also make my name really big, so you will have no doubt who wrote the book. Here are all the details at Tor.com, including larger images of the covers. I’m pretty happy about this — I very much like the older covers, but these are pretty nifty, too, and I think more contemporary and will look great on bookshelves, both the ones in bookstores and the ones in people’s homes.

Second, this is as good a time as any to note that I have no new novels currently scheduled for 2019. Why? Well, basically, because my 2019 novel was The Consuming Fire, and it was moved up to this month (and nicely done by Tor for doing so, since a) it’s doing gangbusters, saleswise, and b) it now gets the benefit of being around for holiday sales to boot). So at the moment, 2019 is open, new novel-wise, and publishing schedules — both mine and Tor’s — are such that it will be difficult to put another one in the 2019 calendar year.

This does not mean there will not be new work from me in 2019. The sequel to The Dispatcher is currently slated for arrival in 2019, as an audio-first production (with a print version to follow a few months later), and I think people are going to love that. No hard arrival date for that one yet — I have to finish writing it and then we have to schedule the narrator — but it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll get it next year.

Also, Subterranean Press and I have something else up our sleeves for you in the second half the year. No big details on it yet, except to say that if you liked Miniatures you’ll probably love this, too. Plus, of course, these new editions of Agent, Android and Fuzzy, and the paperback versions of Head On and The Consuming Fire are likely to hit in 2019 as well.

(I should note that none of this includes at least a couple of secret projects which may or may not pan out, and if they do pan out, may show up in 2019. You never know! You may find out!)

Basically, you will not be lacking in Scalzi material in 2019, trust me.

My French Events!

Tomorrow I get on a plane to go to France, where I am both appearing at a festival in Nantes and doing a signing in Paris. Why not come to see me at either or both? Here’s where I will be:

October 31 – November 5: I will be at the Utopiales Festival in Nantes, where I will be on panels and signing books. Here’s the website for the festival, which includes a program grid. I’m doing events every day except Halloween. I am obviously only one of the very many attractions, so even if you want nothing to do with me, there will be lots of people to see and things to do. Enjoy!

November 6: I and Robert Jackson Bennett will be doing a signing at Librairie La dimension fantastique, 106 rue La Fayette, 75010 Paris, France. Here’s the Facebook event page with all the information. Come see us and get books signed!

And that’s where I’ll be in the wonderful land of France.

View Not From a Hotel Window, 10/29/18

It’s nice to be home, even if for just one day.

(Well, 36 hours or so. Still.)

View From a Hotel Window, 10/27/18: Austin, TX

It’s late because I got in late. In fact, it’s registering as going up on the 28th, but I’m in Central time and have 20 minutes left on the clock, so there.

Tomorrow: Texas Book Festival, 11am — me and Victoria Schwab! Talking about stuff! Come see us!

And that’s it for the tour (in the US at least)!

View From a Hotel Window, 10/26/18: Charleston, WV

Perhaps one of the great “view of a parking lot whilst on tour” photos: I mean, look at that! That immense parking structure! All in one place!

Tonight: Nothing! My plan is to camp out in my hotel room. Maybe go to sleep early. I am exciting!

Tomorrow: I’m at the West Virginia Book Festival at 11am! I’ll be doing my thing and then signing and otherwise loitering about. Come see me, please!

And on Sunday, I’ll be in Austin, Texas (yes, I know about the boil water alert), at the Texas Book Festival, also at 11am, but this time I’ll be in conversation with Victoria Schwab. We’re going to be amazing together. Come see us!