In Progress

Words fail me.

There is a disconnect between my mind and my words, between what I think and what I say; not a disconnect in intent but in execution, between the flower of thought and the fruit of the mouth, between the initiation and the completion. I say what I mean but I do not say all that I mean.

I am not speaking to you now. These words do not pass my lips or pass out of my mind. I say them only to myself, forming them perfect and whole and interior, and leaving them on the shelf and closing the door behind me. Others may find these words in time but for now they face only toward me, whispering back my image with full description, golems who write the words of life on my forehead.

These words are my life. Representation of time and counterfeit of emotion, record of loss and celebration of gain. It is not my whole life; words fail me here as they fail anyone, entire worlds slipping through the spaces between words and letters as a life among stars is compressed into this small space. A short life to be sure; and yet long enough to be lost in translation.

But it is enough. Give us a few lines arranged just so and we see a face and more than a face. We see the life behind it; the terrors and ambivalence, the desire and aspiration — intention in a pattern, a person in a coincident assemblage of curves. This is that: A few lines to follow that in themselves mean little but build on themselves; a crystal lattice using absence to suggest presence, the implication of more pregnant in the gaps.

I wish I could show these words to you, you who know me only from outward expression. I wish I could fold these words, package them and present them with a flourish, a rare gift I made of myself to you. But these words do not bend — or rather they will not — or perhaps it is that I cannot find the strength to push them through the doors of my mouth and my mind. They are stubborn words and I fear what would happen if I let them go. They stay inside where you cannot come; they are meant for you, but not sent to you. Words fail me and I return the failure.

But these words exist. These words record, these words stand witness; these words speak, if only to an audience of one. These words are real and they are me, or who I believe I have been; incomplete but truthful, through a mirror darkly but reflecting all the same. I have no doubt that one day you will find these words and that you will find me inside them: A seed to plant in your mind, to become a vine to filigree your memory of who I was and who I was to you. Words fail me but I will use them anyway. And in their failure and despite their failure I will live again and you will love me again, as you love me now.


(From this)

38 Comments on “In Progress”

  1. Feeling a little emo, John? I hear the Hot Topic in the mall is having a sale right now. You should pick out some black nail polish.


    (P.S. I’ll have to consider pre-ordering that.)

  2. OK. This will be the second time today that I have used this phrase. But this time I really mean it. That was definitely “Teh Awesome!” Best thing I have ever read of your writing…so far.

  3. Mmmmmmm…….

    Trying to work out if this is a “hangover” from you being tired yesterday, mid-term election euphoria post-tristesse symptoms, middle-aged crisis, or your new writing style.

    Only time (and Prozac) will tell.

    You can’t be emo, as you (and please don’t take this the wrong way) don’t have the hair-style for it, and are over 25.

  4. Ooooops

    Just clicked on the “from this” link at the bottom of your article. Alles ist klar.

    /my bad/

  5. John in the notes section of the order I requested that the inscription be to my son and not me. Don’t know if this messes with the publisher’s internal process too much or not. If it is easy maybe a mention to Subterranean is possible? Thanks.

  6. Just send Subterranean an e-mail if you’re not sure. Other people are requesting names other than their own so I don’t expect it to be a problem.

  7. ::delurk::

    Thanks for posting this. I kept meaning to preorder/forgetting to preorder The Sagan Diary, with appallingly little time lapse between the two actions. So it didn’t happen. Until today. Yay, brain!


    P.S. Loved TAD. The opening sentence is my sig line in my local paper’s forums. The forum chief thinks it’s funny as hell.

  8. Beautiful, John. I’ve thought that too many times to count. And yet I press on. As do you. As do all of us.

    Thanks for sharing that with us.

    (And if I had any doubts that I would buy that book, they are gone now. Very successful sales pitch. Congrats.)

  9. One word:


    (p.s. I ordered two limited editions. (one for me and a dear friend) Always glad to support the talented.

  10. Chang who is inkredduloose! wrote

    I mean, I hate you because now I have to buy it and the kid goes without socks and shoes for winter, but yeah, it’s great writing.

    Remember, John promised us all shoes. So no problem! Order without guilt!

  11. Its so mean to tease us like that.

    Anyway, I was sure there was a Homer Simpson quote about his inability to communicate that I thought would go nicely here, but I couldn’t find it.

    You’ll all have to settle for syrup.

    Homer: Marge, since I’m not talking to Lisa, could you please ask her to pass me the syrup?

    Marge: Please pass your father the syrup, Lisa.

    Lisa: Bart, tell dad I’ll only pass the syrup if it won’t be used on any meat products.

    Bart: You dunkin your sausages in that syrup, Home boy?

    Homer: Marge, tell Bart I just want to drink a nice glass of syrup like I do every morning.

    Marge: Tell him yourself, you’re ignoring Lisa, not Bart.

    Homer: Bart thank your mother for pointing that out.

    Marge: Homer, you’re not not talking to me, and secondly, I heard what you said.

    Homer: Lisa, tell your mother to get off my case.

    Bart: Ah, dad, Lisa’s the one you’re not talking to.

    Homer: Bart, go to your room!

  12. Wow. That’s a very lyrical and poetic bit of writing. It’s quite beautiful, and quite a stark change from Agent to the Stars. It’s nice to see a successful author who can have more than one style. I’ll definitely look into ordering that book, along with your other ones.

  13. John, that’s beautiful.

    What’s particularly satisfying about the presentation here is that you can read it again after you understand it’s Jane Sagan and it takes on a whole new set of meanings in that context. I don’t know if you intended that, but it really works.

    You write compellingly about the ways in which future technologies will alter our understanding of sentience. Stross’ Accelerando, a fine read, covered some of the same territory, but your potrayals of artificial and “uploaded” intelligences are somehow more engaging and seem more scientifically grounded.

    It will be interesting to get inside Jane Sagan’s head.

  14. Question: Maybe you said, and I missed it, but does this story take place after TLC or before it? I just wanna make sure when I buy it that I read everything in the right order.

  15. Before I saw the link I was thinking, “Hm, that’s not his usual voice, I wonder if it’s a sneak preview…”

  16. Before I saw the link I was thinking, “Hm, that’s not his usual voice, I wonder if it’s a sneak preview…”

  17. Very profound, John.

    The words in our heads shape us, even when we keep them withing the confines of our heads. The ones outside are a trellis — and the receiving individual grows in what details his own life and experiences allow him to add to the structure we present.

  18. Bravo, John!!

    I had already pre ordered this book based on past experience and it is nice to have that decision validated.

    I am 3/4 of the way through TAD and love it!!! Havent finished it yet as work and the need to feed my kids keeps getting in the way!!!

    I have reserved a few hours tonight to get to the end of it!!!!!

  19. Questions for John or anyone else who knows the answers or has an opinion:

    Thinking about Jane…

    Are strong female characters in SF very common?

    Jon, when you started to write the series did you intend to have Jane at the center or did it just kind of happen?

  20. To Kelsey,

    There are a lot of strong female characters out there,

    A few that come to mind immediately would be Cordelia Naismith, a character of Lois mcmasters bujold, Honor Harrington from David webers Series, Several of the main characters in S.M. Stirlings excellant books. Of course the one common thread all these characters share is that they all exist in a universe where Women are able to be Strong and still be women. This is of course just my opinion and I dont want to open a can of worms but hey, you asked!!!

  21. Wow! Kurt was right – this is a can o’ worms.

    Not sure if Sam was posing the “Are you high?” question to me, but, in fact, I was not. I was not aware that being high commmonly inspired thoughts about women in SF. Sam, if you must know what I was doing when this random bit of puzzlement perplexed me, I was – of all things – watching football. The Giants did play like a bunch of school girls in the second half, but other than that I’m not sure why the question hit me.

    I enjoy visiting John’s Old Man universe, I guess that I just find it intriguing that a woman sits at the center.

  22. Some of that reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “To write or to speak is almost inevitably to lie a little. It is an attempt to clothe an intangible in a tangible form; to compress an immeasurable into a mold. And in the act of compression, how the Truth is mangled and torn!”
    – Anne Murrow Lindbergh

  23. To Sam, No, are you??? or do you have a different list of authors to recommend to Kelsey

    To Kelsey,

    I read a lot of different authors, Always have. I like a lot of different writing styles but will admit that I tend to read a lot of military sci fi.
    I spent 23 years in the service and in that time worked with, for and had as subordinants, a lot of female soldiers. Its impossible to define them all in one way that everyone would agree with but The authors I mentioned do a pretty good job in my opinion of portraying women in a positive way as strong characters in the context of soldiers and warriors.

  24. In truth I wasn’t responding to Kurt or Kelsey. I was responding to the John’s writing that started this discussion. And in true American fassion I didn’t bother to read the link that was placed at the bottom that would have explained it, or even bothered to read the previous threads that would have pointed me to that fact.

    My apologies.

  25. Well, I totally got the “Are you high???” comment. My first thought when I saw the entry was “Wherefore comes the angst?!” Then I scrolled down and saw the link and thought, “Yeah, I should probably buy that sometime.”

    Then I got distracted by working on my own novel. Speaking of which…

  26. My first thought after reading that was to wonder whether you were quoting Mike Ford, or only channeling him when you wrote. That reminded me of nothing I’ve read recently so much as some of the contemplations of words and mortality that he had written that were posted at Making Lite after his passing.

    Given the genesis of this project, I think you’ve done well with that.

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