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Soon to Ohio

InConJunction has been lovely, but at some point in the reasonably near future we will depart from Indianapolis and wind our way back toward Ohio and home. I’ll give a full report on the convention later, but for now just know that if you weren’t here, you totally missed out. I hope you had a good weekend anyway.

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Quick Ping

Having a great time at InConJunction. Why aren’t you here? You and your excuses, I swear.

How was your Fourth of July?

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Zoe’s Tale Wallpaper

The folks at Tor.com are offering up a free computer wallpaper for folks, featuring John Harris’ art for Zoe’s Tale. Yes, now you can revel in the orange and green-ness of my book’s cover, right on your computer! It’s starship explody-licious. Get it in the next week, because that’s just how long it’ll be up.

The Tor.com folks have also announced their target launch date: July 20, 2008. If all goes according to plan, there will be cool stuff there then (if it doesn’t go to plan, there will be cool stuff there a couple days later). And if you suspect that I might be part of that launch, you would be suspecting correctly. Just how I shall not reveal now. But I think you will like it.

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Entering Slow Time

Travel + Holiday Weekend + Guest of Honor spot at InConJunction = Don’t expect much here through Sunday. I may post an entry or two, but then again I might not. Likewise comments.

For those of you who are Americans: Happy Independence Day tomorrow. For those of you who are Britians, Happy Holy Crap We Lost a Lot of Real Estate Day tomorrow. Everyone else, um, well, happy Friday tomorrow, I suppose.

And here’s Athena, from 2006:

Gotta love the classics, man.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: David Louis Edelman

David Louis Edelman has been making a name for himself in science fiction over the last couple of years with his Jump 225 trilogy of books, the first of which Infoquake, racked up some nice reviews and helped propel Edelman into nominations for two different kinds of John W. Campbell award (one for Best Novel, and the other for Best New Writer), which is a one-two punch that not many other writers can claim. Edelman and his trilogy are back with MultiReal, and to explain the Big Idea of the book and series, Edelman’s got a set-up that… well, I’ll just let you read it for yourself.

(Holds up tarp to protect himself, cowers)

Okay, David: Take it away —

DAVID LOUIS EDELMAN:

Could Adolf Hitler ever have been the good guy?

The man was a warped, murderous bastard who ordered the slaughter of millions of people, started an unnecessary war of conquest, and permanently 86’d the dreams of an entire generation or three. But seriously – let’s say you hop in a time machine, track the dude down as a teenager, and put him through a serious reeducation program. And maybe give him a heavy dose of Prozac. Or better yet, hand him a Macintosh. Could he be redeemed?

Because a non-insane Adolf Hitler would be a great guy to have on your side. He had the raw charisma to motivate tens of millions of people to get off their asses. He had the cunning to convince Neville Chamberlain that he wanted peace with Europe, and then the strategic genius to turn around and conquer it months later. He had the tenacity to never give up, even when the odds were stacked against him. If only Hitler didn’t have that whole “stinking, festering, maggot-ridden evil” thing going on – and if only he had some competent advisors who weren’t also stinking, festering, etc. — he might have accomplished some amazing things.

That was one of the Big Ideas behind my novels Infoquake and MultiReal. Create a character with Hitler-like strategic genius, with Gates-like business savvy, with Clinton-like personal magnetism, with Machiavelli-like disregard for ethics. Stick him on the fence between the ultimate selfishness and the ultimate selflessness, give him a technology that could revolutionize the world or destroy it, and see what he does.

My character, Natch, is a business entrepreneur in a far-future society where software runs the human body. To be concise, he’s a manipulative bastard. To be a little less concise, he’s a very manipulative bastard. The first time you meet Natch, he’s busy creating a complicated terror hoax that will scare millions of people, just so he can take advantage of the panic to leap to the top of the Primo’s bio/logic investment guide. (Imagine if someone started mailing suspicious envelopes filled with Sweet n’ Low to major media outlets during the anthrax scare of 2001, and you’ll get the idea.)

Natch is still a relatively young man; he hasn’t had the opportunity to do Hitler-sized damage yet. You can sense that he’s not beyond redemption; he’s just pointed in the wrong direction.

During the course of Infoquake, he manages to connive his way into co-owning a new technology called MultiReal. And MultiReal, as you discover in the book MultiReal, is a potentially epoch-changing technology. It’s like the Internet to the Internetth. Simply put, MultiReal allows you to hop through potential realities and choose the one that suits you. Hit a baseball, and choose the reality where you hit a home run every time. Shoot a gun, and choose the reality where you hit the target every time. Confront an enemy, and choose the reality where that enemy inexplicably decides to commit suicide…

(Before you start protesting about how ludicrous that sounds, let me say that MultiReal is a lot more complicated than that – complicated enough that it takes most of two novels to set up. And if you’ll excuse a little chest-thumping, let me point out that Publishers Weekly said “MultiReal is firmly established as one of the most fascinating singularity technologies in years,” and Norman Spinrad said in Asimov’s that “Edelman seems to have convincing and convincingly detailed knowledge of the physiology and biochemistry of the human nervous system down to the molecular level.” The latter of which makes me cackle with glee, because it’s so not true.)

You can probably see where I’m going with this MultiReal stuff. It’s all a question of choice. How do you make the right choices? What happens when you’ve got two equally good choices – or two equally bad ones? Can you take responsibility for your choices? How important are your choices? Could even Adolf Hitler have led a life of charity, industry, and philanthropy if he had made better choices?

So during the course of Infoquake, MultiReal, and the still-in-progress Geosynchron, Natch must ask himself these questions. But he’s not alone; the entire world around him is facing difficult choices as well. Society is ideologically split between governmentalists who favor a strong central legislature and libertarians who prefer a patchwork of smaller, subscription-based authorities. Most of the world has adapted to the bio/logic technologies that have radically changed society, but there’s a vocal minority of conscientious objectors who feel they’re being shoved under the rug. Humanity has begun expanding to Luna, Mars, and a dozen orbital colonies, but the mass of Earth-bound people are having a difficult time accepting the needs of these new pioneers.

When you reach a fork in the road, how do you decide which path to take? Or could MultiReal be the key to allowing humanity to take both roads…?

I had my own choices in mind when I started writing Infoquake and MultiReal back in late 2000. I was in the middle of a fairly acrimonious divorce. I had just quit my contract job programming U.S. Army websites that nobody in the U.S. Army knew or cared about. I had changed my hair style, moved outside the DC Beltway, gotten a new pair of glasses, and sold a house. I was in a mood to take a poke at everything I thought I knew or valued with a really sharp stick to see if it held up.

And so I decided to put it all on the line for my characters. During the course of the Jump 225 trilogy, you’re going to see a man who was once one of the world’s most despicable human beings put in the ultimate hot seat. You’re going to see Natch faced with possibly the most momentous and far-reaching decision any human being has ever had to face since the dawn of history.

What’s he gonna do? The answers lie just ahead…

—-

MultiReal: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit MultiReal’s site here, which includes written and audio excerpts. Visit David Louis Edelman’s blog here, and learn about the “Jump 225 Jumbo Mega-Bonanza Summer Giveaway.”

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Don’t Make Me Laugh

If it’s Thursday, it’s time for another AMC SF movie column. This week, I look at why so few science fiction movies are genuinely funny (and why Wall-E, which is genuinely funny, is funny in a different way from most science fiction comedies). In this column, rather than opining with heedless confidence, I admit I’m just throwing out a theory and want feedback if the theory makes any sort of sense, so here’s a chance for you to tell me “dude, you’re so totally wrong” (as long as, you know, you back it up with cites). So get on over there and comment, if you dare.

Update: Whoops, momentarily forgot to turn comments off here. Fixed that. Folks, the reason I’d prefer you comment over there as opposed to over here (and why I turn off the comments on this side) is that one of the reasons they like having mere there is because they see healthy discussion of the stuff I write. I’m not saying you have to comment over there or I’ll lose the gig (really, it’s not like that; they like me for other reasons, too), but if you do feel like commenting on one of the columns, please do, and please do it over there. Thanks.

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Yeah, You Knew This Was Coming

Didn’t get around to deciding the Duck Contest today, and since I’m busy through the weekend, will probably not get to it until Monday. Sorry.

But! If it’s any consolation, I’ve decided that there should be more than one winner. So now you’ve at least doubled your chances to win. See, that’s not so bad.

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And It Wouldn’t Be The First Time, Either

Snippet from a phone conversation earlier today:

Me (talking as I’m lying on the bed): Just to warn you, the cat just came up on my chest and is sticking her butt in my face, so if I suddenly go “mmmphmmph” while we’re talking, you’ll know why.

Friend: Dude, I did not need to know that for some portion of this phone call you’ll be talking out of a cat anus.

Me: Mmmphmmmph!

Mmmphmmmph, indeed, my friends. Mmmphmmph indeed.

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Justine, Speaking Wisdom

Justine Larbalestier explains why blurbing a book is harder than it looks. And not just because you have to, you know, read the whole novel.

The book Justine’s talking about, incidentally, is Ekarina Sedia’s upcoming The Alchemy of Stone, which I would also agree is a lovely book.

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Reminder: There’s No Actual Office for “President of the Left”

Apparently some Obama supporters are shocked and appalled to discover that now that he’s out of the primaries, their man is running to be the President of all the people in the United States, not just the people in the United States who have the “Yes We Can” YouTube video bookmarked on their Web browser. Well, you know: Surprise, people. For example, Obama’s supporting an extension, with significant caveats, of some of the faith-oriented policies started by Bush, has gotten a lot of folks spun up. But from where I stand it makes perfect sense.

1. Many evangelicals are disenchanted with the GOP, and young evangelicals in particular seem to be coloring outside the lines, politically speaking, more and more these days. Splintering off young evangelicals, perhaps on a permanent basis, would be like cutting off the GOP’s fuel supply for future elections, given that the evangelicals have been in the tank for the GOP for at least three decades. Even just putting them into play on a regular basis means the GOP has to fight (and use money to fight) for a demographic it took for granted just a single presidential election cycle ago.

2. It’s an act of political ball-cutting. There’s nowhere on Obama’s political agenda that McCain wants to go, because the GOP base is already horrified that the man is not conservative enough for them. But Obama has some room to snack on elements of McCain’s potential agenda, and in doing so make an appeal to voters (and not just those noted in the first point) that McCain’s people probably thought they wouldn’t have to fight for. Whether Obama gets those voters is immaterial to the fact that for the relatively low cost of giving a speech on the subject of faith-based programs, he’s just committed McCain to spending a lot of time and money to keep them in his camp.

3. There are still places in the United States — some which I can see right out my window, thank you very much — where there lives a significant number of people who are under the impression Barack Obama is a Islamicist mole whose first act as president will be to suicide bomb himself in the Oval Office. Obama is many things, but “dumb” isn’t one of them. If he simply denies or tries to ignore the “Obama will fly a plane into a building” meme, it’ll fester. If he offers a substantive example of an actual policy that counteracts that meme, he’s got a tool he can use to beat it, or at least beat it down.

4. The is the part where I’m confused that people haven’t figured this out yet: Obama clearly doesn’t just want to win, folks. He wants to win big. We’re talking about Super Bowl blowout big. Spanish-American War big. Friends vs. whatever the hell was on TV against Friends big. 400+ electoral votes big. He wants a generational vote, like Reagan had in 1980 — and given the abysmal standing of the GOP and the sitting president at the moment, it’s entirely possible he can get it with a little outreach and some strategic tacking to the center.

The folks who are currently braying about how Obama is where is he is right now because he didn’t swing toward the center are somewhat disingenuously forgetting how well Clinton did in the last few Democratic primaries, appealing to more conservative Democratic voters. Remember how the primaries went all the way to the end? Yes, good times, good times. Anyway, those folks can conveniently forget the lessons of the last few Democratic primaries; Obama really can’t, and apparently hasn’t.

5. Obama’s probably also aware that he’s got the left in the tank. Some folks on the left were goofy enough in 2000 to think that voting for, say, Nader, wouldn’t make a huge difference in the end, so why not make a cute little protest vote. Here in 2008, anyone on the left who isn’t planning to pull a lever for Obama probably has congenital brain damage. Seriously, there is unlikely to be another chance for the left to so definitively remake the political map as it has this year, if the folks on the left simply don’t lose their shit at the idea of Obama trying to widen his margin of victory, the better to make the case that his election represents a major shift in US politics.

Now, I’m a firm believer in never discounting the Democratic party’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; I’m still appalled at the incompetence of the Kerry campaign in 2004 and for that matter, the bad strategy of the Gore campaign in 2000, which involved separating their man from the most popular president in recent history. In this case I think the people involved in the presidential campaign are doing pretty smart things, and it might be the other folks who blow it.

To them I would suggest that they consider that the Obama campaign is paying them a compliment, in that they are making the (not necessarily self-evident) assumption that they’re all smart enough to realize that tacking toward the center in the campaign is going to pay huge dividends for the left when at the end of the 2008 election it finds itself in charge of the executive and legislative branches, and finds itself in a position to fill two or possibly even three seats on the Supreme Court in the next four years, and possibly in the bargain create a sturdy new left-leaning political base that lasts as long as the GOP base that Reagan used as a foundation three decades ago. I guess we’ll see if that compliment pays off.

Personally speaking I’m not hugely thrilled with every move Obama has made recently; I don’t like the continuation of the faith-based office that much (which should not be a huge surprise), although my real ire is for his position on the FISA “compromise” bill which will hopefully die in the Senate sometime next week. On the other hand, I have strong suspicions that President Obama would nominate to the high court the sort of judges that would see the FISA “compromise” bill as fundamentally unconstitutional, and in the meantime his positioning deprives the right-wing shouty chorus of some oxygen during his presidential campaign.

Which is to say that I’m fundamentally unsurprised to discover that Barack Obama, who has been in politics for a number of years, is a politician. And a politician who wants to win as big as he can.

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Quack, Quack

Still working on it.

I know, I suck. What can I say. I’ve been busy.

Let’s say I’ll post a winner later today. Yeah, that’s it.

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Today’s Dumb Headline

It’s this, courtesy of MSNBC:

It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if people pay attention to who is actually elected president around these here parts. Let’s review the military service of the folks in the last few presidential elections:

2004

Loser: Vietnam veteran, awarded Silver Star and two Purple Hearts
Winner: Defended Texas during Vietnam War

2000

Loser: Served in Vietnam for two years
Winner: Kept the Viet Cong out of Houston

1996

Loser: Critically wounded in combat during WWII: Awarded Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor and two Purple Hearts
Winner: No military service; organized Vietnam protest at Oxford

1992

Loser: Flew 58 combat missions in WWII; awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
Winner: No military service; freaked out a bit at the thought of going to war

You have to go back to 1988 before the candidate with the more impressive military record actually wins one (that was Bush over Dukakis), and the guy before him, whose military record consists of being assigned to cushy jobs like the 1st Motion Picture Unit, beat out a guy who was regular army, and an Annapolis graduate who served on nuclear submarines.

So let’s not pretend that military service gives a candidate any great advantage or is an “automatic campaign asset.” Over the last seven elections, the superior military service is 1-6 in presidential elections. If McCain is hoping his service record is going to matter much in this election, he might want to look at the historical record.

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The Big Secret Audio Project I Haven’t Been Telling You About, Revealed

A few months ago, I was approached by Steve Feldberg, the Director of Content at Audible.com, who asked if I would be interested in doing an audio project with them. What project? Well, we wrestled with it for a while and came up with the idea of collecting a bunch of really interesting science fiction writers together, and letting them build a world between them. Then, having built this world as a group, each would go off and write a novella in the world — and each novella would then be turned into an audio presentation. So you get the best of both worlds: A fascinating world thought up by some of the most imaginative minds in the business — and then great stories from each of those minds in turn, each story delivered directly into your brain, through your ears.

That decided, we then approached several writers, and I’m delighted to say that we got our “A”-list choices to sign on and participate. And so for the last few months, we’ve all been quietly building a world, and then writing in the world. Now the stories are near completion and we’re getting close to audio production, so we thought it would be a good time to let you know that something really exciting is on the horizon.

Right now the project has the working title of Metatropolis, although that’s likely to change before it makes its official debut. In this audio anthology, we look to a future in which cities have become something more than just cities — and what that means for the people who live inside them, and outside of them. The cities are not utopias or dystopias (that’s too easy), and they definitely won’t be the “future cities” imagined in the illustration accompanying this. What they will be is a different way of looking at the world.

Who are the writers who have built this strange new world and the stories in them? I’m glad you asked! They are:

Elizabeth Bear (Campbell Award winner, current Hugo nominee for her story “Tideline”);

Tobias Buckell (The Nebula-nominated Ragamuffin, the upcoming Sly Mongoose);

Jay Lake (Campbell Award winner and author of Mainspring and Escapement)

Karl Schroeder (Aurora Award winner for Permanence, author of the Virga Cycle)

I’m also writing a novella in the anthology, and serving as editor for the project, although at the moment, that’s been basically confined to reading the stories everyone else has been working on and saying “Whoa, cooooooooool.” I could tell you how much fun we’ve been having doing this, but you’d just be insanely jealous. So instead I’ll just suggest to you that as much fun as we’ve been having doing this, you’ll have even more fun listening to it when it goes up on Audible.com.

And when will that be? Signs point to this fall. I’ll give you more specific dates when we have them, as well as other tidbits and details as we get closer to release.

In the meantime, just know it’s on its way, it’s very cool, and I’m very excited to be working with these folks to get this to you — and to finally be able to tell you all that it’s on the way. I think you’re going to like this. A lot.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

Your sweet adorable pet: What if it was a raging vector of viral infection? Maybe that’s not something you actually want to spend time thinking about, but that’s okay, since Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Nancy Kress already thought about it for you. The result: Dogs, which Publishers Weekly is lauding as “a spine-chilling, suspense-laden story,” featuring Man’s Best Friend becoming a whole lot less friendly.

Why did Kress think of this in the first place? Well, like some viruses one can think of, this story had a long incubation period. Here’s the author to trace the vector of infection back to the source.

NANCY KRESS:

In 1998, four years after it first came out, I read Richard Preston’s non-fiction bestseller, The Hot Zone, which harrowingly details the importation of monkeys infected with Ebola into the United States. The monkeys were housed in an animal holding facility in Reston, Virginia, destined for research by pharmaceutical companies, when they began to die with the characteristic, horrifying “bleeding out” of Ebola. Both the CDC and USAMRIID, the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, were called in to deal with the crisis. All the monkeys were destroyed.

I was riveted. Genetic engineering had already begun to take firm hold of my writing, both as potential benefit and as potentially monstrous bioweapon. But now I expanded that interest to naturally occurring pathogens that could be just as deadly. What if Ebola in its most dangerous form had been transmitted to monkey-house workers? What if it had gotten out into the general population?

Some novels have a long gestation period. Over the next five years, the topic didn’t leave my mind. I knew I wanted to write about an animal-carried plague, but I didn’t want the bubonic-plague model, in which fleas on rats carry the disease but aren’t much affected themselves. Then avian-flu broke out in Asia. This was closer to what I wanted; chickens could both become infected and infect humans, although only if humans had close, prolonged contact with the chickens. More interesting to me was the response of various Asian governments: quarantine and destroy the birds. But some element was missing in my mind.

It was supplied by both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

The attack on the World Trade Towers, which so sharply clarified the bitterness of Arab jihadists for the United States, profoundly discouraged me. When young, I’d lived for a year in an Arab country (Tunisia) and had developed a liking for Arab culture, as well as a respect for the complicated, tangled ways that family, business, politics, and religion mesh in that part of the world. It’s utterly different from the way things get accomplished in the United States. I knew I couldn’t write about it from an Arab point of view, but I wanted now to write about it in some way.

Hurricane Katrina dismayed everyone with how badly FEMA handled the crisis. I read the angry, post-hurricane interviews with people who had been badly let down by a flat-footed government more interested in its own prestige than it protecting its citizens.

Then, in 2003, I got a dog.

Who can say how disparate elements finally, after years of simmering in the well of unconscious, come together in a writer’s brain? All at once I saw how a biological pathogen, a government’s ineptitude in the face of emergency, and a person involved with Arab culture, could come together in my book. The novel’s heroine Tessa Sanderson Mahjoub is not an Arab; she is the widow of one. Dogs can carry viruses that make them profoundly dangerous to human beings, not because diseases easily jump species barriers (they don’t) but because retroviruses like rabies can cross the blood-brain barrier and change canine behavior. Thirty-five million American households harbor 65 million dogs. How would the United States government respond to a plague among domestic dogs?

Just as important, how would dog owners, pretty fanatic people themselves, respond to interference with their beloved pets? Spot and Max and Cosette are not regarded in anything close to the same way as medical-research monkeys or Asian chickens.

In working out the plot of Dogs, I wanted to present all sides of the complex issues involved, the chief of which is the good of the majority versus the rights of the individual. In any real plague situation, that’s the conflict that will surface. I’m not sure we’ll handle it particularly well. Dogs, like much SF, is a sort of rehearsal for how that crisis might go down.

Dogs: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read Nancy Kress’ blog here. And participate the Dogs photo contest here: three winners will receive a prize package which includes a signed copy of Dogs.

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The Hunting of the Snark, Indeed

The Bush Administration’s evidence against a suspected terrorist gets a smackdown in federal court:

With some derision for the Bush administration’s arguments, a three-judge panel said the government contended that its accusations against the detainee should be accepted as true because they had been repeated in at least three secret documents.

The court compared that to the absurd declaration of a character in the Lewis Carroll poem “The Hunting of the Snark”: “I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”

“This comes perilously close to suggesting that whatever the government says must be treated as true,” said the panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Of note: the three judges in question “included one of the court’s most conservative members, the chief judge, David B. Sentelle.”

I don’t suspect the administration is going to get a lot of love from the federal courts on these cases. Perhaps some of the other cases will have better evidence, however.

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Aw, Crap

Behind on the duck contest winner. I’ll announce it later today. I swear.

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