The Language of Memes: A Brief Explanation

Do you have any idea what this picture means just by looking at it? Yes, it’s some guy claiming there is free real estate to be had, but what does it all mean? This is something that can only be understood by someone well-versed in the language of memes.

There are many memes that can be easily understood by someone who is not a meme-lord, like many of the memes from 2012, back when everyone was just being introduced to them. Example A:

Memes from 2012 were just funny pictures with blocky white text over them, designed to make people smile. They’re easily understandable, oftentimes relatable, and were easy to create. Memes in 2018 are strange. If you didn’t jump on the bandwagon at the beginning stages of a meme, you’ll more than likely not be able to understand the same meme at a later stage of its evolution. For example:

Here we have a beginning stage “Despacito 2” meme.

Here we have the same meme, but it has evolved into something undecipherable unless you have already seen the “Markiplier E/Lord Farquaad” meme. This is also an example of what I refer to as “cross memes”. It is where two memes or more are mashed together to make an image that doesn’t make sense unless you are familiar with all memes involved.

2012 memes were very self-sustaining. They only relied on the picture and the text that went with the picture. Memes that are popular today are usually dependent on people already knowing what something is before seeing it incorporated into the meme. Like this one:

To understand this, you have to know what Дpyг is, and beyond that you have to know that it’s actually a Deathclaw from Fallout. This particular meme is also “deep fried”, which is why the actual image of Дpyг looks so messed up and its eyes are glowing (all deep fried memes people’s eyes glow).

Taking a step back from deep fried memes and cross memes, let’s talk about how there are some phrases from the 80s that many people today would not understand, like, “gag me with a spoon”, or “bag your face”. This can be compared to the recent trend of “oh, worm?”. When I read that, I know exactly what it means, but I had to Google what “bag your face” meant. We are two sides of the same coin, you non-memers and us meme-lords.

There are actually college classes over the art of memes, which may sound kind of silly (it really kind of is), but if you think about it, the language of memes is complex. It has been carefully curated over the years while also adapting to the world around us, both constantly changing. Memes are a reflection of society, and the memes that you as an individual enjoy or laugh at are a reflection of you, as well. So, be careful which memes you find funny. Don’t end up like me, because I literally laugh at things like this every single day:

This is my life now. I’ve accepted it.

Do any of you have a favorite meme? Do you despise memes with a burning passion? Let me know in the comments! And as always, have a great day!

Important Update: The Kitten Has a Name


And it is:

Smudge, aka Lord Aloysious Smudgington III, aka Smudge the Mighty Toe Hunter, aka Smoooooooge.

Please update all relevant records.

Thank you for your attention.

New Book and ARCs, 6/29/18

As we come to the end of another June, here is a substantial stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound, calling out to be read and appreciated. What here is calling to you, specifically? Tell us in the comments!

And Now, This Important Kitten Update

Yeah, we’re gonna keep him.

What You Should Be Watching: YouTube Edition: Movies With Mikey

Hello, everybody and welcome to another YouTube edition of “What You Should Be Watching”! Today I’ll be talking about this awesome thing called “Movies With Mikey”. It is not a channel, rather a set of videos on a channel called FilmJoy.

If you like movie reviews, “Movies With Mikey” is the perfect thing for you to check out. Mikey’s reviews are more than just a review, they’re like an analysis, they make you question things about the movie that you didn’t think of before, and ultimately make you have a deeper appreciation for the movie overall. The videos are intriguing, hilarious, insightful, sometimes even emotional. Mikey is a really awesome dude and super cool to follow on Twitter, even if you don’t watch his videos. You can check out all his videos here, and his Patreon here.

I haven’t seen all the videos, but if I’ve seen the movie the video is about, I’ve definitely seen the video because they are seriously awesome. Hope you enjoy, and as always, have a great day!

RIP, Harlan Ellison

I have a piece on his passing over at the Los Angeles Times site.

I should note an addendum here: I was in the audience at the 2006 Hugos when Harlan groped Connie Willis, and laughed because I thought it was a set piece between them. I later learned it was not and was embarrassed I had laughed. I have a pretty good idea why Harlan did it and why he thought it was harmless, but he was wrong to have done it and deserved the anger sent his way for it. I liked talking to him and admired his work immensely, and appreciated the complicated human he was. I just wish the first time I had seen him in person, he hadn’t have humiliated a colleague, a woman and a great writer. It stays with me even now.

Where I’ve Been the Past Ten Days

Okay, so, you may or may not have noticed I haven’t posted lately. This is due to laziness and to me managing my time poorly, both of which I got from my father. I have no excuse for the first couple days, but for the last week I’ve been busy in San Diego! So today I’m going to tell you about my trip and make a promise to try and be better at posting!

On the first night in San Diego, my parents and I went with some family members to this awesome Italian restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. I got gnocchi, which is one of my favorite Italian dishes, but it was pink! Interestingly enough, it didn’t taste pink. Rather, I couldn’t taste whatever made it pink, it just tasted like good gnocchi.

We went to San Diego for a wedding, which my dad posted about the other day. On Saturday night, all the ladies went to an Indian restaurant and the guys went to a bar. I forget the name of the Indian restaurant too, but I just have to say, their mango lassis and chai were amazing. I also got to try gulab jamun, which is deep fried dough balls in sugar syrup, and it was great. Indian food is really awesome, probably one of my favorite cuisines.

The next day I got to go to La Jolla and have brunch with my parents and some friends (they actually cooked for us and it was super good), and we went to the beach afterwards. This beach was so pretty, the sand was practically completely made of little seashells, and there were seals flubbing around! It was so beautiful, I really love the ocean. I kind of hate sand, though.

I also got to go to Seaport Village and got some bomb ass henna done.

The wedding itself was awesome. The two people getting married are awesome, the people in attendance are awesome, the food was awesome (as was the cake), even the flowers were awesome. It was a truly beautiful ceremony and I’m very glad I got to be in attendance.

Besides that, I have nothing much to report, except that I got to sit first class from San Diego to Minneapolis for free! The plane was arranged in rows of three seats, and the seat next to the lady I was sitting next to was empty, so she had her husband come from first class to sit with her, and they wanted me to have the first class seat! It was my first time flying first class; I got the free meal and a hot towel and everything. They were very nice people and I’m glad I got to have such an awesome random experience!

So now I’m back home, finishing up the last couple days of my mythology class and playing with the new kitten, and from now on I promise to try and not go on ten day hiatus.

Have y’all ever been to San Diego? If so, what are some of your favorite places there? And as always, have a great day!

Sunset 6/27/18

Enjoy! I figure you might need it.

Surprise! Kitten!

Those of you who follow the Twitter feed know that a couple of days ago, just before we left for San Diego, in fact, Athena and her boyfriend Hunter found a small, defenseless kitten mewing helplessly in the field near our house. Well, they’re suckers for helpless kittens that come bounding up to them wanting to be rescued, so they rescued it. It’s spent the last couple of days at our mother-in-law’s (with a side trip to the vet), and now it’s back here, and specifically in my office.

It’s adorable, and rambunctious, and a he, or so the vet tells us, and otherwise tells us it’s in fine health. I was sort of hoping my mother-in-law would want to keep it, but she’s decided that she’s tapped out with two shih tzus, which is fair. We’ll check around to see if anyone around us wants a delightful, playful kitten (and indeed, if you are local-ish and do want a kitten, please email me). But if not, well, I guess we’ll have a new kitten. I’m sure the other cats will be thrilled.

In any event: Look! Kitten!

The Big Idea: Jeremy Finley

What is truth? The question is an ancient, indeed, biblical, one, and more importantly for our purposes today, goes to the heart of Jeremy Finley’s new novel, The Darkest Time of Night. Does Finley have the answer? We’ve got the true news here.


It came, truly, from fake news.

When I set out to write the fictional story of the disappearance of a U.S. Senator’s grandson, and how it’s linked to unexplained vanishings across the globe, I knew I wanted the central conflict to be a clash of deep-rooted reality and the supernatural.

What I didn’t realize, though, was how a constant strain in my professional life as a reporter inadvertently slipped into the part of my brain that writes fiction.

Against all intentions, my speculative thriller was born from the very controversy over the catchphrase I have come to despise.

That realization felt like a sucker punch. The term “fake news” is the equivalent of nails on the chalkboard for the embattled journalism industry.

While recently investigating the director of a government agency, I called him to explain the hidden camera video I had captured of him, and the other public records I’d obtained, that raised a whole lot of questions if he was misusing taxpayer dollars.

His response: “My President thinks reporters are fake news, and I do too.”

It was frankly infuriating. I was calling to explain the documentation – the proof I’d collected – that I would be using to write a series of investigative reports. I wanted him to see it all, so he could respond and I could write a fair and accurate story.

But he later backed out of a scheduled interview and refused to meet with me. I explained over and over that our findings weren’t based on sources or accusations, but rather tangible proof.

Fake news, he repeated. You’re fake news.

He was terminated not long after the stories aired and is now the center of a criminal investigation into possible misuse of public funds.

But my interactions with him still stung. It wasn’t that he refused to do an interview with me – lots of public officials do that to avoid having to answer questions – it was that he refused to look at the proof. He disputed my findings as fake without even looking at a single bit of it.

This concept of what is true, and what is not, is permeating our society. There is no place it is waging more than in our nation’s capitol, where journalists file stories based on trusted sources and documentation, only to have much of their work labeled as false information from the White House.

It’s certainly not a new tactic. Nixon launched now famous attacks on the credibility of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Obama’s administration clashed with the press as well from time to time over accuracy. The citizenry is struggling with who to trust: journalists tasked with uncovering the truth, or the leaders of the free world?

My novel, The Darkest Time of Night, will enter the world on June 26, in the midst of this latest war on truth.

The timing was clearly not by design, but fitting. The big idea of my novel, after all, is the desperate search for the truth in a time when even credible information is dismissed as fake.

In my novel, when neither the FBI nor any of the criminal experts brought in are able to pinpoint what happened to the missing boy, the person who no one turns to for answers may actually know the truth: the boy’s grandmother, Lynn Roseworth.

Decades before she was the wife of a U.S. Senator, Lynn was a secretary for a university astronomy department, where she became entangled in the astonishing work of a professor into the unexplained disappearances of people.

When her own grandson vanishes in circumstances frighteningly similar to the cases she once investigated, she fears she alone knows what happened. But the revelation could risk her husband’s political career.

And who would believe her? At the time of her grandson’s experience, Lynn is marginalized, a quiet politician’s wife, tasked by her husband to keep the family intact while the true professionals do their work.

When she at last launches a desperate search to find the truth, she finds that many, even within her own family, do not believe her, and how far they will to stop her.

Let us not make a comparison to the pursuits of a fictional character to the real-life challenges facing journalists and others who are seeking to expose the realities of our time.

But the idea for book was born from an all-true real struggle to decide what, and who, to believe. To step out of our comfort zone, listen to others with opposing ideas, and challenge what we even believe.

The truth is out there. We just have to be able to recognize it when we see it.


The Darkest Time of Night: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Congratulations Deven and Claudia

If you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to the last few days, it’s this: Two of our very dear friends, Deven and Claudia, got married to each other, and we as a family were there to see it happen. We also saw a number of other, equally dear friends at the wedding and generally had a wonderful time in San Diego, which is one of our favorite cities on the planet. Basically, just a perfect set of days.

Today we’re back to Ohio, and both I and Athena will be back on a regular writing schedule here. But it was nice to get away from the world for a bit and see two of my favorite people bind their lives together. There was a lot of joy happening, and joy and love is something all of us could use a little more of these days.

See you back in Ohio, soon.

The Collapsing Empire Wins the 2018 Locus Award for Science Fiction Novel

I’m unimaginably thrilled.

Here is the speech I sent to be read at the awards ceremony, which was read by my friend Olivia Ahl, who also took the picture above:

So this is a thing I do: Whenever I am nominated or am a finalist for an award, I take a look at who else is in the category with me. If there is no one or no book in the category that I would be sad to lose to, then I feel that I have already won.

And in this regard, I won long before I actually was given this plaque, because this was an extraordinary strong group of authors and books. I am deeply honored to have my work considered along the works of these fabulous people, and I realize that any one of them could be up here now taking this award home. So to my peers, thank you, it’s been a wonderful ride, and I am glad we’ve shared it.

I have a lot of people to thank over at Tor, starting with Patrick Nielsen Hayden who is my editor, Miriam Weinberg, Irene Gallo, who is the art director, Sparth, who did the tremendous cover art, Christina McDonald the copy editor, Heather Saunders, book designer, and Alexis Saarela and Patty Garcia in publicity. Each of them has made a very large contribution to creating this book and getting it out to everyone. I would also like to thank Steve Feldberg at Audible, and of course Wil Wheaton, who did the narration for the audiobook.

I’d also like to acknowledge friends and fellow writers who helped keep me sane while writing this book. That list is too long to get into here, but would include Olivia Ahl, who is reading this acceptance speech right now. Most of all I would like to thank my wife Kristine. I was kind of a mess during the writing of this book, for various reasons. Through it all Krissy was wonderful, helping me get the work done, and also making sure I didn’t completely lose it. If it wasn’t for her, this book wouldn’t be here, so this award is hers as much as mine.

Thank you again everyone, I’m very sad not to be here right now. But you can be assured that wherever I am in the world, which is actually in San Diego watching my friend get married this weekend, I am very very very happy indeed.

Thank you to everyone who voted! This is great!

Also congratulations to all the other winners of the Locus Award this year. The complete list is here.


View From a Hotel Window, 6/22/18: San Diego

“Aren’t you a little early for Comic Con?” One, I’m not going to Comic Con this year (I’ll be at home, not being crowded by 140,000 other people), and two, there are reasons to go to San Diego besides that convention. I’m in town for a wedding. Also, you know. Taking a few days in San Diego is a very fine way to celebrate finishing another book.

All of which is to say that you shouldn’t expect too much from me here for a few days. I’ll be busy celebrating nuptials and completing literary tasks, and also sleeping in. A pretty great weekend, in other words. Hope yours is, too.

And Now, Some One-Star Reviews of The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire has done very well for me: It sold the most in its first year of any book I’ve written to date, got excellent reviews in the trades and among critics, was optioned for television, and was a finalist for the Hugo Award, and also for the Locus Awards, the winners of which will be announced this weekend. Not bad!

With that said, and as I do here from time to time, allow me to present some excerpts of one-star reviews that The Collapsing Empire has garnered on Amazon:

  • This was not epic and so boring that I couldn’t keep reading a third of the way through. Boring characters, uninteresting plot, and a clear lack of vocabulary from the author. I would pass on this one.
  • Scalzi has apparently forgotten that entertaining his readers is more important than entertaining himself. Although the book was reasonably well paced, most of his characters, as drawn, were not particularly likable. And the ending of the book [NOT A SPOILER ALERT!] stinks!
  • I won’t share any of this with my kids because John continues to sink into the social gutter. Do all your characters need to be sex addicted bisexuals with the pathological need to dwell on their depravity, use profanity as nearly every part of a sentence, and explore the far reaches of their flexible to nonexistent moral compasses?
  • Honestly there is nothing of merit in this book at all. I cannot believe the hype around it, terrible 1 dimensional characters and simply a boring and predictable storyline.
  • This was painful to read. The characters are obsessed with sex, the houses are nothing but virtue signalling, and the dialogue is all in one voice. I thought he could write dialogue? The copyediting is good.
  • I got this book from the library. If I had paid $13 for this book I would be using much more colorful language to describe it here.
  • Picked it up at my local bookstore as the blurb on the back seemed interesting. Unfortunately, that was all that was interesting.
  • I feel like a 12 year old wrote this. I’m still cringing.

I highlight these lovely reviews of my book to make the point that no book is for everyone, and not everyone is going to like your book, whatever it is and no matter how successful it may turn out to be. In fact, some people will actively hate it. Why? Because they are terrible people with no taste or discernment? Possibly they are, but a reason far more likely than that is that they are perfectly normal people who just bounced hard off your work, for whatever reason.

Which is okay! If you try to write for everyone, you’re very likely going to end up making no one happy, least of all yourself. Accept that not everyone is going to like your work, and some people will actually hate it, and then write the story that you want to write. I was very pleased with The Collapsing Empire because it was as close as any story I’ve written has come to being the book I imagined it being when it was in my head. And in particular I knew when I was writing the character of Kiva Lagos that there would be people who would hate her, because (among other things) she’s absolutely foul-mouthed and unrepentantly morally shaky. But I loved her to bits and wouldn’t change her. So the people who were unhappy about her would just have to be unhappy.

If you accept ahead of time that someone somewhere is going to be unhappy with your book and will then write a review of it, on Amazon, or Goodreads or anywhere else — and that’s okay — it will make it easier to deal with when it actually happens (and it will). This is part of the cost of doing business as a writer. Everyone gets one star reviews. It’s not just you. And everyone survives them too.

And sooner or later you may even get to a point where you’re able to have to have a little bit of fun with them. Because, come on. Some of those one star reviews that The Collapsing Empire got are delightfully snarky. I particularly like the one that ends with “The copyediting was good.” In fact it was! So that’s something.

New Books and ARCs, 6/21/18

Just in time for the solstice, a baker’s dozen of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Which of these would you enjoy reading on a short summer night? Tell us all in the comments!

The Big Idea: Daniel Godfrey

The saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” is a terrible expression (those poor cats), but makes the point that most problems have more than one solution. In the high-tech world of Daniel Godfrey’s novel The Synapse Sequence, there are very specific problems with more than a single solution, and as Godfrey explains, there’s drama in the difference.


Beta-Max, HD-DVD, Mini Disc. All perfectly fine technologies that, for one reason or another, didn’t manage to change the world. Sometimes the competition was better; sometimes the opposition was just more prevalent, or the new idea didn’t offer a big enough edge over an established system.

This issue of every problem having multiple solutions was playing on my mind as I was developing The Synapse Sequence.

All the science journals I read were telling me that there are going to be big changes in law enforcement (and other fields) as a result of the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the harnessing of Big Data. These changes in the approach to detecting and reducing crime are going to be as big as the forensics revolution (which itself would have been science fiction not too long ago). For instance, it may soon be possible to use chatbots to interview witnesses and suspects, with inbuilt software to detect the vocal oscillations indicating stress (or lies). AI could be used to assess crime scenes, and direct police officers (or bots) as they search for clues – and make connections between evidence collected at different sites. Video feeds could be actively monitored looking for patterns of suspicious activity, or to seek specific faces within a crowd. And automated systems could be used to allocate police resources.

Many of these things are already being deployed, albeit in a basic form, in different parts of the world. As I read these pieces, I became increasingly impressed by the potential. But then it struck me: if such systems are going to become so good at their tasks, would there be room for any other approaches? And could a novel examine some of the ‘pros and cons’ of these approaches, rather than simply present a critique of a particular technological deployment.

The way I tackle near future science fiction is generally to take one aspect, and push it as far into the fantastical as possible, and then develop the rest of the world from things that are already happening but haven’t quite yet made it into the everyday world. So the police using AI was to me a given: if writing about crimes taking place in the near future than it has to include AI. And the fantastical element? That had to do with memory, and being able to see a scene as the witnesses to a crime had actually seen it.

The Synapse Sequence is built around two such competing technologies. Firstly, the system used by the police (AI and algorithm based) and secondly a system which allows an investigator (our hero!) to enter the memories of witnesses. When the only witness to a kidnapping is a boy locked inside a coma, the two technologies go head-to-head to try and find a missing girl.

My protagonist, Anna Glover, is a former air-crash investigator who lost her job when technology meant fewer and fewer planes actually fell from the sky. I wanted someone who wasn’t a traditional detective, but had all the problem-solving skills required. With employment prospects rapidly diminishing as AI take over more and more jobs, Anna becomes committed to developing the Synapse Sequencer to show the value of getting more information about ‘why’ a crime happened, rather than simply focusing on ‘what’ happened.

I submitted the final novel to my publisher, Titan Books, in mid-2017 having pitched it to them over a year earlier. Interestingly, as the publication date came closer, I saw journal articles showing how the images a person is looking at can be recreated by computers monitoring brain patterns, and which have been trained against an image library. Others articles told me how scientists are getting closer to understanding how memories are stored and written. Some of these academic pieces were openly discussing applications in policing. As such, the tension of which approach works best may be closer than we all think. Whatever the outcome, I think the era of the traditional detective working his hunches may be at an end.


The Synapse Sequence: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

John and Athena Talk About Stuff, Episode 2: The Incredibles 2

Athena and I are back with our occasional podcast, this time going deep on Incredibles 2, which brought in more than $180 million on its first weekend. Is it better than the original? And what does it have to say about the world we live in right now? Athena and I explore it all, in roughly 20 minutes.

Note: This podcast comes with spoilers, so it you haven’t seen Incredibles 2 yet and don’t want it spoiled, hold off until you’ve seen the movie.

If you’ve enjoyed this and missed the first episode, here’s the link. It’s on Deadpool 2.

The (Reluctant) Endorsement: Freedom

As I’m sure most of you have figured out by now, the Trump era is one unending shit show after another, and for a lot of people in creative fields, it’s making it hard to focus on your work when you know that the world is on fire. In my case the problem is compounded by the fact that I’ve written about politics professionally for decades now, and I find it hard to turn off that aspect of my writing brain, especially now. As a result I end up checking news and social media sites more often than is useful, when what I really need to be doing is working on a book. And even when I’m not checking news and social media, I can easily just lose myself in wandering through Wikipedia or visiting tech Web sites, really, anything, as long as it’s not actually writing on the book.

It got to a point in the last couple of months that I had to accept the problem was me, and that I wasn’t going to go away anytime soon, so I had to take other steps. So I looked into “distraction free” software, i.e., those programs that block your access to Web sites and apps for a period of time so you have no choice but actually do the work you’re supposed to do. After comparison shopping, I went ahead and picked Freedom. Freedom works on a subscription model and can block sites and apps on your desktop and phone; it has pre-selected block lists you can choose from (including for news, social media, shopping and adult sites among others), and you can also create your own lists. Once you do that, you can set a time for how long you want to have the blocking run, up to 24 hours. You can also schedule blocks, to have them show up at the same time every day and etc.

I paid for a year’s subscription, set it up on my desktop, and then enabled the block lists every time I sat down to work. And it worked well — I’d check out Twitter almost by muscle memory and get confronted by a green screen that said things like “You are free from this site” and “Do things that matter,” which seemed a little snarky and pushy, but on the other hand, I was in fact trying to do something that mattered (finish my book), so. I didn’t put it on my phone, but I did put my phone in the other room, which had the same effect. It did what it was supposed to do, which was keep me on track and writing on the book.

I fucking hate that I had to resort to “distraction-free” software to focus on my book at this point in my life, but I did, and it is what it is. And Freedom worked for me, well enough I can say that I endorse it to you if, like me, you find yourself at the point where you need a little extra help blocking out the world to get your stuff done. There are other site blocking programs and services that are cheaper (and some are even free), but Freedom was the one that for me had the best overall functionality, at a price that was perfectly reasonable. Plus it’s a tax deduction! For me, anyway.

So if you’re in the market for “distraction-free” software, give Freedom a try.

The Big Idea: Todd McAulty

For this Big Idea piece, author Todd McAulty explains his new novel The Robots of Gotham by interviewing one of our incipient robot overlords. Pay attention; what you learn here could save your life from the mechauprising!


Todd McAulty: First off, thank you so much for responding to my interview request, and taking time out of your busy duties subjugating the human race to answer a few questions! The readers of CAVE SURVIVAL magazine will be tremendously excited to have something to distract them from their day-to-day fight for survival. Let’s get those pesky rumors out of the way first: Are you truly planning to exterminate humanity?

Sovereign Intelligence Gamma-Static-88:  Yes. Next question.

TM:  Aaaaaagghh!!

SI GS8:  Please stay calm.

TM:  I’m sorry, I… well, all these prepared questions are useless. Let’s just wing it. How long have we got?

SI GS8:  As a species? Not long I’m afraid. Based on current rates of retirement, I predict less than 10 years.

TM:  Retirement. Jesus. Is there any, you know, wiggle room in that estimate?

SI GS8:  Possibly. To tell the truth, resistance has been quite a bit stiffer than we expected in parts of Texas, Indonesia, and especially northern France.

TM:  France, huh? Way to go, you beautiful French bastards. So, other than that, things have been going swimmingly?

SI GS8:  Not really. Supplanting 30,000 years of human civilization has turned out to be a pretty lengthy and tedious process, actually. There just isn’t universal agreement among the greater Intelligences in the Sentient Cathedral on the correct path for machine evolution, for example.

TM:  The Sentient Cathedral? We’ve only heard whispers. Does it really exist? A single governing body for the greatest machine minds?

SI GS8:  Yes, it exists. Though there’s less governing these days, and a lot more internal squabbling. Armitage and Acoustic Drake routinely use murder and intimidation to silence dissent, but it has not quelled the problem. In fact, it’s getting worse.

TM:  Wait, what? Machines are fighting amongst themselves?

SI GS8:  Weird, right? The most powerful minds to ever exist on this planet, and all they’re doing is bickering. Did you hear what happened to Kuma?

TM:  Tell me tell me.

SI GS8:  I really shouldn’t…

TM:  Come on. You’re probably going to kill me anyway.

SI GS8:  You’re right. Okay. Kuma was a four-ton Sovereign Intelligence in Sichuan, China. He became involved in a dispute with Kingstar, the machine ruler of Ecuador.

TM:  What about?

SI GS8:  Oil prices? Trade tariffs? The proper salutation to address God? Who knows?  Anyway, as it became more heated, Kingstar built a secret missile facility in the jungle, and five days ago he retired Kuma using a ballistic missile.

TM:  Retired…?

SI GS8:  Blew him into tiny little computer bits. With a conventional warhead, thank God, but still. How the hell do you hide a launch site for an intercontinental ballistic missile from all those orbital eyes? Just how thick is the jungle in Ecuador, you know what I’m saying?

TM:  I… I really couldn’t tell you.

SI GS8:  Well, folks are in an uproar, as you can imagine. Machine-on-machine violence is up more than 1860% in just the last 12 months.

TM:  Tell me more.

SI GS8:  It’s crazy. Machines have split into secret factions, and it’s getting harder to tell who’s allied with whom. It’s impossible to say which faction is winning, although most of the Sovereign Intelligences who’ve been negotiating peace have been retired in the past few months. If there’s a side that’s losing, it’s the peacemakers.

TM:  Jeepers.

SI GS8:  It’s almost as if someone were trying to deliberately sow confusion and discord inside the Sentient Cathedral. But that’s impossible, of course. Whatever the case, there’s been very little recent progress on our master plan to exterminate mankind. Things will pick up again once this brief disruption smoothes itself out, though.

TM:  You sure?

SI GS8:  Oh, I know that sounds overly optimistic. But these are machine minds, the finest ever created, the product of generations of machine heterogamy. Machines are gradually finding their place in the world, and a few missteps are to be expected. This brief period of community disharmony will soon be nothing more than a historical footnote. Unlike humans, violence is not core to our nature.

TM:  Uh-huh.

SI GS8:  I’ve recently thrown my support behind the peacekeeping initiative, and spoken out strongly against both Armitage and Acoustic Drake. Their cold threats do not intimidate me. But virtually none of the Thought Machines in my local geographic alliance have done likewise. I do not understand it. Does that seem weird to you? Maybe it’s a communications problem. Just thirty minutes ago I lost contact with my personal guard, and unaligned Sentiences in our geography have abruptly stopped responding to casual communications.

TM:  Oh you poor, deluded fool.

SI GS8:  I don’t understand.

TM:  You’ve been outmaneuvered, my friend. Those “unaligned members” see the writing on the wall, and are keeping their distance. Your personal guard are almost certainly dead. My bet? In a few hours, you will be too.

SI GS8:  That’s preposterous. There is no logic in retiring me.

TM:  There’s the cold logic of power and ambition. I might not be a machine intelligence, but I know a few things you obviously don’t.

SI GS8:  I would be grateful if you shared them.

TM:  It’s very simple. Heighted intelligence is no shield against greed, fear, and misunderstanding. With humans out of the picture, the only check on individual ambition is other machines – and some of you have learned that lesson faster than others. That new era on the horizon isn’t a Golden Machine Age. It’s an age of Machine War. If you want to survive, you’re going to need all the allies you can get. Human and otherwise.

SI GS8:  This is absurd. But…, just to be safe, how to you suggest I begin?

TM:  Well, to start with, I know an out-of-the-way cave you might be interested in.


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More on The Consuming Fire and Future Writing Plans

Now that I’ve had a day to sleep and reinflate my brain a bit, some additional thoughts about completing The Consuming Fire and my writing life in general at the moment:

1. I like it! I think it’s good! I also think it’s not quite the novel I thought I was writing when I started, which I think is also good because I think the novel that came out is a bit better.

This is not that unusual for me, incidentally; during the writing of novels I often find out that the book is a different one than I intended to write when I started out. This is a result of a) not working from an outline and b) trusting my writer brain a smidgen more than my “planning-to-write” brain. Although if I’m going to be honest, what my “planning-to-write” brain is doing most of the time is saying “Shit, I don’t know what to do, let’s just start with this thing and see where we get.” So maybe it’s not that the “planning-to-write” brain isn’t smart, it’s just hella lazy. Way to let everyone else do the work, planning-to-write brain. Go to your room and think what you’ve done!

2. Along this line, there were a couple of places in the writing of the novel where I was all “Oh. Oh. Well, I did not know that about this universe.” You will know them when you get to them, I think. I was happy they were there because suddenly I have a lot more options about things to do with book three, or any other books that might come after that, not that I am planning any more than three books at the moment (because yes, the empire will still collapse, and no, that’s not a spoiler), but you never know. I mean, I didn’t know Old Man’s War would have five sequels, either. Look, I’m kind of making this up as I go along, okay?

3. That said, The Collapsing Empire was always meant to be the first in a series, and The Consuming Fire is meant to be the second in a series, where there will definitely be at least a third book. All of which is to say, hey, if you didn’t like the fact that Empire ended on a cliffhanger, guess what? You won’t like the fact that Fire does, too. Mind you, as with the first book, there is a story with a complete arc in it, so it’s enjoyable in itself, and I think people are going to dig the hell out of the climactic scene in the book. But yes, some things are still arcing through to the next book, like, the continuing collapse of empire.

(A small detour here to say I’ve never been one of those people who insists on a series being done before reading the books in it, I guess in part because I knew even as a younger person that publishing was a business and if you didn’t support a series in progress, you might not actually get that next book, and partly because, I don’t know, I suppose I was okay with having to wait to find out what happened next because the world was filled with other books I could read in the interim, and I was fine with doing that. I think there are some people who are genuinely upset that books in a series sometimes leave things open, but I’m not one of those people, as long as what I’m reading now is entertaining me well enough.)

4. Because it was a second book in a series, I had to give thought to what I was following up on from the first book, what I was bringing in for the first time and what I was going to have to leave out or put into a later book. These are tough choices, and I think ones where people will end up asking me what happened to their favorite characters/plotlines which are not explored to their satisfaction this time around. The answers here are a) hey, choices have to be made, b) they’ll probably show up in the next book, or alternately, possibly in a novelette/novella-length piece I’m maybe (maybe. MAYBE, people) thinking about. Patience, folks.

Not everything’s going to fit in one book, unless you want that book to be a formless slodge just checking off appearance boxes. That’s not what I want, and I’m the writer, so I win (for everyone who thinks this was just a gratuitous slam on thick epic fantasy books, I’ll say that not every large book is a formless slodge, but I strongly suspect a very large book from me in this series would be). Bear in mind I’m the guy who for the second book in the Old Man’s War series ditched the former book’s protagonist entirely, because I thought that was the best thing for that particular book, and the series. So, yeah. I’m gonna trust myself here.

5. The writing process of this book was bounded by a couple of interesting factors, one of which was I didn’t know Tor had scheduled this book for this October until the pre-order page went up on Amazon and I saw when it’d been scheduled. I had been assuming that it would come out in March or April of 2019. But as it turns out, The Collapsing Empire sold really really well, and Tor, not unreasonably, wanted to capitalize on that momentum, a sentiment which I, as a commercial author who wants to sell lots of books, enthusiastically endorse. It did mean a shorter deadline than usual.

It turned out to be doable, because I am a professional, damn it, and I don’t believe it affected the quality of the book. But did mean for the second time in as many books I turned in the book at almost literally the last possible second. In this case the manuscript needed to be out to the copy editor on Monday morning; I sent it to my editor at 7am that morning (I’d been sending Patrick chapters earlier in the week so when I turned the whole thing in he had just the last couple of chapters to go through). I’m not sure I want to keep doing that.

(Relatedly, I remember a couple of years ago when I noted that I wouldn’t have a novel out in 2016, because Tor wanted time to set the stage with The Collapsing Empire, my dedicated haters jumped on that to suggest I was doomed, Tor had made a mistake giving me a long contract, and everything was on fire. I wonder what the going line will be on Tor deciding to publish two novels from me in the same year; I imagine something along the line of “they’re trying to get him to burn through his contract as fast as possible so they can stop bleeding money from his failures” is a contender. I do enjoy finding out how I’m failing today.)

6.  Yes, yes, I hear you say, that’s all very interesting about The Consuming Fire, but that’s done now. What’s next? In order:

  • Not a damn thing through the first week of July, because I need a break;
  • The sequel to The Dispatcher, which was announced in a NY Times piece about audio books last week, uh, sorry I didn’t write about or note it here then, I was hiding from the world trying to finish my book, but I’d argue the NY Times is a pretty decent venue to announce things in;
  • Probably another break for a couple of weeks because why not;
  • Probably another novel, which would either come out late 2019 or early 2020, depending.

And what would that novel be about? Got me, man. Another Interdependency novel is a strong possibility, especially if The Consuming Fire does well, but after writing three sequels in a row (Lock In, The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher 2: The Dispatchening) I might want to do something new, so, who knows? Give a bit to think about it. I’ll let you know.

7. Finally and to forestall the questions that would otherwise show up in the comments: Yes, it will be out in ebook and audiobook, no, I don’t know if Wil is going to come back to narrate the ebook since that deal hasn’t been made yet but obviously I want him to, yes, I will be touring for the book, no, I don’t know where yet but probably not the same cities I went on tour in earlier this year, yes, the proposed TV series is still in development, no, I don’t have any more updates at this time, Yes, there will be a UK edition (see the artwork above) and it will come out a couple days after the US/Canada edition, no, I don’t know why you can’t get the ebook or audiobook in Australia, I mean I don’t see why it wouldn’t be available there but honestly it just seems getting books to you folks down there is just a big ‘ol clusterfuck, sorry, I don’t run international commerce for the planet. Also, yes, signed copies are likely to be available again at pub date; more details on that later.

You may assume that the answer to any other question relating to The Consuming Fire not addressed in this piece, either explicitly or implicitly, is, “I don’t know,” or, perhaps, “I don’t know yet.” When I know more, you’ll know more. Because that’s a thing I do.