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.

DANIEL GODFREY:

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:

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.

—-

The Robots of Gotham: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Google

Visit the author’s site.

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.

The Big Idea: C.L. Polk

Bit and pieces, ideas and musings — sometimes you just have to wait for the one thing that makes it all a story. C.L. Polk was waiting for the one thing to thread all the parts together to make Witchmark into the novel, and found it in a monochromatic piece of history.

C.L. POLK:

Witchmark didn’t just come to me in a bolt of inspiration. The muses didn’t smack me on the head and say “here is a story, go thou and write it.” My discovery of the story was more like emptying a child’s pockets after a walk outside: Shells and stones and feathers from songbirds, a bit of bone scrimshawed with dust, a frayed length of bright green ribbon. Every little piece contained a bit of mystery, something important enough to tuck away, but they were were a jumble of concepts and images that didn’t add up to a story.

But I kept them, taking out each element and matching them on a blank sheet of paper, trying to make them become story-shaped. Streets filled with bicycles, lit by golden lamps that hurt magicians to be near. Apple trees heavy with fruit, free for the taking by anyone who wanted them. The shards of a teacup smashed on the pavement, trying to break an ill-omen revealed in the leaves. I had shiny bits that didn’t come together until I found a black and white image of soldiers on parade from WWI.

That’s when the muses struck. I saw how a missing body from the morgue, a handsome gentleman in a silk top hat, and a darkness lurking in the brains of men who had been through a nightmare came together. It became a story about uncovering the awful truth lying underneath a glittering, comfortable society, and about the one person who could uncover it.

Miles Singer is a physician with healing powers hiding who he is for the sake of survival. If he’s caught, he’ll be incarcerated in an asylum with other people, believed to be at risk of becoming violent if they don’t suppress their magical talent. Or worse: his family drags him back and binds him to his powerful sister. He would be obligated to obey her decisions about his life, his magical power nothing more than a battery she can tap to do the only magic that counts among their peers: Storm-singing, the ability to control the weather.

Miles uses his gifts in secret, keeps his head down at a veteran’s hospital full of patients who share his trauma. He uses his power sparingly, trying to solve a medical mystery that only he can see, trying to find a mundane diagnosis for the troubling condition his magic reveals. but when a murdered emergency patient–who asked to see him specifically–dies in his arms, Miles struggles to keep his secrets while pursuing the mystery of his patient’s death.

But then his sister walks back into his life, and Miles has to break out of the small persona he created for himself. When he learns the secrets that his patient’s murder was supposed to preserve, he has to embrace everything he is and decide the fate of an entire country…and even doing the right thing has far-reaching consequences.

Witchmark is a fantasy novel with a mystery and a romance tucked inside it, but it finds room to talk about the aftermath of war, the machine of lies that help people look away from oppression, and how sometimes your family never sees past the picture they made of you to see who you are – and how difficult it is to make them see who you truly are.

—-

Witchmark: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Portrait of the Artist as Someone Who is So Very Done With His Book, 6/18/18

I posted a picture of myself at the beginning of my deadline rush and said I would post another when it’s done and (likely) I was a real mess. Here’s the promised “after” picture. It’s not as bad as it could be because a) I did actually manage a three-hour nap, b) I threw over my original plan not to shave until I was done because yesterday was my and Krissy’s anniversary and I wanted to not look like a shambling yeti when we went out in public for dinner. Also coincidentally I’m wearing the same shirt as in the previous picture. I did wear other shirts in the interim, I swear.

Also, fun fact: You know how I just turned in a book? Well, actually, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve turned in two. That’s right, while you weren’t looking, I did a whole other entire book! This is why I’m tired, people. I’m doing a lot of work, here. Anyway, that other book is still a little bit under wraps, but we’ll be announcing in the next few months. And in the meantime, you know The Consuming Fire is on its way in October.

Also, I’m likely to be brain-dead most of today and tomorrow at least, so if you see me sitting quietly on my front porch, drooling into my shoulder, that’s why.

The Consuming Fire: Done!

As of about five minutes ago. Wheeee!

For those of you not aware, this is the follow-up to The Collapsing Empire, and in fact follows directly after the events of the book. Emperox Grayland II, Kiva Lagos, Marce Claremont and Nadashe Nohamapetan are all back, along with explosions, fights, thrilling escapes, space battles and mysterious new characters who aren’t always what they seem. You know, the usual. I think you’re gonna like it. I do.

It’s out October 16. Yes, that’s soon, in terms of book production. This is the second book I am turning in at literally the last possible instant. I do not recommend this strategy, people.

Off to do a couple of quick copy edits, and then off it goes to my editor, and then off I go, to sleep. Catch you later. Much later.

 

24,25,23 Years

Not done with the book yet and lots to do before it’s done. But I wanted to note that on this day 24 years ago I proposed to Krissy. 25 years ago tomorrow, we went on our first official date. 23 years ago on Sunday, we were married. It’s our traditional three-day anniversary period. Yes, we planned it that way.

All this means that for more than half my life now, Krissy has been in it, and as a consequence my life has been blessed in ways I can’t even begin to describe. Poor planning on my part means I’m trapped in front of a computer this weekend rather than out with her (well, I should be done on Sunday, so I may be free on our actual anniversary, but I’ll be brain-dead, and that’s no fun). But I want you all to know that on these three days, as I do every day, I’m so very grateful I get to be with her. She is, literally, the best person I know.

Okay, back to it for me. Have a good “our anniversary” weekend, folks.

The Big Idea: Kelly Jennings

For her novel Fault Lines, author Kelly Jennings thinks up not just one, but two, civilizations, each with their own rules, laws and social preferences. And just what happens when these two cultures clash? Read on.

KELLY JENNINGS:

J. Cherryh is a big influence on me, as anyone who reads Fault Lines will notice. When I was reading Cyteen, one bit especially caught my attention: how Ariane Emory created the Azis not just for their labor, but in order to solve the problem of the genetic bottleneck created by humanity’s expansion into space.

This idea stewed around in my head along with my desire to explore my Pirian-Republic universe, and to write a longer work about Velocity Wrachant, my very favorite space captain. Some of you may know Velocity and her crew if you’ve read the story “Velocity’s Ghost” from the anthology The Other Half of the Sky.

The Pirian-Republic Universe has been the backdrop for a number of stories I’ve written. In this universe, an ecological collapse causes a series of hugely destructive wars on Earth around 2150 which destroys most of the human population. Only Oceania survives, and then only because a few multi-national businesses work together. These businesses enforce an autocratic rule over the next several centuries, resolving eventually into a government called the Republic, run by a representative Parliament. The businesses, which have evolved into the Combines, are still in control, though from behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, the group that becomes the Pirians – originally a Malaysian/Australian/Indonesian group who teamed up with the survivors on Earth’s space stations – reject the autocratic rule of the multi-nationals, abscond with two (almost finished) spaceships and flee outward, first to Epsilon Eridani, and then further on, meanwhile setting up their own system of government. Theirs is a sort of cellular democracy, with the cells being self-sustaining starships, and larger cells being associations of ships within the overall Pirian fleet.

Fast-forward about 1500 years. The Republic controls a large area of near-Earth space as well as several outlying stars (the settlement planets). Republic society is still autocratic and heavily class-based, with most of the population being either bonded workers or very poor. Then there’s an area called the Drift, not really controlled by anyone, populated by stations and merchant ship owners called Free Traders – depending on the station, these range from libertarian to brutal dictatorships. Then there’s Pirian space, with space stations and planets seeded and aided by the Pirian fleet, but governed by those who settle there. These tend to be people fleeing either the Republic or the Drift. One association of the Pirian fleet, the Siji, makes it its mission to help these refugees get started on planets or stations in Pirian territory.

But back to genetics! Because of the Founder effect, not just the settlement planets and Pirian space, but also Earth and near-Earth space have genetic issues. The early Combines had a limited population; the Pirians who fled in their stolen ships also had a limited population. Due to the vast distances between them, the groups tend not to interbreed. How to solve these problems?

Pirians are solving their problems by exuberant exogamy (they know all about hybrid vigor!) and lots of genetic engineering. The Republic, on the other hand, believe that the disastrous ecological collapse which led to the wars was caused by genetic engineering. Due to this, they have both laws and a strong taboo against genetic engineering. Furthermore, the Combine Houses are strictly endogamous, believing as they do that their “pure” genetic stock (ironically from de facto mixed roots) is superior to those who live outside their houses.

Thus, while a Combine House will take outside workers and professionals (such as Security Officers or physicians) into its House as workers, no one in the House will take genetic material from outsiders into their breeding line. Instead, they “improve” their stock by frequent coups – that is, those who are in line to inherit a given Combine Board Seat can and often are assassinated by someone lower down in the line to inherit. This is not exactly legal; but if you’re successful, then you must have been more fit, after all, and so it’s retroactively legal.

Velocity Wrachant was in line to inherit one of these board seats of a powerful Combine. But at age sixteen, having evaluated her odds of surviving to age seventeen, she lit out for her universe’s version of the territories, the Drift. There, she bought a (heavily mortgaged) spaceship, and put together her (polyamorous) crew.

Fault Lines takes up twenty years later, where she is approached by a young Combine child, Brontë Ikeda, with a deceptively simple job offer. Velocity knows better than to trust anyone from the Combines; further, she knows Ikeda House is in the middle of a coup.

But she’s also broke and desperate. The paycheck Brontë is offering is tempting, and the job seems simple enough: take her and her Security Officer a few jumps into Republic space to retrieve her stranded Security cadets from a settlement station.

What could go wrong?

Just about everything.

In this novel, I get to explore concepts of family (genetic v. found), government (why it exists, what it’s for), personhood, and (excitement!!) genetics, genetic engineering, and genetic misconceptions to my heart’s content. Plus, shoot-outs on space ships and space stations! Did I mention this was a space opera? It’s a space opera!

—-

Fault Lines: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Kobo|Candlemark & Gleam

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Portrait of the Artist On Deadline, 6/9/18

I have exactly one week to finish The Consuming Fire. I have, well. A lot to go to be done. I am taking this picture now so you have an idea of what I look like as I begin this marathon sprint. When I finish the book, I will take another picture. I think the contrast may end up being instructive.

Wish me luck. Don’t expect to see much of me between now and then.

 

New Books and ARCs, 6/8/18

This might be the biggest stack of new books and ARCs I’ve posted in a while — and it has quality as well as quantity. Anything here that you would want to make its way into your own reading stack? Tell us all in the comments!

Hay Baling, 6/7/18

And now, one in an occasional series of reminders that in fact I live in rural America: Here’s my neighbor, in the hay field across from my property, baling the summer’s first crop of the stuff. After the hay’s been cut and baled, the field basically looks like my yard for a while, until the next crop comes up. It occasionally makes me wonder what would happen if we just stopped cutting our lawn for a while, and then invited our neighbor to come bale it up and take it away. Pretty sure it doesn’t actually work like that, though.

The Big Idea: Joshua Viola

When Joshua Viola first thought up the idea of what would eventually become Denver Moon, he realized that what it really needed was collaboration. How did Viola make that happen? Time to find out.

JOSHUA VIOLA:

You never know when a story idea is going to turn into something you are proud of or something you want to hide in the closet. As many authors know, sometimes a good idea pans out into a great story. But other times, it just doesn’t fit together. In Denver Moon: Minds of Mars it took a series of individual ideas and the help of a co-writer to create a whole new world.

After working on Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow, I knew I wanted to write some sort of neo-noir mystery, but the where, who, and why eluded me. At least at first.

The first real solid idea of this novella, or rather the entire franchise, was the disability that the character lives with. Being color-blind might not seem like a disability for some people, but for those who cannot differentiate certain colors it is a distinct disadvantage. Things such as stoplights, 3-D movies, gaming, and even something as simple as picking out matching clothes can be a challenge. I’m color-blind myself, and know its challenges. But I know the disability doesn’t entirely make up a character.

The next idea I worked with was heritage. I’ve been a fan of Japanese movies, video games, and anime, and enjoyed how different it is from western storytelling. I wanted to capture how the Japanese culture takes ideas and spins it into something unique. To pay homage of some of my favorite types of storytelling, I decided the character would be of Japanese descent.

This was a good start but I still didn’t know who this detective (and by now I knew they were a detective) was. Ideas kept circling.

The name came as I was walking through Denver one evening under a bright full moon. Denver Moon.

On that same walk the next ideas came in a rush. The underbelly of Mars, a talking gun, and other half-formed ideas. But I knew it still wasn’t a story. For one, there was no plot.

That’s where we circle back to the cyberpunk anthology. My favorite story was “The Bees of Kiribati”, a tight story with a disturbing twist written by Warren Hammond. It impressed me enough that I hoped Warren would lend his talents to Denver Moon. I invited him for a few beers to discuss the project.

At first, Warren wasn’t interested, but he agreed to hear me out. Somehow the ideas I had already come up with interested him enough to collaborate. Together we began the task of world-building, taking ideas such as the colorblindness, and developing a terrifying Martian disorder that monochromatics were immune to. Warren developed our nemesis and, most importantly, helped flesh out Denver and give her a real personality and mission.

Each of these ideas alone couldn’t stand on their own. It wasn’t until our team was formed that all of the elements came together.

—-

Denver Moon: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Denver Moon Store

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

John and Athena Talk About Stuff, Episode One: Deadpool 2

Athena and I thought it would be fun to try an occasional podcast with the two of us, in which we talk about entertainment we’ve both seen and possible other topics as well. So, in the spirit of trying new things, here is the first edition of John and Athena Talk About Stuff. In this episode, Athena and I talk about Deadpool 2, and what we thought of it, and touch on the topics of super hero origin stories, movie plotting, whether one should expect organic storytelling in a film where the fourth wall is broken all over the place, and “fridging,” a concept that I was well aware of but was new to Athena. Everything runs just over twenty minutes, i.e., long enough to get into it, but not so long you’ll get bored. Note: There will be spoilers for Deadpool 2, so if you haven’t seen it and care about spoilers, beware.

This is our first try at a podcast-y sort of thing, so be aware there will be “ums” and “ahs” and a little bit of talking over each other and also the phone rings about halfway through and then I have to do an edit where I deal with that. We’ll get it figured out. But in the meantime, I think it’s a pretty good conversation that illustrates what differences Athena and I have in critical perspective, and what things we’re similar on. Enjoy!

(Update: At the very end the phrase “take care” is repeated, like, a bunch. That’s a weird error from uploading, I think. I’ll try to fix. You can stop after the first “take care,” honest.

Update update: Should be fixed.)

An Now, an EXCLUSIVE Sneak Preview of the Work Currently in Progress

That’s right, here’s a short, available-nowhere-else excerpt from The Consuming Fire, coming in October from Tor Books!

Are you ready?

Are you ready for this?

Are you hanging off the edge of your seat?

Well, here it is!

“A lawyer is here.”

“Toss him out a window.”

“Her, actually, I think.”

“So toss her out, then. Equally defenestratable.”

Thank you for your attention.

Now back to writing for me.

FYI

The sequel to The Dispatcher may have been announced in this New York Times article about audiobooks. And before you ask, yes, there will be a print/ebook version as well, some time after the audio publication.