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Mary Rickert: Resonance

Mary Beth Rickert was born December 11, 1959 in Port Washington WI and grew up in the small town of Fredonia. She worked as a kindergarten teacher for ten years at a small private school for gifted children in California, and has also worked at a bookstore, a YMCA, a coffee shop, as a nanny, and for two years as a personnel assistant in Sequoia National Park. She earned her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Rickert began publishing under the byline M. Rickert, but in recent years has switched to Mary Rickert. Her first story was ‘‘The Girl Who Ate Butterflies’’ in F&SF (1999), and she has published about 40 stories in all, notably ‘‘Leda’’ (2002), ‘‘Bread and Bombs’’ (2003), ‘‘The Chambered Fruit’’ (2003), ‘‘Cold Fires’’ (2004), ‘‘Anyway’’ (2005), Nebula Award finalist and World Fantasy Award winner ‘‘Journey into the Kingdom’’ (2006), World Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘Map of Dreams’’ (2006), Shirley Jackson Award finalist ‘‘Holiday’’ (2007), Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist ‘‘You Have Never Been Here’’ (2006), Stoker finalist ‘‘Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment’’ (2009), Shirley Jackson Award winner ‘‘The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece’’ (2011), and Shirley Jackson and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘The Mothers of Voorhisville’’ (2014).

Debut collection Map of Dreams (2006) won the Crawford Award for best first fantasy, as well as a World Fantasy Award. Second collection Holiday (2010) was a World Fantasy finalist. Her latest collection is You Have Never Been Here (2015). Debut novel The Memory Garden appeared in 2014 and won a Locus Award for best first novel.

Rickert lives in Cedarsburg WI with husband Bill Bauerband (married 2002).


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I struggled for a long time with the form of a novel. I wrote my first novel when I was really young, in high school. It took me years to lose that sort of natural ability and then get it back. When I was 30, I quit my job as a kindergarten teacher to dedicate myself to writing, and I was work­ing on a novel. I probably worked on that novel for six years, in various forms. I got three short stories out of it. One problem was, I didn’t know what the main character’s job was. I thought, ‘I’ll have her be a writer and write myths.’ I put the myths in the novel, which was a mess, but those stories got published individually. They were ‘Leda’, ‘The Chambered Fruit’, and ‘The Machine’. I had the potential for a good novel there. I just could never get it right.

‘‘’The Mothers of Voorhisville’ was part of a novel, too. In its original form, it was long enough to be published as a novel itself! At one point, I tried doing three novellas as a novel: ‘The Mothers of Voorhisville’, ‘Pretty Brutal’, and ‘Five Days in Stone’. I love that title, ‘Pretty Brutal’. The stories kept morphing, and I was learning. That unpublished novel ‘Mothers’ came from took up nine years.

‘‘The Memory Garden was quicker. It took me about three years. I didn’t plot it out ahead of time. Here’s how it went. I worked for nine years on the novel, ‘Mothers’ came from. I never got that novel right and I thought, ‘What am I doing? Why do I keep trying to do this? I’m 55 years old. I can give myself permission to stop writing novels, and enjoy writing short stories. It’s time. It’s okay to let go of this and say I’m not a novel writer.’ Then I got this request from Jonathan Strahan asking me for a short story for Under My Hat, an anthology of young-adult witch stories. I started writing something, and realized as I kept going – uh oh. It was a novel. The story wanted to blossom. I wanted The Memory Garden to have the feel of memory and gardens, that blossoming.”

*

‘‘One of the things that came out when my mother was dying – and there are people in my family who would disagree with this – was that apparently somewhere in the world I have a brother I didn’t know about. I know there are stories like this, the story about the mother who had the pregnancy nobody knew about. But with my mom, this was incredibly earth-shaking, and it rocked my world. I’m still adjusting to the new foundation of my life. My mother was a very devout Catholic. We were raised as Catholics, and that was very important to her. When my book came out, she was living in a Catholic facility. They didn’t invite me to the book group, and she was so upset. When she thought the group was rejecting my novel because of the abortion material, she didn’t want any­thing more to do with being Catholic, and that didn’t make sense to me. This stuff all came out on her deathbed, with the strange things she was saying. It seems like in her past she had an unwanted pregnancy. I think she had a child. She made a different choice than the choice that was made in the book. With that novel, I felt like I was in a conversation with my mother that I didn’t know I was having. I felt just terrible, to think she was carrying that guilt around all her life.”

*

‘‘I think that part of the process of dying and letting go, which older people face, is the accounting – what is my life? I wrote the novel before my mom died. I’d never seen anyone die before. She had a terrible struggle at the end, and I think it was because of her unfinished business. I feel kind of haunted about it. I had this relationship with my mother that I thought was a certain kind of relationship, and it wasn’t. I wish she could have come to me with her secret, if it really did happen and this all wasn’t just the confusion of a dying mind. I do enjoy the fact that she loved my book. One of my favorite quotes from her is, ‘You sure do have a lot of stuff up there in that head of yours.’ I just baffled her. But she was supportive.”

*

‘‘Every idea I had for a novel before this was very large. I still think they all could have been really good novels, but the space was so large I got lost in it. The idea for The Memory Garden is pretty small. I contained it. One problem I’d have is that even though I had these big ideas, the novels would end up so short. I was working with Joshilyn Jack­son and I told her that was a constant problem of mine. I had a draft. It was really short. She looked at it and said, ‘You’ve got this sentence here that has a lot going on. Make it into a paragraph.’ It was like, ‘Pow!’ The way forward seemed so obvious after that. I always say, ‘I can’t believe I was doing this for 20 years, and trying so hard, and trying so many things, and I never thought of opening up the sentences.’ That was it. Instead of getting this short thing finished, and then saying, ‘I’ve got to find ways to stuff more into it,’ I opened it up. I think that’s partly why it worked, with the blossoming feeling. Open up the sentences. The language dur­ing novel writing is just different from short story writing. I would love to be able to write a novel that’s like a short story. I still long to be able to do that – the kind of poetry and resonance, sentence after sentence having impact in a novel. But that’s really hard to sustain. I called them ‘egg sentences.’ There’s a lot in here, and I can open that up. Now I’m writing a new novel and I can recognize those sentences when I write them. I want to get a draft done, but I’m pretty sure I’ll come back and make paragraphs of them.”

*

‘‘I have had times in my life when I questioned whether I should continue writing. I love to write, but I wanted very much to have a career that sup­ported my lifestyle financially. My big takeaway during my most recent time thinking of this was that I’d chosen a life of devotion. Devotion is an old fashioned word, and it’s a long game. When you live a life of devotion, the point isn’t what you get. The point isn’t any kind of result other than – did you devote yourself that day? When I put that new frame around my life and the choices I made, I became much happier. The devotion: did you write, did you listen today, did you read, did you think of stories today, did you practice? The other area in my life I devote myself to is yoga. I have a 25-year practice of yoga. I love that in yoga we say ‘practice.’ It isn’t, ‘Did you do it?’ It isn’t done. It isn’t, ‘Did you get paid enough for it?’ Though the yoga community struggles with that, too. It’s, ‘Did you practice every day?’ There’s a beauty in that, and a benefit. I’m devoted. I can be happy in that circumstance. In the end, everybody’s life is devotional. At some point it’s the end of life, and you ask, ‘What have I done?’”


Charlie Jane Anders: Whimsy Death Match

Charlie Jane Anders was born in Connecticut and grew up in the small town of Mansfield. She went to Cambridge University in England, studying English and Asian literature, and spent time studying abroad in China. She has lived in Hong Kong, Boston, and other places, and currently resides in San Francisco.

Anders began publishing SF with ‘‘Fertility’’ (1999) and has published over 100 stories since then in various genres, including Hugo Award winner ‘‘Six Months Three Days’’ (2011), also a Sturgeon and Nebula Award finalist. Her short SF has appeared in Asimov’s, Tor.com, F&SF, Tin House, and other venues. Debut novel Choir Boy (2005) won a Lambda Literary Award. Her first novel-length work of SF is science fantasy All the Birds in the Sky, out this month from Tor.

Anders is also a journalist, an editor, and an emcee. Her first book was non-fiction The Lazy Crossdresser (2002). She organizes and hosts the eclectic Writers with Drinks reading series, founded in 2001. With partner Annalee Newitz she ran Other magazine for five years, beginning in 2002; they also co-edited the anthology She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff (2006). She was one of the original contributors to SF wesbite io9 and is now its editor-in-chief; she was honored with an Emperor Norton award for her work with Writers with Drinks and io9 in 2009. Her articles and essays have appeared in Mother Jones, Salon, McSweeney’s, and The Wall Street Journal, among other venues.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘What I was consciously thinking about as I was writing and revising All The Birds in the Sky was this narrative about finding where you be­long in the world, and coming of age – the notion that we define ourselves through others, and we try to find people we belong with and can commu­nicate with. When they’re in junior high school, Laurence doesn’t know any other mad scientists, and Patricia has never met any other witches. She’s completely isolated. They’re like, ‘If I can only find people like my­self, I’ll be understood, and things will be perfect.’ Then we skip ahead to a time when they’ve found people like themselves, but it’s not great, and not perfect. There’s a whole other set of problems that comes with that. The people who are allegedly like you have a whole set of expectations they put on you, and they’re not necessarily connected to the person you want to be.

‘‘Any story like this is going to be about the use of power: how you use power responsibly, and whether you use your power for good or for ill. I tried to complicate it and have some of their biggest problems be their own blind spots and weaknesses. It’s a book that doesn’t really have villains, per se, except for Theodolphus, and he’s sort of a fake villain. He drops out halfway through the book, and by the end of the book you realize that, in a horribly sadistic way, he’s been doing the right thing all along, or at least he’s had a good effect.”

*

‘‘Originally the novel was much more of a genre pastiche. Laurence was going to be a pastiche of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius and a bunch of other boy adventurer characters, and he was going to have a million things that he invented, and aliens and spaceships. It was much more science fantasy, in fact. Patricia was going to be like Harry Potter and a bunch of other characters, fighting evil wizards and monsters and dragons. Then I thought, ‘That’s not going to work as well.’ I decided to make the sci­ence as real as I could. Back in the day at io9, we used to have a column called ‘Ask a Physicist’ and a column called ‘Ask a Biogeek’, and the guys who wrote them, Dave Goldberg and Terry Johnson, are still super willing to answer any weird science questions. They both have written books about science. Terry wrote How to Defeat Your Own Clone and Dave wrote The Universe in the Rearview Mirror. They’re awesome.”

*

‘‘My editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden is very fond of saying mine is the first book that’s science fiction and fantasy, as opposed to science fiction or fantasy. It’s a genre hybrid. Whether that’s true depends on how you look at the presence of magic: if any magic at all makes a book fantasy, mine’s not the first. I guess it’s slipstream or something. It has some liter­ary aspirations as well. I had this tone in my head that was like Vonnegut, or Douglas Adams, but with seriousness. The book gets pretty dark and bleak in parts. It is about growing up. There’s the coming-of-age narrative, and once you’ve come of age, there’s more growing up from there.

‘‘I have a two-book deal with Tor. I’ve written one and a half drafts of the second book for them. All I can say is, it’s completely different. It’s set on an exoplanet in the future. I wanted to stretch out a little bit and make it as different as I can from All the Birds in the Sky. Stylistically, it’s different. It doesn’t have any humor. It’s still weird, but in a dif­ferent way. Part of the idea is not getting pigeon­holed. Having watched so many authors’ careers over the years, if you get known for doing the books with puns in the titles or whatever, eventually people decide they don’t want that anymore, or that’s all they want. The Locus Online reviewer Lois Tilton has dinged me for being too glib and over-reliant on quirky humor to paper over the cracks in my stories sometimes. When I get criticism like that, I try not to take it to heart too much. I wrote a thing on io9 about this: how to not take criticism personally. There’s a process I go through, like the stages of grief. Af­ter a few days I can come back and say, ‘That’s not entirely fair, but yes, I do get glib sometimes. I do sometimes use the humor to avoid having to really drill into what the characters are dealing with.’”

*

‘‘Most writers can do both short fiction and long. I’m writing an essay about that right now for Asimov’s. The thing that’s good about writing short fiction is it forces you to write a lot of endings. I feel like short fiction, just in the last 20 years, has drifted away from being plot heavy to just being an impres­sionistic moment. A lot of my short fiction is super plotty. I love short fiction that has plot twists, and things happen, and then boom, at the end there’s an explosion. I think that’s one of the things short fic­tion does really well: being super plot heavy, with an intense dose of stuff happening and being resolved. It took me a long time to get better at short fiction, too. While I was writing these novels, I wrote a ton of short fiction. My short fiction in the last four or five years has gotten more attention. The first several years we were doing io9, I’d constantly meet people who were like, ‘I didn’t know you wrote fiction.’ This is my job, fiction is what I do! But nobody knew me for writing fiction until 2011 or 2012. I hope I’ve been progressing. The thing with short fiction is get­ting enough character and emotion into it, getting it to feel real enough so that it’s not just plot and a cool idea. That’s hard. When you write a novel you have to sustain it for even longer. You can sustain any­thing for five or ten pages, but to sustain it for 200 pages, there has to be a core that you build out from. Finding that core is the big challenge of short fic­tion – finding the core of the story, what the charac­ters are dealing with emotionally and thematically, and making that feel really present in the story. In a novel you have to find the core and you have to keep building out from it so that it’s present through the whole thing.”

*

‘‘At io9, our posture towards the book world has always been different from our posture towards the movie world, and that’s something Annalee and I worked out together. Not just because Annalee and I both write science fiction as well as writing about science fiction – there’s the fact that the book world is just different. If a movie comes out, it’s important to say this new movie that you’ve been hearing about for months really blows, it’s a terrible movie, don’t see it. Whereas with books, there are sites out there that’ll review every book and give a thumbs up or a thumbs down, but we’re very selective about what we review. Generally, if there’s a book I don’t like, I won’t finish it, and I don’t review books I don’t fin­ish. A lot of times our readers haven’t heard about a book until we tell them about it, so I don’t want the first thing people to hear is, ‘This book you’ve never heard about before sucks, don’t read it.’ I wor­ry that’ll translate to ‘Don’t read books.’ It’s better to speak through our silence. You’ll never know if something we didn’t cover was a book I tried to read and couldn’t get into, or a book I never got around to. There was one debut that a bunch of places said was one of the year’s biggest, most amazing books. I read it cover to cover and said, ‘This is not only really dumb, it’s also kind of a terrible book.’ It’s the one where the spin of the world slows down and everybody starts floating away. It was terrible sci­ence, and the story was terrible. In that case I came out and said, ‘Look, this book you’ve been hearing about non-stop lately, it’s really bad.’”


Cory Doctorow: Wicked Problems: Resilience Through Sensing

A problem is said to be ‘‘wicked’’ when the various parties engaged with it can’t even agree what the problem is, let alone the solution. As the name implies, wicked problems are hard to deal with.

More than a decade ago, the Federal Communica­tions Commission got its first inkling of a wicked problem on its horizon.

Here’s the problem: around the world, we chop up the electromagnetic spectrum into dedicated-use slices: this slice is just for TV broadcasts, that one is for air-traffic control, another is for cell phones or ambulance dispatch, and so on. Regulators like the FCC and international agencies like the International Telecommunications Union arrive at common pro­tocols dictating who can use which bands and under what circumstances, and device manufacturers make tools that attempt to follow these rules and conven­tions. For example, baby monitors are designed to emit and receive in a mixed use/unlicensed band that any device can use; air traffic control devices emit in their own exclusive bands, and so on.

Before a radio-capable device is offered for sale to the public, the FCC reviews its design and ensures that it only emits and receives in its proscribed frequencies, and certifies that it can’t be easily re­configured to send radio waves in unapproved bands or at unapproved power-levels that might interfere with other users. You don’t want to flick a switch on your baby-monitor and knock out your regional air-traffic control.

Until about a decade ago, it was pretty easy for the FCC to do this. The radiating and receiving characteristics of radios were determined by components like quartz crystals soldered onto their boards. A skilled technician could rework a taxi-radio to interfere with ambulance dispatch, sure, but that same technician could just build a jammer out of commonly available electronic parts. The FCC’s worry wasn’t intentional sabotage – they were worried about unintentional interference, the kind of thing that sometimes happened when hobbyists changed their computer’s clockspeeds and put their PCs in a state where the internal RF shielding was no longer adequate, turning them into inaudible, unsuspected sources of disruptive radio noise.

But then computers came to radio. Software-defined radios (SDRs) are just what they sound like: a way to repurpose readily available, commod­ity computing components, to turn them into flexible radio emitters and receivers. With powerful-enough SDRs, you could tune in every digital TV signal all at once, or all the AM and FM radio stations all at once, and record everything being transmitted to hard-drive. You could create a wifi card that could send and receive in all the wifi flavors: 802.11a, b, c, g, n, and so on, including new ones that haven’t been invented yet, just by changing the software you run on them. Best of all, SDRs were hitched to the price-performance curve of computers – because SDRs are computers – meaning that they’ll get more powerful and cheaper for the whole of the foreseeable future.

SDRs were great, and are only going to get better.

There was only one problem: they totally broke the FCC’s regulatory model. Sure, when the radio runs the manufacturer’s software it performs as specified. But if the hapless user installs the wrong software package, he could suddenly take down the neighbors’ TV. This is the FCC regula­tory nightmare scenario.

So ten years ago, the FCC held a ‘‘Notice of Inquiry,’’ asking whether it should pass a rule that said, ‘‘If you make a device capable of being a SDR, you have to design it so that it will only run programs that have been cryptographically signed by the FCC.’’ This is essentially the games console/iPhone model: neutering a general purpose computer so that it will only run code that has the approval of some distant authority.

The problems with this proposal are myriad. When the FCC talked about ‘‘devices capable of being SDRs’’ they were talking, fundamentally, about every single computer that would ever be made: desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, embedded car controllers, digital fart machines, smart thermostats, insulin pumps, seismic dampers for skyscrapers, and literally millions of other devices that were – or have since – been engulfed by the general-purpose computer.

Whether or not you like the idea of the FCC be­ing in charge of all the radios (some people make a strong case that this hasn’t been a very good idea on balance), you’d have to look very far to find someone who thought that the FCC should also be in charge of anti-lock braking systems, DVD players, and oil pipeline leak-sensors. Even if the FCC subsumed every other US federal agency, it would still not have enough personnel to review all the code that people wanted to run on all the devices that could be made into software defined radios.

Which brings me to the other problem with the FCC’s plan: it wouldn’t work. Virus writers would figure out how to promulgate malware that would turn millions of devices into RF-squealing noisemakers that got in the way of everything. Jailbreakers would unlock their devices to allow for non-radio-related functionality, but they’d also be able to do bad radio stuff. It was a terrible idea.

The thing is, SDRs really do threaten the way we do radio today. As someone who flies in airplanes and might need a trip in an ambulance someday, I’d love to know that our radio ecosystem is well regulated and unlikely to collapse due to tinkering, malicious acts, or incompetence.

When I was planning my response to the FCC NOI, I asked the smartest geeks I knew how they thought we should solve the problem. Most had no idea (a few were as alarmed to realize they had no idea as I was), but two of my favorite nerds came through with a brilliant solution: Limor ‘‘Lady Ada’’ Fried and Andrew ‘‘Bunnie’’ Huang. I cornered them both in San Diego at an O’Reilly Emerging Technologies conference and hit them up for answers.

Here’s where their reasoning took them: When the FCC’s stupid plan to sign all the code died, there would still be a problem with devices emitting RF that clobbered the devices you wanted to use. Programmers would make simple errors that would cascade into terrible radio interference, Users would do dumb, unanticipated things with the configurations of their devices. Nearby vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens would take hard knocks that dislodged their shielding and turned them into inaudibly high-pitched radio klaxons. Bad guys – malware authors, griefers, pranksters, and criminals – would deliberately reconfigure devices (theirs and yours, if they could get at them) to do bad radio stuff.

This means that, no matter what, we’ll all need some way to sense and triangulate upon bad radio emitters. The good news is, once we’re all carrying around lots of flexible, cheap SDRs, we’ll be able to do that sensing and triangulation – and the more SDRs we have, the more we’ll need them to sense the broken devices in their vicinity as part of normal troubleshooting. If my radios and your radios and Fred’s radios all agree that there’s Something Bad happening Over There, they can raise a flag for humans to deal with. They can tell their owners, or upload a log-entry to a public ledger of hotspots, or take some other step that will allow humans to intervene. Maybe that takes the form of you filling in a bug report with the FCC’s radio cops; maybe it means you look over in a corner of your kitchen to figure out why your microwave is messing up your house’s network.

This is a great answer, because it treats humans as sensors, not things to be sensed. It distributes intelligence and agency to the edges of the network. It is resilient and flexible, and responds well to intentional and accidental malfunctions.

A decade later, the FCC still hasn’t figured out what to do about SDRs, and the problem is spreading beyond radio waves.

The Volkswagen diesel scandal raises the pos­sibility that your car is spewing toxic gases at an unbelievable rate, polluting your neighbors’ air and blowing NOx directly into your kids’ faces when they help you scrape ice off the windows of your diesel on a February morning.

The reason the VWs were able to get away with the diesel scam for so long is that cars have become rolling computers that we put our bodies into. VW’s cars were programmed to detect when their emissions were being tested, and to change their emissions during those times. VW is almost certainly not the only manufacturer engaged in these sorts of shenanigans.

Even if we someday assure ourselves than no auto-manufacturer does this deliberately, it might still happen. Tomorrow’s rolling-computers-with-our-bodies-in-them will likely be governed by self-modifying ‘‘supervised machine learning algo­rithms’’ that are continuously seeking to find ways to improve their efficiency. Supervised machine learn­ing can be a powerful optimization technique, but it also has an unfortunate tendency to hit on strategies that replicate sleazy loophole-seeking. Tomorrow’s cars might randomly try varying emissions under different circumstances and naively stumble on the fact that when they dialed down emissions to a whisper under conditions that replicate emissions-tests, they got to pollute (and command spectacular gas-mileage) the rest of the time.

But if your car isn’t an emissions sensor now, it will (and should) be tomorrow. Just as you should have a CO detector in your kitchen and a radon detector in your basement, you should have emis­sions detectors around your car, telling you what’s coming out of your tailpipe and the tailpipes of the cars around you, because you don’t want to be breathing that stuff.

If all the cars on the road are sensing and emitting, then the cars that are doing something bad (because they’re running bad code, because they’re running malicious code, because they’re running cheating code, or because they have a mechanical failure) will be quickly spotted by lots of other cars, which can do something about it – rat them out to the cops, log them on a public registry, or something else that will help find and address the cars that’re doing something bad.

Sticking with cars for a moment: self-driving cars, or cars that assist their drivers by handling some of the tasks that we call ‘‘driving’’ today, will only become more common from now on. It’s important, for obvious reasons, that these cars have good software.

You have probably encountered ‘‘the trolley problem,’’ a classic thought experiment that takes on a new dimension with self-driving cars. The traditional problem asks you what a driver should do when faced with two maneuvers: either drive on and fatally crash into a trolley (or a schoolbus full of children) or swerve and kill a single innocent bystander. The self-driving car variant asks whether your car should be programmed to drive into the schoolbus (killing the kids but somehow sparing your life) or drive off a cliff, sparing the kids and killing you.

Latent in the self-driving-car/trolley problem is the presumption that your self-driving car will sometimes make maneuvers that you won’t be able to override.

We could accomplish this by regulating the software that’s allowed to run on an autonomous or semi-autonomous car, requiring that car computers be designed to reject code that isn’t signed by the Department of Transport. But that solution is just as brittle as the FCC’s notional radio-regulation regime. It doesn’t help you when a hobbyist hacks her car to do something unexpected, it doesn’t help you when the manufacturers make a mistake, and it won’t help if someone just swaps out the computer for any of the billions (!) of functionally equivalent computers already in the stream of commerce. It won’t help you when a traditional, non-autonomous car being driven by a dumb old human does some­thing unpredictable and fatal.

What’s more, designing autonomous cars to ignore their drivers creates the nightmarish pos­sibilities that someone could maliciously seize control over your car and cause it to do bad things (plowing into the schoolbus after you’ve decided to nobly drive off the cliff, for example) and that your car would be designed so that you have no way of overriding it. Designing a car that’s supposed to let third parties who are adverse to the passengers’ in­terests override those passengers’ dictates would be a terrifying gift to carjackers, rapists, and dictators.

It would not, however, stop self-driving cars from doing terrible things.

But self-driving cars are studded with sensor-packages that spend a lot of time sensing and evaluating their surroundings, including other cars. That means that if your car spots another car doing something weird/dangerous, it can log that fact, report it to the police, and/or get you out of that car’s way.

This is resilient. This lets people improve their cars’ programming, gives people overrides on their cars’ operation – and it still has a way to quickly detect and interdict actions (deliberate or accidental) that put other road-users at risk.

Your home is increasingly a computer you live inside, filled with other computers, from your doorbell, to your toothbrush, to your toilet. These devices are being turned into computers so that they can collectively sense and respond to their environ­ments (including you and your behaviors) and they have notoriously terrible security. From your medi­cal implants to your climate control, the Internet of Things is terribly insecure and not fit for human use.

The Internet of Things is wildly unlikely to have fewer code-defects that cause accidental trouble (or are sabotaged by malicious actors) than all our other computers, and the mischief they can make is really something to contemplate.

But your networked devices will be on a network together. They’ll be designed to try and sense and act together. One of the things they could – and should – sense is whether any of their colleagues is doing something unexpected and bad, and then let you know about it.

That’s the shape of the solution: the future of the Internet of Things should involve constant sensing by devices of other devices, looking for evidence of badness, making reports up the chain to humans or other authorities to do something about it.

The devil is in the details: we don’t want a system that makes it easy for your prankish neighbors to make the police think you’re harboring a massive
radio-disrupter, driving like a madman, or tailpipe-spewing more than the rest of the city combined. You don’t want your devices to be tricked into tripping spurious alarms every night at 2AM. We also need to have a robust debate about what kind of radio-energy, driving maneuvers, network traf­fic, and engine emissions are permissible, and who enforces the limits, and what the rule of law looks like for those guidelines.

Those questions are hard, but they’re not wicked. Once we agree that we’re fighting to make our environments smart enough to find the noisome and the noisy, the infected and the malicious (not to make our environments incapable of being all those things at all), then at least we have a fighting chance of solving our problems.


Beth Cato: Ripple Effects

Beth Cato was born Beth Davis on January 13, 1980 in Hanford CA. She graduated from high school early and began college at 16. At age 20 she married Navy sailor Jason Cato, and they traveled around the country, spending time in South Carolina and Washington state. After her husband left the Navy, they settled in Arizona.

Cato began publishing short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction starting around 2009. Her first novel, steampunk adventure The Clockwork Dagger, appeared in 2014, followed by sequel The Clockwork Crown (2015). Story The Deepest Poison and novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone, set in the same world, appeared in 2015 as well. Breath of Earth, first in a new alternate-history series, is forthcoming in August 2016.

Cato lives in Buckeye AZ with her husband and their son Nicholas.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘There was never a point in my life when I didn’t know science fiction. My brother was born in 1977, and was Star Wars obsessed from birth. My mom was pregnant with him when she saw the movie. The John Williams music came on and he kick-kick-kicked. That’s the story she always tells. When I was a baby my first words were ‘Mom’ and then ‘Star Wars’. My dad loves sci-fi, and corny sci-fi movies. I felt a heart pull to fantasy from early on. I was also very horse obsessed as a kid, and read every horse book in the library. I didn’t like She-Ra, but I wanted her horse. Horses are a good gate­way to fantasy, because you get into unicorns and pegasi and go from there.

‘‘I was about four years old when I started making my own books and il­lustrating them. I always wanted to grow up and be a writer, to see my name on the cover. As a teenager, I really fell into fantasy video games, especially Final Fantasy II. From there, I went head over heels in love with fantasy novels, especially when I found DragonLance. The Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman books were huge for me.

‘‘Throughout my teenage years, I wanted to grow up and write huge epic fantasy novels. As I got older I had a lot of pressure on me not to write fan­tasy. I have well-meaning members of my family who still aren’t comfortable with me writing about magic and things like that. I was told as a teenager that if I kept writing this stuff, it could commit me to Hell. My relatives were gen­uinely concerned. I had that pressure on me, and also had a college creative writing teacher who saw me reading a fantasy novel and sneered, ‘That’s not a real book.’ I didn’t have any confidence, so stopped reading genre fiction. I still read some historical fiction, mysteries, and literary fiction, but I read like ten books a year instead of 50 or 70. When I couldn’t say, ‘Hey, I love fantasy novels,’ I lost part of my identity. It took me a lot of years to finally realize, I wasn’t being true to myself if I ignored my love of fantasy. That’s part of me.”

*

‘‘I wanted to write something that would sell. I told her I had this idea about doing Murder on the Orient Express on an airship, with a healer as the heroine. My previous book was an urban fantasy superhero book with a healer. I love healers. I wanted to see if I could figure out a steampunk take on the premise, so I wrote The Clockwork Dagger from that idea.

‘‘My book isn’t about the petticoats and the nice clothes. It’s not the el­egant side of steampunk at all. It’s pretty gritty, set in a secondary world based on WWI-era Europe. It’s got disease and starvation. It’s a kingdom, Caskentia, that’s been experiencing intermittent war for 50 years. That has had devastating consequences, with a population that has lots of amputees and lots of lingering illnesses. The male population’s been decimated. There are also ripple effects, like archaic technology and a lack of education. It’s a population known for its illiteracy, and kind of mocked for that. I have a healer, Octavia, who is 22 years old. She was orphaned at age 12, and was ad­opted into a medicians’ academy, run by Miss Percival, whose healers serve on the frontline of the war.”

*

‘‘When creating a magic system for Clockwork Dagger, I wanted it to have realistic limits. I want­ed Octavia to be powerful, but not a demigod. To do that, I thought about roleplaying games again. You have your items, you use up your items, and they’re gone. If you need to use a medicinal herb in a battle and you don’t have one, you’re going to die. Even though Octavia has profound natu­ral healing powers, she has to rely on particular and rare herbs. With Caskentia’s situation and the academy’s situation, she’s basically limited to what she has in her satchel when she goes to her new source of employment in the first book. She is very efficient about how she uses herbs, but she still only has one jar of each. When that’s gone, she has no money, really. She can’t harvest most herbs where she’s going. She knows, ‘I need these supplies, or I can’t do my job when I get to my destination.’ She is in a country so devastated by war, and everyone is needy. There are refugees ev­erywhere. She runs genuine risks when she’s out in public. If people realize who she is and what she can do, they will come clamoring to her, say­ing ‘Heal me, heal me.’ And what can she do? It would be a mob scene.

‘‘The sequel Clockwork Crown is very much an action-adventure. I still have spies and espio­nage, but it’s more like a race. Pacing-wise it reads very fast. I’ve had people say, ‘I had to read it in two days – I couldn’t put it down.’ I have a lot of people ask me why it’s a duology, not a trilogy. That goes back to a conversation I had before the series even sold. I had Clockwork Dagger done and with my agent and we went back and forth for nine, ten months to revise it completely for submission to publishing houses. In the middle of that time, my agent came out for a conference in Scottsdale. We sat down for dinner one night, and she gave me her edits for Clockwork Dagger so we could do another round of revisions. We were talking about my ideas for other books in the se­ries if it actually sold. She said, ‘Those are good ideas. Is that enough for a trilogy?’ I said, ‘Huh. I’ll have to think about that.’ Fastforward ten months, and HarperVoyager wanted a two-book deal. I remembered what Rebecca told me months before, and thought, ‘I wonder if I could do this as a duology?’ I knew I wanted the books to take place over a couple of weeks. Time-wise it was very tight. I needed the novels to fit together like puzzle pieces, so I wrote an outline for the next book. I kept that in mind as I did the revisions on Clockwork Dagger, which were very extensive. I cut ten percent of the book. It was a scary revision letter. Diana Gill edited Clockwork Dagger, and now I have Kelly O’Connor, who was her assistant then.

*

“I look at the writing business as a big staircase. Everyone’s at a different place on the staircase. Every place you are is equally valid. I know that frustrated me to no end when I was starting out, because I wanted to be at the top of the staircase. But I love helping out other writers. Doing the Strolling with the Stars at a convention recently, I had a fantastic talk with these other ladies I was walking with. We were commiserating about re­jections, because one of them had gotten a rejec­tion that morning. No matter how much you have published, there are some stories you love, and some markets you want to get into so desperately, that the rejection is going to sting.”


Chuck Wendig: Evolution or Ruination

Chuck David Wendig was born April 22, 1976 and grew up in New Hope PA. He attended Queens University in Charlotte NC, where he studied English and religion, graduating in 1998, and ‘‘worked various bizarre day jobs, as many writers do’’ before becoming a full-time freelancer.

He published a story in 1997 as C.D. Wendig, and another in 2000 as C. David Wendig, but the bulk of his fiction publications date from 2009 and after. Some of his short work was collected in Irregular Creatures (2011). He worked extensively as a writer and developer for roleplaying games, contributing to many White Wolf projects from 2002 to 2011, most notably developing Hunter: The Vigil (2008).

Wendig’s first novel was zombie thriller Double Dead (2011), followed by sequel Bad Blood (2012). Blackbirds (2012) began the Miriam Black fantasy series, continuing with Mockingbird (2012), The Cormorant (2013), and The Hellsblood Bride (2015). The Heartland trilogy is Under the Empyrean Sky (2013), Blightborn (2014), and The Harvest (2015). The Blue Blazes (2013) is a standalone. Urban fantasy Unclean Spirits (2013) is first in the Gods & Monsters series. Zer0es (2015) is a thriller about hackers, with sequel Invasive forthcoming. YA novel Atlanta Burns and sequel Bait Dog appeared in 2015 as well.

Wendig’s tie-ins for the Spirit of the Century roleplaying game universe include Dinocalypse Now (2012) and Beyond Dinocalypse (2013). He wrote Star Wars: Aftermath (2015), and has more Star Wars work forthcoming.

With writing partner Lance Weiler, Wendig is a fellow of the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriter’s Lab (2010). They co-wrote short film Pandemic (2011). Wendig wrote interactive fiction Collapsus (2010) and contributed to David Cronenberg’s alternate reality game Body/Mind/Change (2013). Wendig often wrote essays about games and pop culture for The Escapist. He began his popular blog terribleminds.com in 2000, and still actively blogs there about writing and other matters. He has published numerous non-fiction books about writing, notably The Kick-Ass Writer (2013).

Wendig was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2013. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Michelle Kane Wendig (married 2009) and their son.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I’ve really only been writing books for a couple of years, though I have had the blog for a long time. But I have been, for a goodly por­tion of my existence, a full-time writer. I always wanted to write, and I turned it into a full-time gig. Early on I did a lot of writing for pen-and-paper roleplaying games, for a company called White Wolf Game Studio, which is no longer around. They were looking for writers, and I played their games at the time. I thought, ‘If I’m going to continue acting the fool and playing games, I’d better make money doing it.’ I answered their call for writers and wrote a pretentious essay for them, about how monster hunting is an internal and external locus of fear. White Wolf was a totally pretentious company, so they bought it.

‘‘My career there succeeded because a lot of the other freelance writers were simply not professional. They either didn’t do the job, or turned in stuff late. You’re supposed to be at least two out of three: fast, friendly, or good. I was fast and friendly – I can’t promise I was good. They kept hiring me. The difference between writing fiction and writ­ing games is that when you’re writing fiction, you’re entirely in your own world, and creating your own story. When you’re writing games, your job is to facilitate someone else telling their story. You giving them bones and pieces and Lego bricks to build with, not a full story. It did take a mental leap to move from games to novels, because there’s a difference between me helping you tell your story in a roleplaying game, and telling my own story. It took me a long time to get into that head space.”

*

‘‘It has long been publisher wisdom that you need social media and websites. I think increas­ingly, from what I’ve discussed with publishers, it seems they’re figuring out how that actually works. There is unlikely to be a direct correla­tion between social media and book sales. If ev­ery one of my followers bought my books, I’d be doing very, very, very well. (Though I’m happy where I’m at.) An online presence doesn’t hurt. Social media will sell tens of books. I can throw pebbles and ping people, and maybe 50 or 100 copies will move. But if you want to move the kind of copies that will make a publisher happy, the publisher has to do something. They’re the ones who make the big difference when it comes to publicity. There are certainly staggered ef­fects – if you tweet about a book, or blog about it, or do bookstore events, that stuff all adds up. You do need to throw pebbles sometimes. But if you do those things poorly, it doesn’t help. If you don’t like doing public events, don’t do them! As a simple, practical component, if publishers want authors to do marketing, they should prob­ably pay them for that. Part of the reason a writer partners with a publisher is to have them care about the book on a level that the author cannot. If a book is great, you can work on the writing, and a publisher can do what a publisher does.”

*

‘‘We see the Internet as this glorious thing where we’re all connected. That sounds like such an amazing positive, and in a lot of ways it is. But the thesis of Zer0es is this: Imagine you have a tunnel in your house leading to your neighbor’s house. You like your neighbor, so that’s amaz­ing. You can just duck in and hang out with your neighbor. But then your neighbor has tunnels out of her house that lead to her neighbors, and there are tunnels from their houses, and so on. Everybody is connected to everybody’s house… which means that anybody, at any given time, can come into your home. That’s the Internet. We are not really well protected yet. We keep bringing new things online. Smart appliances. Bosch in Germany is trying to lead the way in getting dishwashers and refrigerators online. Your thermostat is now online. People can hack insulin pumps, pacemakers, and other medical equipment, as we get closer to cybernetic im­plants. That’s not even getting into the informa­tion we give up voluntarily: Here’s the dinner I ate, here’s who I’m dating right now, here’s where I’m physically located. All this stuff creates a massive data collection. Everything’s connected, which is amazing and also terrifying. Doing all the research for Zer0es made me more paranoid.”

*

“We’re either moving toward evolution or the ruination of humanity. There’s an angel and a devil. Both of those are manifest in every single technical jump we make. Which one of these do we bet on? Are we going to destroy ourselves with technology, with a nuclear bomb? Or are we going to get nuclear energy? Even a knife can be used to feed my family, or to kill you and take your food. Even the simplest, tiniest technology has a massive polarizing effect on humanity.”

*

‘‘I’m writing the follow up to Zer0es, a novel called Invasive, that takes place in the same uni­verse. The protagonist is a futurist consulting for the FBI. Both books stand alone entirely. There’s one character that drifts over from Zer0es, but it’s an entirely different story. It’s not even about hacking this time. I’m writing comics now, too, and it’s very collaborative, but there’s no style guide. Screenplays are very calculated, every­thing is very designed, right down to the margins and the font size and type. It’s all one singular format. Comics have no format! It’s the Wild West of formats. I’ve seen scripts that are very detailed, and some that just tell the artist, ‘Make it look good.’ ”


Kameron Hurley: When the Writing Sprint Goes Wrong

Talk to any career writer, and you’ll hear a lot of anxious worry about sales, about events, about what to say or not to say online, about bad reviews or no reviews, about sexism and table placement and pub­lishers who don’t invest enough in their authors’ careers. You’ll hear about health concerns, about checks that don’t come on time or don’t come at all, and books that never earn out their small advances. You’ll hear about le­gal battles, about agents who don’t return e-mails, about careers that started, slowly petered out, and now no one wants to buy anything from that writer anymore.

It’s no wonder that so many writers come across as anxious and neurotic, and I’m no exception. This has been a good year for me when it comes to book contracts and sales, but it’s also the year I was sud­denly in the position of having to deliver three books on deadline while holding down an increasingly un­certain day job. While a lot of people with their eye on the pulse of the genre saw my career as a possible rising star, I saw it as a fluke hinging on the success of a single essay, that had to make the leap to the next big thing or it would tank hard. It’s all very well and good to have a big break, but it’s what you do with your big break that makes your career, not just the opportunity. I had to deliver exceptional work that kept wowing people. And every time I thought I’d cleared another hurdle – I published my first novel, I published a trilogy, the work was nominated for some awards, it won some awards, I got some better advances – the bar seemed to keep getting higher. The higher I got, the more aware I was of how far I’d be falling when it all got pulled out from under me.

The idea that everything could be over tomorrow, or that my career would be over with one bad book showing, is not a totally irrational fear. The truth is, I’m surrounded by writers whose careers faded in just such a manner. But living with, and trying to operate under, that reality was taking its toll. Since my first book came out in 2011, I have had two publishers sold, entered into my first (and ongoing) legal dispute with a publisher, had a series fail, had another series barely get picked up, had a series succeed, and signed something like six book contracts. My entire career is a gamble, and living with that gamble while being em­ployed at day jobs that were equally precarious and laid off their staff every four to six months meant I lived a never-ending rollercoaster of uncertainty.

It was no wonder that I teetered at the edge of sanity this summer, culminating in me running off to a cabin in the woods with no inter­net and a six pack of beer to just be alone with my essay collection so I could hit my deadline. I had to completely cut myself off from everything that put stress on me – my job, the publishing world, even my household. Everything had become a source of stress. I had panic attacks every time I went to see the doctor. I didn’t want to leave the house to go out. It had been months since my spouse and I had even gone out to the movies. When I wasn’t working, I was thinking about what a terrible person I was for not working. The work itself started to become a way for me to avoid the stress and anxiety, because I could pour it into the work. But the work was becoming relentless. It was eating my life.

I knew that if I broke, this would be the year that broke me. And it was, and I did.

I made an appointment to see a doctor about my anxiety, but had to wait three months for the appointment. When the day finally arrived, I drove around for an hour, trying to decide if I’d go to the doctor’s office or not. It was the day before my fifth book, Empire Ascendant, was to launch. I had something like 30 articles to write in 30 days as part of the promotional blog tour. I had another book due November first, and a story due for an anthology, and edits due on my essay collection, and as I drove around I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do it. Not any of it. I was going to have to cancel all the blog posts. Cancel the story. Push back the book. When my essay collection came back with editorial notes, I strongly considered just sending back the advance and canceling the whole thing.

And that scared me more than anything – to think that I was so far gone that I was willing to give up everything I’d spent my life trying to achieve, be­cause I just couldn’t manage it any longer, because the relief of getting out from under the work, and the expectations of the work, felt like freedom.

I parked outside the doctor’s office and realized that this terrible, ongoing stress and anxiety was go­ing to destroy everything I’d worked my entire life for. I needed help. If I didn’t get help, this whole precarious castle of a career I was trying to build from the ground up would tumble down around me.

So I got out of the car and I went to the doctor. And when I sat down and explained things to her, fear­ing she would tell me I just needed to exercise more and destress my life, I heard myself saying things out loud that sounded like a crazy person talking. Things like, ‘‘I was so anxious I couldn’t get on the plane to go to an event, so I had to cancel it. I had to cancel an article I was asked to do for a prestigious collection. I cry and shake and sob every time I get out of the doctor’s office. I never want to go out with people because I just want to yell at them. Going to the grocery store is exhausting because I want to scream at everyone. I exhaust myself just trying to keep this all tight inside of me, so no one knows how hard it is. But it takes everything I have to manage this, and it leaves me nothing for anything else. I have no other life but managing to seem sane. And I am so tired. It’s exhausting.’’

To my surprise, the doctor did not tell me I just needed to lose weight and join a gym and take a hot bath. She simply nodded sympatheti­cally and gave me a prescription for an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant combination. I always thought I’d feel guilt for taking medication, but the truth is I have always believed that medication is the last resort, and the reality is I’d been falling and falling and falling for a long time, and this was my last chance to salvage my life before everything fell apart.

It was my only hope. And I took it immediately, and gratefully.

Within a day of starting the medication, I was already climbing out of my panic-stricken fog. I saw how filthy my house was. I marveled at how I’d been able to stand the overflowing trashcan in my room. I stared out at the weed-choked gardens around my house and realized it looked like a mentally ill person lived there. I looked at my tattered clothes and tangled hair and wondered how on Earth I’d let things go this far. But when you have to spend all of your energy just trying to survive, you can let a lot of things slide. You have to.

So I took out the trash. I cleaned the bathroom. I went clothes shop­ping. I had my hair done. I washed the dogs. I weeded the gnome gar­den. I looked at my deadlines again and I pushed out the worst of them. I turned in my essay collection edits. I wrote 25 of the 30 scheduled blog posts for my blog tour, canceling just five of them instead of the whole lot.

I worked at getting better, instead of just surviving. By the time you read this, I’ll have been on that path for a few months. I have spent the last four years trying to forge a writing career from scratch, hoping that the next book will be the book that hits. But I couldn’t sprint for four years and maintain my health and sanity. I am here for the long haul. And like every writer in this for the long haul, I need to manage my writing, my health, and my sanity like I’m a going to be around for a long, long time.

I hope you will too.


Bradley P. Beaulieu: Common Ground

Bradley P. Beaulieu was born September 13, 1968 in Kenosha WI. He attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and earned a degree in computer science and engineering. After college he worked for ComEd in Northern Illinois, doing software configuration for a nuclear power plant simulator used for training purposes. He’s also worked as a software consultant, and is now a senior IT architect at IBM. He lives in Racine WI.

Beaulieu’s debut story ‘‘Secrets of the Shoeblack’’ appeared in 2003, and story ‘‘Flotsam’’ (2004) won second place in the Writers of the Future contest. He co-wrote novella Strata (2011) with Stephen Gaskell. Debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo appeared in 2011, beginning the Lays of Anuskaya epic fantasy sequence, which continued with The Straits of Galahesh (2012) and The Flames of Shadam Khoreh (2013). Arabian-nights inspired series The Song of Shattered Sands began with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (2015); With Blood Upon the Sand and A Veil of Spears are forthcoming. Beaulieu also runs the Speculate podcast.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Tolkien is my first and biggest influence. I don’t write like him – things have changed too much to try to emulate that style anymore – but the scope of his world, the depth of it, that’s what I love. I don’t like treading the same ground others have, though. I’ve always tried to push myself to cre­ate something new. Epic fantasy with a twist. On the flipside, if you try to make something that’s completely new, it can be hard for readers to relate. I try to create something that has echoes of our world, but that’s still fresh from the fantasy perspective. My first series, The Lays of Anuskaya, was heav­ily influenced by Muscovite Russia. The setting is completely different geographically – it’s secondary world – but it’s influenced by their arts and the cultural mindset. Once I decided on that approach, I tried to absorb a lot of the art, culture, food, weaponry, terminology, that sort of thing, beforehand. I’m no historian, but I tried to get enough of a flavor of that time period to do the world justice. I spend most of my time working on the history of the world, how the magic might have originated, and how people use it. In the books, one group, the Aramahn, are a peaceful people, generally. They have a certain type of magic that others don’t. Other people want to use their magic, to control it, and because the Aramahn are peaceful, they can be preyed upon, to a degree. That’s more interesting to me than the magic itself. That’s what I spend a lot of time on, understanding the bedrock of the story, so that by the time I’m into the writing itself, if I get lost, or I’m trying to push the boundaries of the story, all the work I did worldbuilding will guide me in finding something interesting to write about.

‘‘My new series, The Song of the Shattered Sands, has an Arabian Nights, Persian-esque feel to it. I’d been wanting to do this type of thing for so long that you can see it in the third book of my previous trilogy, which is set partially in a vast desert. I started playing with that idea there, and the Aramahn are based on a Persian culture as well. So it was a fairly small leap to get from that to the new series. The first book is Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, and it’s set, perhaps not surprisingly, in the city of Sharakhai, a city-state in this huge desert at the center of four powerful kingdoms that can’t easily trade, due to mountainous terrain. The easiest way to transport goods is through the desert. The 12 kings rose to power and now control trade and traffic. They’ve become extremely wealthy from it. They’re also very long lived because of a pact they made with the gods, and they’re ruthless about maintaining their control. They’ve made a lot of enemies along the way, which is always a rich bed for a story to grow in.”

*

‘‘Tim Powers insists, ‘I don’t say anything with my stories.’ I was listening to a panel with him and Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay took exception and said, ‘We can’t get away from that com­pletely, Tim.’ Tim agreed, to a degree. Even if you’re looking to explore a certain thing, like Paolo Bacigalupi does with climate change, you don’t have to make it didactic. You can make people think about a subject and look at the po­tential consequences, while telling a perfectly fine story. Saladin Ahmed is a fan of the Game of Thrones TV show, but after an episode with a rape, he criticized it, and later tweeted, ‘I can be a fan and still criticize.’ People are entitled to their opinions. They’re entitled to feel how they feel when they read something. We were talking about this on my podcast Speculate re­cently. When you write something, you owe it to yourself and your readers to educate yourself on what you’re writing about, whether that’s sex, race relations, different religions, whatever. At least you know going in what you chose to do and why you chose it. After that point, live with the consequences. Let people have their opin­ions. They have a right to say what they feel. It’s frustrating, sometimes, if that one element of a work becomes all that people talk about. That rape is now the entirety of Game of Thrones. I’m not saying everybody thinks that way, but it feels like it sometimes. People who haven’t seen the show have heard about the rape, and that’s all they know about it. I think that happens over and over again with fantasy, too.”

*

‘‘While working on book two of Shattered Sands, I’m working on a proposal for my next se­ries. As I said, I like to let stories germinate for years. Last year I started working on a new one I’m calling The False King. It’s going to involve genius loci and how they manifest in humans. The land has avatars –- the land and its magic manifests in some people, and vice versa. It’s sort of a feedback loop. For a long time that was a simple, symbiotic, healthful thing, but then one group learns to control the magic, to dev­astating effect. They create an empire using the ability to control the land and the magic within it, and eventually, old and new crash against one another in spectacular and unexpected ways. The only other project I have going is an upper middle grade novel called Winterwatch. It’s a Norse-inspired adventure for kids. That’s writ­ten and done, and I’m trying to find a home for it. It’s a whole new market, so it’s hard to shift. You have to break in all over again.

‘‘I run the Speculate podcast, at SpeculateSF.com. We specialize in fantasy and science fic­tion. My favorite part of the show is the trip­tychs, as we call them. Right now we’re going through The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. We do one episode where we review a piece of fic­tion, then we interview the author in another epi­sode, and then we talk about writing technique in the third. It’s a nice way for us to dig in, to get meaty about it. I’ve learned a lot from that. It gives me time to really break things apart and learn more.’’


Sean Williams: Hardwired

Sean Llewellyn Williams was born May 23, 1967 in Whyalla, South Australia, and grew up in South Australia and the Northern Territory. He focused more on music than writing when he was young, winning the Young Composer’s Award his final year at high school. He studied economics at university, but left in his third year, and went on to work as a sound engineer and in various other roles in the music industry while working toward writing for a living. He has been a full-time writer since 1990 (and making a living at it since 1999).

His first professional story sale was ‘‘Traffic’’ to Eidolon in 1992, the same year ‘‘Ghosts of the Fall’’ won third place in the Writers of the Future contest. He has published over 100 short stories and more than 40 books. His first novel was The Unknown Soldier (1995, with Shane Dix), which they later rewrote as book one in their Evergence series: The Prodigal Sun (1999), The Dying Light (2000), and A Dark Imbalance (2001). His first solo novel, Metal Fatigue, appeared in 1996, followed by The Resurrected Man (1998).

Other works include fantasy series Books of the Change: The Stone Mage & the Sea (2001), The Storm Weaver & the Sand (2002), and The Sky Warden & the Sun (2002); spin-off series Books of the Cataclysm: The Crooked Letter (2004), The Blood Debt (2005), The Hanging Mountains (20005), and The Devoured Earth (2006); the Orphans space opera series with Shane Dix: Echoes of Earth (2002), Orphans of Earth (2003), and Heirs of Earth (2004); the Geodesica space opera duology with Shane Dix: Ascent (2005) and Descent (2006); the Broken Land trilogy: The Changeling (2008), The Dust Devils (2008), and The Scarecrow (2009); the Astropolis space opera series: Saturn Returns (2007), novella Cenotaxis (2007), Earth Ascendant (2008), and The Grand Conjunction (2009); the Fixers middle-grade series: Castle of the Zombies (2010), Planet of the Cyborgs (2010), Cur se of the Vampire (2010), Invasion of the Freaks (2010); the Troubletwisters series with Garth Nix: Troubletwisters (2011; as The Magic in the US), The Monster (2012), The Mystery of the Golden Card (2013, as The Mystery in the US), and Missing, Presumed Evil (2014, as The Missing in the US); and the YA Twinmaker series: Jump (2013; as Twinmaker in the US), Crash (2014, as Crashland in the US), and Fall (2015, as Hollowgirl in the US).

He has written many Star Wars novels (some in collaboration with Shane Dix). Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008) was the first novelization of a computer game to debut at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Williams’s short fiction has been collected in Doorway to Eternity (1995), A View Before Dying (1998), New Adventures in Sci-Fi (1999), Light Bodies (2007), and Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams (2008). He’s won six Aurealis Awards, five Ditmar Awards, received the 2000 South Australia Great Award for Literature, and the 2009 Peter McNamara Award. He has taught at Clarion South, and is a judge for the Writers of the Future competition.

William lives in Adelaide, South Australia with his wife Amanda Nettelbeck.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The Twinmaker series was my first attempt at writing YA science fiction. My other YAs were fantasy. I approached Twinmaker as a series of science fiction books, while at the same time approaching it as a YA project. One of the things my agent, my editor, and I worked on very carefully was making sure they were first and foremost YA novels, without sacrificing the science fiction elements. When I first sold the series I joked that I’d do an edition for the science fiction market that would have all the research in it – all the longer infodumps would go in that version – and maybe we could do an e-book edition where you could toggle between the two. What I discovered when I finished the first draft was that there was nothing in those infodumps that wasn’t in the book anyway, simply shown rather than told. When you’re writing adult space opera, like my last series, Astropolis, there’s so much more space. I recently went back and looked at those books and thought, ‘These paragraphs are so long, there’s so much explanation.’ It was rewarding to find a different way to approach those kinds of challenges.

‘‘Twinmaker’s main character, Clair, is 17. Throughout the series there are multiple version of her, at different stages in her life. The third book’s dedicated to my niece, Jessica Claire Sopp, and the fictional Clair is a reference to her. So is Clair’s boyfriend, Jesse. Jessica Claire Sopp, Jesse and Clair – it’s a double nod to her. She’s 25 now, which always shocks me. Growing up she was such a confident, smart, knowing teenager. I thought, ‘If only all teenagers were like her, there probably wouldn’t be any YA novels. People would just do stuff and it would work out well.’ I’ve always admired her. Clair in the book isn’t based on my niece, but there were many times when I thought to myself, ‘How would Jessica handle this? How would she approach a problem that seems intractable? How would she try to communicate with people?’ Clair doesn’t always do things the way my niece does, but Jesse was very much in my mind.”

*

‘‘Teleportation as a metaphor for contemporary connectedness is hardwired into the story. For Clair, electronic connectedness to media is so greatly taken for granted that it’s a bit like us and electricity. The dangers of electricity and the consequences of being cut off from electricity are things we don’t even think about anymore, whereas our relationship with media and the Internet is the contemporary concern. Today’s generation is younger than the Internet. They take it for granted, while their parents and grandparents struggle with the whole thing and think maybe they should be concerned. We have social teething problems with connectedness now, rather than technical ones, and Clair’s generation has those same teething problems with matter transfer devices. The technology’s not entirely perfected, and inevitably, once everybody adopts a technology and it becomes commonplace, unintended problems arise. That’s the parallel with sexting and the embarrassing photos on Face-book our kids are dealing with today.”

*

‘‘I didn’t want to portray matter transmitter devices as automatically evil, but instead as a technology that might have some downsides, depending on how it’s used. I certainly didn’t want to portray the world as a dystopia, because it’s not, as Clair knows it. The world becomes a dystopia because of people. People always screw everything up, and of course there are thousands of things that can plausibly go wrong with matter transmitters. When you take someone completely apart and put them together again over and over again, how can that not go wrong at some point? I’ve always been in love with the idea of matter transmitters, partly because of that. The first story I wrote was a matter transmitter story. It didn’t sell, of course, because it was terrible, but one of my first professional sales a year or two later was about matter transmitters, my second novel was about matter transmitters too, and many of my space operas contain matter transmitters. I just did a PhD about matter transmitters! In all, I’ve written about 30 books that have some kind of teleportation in them, and over 40 short stories.”

*

‘‘I think that one of the functions of science fiction – obviously this is not a new thought – is to examine the present through metaphors of the future. I had a couple of agendas for Twinmaker. One was, I want people to write more matter transmitter stories. I really like matter transmitter stories, and I’m tired of being the only one writing them. The other thing is politics and our monetary system. I didn’t plan to get into that originally, but I’m glad I did. I want teenagers to read, say, Crashland, and come out thinking, ‘Maybe a world without presidents and kings would be a great thing.’ Where everybody can contribute to running the government, if they want to. Where you don’t need to pay for things with money, so you don’t need to have a job. Wouldn’t it be great to do whatever you wanted for your life and be guaranteed that you could live, without that stress about survival in your life? Wouldn’t that revolutionize humanity? I want some 17-year-old to read these books and be inspired, and say to themselves, ‘I’m going to bring this revolution to the world.’ That would be pretty awesome. Would we end up like the people in Iain Banks’s Culture novels? That would be the perfect science fiction world for me, although maybe there’s something even better we haven’t imagined yet. I think that inspiring people is at least as important a role for science fiction as providing cautionary tales.”

*

‘‘I think it’s one of my great curses that I want to try things I’ve never done before. When I look back on my career, I sold that first space opera series that I co-wrote with Shane Dix to Ginjer Buchanan at Ace, and they did really well – they were Locus bestsellers. If I hadn’t wanted to try more hardcore space opera, along with young adult fantasy, and Star Wars novels, and more – and if I hadn’t done those things all at once – maybe I’d be Al Reynolds or Charlie Stross. But I’m Sean Williams. My hundredth short story came out earlier this year. I have a great career, and I’m very grateful for it.’’


Cory Doctorow: The Internet Will Always Suck

Technologist Anil Dash has a law. ‘‘Three things never work: Voice chat, printers, and projectors.’’ It’s funny because it’s true. We’ve all struggled with getting a printer to work; we’ve all watched a presenter and an AV tech sweat over a projector in a room full of awkwardly shifting audience-members; we’ve all noted the perverse tendency of voice-over-IP calls to turn into slurred, flanged Dalek-speak just as the other person is getting to the point.

But why? For the same reason that the Internet will always suck: because we always use our vital technologies at the edge of their capabilities.

Take printers. My first printer was a teletype terminal, back in 1977. I had no screen; the printer was the only way that the computer I was using – a mainframe at a university, connected by a primitive modem called an acoustic coupler – could communicate with me. I’d type on a keyboard and the printer’s all upper-case daisy-wheel would slam itself against the roll of paper on the platen, through the thin, ink-saturated ribbon. Letters appeared, crisp and black and neat, on the paper, except when they didn’t – often the paper would jam, or the ribbon would fade, or some other electromechanical misfortune would manifest and all computing would halt.

Not long before this, teletype terminals were only to be found in computer labs, where skilled technicians would service and tune them. Moving them was a major undertaking. The portable teletype terminal was a major innovation, as it allowed computing to take place outside of the lab, from any location where an acoustic coupler could be mated with a telephone handset. The advantages of this were nothing short of spectacular: first for the scientific and commercial users of computers, who could do data-entry and lookup from remote locations, and then for people like me, a six-year-old kid in suburban Toronto, kindling a life-long love-affair with technology.

Portable teletypes were a dumb idea. The machines were balky and had a lot of moving parts and really required a lot of service. Locating a tele­type far from its maintenance staff was, to say the least, very optimtistic.

But teletypes improved, became more robust. The common mechanical and electric failure points were replaced with more robust components, and mass manufacturing drove prices down. As the price of teletypes plunged, the number of potential users for them grew, and the punish­ment they were expected to absorb also increased. Teletypes improved, but each improvement brought new demands, forming an equilibrium poised on the knife-edge of uselessness.

By 1979, we had a dot-matrix printer, another migrant from the lab and industry into the home. Balky, nearly useless, prone to jamming, but it could draw any shape you could create on the computer, not just the upper-case roman letters and a constrained number/punctuation set. It was just useful enough not to be totally useless. New generations of dot-matrix printers emerged and as they did, new applications appeared that pushed them right to their limits.

Years later, I found myself working in prepress network administration and systems integration. The clients I serviced had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on systems that replaced systems that had recently cost millions. The outgoing technology had worked reliably – it had been in existence long enough to be perfected, and for a praxis of maintenance and operation to mature in a cohort of skilled technicians. The stuff I was installing mostly didn’t work – it was nearly, but not quite, useless. We were pushing minicomputers to do the work of mainframes, con­sumer laser printers to do the work of industrial behemoths, operating systems from startups to manage operations that were once run on big iron whose millions of lines of code had been hand-wrought by IBM’s greatest software minds.

Within a few years, minicomputing and PCs had taken over prepress, growing more reliable and mature, and the instant it did, the customers of prepress bureaux – ad agencies, design shops – started to bring those systems in house, doing the work for themselves, tended by semi-skilled technicians who knew even less than I had.

This is the path and destiny of technology: its users and applica­tions are constrained by its cost and complexity. Cost and complexity are pushed relentlessly downward, and as they fall, there is always a new group of users who had a use for it that had always been too marginal, trivial, or weird to warrant the ex­pense and difficulty of using the tech, until now.

This is more true of communications technology than any other. Printing, voice, and projectors are only important insofar as they allow individuals and groups to connect.

The Internet is the nervous system that ties all these things together, the network-of-networks, designed to allow anyone to talk to anyone, using any protocol, without permission from anyone else.

Every time the Internet gets cheaper, or more pervasive, or faster, the applications that it is expected to bear increase in intensity, precarity and importance. As with printers – as with every technology – users and businesses push each innovation to the brink of uselessness, not because they want useless technology, but because something is usually better than nothing.

Why do people use crappy VoIP connections? Because in a world where telephone carriers still treat ‘‘long distance’’ as a premium prod­uct to be charged for by the second, the alternative for many users is no connection at all. Why do users try to download giant media files over cellular network connections on moving trains? Because the alternative isn’t waiting until you get to the office – it’s blowing a deadline and tanking the whole project.

The corallary of this: whatever improvements are made to the network will be swallowed by a tolerance for instability as an alternative to noth­ing at all. When advocates of network quality-of-service guarantees talk about the need to give telesurgeons highly reliable connections to the robots conducting surgery on the other side of the world, the point they miss is that as soon as telesurgery is a possibility, there will be ‘‘special circumstances’’ that require telesurgeons to conduct operations even when the reliable reserved lines aren’t available. If a child is pulled from the rubble of a quake in some rich, mediagenic city and the only orthopedic surgeon that can save him is on the other side of the world, she will inevitably end up operating Dr Robot over whatever crappy network connection the rescue crews can jury-rig in the wreckage.

The corollary of this: always assume that your users are in a zone of patchy coverage, far from technical assistance, working with larger files than they should, under tighter deadlines than is sane, without a place to recharge their battery. Don’t make your users load three screens to approve a process, and if you do, make sure that if one of those screens times out and has to be reloaded, it doesn’t start the process over. Assume every download will fail and need to be recovered midstream. Assume their IP addresses will change midstream as they hunt for a wifi network with three bars.

Assume that the Internet will always suck – because that’s the way we prefer it.


Elizabeth Hand: Sunlit Horror

Elizabeth Hand was born on March 29, 1957 in San Diego CA and grew up in New York State. She moved to Washington DC in 1975 to study drama at Catholic University. In 1979, during college, she began working at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum, and was an archival researcher there until 1986. During that time she was expelled from college, but returned after two years and received her degree in cultural anthropology in 1984. She became a full-time writer in 1987, publishing first story ‘‘Prince of Flowers’’ in 1988. She moved to Maine in 1988 with writer Richard Grant, whom she met at a writing workshop. She and Grant lived together for eight years, though they never married; they had two children, now adults.

Hand excels at supernatural horror, SF, fantasy, and mainstream fiction, and has produced notable work in all those genres. Debut novel Winterlong (1990) started an SF series that includes Aestival Tide (1992) and Icarus Descending (1993). Contemporary fantasy Waking the Moon (1994) won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award and a Mythopoeic Award. Science fantasy Glimmering appeared in 1997, contemporary fantasy Black Light in 1999, historical fantasy Mortal Love (2004), and time-slip novel Radiant Days in 2012. Shirley Jackson Award winner Generation Loss (2007) began the Cass Neary series of crime novels with some supernatural elements, which also includes Available Dark (2012) and the forthcoming Hard Light. Her latest book is short novel Wylding Hall.

Hand is adept at short fiction, with work appearing in major magazines and anthologies. The title story of collection Last Summer at Mars Hill (1998) won World Fantasy and Nebula Awards. Other collections include World Fantasy Award winner Bibliomancy (2003), Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories (2006), and Errantry (2012). Notable individual works include ‘‘The Boy in the Tree’’ (1989), ‘‘Snow on Sugar Mountain’’ (1991), ‘‘In the Month of Athyr’’ (1992), ‘‘The Erl-King’’ (1993), ‘‘Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol’’ (2000), and ‘‘The Least Trumps’’ (2002). ‘‘Cleopatra Brimstone’’ (2001) and ‘‘Pavane for a Prince of the Air’’ (2002) both won International Horror Guild Awards, ‘‘Echo’’ (2005) won a Nebula Award, novella Illyria (2007) won a World Fantasy Award, ‘‘The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon’’ (2010) was a World Fantasy Award winner and Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist, and ‘‘Near Zennor’’ (2012) was a World Fantasy Award finalist and won a Shirley Jackson Award.

She has also written movie and TV novelizations, including several Star Wars YA novels. She reviews books for numerous publications, including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. She divides her time between Maine and London with her partner, UK critic John Clute.


Excerpts from the interview:

“I had sev­eral unsuccessful attempts at writing Wylding Hall – it kept morphing from one thing to another. I was coming back from a flight, I was very jetlagged, and I’d been reading the umpteenth bio of Nick Drake on the plane over. I got back home to London and was lying in bed. I couldn’t sleep, and all of the sudden, I sort of heard all these voices telling this story, and thought, ‘Oh, I could do this like an imaginary biopic. Like a behind-the-music sort of thing.’

‘‘The story dovetails with the history of the band Fairport Convention, which had a tragic accident when they were all quite young – I think Richard Thompson was 17. They were coming back from a gig at two or three in the morning, and their van went off the road. Their drummer was killed, Thompson’s girlfriend was killed, and the others were very seriously injured, some of them in the hospital for months. A few months later their manager/producer, Joe Boyd, found a house in this place called Farley Chamberlayne, a little town in Herefordshire, and rented it for them for the summer. He said, ‘Look, just go here and recuperate from the trauma. Go see what happens.’ They wrote the material that became their groundbreaking album Liege & Lief. The characters in Wylding Hall are not in any way analogous to the members of Fairport Conven­tion, but I took their story as a jumping-off point: what would happen? They were all really young, and it was this charged moment in cultural history – read Electric Eden, Rob Young’s wonderful book about British folk music. His account begins in the late 19th century, and incorporates Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood – it ties in all of these elements of our culture, our speculative fiction culture, as well as film, like The Wicker Man. He has a century-long survey – longer than that – of this visionary music. Kind of like Greil Marcus’s book Mystery Train, about ‘the old, weird America.’ I read Rob Young’s book three times, and I thought, ‘I can use this material.’

‘‘What happens if you take these people, at this moment, put them in a big creepy house, and take an old creepy English folk song and bring it to life? Have something unresolved happen, with the story being retold when all of the people who were teenagers at the time are now middle-aged. You get that Rashomon effect – who do you believe? Who saw what when? Nobody quite saw the same thing.

‘‘I thought that was a cool way of telling a supernatural story. Sort of like, when you hear a ghost story when you’re a kid, at a campfire or a sleepover, and later you’re at someone else’s sleepover, and another kid tells the same story, but the details are different. The essence of the story is the same – something scary happens – but it morphs.

‘‘Just because you’re young and really stoned and in a weird creepy place, that doesn’t mean something really weird and creepy isn’t actually happening. I like the notion, too, that you don’t know you’ve seen a ghost until afterward. There’s an Edith Wharton story called ‘Afterward’. Somebody saw something, or they didn’t see something, and then later on they put it together and realized they had seen a ghost. I wanted to play with that, the idea of sunlit horror. Most of Wylding Hall takes place during the day.”

*

‘‘I wanted the story to drop off at the end. I know some readers had issues with that – they wanted more. But I wanted it to have an unre­solved ending – that was deliberate on my part. I wanted something that would have more of the impact of an actual lived experience. If you were to experience something strange like that, it would not be resolved. You would not know what hap­pened. It would not get tied up neatly, like, ‘Oh, it was a visitation from the goddess, or it was this ghost.’ You wouldn’t know what it was. In fiction we want things resolved, and I know it can be un­satisfying for things to be unresolved, but I think that there’s room for things being open-ended. I wanted, deliberately, at the end, to have every single person in the band think something differ­ent happened. That’s what they believed, and the reader can decide for herself what she thinks hap­pened.”

*

‘‘Hard Light is the third Cass Neary book, and I’ve just been contracted to do a fourth. Hard Light will be out early next year. It’s sort of a tran­sitional novel. The one that comes after it, the one I’m working on now, is called The Book of Lamps and Banners. That is a great title, I’ve got to say. I’ve had that arrow in my quiver for ten years, and I finally thought, ‘I know where I can use it.’

‘‘With Hard Light, I found that I really love writing these books. I wanted to keep within the noir mode, but I also wanted to draw in more of the subtle, underplayed, quasi-supernatural ele­ments. Although there’s not really a supernatural element in Hard Light, per se, there is a flicker of the supernatural in Generation Loss, that recurs in Available Dark, and in all of the books. With this one I was able to again make use of some – not necessarily British folklore, but British prehistory. It starts off in London, and then takes a U-turn and goes to West Penwith and Cornwall, which is a beautifully eerie, atmospheric place. With Hard Light, more than the previous two books, I was able to draw on earlier books like Waking the Moon, or Black Light, or Mortal Love – novels that are set in our world, with an eruption of the supernatural. The supernatural doesn’t quite erupt in the Cass books, but I want there to be a feeling that it could, that it’s right under the surface. That was really fun. I don’t know if ‘liberating’ is the right word, but it was enjoyable to write it and be able to incorporate some of that material.”



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