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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 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.”

Kameron Hurley:
On Career-Building: The Marathon in the Desert

I had a conversation with my spouse the other day about how ‘‘bor­ing’’ my life had become the last few years, ever since I got a real professional job and stopped moving house all the time. My life had become a long marathon in an exhausting desert, and could no longer be carved up into amusing scenes and anecdotes.

That meant that every interview I did, and every article I put together, I always ended up talking about things I’d done in my 20s. Sure: I did a lot of things in my 20s. I traveled around the world – from Alaska to South Africa – got a couple of academic degrees, nearly died from an immune disorder, churned through a number of pity-party relationships, and moved almost a dozen times. I had all sorts of great stories about breaking into cars, travel­ing across the Arctic Circle, boozing it up in Durban, and traveling across Southern Spain eating various meats drenched in gravy.

But what did I really have to talk about anymore, in my 30s? What the hell had I done with my 30s? Was I do­ing anything at all with my life worth talking about?

As I fiddled with my biography re­cently, trying to update the About page on my website, I realized what I’d been doing all this time:

I’d been building a career… and building a career isn’t nearly as exciting as traveling around the world or giving said world a play-by-play on theatric breakups.

Though I will often talk about the nuts and bolts of writing or pub­lishing here and elsewhere, I’ve been very careful not to talk much about my career as a marketing and advertising writer, and there are some aspects of the publishing business I don’t talk about either. In the early days of the Internet, I would wax on about client parties and road trips with my boss, but the days when nobody Googled you are long over. A big part of what I do every day is of interest to very few. Though I find e-mail subject lines, analytics, direct mail response rates, and social media strategies very interesting, there isn’t as much crossover between marketing nerds and writing nerds as you might think.

So I return to the wild days. The heady days. The days when I my biggest concern was how I was going to move all my books across continents and afford another bag of rice.

It’s not, of course, just a day job I’ve built during the last four or five years. It’s also a novel writing career, and I can’t talk too much about the intricacies of that, either – chats about agents and contract negotia­tions and career moves are all conversations I have with folks in closed spaces, whether that’s in e-mail or at a bar. As much as I’d like to be public about everything I do, the reality is that if you want to be a good business person, you need to pick and choose what you share publicly. It’s much easier and safer to rely on stories ten years old than to relate what was revealed at the office when a coworker sent out a ‘‘why I walked off the job today’’ rant (it was a good one!).

So here are these two big accomplishments in my life – and the lo­gistics of achieving and continuing to do better at those – that I’m not talking about. Paired with the fact that I’m not taking as many trips anymore because I’m paying off the student loans that allowed me to do all that traveling and have all those experiences – well, my life looks and feels and sounds really boring to me.

And boring, to me, sounds a lot like failure.

I think this is something a lot of folks go through when they hit the picket-fence-house-two-kids (or dogs, in my case) stage of their lives. It’s like, ‘‘OK! I won that round! I’m less poor and have a mortgage and wow my life is boring trying to pay all these medical bills, what the heck are we supposed to do now?’’

I have never worked longer, or harder, than I have worked these last five years. And all that work isn’t getting talked about. I have a day job; I’m writing three books this year; I’m writing stories for Patreon backers, columns like this one, stories for anthologies, and more. That doesn’t count any of the fiction-career-related things like guest blog posts, articles, re­sponding to email, reviewing and sign­ing contracts, and all that jazz. If you’re looking at the story of my life based on what I share publicly, it’s like I went straight from roaring 20’s to career nov­elist with nothing in between.

This silence about the work, and how a career is built today, does trouble me sometimes. We’re all in fear for our day jobs and speak as little about them as possible online. We’re also all at least a little careful in what we say about the novel writing world, too. It’s a small in­dustry, and you need to be strategic in your decisions about which bridges to burn and which to maintain.

That leaves us with this: we become part of perpetuating the ‘‘happily ever after’’ Disney movie problem. The sto­ry of who we are and how we got here stops once we become married (in the case of the movies) or career-minded adults (as we age out of having the free time to be ‘‘content creators’’). We find that we have to be smarter in how we comport ourselves, and we have less time in which to romp around on Reddit or comment on every single social media post. Yes, of course, there are exceptions, but I’ve certainly found that the busier I get, the less time I have for ruminating on my life choices, let alone the choices of others.

This break in the narrative of our lives can give a false impression of what it takes to not only build, but to sustain a career in publish­ing. New writers are still coming into the industry thinking that all you have to do is sell a short story, or a novel, and you’re set for life. People get very confused when I say that just because I sold a few books doesn’t mean I’ll sell any more. The market is fickle. The in­dustry is strange. Staying here once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of the first novel is much more difficult than we all pretend back here in the stands, carefully managing our public face as if everything is fine, while the rejections roll in and we write proposal after proposal in the hopes that something sticks.

There is no happily ever after in life, or in the career you’re building. There’s no gold medal. No end to the race. There is just the endless marathon through a desert teaming with snakes and jagged rocks and riddled with the bones of exhausted colleagues who have fallen along the way.

Oh, all right – I admit that sometimes there are oases. There’s cool, clear water. There’s the helping hand of an agent, or a publisher, or another writer. There’s a straight-to-development movie deal. There’s a passionate fan base that shows up at every book launch. But mostly there is the running, there is the desert. This desert marathon makes up the vast majority of our lives, yet its beginning marks the end of our most beloved and popular stories… even the ones we tell about ourselves.

And it’s time we started telling the whole story – snakes, bones, and all.

Sarah Monette: The Key to the Library

Sarah Monette was born Sarah Elizabeth Smith on November 25, 1974 in Oak Ridge TN, one of the ‘‘secret cities’’ of the Manhattan Project. She studied Classics, English, and French at Case Western Reserve University, graduating summa cum laude in 1996, and earned her Master’s in 1997 and her Ph.D. in English literature in 2004, both at the University of Wisconsin. Her specialty is Renaissance drama, and her dissertation was about revenge tragedies. She married Allen Monette in 1998.

Monette’s first story, ‘‘Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland’’ (2002), won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Alchemy, Strange Horizons, and various other magazines. Several stories about supernaturally-afflicted scholar Kyle Murchison Booth were collected in Shirley Jackson Award finalist The Bone Key (2007), and some non-Booth stories are gathered in Somewhere Beneath Those Waves (2011).

Monette’s first novel Mélusine (2005) was a Tiptree and Crawford nominee, and began fantasy series the Doctrine of Labyrinths, which continued in The Virtu (2006), The Mirador (2007), and Corambis (2009). She co-wrote the Iskryne fantasy novels A Companion to Wolves (2007) and The Tempering of Men (2011) with Elizabeth Bear; An Apprentice to Elves is forthcoming. She also contributed to the shared-world Shadow Unit project with Bear, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, and others.

Monette’s latest novel is The Goblin Emperor (2014), written under open pseudonym Katherine Addison, winner of the Locus Award for best fantasy novel and a finalist for Hugo, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards.

In 2006 and 2007, Monette was a finalist for the Campbell Award for best new writer. She lives near Madison WI.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘When I sold Melusine and The Virtu to Ace in 2004, they were both written already, and I had a draft of the third book in the series, The Mirador, too. Even though it was very rough, I had something. For the fourth book I had nothing. When I started Corambis after I finished The Mirador, I began absolutely from scratch. I had thought a little about the story, but there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know. The culture and the ethnicities, the war on the continent we don’t see, all of that had to be figured out. I learned in 2007 that I can’t write a book in a year. I did so – technically – because I turned in a manuscript on time, but I was very late with the revisions. The draft was so wrong. I have friends who can produce work quickly, and I admire them deeply, but I’m not one of them – something I did not know before I tried to do it. The first three books came out one per year, then there was a year gap, and Corambis was published in 2009 – during the publishing crash. Hooray.

‘‘Ace took The Virtu out of print two months before Corambis was published, which in a four-book series is… not good. My sales numbers were bad. Ace’s marketing department decided not to put anything on the book to indicate that it was part of a series. That wasn’t my editor’s decision, that was the marketing department, trying to rig a game that just doesn’t rig very well. Nobody knows why people buy books. Down at the bottom of it, nobody knows, so they guess. Ace said, ‘Your numbers are terrible, and we don’t really want another book from you.’ That was bad.

‘‘Tor came along very quickly and said, ‘We want to publish your next book, but we can’t do it under your name because the bookstore comput­ers will pull up your old numbers and everyone will say, ‘‘Why would we buy a book that doesn’t sell?’’ We can’t publish you without a pseud­onym.’ Completely standard move – they were saying it to a lot of people. But largely because of the Internet, it doesn’t have to be a secret. I said, ‘Yes, a pseudonym is fine, as long as I can be open about it. I do have a fan base and they need to be able to find my next book.’ I think it’s kind of funny that by the time The Goblin Emperor got published, I don’t think the pseudonym thing was that important anymore. Borders is gone and Barnes & Noble is struggling, and there’s a different model of how publishers sell books to booksellers now. For the name itself, Katherine is a family name on my mother’s side, and Addison was my grandfather’s middle name on my father’s side.

‘‘I wrote The Goblin Emperor quite a long time ago at this point. I started it either while I was working on Mirador or writing Corambis, because when you have something you need to do, your brain goes, ‘What about this other thing? Let’s do that instead.’ I was thinking about elves – the tall, pale, Tolkien elves, probably because of the Lord of the Rings movies. I was thinking about the way they seem so anchored in the kind of world Tolkien made for them. I thought, ‘Why can’t elves have airships? Why can’t I put these things I like together?’ I started think­ing about elves and airships, and because I am at heart a horror writer, I thought of the Hindenburg crash. Elves and airships and a terrible flam­ing accident that kills the emperor.”


‘‘When I finish drafts I give them to my hus­band. He’s right there, I trust his judgment, and he’s very good at seeing practical plot holes that I miss. I was like, ‘This is really boring. Nothing happens in this book.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. You’re fine.’ I think it’s true that if you are interested in what you’re writing, your readers will be inter­ested. If you’re excited about the story, that comes through somehow. I was writing this complicated, dark, plot-filled, twisty series of books starting with Melusine, and they got more and more in­volved the farther I went. The Goblin Emperor was a clean slate for me. I have been trying my entire career as a writer to figure out how to write high fantasy – Tolkien calls it ‘secondary world fantasy’ – without a quest. There has to be a way, and we have to find it. We have to find another kind of story to tell if we want secondary world fantasy to survive. The Doctrine of Labyrinths se­ries was an attempt to do that as well. My charac­ters spend all their time going back and forth and up and down, so I didn’t really get away from the travel narrative part. The Goblin Emperor is my second attempt. It’s all interior, no quest.

‘‘One of the really popular high fantasy plots is the scullery boy who turns out to be a king. It’s The Sword in the Stone, and The Belgariad, and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. I was interested in what happens after the scullery boy is crowned king. The idea mutated a little, but it’s still the core: a boy who has no experience of court is now the emperor and has to deal. In this book, if you make your decisions with compassion and ethics, things will work out. That is completely utopian, and I know it, but I wanted it to work that way so badly. I think that’s what a lot of people who like the book are responding to. It’s the opposite of what most fantasy is doing right now, where bad behavior is rewarded and the morally ambiguous – or, you know, chaotic neutral – is considered more interesting and therefore better than boring virtue. And that’s a position we can get away with in fic­tion, but is actually really dysfunctional once you start thinking about applying it to real life. I say that not to slam books with morally ambiguous characters – my house is nothing but glass – but because if that’s all you ever do, it’s as limiting as insisting on only writing about characters who are ‘‘good.’’ It’s not that Maia isn’t angry or fright­ened. He worries about turning into the thing he hates. He asks himself over and over again, ‘How do I not become my father? How do I survive by not being Setheris, not being abusive, not being cold and angry all the time?’ And corrupt, because all of the emperors have been corrupt. Maia has a religious faith. I’m an atheist, but he has belief. I don’t get religion, but I respect the fact that for a lot of people it is part of their ethical system.”


‘‘The last book in the current series with Eliza­beth Bear, An Apprentice to Elves, is coming out this year. We don’t have anything else planned to­gether because she’s very busy and I’ve been as useful as a screen door on a submarine. I have a couple of things that seem like they’re going to turn into something. I finished a short story the other day, which is the first time that’s happened since 2010, maybe earlier. Doing revision work on An Apprentice to Elves has been helpful because both Bear and Beth have said, ‘This is great, the work you’ve done is great. You’re still at the top of your game.’ That is very reassuring. It’s something to lean on even while getting the words out of my head is hard right now. It’s better than it was be­cause there are actually words.’’

Daniel José Older: Crossroads

Daniel José Older was born January 18, 1980 in Cambridge MA, and grew up in Boston. After high school he moved to California, where he worked as a bike messenger and waiter, ‘‘living the romantic writer life.’’ He attended Hampshire College, and then settled in Brooklyn NY. He is a composer and musician, has an MFA, and worked as a paramedic for ten years before becoming a full-time writer.

Some of his stories were collected in Salsa Nocturna (2012). First novel Half-Resurrection Blues (2015) is an adult fantasy, and began the Bone Street Rumba series, which will continue in the forthcoming Midnight Taxi Tango (2016). Shadowshaper (2015) is YA fantasy. He guest edited the June 2014 issue of Crossed Genres and co-edited Locus and World Fantasy Award-nominated anthology Long Hidden (2014) with Rose Fox.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘During my last semester in college, I took an EMT course, because I knew I needed a job. I wanted to write, and writing was a natural thing for me, but I needed more information to know what I was writing about, and to make sense of the world. I was very radicalized in college, and thinking deeply about who I was in the world. I wanted to be able to make sense of all that on the page. I ended up in Brooklyn, where I took a paramedic course. Most people don’t know those are two different things. Paramedic is a much more advanced level of intervention than EMT. It’s a year of training to be a medic, and you do very in-depth work on pharmaceuticals and physiology. You’re doing in the field what they’ll do in the ER – in that first half hour of many medical situations, you’re just doing it. A lot of times we’d get some­one who was maybe 20 minutes from death, and bring them in, and they’d be fine. Doctors would be like, ‘Why are they here?’ It’s hilarious how deeply the field is misunderstood in a lot of ways. Paramedics aren’t doctors, but they function as street doctors, essentially.”


‘‘I was a Star Wars kid. I always loved genre, Lord of the Rings, Dune, Foundation, a lot of the classics. I got away from it as I was growing up. I came back in my twenties, to Harry Potter and Octavia Butler, which is where I’m situated in the world as far as being a writer. In 2008, around the end of the Harry Potter series, I was reading the last couple of books. I read all of Octavia’s work, too. I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. I read a Walter Mosely book, a collection of stories about Easy Rawlins. I always say that the combination of those books is what made me a writer, along with Stephen King’s On Writing, which is fantastic.”


‘‘I wasn’t very conscious of the urban fantasy genre when I started Shadowshaper. I was just writing magic in a city. I’ve always lived in a city, and it felt true. I think we miss opportunities when we ignore power, or fudge the complexities of power. A city is a power-laden place, and it’s so obvious to me because I have that perspective. I’ve lived in it, I’ve worked as an organizer, and as a paramedic. I’ve seen the city from all of these perspectives that are complicated by power. A city is a crossroads – that’s something that always rings true to me, because there are all these different forces smashing into each other. Forces of race and gender and class, history and present and future and industry. All of these things are happening at a crossroads. Not to mention people at a crossroads, personalities, cultures, and change. It’s very dynamic.”


‘‘I think science fiction is changing quickly. I don’t want people to think that means we can stop trying to make change, or feel self gratified, like, ‘We did it!’ But you can tell it’s changing because people who are on the way out are upset and uncomfortable, because they’ve always been catered to. People have always fallen over themselves to move out of their way, and people are not doing it anymore, and it’s uncomfortable for them. Like when kids are spoiled and someone takes their toys away or reminds them they live in real­ity, and they’re like, ‘What?’ The whole concept of sci-fi or fantasy not being a political or imperial endeavor is absurd – it always has been.

‘‘Most people who aren’t straight white men read fantasy and science fic­tion with certain protectors up, knowing we’re about to cringe. Let’s talk about the word ‘offended,’ because that’s the word people use to describe what’s going on. ‘Offended’ doesn’t have shit to do with it. I don’t get of­fended. I don’t want my people to be erased! I don’t want my people to be demonized. Especially kids. They internalize that, and feel like they can’t be protagonists. The people who are really offended are white men who sud­denly see themselves as not centralized, and they’re offended. Be offended, that’s totally cool. I’m not okay with the people who are always erased being erased again and again. It has nothing to do with me being offended. Where does that leave us? Yes, we are seeing a renaissance of counter-narratives in fantasy and sci-fi, and that needs to happen, it’s good for literature. On top of being bad for humanity, that old shit is cliché. White savior narratives are cliché. They’re boring. It wasn’t good writing in the ‘50s, and it’s not good writing today. I think that needs to be said. It’s a craft failure on top of a hu­man failure.”

‘‘I’m halfway through writing the third Bone Street Rumba book. I’m re­ally enjoying writing it. It’s a war book. I love epic fantasy war books. I’m interested in the idea of recontextualizing the epic fantasy war book into an urban setting. I love the Malazan books. I love George R.R. Martin’s work. They’re total pleasure reading for me. Half-Resurrection Blues is in that very specific noir genre. Everything in that series is. It gets more expansive as it goes out. It’s funny, I wrote Salsa Nocturna first – it’s my first book that came out, and it’s a collection of short stories – but they take place after Midnight Taxi Tango, which is book two of the Bone Street Rumba series. Midnight Taxi Tango ends on the day that Salsa Nocturna begins. The world expands as it goes. That’s one of the things I love. I didn’t totally set out to do this, but it happened naturally.”

‘‘Half-Resurrection Blues was optioned by Anika Noni Rose. She’s just creatively brilliant and really smart; we always have fascinating conversa­tions about literature and the series itself and all this stuff. I’m really excited to see what happens. Shadowshaper is exploding right now. I’m taking that all in at this moment. The New York Times just reviewed it. It’s so amazing to me to be sitting right here, just breathing. I started the book in 2009. It was rejected by 40 agents. Of course, it’s been edited since, but it was always the book it was, on some level, and Sierra was certainly always who she was. I don’t say that with any bitterness. I found an amazing agent. I love where I am. I love the journey that it has taken to get there. I really became a writer, writing this book. Cheryl Klein, my editor at Scholastic, has taught me so much in that process. Now I knock out at least the basic gist of the book more or less in the first draft. But Shadowshaper, I had it in cartoon outline across my office wall for years. I would chop it up, put it over here. I have pictures of it, but it would be amazing to do a stop motion of every time it changed. I moved apartments and had to put it back up. I used sticky notes. It was a six and a half year process. There was a point where I knew the book would be out in the world, but it didn’t feel real. Edits become simple when you feel you’re in another round of infinite edits. Now it was like, you have to make the decision: ‘This is what it’s going to be.’ That was hard. I was so used to changing shit and trying different things. I love the book. I can really say I stand by every single word. I don’t know if everyone feels that way about their work.”

Cory Doctorow:
What If People Were Sensors, Not Things to be Sensed?

The Internet of Things is starting to emerge. You can tell it’s just starting, because we’re still using the ungainly name ‘‘Internet of Things.’’ It’s one of those coinages that tells you that we don’t know what a thing is or what it’s for, like ‘‘horseless carriage’’ or ‘‘3D printer.’’

But there’s one thing we do know about the IoT: it involves a lot of sensing. The IoT is what hap­pens when our computers shrink down so small that they are woven into the fabric of every gadget, tool and technology in our lives, imbuing physical objects with the power to sense, report on their environments, and act on them, using computer-actuated motors, switches, levers, and pumps.

It’s a kind of Jetsonian vision, where your table notices that you’re hungry and clatters over to you, having conferred with your kitchen and your supermax pedometer to figure out the intersection of what you’re willing to eat, what’s available to eat, and what you should be eating. The startups in IoT-land are thinking about how to make our built environments ‘‘smart,’’ how to integrate your body, and how to combine those two phenomena to turn the world around you into a nearly magical place, a high-tech version of the ‘‘Be Our Guest’’ set-piece from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

The IoT’s would-be architects share a common belief: that ‘‘people’’ are just another kind of ‘‘thing,’’ and that you serve people by acting on their behalf, by anticipating them, asking their personal networks for important facts about them, and then adapting the world around them in realtime to provide the magic. The presumption about the thing-ness of humans is particularly visible in the IoT human-control applications: anti-theft systems, school behavior monitors, police bodycams, parolee ankle-cuffs, employee productivity trackers, prison monitoring systems, War on Terror cameras, sniffers, and mass-surveillance snoops. The Internet of Incarcer­ated Things is in an adversarial relationship with its users – they are its enemies, and it is charged with the task of keeping them from outwitting it.

Whatever your feelings are about the justice of treating employees, school children, travellers, or even prisoners as things to be controlled by semi-autonomous computers, it’s a good bet that you would feel more dignified and secure if you got to boss your Internet of Things around, rather than vice-versa.

Even in the Internet of Allegedly Free Things, humans and comput­ers are adversaries. Medical telemetry and implant companies envision selling shockingly intimate facts about your body’s internal workings to data-mining services and insurers. Car companies see their vehicles as platforms for gathering data on your driving, on traffic patterns, and on the sense-able facts of the streets you pass by, to sell it to, you guessed it, data-mining companies and insurers. John Deere has argued that its tractors are copyrighted works, and that it, not the farmers, own the soil-density data collected by the torque sensors on the wheels (it sells this data to Monsanto, which charges farmers for the right to know about it).

Today, venture capitalists are uninterested in IoT pitches unless the gadget comes with an ‘‘ecosystem’’ – an app store and a closed channel of add-ons and parts that it can set margins on, to guarantee ongoing revenue streams. These devices are inheriting the worst parts of the inkjet printer and video-game console market, where consumables, software, and replacement parts all come at a high markup set by the original manu­facturer, which uses technological countermeasures to keep third parties from invading its territory, which is your wallet.

But imagine a different kind of IoT: an IoT where human beings are first class citizens, ahead of the ‘‘things’’ doing the sensing and the things being sensed.

For example: IoT vendors envision many ‘‘location based’’ businesses. The devices around you sense when you need a pee, or a coffee, or a new set of tires, and they will advertise those services to you, along with spe­cial offers that you’ll gain access to by giving them even more intimate knowledge of your life and times.

People today may be indifferent to surveil­lance, but very few welcome it. And whatever today’s attitudes are about privacy, the general population will only be more hostile to surveil­lance tomorrow. We haven’t reached peak sur­veillance, not by a long shot, but we’ve sure as hell reached peak indifference to surveillance.

Imagine a location service that sold itself on the fact that your personal information was securely contained in its environs, used by you and you alone. You could have devices on your person that used their sensors to know things about you – when you last ate, what your dining preferences are, what your blood-sugar is, and so on, but these devices would have no truck with the cloud, and they would not deliver that information to anyone else for analysis.

Instead, as you passed through space, stores, toilets, restaurants, grocers and other entities would emit information about their offerings. These would be seen and analyzed by your personal network, and it would decide, on your behalf, whether to tell you about them, based on the preferences you’ve set, or that it’s learned from you. The fact that you’ve been shown some piece of information would be between you and the computers you own, and – again – shared with no one.

It’s the opposite of the Facebook model, where Facebook owns all the feeds and decides which one you’re allowed to see. This is more like the email model, where your systems download all the messages someone wants to send you, then use your own filters and rules to decide which ones to discard and which ones to display.

This gets even more crucial in the medical sensing and implant world. Today, med-tech companies talk about the kinds of important facts we’ll be able to learn about rare diseases once we can collect longitudinal, deep, granular data on the biological histories of people who contract them. If you get a weird cancer, the doctor will be able to contact the company that sold you the gadget and trawl through your health history to rewind your body through its whole past, looking for clues about how you ended up with your current problems.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about huge repositories of sensitive data, it’s that they leak. From Sony to the Office of Personnel Management to Hacking Team to Ashley Madison, they all leak eventually. Putting a bunch of valuable stuff in one place makes it an irresistible target – and then there’s the obvious question: why would all that data need to be held by the manufacturer of your implant, anyway? Why shouldn’t it live in your implant, or your personal network?

If you actually own your data – if the cloud is nothing but an inert repository of encrypted backups that are indistinguishable from noise without your personal keys – good things start to happen. As privacy concerns mount, the amount of data your med-tech devices can gather will be hampered by the combination of market forces (people being unwill­ing to share data with their gadgets because they don’t want their blood sugar and sex-lives shared with insurance companies and data-brokers) and liability fears (insurance companies refusing to underwrite policies for companies who’ve voluntarily assumed the liability associated with owning all that potentially compromising data on all those potential plaintiffs in a class-action suit).

But once the data is yours and yours alone – once the spyware becomes myware – then these considerations are substantially improved. The pri­vacy concerns over other people knowing intimate facts about your life don’t come into play when it’s you knowing facts about your life.

When you get sick, then you choose to let your doctor see your medical history and draw infer­ences from it – even authorize her to share them with research colleagues trying to cure whatever ails you. You are in charge, not a manufacturer that sees you as a thing first and a person second.

From theme-parks to smart cities to med-tech to workplace efficiency tuning, treating humans as something more than a data-point, but as some­thing with native intelligence, personal worth, and dignity, opens up whole worlds of transforma­tional, world-changing possibilities.

Neal Stephenson: Exponential Crisis

Neal Town Stephenson was born October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade MD, and grew up in Iowa. In 1981 he graduated from Boston University with a BA in geography and a minor in physics.

His first novel The Big U, a college thriller with SF elements, appeared in 1984, followed by Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller (1988). The successful and influential Snow Crash (1992) is a cyberpunk classic, and made him a star in the SF world. He wrote two thrillers in collaboration with his uncle, George Jewsbury, under the name Stephen Bury: Interface (1994) and Cobweb (1996). Concurrently he produced the Hugo and Locus Award-winning novel The Diamond Age (1995). In 1999 he broke new ground with Locus Award winner Cryptonomicon, his massive, Pynchonesque novel of history and cryptography, which proved quite popular with SF fans. Later that year he published In the Beginning… Was the Command Line, an often humorous non-fiction commentary on computers and culture that originally appeared in shortened form on the Internet. He contributed articles to Wired, and some of his non-fiction was collected in Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing (2012).

Stephenson spent seven years at work on his vast three-volume Baroque Cycle, which includes the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004), and The System of the World (2004). These books, set in the 17th century and featuring historical characters like Leibniz and Newton along with the ancestors of characters from Cryptonomicon, pushed the boundaries of SF. Anathem (2008) is another long, complex book, and more purely SF; it was a finalist for Clarke, Hugo, and Campbell Memorial Awards. Reamde (2011) is a thriller with cutting-edge technological elements. Newest novel Seveneves (2014) is a saga that spans millennia, about a space ark launched in the midst of a global catastrophe. Fall, featuring some characters from Reamde, is forthcoming.

With Greg Bear and other writers he collaborated on serialized historical adventure The Mongoliad (2010-2012). He founded Project Hieroglyph – an initiative devoted to writing plausible, optimistic, near-future SF – in partnership with Arizona State University in 2011. The project’s first publication was anthology Hieroglyph, edited by Kathryn Cramer & Ed Finn (2014).

Stephenson lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife (married 1985).

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The idea for the disaster in Seveneves came from some research on the problem of debris in low earth orbit, suggesting that when two of these objects happen to hit each other, because they’re moving at incredibly high relative velocities, they tend to shatter and make more fragments. It runs the risk of becoming an exponential phenomenon, putting so much debris in lower orbit, that we couldn’t use space any­more. I don’t remember where this research was published, but it was an idea that was in the air. It got a little re-boost coincidentally while I was working on the book. The Chinese military tested an anti-satellite device that went up and struck some target and shattered it into a large number of fragments. The test worked, but it reactivated everyone’s fears about that problem. I’d been thinking it would be interesting to write a Space Ark book. When I was a kid, I read one through the book­mobile in Ames IA – I don’t remember the title or the author, but it made a big impression on me.

‘‘The overall trend of big space stories, at least in media, is very ship-centric, very interstellar-centric. It’s always about the ship, and about traveling to other solar systems.

‘‘I went to the Starship Century conference in San Diego. Freeman Dyson, Robert Zubrin, and Geoff Landis – the whole gang was there. There was a pretty exhaustive survey of all of the ideas people have talk­ed about for going to another star system. Barring some huge advance that we can’t anticipate, you end up sending incredibly tiny payloads quickly, or reasonable sized payloads very, very slowly. The most con­vincing case was from Freeman Dyson, who has this idea to plant seeds in the iceballs in the Oort cloud. They would grow trees that would have leaves with transparent greenhouse structures that would collect enough light to warm the inside of the iceball. Over time, these trees could gradually propagate through the Oort cloud until it reached half­way to the next star. At some point, you can reach other stars that way. It’s very slow, and way beyond the scale we normally think about. It’s an amazing idea. I was starting to think that maybe the ship-centric model was limiting, that it might be interesting to see what can be produced near Earth, inside the solar system, with no warp drive, no teleportation, and no faster than light travel – something more about habitats and big machines, and less about ships.”


‘‘If a global catastrophe happens too fast, you don’t have time to build an ark, and if it comes too slowly, you’ll probably solve the problem. How short term is short term enough to make people take decisive action? How does our per­ception of risk skew the decisions we make? 9/11 definitely galvanized people, and that was a spec­tacular event: it was foreign people hurting us at home with fire. Everything about the attack was calculated to have that effect. Climate change is the thing that seems impossible to get people to take concerted action on. In Seveneves I had to fine-tune my end-of-the-world scenario so there was time.”

‘‘I always had a clear idea in my head of what the end state was – what the civilization would look like fully formed. That’s the payoff for ev­erything that happens in the first part of the book. Just to end the book with the council of the Seven Eves would be unsatisfying, because you’d want to know what happened next. I wanted to do enough storytelling within the future universe to depict the world, to show all of the different races and subraces that had emerged, and to give some sense of the machinery of how everything works. That was the structure we ended up with – when I say ‘we’ I mean me and my editor Jennifer Brehl.

‘‘People aren’t really that different in that fu­ture. This isn’t a social science fiction novel in the sense of describing huge shifts in what it means to be human. To me that felt like a reasonable way to do it. The nature of these people and their situ­ation is, they’re always looking back to the civi­lization that was before, and that was destroyed. They’re looking back to their respective Eves as the benchmarks for what their roles are, and who they are, and how they should behave. For most of the 5,000-year span that the book covers, they’re trying to stay alive, living in very desper­ate conditions, and don’t have a lot of decisions to make. Being on a submarine when the depth charges are going off all around you means that not a lot of social development is going to hap­pen. It’s only in the final thousand years or so that they’re starting to build comfortable space habi­tats where they can have trees and running water, the things that we’re all accustomed to now. It’s a society still shaped by the privations that people went through, and it’s backward-looking in a way.”


‘‘We came out with the Hieroglyph anthology last year, and got some interesting stories out of it. It was fascinating to see what different writ­ers chose to do with the basic game plan that we handed to them. Project Hiergolyph emerged from a spontaneous conversation with Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, a few years ago. We were talking about the utility, or lack thereof, of science fiction. The question was, ‘Is science fiction useful in any sense be­yond just inspiring people to become scientists? Does it shape the direction of technology? Should it try to do so?’ So he, tongue in cheek, issued a challenge, saying the engineers are ready to go, they’ve got tools and are ready to get busy, and they just need science fiction writers to get off their butts and give them some optimistic vi­sions to work towards. We’re really talking about media science fiction more than written science fiction. With written science fiction there’s a tre­mendous volume of material coming out and a lot of diversity in that material. It’s pointless to make blanket statements, like, you know, ‘Everything’s dystopian.’ It’s not really true. But depictions of the future in movies and video games and TV are almost uniformly dystopian and dark. It would be nice to break that habit.”


“There’s something about the na­ture of argumentation on social media that is a hundred times worse. Just today, I read an article about how the English accent and the American accent have evolved in different ways since Co­lonial times, which is all based on hard research by PhD linguists. I’m sure it’s all footnoted. Im­mediately below it there were comments from all these people saying, ‘I don’t agree with that. I think it happened because of this.’ Throwing in their anecdotes, and their personal theories they just made up 30 seconds ago. That’s not helpful.

‘‘I only use social media to announce things. I do outgoing social media; I don’t do incoming social media. It’s the best compromise I can come up with. It’s sort of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ kind of thing. I saw some post last year about Seveneves long before it came out, someone was saying, ‘HarperCollins says they’re publishing this book by Neal Stephenson next year. He’s not mentioning it on social media, so there must be a problem he’s not telling us about.’ The best compromise I could come up with was to do the occasional outgoing post to let people know what’s going on, and not get hung up on trying to read and respond in detail. Really smart engineers are tweaking those social media sys­tems, creating this compulsion to respond, and you have to be aware of that fact. The bad and the good are so mixed up with each other. I can check Facebook and see brilliant posts, hilarious witti­cisms, and important news from my friends, and it’s mixed up with just the most ridiculous bits of fluff and personality quizzes.”

Wesley Chu: Timelines

Wesley Chu was born September 23, 1976 as 朱恆昱 in Taipei on the island of Taiwan. His family relocated to Nebraska in 1982, and soon moved to Chicago IL. He studied computer science at the University of Illinois, graduating with a management information systems degree and working for a consulting company and dotcoms before spending ten years working on banking systems. An accomplished gymnast and martial artist, Chu has also worked as a stuntman and actor, appearing in films and on television. He became a full-time writer in 2014.

Debut novel The Lives of Tao appeared in 2013, launching the Tao series of humorous SF novels, which includes The Deaths of Tao (2013) and The Rebirths of Tao (2015). The Io spin-off series is forthcoming, with The Rise of Io scheduled for 2016. His latest novel is Time Salvager (2015), first in a planned time-travel trilogy. Time Salvager was optioned for film before it was even published, with director Michael Bay attached.

Chu was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2014, and just won the award this year. He lives in Chicago with his wife, attorney Paula Kim.

Excerpts from the interview:

“I’m the most independent of my siblings, and I’m also the black sheep. Not in terms of behavior, but I’ll do things they don’t want me to do. My parents have been trying to convince me to not do anything artistic or athletic for the past 30 years. It was all about being a good student and not getting distracted by the ‘other’ stuff. Other stuff being just about everything else. Except violin. That was okay.”


“I didn’t know much about the industry until I got published – I didn’t know there were conventions, and I didn’t know what Worldcon was. I knew what a Hugo Award was, but I didn’t know how you won one. This whole thing was new to me until Chicon in 2012. I was that guy in a cabin in the woods for a long time – I was this ghost hovering around cafés in Chicago. I’d pick a new café to write in every month, so for one month I’d sit in that café. All the wait­resses would think I was weird. I’d order a bottomless cup of coffee and abuse the shit out of that policy. Writing groups never worked for me, partly because it’s hard to workshop a novel. It was a pretty lonely existence until Worldcon happened. It never occurred to me to look online, and there are communities online. At Worldcon I introduced myself to everybody. It worked.”

“I have a thing where I dream up my plots. It’s cool. I’ve dreamed up four of my plots now. For The Lives of Tao it wasn’t so much a dream but the alarm clock ringing. I was doing the whole rolling around in bed thing. Basically I imagined that the alarm clock was an alien telling me to wake up and work out. From there I slowly ex­panded the concept. The Lives of Tao is a late coming-of-age story. It won the Alex Award, which is for adult fiction that’s good for teens. It’s about a guy who finds himself and reaches his potential, but not until he’s 30 years old. At the time I was very unhappy with my career. It was one of those corporate jobs where I was in a cu­bicle. The walls were carpeted red and blue. I was very unhappy with what I was doing with my life. That’s why I started writing. I followed the same journey that Roen Tan does. By writing his story, I found myself. I’m basically Roen Tan. It’s prob­ably the most honest story I’ll ever write. I even have a lot of his mannerisms. When my dad first read the story, he was like, ‘It’s a good story, son. He’s likeable but not too likeable. Was he modeled after you?’ Roen’s a little whiny at first.

“The trilogy follows Tao, the alien, and Roen and his family. I showed my dad everything. I said, ‘Edit this!’ The one thing I lost out on when I didn’t become an English major is that my gram­mar is terrible. I was a technical guy. I never had to write a full sentence! My dad went through sever­al rounds of edits for me. I really appreciated that. Now I realize I’ve gotta pay people to do those things. My wife will divorce me if I make her do another round of editing. She’s like, ‘I work 50-60 hours a week.’ An attorney does a lot of editing anyway. The last thing she wants to do is edit my shit.”


Time Salvager is set in the 26th century. Man­kind has colonized the solar system, but we’re slowly running out of resources. They use time travelers called ‘chronmen.’ These travelers go back to what they call ‘dead end’ timelines, to moments before a disaster happens. They grab the resources, power sources, relics, and then they jump back out. The explosion happens, and it cov­ers their tracks. The most important rule is to not affect the timeline. The problem with this job is that these chronmen see and experience the last terrible moments of all those victims, and they can’t do anything about it. Because of this, a lot of them suffer from PTSD, or they’re suicidal, or they’re alcoholics. We follow a chronman named James Griffin-Mars. He’s been doing this work for many years now. On one of his important jobs, he meets a scientist named Elise Kim. In a mo­ment of weakness he pulls her with him back to the present. Because of that, he’s broken the most important time law, and now he’s hunted by the very agency he works for.

Time Salvager came out in July. As I grew the story, I threw in a few more elements that were near and dear to me. A lot of that is environmen­talism. The socialist (I’m really not a socialist) in me comes out a little, writing about corporatism and how it affects modern society. Regardless of time traveling and those things, at the core of the book, it’s a love story. (Tao is a love story too, just in the bromance way.) Russ read Time Salvager and said, ‘I hadn’t figured you out until I read this. You’re a romance writer masquerading as a sci­ence fiction author.’ The relationship is where the magic happens.

Time Salvager was going to be a standalone. I sold it off a partial. I realized about two-thirds of the way through that I wasn’t going to finish the story in one book, so it became a duology. Then I started writing Time Siege, and realized two-thirds of the way through that I still wasn’t going to fin­ish, so now it’s a trilogy. We’ll see what happens. I have a particular story to tell. I have character arcs I want to follow through.”


“A lot of authors aren’t aware of their own bi­ases until someone points them out. I wrote The Lives of Tao with a male gaze. I didn’t know any better. Part of it was the character, but all my life I’ve read books with a male gaze. I wrote The Lives of Tao eight years ago. I got dinged for its treatment of women, and I was rightfully dinged for it. I made an effort to be more balanced in the second and third books. I’ve been complimented for that, too. The reader will react the way they want to react. It’s a problem if the author isn’t aware of it: ‘My story’s all dudes! I didn’t real­ize!’ Or if there are two-dimensional women who are just there to be harassed, or to look like su­perheroes in spandex. It’s still the author’s deci­sion. Sometimes we’re too close to the story or not aware of the things we’re doing. I think part of it is natural maturing. I view my characters in a more complex way now. The world they operate in is not the world I lived in during my twenties. The relationships are a lot more complex. I definitely use a lot more women in prominent leadership roles now. The world has changed.”

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