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Eric Flint: Remaking History

Eric Flint was born February 6, 1947 in Burbank CA. He spent five years in France, returning to the US at age ten and spending his teenage years near Fresno CA. He attended UCLA, graduating with a BA in 1968. He spent three years there pursuing a PhD in history, with a focus on southern Africa, before leaving academia to work as a political activist and labor organizer in the Socialist Workers Party. He supported himself as a truck driver and longshoreman until becoming a machinist’s apprentice in 1974. He spent most of his career as a machinist, though he also worked as a meatpacker, auto worker, and glassblower, among other things, and lived all over the country. He did some writing during those years, but became serious about it around 1992. In 1999, he left factory work and became a full-time writer.

Flint’s first publication of genre interest was ‘‘Entropy, and the Strangler’’ (1993). Debut novel Mother of Demons appeared in 1997, beginning a long association with Baen Books. His next publications were collaborations with David Drake, in the Belisarius series: An Oblique Approach (1998), In the Heart of Darkness (1998), Destiny’s Shield (1999), Fortune’s Stroke (2000), The Tide of Victory (2001), and The Dance of Time (2006).

Flint considered those first four collaborations his ‘‘apprenticeship’’ as a writer, and in 1999 wrote a proposal for 1632, intended to be a standalone about a small West Virginia town transported to 17th-century Germany. The novel was published in 2000 to great success, and became the start of a series written with various collaborators, and eventually a shared world with contributions from dozens of authors. Sequel 1633 was co-written with David Weber and appeared in 2002, followed by anthology Ring of Fire (2004). The series has continued with over 20 novels and several anthologies. Flint’s collaborators on the novels include Andrew Dennis, Virginia DeMarce, Walter H. Hunt, Charles E. Gannon, and more. 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught is out this January, and several more titles are forthcoming. Flint is publisher of The Grantville Gazette, a magazine of fiction set in the 1632 world, which began publishing sporadically in 2003 and became bi-monthly in 2007; it is currently edited by Walt Boyes. Since 2004 several Grantville Gazette anthologies have appeared, edited by Flint.

Other series include Rats, Bats and Vats, with Dave Freer, beginning with the eponymous title in 2000; the Joe’s World series, starting with The Philosophical Strangler (2001) and continuing with Forward the Mage (2002, with Richard Roach); the Pyramid series with Dave Freer, Pyramid Scheme (2001) and Pyramid Power (2007); the Heirs of Alexandria series with Mercedes Lackey & Dave Freer, starting with The Shadow of the Lion (2002); the Jao Empire series with K.D. Wentworth, beginning with The Course of Empire (2003); the Boundary series with Ryk E. Spoor, launched with Boundary (2006); several Honor Harrington novels with creator David Weber, beginning with Crown of Slaves (2003); alternate history duology 1812: The Rivers of War (2005) and 1824: The Arkansas War (2006). Standalone novels include The Tyrant (2002, with David Drake) and Slow Train to Arcturus (2008, with Dave Freer). Flint wrote The Wizard of Karres (2004) with Dave Freer & Mercedes Lackey, and The Sorceress of Karres (2010) with Freer, both sequels to James M. Schmitz’s The Witches of Karres (1949).

Some of Flint’s short work is collected in Worlds (2009), and The Aethers of Mars (2014) has a novella by Flint and a sequel by Charles E. Gannon. In addition to editing various 1632 anthologies, Flint also edited Jim Baen’s Universe for four years and edited The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe (2007) and The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe #2 (2008, with Mike Resnick). Other anthologies include The World Turned Upside Down (2008, with Jim Baen & David Drake), The Dragon Done It (2008, with Mike Resnick), and When Diplomacy Fails (2008, with Mike Resnick).

Flint lives in Indiana with his wife, Lucille; they have a daughter and two grandchildren.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The characters in my 1632 series are a bit idealized. The people rise to the occasion – not unrealistically, but within the parameters of the way they behave, they do as well as they could. That’s the kind of story I wanted to tell. These modern people are transported back to an era that had Galileo, Pascal, and Descartes – they’re not the smartest people around by a long shot. They just have a different view of the world. I mostly wrote that book because I felt that Americans tend to take democracy and the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity for granted. I wanted to take a group of people raised that way, and put them into the worst war in European history, and see how it all unfolded. The irony is, it was intended to be a standalone novel. I had no intention of turning it into a series. Baen published the first one, 1632, in February of 2000. Because of the kind of book it is, I was trying to put together all kinds of facts I just didn’t have access to, so I kind of wrote the whole book in public. Baen has a very active website, so I told people there I needed help, and a whole bunch of people pitched in. I posted chapters as I wrote them, and people said, ‘Well, that wouldn’t work.’ For instance, in the first shooting scene in the farmhouse, I had the doctor do something medically that would really have been stupid, and I had the chief Navy corpsman in Hawaii saying, ‘No! You can’t do that.’ I got a lot of help from fans writing it. The town of Grantville is very closely modeled on the actual town of Mannington. There are rules that I require everyone to follow when they write in the series. One of them is that it if it wasn’t in the town of Mannington in 2000, you can’t have it in Grantville. The one cheat I had to do was that I needed a power plant. The power plant is about 15 miles away, in a town called Granttown, so I just sorta moved it over. That’s the only real cheat.”


‘‘I’ve been a full-time author since the end of 1999. I never had a job that lasted more than five years. I thought about it the other day. Of course, I’m 69, so I don’t know that anybody would want to hire me as a machinist. If I wanted to go back to work in a factory, I couldn’t put together a résumé because most of the places I’ve worked have gone out of business. It’s ironic for me, being a writer, but that’s partly because I stayed on topic. Jim Baen once said to me, ‘You know, I’m surprised. For a commie, you haven’t made any career mistakes.’ I said, ‘Jim, it’s because I’m never caught off-guard when capitalism lives down to my expectations.’ I’ll give him credit: he laughed. He thought that was funny. I’ve had a very successful career.

‘‘Andre Norton’s prose is pedestrian, and I hear her rough drafts were even worse, and she needed a lot of editing. Nevertheless, she had one of the most successful careers in the field, because she was a terrific storyteller. I like to think that I write better than that, but, like her, I’m first and foremost a storyteller. I can teach the craft of writing, but what I cannot do is tell someone how to make a good story. I have a good friend, a photographer, and he used to be a professional for years. It’s not his eyesight – he’s got terrible eyesight. It’s just that he can look at something, and I’ll see exactly the same thing he’s looking at, but he can see that if you framed it this way, it’d be a great picture. I can’t see the frame. That’s what a storyteller does, is frame a sequence of events in such a way that there’s a point to it, it makes sense, and you go somewhere with it. I don’t know how you teach that.”


‘‘I majored in history. I’m not surprised most people find it deadly dull, but if you get a good history teacher, you’ll get really engrossed in it. Quite a few history teachers, both high school and college, quietly have their students read my novels, because they say the history is pretty damn good. I have written some pure alternate histories: 1812: The Rivers of War and 1824: The Arkansas War, set in American history in the Jacksonian period. Some little change happens and the rest cascades from that. By the time you get to the early 19th century, the people are close enough to a modern consciousness that you can deal with it. It’s really hard to tell the stories I want to tell if you’re writ­ing about people farther back. Without a modern viewpoint to mix into it, the characters can seem pretty repellent.”


‘‘I’ve got an advantage, too. I spent about 25 years of my life as a political organizer in the trade unions. It’s a skill set. I’m very good at getting people to work together. I’ve been told this for years – people enjoy working on this series. They don’t feel I’m squishing them or sitting on them. On the other hand, I do direct. There are times I’ll say, ‘No, we’re not going to go in that direction, and here’s why.’ But the other thing, too, is that whenever anyone comes up with an idea I haven’t thought of, I always try to incorporate it. That’s how history really works. Weird shit happens that nobody foresaw. That’s the way it goes. What happens with a long-running series is it tends to get predictable. Just because if you only have one or two authors, they’re going to get into a fixed mindset. I find this so far works, and we’re 16 years into it. This thing is now 21 times longer than Lord of the Rings. The 1632 series is probably a third of what I write. Alternate history is not more than half. There’s all this other stuff I do. I’ll get frustrated going into a bookstore, and they’ll have all this 1632 and 1633 books. Yeah, that’s fine, but I do a lot of other stuff.”


‘‘I tell people that the single stupidest comment about writing is the one that writers all love, which is Samuel Johnson’s ‘Only a blockhead would write for any other reason than money.’ All writers love that because it’s your armor against the wicked publish­ers. But the truth is that you have to be a complete blockhead to think that writing is a smart way to make a living. If it works, though – which it usually doesn’t – it’s a good way to make a living, because you don’t have a boss. I can honestly work anywhere there’s electricity, but if you’re looking for any kind of job that’s going to pay reliably, it’s hard. Authors in my position get a little grumpy sometimes. I don’t, because I don’t have the temperament for it, but I know some of them do, because they feel underap­preciated. They typically sell very well but they rarely get nominated for awards. I don’t care myself, but some people do. Why care? Other jobs you don’t get awards either. You go to work and do the job.”


Pat Cadigan: The Future We Promised You

Patricia Oren Kearney was born September 10, 1953 in Schenectady NY and grew up in Fitchburg MA. She attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she studied theater, and the University of Kansas, where she studied SF writing under James Gunn, graduating in 1975. She met first husband Rufus Cadigan at UMass-Amherst; they transferred to the University of Kansas in Lawrence where she completed her undergraduate degree while he did his doctorate in theatre. While there, she joined the concom for MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City MO, held in 1976, where she was guest liaison for writer guest of honor Robert A. Heinlein. She worked at the Nickelodeon Graphics design firm for writer Tom Reamy until his death in 1977, then went to Hallmark cards as a writer and editor for a decade. She co-edited Chacal and Shayol with second husband Arnie Fenner; the latter ran from 1977-85, and they won a World Fantasy Award for their work in 1981. They have a son, Rob Fenner. In 1996, she moved to the UK, where she still lives with third husband Chris Fowler (not the author). In late 2014 she became a British citizen.

Her first SF story was ‘‘Death from Exposure’’ (1978). Notable stories include Theodore Sturgeon Memorial and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Pretty Boy Crossover’’ (1986); Hugo, World Fantasy, and Nebula Award nominee ‘‘Angel’’ (1987); Hugo and Nebula Award nominee ‘‘Fool to Believe’’ (1990); Nebula Award finalist ‘‘The Power and the Passion’’ (1990); Hugo Award finalists ‘‘Dispatches from the Revolution’’ (1991) and ‘‘True Faces’’ (1992); British Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘Chalk’’ (2013); and BSFA finalist ‘‘The Emperor’s New Reality’’ (1997). ‘‘Lost Girls’’ (1993), ‘‘Paris in June’’ (1994), and ‘‘Datableed’’ (1998) were all longlisted for the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award; “Paris in June” was also a Sturgeon Award finalist. “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” (2012) won a Hugo Award and the Seiun Award. Some of her short work has been collected in Bram Stoker Award-winner Patterns: Stories (1989), Home by the Sea (1992), and Dirty Work: Stories (1993). She also contributed six stories to Letters from Home (1991), which also included six stories each from Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy. She edited The Ultimate Cyberpunk (2002).

Cadigan’s debut novel was Mindplayers (1987), a Philip K. Dick Award finalist. Second novel Synners (1991) was a Nebula Award finalist, won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and established her as a major cyberpunk writer. Fools (1992) also won the Clarke Award. Her Doré Konstantin series includes Tea from an Empty Cup (1998) and Dervish is Digital (2000). She has also written film novelizations and tie-in work. Cadigan was a guest of honor at MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 Worldcon, where she hosted the Hugo Awards ceremony with help from writer Jan Siegel.

She was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and had successful surgery. The cancer recurred in 2014, however, and she is still undergoing treatment. She writes about her experiences online at Ceci N’est Pas Une Blog: Dispatches from Cancerland,


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I have only written things I was really interested in. When I was first writing cyberpunk, I wasn’t saying ‘I’m going to write cyberpunk now,’ I was just writing. So I keep on writing. Story first. Serve the story. It’s not so much that I’ve shifted. Society’s shifted. Is Cyberpunk dead? No. I told some people who were reading Synners for the first time, recently, ‘Well, there’s actually not as much science fiction in it as there used to be.’ People always say, ‘Where’s my flying car?’ That’s not the future we promised you. We promised you a dark technological dystopia. How do you like it?

‘‘We’ve given up a lot of privacy for the sake of convenience. I have seen the world’s population go from five-and-a-half billion to six billion to seven billion. I was alive when there were only three billion people. There are too many people to keep track of, personally, but people don’t have as much privacy as they used to. Take loyalty cards for example. They offer rewards and discounts for brand loyalty, but they also keep track of your purchases. I laugh at anyone who complains about privacy but has a Facebook account. Some people’s Facebook pages should be called ‘’ because they post photos of themselves on vacation while they’re away from home. And then there’s identity theft. If you steal my identity, though, all you’re going to get are my bill collectors. They’re going to come for you, pal. In any case, I don’t put anything online that I wouldn’t put on a sheet and hang on the front of my house. That’s just common sense. But for so many people, things seem less real when they’re just typing it on a screen.”


‘‘2013 was an up and down year. My mother died at the end of 2012. I was really busy, I got nominated for a Hugo Award, and then I got cancer. I can’t remember if the nomination came first – it was a roller coaster. Then the cancer was gone, it was cured, and I won a Hugo. I started working on a novel based on ‘The Girl-Thing who Went Out for Sushi’. The working title is See You When You Get There. I started it right after my mother died, because she wasn’t calling me on the phone anymore. I just put my head down, and when I looked up, two or three months later, I had 80,000 words. Not all of them were great, but a lot of them were worth keeping. I had a direction and the book was taking shape. Before that I’d taken on a lot of short fiction projects because I could complete them in a reasonable period of time between phone calls from my mother. I had taken on so many stories that I had to stop work on the novel for a year, because I had so many short fiction things to write. I didn’t mind. I came up in short fiction. I love short fiction, and I am who I am because I wrote short fiction for Ellen Datlow. She made me – she and Gardner Dozois. They’re very close friends of mine, but they’re consummate professionals. Ellen taught me how to cut ruthlessly and serve only the story, rather than indulge myself. Gardner taught me better sentence arrangement, how to make words more powerful. I write all the words, and I leave it there, and then I come back and cut needless words, and feel like a genius.”


‘‘One of the main characters in See You When You Get There, a woman named Zee, had a pen pal on Earth back when she was a kid. Because of the time difference, they couldn’t just talk back and forth – there are no ansibles. She did a virtual visit where she piggybacked on someone on Earth so she could go through a day with him. It felt so rushed to her – you’re up in the morning, and before you’re even awake you’re expected to go to school, and just as things are getting started with school you have to stop and eat lunch, wolf down your food and go back to classes, and then just when you should be entering the most productive part of the day, you have to rush home, rush through your leisure time, and then you have to go to bed. You’re barely in bed when you have to get up and do the whole thing again. The weeks go fast too: ‘Every time you turn around, it’s Tuesday.’ She feels like time is rushing past, but she can’t get anything done. There’s no escape from Tuesday. It keeps coming until it Tuesdays you to death. The kids on Earth have to do their visits to the outer planets in installments, because everything takes such a long time there, and they can’t do it all at once. They have to do it in half-day installments, and not as much happens.”


‘‘If you brought in someone from 1700 right now, they’d probably end up over in the corner, curled up in the fetal position, because of the noise and the crowding. Something happened with my husband, before we were married. When he came from London and stayed with us in Kansas for six months, one day he took to his bed. I said, ‘Are you okay?’ He said, ‘The sky is so big and it’s always pressing down on me.’ I read up on that. When settlers moved West, they’d have this thing where they felt they were going to fall into the sky. That was it: from horizon to horizon, there was just sky. My husband and I are both urban creatures. We live in Zone 3 in London, not in the center but not the suburbs. When we got together I said, ‘Just don’t tell me that you want to move out of London into the middle of nowhere.’ He said, ‘Oh, no.’”


‘‘I’ve been keeping a cancer blog, which anyone can access. I started it as a way of working things out, and not just for myself. My having cancer has been awkward for some of my friends. One of the things I posted on my blog was: ‘You don’t have to say anything to me. I know you don’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say when my friends with cancer told me about it. If we were friends before I was diagnosed, we’re still friends now, and you’re off the hook for finding perfect things to say, because only my oncologist has the perfect thing to say.’ Everyone handles the disease differently. I remember something another cancer patient said, about ‘‘fighting cancer,’’ how he didn’t like describing it that way because it made him feel he was at war with his own body. I don’t feel the same way, but I understand the perspective. I’ve since discovered that I have a number of fellow travelers who aren’t saying anything about their conditions for good reasons of their own. They don’t need to explain themselves – everyone has to handle it in the way that’s best for them.”


Cat Rambo: Beasts

Cat Rambo was born Catherine Ann Francis on November 14, 1963 in College Station TX, and grew up in South Bend IN. She attended Indiana University for a year, then went to work in a bookshop, returning to college at the University of Notre Dame and graduating with an English degree and a certificate in Gender Studies. She earned a Master’s from the Writing Seminars Johns Hopkins University, and began a PhD program at Indiana University before leaving to pursue a career in computer security. She worked in New York for a time before settling in Seattle to work for Microsoft. Rambo helped create and run online roleplaying game Armageddon MUD for many years. She married Wayne Rambo in 2003, and changed her name to Catherine Tigerlily Rambo in 2004.

In 2005 she quit her job to focus on writing, attending Clarion West that summer. She now writes full time, and frequently teaches writing classes. From 2007-2011 she co-edited Fantasy Magazine, and was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award for her work with the magazine in 2012.

Rambo has been active in SFWA since 2005. She served as vice-president in 2014, and began her term as president in 2015. With Fran Wilde she co-edited Ad Astra: the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook (2015).

While in graduate school, she published short fiction in literary journals, and began publishing work of genre interest in the early 2000s. ‘‘Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain’’ (2012) was a Nebula Award finalist. A collection in collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories, appeared in 2007. Her other collections include Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight (2009), Near + Far (2012), and Altered America: Steampunk Stories (2016). Collection Neither Here Nor There is forthcoming. Debut novel Beasts of Tabat (2015) launched the Tabat Quartet, with sequel Hearts of Tabat appearing in early 2017.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Most of my science fiction is near-future. In some ways it’s just urban fantasy. Part of the genre thing is about where to shelve them in bookstores, and the boundaries dissolve to a certain extent. I’m thinking about Walter Farley’s Black Stallion novels. The Black Stallion was clearly a horse above all others, and super intelligent. Were those fantasy books?

‘‘My novel Beasts of Tabat came out from Word- Fire Press last year. It’s set in a world I’ve been working in for about a decade, and I’ve written a lot of short stories in it. It’s set in a specific seaport that I originally wrote for a game, which never manifested. I was so frustrated that it didn’t get used that I ended up writing stories in the setting, because I knew it very well. I’d even mapped it out. The book’s set in a city where there are humans, and there are intelligent magical creatures who form their own class, called beasts, and then there are the other animals that are unintelligent. Beasts are considered to be, by virtue of the natural order, subordinate to humans. They’re in a system that depends on them for labor, and which also literally consumes them, in that their bodies are often used for magical spells. In fact, a lot of the human magic depends on the consumption of beasts. The book takes place at a time when that system is getting questioned. The city is about to change political systems due to an ancient prophecy, and everybody is trying to be part of the party that comes out on top. The shapeshifters are a group that nobody likes because they are terrifying, in that they can pass. They can pass as beasts, or they can pass as humans, so they are vilified by all sides. One of the main characters of the book is a shapeshifter who thought he was safe, and is not.”


‘‘My house was full of books growing up, and unrestricted reading. My parents let us do as we will, wandering through the shelves. I was a voracious reader. I read a lot of stuff that I’m sure flew over my head –- you know, reading Faulkner to see if there was anything interesting in it. At 12, you don’t know what a lot of it means. Things are just happening. I had the dubious honor of having a teacher haul me down to the principal’s office at one point to tell me that if he caught me reading in his class again, there would be issues. It was because I was so bored, I was sitting back there reading science fiction hidden inside the social studies textbook. I was reading Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton, all the juveniles that I could, because it was 5th or 6th grade. I got good at having a look of fixed interest whenever the teacher glanced at me.”


‘‘The genre field is so much more rewarding to work in for me, personally, in many ways. It is a much friendlier place than literary fiction. People are much more invested in the idea of paying it forward. I don’t mean to diss literary fiction – I love literary fiction, and many of the writers. I love John Barth with all my heart and always will. But genre writers just take care of their own in fandom, in general. This is a community that is super kind, or at least tries to be. Coming into this community was like discovering the tribe I’d somehow gotten separated from years ago. I wish I’d found it much sooner – it would have changed my life. Here’s a basic division between the current small literary magazines and the current science fiction magazines. Most of the literary magazines make you pay to submit. It is a practice that is increasingly common and increasingly accepted. To me the idea that writers should be paying to submit or writing for exposure is ridiculous. Literary magazines have always been very slow to reply, too. When I was sending to them, you could wait a year or two for a reply.

‘‘I feel slightly more easy in fantasy than science fiction, simply because I don’t have a strong science background. I’m not a math person, so hard science fiction is probably a genre you will never see me dabble in. I’ve always been a really omnivorous reader, and my output ends up being along the same lines, because I just write stories. Story ideas come from all around – from art that I look at, from walking down the street and seeing things, and from what I read, too. I’m working on a non-fiction book right now that comes out of a class I just finished teaching, called ‘Moving from Idea to Draft’. As part of class preparation, I went and figured out how stories started for me, and I found two dozen different beginnings. They could be a scene, or a title. Sometimes stories start with a character.”


‘‘I qualified for SFWA in 2005. I tried to join. They lost my application but cashed my check. That doesn’t happen anymore. I contacted Vonda McIntyre and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. These people took my money.’ Vonda, God bless her, sorted it all out. I became a member. As I had been instructed to do by Ann Crispin, I immediately volunteered. It’s not so much that I like to volunteer – it’s that inefficiency and bad processes drive me nuts. With the game I worked on, I’d joined as a player and worked my way up. In many ways, Armageddon MUD was the best preparation for running SFWA that I could have had. Armageddon was what we called ‘roleplay required.’ You ran your character, and you could never break character. We had permanent death, which means when your character died, you made a new character. Over the course of 15 years I dealt with many people who had run a character for years and had it die and were very angry about that. I introduced some changes that made the game more welcoming for female players and we had a better proportion of female players and female staff than any other game like that.

‘‘My experience as a manager at Microsoft also helped me with SFWA. One of the things we’re doing very well now is that we have a number of people with corporate experience, because SFWA is now a nonprofit corporation. It is a vast amount of work. It is one of those jobs that will consume as much time as you can possibly fling at it. Part of the job is preventing the beast from devouring all your life. I love it in many ways. I absolutely adore the team. I’m working with an amazingly high powered team. Kate Baker, Maggie Hogarth, and Bud Sparhawk are all amazing. It certainly does cut into my writing time. There are stressful things, but any job is going to have a certain amount of stress. I can’t say I’m not looking forward to waking up and not thinking about SFWA someday. I try to get in 1,000 words of writing before I open my e-mail. I’m in Seattle, so the sun’s up around four in the morning in the summer, and I’m up by five or six.


Cory Doctorow: Sole and Despotic Dominion

William Blackstone is a towering legal authority, whose 18th century Commentaries on the Laws of England are still studied today. Blackstone was big on private property as a cure for humanity’s woes. In Commentaries, he wrote one of the most famous definitions of private property in English-language history:

There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.

The term ‘‘intellectual property’’ is a novelty. Until the 1970s, it was very unusual to hear it uttered, especially in legal contexts. As a term of art, it obscures more than it illuminates: when I say ‘‘you have violated my intellectual property,’’ you have to guess whether I’m upset about copyrights, or trademarks, or patents, or database rights, or medical research data rights, or broadcast rights, or trade secrets, or whether I’m using the term colloquially to mean, ‘‘You’ve done something with an idea I think of as ‘mine,’ for some reason, that I object to’’ (think of comedians who object to other comedians telling similar jokes, something that violates no law but is still often called ‘‘stealing intellectual property’’).

Before IP, the rights were spoken of in the specific: ‘‘you have violated my trademarks,’’ ‘‘you have infringed my patents,’’ and so on. If they were classed together, as sometimes happened with rights of creators (as opposed to corporations), they were called ‘‘authors’ monopolies,’’ a term that reflected their aberrant status in US law, as they were legally protected, government-granted monopolies over who could say or publish certain combinations of words – an idea that’s hard to square with the US Constitution’s First Amendment: ‘‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.’’

‘‘Author’s monopolies’’ didn’t become ‘‘intellectual property’’ by accident: the linguistic shift was engineered by the entertainment industry, who wanted to hitch their wagon to Blackstone and his ‘‘sole and despotic dominion.’’ The trick of calling regulatory monopolies ‘‘property’’ upended the idea of real, tangible property. Is a book you buy and treasure something over which you exercise ‘‘sole and despotic dominion?’’ Well, yes and no. You share that dominion with the author (or perhaps the corporation who publishes the author, or, these days, the author’s corporation). You can read the book to your kid at night, and you can read it to yourself on the bus, but you can’t read it aloud on the bus, or make copies of it for your kid.

Old paperbacks sometimes contain dire warnings that ‘‘This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated’’ on pain of law. This kind of restriction – which would mean that you couldn’t give your books to your kids, or loan them to a friend, or sell them to a used bookstore, or give them away to someone nice on the bus – makes sense if you believe that ‘‘authors’ monopolies’’ are ‘‘intellectual property.’’ If I let you use my lawnmower, you don’t get to lend it to someone else, or give it away, or pawn it.

If copyright law were a system of magic in a fantasy novel, we’d never buy it. It’s full of exceptions and carve-outs that ignore its alleged underlying rationale and just fiddle things around for the sake of narrative convenience. That’s why copyright contains the ‘‘doctrine of exhaustion,’’ which says that when I sell you a book I wrote, my interest in that book is ‘‘exhausted’’ and you can sell it to someone else, give it away, or lend it, etc. Why? Because books are a lot older than copyright, and common sense recoils from the idea that the dead hand of the author weighs down the volumes on your bookcase, dictating how you may read and dispose of your books.

In other words: those warnings in old paperbacks are bullshit (the modern equivalent, found on the copyright page of every book, is no less bullshit, by the way: ‘‘No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher’’).

When software appeared in the world, no one was sure what manner of beast it was. A series of landmark court cases and legislative initiatives established, gradually, that software was something like a literary form, and thus entitled to the same copyright as books. For example, 1992’s Bernstein case established that the National Security Agency couldn’t continue to ban the publication of cryptographic code that could be used to scramble messages so well that the NSA couldn’t read them, because this violated computer science student Daniel J. Bernstein’s First Amendment rights to express himself in code. In parallel, the Copyright Office and Congress worked to extend copyright protection to software code, creating an overlapping justification for thinking of code as an expressive form of literature.

Then came the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was a giant, gnarly hairball of a law with many sections and subsections. One clause, Section 1201, established a new kind of copyright that reached into the lives of creators’ customers in a new, radical, unprecedented fashion.

DMCA 1201 creates an ‘‘anti-circumvention’’ right. Under DMCA 1201, it’s a crime (punishable by a five-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine for a first offense) to tamper with a software-based lock that restricts access to a copyrighted work. DMCA doesn’t distinguish between tampering with locks for legal and illegal purposes: once there’s a lock in place that controls access to a copyrighted work, the lock itself is sacrosanct.

The immediate effect of this was to radically shift the balance of power in the entertainment industry, though the industry was slow to recognize this. After DMCA 1201, a company that made an entertainment platform (Apple’s Itunes, Amazon’s Audible, Netflix) where other peoples’ works got locked away behind Digital Rights Management (DRM – another word for these locks) became the sole arbiter of whether and how customers and competitors could alter the locks’ functioning.

That meant that every time Hachette (proprietors of the Orbit science fiction imprint) sold a Kindle book that was encumbered with Amazon’s DRM, they were shackling an Orbit customer to Amazon’s platform. Only Amazon could remove those shackles, on penalty of civil and criminal prosecution under the DMCA. Hachette learned what this meant when, after 10 years, they attempted to renegotiate their deal, only to have Amazon tell them to get lost, locking all new Hachette titles out of Amazon’s storefront, and locking all the previously sold Hachette titles inside the Kindle platform, so readers couldn’t simply move their libraries to one of Amazon’s rivals and switch their book-buying to that platform. After all, you buy one of Hachette’s Harry Potter books because you love J.K. Rowling, not because you love Amazon – it shouldn’t matter which retailer formats Ms. Rowling’s text file and sends it to you, but it does, because Amazon has used its dominance and its DRM to reinforce each other.

From a reader perspective, Amazon’s DRM meant that the legal rights that publishers had been falsely insisting that copyright gave them for all those years suddenly became enforceable. Copyright’s ‘‘doctrine of exhaustion’’ still applied, meaning you could sell or give away your e-books, but because you had to break a DRM to do so, you couldn’t. By failing to distinguish between lock-breaking for legal and illegal purposes, DMCA 1201 gave publishers and movie studios and game companies the power to make up their own private laws and outsource their enforcement to the public courts and police. Breaking a DRM in order to lend your e-book to a friend is just as illegal under the DMCA as breaking the DRM in order to make your own edition and sell it on the Silk Road by the million.

Early in the DMCA’s history, companies tried to use the law to enforce rights in non-entertainment contexts. Lexmark – then an IBM division – used the DMCA to sue Static Controls, which had a competing business refilling old Lexmark laser-printer cartridges and selling them. This is totally OK under the law – indeed, it’s fundamental to how market-based, competitive economies work, and certainly squares nicely with Blackstone (your despotic dominion over your toner cartridge definitely stretches to putting more toner in it for the same reason that it’s legit to keep pens in an old coffee can).

Lexmark had manufactured its cartridges to prevent refilling. When a cartridge emptied out, a bit inside its online storage flipped, recording the cartridge as ‘‘empty.’’ Even if you refilled the cartridge, the printer would still register it as empty, and reject it – so Static Controls figured out how to bypass Lexmark’s controls and flip the bit back to ‘‘full.’’

Lexmark asked a Federal Circuit to rule that the ‘‘empty’’ bit was a copyrighted work (it’s not), and also that the software that prevented you from changing the empty bit from a ‘‘1’’ to a ‘‘0’’ was also a copyrighted work (it is), and that by bypassing the latter to change the former, Static Controls was violating DMCA 1201.

The court disagreed. After rejecting the copyrightability of a single bit, they also set aside the argument that the DRM itself was the copyrighted work that the DRM was protecting. It was just too circular, too nakedly anticompetitive.

As I write this in late September 2016, owners of hundreds of millions of HP printers have woken up to discover that HP had planted a timebomb in their gadgets when, last March, HP updated the printers with a new operating system that silently counted down to September 9th, at which point it triggered a new routine that checked all print cartridges to see whether they were original HPs, or competing brands. In the latter case, HP’s printers reject the cartridges as ‘‘damaged.’’

But HP’s cartridges are a decade more advanced than Lexmark’s old laser-cartridges. Back in the Lexmark days, computing was expensive. Now, it’s virtually free. Like virtually every other gadget, HP’s cartridges have general-purpose computers in them with millions of lines of code running on them – code for cleaning and calibrating printer-heads and many other utility functions. This code is definitely separate from HP’s DRM code, and it’s definitely copyrightable. It’s no single bit.

Today, it’s not clear whether one of HP’s competitors will simply reverse-engineer their DRM and go back into business. But if they do, I’d give good odds that HP sues them under the DMCA. The printercartridge business is HP’s bread and butter, and it is shrinking fast, and if this timebomb proves anything, it’s that they’re getting desperate. What’s more, if I’m smart enough to understand that the DMCA 1201 analysis is potentially different than it was in the Lexmark days, then HP’s lawyers are, too. I’m sure nothing in the preceding paragraphs would come as a surprise to HP’s general counsel.

Printer cartridges are just the tip of the iceberg. Every three years, the US Copyright Office entertains petitions for very limited, mostly symbolic exemptions to DMCA 1201. In 2015, they heard from people who’d been stymied by DRM in John Deere tractors, voting machines, insulin pumps, cars, thermostats, lightbulbs, and so on.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Anything with software in it, by definition, has a copyrighted work inside of it. Everything has software these days: smart rectal thermometers (which are really a thing) and smart birdhouses (ditto) and smartphones and smart TVs, of course.

If you make a gadget with software inside it, you can simply add a thin skin of DRM to it, and configure the device so that the DRM has to be bypassed in order to do anything that lowers your profits. GM uses it to prevent third-party mechanics from diagnosing problems in their cars (and VW used it to prevent independent researchers from discovering that they were cheating on emissions tests). Philips uses it to make sure that you only buy Philips lightbulbs to go in your Philips sockets. Google’s Nest smart thermostats use it to make sure that only they can extend the device’s features, so they can promise power authorities that when the authority turns down your furnace, you can’t turn it back up again.

This is almost too good to be true. Every company has commercial preferences that they wished were legal obligations. Now, thanks to a stupid law from 1998 and the proliferation of cheap computation, every company can make their wish come true.

This is an affront to Blackstone. If the mere presence of a copyrighted work in a device means that its manufacturer never stops owning it, then it means that you can never start owning it. There’s a word for this: feudalism. In feudalism, property is the exclusive realm of a privileged few, and the rest of us are tenants on that property. In the 21st century, DMCA-enabled version of feudalism, the gentry aren’t hereditary toffs, they’re transhuman, immortal artificial life-forms that use humans as their gut-flora: limited liability corporations.

Under DMCA 1201 rules, security researchers who learn of defects in covered products can be threatened, prosecuted, and jailed just for disclosing that the manufacturer made a dumb mistake (the manufacturers get to decide who can embarrass them by revealing those mistakes), meaning that the camera in your living room and the wireless insulin pump your six-year-old is wearing and the Internetconnected car you’re driving down the highway every day are all reservoirs of long-lived digital pathogens that criminals are free to discover and exploit, but that security researchers are not able to tell you about.

Obviously, this is a disaster.

That’s why, nearly two years ago, I went back to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (, a non-profit dedicated to defending the freedoms of the offline world in the digital realm. I went back to work on Apollo 1201, a moonshot project devoted to killing all the DRM in the world by eliminating the laws that protect it. In the absence of those laws, it’s not hard to break DRM, and there are plenty of good reasons to do so (for starters: you can sell the jailbroken, more capable versions to the customers who’ve been trapped by the extractive, feudal versions).

In July, we filed a federal case against the US government seeking to invalidate Section 1201 of the DMCA. We’re representing Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins security researcher who’s seeking permission to break DRM in order to investigate the security of systems like voting machines and financial transaction processors, and Andrew ‘‘bunnie’’ Huang, a hardware engineer and entrepreneur who wants to break the DRM on high-def video to enable his customers to make lawful, transformative uses.

When we prevail – which could take a decade, assuming we go as high as the Supreme Court – we will be doing something fundamentally conservative: restoring your ‘‘despotic dominion’’ over the things you buy and own. On the way, we will be campaigning in the dozens of countries whom the US Trade Rep has arm-twisted into passing their own versions of the DMCA, as a condition of ongoing trade with the US. Our argument will be simple and powerful: the DMCA is doomed in the USA, and if they’re not going to enforce it, and you do, then your people will be using American technology to get more out of their property, meaning that only American companies will benefit. Suicide pacts are mutual: when America pulls out, you should too.

This is a big, ambitious plan, but it’s an important one, too. In a world where our bodies are filled with and enclosed by software-enabled devices, we can’t afford to have structural impediments to disclosure of software defects. In a world where inequality is already at pre-French-Revolutionary levels, we can’t afford to give the powerful another means to deprive us of our rights to our own things in order to maximize the rent they extract from us.

Connie Willis: Open Channel

Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis was born December 31, 1945 in Denver CO and has lived in Colorado most of her life. She earned a BA in English and elementary education from the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, in 1967, and taught elementary and junior high school from 1967-81. She wrote some during this period, making her first SF sale to Worlds of Fantasy with ‘‘The Secret of Santa Titicaca’’ (1971), and earned her first Hugo nomination for ‘‘Daisy in the Sun’’ (1979). In 1982, she received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, which enabled her to write full time. That year, Hugo- and Nebula-winning novelette ‘‘Fire Watch’’ and Nebula-winning story ‘‘A Letter from the Clearys’’ appeared, the first of her many award-winning stories, which so far include 11 Hugos and seven Nebulas – more than any other SF writer – and a dozen Locus Awards.

First novel Water Witch (1982) was a collaboration with Cynthia Felice; they also wrote Light Raid (1989) and Promised Land (1997) together. First solo novel Lincoln’s Dreams (1987) won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and her second, Doomsday Book (1992), won both the Hugo and Nebula and a Locus Award. Uncharted Territory and Remake (Locus Award winner and Hugo nominee) appeared in 1994, followed by Locus Award Winner and Nebula finalist Bellwether (1996), Hugo winner and Nebula nominee To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), and Passage (2001), winner of a Locus Award and finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula. Time travel duology Blackout/All Clear (2010) won Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, and was a Campbell Memorial Award finalist. Her latest novel, Crosstalk, is a romantic comedy about telepathy.

Willis is a celebrated short fiction writer, and her award-winning works include ‘‘The Last of the Winnebagos’’ (1988, Hugo and Nebula winner), ‘‘At the Rialto’’ (1989, Nebula winner and Hugo finalist), ‘‘Even the Queen’’ (1992, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards winner), ‘‘Death on the Nile’’ (1993, Hugo Winner, Nebula and Bram Stoker Award nominee), ‘‘Close Encounter’’ (1993, Locus Award winner), ‘‘The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective’’ (1996, Hugo winner), ‘‘Newsletter’’ (1997, Locus Award winner), ‘‘The Winds of Marble Arch’’ (1999, Hugo winner and World Fantasy Award finalist), ‘‘Inside Job’’ (2005, Hugo Winner, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist), and ‘‘All Seated on the Ground’’ (2007, Hugo winner). Other notable stories include Hugo and Nebula nominees ‘‘The Sidon in the Mirror’’ (1983) and ‘‘Jack’’ (1991); Hugo finalists ‘‘Spice Pogrom’’ (1986), ‘‘Time Out’’ (1990), ‘‘Cibola’’ (1990), ‘‘In the Late Cretaceous’’ (1991), ‘‘Miracle’’ (1991), ‘‘Just Like the Ones We Used to Know’’ (2003); Nebula nominee ‘‘Schwarzschild Radius’’ (1987); and World Fantasy finalist ‘‘Chance’’ (1986). Many of her stories have been collected in Fire Watch (1985), Locus Award winning Impossible Things (1993), Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (1999), The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories (2007), and The Best of Connie Willis (2013).

Willis also edited anthologies The New Hugo Winners Volume III (1994, with Martin H. Greenberg), Nebula Awards 33 (1999), and A Woman’s Liberation: A Choice of Futures By and About Women (2001, with Sheila Williams). She is a frequent speaker and guest of honor at SF conventions, and much sought-after as a Toastmaster. Willis was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2008, and was named a SFWA Grand Master in 2011. She lives in Greeley CO with her husband Courtney (married 1967), and they have an adult daughter, Cordelia.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Crosstalk was calling to me, and for various reasons I thought it was time to write it. First, though, I have to get this onto the record: there is another Connie Willis out there. I discovered that when I was giving a speech at Colorado State University. They were introducing me and said, ‘She’s written all these books and won these awards,’ and then they said, ‘and she’s frequently a host on the radio show Coast to Coast. She claims to have lived past lives, she’s been abducted by aliens, and she’s a psychic.’ I was waving at them from the back of the room. I said, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about, but that’s not me.’ They were very disappointed because they thought I believed in telepathy. I was like, ‘No, I write science fiction. Fiction is the word. Fiction.’ I went home and looked up the other Connie Willis, and yes, she’s a co-host on Coast to Coast. It’s a late night crazy radio show where they have Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, and yes, she has past lives and she’s a psychic. She’s all these things I have spent my entire life trying to convince people I’m not, because I’m a science fiction writer and they always get confused. I’m really unhappy she’s out there.

‘‘I was trying to explain to that audience that there are lots of stories about psi powers, and I love those stories, they’re great – but they’re usually grim. Either the characters go mad because they hear all these voices, which makes a lot of sense, or they use their powers to commit crimes or gain power, or it makes them ill. I thought, ‘Nobody’s written a comedy about the funny side of telepathy, and that would be fun.’ It’s an interesting challenge for a romantic comedy, because romantic comedies are based on misunderstandings and miscommunications. If you open this channel where you really do know what people are thinking, that should eliminate that problem, so you’d have to create other barriers. I thought that would be really fun to do.”


‘‘In Crosstalk there’s a surgery that lets you sense your partner’s emotions. People are using it as a prenuptial agreement, or as a way to enhance their relationship. There’s only one real way to enhance your relationship: work on it. Live with each other. Help each other. Try to understand each other. I love writing romantic comedies, because it’s the only genre that deals with real adult relationships. Romance is a different thing – I don’t like romance, and I’ve never written romance. It’s about seducing and being seduced, wooing and being won, and the power differential is incredible, there’s no equality at all. Whereas in a romantic comedy relationship, you see through the person’s facade, you’re not fooled by it for a minute while the rest of the world is, and you demand that the person be a good person.”


‘‘You really can’t teach comedy. You can teach a number of techniques, but you can’t teach the comic temperament, or the comic way of looking at things. I know that, because I’ll tell people a story I’ve read, or a story I’ve seen in the paper, and to me I can see all the funny sides, and they’ll say, ‘That’s so tragic.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, but there’s a funny side to it.’ They just can’t see it. So there’s a temperament you have, but you have to build on it by developing skills to get it onto the page. It’s hard to have that comic temperament in this society. We’re encouraged not to be ironic at all. Comedy is such an unforgiving medium, too. If you write a serious novel, it can have really brilliant parts and pretty good parts and a few wobbly parts, but it still works as a serious novel. A comedy has to work on every page, in every line. It can’t not work, because if it doesn’t, it’s horrible. Comedy’s either really good or just awful – there’s no middle ground. That makes it harder.”


‘‘What’s next? The UFO novel is still next on my list. It was next last time, and then it got superseded by Crosstalk. I’m working on it right now, and I was plotting it in the car as we drove from Colorado to Kansas City for Worldcon. It’s something I’ve always wanted to write. There were a couple of reasons to put it on the back burner – various movies had come out that I thought might conflict with it. That’s no longer an issue, because those movies sank without a trace. When I wrote Lincoln’s Dreams, I worked on that book for five years. The focus was a great deal about Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler. Then two months later Richard Adams, the guy who wrote Watership Down, brought out a book called Traveler. Of course he was way more famous than me. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to completely sink my book.’ I’ve had that happen a couple of times, usually with short stories, and it’s easy to wait a couple of years and then write the short story… but when it’s a novel and you’re putting so much time in, you really don’t want every review to say, ‘Clearly derivative,’ even though it’s not.

‘‘I’m definitely going ahead with the UFO book, for several reasons. One, I think the whole Roswell UFO thing is insanely ridiculous, and lovely. It’s full of examples of human avarice and gullibility, and willingness to be fooled. Two, I’ve always loved road movies, where you have the mismatched group who have to travel together for some reason – a ragtag band wandering through the American landscape together. Three, I love the Southwest, and I love Westerns, and I want a book in which I can talk about Westerns, and Western moviemaking, and the Western landscape.”


‘‘What advice would I give to writers? I’d say: listen to everything everybody tells you, particularly the things that are wrong with your writing, and at the same time ignore everything else. When I took ‘Fire Watch’ to Milford to be critiqued, the first thing everybody said to me was, ‘You can’t write time travel. Time travel is dead.’ I said, ‘I wrote it. I’m writing time travel. I like time travel.’ That would have been terrible advice to listen to, obviously. I’ve based my career on time travel! They weren’t wrong, though. Time travel was totally moribund at that point, but I’d figured out something new to do with it. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t selling. I wanted to tell that story. You have to ignore the people who say you can’t write the story you want to write. You should not chase the trends. By the time you start chasing a trend, it’s over. You’ve got to figure out what you want to write, and then ignore everyone who tells you there’s no such thing.”


Nisi Shawl: A Real Magician

Denise Angela Shawl was born November 2, 1955 in Kalamazoo MI, where she grew up. (Her cousin Delores came up with the nickname ‘‘Nisi.’’) At 17 she moved to Ann Arbor, where she attended the University of Michigan. After leaving the university she worked various jobs, including as a bookseller, au pair, cook, janitor, and artist’s model (she was the model for one of Rick Lieder’s illustrations for the 1990 Arkham House edition of Bruce Sterling’s Crystal Express). She moved to Seattle in 1996. She has worked on publicity for Clarion West, and currently serves on their board. She helped found the Carl Brandon Society.

Her first published story was ‘‘I Was a Teenage Genetic Engineer’’ in Semiotext(e) SF (1989), but she began publishing steadily in the ‘90s, after attending Clarion West in 1992. Notable stories include Gaylactic Spectrum Award finalists ‘‘Shiomah’s Land’’ (2001) and ‘‘The Tawny Bitch’’ (2003); Carl Brandon Award finalists ‘‘Wallamelon’’ (2005) and ‘‘Black Betty’’ (2013); and World Fantasy Award nominated novella ‘‘Good Boy’’ (2008). Collection Filter House (2008) was also a World Fantasy finalist, and won the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award. She was guest of honor at feminist SF convention WisCon in 2011 and in conjunction with the convention, Aqueduct Press published her story and essay collection Something More and More.

Her first book was nonfiction Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction, co-written with Cynthia Ward, and she has taught many classes and workshops on that subject (and others). She edited The WisCon Chronicles 5: Writing and Racial Identity (2010) and Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars (2013), and co-edited Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler with Rebecca J. Holden (2013) and Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany with Bill Campbell (2015). She has also published numerous essays and book reviews, and has been a reviewer for The Seattle Times since 1999.

Her first novel, alternate history Everfair, appeared in September 2016.


Excerpt from the interview:

‘‘When you’re writing things from a historical viewpoint, you don’t want anachronisms. What you have to watch out for is assuming that one kind of historical viewpoint takes precedence over another. You’ll hear people say, ‘Lovecraft was a racist, but that was just his time.’ No it wasn’t. My grandfather was alive then. There is the axis of time and historicity, but there are plenty of other axes: gender, class, and so on. All those things go into an accurate portrayal of someone’s viewpoint. There’s a problem I ran into with a short story called ‘Vulcanization’, which is from the point of view of King Leopold, whom I deliberately excluded as a viewpoint character from my novel Everfair because he was such a wanker. He was a complete jerk, but I did write a short story from his point of view. It was a horror story. The anthology I wrote it for didn’t want it because I used the ‘N’ word in the second line. That’s how Leopold would have described black people! I was trying to be true to his viewpoint, and this editor couldn’t handle it. They said that because I’d written the story in close third-person, people would conflate the character using that term with the author using it – that they would think I was using the ‘N’ word. So I sold the story to Nightmare, because they were like, ‘This is what he would have said.’ The line proves that Leopold is a jerk, and it’s serving a purpose.

‘‘I got the idea for Everfair after I was forced to be on a panel at the World Fantasy Convention in 2009. There was one panel open, and it was on steampunk, and I decided to go at the last moment. Filter House, my short story collection, was up for a World Fantasy Award, and a short story from the book was nominated as well. I had two nominations, so I had to go. The convention said, ‘You can be on a panel about steampunk.’ I had not read much of any steampunk, and I didn’t like it – steampunk stunk. I stepped back and thought, ‘Why do I dislike steampunk so much?’ It had everything I loved. I love reading Victorian literature. I love that sense of a different place, milieu, different mores, and I’m somewhat kinky for hard machinery, for steam and gears. So why shouldn’t I like steampunk? I realized it was because steampunk so frequently validated colonialism and imperialism. I set about looking for examples of steampunk that didn’t do that, and didn’t find very much. This was in 2009. I had not heard of the work of Diana Pho, or any of the other people who were questioning that imperialist slant. I found two or three stories, so I said, ‘I’m going to do this, obviously.’ That was when I got up in front of a room of hundreds of people and said, ‘I’m going to write a steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo.’ Michael Swanwick rolled his eyes at me. I said, ‘I will make you beg to read it.’ So then I had to do it.

‘‘I was reading about Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s capitalist utopia in South America. It was a rubber plantation, with rubber manufacturing facilities. I thought, ‘What if someone did that with the goal of creating a socialist utopia?’ I remembered the Fabian Socialists in Britain had started the London School of Economics, so maybe they had the money, and they could have bought some of Leopold’s land in the Congo. He was only in it for the money anyway. That’s where the idea came from.

‘‘I did tons of research. Heaven knows, I could have done more. It would have been really great to visit the area. It’s hard to write about cultures that have been decimated. Millions of people died in those areas. So much of what I would have liked to portray has been lost. I’m waiting to hear from people whose ancestors are survivors of Leopold’s horror, and I’m sure they’ll tell me things I got wrong. I did have some help. One of my favorite resources was called African Reflections, basically a hardcover catalog of an exhibit at a museum. The exhibit constituted these everyday objects from the area that I was writing about, the Eastern Congo and central Africa, from the time I was writing about, or slightly advanced, from 1910 on. I was able to look at these photographs, and the essays that accompanied them were very insightful. Of course I read some of the racist, bigoted, prejudiced anthropological texts as well, and tried to skew those slightly, and take into account the bias.

‘‘I think I’ve achieved what I was trying to do – although Michael Swanwick hasn’t begged to read it yet – which is to show how people grasp for perfection, and it eludes them, but the act of grasping makes things better. That’s what I was trying to get with the story of the country itself. That’s what’s going on with the country, and that’s what’s going on with the love story – nothing will be perfect, because we’re humans, but we’ll try, and we’ll be better for it.

‘‘I conceived of the novel as a standalone, but I have been asked to write a sequel. The sequel will be very different. I have ideas for it. Because I cover so much territory in Everfair – it spans 30 years – I’m not going to do that again. Eleven viewpoint characters! What was I thinking? I can tell you what I was thinking: people need their own voices. Now I’m going to try this out with a short story. What happens next in history is the tension between petroleum and renewable energy sources. I think that’s the next battle in the global sense of things, and it’s one that Everfair would be caught up in.

‘‘My editor for Everfair is Liz Gorinsky, and she’s excellent. One of my characters, Rima, is sort of a mashup of Zora Neale Hurston and Josephine Baker. She’s from Florida, and she talks about kissing someone’s kitchen. I tried to put the phrase in context. Liz questioned it: ‘What’s a kitchen? This is part of a building. Why is someone kissing a kitchen?’ I explained what it means, and she said, ‘Oh, maybe you want to make it clearer to other readers.’ I said, ‘It’s okay with me if people are confused. I’m more excited that other people will be thrilled to see it included.’ It was more important to me in that particular instance that someone would say, ‘Oh, I know that,’ than that a few people would say, ‘What?’ It’s okay if some people are a little lost if others are deeply found.

‘‘When people asked me when I was young what I wanted to be, I’d say I wanted to be a magician. Pull rabbits out of hats? No, a real magician. I was writing early, too. I’ve memorized the first poem I wrote, which goes, ‘It’s spring / the crows are singing / and old ladies are wearing new hats.’ That was in second grade, so I was maybe seven years old. When I started actually being conscious of writing prose for a purpose was in ninth grade, when I wrote a dystopian romance novelette, science fiction set after some unspecified end of the world where people went around to different engineering sites, and were basically being reverential about bridges and highway construction, because they didn’t have those things anymore, so they were in awe of them.

‘‘I read science fiction as soon as I could read.”


Kameron Hurley: The Mission-Driven Writing Career

Most writers quit. Many aspiring writers get angry when I say discouraging things like this, but sometimes the truth is discouraging. Most writers quit because they achieve what they set out to do – publish a book, or a short story, or simply finish one – and realize they are staring at the same blank, purposeless future that they started with.

Certainly, I have also seen many quit after going to intensive writing workshops, when they realized they didn’t want to be career writers. They saw the future ahead and realized it wasn’t for them. Quitting is natural and normal, as with any other craft, career, or hobby. So is realizing one wants to be a hobbyist writer and not a career writer. Plenty of hobbyist writers are masters of their craft.

Then there are those who quit after selling their first novel, or two novels, or six. These shifts mid-career always interest me most, because I’m at the point in my own career where I understand the urge to quit, even after experiencing some success, in a way I could not have comprehended as an unpublished writer – and that has left me here, having books published and paid for, and staring ahead into a grinding future of deadlines and release dates, working toward a breakout book.

The realization that writing is an art but publishing is a business can be demoralizing. Staring into a future much like the present can give one vertigo. Self-publishing is no easier, as you will find yourself mucking about in covers and copyediting and distribution and marketing for more hours than you spend writing – and when you publish traditionally you find yourself losing a lot of control over your work timelines and visions for the book’s marketing. Once you begin publishing, you realize that the writing itself is the easiest part of the business, and you long for the days when all you did was write, when you had a passion and a purpose.

What drives you, then, when you have reached the goal of selling work, and perhaps making a little money doing it? What drives you when you have finally achieved the financial freedom afforded by your writing career?

My personal writing goal as a teen, the one that drove me through the publication of my first handful of novels, was that I wanted to make a living wage as a novelist. I wanted success represented by financial freedom. But when I finally achieved that in 2015, it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. Making a living wage as a writer one year doesn’t guarantee you’ll make a living wage the next. I thought the money itself would provide the passion to keep going, but I have a day job that pays the mortgage, and the truth was that the novel writing money went toward paying traveling expenses and student loan debt and veterinary bills. I didn’t need it to pay for health insurance and bread.

I had achieved what I set out to do as a teen, and found myself staring at that long future of punishing deadlines and hustling to earn out advances, and I found that it wasn’t enough.

So what drives me now?

I just finished reading Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which argues that some of the world’s most happy and successful people choose careers which are driven by a personal mission. These missions don’t spring full-formed from their brains at age 20 or 30. Instead, they are missions that they explore, define, and refine in the first decade or two of their careers. They come back to their missions when they feel they have achieved a significant goal or milestone, and adjust it as necessary. It is this mission, then, that drives them forward when the grind gets them down.

As human beings, we need to believe that our lives have meaning. Many find this in religion, but religion does not always satisfy the need for a personal mission. What drives us when we despair? More often than not, it is our personal mission. And if we don’t have one, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and lose focus and purpose.

I recognized this mission-formulation as part of a process I’ve undergone in my own career the last couple of years. I needed to figure out what came next after I published some books and made some money. After some soul-searching, I found that my mission is as ambitious as they come: I want to change the world.

This mission isn’t as outlandish as it may seem, as the fan mail my work has generated can be humbling. Most writers have these sorts of stories about how their work helped a fan through a tough time. I’ve had e-mails from people who found the strength to leave a relationship, to come out to their parents, to move across the country, to apply for a dream job, to create their own edgy and incomparable work, after reading mine. As a creator, an artist, a wordsmith, this is what I live for. I stick to the idea that my fiction should show people new worlds and ways of being. They should, in the words of Joanna Russ, show people how things could be ‘‘really different.’’

I take storytelling seriously because I understand that storytelling is how we make sense of the world. If we cannot imagine a thing, it’s incredibly difficult to make it a reality. My job is to help people imagine a different world. Stretching the limits of our imaginations is the only way for us to push toward the impossible. As we have seen time and again, what we once thought to be impossible can easily become probable and then practical once we unleash ourselves from the prison of our own narrow thinking, and novels can help us do that. I write novels that help us dream big. Not only about technology and how it could transform us, but about how we organize ourselves, how we perceive our sense of self, how we understand government and justice. What makes us truly human? If we pick ourselves up and put ourselves into another time and place, changing everything about our history and our environment, who would we be? Would we recognize ourselves?

There is a theory that human consciousness begins with story. It is, quite literally, how we build the world. What we dream, we create. What we imagine, we make truth. It is how we can share the same world with billions of people and thousands of other cultures and yet all see this world and our place in it so differently. Story is also how we can begin to change our own view of the world. As Ursula Le Guin said in her National Book Award speech:

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.

Resistance begins in art. That is the sort of art I want to make. It’s this idea, that we can inspire change by imagining a different world – with different ideas about gender, religion, art, government, technology, personhood, war, peace, living, dying – as possible and real that drives me.

What drives your career?

Charles Stross: Future Vision

Charles David George Stross was born October 18, 1964 in Leeds, England. Stross began writing SF at age 12, and his earliest publications were articles for roleplaying game magazines in the ’70s and ’80s. He earned a bachelor’s in pharmacy in 1986, qualified as a pharmacist in 1987, then enrolled at Bradford University (1989-90) for a post-graduate conversion degree in computer science. He worked as a technical writer and programmer until 2000, when he began writing full time, mostly technology-related non-fiction at first, including book The Web Architect’s Handbook (1996). He gradually shifted his emphasis to fiction.

Stross’s first professional story sale, ‘‘The Boys’’, appeared in 1986, and he has published short fiction regularly ever since. Novelette ‘‘Lobsters’’ (2001) was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo, and was runner-up for the Sturgeon Award; novelette ‘‘Halo’’ (2002) was a Hugo and Sturgeon nominee; ‘‘Router’’ (2002) was shortlisted for a BSFA award; novelette ‘‘Nightfall’’ (2003) was a Hugo and BSFA nominee; time-travel novella ‘‘Palimpsest’’ (2009) won a Hugo. Novella Missile Gap was published in 2007. Some of his short fiction has been collected in Toast (2002) and Wireless (2009).

Stross collaborated with Cory Doctorow on several short stories, notably ‘‘Jury Service’’ (2002), sequel ‘‘Appeals Court’’ (2004) (later published together as ‘‘The Rapture of the Nerds’’), and ‘‘Flowers from Alice’’ (2003). An expanded novel version of The Rapture of the Nerds appeared in 2012 and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Lovecraftian spy thriller The Atrocity Archive (serialized 2001-02) began the Laundry series, and appeared in hardcover along with Hugo Award-winning novella ‘‘The Concrete Jungle’’ in 2004. Sequels are The Jennifer Morgue (2006), The Fuller Memorandum (2010), The Apocalypse Codex (2012), The Rhesus Chart (2014), The Annihilation Score (2015), and The Nightmare Stacks (2016), with The Delirium Brief forthcoming. He’s also written stories in the setting, including Hugo Award nominee ‘‘Overtime’’ (2009) and Hugo winner ‘‘Equoid’’ (2013).

His first SF novel was the Hugo-nominated far-future space opera Singularity Sky (2003), which led to sequel Iron Sunrise (2004). His Accelerando series of SF stories, which appeared in Asimov’s beginning with ‘‘Lobsters’’ in 2001 and ending with ‘‘Elector’’ in 2004, were adapted into a novel, Accelerando (2005), a Hugo and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist.

He began his Merchant Princes series – multiverse SF masquerading as fantasy – with The Family Trade (2004), followed by The Hidden Family (2005), The Clan Corporate (2006), The Merchant’s War (2007), The Revolution Business (2009), and The Trade of Queens (2010).They were re-edited as a ‘‘trilogy’’ of long novels and released as The Bloodline Feud, The Traders’ War, and The Revolution Trade in 2013 and 2014. The Empire Games trilogy set later in the same world is due to launch with Empire Games in 2017.

Far-future SF novel Glasshouse (2006) was a Hugo finalist and winner of the Prometheus Award. Near-future SF novel Halting State (2007) was a Hugo finalist, and was followed by sequel Rule 34 (2011). Space opera and Heinlein homage Saturn’s Children (2008) was a Hugo and Prometheus Award nominee, with sequel Neptune’s Brood (2014) a Hugo and Campbell Memorial Award finalist. He released his early, previously unpublished SF novel Scratch Monkey in 2011.

Stross lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with wife Feòrag NicBhride (married 2003).

Excerpt from the interview:

‘‘I am in the process of bringing out a trilogy over these next three years from Tor. It’s the Empire Games trilogy, which is set in The Mer­chant Princes universe. Book one, Empire Games, comes out in January 2017. Book two, Dark State, is scheduled for January 2018, and book three, Invisible Sun, is scheduled for January 2019. You can read it as a series reboot, or a different series, or as books 7-9 of the original series. I describe it to people as my big fat post-Edward Snowden surveillance state techno thriller in parallel universes. Many of the characters are fol­lowed through, but they’re 17 years older, and there are a bunch of new characters as well.

‘‘The earlier Merchant Princes trilogy ended with the President being assassinated in the White House in 2003, and nuclear weapons stolen from the US’s inactive inventory by narco-terrorists from a parallel universe. You might imagine just how paranoid the surveillance state became after that. The new book, Empire Games, opens with the introduction of a new character, and we follow her through a day in the life of America in 2020, at a trade show, with police checkpoints and drones everywhere. A national genome database, a mandatory ID card system, random check­points to do a spot check of your genes to verify you are who it says you are on your card, and any number of minor, nasty, intrusive little elements. CCTV cameras on every sidewalk of every city to try and spot intruders from parallel timelines popping into existence. Think ‘Police State USA,’ only far worse than it has been implemented today, simply because there’s a real threat and it’s gone nuclear. It makes 9/11 look like a storm in a teacup. To some extent, I was brainstorming that scenario in the first book of the trilogy, and as one of the characters remarks in book two, ‘The 21st century is a really bad time to be a paranoid schizophrenic.’ I go into this to quite a degree. There’s a lot of spy tradecraft in the Empire Games trilogy because some of the protagonists are actually spies.

‘‘There’s a huge element of snark in the new trilogy, too, because it’s about surveillance states and their failure modes. Communications are getting easier and easier, big data leaks are getting easier, and the side effect is the illusion of competence is being ripped away. We’re no longer under any illusions about government agencies or their political masters being insightful, wise, or better at what they’re doing than everybody around them. To a large extent, the NSA is to be blamed for their own woes. They militated heavily in the 1970s and ’80s to keep encryption classified as munitions and to ban end-to-end encryption from TCP/IP, the protocol the Internet runs over. If they hadn’t done that, and if they’d allowed a truly secure Internet to emerge, it would be an awful lot harder for the leaks we’ve become used to in recent years to take place. However, the NSA has two jobs. One of those jobs is to spy on everybody else, and the other is to attend to the nation’s own internal security. Those two jobs are definitely in conflict. They’ve inadvertently, in the long term, prioritized surveillance of everybody else rather than security, because it’s easier to prove that you’ve gotten inside somebody else’s computer systems and know what they’re doing, than it is to prove your own sys­tems are secure. This is true for GCHQ, which is the British Mini-Me to the NSA’s Dr. Evil. They’re part of an organization called the Five Eyes. The Five Eyes – it’s like something out of a Bond movie, except they’re real. They’re this vast, world-spanning network of intelligence agencies who spy on everybody. The NSA is basically the leading partner in it. It’s also Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and a couple of other agencies in tug. They’ve fundamentally lost sight of the security side of things, and the result is more and more leaks. It can be very difficult to secure a system that was designed to be penetrable from the start.

‘‘This series was originally meant to come out in 2015. It’s been de­layed for a couple of years, and I’m kind of aghast at the degree to which Snowden leaks, and Chelsea Manning’s leaks from the Iraq war, haven’t been reflected in long form fiction. Nobody seems to be paying much attention to those things. Science fiction doesn’t often deal with the near future very effectively. The exceptions are notable. Walter Jon Williams, with his trilogy that included Deep State and This is Not a Game, was remarkably prescient in some ways. He had the prescience to put the Arab Spring in a book 12 months before it broke out. Long form SF is a terrible medium for timely, trenchant social commentary.

‘‘What makes something work as near-future SF is that the author has to be paying attention to the background. There’s an awful lot of stories that CNN, Fox, NBC, just don’t carry – or the BBC for that matter. You have to read widely around the technological trends, and the climatological issues. At this stage, denying climate change is futile and stupid. What are the consequences? One of the things making news headlines in Europe is the refugee crisis emerging from the Syrian civil war, but we tend to forget that the Syrian civil war broke out in the wake of a virtually once-in-a-century drought, and famine, which in turn was partially a result of Turkish damming of rivers leading to Kurdistan, which in turn has to do with the Kurdish separatists in Iraq after the Iraq invasion. A lot of this stuff is interconnected, and it interacts with climate change, so you get unforeseen side effects, such as a massive refugee crisis with a civil war some years later. The Arab Spring in general happened when the price of grain in the Middle East more or less tripled, in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, because speculators who’d been investing in credit-default swaps realized they needed somewhere safe to put their money, and switched to futures of the products people need. The price of grains is a classic one for speculators. Ken MacLeod remarked that ‘history is the secret weapon of the science fiction writer.’ He’s absolutely not wrong on that. The first Merchant Princes series was about development traps, with a society that has access to modern technology but is totally unable to socially advance their own quasi-Medieval world. The Empire Games trilogy is another timeline, where they succeed in getting out of a development trap, in much the same way that South Korea went from being a very backwards place in the 1950s to being economically the equal of Japan in the mid-’90s. What makes the difference here? What are the political patterns you get that recur? If you have a republic that’s established in a revolution, you usually get a massive political crisis 20 to 30 years after the revolution, when you have a succession moment, with a change in the leadership. The original revolutionary leaders retire, or are dying of old age, and a new generation comes along. Iran very nearly had such a moment in the first decade of this century. There was a thing called the Green Revolution, and it was put down very brutally by the deep state, but for a while Iran was going to have a democratic revolution. It’s no coincidence that this was 30 years after the Iranian revolution. These revolutions have echoes. There is oscillation. 1815, the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, which was a side effect of the French revolution, led in turn to 1848, the year of revolutions all across Europe. We’ve seen events like it in 1919, and in the Arab Spring, and the collapse of the Communist bloc, but we tend to forget it.”

Eleanor Arnason: Unfolding

Eleanor Atwood Arnason was born December 28, 1942 in New York City, and during her childhood spent time in New York, Washington, Chicago, London, Paris, Afghanistan, and Minneapolis. She studied art history and English literature at Swarthmore (graduating in 1964) and did graduate work at the University of Minnesota until 1967, eventually settling in Detroit for several years before returning to Minneapolis/Saint Paul, where she has lived since. She has worked variously in offices, warehouses, a museum, and non-profits; she retired in 2009.

Her debut story ‘‘A Clear Day in the Motor City’’ appeared in 1973. Notable short fiction includes Nebula Award finalists ‘‘The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons’’ (1975), ‘‘The Dog’s Story’’ (1996), ‘‘Stellar Harvest’’ (1999), ‘‘Knapsack Poems’’ (2002), and the Potter of Bones’’ (2002); Hugo Award finalist ‘‘Stellar Harvest’’ (1999); and Sturgeon Memorial Award finalists ‘‘Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance’’ (1999) and ‘‘Mammoths of the Great Plains’’ (2010). First novel Sword Smith appeared in 1978. That novel was followed by To the Resurrection Station (1986); Daughter of the Bear King (1987); A Woman of the Iron People (1991), winner of a Mythopoeic Award and the inaugural James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award; and Ring of Swords (1993). Since Ring of Swords, Arnason has focused on short fiction, much of which is collected in Ordinary People (2005), Mammoths of the Great Plains (2010), Big Mama Stories (2013), Hidden Folk (2015), and Hwarhath Stories (2016). Her interest ranges from SF to fantasy and points beyond; she once wrote an opera about the invention of double-entry bookkeeping.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘We have a split in the 20th century between genre fiction, which tends to be about action, and fiction that’s about interpersonal relationships and psychology. At a Chicago convention decades ago, Gene Wolfe said that every time he encounters people who say the most important things happen within their heads, he wants to put them in a small boat on the ocean in the middle of the storm. This connects to my prejudices about mainstream literary fiction.

‘‘I’ve always read science fiction and fantasy and murder mysteries. I was an English major most of the way through college, and I read The Great Gatsby and Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and some of Proust in French, so I got a reasonable background in mainstream literature. But it didn’t interest me the way that science fiction did. My problem with realism is that a realistic novel about the psychological problems of middle-class people is a story which is very similar to the life I’m leading, and thus is not too interesting. Whereas the minute you throw in a dragon or global warming, it becomes very interesting. Internal thoughts become much less important, and you basically want to deal with the dragon.”


‘‘My father’s parents came from Iceland to North America, and I grew up in a house full of books on Norse mythology, the Icelandic sagas, and the novels of the great 20th-century Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness. (I have a copy of his novel Independent People inscribed to my father. Laxness misspelled my father’s name.) I have a thing about Iceland, especially the medieval lit­erature, and I have come to love Icelandic folklore. Hidden Folk, which came out early in 2015, is a collection of stories based on Icelandic folklore and literature.

‘‘Icelanders don’t have princes and princesses – Iceland was too poor for royalty, even in folktales. Instead, there are trolls, elves, ghosts, outlaws, and ministers who study the black arts. Hidden Folk is very much my own version of Icelandic tales. My elves are unpleasant upper-class types. My trolls are poor farmers and workers, barely surviving. My humans are a mixed lot: farmers and farmwives, students of the magical arts, slaves, a writer, a cop. Over the years, I wrote five Icelandic fantasies – six since the collection was published, and I’m work­ing on a seventh.”


‘‘Science fiction and fantasy have the appeal of strangeness, and of course science and technology are enormously important in science fiction. SF has been dealing with global warming consistently, while the presidential candidates have barely men­tioned it. There’s no question that it’s happening, and it’s going to be devastating. James Lovelock, who came up with the Gaia theory, has said we’re going to be down to a billion people by the end of the century.

‘‘I read a lot projections of the future, and people never factor in enough. They project a population of nine billion, but they don’t factor in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – famine, war, dis­ease, and death due to climate change. All they’re doing is a projection of where we’ve been. Science fiction, when it’s good, will pick up a whole bunch of these ideas at once. There was a panel at the 2016 Minicon about writing SF in which many things are changing, rather than just one. One of the things that makes me crazy about much hard SF is, you’re in the future with unbelievable physics that nobody now can understand… but everybody has names like Brad and Charles and they’re living the way we live now. That is nuts. Charles Stross’s early novels had more things happening than I could keep track of. They were stunning.”

‘‘Writing Ring of Swords was a lot of fun – it’s the fastest I’ve ever written a novel, and the first separate hwarhath story, ‘The Hound of Merin’, was also written at about the same time as the novel. Ring of Swords was going to be the first of a trilogy, and I wrote the second volume, but it was turned down by the publisher. It’s really hard to sell the middle book of a trilogy by itself, so I put it to the side. There were problems with the sequel, and I’m not happy with the way it turned out. (I now have a contract with Aqueduct Press for a revised version of the sequel, so it will finally come out.) I was frustrated with the trilogy, and I had a lot more information about the hwarhath, so I started writing short stories. These turned out to be stories written by hwarhath authors after they en­countered humanity, not only about the hwarhath, but about them thinking about their own culture, and in some cases thinking about humanity. The hwarhath are extremely rigid in many ways, and meeting a species very much like themselves but with different rules for male and female behavior leads the brighter among them to question what is the nature of men and women, and that underlies a lot of the stories.”


‘‘I have an alien species I’ve written a few stories about, the Goxhat, which are another attempt to look at social stereotypes or maybe ideas of self. In the early part of their culture there were teams, which would be a bunch of Goxhat hatched out of the same clutch of eggs. Each team thought of itself as ‘I,’ and no individual thought of itself as an individual. They come in four sexes, and a team could be all four sexes or one sex, and it’s all ‘I.’ My story ‘Knapsack Poems’ is about the Goxhat early in their history. As their culture evolved, their sense of ‘I’ got bigger, until the whole species became ‘I.’ They know that they are different bod­ies, but they don’t have a clear sense of themselves as individuals. They’re spacefaring, and they meet other species that don’t have their sense of oneness, so the problem becomes how the Goxhat can think about other species. They meet something that isn’t part of the ‘I’ – and what do they do about a species that is millions of ‘I’s?”

Cory Doctorow:

The Privacy Wars Are About to Get a Whole Lot Worse

It used to be that server logs were just boring utility files whose most dramatic moments came when someone forgot to write a script to wipe out the old ones and so they were left to accumulate until they filled the computer’s hard-drive and crashed the server.

Then, a series of weird accidents turned server logs into the signature motif of the 21st century, a kind of eternal, ubiquitous exhaust from our daily lives, the CO2 of the Internet: invisible, seemingly innocuous, but harmful enough, in aggregate, to destroy our world.

Here’s how that happened: first, there were cookies. People running web-servers wanted a way to interact with the people who were using them: a way, for example, to remember your preferences from visit to visit, or to identify you through several screens’ worth of interactions as you filled and cashed out a virtual shopping cart.

Then, Google and a few other companies came up with a business model. When Google started, no one could figure out how the com­pany would ever repay its investors, especially as the upstart search-engine turned up its nose at the dirtiest practices of the industry, such as plastering its homepage with banner ads or, worst of all, selling the top results for common search terms.

Instead, Google and the other early ad-tech companies worked out that they could place ads on other people’s websites, and that those ads could act as a two-way conduit between web users and Google. Every page with a Google ad was able to both set and read a Google cookie with your browser (you could turn this off, but no one did), so that Google could get a pretty good picture of which websites you visited. That information, in turn, could be used to target you for ads, and the sites that placed Google ads on their pages would get a little money for each visitor. Advertisers could target different kinds of users – users who had searched for information about asbestos and lung cancer, about baby products, about wedding planning, about science fiction novels. The websites themselves became part of Google’s ‘‘inventory’’ where it could place the ads, but they also improved Google’s dossiers on web users and gave it a better story to sell to advertisers.

The idea caught the zeitgeist, and soon everyone was trying to figure out how to gather, aggregate, analyze, and resell data about us as we moved around the web.

Of course, there were privacy implications to all this. As early breaches and tentative litigation spread around the world, lawyers for Google and for the major publishers (and for publishing tools, the blogging tools that eventually became the ubiquitous ‘‘Content Management Systems’’ that have become the default way to publish material online) adopted boiler­plate legalese, those ‘‘privacy policies’’ and ‘‘terms of service’’ and ‘‘end user license agreements’’ that are referenced at the bottom of so many of the pages you see every day, as in, ‘‘By using this website, you agree to abide by its terms of service.’’

As more and more companies twigged to the power of ‘‘surveillance capitalism,’’ these agreements proliferated, as did the need for them, because before long, everything was gathering data. As the Internet everted into the physical world and colonized our phones, we started to get a taste of what this would look like in the coming years. Apps that did innocuous things like turning your phone into a flashlight, or recording voice memos, or letting your kids join the dots on public domain clip-art, would come with ‘‘permissions’’ screens that required you to let them raid your phone for all the salient facts of your life: your phone number, e-mail address, SMSes and other messages, e-mail, location – everything that could be sensed or inferred about you by a device that you carried at all times and made privy to all your most sensitive moments.

When a backlash began, the app vendors and smartphone companies had a rebuttal ready: ‘‘You agreed to let us do this. We gave you notice of our privacy practices, and you consented.’’

This ‘‘notice and consent’’ model is absurd on its face, and yet it is surprisingly legally robust. As I write this in July of 2016, US federal appellate courts have just ruled on two cases that asked whether End User Licenses that no one read and no one understands and no one takes seriously are enforceable. The cases differed a little in their answer, but in both cases, the judges said that they were enforceable at least some of the time (and that violating them can be a felony!). These rulings come down as the entirety of America has been consumed with Pokémon Go fever, only to have a few killjoys like me point out that merely by installing the game, all those millions of players have ‘‘agreed’’ to forfeit their right to sue any of Pokémon’s corporate masters should the com­panies breach all that private player data. You do, however, have 30 days to opt out of this forfeiture; if Pokémon Go still exists in your timeline and you signed up for it in the past 30 days, send an e-mail to with the subject ‘‘Arbitra­tion Opt-out Notice’’ and include in the body ‘‘a clear declaration that you are opting out of the arbitration clause in the Pokémon Go terms of service.’’

Notice and consent is an absurd legal fiction. Jonathan A. Obar and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, a pair of communications professors from York University and the University of Connecticut, published a working paper in 2016 called ‘‘The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Net­working Services.’’ The paper details how the profs gave their students, who are studying license agreements and privacy, a chance to beta-test a new social network (this service was fictitious, but the students didn’t know that). To test the network, the students had to create accounts, and were given a chance to review the service’s terms of service and privacy policy, which prominently promised to give all the users’ personal data to the NSA, and demanded the students’ first-born children in return for access to the service. As you may have gathered from the paper’s title, none of the students noticed either fact, and almost none of them even glanced at the terms of service for more than a few seconds.

Indeed, you can’t examine the terms of service you interact with in any depth – it would take more than 24 hours a day just to figure out what rights you’ve given away that day. But as terrible as notice-and-consent is, at least it pretends that people should have some say in the destiny of the data that evanescences off of their lives as they move through time, space, and information.

The next generation of networked devices are literally incapable of participating in that fiction.

The coming Internet of Things – a terrible name that tells you that its proponents don’t yet know what it’s for, like ‘‘mobile phone’’ or ‘’3D printer’’ – will put networking capability in everything: appliances, light­bulbs, TVs, cars, medical implants, shoes, and garments. Your lightbulb doesn’t need to be able to run apps or route packets, but the tiny, com­modity controllers that allow smart lightswitches to control the lights anywhere (and thus allow devices like smart thermostats and phones to integrate with your lights and home security systems) will come with full-fledged computing capability by default, because that will be more cost-efficient that customizing a chip and system for every class of devices. The thing that has driven computers so relentlessly, making them cheaper, more powerful, and more ubiquitous, is their flexibility, their character of general-purposeness. That fact of general-purposeness is inescapable and wonderful and terrible, and it means that the R&D that’s put into making computers faster for aviation benefits the computers in your phone and your heart-monitor (and vice-versa). So every­thing’s going to have a computer.

You will ‘‘interact’’ with hundreds, then thou­sands, then tens of thousands of computers every day. The vast majority of these interactions will be glancing, momentary, and with computers that have no way of displaying terms of service, much less presenting you with a button to click to give your ‘‘consent’’ to them. Every TV in the sportsbar where you go for a drink will have cameras and mics and will capture your image and process it through facial-recognition software and capture your speech and pass it back to a server for continu­ous speech recognition (to check whether you’re giving it a voice command). Every car that drives past you will have cameras that record your like­ness and gait, that harvest the unique identifiers of your Bluetooth and other short-range radio devices, and send them to the cloud, where they’ll be merged and aggregated with other data from other sources.

In theory, if notice-and-consent was anything more than a polite fiction, none of this would hap­pen. If notice-and-consent are necessary to make data-collection legal, then without notice-and-consent, the collection is illegal.

But that’s not the realpolitik of this stuff: the reality is that when every car has more sensors than a Google Streetview car, when every TV comes with a camera to let you control it with gestures, when every medical implant collects telemetry that is collected by a ‘‘services’’ business and sold to insurers and pharma companies, the argument will go, ‘‘All this stuff is both good and necessary – you can’t hold back progress!’’

It’s true that we can’t have self-driving cars that don’t look hard at their surroundings all the time, and pay especially close attention to humans to make sure that they’re not killing them. However, there’s nothing intrinsic to self-driving cars that says that the data they gather needs to be retained or further processed. Remember that for many years, the server logs that recorded all your inter­actions with the web were flushed as a matter of course, because no one could figure out what they were good for, apart from debugging problems when they occurred.

The returns from data-acquisition have been de­clining for years. In the early years of data-driven advertising, advertisers took it on faith that better targeting justified much higher ad-rates. Over time, some of that optimism has worn off, helped along by the fact that we have become adapted to advertising, so that targeting no longer works as well as it did in the early days. Recall that soap companies once advertised by proclaiming, ‘‘You will be cleaner, 5 cents,’’ and seem to have sold a hell of a lot of soap that way. Over time, people became inured to those messages, entering into an arms race with advertisers that takes us all the way up to those Axe Body Spray ads where the right personal hygiene products will summon literal angels to the side of an unremarkable man and, despite their wings, these angels all exude decid­edly unangelic lust for our lad. The ads are always the most interesting part of old magazines, because they suggest a time when people were much more naive about the messages they believed.

But diminishing returns can be masked by more aggressive collection. If Facebook can’t figure out how to justify its ad ratecard based on the data it knows about you, it can just plot ways to find out a lot more about you and buoy up that price.

The next iteration of this is the gadgets that will spy on us from every angle, in every way, all the time. The data that these services collect will be even more toxic in its potential to harm us. Consider that today, identity thieves merge data from several breaches in order to piece together enough information to get a duplicate deed for their victims’ houses and sell those houses out from under them; that voyeurs use untargeted attacks to seize control over peoples’ laptops to capture nude photos of them and then use those to blackmail their victims to perform live sex-acts on camera; that every person who ever applied for security clearance in the USA had their data stolen by Chinese spies, who broke into the Office of Personnel Management’s servers and stole more than 20,000,000 records.

The best way to secure data is never to collect it in the first place. Data that is collected is likely to leak. Data that is collected and retained is certain to leak. A house that can be controlled by voice and gesture is a house with a camera and a microphone covering every inch of its floorplan.

The IoT will rupture notice-and-consent, but without some other legal framework to replace it, it’ll be a free-for-all that ends in catastrophe.

I’m frankly very scared of this outcome and have a hard time imagining many ways in which we can avert it, but I do have one scenario that’s plausible: class action lawsuits.

Right now, companies that breach their users’ data face virtually no liability. When Home Depot lost 53 million credit-card numbers and 56 million associated e-mail addresses, a court awarded its customers $0.34 each, along with gift certificates for credit monitoring services, whose efficacy is not borne out in the literature. But the breaches will keep on coming, and they will get worse, and entrepreneurial class-action lawyers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to clients. These no-win/no-fee lawyers represent a kind of sustained, hill-climbing iterative attack on surveillance capital­ism, trying randomly varied approaches to get courts to force the corporations they sue to absorb the full social cost of their reckless data-collection and handling.

Eventually, some lawyer is going to convince a judge that, say, 1% the victims of a deep-pocketed company’s breach will end up losing their houses to identity thieves as a result of the data that the company has leaked, and that the damages should be equal to 1% of all the property owned by a 53 million (or 500 million!) customers whom the company has wronged. It will take down a Fortune 100 company, and transfer billions from investors and insurers to lawyers and their clients.

When that day comes, there’ll be blood in the boardroom. Every major investor will want to know that the company is insured for a potential award of 500X the company’s net worth. Every re-insurer and underwriter will want to know exactly what data-collection practices they’re insuring. (Indeed, even a good scare will likely bring both circumstances to reality, even if the decision is successfully appealed).

The danger, of course, is the terms of service. If every ‘‘agreement’’ you click past or flee from includes forced arbitration – that is, a surrender of your right to sue or join a class action – then there’s no class to join the class action. There’s a reason arbitration agreements have proliferated to every corner of our lives, from Airbnb and Google Fiber to several doctors and dentists whose waiting-rooms I’ve walked out of since moving back the USA last year. I even had to agree to forced arbi­tration to drop my daughter off at a kids’ birthday party (I’m not making this up – it was in a pizza parlor with a jungle gym).

It’s a coming storm of the century, and our umbrellas are all those water-soluble $5 numbers that materialize on New York street corners every time clouds appear in the sky. Be afraid.

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