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Sarah Monette: The Key to the Library

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from the interview:

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Daniel José Older: Crossroads

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

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

Excerpts from the interview:

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neal Stephenson: Exponential Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from the interview:

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

Wesley Chu: Timelines

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

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

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

Excerpts from the interview:

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Kameron Hurley: Your Author Meltdown Will Be Live-Tweeted

While standing in line with my spouse to get onto the Book Expo America (BEA) show floor, we started up a conversation about how eas­ily the plain paper badges could be forged. All you need is a good color copier. As we bantered back and forth, the woman in front of us kept looking at us sideways. The third time she did it I realized that anybody in line could be live-tweeting this conversa­tion, and that it was possible that I’d check my phone in an hour and see a barrage of tweets and a couple blog posts with headlines like, ‘‘Author Kameron Hurley tells readers to forge BEA passes.’’

When I have my name tag on at events like this, I know that every public conversation I have could end up on the public bulletin board that is the Internet and attributed to me. I’ve gotten used to the idea that everything I do on panels and in fan interactions is public, but knowing I was just as vulnerable standing there in line suddenly exhausted me.

You spend your whole life trying to be somebody, and when you’re finally somebody to some people after a couple decades of long, hard work, you find that it’s really not as great as you thought. For me, the perils of my du­bious internet fame haven’t yet come with enough money to make up for everything else.

Over the last couple years, my audience has grown from a few hundred people who actually enjoy reading what I have to say, to tens of thou­sands of causal or one-off readers, some of whom really do hate-read me. I know people who’ve trashed me (me, not the work) on other forums, who still trundle on by the blog or read columns like this to lap up every word so they can rant about how awful it all is. In fact, I realized I’d ‘‘made it’’ the first time I read a full-on rant from somebody I’d never met who went on and on about what a stupid, ignorant, nasty person I was. Not my books, mind you – me personally, the human who shops for groceries and forgets to do laundry. It was the most bizarre thing ever, like watching somebody rip into how much they hate Walmart or The Hobbit movie.

I had become…. a thing. A brand? A business? Not human.

The more people respect what you have to say, the more folks will come out of the woodwork trying to tear you down. Having been one of the people flinging arrows at authors myself (and let’s be real, I still do), I get it, and I accept it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to navigate when you’re sitting in a restaurant and wondering if your dinner conversation will end up in an Instagram video.

In the ten years I’ve been writing online, I’ve mostly been hated as some kind of women’s lib boogeyman, and that’s just funny more than anything. It’s a lot easier for me to dismiss haters when they’re sending me death threats for believing women are people. It’s harder to dismiss people who want me dead because they despise me in general. In the same breath they’ll say I should be garroted to keep me from speaking and Starbucks should stop serving Pumpkin Spice Lattes because, gosh, those lattes are gross.

More and more, ‘‘being a writer’’ isn’t about writing at all. It’s about the writer as celebrity. The writer as brand. The writer as commodity. And more and more, I see authors themselves reviewed as if they’re busi­nesses on Yelp.

A colleague of mine calls the strange entity people are reacting to as the ‘‘authorial construct.’’ People don’t really hate you. They hate this idea of you that they’ve constructed in their heads. You become the em­bodiment of all of their frustrations and failures. You’re also far more accessible than, say, Lady Gaga or the President. They figure they have a better chance of getting to you and shutting you up than they do of get­ting Target to stop selling stuff for babies.

We talk a lot about how rich and famous people deserve public scru­tiny. I never suspected that I’d get a taste of that without the rich or the famous part. Audiences work hard to pull obscure voices like mine from the screaming bowels of the Internet, but once you’re here, once you be­come The Man, you face a whole new wall of pitchforks, and they’re of­ten the people who championed your work in the first place. It does make me wonder sometimes what we’re fighting for.

I know we can always do better, and I do my part to champion new voices, but in among all this doing better there’s also the work it­self, and perhaps that’s the toughest part in this whole equation. Staying on somebody’s hate-read list requires a lot of work that has nothing to do with dinner conversations.

I went into the whirlwind that is BEA know­ing things were going to go wrong, because I’d been working on my fifth book nonstop in the days leading up to the con. I literally sent the book to my editor from the passenger seat of the car halfway to New York. I was two weeks late on my structural edit and extremely stressed out (I still have a full-time day job), and had had no time to wash dishes or do laun­dry, let alone check on vital logistics for the convention (I forgot to bring pen syringes for the medication that keeps me alive, which tells you something about the level of my stress). We went into the con without having secured a badge for my spouse, without confirming that our apartment had air conditioning, without sending my books ahead of time, and without confirming that the public­ity folks at Simon and Schuster had finalized my signing after my panel.

Just arriving at the convention without being thrown out was a huge win. I managed to keep it together until the very, very end, when I ran to go pick up my books from the bookstore booth. Because I had no public­ity champion managing the event for me (which I was used to, but was not usual for other authors at BEA), there was nobody to tell them to put out my books, even though I’d labeled the boxes with my signing times and inventory counts. What this meant was that I pretty much had exactly the same number of books to haul out as I hauled in.

I felt stupid. Who the hell was I, thinking I was a real professional author?

I kept going over ways I should have managed it better, and as I spoke to the bookstore rep in the back, she apologized again for all the misun­derstandings, and I said that no, no, these things happen, it’s not a big deal and she said I’m sorry it happened to you and I was like, well it has to happen to someone and she said no, I’m sorry it happened to you because you’re all by yourself.

The reality is I’m not a big brand. I’m just a human, working my tail off to do the best I can.

That’s when I lost it. I turned away so she couldn’t see my face and wheeled the books out, and cried my way to the car across the parking lot in the driving rain of a massive thunderstorm, ruining $400 worth of books because they wouldn’t let us drive the car up to the convention doors. Her words reminded me of how I’d gotten used to doing so much myself because of the totally messed up business practices of my first publisher, and I had no idea how to function at massive ‘‘real author’’ events like this where everyone seemed to have publicists and editors and handlers managing their books and lines and calendars.

I kept myself buttoned up right up until that last day, because the real­ity is that if I’m angry at some stupid mix-up, it’s possible that annoyance will happen in front of fans, or effect a signing, or bleed into a public ap­pearance, or become some pretentious rant on Twitter, and then I become that jerk author.

I ruin the business. Whatever that is.

What you never get about being an author until you become one is that it’s not a glamorous life. It’s not typing words on a keyboard on the beach. You’re a small business, and you will be rated on your total overall perfor­mance like a restaurant on Urbanspoon.

In our hearts, we sell dreams and hope for a fu­ture that could be. Ursula K. Le Guin can rail on about how books shouldn’t be treated like widgets, and authors shouldn’t be rated like restaurants, but the reality is that this is the business environment we’re working in. This is how we’re making our living, one McBook at a time.

Max Gladstone: Power & Destiny

Max Walker Gladstone was born May 28, 1984 in Concord MA, and grew up mostly in Ohio and Tennessee. He graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese. He has been to China several times, and lived there from 2006-8 as a Yale-China Fellow, teaching in a rural school.

Debut novel Three Parts Dead (2012) began the Craft sequence, ‘‘tales of wizards in pinstriped suits and gods with shareholders’ committees,’’ which continues in Two Serpents Rise (2013), Full Fathom Five (2014), and Last First Snow, forthcoming July 2015. Gladstone was a finalist for the Campbell Award for best new writer in 2013 and 2014. He also writes games, notably interactive fiction Choice of the Deathless, and has a Pathfinder Tales RPG tie-in novel forthcoming in 2016.

Gladstone lives in Somerville MA with his wife, Stephanie Neely.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The idea that led to me writing Three Parts Dead was a Big Idea. It was really an interpretive lens I created to write about issues in the world economy. I came back from China in 2008. I was looking for work at the same time the whole economy tripped and stumbled into a wood chip­per. I was impressed by the terror that reverberated through the markets, the fear you could see in news anchors’ eyes and hear in the voices of the guests they brought on to explain what had happened – to the extent that anyone could describe what hap­pened – and the religious dimensions of it. Hun­dreds of billions of dollars of damage, trillions. The world teetering… but nothing had happened on a physical level. There was no smoking crater that was AIG. ‘This once was the castle of my father’ – there was none of that. The economic crisis was a cataclysm on a spiritual level that nevertheless had real physical effects on human beings. It was like gods dying. Like Ragnarok, or Gotterdammerung at least. We were witnessing the twilight of a cer­tain set of gods and monsters, which then devoured their own entrails and gave birth to another set of god/monsters, which is what always happens with gods. Money, and law, and the change of world systems were easy for me to model in the context of fantasy. I could talk about this stuff with magic: in fact, it was easiest to talk about it with magic.

‘‘Those experiences dovetailed with things my wife talked about (she was in law school at the time) and things her mother talked about (she’s a bankruptcy lawyer), about the way bankruptcy law works. Growing up in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, I thought bankruptcy was, ‘Well, we have no money anymore, so we’re just going to fire everybody and sell our stuff and try to pay everyone back.’ The notion that the bankrupt en­tity could be rescued, in some horribly invasive way, didn’t occur to me. Bailing out a corpora­tion – a notional fictional entity – seemed a lot like taking a real dead person, putting them on a slab, surrounding them with certain protections and guards, consulting with others who have an interest in the dead entity, taking the parts that were left, wiring them all together with silver and cold iron, hooking the body up to a lightning rod, and telling Igor to crank away. All of a sudden, the corpse of Delta Airlines rises from the table, groaning: ‘Flights will come.’

‘‘I realized how much my wife’s law school classes sounded like things you’d study at Hog­warts. Most of the time when you go to gradu­ate school the courses are ‘Advanced Theories’ and ‘Topics in Confrontational Microbiology’ or something. In law school, you find titles like ‘Remedies,’ and ‘Contracts,’ and ‘Corps.’ Cor­porations gets called ‘corps,’ pronounced like ‘corpse,’ as in, ‘I have to go to my corps class.’ I had this post-industrial fantasy world taking shape in my head, as a dark mirror of everything going on around me and in the world economy. With Three Parts Dead I sat down to write a story that was a little contained, because I couldn’t tackle the global catastrophe entirely. I could cover the aftermath, a contained version of it, which is very much what’s going on in Three Parts Dead: the god of the city has died. It’s more like the last few years of Detroit than the financial catastrophe of 2008.

“…The philosopher Feuerbach had this idea that God is a projection of human potential. Humans have a natural tendency to create something better than us, or stronger than us, or older than us by induction, so gods emerge as a network effect in human communities, from the way people talk about themselves. You create something like that, and it can’t help but be real in the sense that it shapes the way people live, and it shapes their vision of possibility. I’m always in conversation with these questions of power and destiny and possibilities.”


‘‘There’s an illusion that there’s such a thing as pure ‘literary fiction.’ I say that in the larg­est quotes possible because I don’t think it cor­responds with literature about the real world. We have stories about middle-class, comfortable people problems, and we tell ourselves that’s what the world is. That’s the circle of firelight. That’s the tiny little raft. There are oceans and oceans beneath it.

‘‘I wanted to write individual books. Terry Pratchett was an enormous influence on me grow­ing up. Any given Terry Pratchett book, you could pick it up and read it easily, assuming you have a little of that skill people acquire in genre fiction of dropping into a world and orienting yourself. You could pick up any book in the Discworld series, anything off the shelf, and know where you were in about 40 pages. By the end of that book you would have a complete story told to you. There would be more aspects of these people and this world that you could continue to explore, but it wasn’t necessary. That was amazing. That ap­proach felt very satisfying to me as an alterna­tive to the ‘seven doorstoppers and no ending in sight’ approach, which has its own advantages, of course. Still, I felt very strongly about wanting to write complete stories in each book.”


‘‘The stories that influenced me were stories we would consider genre. You try to tell anything like Journey to the West in terms of its block­ing or structure, and it’s automatically genre. At the same time, I was growing up with SF. When my uncle Danny found out I was interested in Star Trek, he showed up with a cardboard box full of Ace paperbacks and a little Post-It note listing ev­ery book that had won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards up to that point. He said, ‘Read these first. Start with these Asimovs here because you’ll need them to understand what else is going on.’ That was my introduction to genre. It was amazing. I read Foundation. I found Roger Zelazny and read Lord of Light for the first time when I was ten, and didn’t understand it at all. Then I read it when I was 11 and understood a little. I grew up with that book, though. When I was 14 I realized how funny it was, on the first page even, with Yama messing with the dials on the prayer machine and invok­ing the local fertility gods by their most prominent aspect – I laughed so hard when I figured out what that actually meant. I realized how much humor was in the text, just slightly submerged.”

Joanne Harris: Modern Myths

Joanne Michéle Sylvie Harris was born July 3, 1964 in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England, though she also spent time with family in France, and spoke French before English. She studied modern and medieval languages at Cambridge, and worked briefly as an accountant before taking teacher training at Sheffield University, after which she spent 15 years as a schoolteacher. She also lectured at Sheffield University on French literature and film.

Harris is a bestselling literary author who often incorporates the fantastic into her work, to greater or lesser degrees. Her first novel was The Evil Seed (1989), followed by Sleep, Pale Sister (1993), but she achieved her first great success with magical-realist novel Chocolat (1999), adapted as an acclaimed film the following year. After that she became a full-time writer, producing novels Blackberry Wine (2000), Five Quarters of the Orange (2001), Coastliners (2002), Holy Fools (2003), Gentlemen & Players (2005), The French Market (2005), The Lollipop Shoes (2007; in the US as The Girl With No Shadow, 2008), Blueeyedboy (2010), Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (2012; in the US as Peaches for Father Francis). She began a Norse myth-inspired fantasy series with Runemarks (2007) and continued it in Runelight (2011). Her latest book is standalone fantasy The Gospel of Loki (2014), as by Joanne M. Harris.

Harris is also a respected short story author, and some of her shorter work has been collected in Jigs & Reels (2004) and A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String (2012). She co-wrote two books on French cooking with Fran Warde.

Many of her works have won or been finalists for prestigious literature awards, and she has been a judge for the Whitbread Prize (now the Costa) and the Orange Prize. She is an honorary Fellow of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge and holds honorary doctorates from the University of Hudderfield and the University of Sheffield. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2013. Harris lives in Yorkshire with her husband and their daughter.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘It’s taken me a long time to understand why genre labels are even necessary. I’ve never felt any of them applied to me entirely. A lot of my publishers have found it hard to quantify what I do. I don’t think of myself as having a label attached. I’m sure the labels are useful to some people, but I read so many things and I write in so many different areas that to me, if it’s a good story, it’s a good story.

‘‘When you look at what I’ve done before, I’ve never been far from the fantasy area. I’ve been talking about magic for 15 years. I’ve written two other books about Norse gods besides The Gospel of Loki. It’s not new to me. Mythology is something I’ve been interested in since I was itty bitty, and Norse mythology particularly. I’m from Yorkshire, which has an awful lot of Norse culture embedded in it. It’s there in the language, in the names, in the geography and the landscape, and in the literature, too. It’s very familiar. It’s neither exotic nor far from home. I was drawn to Norse mythology as a child because it seemed so very familiar, whereas the Romans and the Greeks seemed quite distant by comparison. York­shire slang is full of Danish words and Icelandic words. Words that are very clearly from Norse languages. My grandmother’s maiden name was Briggs, which means ‘bridge’ in old Norse. I live spitting distance from York, which was a big Viking settlement. You just scratch the ground and you’ll find some sort of artifact. There’s an excavation called Jorvik, which is the Viking for York, and it’s now a big tourist visitors centre. I remember it when it was a hole in the ground. When I was 16 I worked on the dig. It was an archaeological site that was supposed to be open for only six months, and then something was going to be built on it. People were trying to get as much as they could of historical interest out of the ground. I volunteered to work on it because even at 16 I was obsessed with Norse culture. I was in on that, which was probably the most impor­tant archaeological Viking site in the country. I found loads of things. It was mostly a rubbish tip. We didn’t find anything really valuable, but we found an awful lot of bones and oyster shells and bits of crockery. Where I live, my house is two miles from an Iron Age fort. It’s basically a hill with some earthworks. You can see how various tribes of Celts and later Norse settlers came together and moved around. It was all happening in Yorkshire.”


‘‘I don’t tend to work on just one thing at once. I will segue from one to another when it becomes necessary. Sometimes I need some thinking time or some resting time or some researching time. I will generally jump to a different project. Some­times it’s a very different project. Sometimes I need to jump from one headspace into another. Short stories go rather slowly. I might average four a year. Last year I only did one because it was a Doctor Who book and it was a bit longer. It was a novella. They wanted a short e-book and they wanted to put it in a collection called Time Trips. They took a number of authors who’d been Doctor Who fans during childhood and adolescence and asked them their take on any doctor they chose. I chose the third doctor because that was the one I remembered best as a child. I remembered the sec­ond doctor, but I think it’s the one you remember when you’re about six or seven that’s the formative doctor. It was in my case, anyway. I wrote a story called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller’. Which slots in nicely right at the end of ‘Planet of the Spiders’, where that doctor dies, or at least is grievously poisoned by radiation and comes to Earth to regenerate. There’s a little point where there’s a suggestion that something else may have happened. He disappears for two weeks. He says he was lost in the time vortex. I popped my story in there. It’s a kind of contemplative story about coming to terms with death. One’s own, but also the death of humans, which is slightly differ­ent from the Doctor. It was an interesting one to do – I had a lot of fun – but it was daunting because the Doctor Who fanbase is an extremely vocal one and they know a lot. I was worried that if I got something wrong people would point it out. They were actually very nice indeed.”


‘‘I’ve been very lucky. I’ve visited so many won­derful places. I love visiting New Zealand and I love visiting Australia. I very rarely get to do any sightseeing. If I’m in a place for two weeks I might get a day off, but I’m very good at using whatever time is available. I love coming to the states be­cause everywhere is so different. Every city has its own personality, and every state is like a dif­ferent country. I’ve enjoyed going to Russia very much. It’s a very interesting country and the fans are extremely passionate. I’ve written travel pieces as well where they’ve sent me to wild and marvel­ous places that I wouldn’t have otherwise been to. Who’d have known that stories would send you so far?”


‘‘I don’t generally talk much about forthcom­ing things because it depends on how long it takes them to come forth. People get impatient. At the moment I’m working on a sort of fantasy novel. It’s a collection of stories with an overarching story running through it. It’s called Honeycomb. People who follow me on Twitter will be familiar with some of the stories because I write them on Twit­ter. When I joined Twitter about three years ago I didn’t quite know what to say and so I started writ­ing stories sentence by sentence. People started to tune in and listen and now they request story time. I realized after a few years I had quite a large archive of stories, some of them with returning characters. Initially I hadn’t saved these stories. I just left them out there. I thought, ‘Twitter is ephemeral. These stories that I’m making up on the spot should also be ephemeral.’ People started to say, ‘You ought to keep them, and if you don’t, then I will.’ People storified them and sent me the text. I started to keep them after that, and go back and pick them up. I’d published a few of them in various magazines. I published one in Fairy Magazine, which Charles Vess illustrated for me. He’s a wonderful illustra­tor. I got another one in a couple of anthologies. So I started to plan them as a book. In fact I’ve got Charles to illustrate it, which is a wonderful coup. I’ve put some of them to music. I’ve been doing musical story-tellings in front of audiences, which is interesting. One of them made it as a sort of mini opera. I’ve been in a band for a long time. Because I’m slightly obsessed with this oral tradition of story, I thought, instead of doing readings the way I always do at festivals, wouldn’t it be nice to ex­perience another means of telling stories? I bring my band and tell stories to music, and there’ll be some songs based on stories. I play flute and bass and sometimes I sing. We all do things together. That was lots of fun. These stories that don’t quite want to stay on the page, eventually I’m going to put them in a book. I’m halfway through trying to give it a book structure. That may take a little time to put together, but I think it’ll be a pretty book.”

Cory Doctorow: Skynet Ascendant

As I’ve written here before, science fiction is terrible at predicting the future, but it’s great at predicting the present. SF writers imagine all the futures they can, and these futures are processed by a huge, dynamic system consisting of editors, booksellers, and readers. The futures that attain popular and commercial success tell us what fears and aspirations for technology and society are bubbling in our collective imaginations.

When you read an era’s popular SF, you don’t learn much about the future, but you sure learn a lot about the past. Fright and hope are the inner and outer boundaries of our imagination, and the stories that appeal to either are the parameters of an era’s political reality.

Pay close attention to the impossibilities. When we find ourselves fascinated by faster than light travel, consciousness uploading, or the silly business from The Matrix of AIs using human beings as batteries, there’s something there that’s chiming with our lived experience of technology and social change.

Postwar SF featured mass-scale, state-level projects, a kind of science fictional New Deal. Americans and their imperial rivals built cities in space, hung skyhooks in orbit, even made Dyson Spheres that treated all the Solar System’s matter as the raw material for the a new, human-optimized megaplanet/space-station that would harvest every photon put out by our sun and put it to work for the human race.

Meanwhile, the people buying these books were living in an era of rapid economic growth, and even more importantly, the fruits of that economic growth were distributed to the middle class as well as to society’s richest. This was thanks to nearly unprecedented policies that protected tenants at the expense of landlords, workers at the expense of employers, and buy­ers at the expense of sellers. How those policies came to be enacted is a question of great interest today, even as most of them have been sunsetted by successive governments across the developed world.

Thomas Piketty’s data-driven economics bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century argues that the vast capital destruction of the two World Wars (and the chaos of the interwar years) weakened the grip of the wealthy on the governments of the world’s developed states. The arguments in favor of workplace safety laws, taxes on capital gains, and other policies that undermined the wealthy and benefited the middle class were not new. What was new was the political possibility of these ideas.

As developed nations’ middle classes grew, so did their material wealth, political influence, and expectations that governments would build am­bitious projects like interstate highways and massive civil engineering projects. These were politically popular – because lawmakers could use them to secure pork for their voters – and also lucrative for government contractors, making ‘‘Big Government’’ a rare point of agreement between the rich and middle-income earners.

(A note on poor people: Piketty’s data suggests that the share of the national wealth controlled by the bottom 50% has not changed much for several centuries – eras of prosperity are mostly about redistributing from the top 10-20% to the next 30-40%)

Piketty hypothesizes that the returns on investment are usually greater than the rate of growth in an economy. The best way to get rich is to start with a bunch of money that you turn over to professional managers to invest for you – all things being equal, this will make you richer than you could get by inventing something everyone uses and loves. For example, Piketty contrasts Bill Gates’s fortunes as the founder of Microsoft, once the most profitable company in the world, with Gates’s fortunes as an investor after his retirement from the business. Gates-the-founder made a lot less by creating one of the most successful and profitable products in history than he did when he gave up making stuff and started owning stuff for a living.

By the early 1980s, the share of wealth controlled by the top decile tipped over to the point where they could make their political will felt again – again, Piketty supports this with data showing that nations elect seriously investor-friendly/worker-unfriendly governments when investors gain control over a critical percentage of the national wealth. Leaders like Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet, and Mulroney enacted legislative reforms that reversed the post-war trend, dis­mantling the rules that had given skilled workers an edge over their employers – and the investors the employers served.

The greed-is-good era was also the cyberpunk era of literary globalized corporate dystopias. Even though Neuromancer and Mirrorshades predated the anti-WTO protests by a decade and a half, they painted similar pictures. Educated, skilled people – people who comprised the mass of SF buyers – became a semi-disposable under­class in world where the hyperrich had literally ascended to the heavens, living in orbital luxury hotels and harvesting wealth from the bulk of humanity like whales straining krill.

Seen in this light, the vicious literary feuds between the cyberpunks and the old guard of space-colonizing stellar engineer writers can be seen as a struggle over our political imagination. If we crank the state’s dials all the way over the right, favoring the industrialist ‘‘job creators’’ to the exclusion of others, will we find our way to the stars by way of trickle-down, or will the overclass graft their way into a decadent New Old Rome, where reality TV and hedge fund raids consume the attention and work we once devoted to exploring our solar system?

Today, wealth disparity consumes the popular imagination and political debates. The front-running science fictional impossibility of the unequal age is rampant artificial intelligence. There were a lot of SF movies produced in the mid-eighties, but few retain the currency of the Termina­tor and its humanity-annihilating AI, Skynet. Everyone seems to thrum when that chord is plucked – even the NSA named one of its illegal mass surveillance programs SKYNET.

It’s been nearly 15 years since the Matrix movies debuted, but the Red Pill/Blue Pill business still gets a lot of play, and young adults who were small children when Neo fought the AIs know exactly what we mean when we talk about the Matrix.

Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and other luminaries have issued pan­icked warnings about the coming age of humanity-hating computerized overlords. We dote on the party tricks of modern AIs, sending half-admiring/half-dreading laurels to the Watson team when it manages to win at Jeopardy or randomwalk its way into a new recipe.

The fear of AIs is way out of proportion to their performance. The Big Data-trawling systems that are supposed to find terrorists or figure out what ads to show you have been a consistent flop. Facebook’s new growth model is sending a lot of Web traffic to businesses whose Facebook followers are increasing, waiting for them to shift their major commercial strategies over to Facebook marketing, then turning off the traffic and demanding recur­ring payments to send it back – a far cry from using all the facts of your life to figure out that you’re about to buy a car before even you know it.

Google’s self-driving cars can only operate on roads that humans have mapped by hand, manually marking every piece of street-furniture. The NSA can’t point to a single terrorist plot that mass-surveillance has disrupted. Ad personalization sucks so hard you can hear it from orbit.

We don’t need artificial intelligences that think like us, after all. We have a lot of human cognition lying around, going spare – so much that we have to create listicles and other cognitive busy-work to absorb it. An AI that thinks like a human is a redundant vanity project – a thinking version of the ornithopter, a useless mechanical novelty that flies like a bird.

We need machines that don’t fly like birds. We need AI that thinks unlike humans. For example, we need AIs that can be vigilant for bomb-parts on airport X-rays. Humans literally can’t do this. If you spend all day looking for bomb-parts but finding water bottles, your brain will rewire your neurons to look for water bottles. You can’t get good at something you never do.

What does the fear of futuristic AI tell us about the parameters of our present-day fears and hopes?

I think it’s corporations.

We haven’t made Skynet, but we have made these autonomous, transhuman, transnational technolo­gies whose bodies are distributed throughout our physical and economic reality. The Internet of Things version of the razorblade business model (sell cheap handles, use them to lock people into buying expensive blades) means that the products we buy treat us as adversaries, checking to see if we’re breaking the business logic of their makers and self-destructing if they sense tampering.

Corporations run on a form of code – financial regulation and accounting practices – and the modern version of this code literally prohibits corporations from treating human beings with empathy. The principle of fiduciary duty to inves­tors means that where there is a chance to make an investor richer while making a worker or customer miserable, management is obliged to side with the investor, so long as the misery doesn’t backfire so much that it harms the investor’s quarterly return.

We humans are the inconvenient gut-flora of the corporation. They aren’t hostile to us. They aren’t sympathetic to us. Just as every human carries a hundred times more non-human cells in her gut than she has in the rest of her body, every corpora­tion is made up of many separate living creatures that it relies upon for its survival, but which are fundamentally interchangeable and disposable for its purposes. Just as you view stray gut-flora that attacks you as a pathogen and fight it off with anti­biotics, corporations attack their human adversaries with an impersonal viciousness that is all the more terrifying for its lack of any emotional heat.

The age of automation gave us stories like Chap­lain’s Modern Times, and the age of multinational hedge-fund capitalism made The Matrix into an enduring parable. We’ve gone from being cogs to being a reproductive agar within which new cor­porations can breed. As Mitt Romney reminded us, ‘‘Corporations are people.’’

James Morrow: Absolute Uncertainty

James Kenneth Morrow was born March 17, 1947, in Philadelphia PA and received a BA in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969. He earned an MAT from Harvard in 1970, taught English at the Cambridge Pilot School from 1970-71, worked as an instructional materials specialist for the Chelmsford Public Schools in Massachusetts from 1972-74, taught media production at Tufts University from 1977-79, and contributed articles to A Teacher’s Guide to NOVA from 1979-85. He has been mostly a freelance writer for nearly 40 years. He has two children from his first marriage (to Jean Pierce) and lives in State College PA with second wife Kathryn Smith Morrow and son Christopher.

Morrow is one of our leading satirists. His first novel, The Wine of Violence, appeared in 1981, followed by The Continent of Lies (1985); Nebula Award finalist and Campbell Memorial Award runner-up This Is the Way the World Ends (1986); and World Fantasy Award Winner Only Begotten Daughter (1990), also a Campbell Memorial and Nebula Award finalist. His Godhead trilogy includes the World Fantasy and Grand Prix l’Imaginaire winner Towing Jehovah (1994), also a Hugo, Clarke, and Nebula Award finalist; New York Times notable book Blameless in Abaddon (1996); and Grand Prix l’Imaginaire finalist The Eternal Footman (1999). Postmodern historical epic The Last Witchfinder appeared in 2006, and Frankenstein homage, The Philosopher’s Apprentice, in 2008. His latest novel is Galápagos Regained (2015).

Morrow is equally adept at short fiction. Notable stories include Nebula Award winners ‘‘Bible Stories for Adults #17: The Deluge’’ (1989) and novella City of Truth (1990), and Nebula Award nominee ‘‘Auspicious Eggs’’ (2000). Novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima (2009) won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and was a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. Novella The Madonna and the Starship appeared in 2014. His stories have been collected in Author’s Choice Monthly Issue 8 (1990), World Fantasy Award nominee Bible Stories for Adults (1996), and The Cat’s Pajamas & Other Stories (2004). Collection Reality By Other Means is forthcoming.

Morrow edited the Nebula Awards anthologies numbers 26, 27, and 28 (1993-1994), and co-edited The SFWA European Hall of Fame (2008, with Kathryn Morrow). He won a Prix Utopia Award for life achievement at the Utopiales Festival in Nantes, France, in 2005.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I’m a difficult writer to categorize. If it said ‘science fiction author’ on my tombstone, I’d be happy in my state of oblivion. If it said ‘satirist’ on my tombstone, I’d be equally satisfied. I think the river of my imagination is fed by all the tributaries of the satiric tradition, but I appreciate the particular ways the science fiction toolkit lets me deconstruct human follies and foi­bles. My literary heroes certainly include SF satirists like Robert Sheckley and William Tenn, but also mainstream satirists. Jonathan Swift is a name I don’t get tired of hearing associated with the oeuvre of James Morrow. Vol­taire, certainly, and Mark Twain, and Joseph Heller. I’ve drawn nourishment from all their work.”


‘‘I hope I never lose my edge. If I ever become some kind of benevolent grandfather figure – God strike me down! I always want to make people ner­vous. I insist that people get up every morning and do an uncomfortable amount of thinking. That’s the great gift of the 18th-century Enlightenment, that insistence on a conversation that must never stop, a conversation that must never be shut down by theistic fantasies about the workings of the uni­verse. Absolute certainty is the great malaise of our species, all those clerics and political thinkers who say, ‘Please ignore this pile of bodies over here while I tell you how the world works.’

‘‘When you’re a satirist, nothing is sacred, not even worldviews you happen to agree with. One thing I like about my Towing Jehovah thought experiment, one of the surprising inevitabilities that precipitated out of that broth, was that it gave me an opportunity to mock myself. At the center of the novel is the conceit of the Corpus Dei, the two-mile-long corpse of God that my hero, a su­pertanker captain, must deliver to its final resting place in the Arctic. As the plot unfolds, the body becomes a sort of three-dimensional Rorschach test, a big floating inkblot. That novel is a bit like the Hindu fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant: everyone comes away with a different interpreta­tion. You touch the elephant’s tusk, and you decide an elephant is like a spear. The leg of the elephant leads one blind man to believe an elephant is es­sentially a tree, and the tail means elephants are ropes, and the trunk means elephants are snakes.

‘‘In Towing Jehovah, one of those limited viewpoints becomes that of atheists, even though I’m an atheist myself. When you think about it, if you stumble upon the corpse of God, that means that he or she or it was once alive, and that invali­dates the atheist argument. I had fun making up the Central Park West Enlightenment League, and being rather severe with them for wanting to blow the Corpus Dei out of the water. It’s a very human reaction, but pretty hypocritical. One of the more clear-thinking Enlightenment League members ac­cuses her fellow skeptics of what she calls ‘atheist fundamentalism’ – so long before the New Atheist movement, I anticipated the problem of doctrinaire secularism.

‘‘It’s funny, though. Now that the notion of ‘atheist fundamentalism’ has become so common – I think of the pleasure public intellectuals like Chris Hedges and Terry Eagleton take in sneering at Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris – now that ‘atheist fundamentalism’ is such a popular term, I find myself pushing back against it. It seems to me that most of Dawkins’s detractors are sort of like the courtiers in the Hans Christian Andersen fable, who can’t bring themselves to admit the emperor is naked. I can imagine a sequel in which, after the little boy blurts out the truth during the parade, the courtiers start attacking him: ‘You know, that little boy is awfully ugly.’ ‘I heard his parents never got married.’ ‘That cheeky kid – who is he to talk about nakedness? He has no advanced degree in the ontology of nakedness!’ It seems to me that most critiques of the New Atheists never get beyond that level of discourse.”


‘‘Although I’m an atheist, I don’t really write as an atheist. I write as a heretic. I write as a bewil­dered pilgrim, someone who has been thrown into the world, like everybody else, and feels he has an obligation in his perplexity to ask really good questions. There’s a readership for James Morrow novels among the disciples of Christopher Hitch­ens and Richard Dawkins, but it’s not where I live. I live in the world of theological and philosophical discourse. That’s where the action is. I’ll always enjoy sharing a beer with someone who’s obsessed with God’s nonexistence, but I’d also love to drink with a Jesuit priest who’s willing to wrestle with the theistic argument and its manifest limitations. That is not to say I’m becoming sympathetic to re­ligion. Whenever I hear the word ‘spiritual’ in a sentence, I know that nothing good or interesting is about to follow. And yet, I must admit that if it weren’t for religion, I’d be out of a job.”


‘‘Galápagos Regained came about because I’d had some commercial success with The Last Witchfinder, my attempt to dramatize the birth of the scientific worldview. I thought a follow-up historical epic would be a good idea, but I couldn’t think of a premise. My wife, Kathy, had to live with my distress, and one day she turned to me and said, ‘Jim, ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been bending my ear about Charles Darwin. The solution has been staring us in the face.’ My enthu­siasm for Darwin goes back to my reading of Rob­ert Ardrey’s African Genesis in college. Nobody reads that book today, and its killer-ape theory now seems overwrought and maybe misogynist – but I responded to Ardrey’s rhapsodizing about our in­timate connection to the animal world. Many kids of my generation weren’t formally taught about Darwin in school. In one of his essays Stephen Jay Gould makes the point that William Jennings Bryan and his fellow fundamentalists weren’t the big losers in the Scopes trial. In the decades that followed, there was a resurgence of Evangelical­ism, and a rise in textbook censorship. When I took biology in ninth grade, not a word was said about the theory of evolution, the Tree of Life, or the in­sights of Darwin. It was all about taxonomy.”


‘‘Next up for me – you’ll never guess – is an­other theological epic. The working title is Lazarus Is Waiting. Years ago I remember saying to Kathy, who’s my muse, ‘I think the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity is ripe for James Morrow’s satiric scalpel.’ Kathy said, ‘No! No! Good God, you’re going to disappear into the valley of research, and I’ll never see you again.’ But I believe I’ve figured out how to avoid drag­ging in a lot of actual history. The novel is going to be deliberately cartoonish, a tale told by a half-mad Lazarus who travels about on a time-traveling Egyptian ship of possibly extraterrestrial origin, so I won’t have to render every moment with com­plete verisimilitude.”

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