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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.


Spotlight on: Kelly Robson, Writer

Kelly Robson grew up in Hinton, Alberta, Canada and graduated with a degree in English from the University of Alberta. From 2008 to 2012, she wrote the wine and spirits column for Chatelaine, Canada’s largest women’s magazine. She and her wife, fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica, relocated from Vancouver to Toronto in 2013.

In 2015, Kelly’s first stories appeared in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, and Asimov’s, and in the anthologies New Canadian Noir, In the Shadow of the Towers, and License Expired. This year, her stories appear in five ‘‘Year’s Best’’ anthologies and she is a finalist for five awards: Nebula, Sturgeon, World Fantasy, Aurora, and Sunburst.

Tell us about your multiple-award-nominated story ‘‘Waters of Versailles’’ – what’s it about, and why did you write it?

‘‘Waters of Versailles’’ was a huge breakthrough in craft. In 2013 my ego was utterly crushed when I was laid off from a job I loved. We took the opportunity to move from Vancouver to Toronto, and over the next six months I forced myself to work in a new way: slowly and deliberately, while paying strict attention to crafting scenes. When ‘‘Waters of Versailles’’ was done, I had finally learned to produce work I’m proud of.

The first story seed was the image of the Champagne fountain – a massive, wasteful Baroque extravagance, and I ended up exploring the idea that the act of nurturing a child changes you. In ‘‘Waters of Versailles’’, womanizer and social climber Sylvain is forced to nurture the magical creature his fortune depends on, while supplying the French nobility with the latest status symbol: the flush toilet.

I write about parenthood a lot, which is odd because we don’t have kids and never wanted them. Because the parental urge is completely alien to me, I can explore the subject without illusion or romanticism.

What one story of yours are you most fond of, that you’d like to point our readers toward?

My first published story ‘‘The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill’’ appeared in Clarkesworld, and it’s a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. The story is heavily influenced by one of my favorite James Tiptree, Jr. stories ‘‘The Only Neat Thing to Do’’, which is, like all of Tiptree, extremely dark.

Tiptree’s story creates a massive emotional impact, and I wanted to bring that kind of power to bear on the systemic failure of Canadian political and justice system to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – indigenous women.

What’s the particular appeal of SF/fantasy for you? Why write that instead of, say, mysteries or literary fiction?

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are my blood. I can’t live without them. For many years, writing in the genres I love felt beyond my reach, so I started with historical fiction and the best I could hope for was to bring a speculative sensibility to that genre.

I believe science fiction, fantasy, and horror provide a writer with the brightest, truest, and widest spectrum of colors to illustrate the mysteries, contradictions, and untapped potential of human nature.

We hear you’re working on a longer piece – a time travel novella. Can you give us any details?

Drafting this story has been like birthing a watermelon. I have a lot of work to do on it, but after nearly a whole year of pushing, it’s finally drafted.

‘‘The Last Landing of the Lucky Peach’’ is set several hundred years in the future. The world has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, is enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems, so when she’s given the opportunity to travel to 2000 BC Mesopotamia for a past-state ecological assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.

You’ve made a big splash in a short time with your stories. Any plans to write a novel?

Not in the foreseeable future. I’m having so much fun writing short fiction, and it’s incredibly rewarding. I have several concepts bubbling away, including two more Versailles novellas which, I hope, will form a satisfying story cycle.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or the work you do?

I’m ridiculously pleased with my story in the ChiZine anthology Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, edited by Madeline Ashby and David Nickle. Unfortunately, the anthology is only available in Canada, where Ian Fleming’s work is now in the public domain.

Writing in the Fleming universe was nothing I’d ever considered before, but it was an absolute hoot. All the contributors – including Alyx, Charles Stross, Jeffrey Ford, Karl Schroeder, and James Alan Gardner – have said they had huge fun with their stories. Mine, ‘‘The Gladiator Lie’’, is an alternate ending to From Russia with Love, where Bond is captured by Tatiana Romanova and brought to a Siberian collective fur farm. It’s unhinged and perverse. Writing it was a demented pleasure.

Ellen Datlow has recently acquired my Gothic Horror novelette ‘‘A Human Stain’’ which is forthcoming next January at Tor.com.


Nancy Kress: Tomorrow’s Kin

Nancy Anne Kress (née Koningisor) was born January 20, 1948 in Buffalo NY. She received a BS degree (summa cum laude) from the State University of New York – Plattsburgh (1969), taught fourth grade from 1969-73, then returned to college for a Master’s in Education (1978) and an MA in English (1979) from SUNY – Brockport, where she went on to teach English from 1981-83. From 1984-89 she was a copywriter at a Rochester NY firm. She has also taught at various workshops, including Clarion, and for 16 years she wrote a how-to column, Fiction, for Writer’s Digest.

Her first published work was SF story ‘‘The Earth Dwellers’’ in Galaxy (1976), but her first few novels were fantasy: The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), The Golden Grove (1984), and The White Pipes (1985). She’s best known for her science fiction, especially the Beggars series, about humans who are modified to eliminate the need for sleep: Hugo and Nebula Award finalists Beggars in Spain (1993) and Beggars and Choosers (1994), and concluding volume Beggars Ride (1996). Other series include thrillers Oaths and Miracles (1996) and Stinger (1998); the Probability trilogy: Probability Moon (2000), Probability Sun (2001), and Campbell Memorial Award winner Probability Space (2002); and the Crossfire books: Crossfire (2003) and Crucible (2004). Most of her novels are standalones, including An Alien Light (1987), Brain Rose (1990), Maximum Light (1998), Nothing Human (2003), Dogs (2008), Steal Across the Sky (2009), and Flash Point (2012). She also wrote YA Yanked! (1999).

Kress is a celebrated writer of short fiction, and notable stories include Hugo and Nebula Award Winner ‘‘Beggars in Spain’’ (1991); Hugo winner ‘‘The Erdmann Nexus’’ (2008); Nebula Award winners ‘‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’’ (1985), ‘‘The Flowers of Aulit Prison’’ (1996), and Yesterday’s Kin (2015); Nebula Award winners and Hugo finalists ‘‘Fountain of Age’’ (2007) and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall (2012); and numerous other awards finalists. Her short fiction has been collected in Trinity and Other Stories (1985), The Aliens of Earth (1993), Beaker’s Dozen (1998), Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (2008), and Philip K. Dick Award finalist Fountain of Age (2012). Retrospective The Best of Nancy Kress appeared in 2015.

Her non-fiction includes writing books Beginnings, Middles & Ends (1986), Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated (1986), and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint (2005). She also edited Nebula Awards Showcase 2003.

She lives in Seattle WA with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, married 2011. She has two adult sons from a prior marriage.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I started writing because I had kids. I didn’t plan on being a writer, unlike all these other people who knew they wanted to write when they were seven. I started writing when I was pregnant with my second child. I had a toddler running around, and we lived way out in the country. My then-husband took our only car to work, and he was taking an MBA, so he frequently stayed downtown to take his classes. There were no other women my age around. I was going nuts. I had a difficult pregnancy, I had a toddler running around, and I was alone most of the time. When my kids were sleeping, I started writing to have something to do that involved words with more than one syllable. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. After a year, a story sold, and after another year, a second story sold. I began to get very interested in it. I had planned on going back to being a fourth-grade teacher when my kids were old enough but I started publishing, and I never ended up going back to teaching.

‘‘I used to come up with amazing stratagems to find time to write when I had children. I had very little money, but every time I sold a story and got a couple hundred dollars, I would spend it on babysitters so I could write more stories. Finally, another woman with small kids moved to this country road, and we would trade babysitting, so we could each have time. If she had my kids, I would get a couple of hours. You fit it in wherever you can, if you’re really serious about it. Because I’m a morning person, I would get up at five, before the children, and I would write then.”

*

‘‘We live in the future. This really is the future. People don’t realize how much is already being done with genetic engineering. E. coli, which is one of the easiest bacteria to genetically engineer, already produces all the insulin that used to be produced much more expensively in other ways. Another genetically altered E. coli produces carpet fibers for DuPont. It produces a biodegradable plastic glass that’s in use at the Kennedy Center, that isn’t going to clog up the landfills with a lot of plastic that won’t go away. A lot of medicines are made from genetically engineered bacteria, along with food. In the United States soy, which is in everything, is genetically engineered. Canola oil, from Canada, is all genetically engineered. Much of the corn in the United States is genetically engineered. Whatever you had for breakfast, you had some genetically engineered components in there, and you will have more.

‘‘The interesting thing to me is that not one person has ever been harmed by genetically engi­neered crops. The only illness that ever resulted was when somebody inserted a nut gene into something, and someone who had a nut allergy had a reaction. But if these things are labeled properly, and tested properly, they’re not dangerous.”

*

‘‘The TV reporter wanted to talk to a science fiction writer because although he’d talked to many scientists, scientists don’t like to speculate negatively about what could happen. For instance, the gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 is the most interesting advancement in genetic engineering of the last decade or so, because it makes gene editing much simpler. CRISPR/Cas9, an acronym, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which means it’s a section of DNA with a certain structure, and Cas9 is the molecule that’s attached to it. That technology lets genes be cut and spliced and new genes put in more easily than previously. It makes genetic engineering more precise, much faster, and much easier. He wanted to do an article on this, as well as the CIA announcement, but when he talked to the scientists involved in it, including one at Berkeley who helped develop CRISPR/Cas9, they were leery of speculating about the consequences. Scientists have reputations and funding to protect, and can’t go out on a limb and make crazy predic­tions. I’m a science fiction writer. I can go out on all the limbs I want to, and make all the crazy predictions I want. I’ve written about genetically engineered bio weapons, in two novels and several short stories. That’s why he wanted to talk to me.

‘‘I’m turning ‘Yesterday’s Kin’, the novella that won the Nebula last year, into a trilogy. The first novel is done. The first third is the novella, and then it continues after aliens have left, and the spore cloud hits Earth. In the second book, which is also done, the United States has built a spaceship, and humans go to World. The third book, which I have to start writing next week, is about their coming back here, but there’s a time dilation, so they come back 28 years later. It has some of the same characters, and of course some new characters. My notes for book three say: ‘They return to Earth. Stuff happens. Microbes are involved.’ By the time this interview comes out I hope there will be more of it than that!”

*
‘‘I work out the science ahead of time because I’m not trained as a scientist, so even though I might not know all of the plot when I start writ­ing, I do know all the science. For a short story like ‘Pathways’ there will be a couple of pages of scientific notes. Then it’s a matter of turning my attention to the characters, which to me are the most important thing in fiction. I’ve talked about genetic engineering and science, but the characters are what matter. I try to make characters that are affected by and involved with the science, though I don’t usually write from the point of view of scientists themselves. I write more of characters affected by the science. It’s always good to write about the character who’s hurt the most by some­thing. That’s always a good viewpoint character because you get more conflict and emotion. Some handwaving is necessary because otherwise you’re writing a scientific monograph and you might as well go pick up your Nobel Prize.”

*

‘‘We can’t justify time travel, but time travel stories work. It’s a thing you have to accept. It’s a given. But don’t pile on top of the time travel a lot of other things you can’t accept. I regard a lot of time travel stories, including my own, as more fantasy than science fiction. What I wanted to do with the Anne Boleyn story in my collection, ‘And Wild For To Hold’, was to show that no matter how things change, human beings are the same. When they snatch Anne out of the past, she brings down the equivalent of a Pope and the equivalent of a King all over again, because that’s what she does. Human nature doesn’t change that much.”


David D. Levine: Everybody Loves Mars

David Daniel Levine was born February 21, 1961 in Minneapolis MN. He grew up in Milwaukee WI, attended college in St. Louis MO, and then relocated to Portland OR, where he’s lived ever since.

Levine’s first publication of genre interest was story ‘‘1992: The Worldcon that Wasn’t’’ (1996), but he began publishing regularly with ‘‘Wind from a Dying Star’’ (2001), and has produced more than 50 stories so far, including James White Award winner ‘‘Nucleon’’ (2001), Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist ‘‘The Tale of the Golden Eagle’’ (2003), Hugo Award winner ‘‘Tk’tk’tk’’ (2005), Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Titanium Mike Saves the Day’’ (2007), and Sturgeon and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Damage’’ (2015). Some of his short fiction was collected in Endeavour Award winner Space Magic (2008). Levine was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2003 and 2004. He co-edits fanzine Bento with his wife, Kate Yule, and has served as convention chair for Potlatch.

His debut novel Arabella of Mars, first in a science fantasy series set in an alternate Regency era, appeared in 2016. Mars is an ongoing interest: in 2010 he spent two weeks living in the simulated Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I’m happy in traditional publishing, though a lot of people say, ‘Oh, don’t do that to yourself, don’t saddle yourself with an agent, don’t do the traditional publishing thing – you would make so much more money and be so much happier with self-publishing.’ There’s no one offering advice on the question of traditional versus self-publishing who doesn’t have a dog in the fight. There’s nobody who can give you an unbiased opinion on which you should do. I am a traditional publishing partisan, but what I tell people is, you have to define your victory con­ditions. Your victory condition will control how you play. Do you want to make the most money? Do you want to have the most readers? Do you not care about money or readers, but want to be really well reviewed? Is having your paper book on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores something that is important to you? Is being able to control your career impor­tant to you? There are all sorts of things that will determine whether you consider yourself to be successful. I don’t think these desires are subject to conscious control. You have to look inside yourself and decide, what is really important to me? They may change over time.”

*

‘‘Arabella is the fourth novel I wrote, and the first novel I sold. Novel number three is a hard SF YA set on Mars – that one definitely came out of my simulated Mars experience in Utah. Just about the time I was finishing that one up, I was shopping my second novel, and looking for a new agent. The responses I was getting from agents as well as editors was, ‘Science fiction just isn’t selling.’ I was getting this from the editors of science fiction houses! So here I was with a completed hard SF manu­script, and I said, ‘I don’t need the heartbreak.’ So I set it aside. Nobody has ever seen it, and it’s never been critiqued. I have no idea if it’s any good. Then I started working on something that would be science fictional enough satisfy me, but in a more fantastical mode – something I thought would be more salable. That was Arabella, and it seems to have worked.”

*

‘‘My primary influence for Arabella was Patrick O’Brian, though his books are more Napoleonic than Regency. Patrick O’Brian was described as what the men were off doing during Jane Austen, and I’m more strongly influenced by O’Brian than Austen. Arabella is an O’Brian, Horatio Horn­blower kind of a thing, more than a Jane Austen thing. But you can’t escape the orbit of Jane Austen, especially after the trailblazing work of Mary Robi­nette Kowal, who has been a very helpful advisor to me. There’s a lot of information available about the Regency, especially for romance writers. There’s no end of research sources for me to get the details right, but getting the sailing tech right is much easier for me than getting the relationships and the societal mores right. I do need help on making sure that the other characters are not too 21st century in their worldviews. Science fiction readers really enjoy Patrick O’Brian. Apart from the fact that it’s well written and funny, it’s a viewpoint into a different universe. It’s painstakingly researched.”

*
‘‘I read an essay in a fanzine years ago called ‘The Science Fiction Archipelago’, and I’ve never been able to track it down since. It was predicated on the idea that science fiction grew out of a tradi­tion of sea stories that started in the 1700s and 1800s. Everything about the kind of default science fiction universe is based on the sea stories of the 1700s. The idea that you can travel from one planet to another in a matter of weeks or months rather than days or decades. The fact that the captain of the starship is the one who is in charge, that there is no effective communication between the captains and their bosses back home, the relationships of people within the ship, the relationships of the people on the ship to the places they arrive, the idea that each island has a single culture – a single climate, a single religion, a single language – all of these science-fiction tropes come directly from the sailing mechanics and realities of 1700. There is a literary tradition – you can actually see the connection starting with Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson, and growing through the sea stories that were popular literature in the 1800s and 1900s, leading up into the pulps of the ‘30s and the science fiction today. There is both a literary and technological connection between sea stories and science fiction stories.”

*

‘‘First novels can be so much better sometimes than what comes later. You put your focus on other things. I mean, look at The Time Machine. That was Wells’s first novel, and it’s still his best known and best beloved. I am still pushing myself. With Arabella book two, the thing I’m working on is an ensemble cast, because everything I’ve writ­ten so far has had very small casts, basically one protagonist, and I’m trying to give her a team. The individuals have to be people on their own, and have interactions with each other. It’s new and difficult for me. In book three, there’s gonna be a lot more politics. Literal politics as well as interpersonal politics. I’m definitely trying to keep stretching.’’


Spotlight on: Sam J. Miller, Writer

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons, and The Minnesota Review, among others. His first book, a young adult science fiction novel called The Art of Starving, will be published by HarperCollins in 2017. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, and he’s a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in New York City, and at www.samjmiller.com.

If you had to pick one of your stories to point our readers toward, which one would it be, and why?

HOW CAN YOU MAKE ME CHOOSE BETWEEN MY CHILDREN? OK, IF I MUST… my recent story ‘‘Things With Beards’’, in Clarkesworld, because it’s new and maybe a li’l controversial. When Peter Watts wrote ‘‘The Things’’, he got shit because he made Childs a Thing. But not only did I make MacReady and Childs BOTH Things, they’re also gay men. So I imagine someone somewhere is having an apoplectic fit over it. OR I’M NOT DOING MY JOB. All kidding aside, the fact is, when you’re not used to seeing your stories told in mainstream movies and books, because those are populated solely by straight, white, cis people, you get really good at re-constructing those stories, re-telling them, in ways that make room for you. That’s what’s so exciting about fanfic, especially in the hands of diverse and marginalized creators. We are fans, and we will lay claim to these works. Stories belong to everyone; no one controls how we fill in the blanks. If someone watches John Carpenter’s The Thing and sees MacReady has pin-ups of sexy ladies on his wall and says That dude is straight, their interpretation is no more or less valid than if I see it and say, That dude really wants people to think he’s straight.

Tell us about your work as an activist and organizer. On a related note: How does that work influence your fiction?

I work for an organization that was founded and is led by homeless people, and my job is to magnify and amplify the voices of people experiencing homelessness to fight for social change around the negative laws and polices that impact them. That means a lot of protesting the NYPD, who since the 1990s has made pushing law-abiding homeless people out of public space its prime directive, and a lot of fighting City Hall, which is in the pockets of big real estate and has no interest in creating housing for very poor people. I’ve been doing it for 12 years now, so I imagine it’s influenced my fiction in a million ways, but the two main ones are these: (1) It’s given me a ton of insight into the profound injustice that’s an inextricable part of how the world functions; how real and monstrous the consequences of gentrification are, for example – 96% of families in NYC homeless shelters are Black and/or Latino, so remember that the next time someone tries to tell you systemic racism is a thing of the past. (2) It’s given me the opportunity to meet and work closely with hundreds of incredible people, many of them in the middle of unthinkably stressful and painful situations, who are nevertheless strong and smart and funny people who still face each day with incredible dignity and resolve. This gives me hope for how the rest of us will fare, when the inevitable climate-induced Collapse reduces us all to refugees in the rubble.

Your debut novel Art of Starving is forthcoming. Tell us about it.

It’s young-adult science fiction, about a bullied small-town gay boy with an eating disorder who believes that starving himself awakens a latent ability to read minds, control the behavior of others, and possibly bend the fabric of time and space itself. So, you know, light frothy stuff. Lots of F-bombs and gay sex. I was part of the Clarion class of 2012, and instructors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare told us there’s essentially nothing you can’t do in YA. Inadvertently, I think I ended up testing that proposition, and, yup, there’s essentially nothing you can’t do in YA.

Why do you write SF instead of, say, crime novels or mimetic fiction? What’s the appeal of the speculative for you?

I write speculative fiction because that’s how the world looks to me. Life is magic. Human society is horror. The world is science fiction. We carry tiny rectangles in our pockets that can access the sum total of human knowledge! Have you ever seen an ocean? THAT SHIT IS CRAZY AMAZING. And people do things to each other – with machetes, with policy decisions, with legislative pens – that are far more frightening than anything a shoggoth or werewolf could do. To me the world is so full of wonder and horror that speculative fiction is the only literature equal to the task of reflecting it. By telling the most ridiculous lies, we as speculative fiction writers can present the primal truths of human existence in ways that other genre and non-genre lit could never begin to do.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or the work you do?

Just that while we still have a long way to go, we live in exciting times as genre readers and writers. A ton of brilliant new work is coming from writers of color, queer & trans & nonbinary folks, women, folks from outside the English-speaking Western world, and more… and the public temper tantrums of people who feel threatened by these new voices should be ignored like any other temper tantrum. But we also live in horrific times, in the world at large, whether it’s police murders of civilians of color, or mass shootings, or rape culture, or any number of other atrocities. More and more, I think it’s the storyteller’s job to insert the idea of ‘‘justice’’ into a world where it is so profoundly lacking, to show people that what we yearn for, what we fight for, can come to pass. Empires will fall; our oppressors will be punished; our suffering will be redeemed. The world we actually live in is profoundly unfair and unjust and cruel, but stories can help us escape – and imagine better ones. Our privilege and our oppression will be inverted. Our good acts and our wicked ones will be returned upon us. The ending might not be happy, but it will be just.


Kameron Hurley: When to Quit Your Day Job

The best writing career advice I ever received wasn’t ‘‘write every day’’ (because I certainly don’t), but, ‘‘Don’t quit your day job.’’

Clearly, not all of us have a choice in this matter, as steady day jobs continue to be eradicated and the ‘‘gig economy’’ becomes the norm. I’ve been laid off from at least half a dozen jobs in my adult life, and I’m not even 40. Many of us are pushed into lives of freelancing and novel writing not by choice, but by chance and necessity.

But when weighing your options, consider that I can count the number of full-time nov­elists I know who make a living wage solely from their novels on one hand, sometimes two. What I have found in the decade plus that I’ve been running in writing circles is that the writing life is so uncertain that many rely more or less on freelancing gigs for corporations, speaking fees, health insurance and a steady paycheck provided by a spouse, or generous help from family, or savings from a prior career as a doctor, lawyer, or banker. There are very few mak­ing $40,000 or more a year writing novels alone. Fewer still making six figures, despite what TV shows like Castle and its ilk will have you believe.

Ask yourself how many debut novelists you heard about who got six-figure deals who are still writing full time five or ten years later. I’ve seen far more writers quit their day jobs after getting a big advance and go back to the job market three years later after the advance is spent and never earns out. Even if you live frugally on $20,000 a year with a roommate, no car, and no student loan payments, consider that your $100,000 advance, after taxes and your agent’s cut, looks more like $70,000. Worse, you don’t get paid that amount all at once. If you’re lucky, you get half up front, and the rest paid out as you turn in and publish manuscripts. Also note that publishers don’t always pay on time, and payments have to be first processed by your agency and then come to you. Writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

If you have been writing for any amount of time, you no doubt have been longing for the day when you can confidently turn in your notice or throw out your corporate gigs and write books full time. So let’s get into the weeds, here. When should you quit your day job?

While this is a personal decision that everyone is going to need to make on their own, here are some guidelines I’ve put together for myself in watching how other authors have managed this over the years. Consider quitting your day job:

1) When you have enough money in contracted books and savings to last you for the next five years. Five years is my minimum threshold here, but I can see how three or four years could also work, as that’s about the length of the typical day job these days. It’s rare, of course, to sign a contract for more than three books at a go at any one publisher these days unless you have a project that got caught up in a bidding war or you’re a big name. This would likely end up being two different contracts (prefer­ably more) at two (or more) different houses.

2) When you have the financial ability to do so. Yes, this is a lot like the first one, but includes other things, like a spouse with a steady job who agrees to be breadwinner for a finite or infinite amount of time while you write, or a sudden financial windfall like the lottery or an inheritance. But, again, I’d note that the best thing you could do with windfall money is to pay off all your bills first and save it. The vast majority of writers don’t die rich. Far too many end up in poverty. If you get a windfall, I do encourage you to spend it wisely.

3) When your day job is killing you more than financial uncertainty would. There are hugely toxic work environments out there, and they are only getting worse as employers use the fact that steady jobs are hard to find to treat workers abysmally. In this case, lining up as many freelancing jobs as you can and going all-in trying to write for a living is going to be better for you than living in a toxic, abusive environment. If you’re making $20,000 at a crappy job you hate that steals your soul, swapping that out for $20,000 a year writing is an easy decision. Pay off as many bills as you can first with your dual writing/work income, and good luck.

4) When it becomes impossible to level up because you’re out of time. Our time is finite. We only have so much of it, and it’s never certain when we’ll be out of it. When you find that you are unable to level up your writing career because you are out of time to complete the projects that are vital to your career, it may be time to try for something part time or work out a more flexible arrangement with your employer.

5) When you have no other choice. Sometimes life quits your day job for you, and you have to make novel writing and freelancing gigs work for you. This is not a bad way to go. There’s hustle involved, but there’s hustle involved in keeping a day job, too. These days nothing is certain. On the one hand, Gene Wolfe and Isaac Asimov had day jobs throughout their careers. On the other hand, they were living in a com­pletely different economy. Few have the luxury of deciding to keep their day job or not. Often, the decision is made for you, so do the best you can.

6) Whenever you feel like it because I’m not the boss of you. Throw caution to the wind! Be bold! Screw corporate America! Go all in! Luck and chance do occasionally pan out. I’m sure I’ll receive many e-mails about anecdotal stories of people quitting on signing their first book con­tract and making it as a full time novelist for 30 years without freelancing income. I can name a couple off the top of my head, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Sometimes being bold works. All I’m saying is: not usually. But you do you.

If you decide to quit, or you’re forced to quit, my only advice is this: please be sure to diversify your income streams. Don’t rely on a single publisher, or a single platform like Patreon, to provide 100% of your income. Ideally, a mix of freelancing gigs, work with several publishers, a Patreon, and the occasional Kickstarter will round out how you make money to pay for things like health insurance and student loans.

Professional freelancers know that relying on a single big client can spell disaster if that client slashes their budget or decides to hire some­one in house. Think of a publisher like a freelancing client: they could be sold, they could cancel your contracts, they could decide not to buy your next book. Publishers are running a business, and just like any busi­ness, personal relationships and spoken promises don’t count for much when a buyer swoops in and cleans house. Even having a contract with a publisher means nothing unless you have the ability to pay for the legal action necessary to enforce it. Trust me on this one.

We live in interesting times, and the sage advice from the writers be­fore us isn’t always going to work. There are few jobs with security and pensions. More and more, writing for a living can be just as financially fraught and uncertain as working a regular corporate gig. There are no guarantees.

This is why I encourage writers to hold onto their regular gigs if they’re lucky enough to get them, and combine writing income and day job income for as long as possible. If you are in a position where you enjoy what you do and it doesn’t eat your soul, hold on. Pay down your bills. Enjoy this time while you can.


Comments from the 2016 Locus Poll and Survey

Here are comments, presented anonymously, submitted by voters in this year’s Locus Poll and Survey. Results of the poll were published in the magazine’s July issue; survey results will appear in August issue.

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A friend has a subscription and I read his copies.

All good.

Anybody who doesn’t read classic hard SF is not my kind; any convention that has many such people, or fatties, is something I want to avoid.

As a reader, I’m take great pleasure in the ever-increasing diversity of the writers of science fiction and fantasy. I’m always finding new writers that I enjoy. At the same time, I’m leaving behind older writers who no longer interest me.

Bravo and thank you, Locus!

Continue to love the magazine as one of my primary information conduits and connections to the field. It’s time for a grand new poll of the readership – ask a fun question or on fun and controversial subjects, and run with it.

Enjoyed last year’s Locus Awards Ceremony, but will miss this one, alas!!

Essential to someone working in the field; but the review selections are rather eccentric.

Glad I found this, really appreciate your mag!

Good stuff, folks!

Hello from France !

I actually read a couple of first novels I liked, which surprised me! I don’t read those very often these days, but these were strongly urged on me and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been reading e-books for about a year now and they’re starting to form a large chunk of my “book” buying in general, though I still buy more genre in print form than e-book. I’m buying a lot of the old classics in e-book (i.e., Ye Olde Deade Whyte Guys, like Twain, Shakespeare, Mary Shelley (;)) and some of the older sf/f/h titles as well. The “Great Distemper of 2015” left me with a dull ache behind my eyes and reminded me why I ducked out of the fannish aspects of SF 20 years ago or so. I fervently hope it goes away soon. I read more and liked more of what I read last year. There must be something wrong with me! (innocentlookicon) I’m trying very hard to work up my inner “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” attitude about the state of SF, but I can’t.

I am so glad that you are still publishing this magazine. I look forward to it.

I am surprised at how many popular authors, publishers and artists you do not include in your suggestion lists. I find that very odd.

I borrow many SF/F books and e-books from the library but that’s not reflected in any questions in the survey. Please sort stories by title, not author.

I buy a fair amount of my hard copy from crowdsourcing and also support a number of magazines through crowdfunding and Patreon. You might want to include those questions next year for where buy.

I could not be a reader without my library.

I didn’t read all of the selections but chose authors I normally enjoy, sorry –

I do almost all my reading in e-book form now, and I buy several e-books a week. I am also a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. The only print books I buy new these days, I buy directly from their authors; that has the bonus of letting me get signed copies.

I do not consent to my personal details to be used for any purposes other than vote gathering for this award, and definitely not to be sold, given or released to 3rd parties or other parts of your own company. All legal remedy will be sought if this occurs. I also find it disheartening how selective this poll was in the entries displayed. This poll is supposed to discover the interest of the community whatever it may be, not to shape it. A truly ethical data collector should not have a pre established preference, that they are attempting to confirm (or which causes them to recoil in shock when the general public fails to confirm it). I hope your organisation tries to be as truly inclusive as possible into the future, and not just ‘inclusive’ to your preferred in-group. Future actions to further marginalise fans who do not have officially sanctioned preferences/tastes would be especially disheartening. As a mixed race paraplegic who leans middle/right politically and is for individualism over collectivism, I feel heavily marginalised by your practices, because by your metrics I should not exist. Or I should be a card board cut out that graciously allows people like you to do all my speaking for me.

I don’t own a dedicated ebook reader, because I use my smart phone. Maybe you should revise those questions to try to capture how much people are reading ebooks versus paper copies.

I enjoy every issue of Locus. I especially enjoy the reviews and books to come.

I have enjoyed Locus magazine for over thirty years. I find it the best, most informative, and most impartial science fiction review magazine around, either in print or online. It is one of the best laid out also, it is not as confusing as others to find what I want.

I have macular degeneration and can’t read printed publications anymore. I get most of my audio SF from Braille Institute for free, but I do buy some very new stuff from audible.com.

I have read some really great sf in the last few years. I’ve been reading sf for 50 years (since I was 8-10 yr. old) and after my first decade’s burst of reading works from the field’s (then) present and past, it’s the past 20 years, including especially the past 2-3 years, that have provided to me the best sf reading (and tv!) of my life. (sorry for the run-on sentence, but I’ve been really surprised at this development) The enormous variety facilitated by the internet has finally (finally!) born a fruit of enormous variety and new authors that has made me read each issue of Locus to find out what’s out there with an energetic anticipation that I had lost. Bravo to the sf/f/h field for expanding its view of the future to include worlds of great fun and wonder grounded in history and mystery. (also, my local public library is great, and lets me read many works so that I can make informed decisions about what to buy)

I haven’t read any dead tree books since I got my first iPad. Which was the day they were 1st released. Best invention ever!

I look forward to each issue, read it, then pass it on to a friend who can’t afford his own copy. Since I bought an i-pad, I’ve started buying anthologies to read on it, but I still buy novels, etc, in paper. I’ll see you at world con.

I love LOCUS. It’s the best ever.

I love the digital edition.

I love the paper version of Locus, and I really hope that this magazine continues into the foreseeable future. Thank you for doing such a wonderful job with the magazine, and for keeping it alive and well. :)

I love you guys, but as you’re working toward, you need a bolder online presence. If you price it nicely, I think publishers can help support the growth.

I read about 60% SF and 40% history and historical biography.

I read Locus cover to cover monthly, maybe just skimming the horror reviews and more data-oriented sections (new books and such).

I read the reviews

I realize it looks odd for an avid reader to have so few votes tallied; I dislike short stories and often don’t hear about books until they’ve been out for a year or two, so a lot of what I read isn’t eligible.

I really like Locus but I’m a lingering victim of six-figure-advance envy…

I think Locus is awesome, and though I’m not a subscriber, I buy it from time to time when I’m in London and go to Forbidden Planet. Thanks for running the poll!

I used to buy millions of books–but then I started drowning in them, so now I use the library whenever possible. (Also I’m OLD so I don’t have the money to spend that I did when my husband was employed too. ALSO I can’t find my Locus number because I don’t have the mailer. Damn!

I wish someone at Locus was paying attention to Douglas Nicholas, has published 3 books in a wonderful historical fantasy series. I don’t understand why Martha Wells never gets listed in the Locus recommended list, she is writing at the top of the field. I love the plastic mailers/mailing service, haven’t missed an issue since you switched mailing services.

I wish you would change the interview format — stringing together decontextualized quotes from the subject does not work well, in my opinion.

I would love to subscribe to Locus digitally, but I don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of juggling epubs or pdfs – if you were just available as an iPad magazine subscription, like Wired, the New Yorker, MacLife and all the other magazines I subscribe to, you’d have my subscription immediately. No offence, but your currently digital delivery scheme is kludgy and old-school.

I’d be interested in seeing the drop-off rate for this survey.

I’d love to see the layout of the print magazine updated. I realize I’m in the minority, but I don’t particularly care about the photos and convention wrap-ups unless they cover actual news from cons (like analysis of who won and speculation on why).

I’m a book reviewer so the large majority of the books I receive and read are review copies sent by a review publisher or a book publisher, or fetched from Netgalley. Might add this to the “how many many books do you buy a year?” part of the survey.

i’m interested primarily in diverse sf. poc, queer, genderqueer, stories by and about women.

I’m very glad that publishing is becoming so decentralized that the SJWs are mostly unable to censor what we read.

I’ve probably said this before, but what the hey: it may seem like science fiction is in a period marked by turmoil and/or dullness, but who knows what it will look like when we review it twenty or thirty years from now? I maintain great hopes for our field. We’re going to see some incredible writing in the next few years — you can feel the tremors. Science fiction is going to save the world — again. It’s what we do.

I’ve really enjoyed reading these poll results, over the years, and seeing the changes. Great stuff!

Just starting to read science fiction again. I gave up in the early 90s- and the occasional times I checked during that decade I found nothing worth reading all the way through. I only started getting interested in the genre again (beyond occasionally picking up a used copy of an older work) when I discovered Baen books. Now I tend to give anything released by Baen or smaller publishers such as Castalia House a try and only pay attention to a few authors published by other houses.

Keep up the great work! Frankly, of all the magazines I subscribe to, LOCUS is the only one that I read every month.

Keep up the great work. I especially appreciate Gary Wolfe’s reviews & the annual Recommended List. The interviews are fun too.

Less pushing and lionization of sexual disorders, and SF/F will be a good genre again.

LOCUS – excellent job with superb staff! Book business-shorter & more diverse genre fiction, certainly; I wish it was easier (& less expensive) to find/afford it – the small press prices are prohibitive. Constant excellent work by ‘newer’ authors: Langan, Barron, Hand, Valente, and the up-and-comers show much promise Keep up you good and necessary work!

Locus continues to maintain a high level of excellence, but as usual i am generally uninterested in forthcoming books, and feel the space could be put to better use such as more reviews. As to the state of SF and Fantasy in general: i feel it is continually lamentable that many new titles are stretched into trilogies. This trend has become the norm, and i find it just another way for the publisher to triple the bucks. It is so frustrating to have the continuity of a story stretched out. There should be an added circle in hell for the publishers that make a regular practice of this butchery. That said, i still love SF and continue to make it one of my primary reading choices.

LOCUS is great. I can’t imagine getting along without it, particularly with the current fragmentation/expansion of the sf field. When I was young–fifty years ago–it seemed possible to read everything significant in the genre; now that’s impossible. Locus, with its reviews, news, and even its ads, helps me to steer in the direction of the things I might like. Please, keep it up.

Locus is still an incredible magazine. Hats off to the locus staff.

Locus is wonderful!! This survey is not!! I have a lot to say about SF, but neither the room nor the patience to say it.

Locus rocks!! I look forward to the “Forthcoming Books” issues like extra Christmases – they help me plan my book purchases (and I buy about 140 of them each year, so there is a lot to plan).

Love how many areas Locus covers; forthcoming books is a wonderful resource as is the books received section, and the reviews are top-notch. Also, wd like to compliment you on staff when I have called to renew: friendly, helpful, knowledgeable. Above, I answered the convention question as “no” but if the NecronomiCon Providence is considered to be an SF con, please change my answer to “yes.”

Love Locus magazine. Love the news that Locus online provides.

Love Locus, keep up the good work!

More reportage of anime/manga, please!

Nice summary. Voting was difficult because I’d never seen a lot of the recommended novels/stories/etc.

Please consider adding a Middle Grade book category, distinct from YA. This year I would’ve nominated The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. Please consider creating categories for speculative poetry and speculative poetry journals. They seem to get lost in the shuffle.

Please keep the magazine going. Thanks for good work.

Re the Science Fiction Book Club question : I’ve been a member for many years (when I joined I got ten books for ten cents) because I enjoyed getting hardback books at a very reasonable price, sometimes cheaper than the cost of a paperback. I haven’t purchased anything from SFBC in quite a few years. The cost of their books combined with the shipping and handling charges became ridiculously expensive. I buy mass-market paperbacks almost exclusively. I purchase perhaps one or two hardbacks a year. I never get trade paperbacks, the cost is excessive. And I deplore the trend toward “premium” mass-market paperbacks; they’re just taller paperbacks at a very inflated price. I’ve given up on authors whose work I enjoy, simply because their books are issued in premium paperbacks for two or three dollars more. Consider adding a section on future surveys about what people read or skip in Locus. Might be interesting.

Re.: “Locus” — I get & read it every month, but wholesale via a friend who manages the local comics shop. I order Diamond-distributed merchandise thru him, he orders Ingram-distributed books thru me… :-)

Read Locus forever, it seems; it’s one of a very few venues I regularly follow to obtain genre/author/fannish information. This is the first Locus Poll in which I’ve participated. As a retired [person],I can’t afford physical books or mags anymore. E-readers are my only vehicle for accessing the vast majority of my reading pleasure. My reading volume has actually grown through discovery of new authors through on-line sources.

Same as last year: In “Does SF form the major part of your pleasure reading?” does SF include all spec fic? I’m assuming Yes. “Do you consider yourself a book collector?” Define “collector” (someone who has accumulated thousands of books or someone who deliberately buys selected editions for their “collectible” value?). I answered Yes this year even though I’ve answered No in the past. The magazine: I still think your quantity of reviews (the main feature for which I subscribe to the magazine) has decreased in recent years. I would gladly see the second interview in each issue replaced by 3 or 4 more pages of short reviews. And I wish you could review novels from some of the small e-book-first publishers (on your website, maybe?). Otherwise, I love the magazine; keep up the great work.

Should Worldcon Hugo package count in e-fiction query? (Doesn’t really change the $0 answer, but might add $0 for e-books, that I don’t acquire at all otherwise.)

Sincere apologies. My reading in the field this past year was zero — or the books I read were neither memorable nor particularly good. I completed the survey portion in an effort to help your data collection. I understand if this half-completed ballot is not sufficient for the added issue. See you at LocusCon!

Still a great magazine, keep up the good work.

Still a great magazine. Love the reviews, news and interviews. I think most of the best writers are currently in science fiction – think Leckie, Corey, Stephenson. There are good fantasy writers – just not as many right now. YA fiction used to be cutting edge in fantasy but now is sunk in derivatives of Potterdom and Hunger Games.

Still wish first books of an author didn’t have to pass the write-in barrier to compete in the major categories as well.

Thank you for another great year of Locus

Thank you for honoring writers in a world that seldom pays them what they deserve!

Thank you for quality year after year.

Thanks for all your amazingly thorough and highly professional hard work!

Thanks for allowing non-subscribers to vote in the Locus poll, I would be interested in learning more about subscribing and the SF Book Club!

Thanks for putting this together, and for all your work on the magazine!

Thanks for your continued support for the SF community!

The list each year really needs to strive to include more work by writers of color, particularly women of color. Also, more indie/independent/self-published authors.

There’s no option for libraries; I get the vast majority of my books and movies from the library, including audiobooks. And after doing so much critting and slushing, it’s hard to read a book for fun unless its nonfiction, but I do listen to an awful lot of audiobooks, which is also not much of an option in this survey.

Thorough poll! But most of the stuff I got this year had appeared earlier, so not many votes cast.

Too many books, too little time

Used to subscribe, then used to buy the occasional issue (especially the February) when I could find it on the shelves at my two local Barnes & Noble locations. They haven’t carried it for almost two years now. My local library still maintains a subscription to it, and I check it out from them whenever I can find issues in stock that haven’t been stolen.

Very long poll. I am moving away from paper books and getting into e-books. An e-reader is easier to read from and to transport around. Plus it saves on storage space for paper books

Very much enjoy Laird Barron’s reviews of dark fiction / fantasy and hope your magazine continues to cover the Weird Fiction boom that is happening lately. Truly great work being produced in that field recently.

Would have liked a category for urban/modern fantasy.

Would like more on state of publishing & authors, loss of imprints, editor firings, etc.

You might wish to consider treating media tie-ins with more respect, and consider interviewing authors other than those based on the West coast.

You put together a nice little poll here. I respect basic competence.

You should allow voters to choose their top 10 in each category–at least in each fiction category. Secondly, maybe more practically, clumping original-story anthologies with reprint anthologies really doesn’t make any sense at all. Of course reprint anthologies by good editors will likely have a higher proportion of excellent reading–the privilege of hindsight. But original-story anthologies, which I find almost always much more uneven than a “Year’s Best”, are important to the field in a different way. One keeps stories in print or revives or enhances recognition, whereas the other takes a risk by hoping for the best from its authors in their response to a theme or set of tropes that the editor has asked them to explore. The originality of that often risky proposition is part of what should be rewarded in an original anthology–a criterion that’s virtually absent in a retrospective anthology.


Joe Hill: All in the Cult

Joseph Hillstrom King was born June 4, 1972 in Bangor ME, son of writers Stephen & Tabitha King. He attended Vassar College, earning a degree in English in 1995. He married Leanora Legrand in 1998 (divorced 2010), and they have three children.

He chose to write under the pen name Joe Hill to obscure the connection to his famous parents and make it on his own merits. He began writing stories and novels after college, publishing a few mainstream and fantasy pieces starting in 1996, many of which are gathered in his debut collection 20th Century Ghosts (2005), a Crawford Award winner. A novella collection, Strange Weather, is forthcoming in 2017. Hill was guest editor for the first volume of The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy anthology series in 2015.

Hill is also a comics writer, best known for his dark fantasy series Locke and Key, with artist Gabriel Rodriguez (2008-2013). Another collaboration with Rodriguez, Tales from the Darkside, is forthcoming.

Hill’s first novel, supernatural thriller Heart-Shaped Box (2007), was a commercial and critical success and launched him to prominence. Other novels include Horns (2008; adapted as a film in 2014) and N0S4A2 (2013; as N0S4R2 in the UK). His latest novel is The Fireman, released this month.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The crazy author archetype is bullshit. Leading up to Heart-Shaped Box I’d written four books I couldn’t sell. I’d made this decision to write as Joe Hill, to drop the last name King, and to fight into the publishing world on the merits of my own fiction, as opposed to letting my dad’s name open doors for me. That was a terrific time, and great fun. I wrote a lot of bad fiction that never got published. Three of the four novels were pretty terrible. The first novel you write is a tremendously important novel to you, but whether any reader will actually want to look at it is another story. The idea that you could write a bestselling novel your first time out is like imagining you could pick up a tennis racket and play at Wimble­don. It’s a ludicrous notion. You’ve got to lose a thousand games before you’re going to win at that level.”

*

‘‘The Fireman is a story about the planet catching on fire. It’s about a spore that infects human beings very easily. The spores grow on you, and it’s beautiful – like a black tattoo with gold speckling. People call it ‘dragonscale.’ But when you feel stress, you start to smolder, and if you can’t control your emotions, you burst into flames and die of spontaneous combustion. The spore is virulent, people don’t know why it’s spreading, and it’s impossible to treat – it’s hard to treat an illness when hospitals keep burning down. There’s a fire on every street corner, every hospital’s an inferno, and in the midst of this, one young woman named Harper contracts the illness at roughly the same time she discovers she’s pregnant. Because she’s done a fair amount of medical reading, she knows the baby will likely be born healthy. She determines to stay alive long enough to deliver her child safely. In the course of looking for a way to survive her own infection, she comes across an almost mythic figure called the Fireman, who is himself a carrier of dragonscale, but rather than being terrified by his own infection, he’s embraced it, and learned how to control it to a degree. The novel is about how Harper and the Fireman be­come friends and struggle to survive together in a world that’s burning down around them. That’s the elevator pitch, if the elevator ride was not real fast.”

*

‘‘My novel Horns is about a man who’s blamed for the murder of his girlfriend even though he didn’t actually commit the crime. Everyone in this small town believes he was the killer, so he is demonized by them. One night he gets drunk, and he goes out and curses God, and the next morning wakes up and discovers he’s growing a pair of horns, and he’s inherited all the powers of the devil. That book is the most different from all my other work of anything I’ve written. That’s the closest I’ve come to pure magical realism, like we’re familiar with from Borges and Calvino. We never find out why he grows the horns. He didn’t read some Satanic Book of the Dead and write his name in blood. I never explain it, and the truth is, I never cared. To me, the horns and his power are a manifestation of his inner feelings, how he felt about himself: demonized, hated, like the devil. A lot of people like the book, but one of the criticisms I heard, especially as it became a movie, was, ‘Why does he get the horns?’ I heard this from film pro­ducers over and over. ‘Why does he get the horns?’ When I talked to Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the lead, about it, he said the reason he wanted to do the movie was because it’s never explained how he gets the horns. He wanted to do it because it’s magical realism. Those are the words he used. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he gets it.’”

*

‘‘I’ve written for TV, short stories, novels, comic books, and of all of it, and what I like the best is comic books, by far. I love writing comics. I could give up all the rest of writing, if I could hold onto that. I’ve taken the last couple of years off of writing comics because it’s so much fun. It’s not hard like writing a novel. Novels are hard, but I think some­times this should be hard. You want to wrestle with those other literary forms and try to win. You want to come out with something that’s really satisfying and rich. Deciding to write a novel is accepting that you can’t have instant gratification. There’s so much instant gratification in the comic form. You write it, it’s drawn, and three months later it’s on the stands and people are responding. With a novel it’s more like four years of effort. Writing for comics is also like being in a band. There’s this harmony. Gabriel Rodriguez is one of my best friends in the world – he’s like a brother to me. I love Chris Ryall, our editor, and Jay Fotos the colorist, and Robby Robins who does the lettering – you feel like you’re in The Rolling Stones. I think I’m like the drummer, and Dave is the lead guitarist, and Robby is obvi­ously the lead vocalist. I just write something, and Gabe sends me a page of art which is better than I imagined. We feed off each other’s energy. Writing a novel is very isolating by comparison. There’s so much self doubt. Every day you have to fight your self doubt all over again. But if you just do comics, the danger is you will lose the skills necessary to write a short story or a novel. The knife will grow dull. I love comic books as a reader too, but I also love novels and short stories, and I read a lot more novels than I do comic books. (I talk this good talk about stepping away to do the hard work of novels, but I’m working on another issue of Locke & Key. It’s going to be a standalone story, probably out around October.)”

*

‘‘There’s going to be another book in 2017 called Strange Weather. It’s a collection of four novellas – in that way it’s a little bit like my dad’s Different Seasons. Three of the novellas are previ­ously unpublished. The fourth is called ‘Snapshot 1988’, and that’s being published in a special issue of Cemetery Dance this summer. That will be a sort of Fireman promotional issue, with an excerpt from the book and an interview. Usually it’s been three years between books, so it’ll be kind of cool to have another book out just a year or 18 months after The Fireman. Three of the novellas are in varying states of completion, and the fourth I’m still writing, but I know what it is. I’m also working on a screenplay for Locke & Key, because we’re going to take another stab at the TV thing. After that I think I’m going to write the rest of Gunpowder, a SF novel I started for PS Publishing. The Fireman is like Michael Crichton science fiction, but Gunpowder is like Arthur C. Clarke science fiction – it’s got spaceships and distant planets. I’m looking forward to getting back to that. I have a contract with William Morrow where I’m on the hook for a book of short stories. I like the idea of completing that contract, and then having some time to think about what I’m going to do next – to not have to write something under deadline to contract. For years I was always under the gun for the next deadline, and it’s refreshing to retire from that relentless pace and see what I feel like writing.”

*

‘‘For the longest time there has been this fight about what has more value, genre fiction or literary fiction. The truth is, we won the battle. We won it a decade ago, if not longer. There is mainstream ac­ceptance for Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, John Lethem – the list goes on and on. Salman Rushdie, for goodness’ sake. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements are all over mainstream literature and have been for years and years. The people who don’t like it are the Donald Trumps of genre fiction: they want to build a wall between us and the rest of the world. I can’t be in favor of some kind of walled city state where sci­ence fiction and fantasy meet. I don’t want it. After I read one of John Scalzi’s books I said, ‘Oh, he’s writing science fiction for the rest of us.’ It was fun. The pages flew. You liked the characters, and you understood the situation. The tech all made sense. It was full of laughs. There’s nothing wrong with writ­ing science fiction or fantasy or horror that doesn’t alienate the casual reader. I think in a world where The Walking Dead is the most popular thing on television, closely followed by Game of Thrones, and the biggest hit film of the last year was The Force Awakens, we’ve got the trifecta right there. We’ve got horror, we’ve got fantasy, we’ve got sci­ence fiction. If only the cultists were watching those shows and movies, none of those productions would be successful in the way they are. The truth is we’re all in the cult now.’’



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