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Paul Tremblay: Aftermath

Paul Gaetan Tremblay was born June 30, 1971 in Aurora CO, and grew up in Beverley MA. He attended Providence College in Rhode Island, graduating in 1993, and in 1995 obtained a Master’s in Mathematics from the University of Vermont (1995). He became a math teacher and junior varsity basketball coach for a private high school after graduation. He began publishing with ‘‘King Bee’’ (2001), and most of his early work was under the byline Paul G. Tremblay. Notable short works include novellas City Pier: Above and Below (2007) and The Harlequin and the Train (2009), and Stoker Award finalists ‘‘There’s No Light Between Floors’’ (2007) and ‘‘The Teacher’’ (2007). First collection Compositions for the Young and Old appeared in 2004, followed by In the Mean Time (2010). He edited anthologies Bandersnatch (2007) and Phantom (2009) with Sean Wallace, and Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters (2011) with John Langan.

Tremblay’s debut novel The Little Sleep (2009) started the PI Mark Genevich sequence, followed by No Sleep Till Wonderland (2010). Other books include Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye (2012), World Fantasy Award finalist and Stoker Award winner A Head Full of Ghosts (2015), and Stoker Award finalist Disappearance at Devil’s Rock (2016). With Stephen Graham Jones he wrote Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (2014, under the name P.T. Jones).

He lives outside Boston MA with his family.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I wasn’t a reader until grad school. I was a good boy in high school , and I read for English class, and I vaguely remember reading as a kid, Choose Your Own Adventure stuff, but I didn’t really read for pleasure. I was small and skinny, and I wanted to be Larry Bird. I spent most of my time outside shooting hundreds of shots a day. Look at where it’s got me now! When I was outside, I had this interior fantasy world, because I was in my own head, outside shooting baskets and day dreaming, thinking about things. Music was important to me also. I’d come home and lay on the floor and tent the speakers over my head and lay in between them and listen to whatever records I happened to be listening to, for hours. I intensely remember the smell of the rug and the feel of the speakers, imagining I was performing the songs. I still do that when listening to music. I was definitely a child of the ’80s. Cable TV was new. I watched a ton of movies and a ton of TV. HBO would show the same movies over and over again, so I’d watch the same movies over and over again.”

‘‘I attempted some early novels that were not good at all. In the early 2000s, I started selling some short stories to horror markets. I joined the Horror Writers Association. When I joined they had this mentor program, and I got hooked up with Steve Eller, who’s a writer, and at the time he was a fiction editor for ChiZine, which was then called Chiaroscuro. It was a big fiction market, it paid professionally, and it was online. Steve was such a huge help for my development. I could never thank him enough. Then there was just finding the community and passing stories back and forth with friends. I think I got serious about writing in the late ’90s. The first stuff I wrote was terrible, and got rejected, but I started getting more encouraging rejection letters. First sales were for $20 or $25. I never would submit to non-paying markets. I had to get something. My first professional paying sales were in 2001.

‘‘I hope my strength is characters. It’s certainly my interest as a reader. I have a terrible memory for books, for story, even for the title or the characters’ names, and I can’t describe the plot usually a week or two after reading something – but I definitely remember the characters, and the emotions I felt. I hope that comes out in my writing, because that’s where my interest is.”


‘‘I’ll admit to a frustration with young-adult writing. I like reading YA, and there’s some good stuff that’s being done. I co-wrote a young adult novel with Stephen Graham Jones, and my frustration with that process is I feel like I don’t do the writing any differently. I think a strength of mine has always been writing child characters or teen characters. People have told me that the teen/child characters were the strengths of my most recent books. But when we wrote the YA novel we got feedback like, ‘There’s too much texting,’ or ‘We don’t like what the parents are doing.’ The book wasn’t for the parents or for the teachers. It was about what teens do and how they think. I’m not going to call myself a world expert on teens, but I’ve taught them for 20 years and I have two of them in my house now. I vividly remember that emotional life, and I still feel like a teen. To be fair, this is a very anecdotal experience of mine, but in YA I feel some people are writing to what they think the YA market is, as opposed to the actual teen experience. There’s a feeling of safety in some YA, like nothing bad is going to happen to any characters you care about. Which makes it less a horror story, and more of an adventure.”


‘‘In Devil’s Rock, I wanted to confront those heavy-duty emotions. If you haven’t already had a death in the family, you’re going to have to deal with that at some point. I think for some there’s almost a bit of attraction to that kind of grieflike when you see these adults who glom onto these large global catastrophes. They seem to react on such a personal level – it seems a little unseemly. There’s a weird attraction, a desire to know what happened. Maybe as a way to understand it… because you can’t understand it. The only way to try to understand a big horrible thing is to connect to it, even though it might not affect you directly. That’s why the emotional lives of characters in books are so interesting to me. I want to know why people react in certain ways to different situations, and what decisions they’re going to make after that. In the best horror stories, the horror happens somewhere in the middle. The interesting part for me is the aftermath: ‘What are people going to do now? How does anybody live through that?’ When horror’s done really well, it can get at those questions in a disturbing way.”


‘‘I have a new book deal with Morrow. A couple of novels and a collection. The first novel will be in 2018, the collection in 2019, and another novel in 2020. The first novel is my twist on a home invasion story. I’m not really a fan of home invasion movies, though that’s a popular subgenre of horror. I thought, ‘How would I do a home invasion novel I’d like to read?’ The collection is going to be a lot of the stories I’ve written in the last five years. I might write a couple of originals. The fun part will be one original story that takes place in the universe of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Then I’m going to write a story featuring Merry from A Head Full of Ghosts. She’s going to be at a convention, after the book has come out, and she’ll be confronted by a fan, and tell the fan a story. That’s going to be a fun connection to both novels.”


Cory Doctorow: Weaponized Narrative

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’’ To this day, especially in times of ‘‘disaster,’’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. Mr Rogers

In 2013, I published a column in Locus called ‘‘Ten Years On’’, where I reflected on the astonishing decade that had gone past since the publication of my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and ruminated on the novel I would write next:

I’ve been thinking that writing books in which people act good while not facing much existential adversity is a kind of easy optimism. Much more interesting are stories about people who behave well when they are at risk for life and limb: the person who shares with his neighbor when doing so might mean his own starvation; the person who takes in an orphan when she can hardly feed her own children. In short, the most optimistic fiction you can write is fiction where people treat each other well under conditions of crisis.

This month, that novel will be published. It’s called Walkaway, and it’s my first novel for adult readers since 2009. It garnered early praise from many of my personal heroes: Edward Snowden, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Yochai Benkler, the Harvard legal scholar whose Wealth of Networks is the best book ever written about the promise and peril of the end of scarcity.

Walkaway is a utopian disaster novel. It’s a novel about people doing right for one another under conditions of adversity. It’s a deliberate, tactical rebuttal of the science fiction stories (including my own) that resort to the easy, lazy trope of having civilization erupt into violence, rape, and chaos the minute that technology fails. Those are stories whose underlying theory of humanity is that a large number of people are just bastards, and if they thought they could get away with it, they would come over and kill you and eat you and wear your skin.

It’s a bizarre belief. There are many crimes that people could commit with impunity – spend ten minutes googling basic lock-picking and you’ll realize that there’s literally nothing stopping you from letting yourself into your neighbor’s house while they’re out except the fact that it’s a creepy thing to do (you’ll also realize that lock-makers are basically fraudsters). The thing that keeps you from walking into your neighbor’s house, making long-distance calls, wearing their underwear, and eating all the food in their fridge is the story you tell yourself about what is and isn’t normal, proportional, and moral. You might bear a grudge against your neighbor, might actively dislike them, but even so, letting yourself in their back door and filling their shoes with chocolate pudding is just not on.

When binoculars and telescopes got cheap, we already had a story about the fundamental creepiness of looking into other peoples’ windows. The illegality of doing so might provide some kind of abstract deterrent, but the statistical reality of peeping tommery is that you could almost certainly peep all the toms you wanted without ever getting caught. Laws against voyeurism are the result of the narrative, not the cause of it.

Rather, the two have a feedback cycle between them: laws that accord with the narrative strengthen it (and vice-versa); laws that are out of step with the narrative weaken it (and vice-versa). As Lenny Bruce famously observed: the law against having sex with a chicken implies that, at some point, someone decided to give it a try. That chicken law affirms our narrative that we should leave poultry be, and that narrative in turn eased the law’s passage. Meanwhile, other sexual laws – laws about things that consenting adults do – aren’t just unjust, they also legitimize the narrative about the acts’ immorality. The counter-narrative about the legitimacy and decency of things that loving people do to make each other happy makes it easier to repeal the laws. The laws’ repeal makes it easier to promote the narrative.

The future is a land of contested narratives. Standing on a corner with a camera, recording your neighbors as they pass by – or conspicuously recording them with a dictaphone on a city bus – will earn you something between filthy looks and a punch in the face. But putting a CCTV on the front of your building – or putting a ‘‘Sound recording in effect’’ sign up on the city bus – is apt to pass by without comment. We have a narrative about urban privacy that says that recording someone with fixed surveillance gadgets is fundamentally different from whipping a surveillance tool out of your pocket and pointing it them. That narrative – which is tissue-thin and awfully convenient – has transformed our cities without anyone even noticing very much.

The 2016 US federal election campaign was a war of narratives, and the winning one was about the bestial nature of our fellow humans. It was a story that played into the lazy trope of mass unrest waiting to break out, already broken out, about to break out further. It was based on demonizing whole populations – entire cities, entire ethnic groups, entire countries and regions – with the threat that they would both contribute to, and riot in, the breakdown of the social order.

This is an old narrative, the xenophobia story, and it’s what makes crises into tragedies. The world has many disasters in its future: between climate change and microbes and wars and the security/technology debt in our badly designed, widely deployed Internet of Things, we are set for plenty of challenges in the future. We can only resolve these challenges cooperatively. No one nation can sort out climate change – even the Nepalese can’t simply withdraw to their high ground while the seas rise, because they’re still sharing an atmosphere and microbes with the rest of us. If the Syrian refugee crisis has taught us anything, it’s that wars affect many nations, not just the belligerents. It’s trivially obvious that when a city fails, it will need skilled people and those of good will to put it back on its feet – engineers and doctors and childcare workers and carpenters – and that cities happen to be conveniently filled with those people, so the optimal way to get things running with a minimum of fuss and suffering isn’t to bug out, it’s to grab a shovel and start digging.

That’s what you’d do, right? I mean, when you read those pessimistic disaster novels about the rioting cannibalistic underclasses who’ll come for you when the lights go out, you’ll find that the people you’re meant to empathize with are the good ones: the ones who are picking up the pieces and starting over again. The helpers. That’s who we root for. The helpers are right here. When the lights go out, the helpers find their flashlights, clean out their freezers, and have a barbecue for the neighborhood.

That’s what makes an optimistic disaster story: it’s one in which the major challenge isn’t bad people, it’s the belief in the badness of people.

Walkaway is a weaponized counternarrative of human goodness. It’s a deliberate attempt to help us tell ourselves better stories. I hope you enjoy it.

Spotlight on: Rovina Cai, Artist

Rovina Cai is a freelance illustrator from Melbourne, Australia. She creates intriguing images that make you linger, hungry to know the story behind them. Her work is often inspired by the past; from fairy tales to gothic novels, these stories resonate with her because they bring a little bit of magic and wonder to the present day. Rovina has worked with an eclectic range of clients, including The Folio Society, Riot Games, and In her spare time, she can be found poring over old books trying to find stories to illustrate, or working on eccentric craft projects.

What was your introduction to working in the field of science fiction and fantasy art? Who were your influences; was there a particular artist or artists who drew you in?

I read a lot of fantasy novels growing up, and it was mostly because I was drawn to the covers! Something that is particularly vivid in my memory is John Howe’s cover art for the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I loved the way the main illustration was framed with smaller vignettes around the border; the cover wasn’t just an image, but told a story and made me want to open the book. This is something I now try to do with my own work, I’m always trying to convey a story or emotion and to create something that will make people want to find out more.

Are you excited or concerned about the impact digital media and digital books might have on traditional crafts and the role of the cover artist? How do you use digital media in your own workflow?

I’m really excited to see how digital me­dia will change the way people interact with stories and artwork. For example, there’s so much potential in interactive or animated e-books. It’s a unique way of telling a story, and I’d love to see more of it both as an illustrator and as a reader. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I do love physical books, and actually still prefer them when it comes to my own reading. It seems like the popularity of e-books has encouraged the production of more ‘‘special’’ printed books (as an incentive for readers to buy them). There are now so many deluxe editions out there that are beautifully designed and illustrated, and I love those just as much as all the new forms of digital media.

Is there something about what you do as an artist working in the SF field, or an upcoming project, that you’d like to tell our readers about?

I’ve just wrapped up illustrating a picture book! It’s called Tintinnabula, and is written by Australian SF/F writer Margo Lanagan. One of my favourite things about illustration is getting to delve into a writer’s ‘‘world,’’ and it has been a delight to explore Margo’s. Her work has a haunting, melancholic quality to it, which is quite similar to what I aim to evoke with my own work, so it felt like the perfect project from the start. The most satisfying projects for me are those that truly feel like a collaboration: where the author and artist are both able to contribute their own ideas, so that the words and images play off of each other. This was very much the case with this picture book, and I can’t wait to share it with people when it is re­leased later this year.

Kinuko Y. Craft: Light & Shadow

Kinuko Yamabe Craft was born January 3, 1940 in Kanazawa, Japan, and began painting and drawing at an early age. She received her BFA from the Kanazawa Municipal College of Fine and Industrial Art in 1962, and decided to continue her studies in the US. She studied for a year and a half at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1964-65), and then took the first of two jobs with Chicago-area commercial art studios. In 1970 she hired an agent and began working as a freelance commercial artist, producing work for publications including The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Newsweek, Playboy Maga­zine, Time, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. She also worked on packaging as well as book cover art and advertising art for book publishers and ad agencies.

Craft’s paintings have adorned the covers of work by countless authors, including Isabel Allende, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Patricia A. McKillip, Tanith Lee, Andre Norton, Isabel Glass, Juliet Marillier, and many more. For the past two decades she has focused more on illustrating picture books and working on more personal projects, including books retold by Marianna Mayer, among them The Twelve Dancing Princesses (1989) and Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave (1999), and two books authored by her daughter, M. Charlotte Craft: Cupid and Psyche (1996) and King Midas and the Golden Touch (1999). She has also done fairytale books: Cinderella (2000), Sleeping Beauty (2002), and Beauty & the Beast (2016), the latter two with husband Mahlon Craft (married 1965). Her work has been licensed on posters, journals, greeting cards, calendars, and other merchandise. Some of her art was collected in Drawings and Paintings (2007), and her first adult coloring book is Myth & Magic: An Enchanted Fantasy Coloring Book (2016).

Craft is the recipient of many awards of excellence. She has been honored by The Society of Illustrators in New York with a one-woman show, three Gold Medals, two Silver Medals and their Hamilton King Award (1987). She won the ASFA Spectrum 9 Grand Master Award in 2002, and has multiple Gold awards from the Spectrum anthologies. She won Chesley Awards in 2000 and 2001, and ‘‘Best in Show’’ from the Renaissance 2001 show at the Franklin Mint in Pennsylvania.

Her paintings appear in several permanent collections, including the National Geographic Society in Washington DC and The Museum of American Illustration in New York City.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘One of the benefits I get from doing covers is, I get to read. The main thing I like about what I do is that I’m away from reality and the real world where I live, in a make believe one – a land of someone else’s imagina­tion – as long as the project lasts. I need that to survive.

‘‘I read manuscripts at night before I go to bed. I take them into the bathtub with me to read at the end of the day, marking out places in the story to see if I can find something that sparks an idea. At the end I have several marked pages pulled out that have given me images for the cover. Sometimes, I do hundreds of sketches until I can see the image and its basic composition in my mind. Often it doesn’t work as well as I imagined. It might be imperfect, but I should feel that it will be perfect and my best work ever in my mind. The process is very much like a jigsaw puzzle. I start to sketch out the idea, often only to find it’s not working out. Then I have to look at the whole story again, but from a different angle to reconstruct it into something that works.”


‘‘When I’m ready to do the final drawing, lots of times I hire models. My favorite model is a dancer. No matter what she does, it’s always a grace­ful, classical pose. I ask her to pose like my rough sketch. Sometimes she does a better pose than my drawing. I take lots of digital photos. If I can do the human body well, and understand it well, I can also understand a table, doors, windows, a cloud – all those things. For me, draftsmanship is very important.

‘‘Every painting I’ve produced falls short of my expectations. They are my children, but they’re all juvenile delinquents. I’m not proud of them. There’s an expectation in my head when I look at the empty space, and then I start to do the drawing. That’s fine. In the drawing stage, I still have the perfect image in my mind. At around 75 percent completion, I start to notice the perfect painting I had in my mind turns to disappointment. I just have to quit, and move on to the next one. There’s a certain voice telling me, move on, the next one will be better.”


‘‘My studio is a mess. The bottoms of some piles haven’t seen the light of day since the early ’80s, but I like it this way. It’s full of reference material, piles of books and magazines that haven’t moved in decades, cast off sketches and half-finished preliminary drawings for work I want to do. There’s only space for me and my German Shephard Wolfgang. Only a small number of people are allowed in there.

‘‘There are lots of projects I intend to do: images from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a series of ghost stories, images from mythologies. I think I must hurry up before my time runs out. If I had a time machine, I would like to go back 20,000 years to see what the inhabitants of the Grotto of Lascaux looked like and what the landscape looked like then. I would like to see what Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, looked like and what truly happened in the Trojan War. Was that just a gifted blind poet’s imagination?”


‘‘Many years ago I used unprepared Strathmore illustration board be­cause it takes watercolors, which I use for laying in broad areas of color. Occasionally I had problems with it depending on the painting medium I was using so I switched to Ampersand gesso board. It is very smooth and takes my watercolor underpainting easily. I do a rough sketch on tracing paper, a title sketch, and then transfer everything to gesso board, and do the final drawing there. Then I apply an under painting, mainly in Windsor Newton watercolors. The board is sealed and then I finish the painting in oil color. I have always used Windsor Newton Series 7 watercolor sable brushes. It used to be that one brush would last me three paintings. My work is usually not that huge, maybe 16″ by 20″ or 18″ by 24″, and I could complete three paintings before the brush wore out. But these days, they don’t seem to last as long. Mahlon got in touch with the Windsor Newton people in England, and asked, ‘Why is this brush not lasting as long?’ They said they use the same number of sable hairs they always did, but the sable hair itself is thinner and more brittle now because of global warming. Now I need three brushes to complete one painting.”


Spotlight on: Jeffrey Alan Love, Artist

Jeffrey Alan Love is an award-winning artist and writer whose clients have included The New York Times, TIME, The New Yorker, Tor, Gollancz, Scholastic, HarperCollins, and others. Nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the British Science Fiction Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Chesley Award, and the Spectrum Fantastic Art Award, he has won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators and two Academy of British Cover Design Awards.

What was your introduction to working in the field of science fiction and fantasy art? Who were your influences; was there a particular artist or artists who drew you in?

My first job in SF/F, I think, was working for Irene Gallo for, an absolutely wonderful website which has revolutionized short fiction and art in the SF/F field. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job. Irene sets the standard, in my opinion. My first book covers in the field were for Gollancz, for Simon Ings’s novel Wolves and for a reissue of his back catalog. Growing up, I would buy any book that had a John Harris cover, and Michael Whelan was also a favorite. Victor Ambrus’s il­lustrated books of King Arthur were what made me want to become a writer and artist as a child.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling or a craft like any other?

I think there are aspects of both in art. As an il­lustrator it is definitely a craft, a job, but to stand out I think you need some of that ‘‘higher call­ing,’’ that personal voice that speaks in a way that only you can. But the only way to get that voice is through perspiration. Like almost every other artist I’ve met who makes a living at art, I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration – inspiration comes to those who sit down and do the work every day. It is like a meditation practice: no one day’s work matters that much in the grand scheme, but it is the building up of those days over time, year after year, where you learn to trust that if you just sit down and get to work the muse will show up and sit down with you.

Is there something about what you do as an artist working in the SF field, or an upcoming project, that you’d like to tell our readers about?

I wrote and illustrated my first book, Notes from the Shadowed City, which is out now from Flesk Publications. Later this year an illustrated book of Norse Myths written by Kevin Crossley-Holland will be released, for which I did around 150 paint­ings. I’m also in the process of writing a novel. If you’d like to learn more about any of those things please visit or twit­ or

Spotlight on: Paul Lewin, Artist

Paul Lewin was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973 and moved to the US in 1977. He spent most of his years growing up in Miami FL and now lives in Oakland CA. Initially, pencil and paper were his medium of choice, but he was also into graffiti, and soon moved into colorful pieces using markers and pens. In 1994 he picked up a paint brush for the first time and began painting in acrylics. This opened up a whole new world that he’s been exploring ever since. In 1998 he had his first art show in Miami. In 2004 he moved to the Bay Area to pursue his art further.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling or a craft like any other?

That’s a tough question for me, but I think I would have to go with perspira­tion. In my early days of painting before I decided to take my work in a more professional direction, all I needed was inspiration. Nowadays with expenses, deadlines, and goals to meet, perspiration has become my best friend. I manage to stay inspired through most of my pieces, but there are always those days when it’s just not showing up. Sometimes working a day job puts constraints on your time and can zap your energy significantly. Having the ability to push through when this is a factor is essential to doing the work you need to do on a daily basis.

I think most artists who inspired me did have a higher calling. I’m moved by works that have something profound to add to the greater conversation of art, either with imagery or content. My work has moved more in this direction over the years. My early works were mainly about experimentation and learning about myself. Once I’d reached a comfortable place with my craft and technique, then I wanted to expand it to something bigger. Growing up as a person of color who was all about sci-fi and fantasy art, I never noticed the lack of black and brown characters in my younger years. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I could not fully relate to these images. If my work today can in any minute way have an effect on this conversation, then I would feel much closer to where I want to be.

Talk a bit about one of your most interesting cover projects. What’s it like to illustrate an author’s work? How do you engage with the work and make it your own, while still honoring the source material?

Coming from the perspective of a fine artist, there are only a handful of cover projects that I’ve been involved with over the years. Without a doubt, though, the most interesting one has been with Seven Stories Press and the reissuing of Octavia Butler’s books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. They were looking for new cover art for each book and wanted to use some of my work for this project. I was very honored they chose my work for this. Ten years ago a friend loaned me Parable of the Sower and it completely changed my life. It caused me to view art, sci-fi, and literature in com­pletely new ways. I was very moved by the way Butler was able to seamlessly weave in heavy subject matters such as race, gender, and class without ever compromising the integrity of the sci-fi. My work at that time began to shift in a new direction. I owe a lot of what I’m working on today to the inspiration of her profound visions of the future. So to have it come back full circle to the original books that started me down this road of art that I’m on today, I honestly don’t have the words to describe it.

Kameron Hurley: How to Write a Book in a Month

We all want to learn how to write books faster. The pace of the news cycle today has heated up to such an extent that for those of us who aren’t in the 1% of writers, if we don’t come out with a book a year, it feels like the world has forgotten us amid the buzz of ever more intensifying world horror. I’m not immune to this pressure. Juggling a day job, a book a year (writing), a book a year (promot­ing), and completing various freelance articles like this one takes its toll. Stuff goes out late. It’s pushed out. It squeezes in just under the wire (like this column). At some point when you’re on the writing treadmill, it feels like you’ve gotten so behind that you’ll never catch up again.

There are, roughly, two paths you can follow when you feel the hot breath of deadline failure coming your way. You can cancel or push out all of your work in order to just get yourself out from under it (and I know several writers who recently cancelled their contracts because the pressure to deliver became too much. Really), or you can pour a drink, book a cabin in the woods or a hotel room away from your regular life, and buckle down and do what you were born to do. You write your way out.

I’ve been relying on a combination of these two approaches for the last two years. Sneak­ing one book into my already full writing schedule in 2015 or so ended up being disastrous for everything that came afterward. Here I am, two years later, nursing a whisky and wondering how I’m going to finish the last book in my fantasy trilogy in exactly three weeks. And as far as career writer problems go, this is not an uncommon place for me to be.

I wrote the last half of my last book, The Stars are Legion, in four days in a cold cabin in the woods up in the Hocking Hills outside Columbus OH. There was no wi-fi and no heat, which meant it was just me and a lot of firewood to keep me warm, because there was still snow on the ground. I completed that book because I sat down with my agent the week before and figured out exactly what the book was about and what had to happen next. I had it all written up in a nice, neat outline, and I did nothing but eat and write and feed firewood into the fireplace for four days.

It was heavenly.

When I dreamed of being a writer in my teens, it was this cabin-in-the-woods part I dreamed about. I wanted to spend my days alone, chopping firewood, and throwing a ball for a couple of dogs, and writing. Everything else that I have since learned comes with the job – the appearances, the blog tours, the interviews, the podcasts, the news bites, the reviews, the conventions – wasn’t even on my radar. What I always wanted was the cabin in the woods.

Maybe that’s why it’s easier to write there, now, because it’s exactly what I want to be doing with my life. As I buckle down and prepare to spend a full week out there this time in an attempt to finish my latest work, I can’t help but look forward to the quiet. Silence. No cars. No trains. No people. No incessant email. No twitter DM’s. No more Facebook mentions. Just me and the words, the way it’s meant to be.

Why does a career as a writer now involve so very much that isn’t writing the work? Why must we not only write a great book, but be able to yell about it, and then head off to a day job that subsidizes it? Balancing these two parts of ourselves – the promotion brain and the writing brain – is like being two entirely different people. When I am out in the woods, I know which one I am. When I’m back here at home, I have to somehow be both, and perhaps that’s the part that I find most maddening, this dis­sonance I must live with for the majority of my days, weeks, months, years; the dissonance of being a writer, knowing who I am, but knowing that who I am is not enough to thrive in this world. I have to learn all of these other skills. I need to learn to be loud and decisive. I must be a designer and a marketer, a theatric extrovert and entertainer, a business person, a record keeper, and above all, be all of this and pretend I’m a normal functioning adult who can take care of myself. That’s a hard ask. Always has been, in every age. Always will be.

But you came here because of this article’s title, of course. You came here because you, too, like me, want to know how to write a book in a month, which is the primary activity I am about to engage upon and will hopefully have completed by the time you read this. When I answer tough questions from new writers, they all want to know the tricks: ‘‘How do you know if this should be first person or third?’’ or ‘‘How do you know when you’ve done enough research?’’ or ‘‘How do you know where to start?’’ and the cold, hard truth of that is that you very often don’t know. You write it and you figure it out as you go. You write dozens or hundreds of pages of nonsense, and you hope that you figure it out there on your journey. Then you throw all that stuff out once you’ve figured it out, and you start again.

The panic that wells up in me when I know I have to deliver a title or watch the release date roll back is often sufficient enough to get the words to pour out of me. I outline my work ruthlessly before I begin, and I book my cabin, and I turn off the world, and I teach myself how to listen to the woods again. I give myself the time to become who I wanted to be, who I really am, under all the hustle and liquor and corporate hobnobbing and content marketing. Scraping away all of those things I have acquired – like a crab who has collected junk on its shell – helps me feel the freedom I need to do what I was born to do, what feels right to do, what I have wanted to make of my life since I knew it was a possibility, and that’s just… writing. I find the freedom to be a writer.

Increasingly, those periods in which I’m free to be ‘‘just’’ a writer come less and less often. I’ve had to start manufacturing them. They are no longer organic to how I live my life. There’s a sadness in that. It’s the sadness that comes when you are about to get to the top of the mountain where you can rest, and then you see the next peak in the distance, and you realize how far, still, you have to travel.

You write a book in a month because you need to write another book in four months, and a book after that in 12. You write a book in a month because it’s what you’ve always wanted to do. You write a book in a month because it’s who you are, and it’s the only way to keep climbing.

Jane Yolen: Accidental Novelist

Jane Hyatt Yolen was born February 11, 1939 in New York City. She received a BA from Smith College in 1960 and a master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1978. She married David W. Stemple in 1962 (he died in 2006), and has a daughter, two sons, and six grandchildren. She has collaborated on works with all three of her children, fantasy most extensively with Adam Stemple.

During the ’60s, she worked in New York at various magazines and publishers, holding editorial positions at Gold Medal Books, Routledge Books, and Alfred A. Knopf Juvenile Books. From 1990-96 she ran her own YA imprint, Jane Yolen Books, at Harcourt Brace.

Yolen is the author or editor of over 350 books, with most of her writing for children or young adults, though she has also written adult novels, poetry, and non-fiction. Her first book, non-fiction Pirates in Petticoats, appeared in 1963 (and was revised and updated as Sea Queens in 2013), followed by a children’s picture book, See This Little Line (1963). Her first novel was the co-authored realistic fiction Trust A City Kid (1966). The short middle grade fantasy novel The Magic Three of Solatia (1974) mingled children’s and adult fantasy.

Among her many works of genre interest, standouts include time-travel Holocaust novel The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988) and ‘‘Sleeping Beauty’’ Holocaust tale Briar Rose (1992); a third Holocaust book, A Shudder Between the Hills, inspired by ‘‘Hansel and Gretel’’, is forthcoming in 2018. Her adult fantasy Great Alta series began in 1988 with Sister Light, Sister Dark and continued with White Jenna (1989) and The One-Armed Queen (1998). With son Adam Stemple, she wrote the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fairy Tale novels Pay the Piper (2005) and Troll Bridge (2006).

Notable works of short fiction include Nebula Award winners ‘‘Sister Emily’s Lightship’’ (1997) and ‘‘Lost Girls’’ (1998). As an editor, Yolen has worked on many books of SF, fantasy, folktales, and retold fairy tales. Her non-fiction includes Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood (1981).

Yolen is the most recent recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from SFWA. She won a World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2009, and was named a grand master poet by the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 2010. She has also received the Society of Children’s Book Writers’ Golden Kite Award (1974), the Christopher Medal (1978), the Garden State Children’s Book Award (1981), a Mythopoeic Society Award (1984), the University of Minnesota Kerlan Award (1988), the Skylark Award (1990), and a World Fantasy Special Award for her editorial work (1986). From 1986-88 she served as president of SFWA, and holds honorary doctorates from six colleges and universities.

Yolen lives in Western Massachusetts, and spends a few months each year in Scotland.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘My father’s family came to the US early in the 20th century from the Ukraine, long before the Nazi era. The family joke has always been if they hadn’t gotten out when they did, they would have been killed by the Cossacks. If they hadn’t been killed by the Cossacks, they would have been killed by Hitler. If they hadn’t been killed by Hitler, they would have been killed by Chernobyl. Good thing they left.

‘‘Eight years before Harry Potter came out, I wrote a novel called Wizard’s Hall, about a boy named Henry. His mother doesn’t think he has any magic in him, but he goes to magic school, and the first thing that happens is that he sees pictures on the wall that move and change. He makes friends with a redheaded boy and a very smart girl, and there’s a wicked wizard who used to teach there who’s trying to destroy the school. (There is no Quidditch.) J.K. Rowling never read my book, but clearly we must have read the same fantasy stories! Those are fantasy tropes, just as writing about interesting candies are English children’s book tropes (see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang).

‘‘Of course, nothing was as successful as Harry Potter. I love that a children’s book writer made more money than the queen. After Rowling’s groundbreaking success, more kids and adults began reading fantasy, although most of them only wanted to read Harry Potter. Unfortunately, most of the follow-on came from publishers saying, ‘We want you to write a trilogy, or a seven-book narrative like Harry Potter,’ instead of saying, ‘I want your fantasy novel.’ I would get letters from kids who would say, ‘I was very angry with you, I thought you were copying Harry Potter, and my teacher showed me that your book was published eight years earlier. Are you going to sue her?’ No, because we’re all using fantasy tropes. I’ve written a few series, though, like the Great Alta saga – it all started with one book, and then there was more to tell.

‘‘For years I’ve been telling people, ‘I’m not a novelist.’ Yes, I’ve written novels, but I’m basically a poet. I love doing picture books. I write novels reluctantly. However, last year, I was invited to be on a panel for historical novelists in Northampton MA, and I decided the first thing I had to say was, ‘I’m really a short form writer.’ But I figured, before I said that, I’d better go count the novels, and when I got to 60, I stopped. I’m an accidental novelist. An accidental, overachieving novelist.”

‘‘The science fiction I read tends to be more anthropological SF, like Le Guin, or alternative science SF, or dystopian. Except for The Martian, which I quite enjoyed. I cheated – I saw the movie first and then I read the book. Much of the science goes over my head. My husband of 46 years was a scientist. When I wrote the Pit Dragon books, I went to him and said, ‘I have to build dragons that can get off the ground.’ Flying dinosaurs, they’re huge, how do we get them to fly? ‘Hollow bones,’ he said. A lot of science fiction, like a lot of fantasy, is hand-wavey – don’t look at the man behind the curtain, that sort of thing. Hard science is not in my wheelhouse. I write about natural science, both in poems and books: I’m fascinated by natural science. Once you get to the heavy lifting, the microscopic, or world-building in outer space, I can appreciate parts of it, but I can’t write it.”


‘‘Briar Rose was burned on the steps of the Board of Education in Kansas City. It’s funny. I live in Massachusetts, and Banned in Boston has always been a badge of honor. If you’ve had a book banned in Boston, the book has done really well. Even though it didn’t affect sales badly, I think when you write a story, you want everyone to love it, or be moved by it, or be changed by it, or be riveted by it, and when somebody actually burns it, you feel as though somehow you’re caught in Fahrenheit 451. It’s violent and ludicrous. They took three books out of the library and torched them on a barbecue because they all had gay characters. They didn’t do a bonfire. A bonfire I could get behind. Surpris­ingly, one part of me really was hurt. That’s my book. I thought, ‘You bastards. You took it out of the library. Why didn’t you go buy a book? Torch your own damn book.’ The idea that we still think, in this day and age, that if you don’t like a book, or a magazine article, or an album, or a person, that you can throw them on a fire, is really hard for me. So one part of me was hurt, and one part of me was horrified, and one part of me wanted to fight back.”

‘‘A lot of new writers – like Holly Black, Kelly Link – are doing crossover books, so that adults can read them with as much engagement as teenagers can. There’s also a new thing called New Adult, the step above YA, for 20- or 21-year-olds, that feels more to me like training wheels. When I was first writing back in the ’60s, and editing at Knopf, that’s when young adult became a genre. Before that they were all just children’s books. Young adult as a category was driven by librarians, because they were already doing it – they were separating out books for the young-adult room where the teenag­ers went. They weren’t going to sully the children’s room with those rowdy teens, but they weren’t going to have teens reading those sexy irreverent adult books. In those days, there were the Sweet 16 books, but once they started designating young adult as a category, they developed into something called problem novels – a little like ‘disease of the week,’ a story about the girl whose mother is a prostitute, or the boy whose father is a drunk. Those were the problem novels, more problem than novel. Like Afterschool Specials. But the great ones, such as The Outsiders, The Cheese Stands Alone, The Chocolate War, stuff like that, those are still read. Right now in children’s books, you’ve got board books, step-up books, concept books, clas­sic baby books, classic picture books, story books, poetry for children, poetry for teens, middle-grade books, upper-middle grade books, young-adult books, new-adult books, and then you get to adult books. When I was a six-year-old reading books in my parents’ extensive book collection, I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph in Egypt, or anything else I wanted. If I didn’t understand parts of it, I didn’t understand parts of it. If it’s in the house, you can read it. Of course, it’s one thing to have a particular parental unit say, ‘My kid is allowed to read anything,’ but for public libraries it’s different. If all children were let into the adult section, any parents who are unhappy about that would make a huge fuss, even shut down the library.”


‘‘Children’s books and young-adult books and fantasy have this in common: the best are writ­ten like poems. They have metaphor, they have astonishing lyrical prose, and they work on mul­tiple levels. They are a gateway drug to beautiful literature, and shouldn’t be dismissed. If I want to learn something new, I’ll start with a really good children’s book on the subject, and then move on to an adult book. Half the time I’ve learned most of what I need to know in the children’s book, or the adult book is not as well written, or it’s not as convincing, because it’s throwing stuff at you in order to convince you – but I’ve already been convinced by the poetry.”


John Joseph Adams: The Stars His Destination

John Joseph Adams was born July 31, 1976 and grew up in Perth Amboy NJ until moving to Florida at age nine. He dropped out of high school at 16, but got his GED and later attended Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce and then the University of Central Florida in Orlando. After graduation, he returned to New Jersey and got his first job in publishing. He began working at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2001, where he was assistant editor until December 2009. In January 2010 he left F&SF to edit Lightspeed for publisher Prime Books, and took over editing sister magazine Fantasy in 2011. In 2012 he bought both magazines, becoming publisher as well, and merged the two into Lightspeed. He is also publisher and editor-in-chief of horror magazine Nightmare, founded in 2012. He has been nominated for multiple Hugo and World Fantasy Awards for editing, and Lightspeed won Hugo Awards for Best Semiprozine in 2014 and 2015.

In 2008 he edited post-apocalyptic reprint anthology Wastelands, and followed it up with zombie anthology The Living Dead (2008). His first original anthology was Seeds of Change (2008), and he has since edited more than two dozen anthologies all together, including the Apocalypse Triptych series with Hugh Howey: The End Is Nigh (2014), The End Is Now (2014), and The End Has Come (2015). He is also the series editor for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, which published its second volume last year.

In 2016 he launched John Joseph Adams Books, his own imprint from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and has since acquired books by Hugh Howey, Molly Tanzer, Carrie Vaughn, and more.

Adams has also worked as a publicist and critic, and produces podcast The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy for In 2015 he was a judge for the National Book Award in the YA category. He lives on the Central Coast of California with his wife, editor and author Christie Yant, married 2011.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Things took a more dramatic turn for me when I stumbled across The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. It had just come back into print after being out of print for a long time, and people kept coming into the bookstore and ordering it, so I got curious about it. I didn’t know Bester was a legend in the field. Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction, but at the time I didn’t know who he was, either. I just decided to try it…and it just blew my mind. I think of The Stars My Destination as my origin story: reading that book made me want to find more books that could blow my mind like that. Having read The Stars My Destination, I went on a quest to find more books like it, and ultimately that’s what led to me becoming an editor – to driving myself to find things that would challenge me as a reader and change the way I read. Before that, I’d pick up a book, and I’d like it or I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t striving to find that greatness.”

‘‘I was at F&SF about nine years. I was the slush reader, the only actual employee in the office day-to-day besides Gordon, working 20 hours a week or so. I would read all the slush except for whatever Gordon would cherry-pick. Obviously authors who were known quantities, he would pick them out of the slush to read himself, along with the occasional up-and-comers he wanted to keep an eye on. As time went on, I became more and more sure as an editor and felt more confident in my decisions. Though my primary job was slush reader, Gordon also started giving me everything he was going to buy to get a second opinion on those stories. So I literally read everything he bought before he bought it for most of my time at the magazine. That really helped me develop my editorial point of view because I got to read and comment on all of the stories under consideration – not just the stuff that got into the magazine but also the stuff that almost got into the magazine.”


‘‘Night Shade was very happy with Wastelands. Then they came to me and said, ‘Let’s do one on zombies.’ Unlike post-apocalyptic fiction, I didn’t have any background with zombies whatsoever. I hadn’t done any research. But I said, ‘Sure!’ So I did tons of zombie reading and research, assembled The Living Dead, and when it came out and did even better than Wastelands. Having those two books come out my first year as an anthologist – and hav­ing them do so well – really set the stage for me to keep editing anthologies.”


‘‘We launched Lightspeed in June 2010. Prime Books published it for about a year and a half, but then Sean Wallace decided to get out of the magazine business, and gave me the opportunity to buy it in lieu of him just shutting it down. By that time I’d taken over editing Fantasy as well. Lightspeed was breaking even and Fantasy was not, but since Sean was offering them both I decided to buy them both. With the success of my anthologies, I was in good enough financial position to buy them, but it was a difficult decision because it also meant I would have to do a lot more work day-to-day, because now I would be the publisher as well. But I went ahead and took the plunge.”


‘‘Though it sometimes makes things more dif­ficult, I ended up doing the same thing when I launched the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series, in that I said right up front that it was my intention to have fantasy and science fiction equally represented in each volume. Even though I don’t particularly care about the genre divisions, I want them to have equal representation, since both genres are in the title.

‘‘The way BASFF works is, as series editor I read everything that’s published during the year that meets our selection criteria, and I come up with a list of the top 80 stories. We bring on a different guest editor every year who then reads those top 80 stories and selects the top 20 that go into the book. Our first guest editor was Joe Hill, and then the second volume was guest edited by Karen Joy Fowler. I give the stories to the guest editor without any bylines or publica­tion information, so all they know is the title and the story; they can’t pick a story because it’s by a famous writer, or look favorably upon it because it appeared in a prestigious magazine – all they have to judge it on is the work itself, and that’s kind of a beautiful way to edit an anthology.”


‘‘I’ve always been a fairly fast reader, but lately I’ve had to really try to pick up my game. The good thing is, you can dismiss a lot of novels in the time it takes to dismiss a short story – because a lot of books, as soon as you start them you just know really quickly it’s not for you, that you don’t want to spend hours and hours reading it, let alone weeks editing it. With John Joseph Adams Books, I’m trying to apply the same kind of filter I do for BASFF – I only have ten slots a year, max, so I really have to be in love with every book I acquire.”


Cory Doctorow: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

In 1972, a group of researchers funded by the Volkswagen Foundation published a seismic book called Limits to Growth, which used the most sophisticated techniques of the day to model the planet Earth and project its future. The book’s authors were trying to figure out how rosy a future the world’s poor could count on: would they some day enjoy the cars and refrigerators and other benefits of the industrialized, devel­oped north? As the title suggests, the authors came to pessimistic conclusions.

The authors didn’t take obvious shortcuts in their models, either. A sloppy team might have added up the amount of steel in an average car, multiplied by the number of people who might want to own cars some day, and announce that this would require more steel that the planet Earth could provide. Smart researchers, though, would take note of the fact that technology is not static: competitive markets encourage companies to invest in R&D projects to reduce the material inputs to finished goods: in other words, the cars of the future will have less stuff in them. They’ll also take less energy and less labor to produce – not because companies care about environmental footprints, but because the less energy, labor, and material there is in a product, the less it costs to make, which means you can sell it for cheaper than your competitors’ products.

Even with optimistic projections of technological advances in material and labor efficiencies, the authors were pretty glum. Population grows geo­metrically, and technological efficiencies advance linearly, so technology won’t be able to keep up with population, and that meant that if all the world’s poor were to get an equal share in technological abundance, the resulting division would leave those of us in the rich world with a lot less.

(Let me note in passing that it’s not clear that populations grow geo­metrically – credible estimates have world population growth slowing and leveling off at nine billion people – nor that technology advances linearly, at least when we’re talking about computers, which have many curves that grow through doubling or even steeper exponents).

Limits to Growth had a profound impact on the world, one that’s felt still. The contemporary ‘‘de-growth’’ movement in the green left is a direct result of debate created by the book. If you’ve ever worried about how we were all going to get by with less, or railed at the waste of consumerism and the pursuit of stuff, or imagined a life of less – less meat, less air con­ditioning, less air travel – as a sad but necessary step we’d have to take to save our planet, you were likely feeling one of the aftershocks of Limits.

In his blazing 2015 book Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff, Leigh Phillips – a British Marxist science writer – blamed the de-growth move­ment for the political retreat of the left, which had historically sought to elevate peasants to the lifestyles of lords, rather than bringing lords down to live like peasants. When the left started telling people that they’d better get used to doing less with less, that flying to your holidays was an act of depraved environmental indifference, that the new normal meant flushing your toilet only when absolutely necessary, meant stooping to pick pests off of crops, meant foregoing the pleasure of blueberries in winter, the left transformed from the side that promised comfort for all to the side that insisted that comfort was the luxury we couldn’t afford.

Phillips is much rosier about a future of material abundance than the green left’s leading voices. He thinks that we can have the technol­ogy without the pollution, by removing profit motives – which insist that a company that pays a $1,000,000 pollution fine after saving itself $1,000,001 by dumping its waste in our drinking water has done the right thing, netting a dollar in profit for the shareholders it owes everything to. He thinks that, in the absence of market economics, we can harness technological developments to a common good that continues to enrich everyone on Earth. Rather than labor and land-intensive organic farming, he wants us to use technologically intensive, super-efficient farming crops and bioengineering techniques, to get the benefits of Monsanto without the abuses and shenanigans.

Phillips’s work overlaps science fiction in many places (I mean this as a compliment, of course). Bruce Sterling’s 2005 MIT Press pamphlet Shaping Things and his 1998 novel Distraction describe a future mate­rial culture populated by objects that exist as pure information, stored in a database, until the day when someone needs them, whereupon the objects are automatically fabricated. The materials in these objects are closely matched with their duty-cycles (the biggest problem with plastic bags being that they’re made of materi­als that last for millennia, but are intended to be used for hours), and the objects are designed so that when their use is complete, they gracefully degrade back into the material supply-chain. The objects produce a continuous stream of data about their use, and that data is constantly analyzed to improve the next version of the object that is conjured into existence (Sterling called these ‘‘spimes’’).

Both Phillips and Sterling envision a world in which all material comforts are available on demand, as a reliable, steady utility. That is the gold standard of technological civilization: you flip your light-switch and the lights turn on. Every time.

But technology hints at another model, one that hybridizes the pre-industrial rhythms of work and play and the super-modern ability to use computers to solve otherwise transcendentally hard logistics and coordi­nation problems.

Here’s the kind of thing I’m thinking of: in 2009, Google opened a data-center in a shady valley in Saint-Ghislain, Belgium where the weather is so naturally cool that two thirds of the time, the outside temperature is low enough that the data-center doesn’t need to run any kind of air conditioning. The biggest expense in data-center operation is the chillers that keep the computers from overheating. About one third of the time, the valley gets too warm to run an uncooled data-center. On those days, Google shuts off the data-center and farms requests for computing power and files to other data-centers around the world. It’s cheaper to run a data-center at two-thirds capacity than it is to run it around the clock with air-conditioning.

Here’s another example: I live in Burbank CA, in the drought-stricken San Fernando Valley, where months go by in which the sun blazes down pitilessly, without a single cloud in the sky, with daytime temperatures of 27C-35C or even hotter, day after day after day. Shortly after moving to Burbank in 2015, I was walking through my neighborhood when I came upon a man whose house had just been fitted with one of the photovoltaic roofs that you see dotted around the area. It was a remarkably hot day, and my neighbor was sitting on his porch with his doors flung open. Even from the sidewalk, I could feel the cool air wafting out of his house. He was running his air conditioner full blast, with all the windows and doors open. We struck up a conversation and he told me he was getting so much electricity from his rooftop solar cells that he couldn’t actually use it up. The pittance offered by the local utility for feeding back to the grid didn’t interest him. He preferred to use that surplus energy to keep an island of cool air around his porch and lawn that helped him enjoy the weather.

Both Google and my solar neighbor are up to something simultaneously high-tech and pre-industrial. In the pre-industrial era, goods were made by artisans, not industrial workers. Because the artisans worked to their own schedules, they were free to alter their production choices to suit their moods and environmental conditions. The carpenters could choose a warm day to sit outside and paint, and then retreat to their heated, enclosed workshops on rainy days to do fine detail work on their workbenches.

With industrialization came the need to coordinate your schedule and labor with other workers. Craft processes were decomposed into industrial processes, a series of simple steps that could be done quickly, with minimal training, by a series of workers who could be easily interchanged. Workers lost the ability to dictate their working rhythms. You can’t wander away from the assembly line to enjoy a sunny afternoon – the people up and down the line from you are counting on you. What workers lost in autonomy, they made up for in material abundance. Freed from the inefficiencies of one-off workshop production, goods plummeted in price and soared in reliability and quality. The material comforts available to the average worker surpassed those enjoyed by the aristocracy of the pre-industrial age.

Years, decades, centuries of this, and goods are unimaginably cheap, so cheap that we struggle as much with finding ways to do away with the things we’ve discarded as we do with acquiring those goods in the first place. The green left argues that these goods aren’t really cheap at all: they have hidden costs, externalities in the form of carbon and other pollutants. Factor the cost of cleaning up all the mess that companies have foisted on the rest of us, and those cheap goods become very expensive indeed.

Well, yes and no. The inputs – labor, energy, material – for goods are falling with no bottom in sight. Production of these goods still results in pollution, but the pollution is constant and the goods produced are rising. That is, refining a kilo of aluminum doesn’t get more polluting over time – if anything, it gets more efficient and thus less pollut­ing. If the pollution in refining the kilo of aluminum is constant, and the number of goods we can make with the kilo of aluminum is on the increase, then the pollution attributable by each object is decreas­ing (even if we’re buying so many cheap aluminum parts that overall pollution is increasing).

Cheapness and coordination go hand in hand. Trains gave us railroad time, the first system of timekeeping that synchronized clocks beyond ear­shot of the clocktower’s bells, so 11:00 a.m. in New York was also 11:00 a.m. in Toronto – and they also made it drastically cheaper to move goods from one place to another, both to bring them to market and to refine them further in multi-stage, distributed industrial processes. Spoke-and-hub aviation gave us flight transfers in 45 minutes, including baggage logistics, making it possible to go from small, out of the way places to large, centralized places without having to provide economically unsustainable point-to-point direct routes between every small town and every big city. Walmart’s supply chains stretch from China to Burbank with fantastic reli­ability, so that everything Walmart sells is always available, without having to wait for misshipments and misorders. A single McDonald’s hamburger can contain beef from 1,000 animals – the company isn’t a restaurant chain, it’s a logistics firm that solves problems involving fractional cows.

Your boss needs you to be at work on time because otherwise your co-workers can’t do their jobs. I have to turn this column in to Locus six weeks before publication or it won’t get printed and mailed to subscribers. We trade autonomy for efficiency, as individuals, as collectives, as companies, as nation-states (companies in the Far East get a lazy day when their American colleagues take Thanksgiving off and the company goes into station-keeping mode).

The result: the light-switch works every time. The thermostat regulates the air-conditioner with uncomplaining and perfect accuracy, whenever the house gets warm. We’ve got blueberries in February. These are the gold standards of indus­trialization.

Phillips and Sterling speculate that process ef­ficiency will continue to the point where we can deliver this gold standard to every corner of the world, so efficiently and transparently that we don’t melt the polar ice-caps and kill ourselves. That’s a hopeful bet.

It’s also science fiction, and good science fiction goes beyond simple scenarios like, ‘‘Here’s how we’ll solve our material production problems’’ and goes into more interesting ones like, ‘‘What if we had a different gold standard?’’

Think back to our artisans, arranging their days to their personal satisfaction rather than the demands of the system. How many times have we wished we could take a ‘‘mental health day’’ and skip work to play in the sun or huddle down in front of a winter fire with a good book? The light-switch doesn’t work every time for the artisan, but the arti­san doesn’t have to work when it’s dark, either. The farmer makes hay when the sun shines. Kids splash in summer rain-puddles and make snowballs in winter. When it’s raining soup, you fill your boots.

This variety doesn’t just confer the advantages of autonomy; it also serves as useful tonic against adaptation. Do anything over and over again, even something you enjoy, and you will adapt to it, and it becomes rote and joyless. Take a break from it, and when you return, it’s a fresh delight. Varying your routine makes the sweet parts of it sweeter.

(Not that artisans lived lives of comfort or good health or economic security: they were vulnerable to microbes, scarcity, war and famine, and locked out of social mobility, which confers a different kind of satisfying freedom of choice upon its beneficiaries.)

That brings me back to Google’s chiller-free Belgian data-center and my neighbor who’s air-conditioning all of Burbank with free energy from the sun. This is better than the gold standard of industrial comfort. The light-switch doesn’t work every time – don’t try to run the air-conditioner with the windows and doors open on a cloudy day or your next power-bill might send you into bank­ruptcy – but when it works, you get the light for free.

My neighbor can only enjoy his air-conditioned front lawn because he’s working in a flexible en­vironment (he’s almost certainly doing something in the movies, as most of my neighbors are, but I didn’t ask). He has a core of activities he has to do in concert with others, but he’s also got a large amount of unstructured time that’s his to fill as he sees fit.

Google’s data-center doesn’t work all the time, either, and it’s impossible to say with perfect confidence which days it will and won’t work. If it wasn’t for the heroic coordination work done by Google’s master computers, farming files and tasks redundantly around the globe, turning off the company’s computers for one day in three would be a nightmare. Add software to coordinate the labor of that data center with many others, and it’s a dream: a data-center housing thousands of cores with a carbon footprint not much bigger than the one generated by the laptop on which I type these words.

Networks and software solve coordination problems. Kickstarter helps you find people who’ll fund your novel; Twitter helps you find likeminded people with whom to elect a madman to the Ameri­can presidency. Private LGBTQ message boards help queer kids exchange survival strategies without having to figure out which other people are living in the closet in their physical worlds; free/open source software lets strangers cooperate to build operat­ing systems and wikis help strangers write entire encyclopedias.

The limits to labor/energy/material efficiency are speculative. We don’t know what the hard limits are on how little material can go into a car, how little fuel can propel an airplane, or how much of the labor embodied in your house could be performed by robots.

We don’t need to speculate to understand how sweet our lives could be if they were re-tuned to the rhythms of the natural world, if every time the sun shone we stopped having to worry about closing the door, if every time it rained we stopped worrying about whether the toilet really needs flushing, or whether it can mellow for one more yellow.

My next novel, Walkaway, includes an entire subculture called ‘‘the bumblers.’’ These are the survivors of a speculative investment bubble in zeppelins, a global phenomenon that left millions around the world with the knowledge and capacity to build airships, and networks of friends, fellow travellers, and potential couch-surfing hosts all over the world. These sky-hobos go aloft in their minimally steerable zeppelins and literally go wherever the wind blows them, knowing that they will almost certainly meet someone interesting, wherever the zeppelin happens to take them. It’s not jet travel. You can’t decide where you’re going. But if you don’t care where you end up – because all you want is to get somewhere – then bumbling is superior to conventional aviation on every metric.

Here is where the green left and the bright green left can meet: using bright green, high tech coordina­tion tools, we can restore the pastoral green, artisanal autonomy that privileges mindful play over mindless work. The motto of Magpie Killjoy’s Steampunk zine was ‘‘love the machine, hate the factory.’’ Love the dividends of coordinated labor, hate the loss of freedom we suffer when we have to coordinate with others. Have your cake and eat it too.

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