Jul 09, 2013
As befits a book written for a younger crowd, the cover art for Lockstep is by the inestimable Chris McGrath
Here ya go. Risingshadow.net has let the cat out of the bag and posted the cover art for my next novel, Lockstep. Not to be outdone, I'll present it too. Here is McGrath's excellent rendering of Toby and Corva on the planet Wallop:
The novel will be serialized first in Analog, this fall, then hit the stores in hardcover form March 25, 2014. I know that seems like a long time to wait, but there's the serialization--and there will also be a lot of other stuff from me during the summer/fall, including new installments of the Sun of Suns graphic novel, audiobook work, and a major secret project I can't yet reveal.
Meanwhile, am I leaving behind adult hard SF? Is Lockstep truly YA? No, and I dunno. I wrote it in the style I felt the story needed. Tor says it has a sufficiently YA-ish feel to it that it can be marketed that way; the hero is 17 years old, but so was Rue Cassels in Permanence. (By the way, Lockstep is not another Halo Worlds novel.) I don't think my older readers are going to be disappointed by this story, and I've always written with younger readers in mind. (You think the steampunk air-pirates of Virga are just for grownups? Ha!) Anyway, you can judge. Here's the marketing bumpf/synopsis of Lockstep:
A grand innovation in hard SF space opera — a slower-than-light civilization of planets without stars
When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still — that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.
Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millenia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.
Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.
Lockstep's one of those books I wrote purely for the fun of it, without bothering to think about market. I hope the fun shows through, and I hope you like it.
May 04, 2013
This position will let me use all my futures-related skills and experience
This summer I'll be joining the international strategy and innovation firm, Idea Couture, as Senior Foresight Strategist. If you have no idea what foresight is, head on over to my foresight page to find out. In a nutshell, though, I'll be helping some major corporations and organizations develop innovations and strategies around innovation, by presenting analyses and visions of the future beyond the next fiscal year-end.
This work isn't like the grandiose visionary prophecies of the classic futurist pundit--I'm not playing Toffler or Hermann Kahn here. My job won't be to rave about flying cars and jet-packs to the clientelle. Foresight's grown up a bit in the past twenty years or so. My role will be to provide inputs to particular stages of the strategic planning process. If that doesn't sound as exciting as science fiction, well, I happen to have another outlet for my visionary side: namely, writing SF! There's some overlap, as I'm a professional out-of-box thinker in both cases. But I've long been looking for a role where I can apply more rigorous approaches to the future to real-world problems. I can write stories in which humanity's solved the problem of global warming (or the looming food problem, or desertification etc.); or I can directly contribute, in some small way, to building that sustainable future. Or, I hope, I can do both.
I'll be joined in the Toronto office of IC by Jayar La Fontaine, a foresighter with a solid background in science and philosophy. Once the team is rounded out, this summer, we'll support the IC team in finding new solutions, and maybe we'll even innovate in the foresight space itself. It promises to be fun.
And, no, I will not be doing this instead of writing. Expect a new novel from me early next year, and more to come.
Oct 16, 2012
I'll be on a panel on this subject Nov. 7
My editor, David Hartwell, and Elizabeth Bear and I will be talking about the future of SF at the annual New York Library Association conference, which is being held in Saratoga Springs, NY. This is pretty timely as there's a fair amount of buzz on the subject lately, mostly touched off by Paul Kincaid's review of several Year's Best story collections; I've put in my two cents about that already.
So I've talked about rolling up our sleeves and reinjecting energy into the genre; but what does that look like? Well, for starters, it looks like Hieroglyph, which I'm part of. The Hieroglyph project is looking for new symbols of a viable future. If you imagine all our existing glyphs--the rocket ship, the robot, the flying car--as crusted and plastered over with decades of associations and past interpretations, then it seems really hard to see the excitement that once lay under all that cruft. (The quintessential example for me is Star Trek, where the first series was about the adventure of space exploration, and the subsequent series deteriorated into sentimental tales about managerial team-building in a variety of idealized office buildings called Enterprise, Deep Space Nine etc. Where's the excitement in that?) So what can we create now that has the same mythic dimension to it, the same instantly recognizable impact, as the finned rocket ship, or the metal man? Hieroglyph is about consciously crafting such new mythic symbols.
As an ironic counterpoint to that, one of my long-term projects has been to show how, without invoking any new science or technology, we can still invent entirely new science fictional settings, places so gobsmackingly cool that any number of novels and stories could be set there without exhausting them. (I'm talking of course about Virga, and my forthcoming Lockstep.) The idea here is that we are so far from exhausting the wonder in what we already have that it's hardly even necessary to invoke new tech or science to create fantastical and unheard-of visions. I've proven this with the worlds of Permanence and Sun of Suns; I'm about to do it again with Lockstep. There's nothing wrong with a new hieroglyph, but what we already have is amazing enough, if we get off our fat asses and use our imaginations a bit.
Partly, though, the future of SF has to do with reinventing the future itself. After getting a degree in foresight and practicing futurism for a few years now, I can see how the vision of the future of SF really has diverged from the projections made by professional futurists. Science fiction's future is no longer our future. But it could be.
So this is what we'll be talking about on the 7th in Saratoga Springs. And it's also what I'll be twittering about for the next while--and, most importantly, my next stories and novel are going to explore some new directions. Look to this space, and those. It's coming.
Jul 14, 2012
Ha ha! Yes, I'm getting more and more abstract lately. But it's high time we dug into the deeper subtext of my novels
I started reading Ian Bogost's latest book last night. Alien Phenomenology, or What it's Like to be a Thing seems an unlikely excursion for a theorist whose major work so far was a literary theory for video game criticism. (I used the ideas in Bogost's book Unit Operations as a major theoretical framework for the scenario-fiction writing technique I outlined in my Master's thesis.)
It's not often that I have the experience of hopping up and down, gnashing my teeth and shouting "well of course!" but I've been having it since starting Alien Phenomenology. But I don't mean that in a bad way; I had the same experience when I dove into Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, and more recently exploring the work of philosopher Graham Harman. It's the frustration of a long-delayed recognition of kindred minds. I talked a little about that recently, and here's that same new feeling again.
So, as I'm reading Bogost and I come across statements like
That things are is not a matter of debate. What it means that something in particular is for another thing that is: this is the question that interests me. The significance of one thing to another differs according to the perspective of both.
...I am forcibly reminded of, how, nearly fifteen years ago now, I imagined Jordan Mason sitting on the shore of a lake, and listening as the smart-dust nanotech that pervaded the entire surface of the planet Ventus tried to figure out what it was:
He could hear the song of the lake. It was deep and powerful, belying the tranquility of the surface. Thin grass grew here, but the soil beneath his feet was shallow, quickly giving way to sand. Below that... rock? He couldn’t quite make it out, though it felt like there was something else down there, a unique presence deep below the earth.
There was no indication that anything supernatural dwelt here.
He sat down, mind empty for the first time in days, and watched the water for a while. Gradually, without really trying, he began hearing the voices of the waves.
They trilled like little birds as they approached the shore. Each had its own name, but otherwise they were impossible to tell apart. They rolled humming towards Jordan, then fell silent without fanfare as they licked the sand. It was like solid music converging on him where he sat. He had never heard anything so beautiful or delicately fragile.
He didn’t even notice the failing light or the cold as he sat transfixed. His mind could not remain focussed forever, though, and after a while he made up a little game, trying to follow individual waves with both his eyes and his inner sense.
He tried to follow the eddies of a particular wave as it broke around a nearby rock, and in doing so discovered something new. It seemed like such an innocent detail at first: as the wave split, so did its voice. From one, it became many, then each tinier individuality vanished in turbulence. As they did, they cried out, not it seemed in fright, but in tones almost of... delight. Urgent delight--as if at the last second they had discovered something important they needed to tell the world.
This quote from my year-2000 novel Ventus presents a vision of the self-definition of the world becoming visible for the first time to a human being. The designers of the Ventus terraforming system imagined a technology that would dissolve into everything in the world and actively investigate it. The nanotech in and on a tree would figure out that it was a tree; a rock would know it was a rock, a hill that it was a hill. And each of these objects would be able to communicate to the human settlers of the planet what it could do for them. "I am flint, you can build a fire with me." "I am mint, you can eat me." The only problem was, this magnificent system for identifying things had to be able to invent its own categories in order to do its job; and it did that too well. When the human settlers arrived, it quickly decided what they were--but on its own terms, and using its own ontology and semantics. As far as the humans were concerned, the nanotech didn't recognize them. But something far more interesting had in fact happened: it saw them, not as they wanted to be seen--not through their filter--but as it had come to see things.
And so the nanotech (which later generations of humans called the Winds) destroyed all the settlers' competing technologies, knocked them back to the stone age, and went about integrating them efficiently into the artificial ecosystems of Ventus.
Ventus was far more than a cautionary tale about technology run amok--in fact it wasn't really that at all. I wanted to talk about how objects see other objects; but back then, I had nobody to talk to about it. Bogost's new book is another indication that the hourglass has turned, and that these ideas are finally current.
I've since moved on to next steps--but I would recommend Alien Phenomenology because Bogost also senses the need to go from discussing OOO in the abstract, to working out what it means in practice. Alien Phenomenology is the first book I've seen that explicitly challenges its readership to employ and deploy the ideas of speculative realism. This will be no mean feat, and I've already spent five years planning how to do that for my as-yet unwritten third novel in the Ventus/Lady of Mazes series, a book I've tentatively titled The Rewilding.
Because now that an entirely new world--new universe, in fact--lies open to us, it's time to stop pointing at it, and time to start exploring it.
And building in it.
Sep 14, 2011
Which means I will shortly be awarded a Master's degree in foresight. I guess that officially makes me a futurist
I've been doing foresight work for about ten years now, as a side activity with strange hooks and connections into my science fiction writing. It was always evident to me that there was a lot more to it than the wild-eyed prophets and professional futurists like Alvin Toffler made evident; so, when an opportunity to gain a degree in it came up, I jumped at it.
--Actually, it's not that simple. In early 2009 I was recovering from heart surgery and really, badly needed something to make me enthusiastic about getting out of bed in the morning, because just getting out of bed was really physically difficult. Undertaking the degree gave me something to shoot for, and helped get me over the difficult convalescence period. It was also, well, just a hell of a lot of fun.
Now I'm done, and I'm pretty bummed about it, because over the course of the programme I got to know a lot of really amazing people, some my classmates, some my instructors, and some consultants and business people who came in to mentor us. I was part of the first cohort in the foresight programme at OCAD, and we became a pretty tightly-knit group. I'll be sad not to be seeing everybody on a weekly basis, though I hope to keep up my contacts with as many of my classmates and instructors as possible.
So, now what? Oh, who knows! It's not like recruiters are going from town to town snapping up recent Futurism graduates. This was always going to be a profession where we defined our own path. But that's half the fun of it, especially for someone like myself who's used to being adventurous in my career choices.
...All of which means, that hey, if you happen to hear about any futurist jobs opening up in your neighbourhood, well, drop me a line, eh? I could sure use the work.
Jul 02, 2008
Yes, I'm part of the "Sekret Projekt" John Scalzi just revealed. It's going to blow your mind
Way over at the Whatever, John has made an announcement about a really fun project he dragged me into a couple months back. It's true: John, and Elizabeth Bear, and Jay Lake, and Tobias Buckell and I have been working together for several months to present you with a new near-future vision, one that's decidedly urban but calls into question what a city really is... and what the boundaries of sovereignty are in a future where some of the world's cities will have greater populations than the countries they are in.
So, if the cyberpunks were all about corporate control, sticky technologies and software, we're all about sustainable communities, parallel economies and remapping reality with your GPS and your sleeping bag. It's the city alive, the city as beast and brother and increasingly, self-aware actor in the global political arena.
Or, as Shriekback sang in their song "Hymn to Local Gods" (a reference sure to date me as one of the old guys):
Up in the spires, under the flyovers
Still you can see, with the right eyes,
The shining presence of the local gods
Stand in the silence you can hear them whisper
Hearing their laughter echo in the steel and stone
So leave a fire in the window
Pour the wine under the underpass
Let's all go down to the river
We'll go swimming with the local gods...
Apr 16, 2008
The interview's in English
The excellent French online magazine ActuSF has published an interview with me. They wanted to know about Ventus and Permanence and some of the ideas I explored in them. It was refreshing for me to talk about those books, because as the current Virga quartet winds to its conclusion (not that there won't be further books set there, by the way!) I find my interests and attention wandering back to the issues I explored in my first three novels. I'm hugely interested in present developments in cognitive science, and am now thinking about how the vast array of settings and tech I developed for Ventus and Lady of Mazes might be used to support a novel about cogsci. --Relax, I'm just daydreaming, for now.