Jan 12, 2017
Look for "Eminence" in David Brin's new anthology of stories and essays about the Transparent Society
A new year, a new publication. I've been flying under the radar lately, with nothing of note published in 2016; in part this was due to the passing of my editor, David Hartwell, and some ensuing career chaos. Partly, though, it's just been luck: I've been writing and selling stories--even finished a new novella recently--but events have conspired to push back publication dates for multiple projects. Some of those projects are on hold, others--tied up in sinister government appropriations mazes--are in doubt entirely.
After Lockstep I started a blitz of stories about next-generation government and economics. I followed through on that promise, writing and selling multiple pieces over the past year or so. None of them have appeared--until this week.
David Brin has been bravely fighting a battle for greater governmental and societal transparency for many years now. He's now assembled a roster of heavy-hitters in the fabulous new anthology Chasing Shadows. My story, "Eminence," is about First Nations seccessionists, potlatch cryptocurrencies, fully homomorphic encryption, and other parts of the computational plumbing that will either set us all free over the next few decades, or consign us to a hell of state surveillance far worse than Orwell's darkest nightmares. I choose to be optimistic, but I suspect the battle will be a close one. The more we all know about what's at stake and the strange adventures we may all undergo on the way to one of those fates, the better. Hence this story.
I hope you enjoy "Eminence," and I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.
Apr 22, 2016
Stellar French SF magazine Bifrost is marking its 20th year in print. As part of the celebration, they're republishing highlights from their past issues, and have honoured me by choosing "The Dragon of Pripyat" as one of the reprints. You can find the retrospective issue on their website.
Jul 28, 2015
And the anthology is coming out this fall
A funny thing happened in 2015. James Bond came out of copyright... in Canada. Everywhere else in the world, as far as I know, you still have to deal with the estate of Ian Fleming to clear any new Bond books or movies--but not here. So, in an incredibly gutsy move, writers Madeline Ashby and David Nickle decided to edit together and publish an anthology of brand new James Bond stories... which they have done. The anthology is coming from the ballsiest publisher on the planet, Chizine Publications, and is called License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond. You'll be able to buy and read it in November... if you're in Canada.
This is going to be one of the most talked about anthologies of the year. --Not because it's about Bond, but because the stories are good. Great, some of them. I have one, "Mosaic," and I'll make no claims for its quality, but with authors like Charles Stross contributing, and completely new and daring takes on Bond, his exploits and foibles, this is collection is huge fun. I'm proud to be a part of it.
Sep 15, 2012
A recent review pushes well-worn buttons
Declinism is the theory that the world used to be better than it is now--it is the conviction, common to many people, that Things Are Getting Worse. There's a brilliant example of the theory at work in a recent, very thorough and well-written review of three Best-of-Year SF anthologies at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Now, the problem with declinism in art criticism is that everybody has their own model for what the best of a particular genre or style is. If your favourite SF was all published before 1980, you're going to believe SF has been in decline since then. If it was 1960, then... well, dates differ. But declinists can always find some cut-off point where things started going downhill.
In this case, the reviewer, Paul Kincaid, seems to place the beginning of the end in the late 1990s, and he has this to say about the best SF of the past couple of years:
In the main, there is no sense that the writers have any real conviction about what they are doing. Rather, the genre has become a set of tropes to be repeated and repeated until all meaning has been drained from them.
Is this true? Or is it rather Kincaid's own perceptions that have shifted? There lies the problem--one can't tell. But even if it's all in the eye of the reader, if everybody else is having the same reaction to SF as Kincaid, then it's a real effect, whether the exhaustion lies in the stories themselves, or in the minds of the readers. What seems to be true, however, is that this particular reader is finding that he's no longer inspired by science fiction. And that really is a problem.
The bigger problem, for me, is that Kincaid goes on to list my story, "Laika's Ghost," as emblematic of this malaise. I can't let that stand. He says this about the story:
It is one of the best stories in these three collections, but it is almost anti-SF in its affect: the future has run its course and come to an end; what was one of the most exciting aspirations of science fiction—the promise of life on another world—is here made available only to those looking backward to a former time. It is a story that makes manifest the exhaustion that is immanent throughout these three collections.
This is great stuff--but (quite apart from the fact that SF never promised its readers a technological and metaphorical rose garden) it's also a clumsy misreading of the story. First of all, "Laika's Ghost" has to be read in the context of the other Gennady Malianov stories. It only sorta kinda stands on its own; the fact is it is part of a continuum of stories that paints a very specific view of the near future. That view is not of an exhausted world, but of a world that is shifting gears--undergoing civilizational change. Sure, the scions of the old world order may be exhausted, but there are plenty of new and dynamic forces at work in Gennady's world. This is most thoroughly shown in another of these stories, "To Hie From Far Cilenia."
Secondly, Gennady himself is a necessary character for science fiction at this time. Why? Because he's neither a starry-eyed optimist nor an apocalyptic nihilist. He's a realist who fully intends to have a future, and for the world he lives in to have a future too. So while the people around Gennady rise and fall, taking whole civilizations and possible futures with them, he's cleaning up the mess. It's what he does.
The necessity of buckling down and tidying up the trash left by 100+ years of techno-optimism in no way contradicts the wondrous potential of the future. It's just a necessary piece of the whole process. Gennady knows this; he knows that decommissioning old nuclear reactors is a manifestation of Progress. Shooting radioactive camels in the Gobi desert is one of the prices to be paid for our industrialist past, and somebody has to pay it. Gennady represents that side of technological progress that we in SF so rarely acknowledge: he's a trash collector.
It's not starry-eyed wonder that we need at this point in history; it's a rolling-up of the sleeves to finish what we started when we introduced electric power, vaccinations, indoor plumbing and all the other critical inventions of modernism. In that sense, "Laika's Ghost" is not the best of a bad lot. It's a reminder that science fiction ultimately reflects where we stand in the world right now. And where we stand, is at a time when there's work to be done. If the science fiction of today represents that harder-edged and less sentimental vision of the future, then great! I'll write more of it.
Jun 25, 2012
I'm making some of my better stories available as ebooks. You can buy 'em
I haven't got a huge backlog of short stories, but I've been lucky enough to have many of my best collected in the book The Engine of Recall, which is still available. Not all my good stuff made it into that collection, however--mostly because my editor, Robert J. Sawyer, wanted to focus on my strictly science fictional output. That naturally excluded "The Toy Mill" for instance--but it also left other fantasy I've written, as well as works I consider SF, but Rob did not.
I've started transforming some of these works (previously published, but not collected) into individual bite-sized ebooks. Initially, you can find them on Amazon.com, but I'll be making epub versions as well; it's just a matter of finding the time for that, as it's a little more hands-on than the Amazon conversion.
As of now, you can find three of my stories on Amazon.com:
- "The Hero" - A Virga short story. In fact, this story is an integral part of the Virga series, and contains revelations that fill in major gaps in the overall story. It recounts certain key events that occur between Pirate Sun and The Sunless Countries, but it can also stand on its own--in fact, it makes an excellent introduction to the Virga universe for anybody who's considering taking the plunge.
- "Dawn" - My only vampire story to date. I call this my 'anti-Anne Rice' story; perhaps it's just the sort of vampire story that a writer with a pacifist Mennonite background would write. What's coolest (for me) is that this story came to me in one of the most cinematically visual dreams I've ever had. I can still picture it... so I had to write it.
- "Book, Theatre, and Wheel" - Is this SF at all? Slipstream, maybe. Set during the Inquisition, this is a meditation on memory systems, isolation and the self-invention of new mythologies...
Jun 08, 2011
I've self-published my first short story collection, and you can have it for $.4.99
Robert J. Sawyer originally edited and published The Engine of Recall through his imprint, and he recently contacted me to point out that I had retained the ebook rights. So, I've prepared an ebook edition of my first collection of 'hard' science fiction short stories, and made it available (so far, on Amazon.com). You can download it now! (And to sweeten the pot, you can read a sample story first if you'd like.)
One of the attractions of going through Amazon is the higher royalty rate authors can achieve. I make more from a sale of Engine at $4.99 than I would from a sale of the hardcover at $27--so buying the ebook is an inexpensive way to support my writing habit. (Not, mind you, that the hardcover edition isn't gorgeous as well, as is the trade paperback edition. Both are worthy of shelf space for those of us who still value the heft and sensuality of traditional books.
The Engine of Recall collects some of my best stories, including "Halo" (which inspired my novel Permanence), "The Dragon of Pripyat" (which introduces Gennady Malianov, the pathologically-shy Ukrainian arms inspector who's also the hero of my METAtropolis stories) and a story written specially for this book, "Alexander's Road."
Self-publishing an ebook is not a new experiment for me--I did it with Ventus a couple of years back. Doing it through Amazon and selling it is new, though. A lot of us authors are trying this route lately, with varying levels of success. I'm going to be very interested to see how this particular experiment goes!