Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rip-Off Alert

Regular visitors to know that most of the stuff I've ever published is freely available in a variety of e-formats on this site (and on some others). I'm a bit worried that this may not be a sustainable approach over the long haul (especially in times of global economic meltdown), but so far the counterintuitive-yet-undeniable truth is that going the Creative Commons route has only helped my writing career, such as it is. (In fact, I believe CC actually saved my career outright, by rescuing Blindsight from the oblivion to which it would have otherwise been doomed.) Anyone who wants to can download my work, copy and distribute it, convert it to other formats, hand it out as party favors, and masturbate in a warm tub to the soft erotic glow of my pixelated words on their e-book readers. Yay me.

There are some restrictions on this license, however. Authorship must be attributed, regardless of format. You're not allowed to rewrite the text, even you think the torture porn was gratuitous in behemoth and you know you can make Blindsight's infodumps less clunky. And you cannot charge money for work that I created and for which you paid nothing. (Or at least, you come to me first and we work out a deal where I get a cut.) The rights granted under my Creative Commons license are strictly noncommercial.

You can imagine, then, my reaction upon discovering this doofus here, selling "The Ultimate Peter Watts Collection" for £4.99 over at The fact that he describes my short stories as "books" makes it pretty obvious this is no fan; he probably hasn't read a word of my stuff, and is in fact selling the works of numerous other authors as well.

Anyone willing to pay for the Ultimate Watts Omnibus will most likely have already dropped by here and taken what they want, so it's not as though I expect e-bookkeeper_norwich to get rich off my efforts. Still, it burns my ass that he's even trying to; so if any of you have an account and ten minutes to kill, maybe you could report norwich-boy using eBay's handy on-line fink menu. (I myself lack that option, having no such account — although I may well report through more formal channels over the next few days).

No biggie. But what an asshole.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Consider Yourselves Lucky.

In this particular business, the standard components of a novel pitch are the first three chapters plus two, maybe three pages of synopsis for the rest of the story. The pitch I just sent to my agent— the latest iteration thereof, at least— contains 36 pages of prose; 27 pages of "synopsis"; a two-page bullet-pointed executive summary of thematic arguments; and proposed jacket text, to be splayed across the dust cover if/when this fucker actually sells.

This is easily ten times the word count of the supplementary material usually attached to these things. My agent originally tried to get me to keep it to the usual three pages, and I complied, I really did. It's just that when one tries to synopsize one of my novels in three pages, the result is utterly incomprehensible. (The smart-asses in the audience may now point out that this only proves that such synopses perfectly capture the essential nature of my writing.) So, our experiment complete, the dude let me off the leash and dear God is he about to pay for it.

The rest of you get off easy. I'm only quoting my proposed jacket text here, because I think that it actually does do a decent job of hooking the story in the time it takes to run your eyes down a dust-jacket. (I've been writing my own jacket text for a while now; remind me to show you, some day, some of the fortune-cookie hack jobs Tor tried to slap on my books before I got involved.) So here, in 400 words or less, is the thumbnail for Dumbspeech:
A Different Kind of Singularity.

The eve of the 22nd century. A world where the dearly-departed send postcards back from Heaven, and Jainist evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically-engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline Humans, and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off their own self-awareness during combat. A world under blatant surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Brooks is a living fossil: an old man in a world of immortals, a field biologist in a world where all biology has long since turned computational, an unwitting catspaw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he turns his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he isn't hiding from anything; he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that's about to turn all of history inside-out.

Now he's trapped in a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier with a zombie switch in his head, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son half a lightyear away. To his right is an autistic hacker who hasn't quite discovered that Dan Brooks is the man she's sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call "The Angels of the Asteroids".

But whatever they encounter, there in the blinding maelstrom above the sun's north pole, is the furthest thing from anyone's vision of divinity. By the end of their pilgrimage the whole world is coming apart at the seams— and Dan Brooks, the fossil man, is face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

The Singularity's here. It's too late to go back. And all those starry-eyed optimists, the extropians, the transhumanists, the rapture-nerds and technophiles who sang the praises of technology=magic — somehow, none of them realized there'd be no room for humanity in a post-human age …

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

Sorry for the extended silence. Sorry also for the preponderance of personal over sciencey news lately, despite the many and varied worldchanging links you've been sending to get me back on the track (this recent study, for instance, which details a case of blindsight so extreme even I had to read it twice. Which is about once for every ten of you who forwarded the link.) Don't expect much to change over the holidays— I'm writing on painkillers with my arm in a sling, the usual combination of domestic obligations/complications is busy spiking the suicide rate as it always does at this time of year, and any postings over the next week are likely to be scheduling notes for Squiddance '08, which will be of no interest to anyone outside the GTA. (Although if you are in the area, you might want to drop by; the apartment is small, but both bed and TV are large.)

But I am going to thump my chest a wee bit here, because I have just learned something that is way too fucking cool to keep to just myself and whoever happened to be within four hundred meters of my surprised yelp upon hearing the news:

Blindsight is going to be a required text for a Biological Psychology course at the University of Miami.

It's not the first time my stuff has been taught in universities. Ever since Starfish I've been popping up here and there in courses on ethics, literature (well, mainly just science fiction, but it's Christmas; we can pretend it's literature) — even, in a bit of a coup, in an upcoming Philosophy-of-Mind course out in California (hi, Matt).

Philosophy, ethics, literature— cool, but not mind-boggling. Metaphor and thought experiment are right at home in the Humanities. But to require the reading of a work of unapologetic fiction in a science course? I don't know if that's ever happened before.

It's about to, though, thanks to a neuroscientist called Peter Stimson (originally from Duke)— who somehow seems to think that Blindsight's portrayal of various agnosias and pointy-haired homunculi serves as an apt introduction to the conundrum of self-awareness for his students. I've expressed pleasure in the past that my sheen of faux expertise has managed to fool so many of you over the years, but to have put one over on an actual practicing professional in the field leaves me deeply humbled. An extra 400 copies/year in sales doesn't hurt much, either.

Can it get any better? Why, yes; turns out the dude is also a big fan of Jethro Tull.

It's almost enough to make me forget that we're all about six months away from global anarchy.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Cornucopia of Covers; a Call-out for Cash

First up we have Alejandro Terán's Alienesque cover for the Spanish edition of Blindsight, coming out, oh, I don't know, probably next year sometime. Next we have Franz Vohwinkel's cover for the German mass-market edition of βehemoth (thanks to "Useless Surfer" for pointing it out), which is evidently being called "Waves" over in Deutschland. And finally, an unknown artist's cover for Prime's upcoming "Best of the Year" collection for 2009 — the headline names from which we can probably infer either that Swanwick, Vinge, Stross et al didn't write any short stories this year, or that Prime couldn't afford their rates. (The story for which my own name is going up in lights is "The Eyes of God", originally published in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2.)

They're all pretty good covers, methinks.

On an unrelated note, a few days back someone made a donation to the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund under the alias "". Not surprisingly, when I tried to drop a note of thanks to that address, it bounced. So if you're out there, Dr. No: thank you.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

…And Eric Cartman as Sarasti.

Calling out for some suggestions here.

I seem to be juggling a small spate of interviews/online discussions at the moment, one of which is a long-overdue contribution to something called "My Book, the Movie". This is an ongoing blog in which various authors dream a bit about who they'd like to see direct/star in/roach-wrangle movie adaptations of their novels. The closest I ever got to a serious movie adaptation was via some guy working for South Park, who wanted an option for Starfish without paying any money up front. Oh, and someone else who respected my dedication to scientific credibility so much that she'd lined up the writer of Wing Commander for the screenplay. Bullets were dodged, travesties avoided, and here I am years later still subsisting on a hand-to-mouth diet of rice and barnacles.

Anyway. Back then I thought that Carrie-Ann Moss would make a kick-ass Lenie Clarke, but she's since aged out of the twentysomething demographic. I thought Ridley Scott might be a decent director, and Cameron certainly had the underwater/female hero thing down pat, but those are both pretty obvious choices. I've put this thing off long enough; I've got to come up with names I'd like to see representing my work on both sides of the camera, but I'm not experiencing any aha moments.

So, what do you people think? Any ideas?

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

So if I'm done, why do I still have this queasy lump in my stomach?

Two weeks of edits. Two weeks of no exercise, skipped meals, late nights, and cats who either don't understand that a 3:00 a.m. feeding should allow them to wait a little past their usual 8:00 a.m. breakfast slot while their exhausted can opener tries to sleep in a bit, or who simply reject that premise on general principles. Merciless hungry claws hooked through my internasal septum at 8:05 because a novel outline that was supposed to be done in fucking August was still making my agent go huh? and By the time they get back to earth I have no idea what's going on in October.

What we got here is a Blindsight spinoff; a thought-experiment on the nature and evolution of Singularities, past and future; a cast of characters who don't understand their own actions (one of the themes of the book is that it's neurologically impossible to understand our own true motives; the best we can do is make guesses after the fact); all told through the eyes of a man whose brain is literally being rewired throughout the course of the story. Oh, and we also got a subversive Biblical allegory in which angels, Christ figures, Tempters, and God all have hard-sf underpinnings, and in which the only route to salvation is to lose your soul. If you're not at least a little confused by then end, I'm not doing my job right.

Still, I can sympathize. Agents the world over would probably quail at selling any book which asserts that the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey was too obvious.

But I think I'm done. I've tried to cover all bases: three opening chapters; a two-page Coles-Notes bullet list on Why The Singularity May Not Work As Advertised; three separate outline/pitches/teasers ranging from 400 words to over 7,000. (And let us take a moment here to acknowledge the beta-reading skilz of Dave Nickle and Madeline Ashby, the latter of whom literally rewrote my 10K outline in less than 3K — by, in her words, turning Solaris into Transformers. I had to fatten it up again a bit to hide the decepticons, but watch this woman: notwithstanding the whole Goat's-Head-Soup motif on her blog, she will go far.)

I don't know if it works now. I don't know if my agent will like it; I don't know if he can even get it out there before the whole fucking publishing industry packs it in for their annual two-month Christmas vacation, or if anyone in today's economic climate would buy a book that tells them how much worse everything is going to get. But there's nothing much I can do about that now, and I have other duties piling up that will more reliably pay the bills.

First things first, though. I've just completed my first 16K run in two weeks or more. I am about to take my first shower in almost that long. Now I am going to gorge on crème pumpkins and reread Watchmen, and tomorrow I will be attending a Swedish vampire movie of unknown pedigree. I am going to take this weekend off.

If I'm feeling especially decadent, I may even change the fetid litter box of my deranged and hostile cats.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pole Star

My buddy (and fellow author) Brent Hayward sent me this photographic evidence from Poland: evidently I've made it into the bookstores at Warsaw International Airport. I don't whether to be pleased by this news (there was a whole stack!) or depressed (they hadn't sold any of them; there was a whole stack…) Either way, though, this is the first time I've seen what the back of that edition looks like.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Fear and the French

I've gone back and posted a coda at the end of Wednesday's fear and religion entry; the recent hysteria at Republican rallies is chillingly consistent with Oxley et al's findings that Conservative=Fearful. But let's move on to fear and horror of a more existential sort, the kind you might find in the shadow of a black supergiant half a half lightyear into the Oort:

These are a couple of cover concept sketches for the upcoming French translation of Blindsight (tentatively scheduled for release in April 2009). The artist goes by the name Sparth: whether that's a Christian name, a surname, or merely an online handle I do not know, but I really like the work (more of which can be found here). I'm tending more to the green iteration, since it conveys a greater sense of creepy dread and alien surveillance. OTOH, Theseus looks especially beautiful in the blue treatment.

Enjoy. The illos are, of course, also archived in the Gallery for easy long-term access.


Sunday, September 28, 2008


Yeah, I know. Merciful extended silence again.

Not that there's nothing to talk about. There's a paper just out in Consciousness & Cognition which purports to prove that logical thinking requires consciousness (which would seem to contradict other findings, but I haven't read the paper yet so who knows). I've been ruminating on the inherent and hardwired dumbness of electorates throughout this continent, and various recent neurological findings — not to mention archival analysis of "Hardy Boys" novels — that might cast some light on why this would be. My name seems to be getting cited as an exemplar of Gloom in an online squabble about "The New Dismal" in science fiction. And at long long last, I sent my first tale of the intrepid and grumpy starfarer Sunday Ahzmundin off to Gardner Dozois, who received it with somewhat greater enthusiasm than I was expecting, so that's good. (Thanks again to Ray for pointing out the inconsistencies in the penultimate draft of that story, and to all those others out there who threw rocks at him. You can stop now.)

But for various reasons — not the least being the necessity to prepare for a course that will probably end up being cancelled anyway, but which I have to gear up for regardless because we're only one registrant away from critical mass and the damn thing starts on Wednesday if it starts at all — I haven't had time to set all that stuff to screen yet. So in the meantime I'll simply point out that the broken Fizerpharm Vampire Domestication slideshow has at last been fixed, and is running again over here*.

*It is not yet running over on the Backlist page, though; that's a different Flash file, which I'll get around to fixing in turn eventually

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A couple of you asked about my offhand reference to an Israeli book deal a few days back. It now appears to be a go. Blindsight, by Peter Watts, is being translated into Hebrew by Kitdmat Eden, of which I know little beyond the fact that they put out some very nice cover designs. Or rather,

is being is being translated into Hebrew by Kitdmat Eden, of which I know little beyond the fact that they put out some very nice cover designs.

I can only hope that Blindsight's message of hope and universal harmony might help in some small way to bring peace to the Middle East.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm teaching a course on Writing Science Fiction at the University of Toronto

Or at least, I might be. Depends on how many people sign up. We're talking Wednesday evenings, between October 1 and November 19: eight two-and-a-half hour sessions covering the hallmarks of the genre, tips and techniques on research and world-building, plot construction, character development— you know the list. It will be hands-on. You will write. I will read your writing, and provide all manner of pithy insight and constructive feedback. Finally, I shall pass judgment upon you (in what I suspect may be my most favourite part of the exercise).

The course will focus on science fiction, not fantasy (which is being offered as a separate course). The only exception to this will be a brief digression into the horror genre, as I share with you my personal experiences with marketing, publishing, and promotion. Regular visitors to this crawl probably know what to expect on that front.

Right now, we're on the bubble; whether the course goes ahead depends on how many additional folks sign up over the next week or so. It's short notice, I know. I didn't know I was going to be teaching this thing myself until yesterday. Karl Schroeder — who was originally slotted for the gig — had to back out for health reasons, so I'm stepping up to the plate at the last minute.

Anyway, if you live in Toronto and your Wednesday evenings are free; if you have a yen to write science fiction; if you crave the kind of House-lite attitude and cat-laden asides you can only get at, plus a big helping of practical, customized nuts-and-bolts on the how-tos of the genre— and, most importantly, if you have $570 you're not especially attached to— why not surf on over to Continuing Ed's "Writing Science Fiction" listing and sign up? Online evidence notwithstanding, I really can be quite charming and informative in person.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blame Him.

So why have I been so silent lately? It's not as though there's been any recent shortage of events worthy of scorn. Sarah Palin brought home the Moron Vote— that most vital of American voting demographics— to the Republicans. The craven cocksucking cowards leading every major Canadian political party got together and decided to exclude the Green Party from pre-election debate, lest the whole country see them getting beaten up by a girl. And the Large Hadron Collider avoided blowing up the universe by the merest of margins. Why aren't I commenting on any of this?

Blame this guy:

Note the dull, cunning hatred in the eyes. Note the sullen set of the mouth, the garish bling, the gangsta shirt that celebrates one of the most pernicious and addictive drugs on the planet. Notice how he refuses to meet your eyes, no matter how long you look at him.

Let's call him "Ray".

"Ray" "works" at the "car dealership" around the "corner" (at least, that's his secret identity). I gave him a sneak peek at a story I'd just written for an upcoming space-opera anthology (if you visit the crawl with any regularity, you may remember the fiblets I've been dribbling out over the past several months). I wasn't quite satisfied with it myself— seemed too talky, too motionless— but I knew I had nothing to worry about from this puppy. After all, "The Island" had been thoroughly vetted by not one, but two groups of published authors, whose expertise ranged from engineering to anime with a smattering of Mormonism in between; it had come through those gauntlets with pretty glowing reviews. What was an IT guy from Porsche gonna come up with?

"Ray" pointed out that the back half of the plot depended on one of the characters knowing stuff that the front half of the story had clearly established he didn't know. Also that the front half of the story depended on the same character not knowing a bunch of stuff that the back half of the story established that he pretty much had to know. Neither I nor any of the 15 people who workshopped the story had noticed this.

"Ray" has destroyed the past two weeks of my "life", as I scramble to do corrective surgery on a 13,000 word story due at the end of the month. There's been no time to blog, answer e-mails, vet Israeli book contracts, or track down the source of the rancid cat-pee smell lingering in my bedroom. There is only the rewrite.

Which I should probably get back to. In the meantime, if you happen to be in downtown Toronto and run into "Ray", do me a favor and buy him a drink.

Then, when he isn't looking, hit him with a rock.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Speciation Ahoy!

Strange Horizons has just posted this bipartite piece on Scott Bakker's Neuropath and my own Blindsight. It's billed as a review, but it doesn't read as one so much as a brief comparative essay on the thematic focii of the two novels. The reviewer— one Nader Elhefnawy, visiting professor of Literature out of U. Miami— regards the books as exemplars of sf's "new direction", a course also being plotted by the likes of Ted Chiang, Greg Egan, and Daryl Gregory as a kind of nihilistic counterpoint to the post-cyberpunk Singularity-huggers.

So I'm looking at this, and I'm thinking Hmmm… an academic comparing two related works in a burgeoning thematic niche. Or, more concisely: New Subgenre! All we really need to keep the marketers happy (and to keep the unicorn-huggers out of our shelf space at Barnes & Noble) is a name.

I call dibs on Neuropunk. Who's with me?

Update 26/08/08 (in response to Ray's well-taken comment): Ooh! Ooh! Even better:


Doesn't it just roll off the tongue? It sounds like some kind of all-natural herbal remedy!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rumor Control

I have it on reasonably good authority that David Hartwell, during a panel on upcoming Tor titles at last week's Worldcon, announced that he had sent me a contract for a new novel and was awaiting my response.

Technically this might be true. In terms of the take-home message, however — i.e. the reasonable inference that I'm still in bed with Tor, and that another Peter Watts novel is imminent or even likely from that publisher— it is not.

Just so you know.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I, Steampunk

Ślepowidzenie is out in Poland. The cover makes it look kinda like a Jules Verne retread, and I mean that in a good way; in terms of literal, technical detail it gets pretty much everything wrong, but in terms of thematic ambience (and basic artistic skill) it rules.

This is just as well, because I was never consulted on this cover despite a clause in the contract stipulating that I would be (a clause I have insisted on, for obvious reasons, in every contract subsequent to the Tor edition). Once again I am reminded of how fucking impotent authors are, and how utterly meaningless contracts are. Over the past year, various contracts have promised me input on cover art; interest payments for late advances; consultation on audio performances; and unabridged transcription of text. And whenever these commitments have failed to solidify, I've always been told that there's fuck-all I can do about it; the contracts contain promises but no penalties. They're universally described as essential things for authors to have, yet there doesn't seem to be any recourse when a publisher breaks them.

But I digress; I'm very happy with the way this cover turned out. And initial reader reaction seems to be pretty positive too; Google translation software isn't all it might be, but this nine-star rating is pretty unambiguous. And others seem to be using words that port over as "best book published this year" and "deserve the highest praise".

So overall, a good start in Poland. I just wish there were more than fifty people in that country.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Not the Rock. The Point.

I have dropped off the face of Toronto for the next week, returning to the magical land of orange tabby and slate-grey cats Gibralter Point, and to an annual writing retreat that I haven't attended for a few years now. My primary goal is to finally hammer those fiblets I've been dribbling into a coherent story. You might be surprised, given how sparsely I've been rationing the suckers out, but there's a good 15K worth of prose in that tale— not to mention an awful lot of pot-holes, untidy seams, and placeholding asterisks which have to be filled by actual numbers once I finally work out the morphometric algebra. There've been 15K for a couple of months now, just sitting, and not getting any better; and the damn thing's due at the end of September. So this is it. This is the week I buckle down and whip the sucker into shape (and not incidentally, get some feedback from fellow writers).

So I don't really know how much I'll be posting to the crawl over the next few days. If it goes exceptionally well, I might shower you all with glee and excerpts. Likewise, if I make no progress at all I might shower you all with displacement activity. But if you hear little or nothing from me, perhaps that means I'm plugging away, and I shouldn't be disturbed because it's slowly but surely coming together.

In the meantime, I would just like to point out that D=Danielle has got the most endearing user pic ever.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Got Another One!

Nature published "Hillcrest v. Velikovsky" last week — and the very next day, this cog-sci dude named Mike Meadon posted an erudite and outraged blog entry on the insanity of the kind of world we live in, that such things could actually happen. Evidently he didn't realize that the work was fiction (until the famous PZ Meyers gently pointed it out). And to give the man his due, his subsequent post was all mea culpaey, and he left the original posting intact as an object lesson on the virtues of skepticism about skepticism.

This is not the first time I've managed to get smart people to believe dumb things (although this may be the first time I've done so without meaning to). I used to do it all the time. Back in the day, a friend and I used some judicious if low-tech special effects to convince a visiting Brazilian scientist that the Deer Island house we were staying in was haunted. When all the blinds in her room shot up simultaneously at three a.m., I swear she never touched a single step on her way downstairs and out the door. She not only refused to step back inside the house, she high-tailed it right off the island. Did the rest of her field work out of Grand Manan. (In hindsight, we actually felt kind of bad about that.)

But perhaps my proudest moment was during my doctorate, when I convinced a couple of fellow grad students (in arts, granted, but still) that whenever I went into the field I had to strip naked and glue yellow sponges all over my body, because harbour seals couldn't see yellow wavelengths. (Why not just wear yellow clothes? you ask. Why, because it would have to be yellow rain gear — given the wet field environment — and rain gear is slick, i.e. reflective, i.e. the seals would still be able to see the glare if not the actual colour.) My victims were astonished, and profoundly impressed by my dedication to the cause — "There has to be a better way", they insisted — but when I begged them to name one ("because seriously, those fuckers hurt when you rip them off"), they came up blank. Nice Matisse t-shirts, though.

Of course, the word gets around. These days, all I have to do is open my mouth and pretty much anyone who knows me will accuse me of trying to bullshit them. Still. I'm frequently astonished at how easy it is to Punk the People. I'm finally getting around to reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, which takes way too long to get to the point but which makes a similar point: we as a species often believe the most absurd things as long as there's some kind of narrative attached. We are pattern-matchers, because patterns allow us to distill the environment into a series of simple rules. So we see patterns whether they exist or not, and stories that tie causes to any given phenomenon (I glue yellow sponges onto my naked body because harbour seals can't see yellow) are a lot more believable than those which simply report the same phenomenon in isolation (I glue yellow sponges onto my naked body). We are engines in search of narrative. Evidently this goes a long way towards explaining the inanity of most CNN headlines.

Not sure I buy it completely, though. If the telling of stories were really so central to the human condition, you'd think those of us who did it for a living would at least get a decent dollar out of it.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

We Have a Pulse

…but not much more than that. I am not dead, but I am snowed under by a variety of contractual and literary obligations, and if anyone out there really wants to free up enough of my time for more frequent postings here on the ol' 'crawl, they'll show me an easy way to calculate the variance of a population estimate based on stratified strip transects of unequal length, when y along each transect has already been converted into a distance-weighted mean-density value prior to the variance calculation*.

But in the meantime, the galleys for Hillcrest V. Velikovsky just came in from Nature, and I really like the (unaccredited) illo by Jason Cook (thanks for the link, Henry) so I'm posting it here as a placeholder, along with a brief excerpt:
Mr Velikovsky was obviously well-versed in placebo effects, having built an erudite display on the subject. What did he think would happen, the Prosecution thundered, when he forced his so-called "truth" down the throat of someone whose motto — knitted into her favourite throw-cushion — was If ye have faith the size of a mustard seed, ye shall move mountains? In telling ‘the truth’ Velikovsky had knowingly and recklessly endangered the very life of another human being.

Velikovsky pointed out that he hadn’t even known Lacey Hillcrest existed, adding that needlepointing something onto a pillowcase did not necessarily make it true. The Prosecution responded that the man who plants land mines in a playground doesn’t know the names of his victims either, and asked if the defendant’s needle-point remark meant that he was now calling Jesus a liar. The Defense objected repeatedly throughout.
I initially wrote this piece as parody. Judging by some of the wacko responses to last month's podcast over on Starship Sofa, however, maybe I should reconsider.

More later. When I have, you know, a life.

*I mean, seriously, what are you supposed to use for n? Number of transects surveyed? The count has already been converted into units-per-square-mile. Number of square miles surveyed? Then how are you supposed to quantify variance between square miles, when each transect covers many miles and there's no way to position sightings within each transect?

And why are these bloody Americans still using "square miles" anyway? Next they'll be telling me to express transect length in furlongs…


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Like Many Of My Relationships, In Fact

Just came across this cover art for the upcoming German edition of Maelstrom. It is beautiful, but wrong.

The feel of the piece is great, don't get me wrong. Technically, it's terrific. It even evokes a couple of specific scenes from the very top of the tale. But I'm not quite sure where Lenie Clarke is. Perhaps she was eaten by that Alien V. Predator hybrid down in the lower left corner.

I'd assumed that the armor (complete with Gigeresque back spines) from the cover of Abgrund had been meant to portray Scanlon in his preshmesh outfit. I guess not. Can't be anybody inside this Malhstrom armor but Lenie, and she never overdressed for such occasions. There's a reason I called it a diveskin: she's a "slick back amphibian", remember, with occasional implants and implements protruding to break her lines. Basically I envision her as a black-spraypainted nude with a fetish for chrome piercings. (By the way, it would be a mistake to think you can infer anything about authorial taste in such matters from that description.)

Anyway, bottom line, it's the kind of cover that would catch my eye (in a good way) if I saw it in a bookstore. I would not be embarrassed to be seen carrying it on a subway (although I'd be even more not-embarrassed if a blurb or two should find its way onto all that fiery cloud cover by the release date). And it's light-years ahead of the abomination Tor* inflicted onto Blindsight's hardcover edition.

So this is not a complaint, not by any means. Just commentary.

*Speaking of Tor, I see that they too are releasing a new edition of Maelstrom here in N'Am. Two days before Christmas, in fact. It would have been nice if they could have, you know, told me. But hey, why start now?

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Don't Mention the War!

Heyne — publishers of the German editions of Blindsight, Starfish, and the eventually-to-be-released Maelstrom — have just closed the circle and made an offer on βehemoth, which they intend to release as a single volume as God (i.e. me) intended. I have instructed my former agent to accept their offer before they change their minds.

So. Every one of my novels, already or soon-to-be translated into German. This is good in a way, but also very bad, because I have now run out of books to pawn off on that particular market.

I should probably write another one.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Oral Delights"

Those are the phonetics spoken by Tony Smith at the top of the latest issue of Starship Sofa, at least, and while I'm pretty sure that Aural Delights is the more accurate spelling, I'm betting the ambiguity is deliberate.

I'm over there, anyway, in all my slightly-too-nasal vocal glory, nattering on for twenty minutes about conjoined supervillians and a neuro-legal rationale for killing twins. (Also a brief snark about the dumbness of therapists.) It's the first installment of Reality, ReMastered, my monthlyish exercise in free-wheeling bullshit, for those of you who don't get enough of that here. I'm near the top of the mp3, coming in between a neat little poem by Laurel Winter and the main payload, a story called "Easy as Pie" by Rudy Rucker.

So check it out, if you're so inclined. Me, I'm gonna watch the season finale of Lost.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Squids — In — Spaaaaaace!

From the Cyrillic side of the planet, the cover art for the Russian edition of Blindsight:

Yes, that is me. I don't know if I'm supposed to be Sarasti, or Keeton, or just the author looming omnisciently over his creation. (My contact at Arabesque tells me that the incorporation of author photos into cover art might be an ongoing element of their sf line). But I think it's kind of cool. Even if those two cratered marbles at center-right don't actually appear in the novel anywhere.

I don't suppose any of you read Russian?


Saturday, May 3, 2008


So, the word is out on the subject of the revamped Starship Sofa. My reading of "Repeating the Past" is embedded near the end of their recent podcast; also, the press release reports that I'll be doing a "monthly" science-"fact" podcast called Reality, ReMastered. I can confirm this, sort of, although the monthliness may be a bit iffy. I'm working on the first one now, and will repeat as time and inspiration allow.

(Oh, wait a second. I'm listening to that audio feed even now, as it trickles down the teensy one-bar pipe's worth of bandwidth I can squeeze through the walls of my remote cabin — I love these guys' accents, and whoever they've got reading "Likely Lad" just rules — but pretty much the first thing they say is that it is not a podcast any more, but is, rather, an "audio science-fiction magazine". I stand corrected, if a wee bit confused as to the difference.)

Closer to home, Tor has asked for (and received) permission to release Starfish as a free e-book for a two-week period, as part of ongoing promotion for their new website/online community. They've already done this with novels from a bunch of other authors including Karl Schroeder, David Drake, and the mighty John Scalzi, but I'd go out on a limb and state that my own involvement has a much higher irony quotient. Tor did, after all, respond to my request for a Creative Commons option in the Blindsight contract by trying to insert a clause that would have forbidden me from even posting excerpts of longer than 1,500 words on my own damn website. And Starfish is such a good candidate for a promotional free e-text release, since you can't find one of those anywhere else on the planet.

Glad they're coming around, though.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Ultima Thule, That's Where.

It is May 2nd. The middle of Spring. Two days ago, where I am now, it was 27°C. This is the most sheltered side of my cabin:

This is the approach to my cabin:

I have no exact numbers for you, but I can tell you that wind speed is strong enough to make the road's runoff flow directly uphill (at least in those sheltered little gulleys where the run-off hasn't simply frozen into two-lane Hieronymous Bosch frescoes on the spot). There are pelicans on the lake in front of me; at least, there were a couple of hours ago, before the viz declined so precipitously (get it?) that I could no longer see more than two meters offshore. Perhaps by now they are only Pelsicles.

Riddle me this: Where am I?

More to the point, what am I doing here?

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dateline: Lincoln, Nebraska

Two items:
  1. US Customs officials continue to ably occupy the niche of gate-keeping trolls with tiny dicks and/or withered vaginas, who seem to think that people might actually want to stay in their miserable dick-ass country a day longer than absolutely necessary.
  2. Nature has accepted another story of mine for their ongoing "Futures" series. This one's called "Hillcrest v. Velikovksy", and it draws its inspiration from this entry here.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gone to Ground

Packing now, to spend a month at a field research station in the so-called "Tornado Alley" of Nebraska — which is a nice coincidence, as those at last Thursday's reading will attest to the presence of a strong tornadoey element in the opening of the new novel. But I'm mainly just heading out to do some writing in a bona-fide desert environment (which also figures prominently in said novel), and to hang out with a buddy who's doing research for a nonfiction book of his own. (And oddly enough, even buddies doing research for nonfiction books of their own factor into the plot of the new novel.) (Yes, it's true. This new novel is really going to suck.)

I will be at the Cedar Point Biological Station, somewhere around here:

I think I'm even supposed to give a talk or something. If your plane happens to crash in Lake Ogallala over the next month, drop on by.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Audio Art

Blindsight is coming out as an audiobook from Recorded Books; check out the cover art by Leonard Likas (© Recorded Books, LLC):

Notice anything unusual for a Watts-type book? Notice anything unusual for a story set a half light-year from the nearest star, set in the dark and shadowy borderlands of interstellar space?

Notice the rich, radiant colors? WTF?

Well, Leonard took his lead from the synesthesiac's eye. There's a brief scene near the end of Blindsight where we get a hint of what Sarasti or Michelle might see if they looked outside, and it's beautiful. So's this artwork: an inventive departure from the usual dark, glum Wattsiness, and a nice addition to the Gallery.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dying with Dignity

Anna Davour, a Post-doc out of Queen's, has been hitting up various sf authors for informal bloggable interviews. This week was my moment in the sun. I say some nice things about the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and repeat my usual grumbling about Firefly.

And if you're not satisfied with mere wordage— if any of you feel the need to encounter me face-to-face, if only to see for yourselves whether my headphones are surgically attached— it looks like I'll be emerging from my hole to participate in something called the "Canada Council Heritage Series of Speculative Fiction", being hosted by the Toronto Public Library over the next few weeks. I'm not entirely sure what the whole program consists of (the TPL's website is mum on the subject so far, and my contract is evidently in the mail), but I'm going to be showing up on two occasions: the official kick-off on April 21, and a somewhat darker event on the 24th.

Here is what I know: the kick-off is a group affair involving fellow skifscribes Karl Schroeder and Michael Skeet, and probably someone else TBA James Alan Gardner. It's happening at The Lillian H. Smith branch ( 239 College St. Toronto, Ontario, M5T 1R5) between 7:00 and 9:30pm. I was asked to suggest a possible theme, with the caveat that there had to be some kind of Canadian angle; I suggested "Embracing Apocalypse: How Canadian SF Can Help Us Die with Dignity", and was gently told that no such title would ever be allowed on a TPL poster. As of this writing the title has been changed to "Embracing the Future: How Canadian SF Can Help Us Embrace the Future".

Yeah, I know. It sucks like Cygnus. I disown it utterly. But at the very least it'll give me something to complain about right off the bat. Could be an effective icebreaker, assuming I don't care if these guys ever invite me back again.

The second event is All Me, and is being held from 7:00-8:15pm at The Beaches branch (that's 2161 Queen St. E. Toronto, Ont. M4L 1J1). I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing there. It was originally suggested that I give a live performance of the Vampire Domestication talk, but I don't know how well something like that would go over with a non-sf audience. I've only delivered it twice live, both at cons, and while it killed both times the con-goer sensibility isn't entirely conventional. I'm not particularly concerned about whether a more mainstream audience would be offended, mind you; I just don't know if they'd get it. So maybe I should just do a more conventional reading— a short story, maybe an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. Assuming my stories aren't to even more peculiar tastes than the talk would be.

Any suggestions? Reading or talk? If reading, any suggestions as to content? Help me out here.

Update 11/4/08: The event is now listed at the TPL website. They are hosting a lot of events for this thing. And I notice that they've explicitly stated that I'll not only be reading, but reading from Blindsight. Which is not something I've actually decided yet, so for the time being let's just act as though someone jumped the gun, and continue on with the whole what-should-Peter-do thread. (OTOH, they are the ones writing the cheque, so if it turns out that they do strongly desire a Blindsight reading, that's what they get.)


Friday, March 28, 2008

From. About. By.

Me, that is. Isn't it always?

From: a few excerpts from the recent Locus interview have gone online. It's not the whole thing, but it's a taste.

About: Puppy Buckets (whose name still makes me think of wood-chippers) likes Maelstrom. Maybe not as much as they liked Starfish, but then, a lot of people felt that way. And I'm not complaining about any exposure, given that the damn book's been out of print for years.

By: Didn't I warn you I'd be rebooting the In Progress page? Didn't I?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

No Syndrome. Just Imposter.

I've just spent the weekend hanging out with a hundred assorted artists, scientists, activists, activist/scientists, scientist/artists, authors, game developers, journalists, journalist/scientists, scientist/authors, jactarviscidevthors, two Mars-rover robots with genetic programming, and a solar-powered car (which as far as I could tell, could only go downhill). Most of those interactions were fairly diffuse — there's a limit to the number of folks you can actually sidle up to in a single weekend of freeform talks, demos, and debates. Some were a bit depthier. A few fed my ego (hey, there were people there who liked my books!). Many left me feeling humbled and completely inadequate. One or two did all of these at once.

I mean, at least you know what to expect when Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute takes the stage. He tells you up front that his goal is to leave you befuddled, and it takes him all of five minutes to convince us all that nobody really knows what mathematics even is— or, for that matter, what the word "exist" connotes. And when someone introduces herself by saying she liked Starfish, you of course immediately check her out online and are pleased to see that her expertise in systems theory means that she's probably smarter than you, which is good because it means your success in fooling her definitely beat the odds.

But some people should come with warning signs. Polymaths should not go incognito. They should not be all down-to-earth and pass themselves off as someone who "teaches The Physics of Music to Artsies" and who happens to do a little jazz singing on the side when in fact they have a doctorate from fucking Oxford and are doing polymer microlithography with cell-design applications while "on the side" putting out three albums and singing for presidents1 and foreign dignitaries and jamming with people whose last names rhyme with Knopfler. They should not share hearty chuckles with you over that other attendee falling into a diabetic coma en route to the restaurant. Because when they do all these normal things you have no way of realizing how completely outclassed you are at this shindig, until you get back online. And by then, of course, it's too late. You've already spent the whole damn evening acting like you belonged there.

And all of this really happened. To a friend of mine. The up side is, my friend's list of people he can pester for help on technical issues is now a bit longer than it was.

It would, however, be a bit easier to stand on the shoulders of all these giants if they weren't all several inches shorter than me.

1I'm not talking lame-ass company presidents either, here. I'm talking superpower presidents.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Auntie Semite's Troubling Tales

In a nice change from the usual nocturnal scenarios about teeth falling out or earthworms tunneling through my flesh, last night I dreamed I was involved with Angelina Jolie. It was pretty nice, except for the part where we got kicked out of a B&B in Guelph because I'd broken someone's vintage 45. She didn't even transform into a flesh-eating zombie at an inopportune moment, thus causing me to lose my erection. (Anyone else out there hobbled by a Baptist conscience knows exactly what I mean.)

I really have to get out more.

Anyway, I awakened in a generous mood, as apparently did someone at Nature a few days back, because he was happy to loosen the restrictions on my contribution to their "Futures" series. So after two years of comatose brain-death, the "Shorts" page has finally got some new material on it: "Repeating the Past", first appearance in Nature, third appearance in Hartwell and Cramer's Year's Best SF 13, second appearance right here. Or here, if you'd prefer to download the spiffy, official Nature pdf.

Now I've got to shock the "In Progress" page back to life...


Monday, March 3, 2008

The Appearance of Evil

I actually like this photo by Amelia Beamer, which runs with the Locus interview I mentioned the other day. It doesn't make me look like a goof. My face actually looks symmetrical for once, and the viewer is not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the nose. This is perhaps the most flattering photo of myself I have seen all year, which I hope has nothing to do with the fact that it is also the only photo I've seen this year in which a significant part of my face is actually hidden from the viewer.

I'm also quite tickled by the title of the piece, which is...

...not to mention the actual fonts involved, which suggest, I don't know, a certain background Baptisticity.

So while I'm feeling so good about myself, I might as well mention a couple of upcoming appearances: July 11-13 I'll be one of the author guests at Polaris, here in Toronto, and while I'm merely one of the grunts I expect to be reasonably visible because they made me sign a contract committing to a minimum number of panels. I was happy to be asked, although I would've been happier if they'd asked me last year when Katee Sackhoff was on the roster.

Closer in, March 15-16 I'm going to be showing up at something called SciBarCamp (which, I myself would like to pronounce cybercamp although I don't know if anyone else does). It's officially described as "a gathering of scientists, artists, and technologists for a weekend of talks and discussions". I'm told the Perimeter Institute has something to do with it, although my only in was via Karl Schroeder, who in addition to being one of the kick-ass sf authors I've mentioned now and then is also one of the organizers.

Less than two weeks away now. Evidently we're all supposed to give presentations or something. I should probably get started.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Words from Watts

Ah. I see my interview is featured in this month's Locus. I get second billing to Charlie Stross, but hey — who doesn't, these days? There I am in the lower right-hand corner (and I'm actually kinda glad the picture is small because I look a wee bit goofy in it). Haven't read the final product yet, but I'm told a copy is winging itself to me even as we speak.

Another interview, more intimate and low of profile, was with— no kidding — my bank. Evidently a couple of employees at the Citizens Bank of Canada are familiar with my work (one of them sent me this Christmas e-card — I dare anyone to find another bank that gives such personalized service)...

... and presumably put up my name as a candidate for a series of interviews with "interesting clients" CB is doing for their in-house newsletter. I actually thought that the interview went pretty well, even though half an hour in my interviewer blurted out, "How can you even get up in the morning? How do you even keep going?". She also kept telling me she couldn't use any of my quotes because they contained forbidden words. (They have a list. Did you know the word "ass" cannot be used in Citizens Bank documents?) I was actually unable to actually come up with a quote that didn't contain any such forbidden terms, so we agreed that I would be sent a transcript with blanks that I could fill in, once I'd had a chance to think of more inoffensive terminology. But the deadline came and went, and I heard nothing back. So I finally e-mailed a follow-up query, and received this reply:
"...we are thinking that we want to profile people who are involved in activities that fit our values as an organization. ... we regret that we took up your time on this."
So I can only hope that someday, my ethical standards will rise to meet those of, well, the banking industry. But I admit it freely: it will be a long haul.

Finally, some of you whose comments and e-mails I have been slow to answer might want to know what I've been doing with my time. I wish the answer was "writing", but no; I'm part of a weekly workshop being run by Jim Munroe (of indie movie, indie-graphic-novel, and indie-conventional-novel fame) which introduces basic game-building techniques to creative types with limited programming skills (evidently a smattering of Visual Basic coupled with dim memories of self-taught FORTRAN and APL comprise rock-solid qualifications for the whole "limited" part of that criterion). Each week, one of us is assigned to blog the minutes of the session. This week it was my turn, despite the fact that I nearly froze/bled to death during the course of the evening. If you'd like to follow our progress — or if you'd just like to have a disdainful chuckle at a bunch of adults trying to learn gaming principles using apps designed for toddlers — knock yourselves out. We won't mind.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ducks, Squirrels, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction.

Many months ago now, sf überfan Jan Stinson interviewed me for the Internet Review of Science Fiction — just before IRoSF lapsed into dormancy. In all honesty, I kind of forgot about it in the meantime. But the chrysalis has hatched, the new glorious IRoSF is letting its new wings dry in the sun (and waiting to grow a couple of legs — the reborn site isn't entirely functional just yet), and there, in the resurrection issue, is Jan's interview. It was conducted in those heady days between my nomination for all those awards and my failure to win any of them, so I'm uncharacteristically cheerful throughout. I spout the usual thoughts about adaptive sociopathy, but with a smile.

I also cite a couple of classic examples of faux altruism in nature — one involving ducks, the other ground squirrels — that I recycled in my interview with Locus. I guess I got lazy. (Then again, they're good examples.) For what it's worth, I think Jan's interview contains the clearer summation, since that interview was done via e-mail and I could thus take time to edit myself into eloquence. The Locus interview was live, and I was, shall we say, less articulate — and while they gave me the opportunity to clarify myself post-hoc, the accursed BHO1 kept me from straying too far from giddy incoherence.

Anyway, check it out. Jan asked some pretty fresh questions (and forced me to admit that I couldn't come up with an original title if my life depended on it), so there might even be some stuff over there you haven't already heard from me a dozen times.

Oh, and to anyone still following the On Spec thing, Derryl Murphy — another OS alumnus — weighs in with an insider's perspective on his own blog. The whole thing even warranted a couple of mentions on (I really owe that Darbyshire guy a beer or two next time I get out to the west coast...)

1 Baptist Honesty Override.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And Now, In Keeping With Our Policy of Giving Equal Time To Opposing Viewpoints...

Jena Snyder, another On Spec alumnus, posted a minority opinion following my last rant. This is not the first time she and I have disagreed; there have been sparks and brush fires over the years, and we have not always liked each other. We continue to see eye-to-elbow on some things (certain traits of the law enforcement community, for example), but unanimity is a poor prerequisite for friendship — and when the sun goes down at the end of the day, we are still friends.

That is not why I'm singling out her comments for special attention, though. I'm doing that because I suspect a number of folks might share her doubts and opinions, even if they haven't expressed them here; and because these doubts have some substance to them; and because I believe I can answer them, since I thought long and hard before acting as I did.

So here, to save you the trouble of hitting your backspace icon, is what Jena said:
Sure, pissing someone off to the point where they come after you with a gun is a dangerous *act*, but how exactly does a picture of Mohammed in a spacesuit illustrate that the ideas in literary SF are free and unfettered and glorious and dangerous? All it says to me is "Hey, Muslims! Nyah, nyah, nyah, I wave my privates at you. I fart in your general direction." You might as well run a photo of a guy in a spacesuit skinning a live cat - it's controversial, it pushes buttons, and the spacesuit says SF.

Besides, it's been done. Not the spacesuit, but pissing off the Muslims. It's old, man. That button's as big as the one you have regarding cats.

If you couldn't win this battle by using a full-frontal attack, then why didn't you try a different strategy? And maybe a literary illustration - how about quotes from Sturgeon or Moorcock or Delany?

If you really want to take a stand on something, it's a hell of a lot harder to *stand* there and take a beating than it is to turn your back and walk away.
There are two issues here. The second concerns my choice of a specific image and the point I thought I was making thereby, and I'll get to that; but first and foremost is the nature of the AntiVeto Bomb itself. In the context of this larger issue, the reasons for any particular creative choice are irrelevant: the whole point of The Bomb was to override such arguments. The Bomb's very existence is an acknowledgment that there will be times when no agreement is possible; it was intended to keep us from always going the "safe" route in such cases. Some might point out — some have pointed out — that this means that I could, in theory, advocate genocide or child abuse or animal torture (instead of merely listing the major religions which have done so). But you might as well ban the use of hammers because I might use one to bash in some innocent skull. Implicit in The Bomb is the understanding that all those who wield it are responsible, intelligent adults, who will not invoke it for frivolous or hateful cause. In this particular case Diane seems to have thought that my (attempted) use was frivolous and/or hateful. I can only point out that a large number of mainstream media outlets did what I only tried to, and as far as I'm concerned that means we're talking about something well within the realm of reasonable disagreement.

The Bomb was intended to break the bottleneck at such times, and that's how I used it. For Diane to revoke it simply because she didn't like being overruled shows either a complete misunderstanding of what the device was intended to do, or a contemptuous disregard for that intension. (She has recently described the Bomb as "bait" designed to keep me from "resigning in a huff", which suggests a little of both. But she was there when the Bomb was designed, and I've kept her correspondence to me from those days, so I know her description is bullshit. I also know that she knows.)

There may be dispute over scope. The Bomb was designed to counteract editorial timidity: Diane thinks that should only apply to the selection of stories, while I maintain it should apply to editorials as well. But these are arguments over minutiae. The fact is, the only reason I've been at On Spec for the past seven years is because I believed a fairy tale I was told. The specific conditions that provoked my disillusion don't matter; what matters is that ever since Diane Walton has been General Editor, I have been serving under false pretenses.

Issue #2:

Why did I choose Mohammed in a spacesuit? Quite honestly, because I thought that was the safest of the available options. Does anyone really think that I'd have run into less opposition if I'd gone for an illustration of Sturgeon's incest society, or Moorcock's Jesus-as-congenital-imbecile? Would a thumbnail of Dhalghren's gay sexplay have passed muster? What about the more esoteric forms of radical idea-ness, the kind of stuff I've played around with on occasion: the nonexistence of free will, or consciousness as a maladaptive trait? I wouldn't have a clue how to iconise such things in picture form. But by now, pictures of Mohammed are embedded in the culture: they serve as an immediately-recognizable symbol for "risky territory", even though they're really not any more (or the National Post would not be running them). "Mohammed + space suit" says, to me, "controversy and science fiction". I dare anyone to suggest an image that more effectively thumbnails those sentiments.

Why do we need a picture at all? you may ask. Why not just let my words do the talking? Well, I could do that. But by the same token, one could ask why we need adverbs. Why adjectives? Why should an editorial be eloquent, or lyrically-written? Surely, we can make the point simply, and with minimal verbiage: Speculative fiction is good because it can deal with controversial ideas. The end. That says it.

But it's not very catchy, is it? It doesn't grab your attention. It doesn't engage your emotions. Visual icons are part of the tool set; and yes, you can always drive a wood screw with a dime turned on edge. You don't need to use a screwdriver. You just get a better end product when you do.

Am I just "waving my privates" at the Moslems, sticking out my tongue and going nyahh, nyahh, nyahh? There's no question that some people would find the picture offensive. But supposing I told you that I was offended by any depiction of, oh, politicians (let's say my religion forbids any depiction of Human leadership because it undercuts the supremacy of the Divine Creator). Are you sticking your tongue out at me if you go ahead and run a picture of Barack Obama? Are you waving your privates? Do you have to bend over backwards to respect every belief and ritual, no matter how stupid, just because it's framed in a religious context? How many of you cringed, just a little, to see me put the words "stupid" and "religious" so close together? Is there any religious tic so absurd that we can't ignore it without being accused of intolerance?

Look: by definition, any controversial idea is potentially offensive to someone. And nobody on the planet is willing to admit that they find something "offensive" because it challenges their beliefs; they'll find it offensive simply because, well, it's offensive. It's against God's Laws. It's AntiAmerican. Please, won't someone think of the children!? Case closed. And if you question those feelings, or ignore them, then yes: some will feel the breeze of my mighty testicles wafting across their faces. But that doesn't make my actions "old" or immature. It just means I can't be bothered to kneel and scrape before some altar that says we're not allowed to say anything that might hurt anyone's feelings, anywhere.

People say nasty things about me all the time. People hurt my feelings. People even wave their privates in my face. I've learned to deal with it. (In the latter case, I've even learned to enjoy it more often than not.)

Finally, Jena suggests I should have stayed and fought. How was I supposed to do that, exactly? Use my eloquent powers of speech to gather popular support? I did that. A majority was already in favour of running the picture: Diane told us that OS is not a democracy, imposed her will over ours, and then (ironically) referred to me as a "bully". She simply shut down any and all discussion. Am I supposed to grab the purse strings from three provinces away? Am I supposed to somehow wrest financial control of the magazine back into more reasonable hands?

Steve tried to heal the rift, before he left. He tried to be the diplomat, while at the same time making it clear he thought Diane was completely out of line. Diane told him that I was "a liability", and made it pretty clear that she considered my departure to be a good thing. So sure, it's harder to stand and take a beating than it is to walk away. But there has to be some reason to take that beating. There has to be the chance that some good might come from it. And the only good scenario I can envision now is one that gives my nose a chance to heal. And allows me to sleep at night.

BTW, that wonderful LOLprophet remix at the top of the post is courtesy of Yuval Langer, and is posted with his permission.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Don't get the idea that On Spec is a democracy."

Regular visitors to this site may remember that for a number of years now, I've been one of the fiction editors at the Canadian SF magazine On Spec. They first approached me back in 1999; I've served pretty much continuously since, except for a brief hiatus back in 2001 when I felt that the fear of losing government funding had made the magazine too timid. But we worked it out. We cobbled together something called the Clifford Burns Memorial Anti-Veto Bomb: if any of us really fell in love with a piece, really fell in love with it, we could force it onto the schedule even if all the other editors hated it. Each editor was allowed only two bombs annually, so we wouldn't waste them on anything we weren't willing to go to the mat for.

While that Bomb has been dropped since, I have never felt the need to invoke it myself. It was intended as a last resort, after all, and truly controversial stories don't come our way very often. But if they did, I knew we were ready. The Bomb gave me comfort. I slept soundly at night.

Time passed. Some terrific stories appeared in our little rag. On Spec gave a home to the likes of Holly Phillips, Catherine MacLeod, Hayden Trenholm, Elaine Chen, Leah Bobet. I am so fucking proud to have helped showcase these people, and more others than I can count (Mrissa, you there?). Cory Doctorow even nested in our pages — before he ascended into heaven with the angels — and Cliff Burns returned to grace us with a tale or two (albeit not the one which had inspired the bomb in the first place).

The world turned; so did the masthead. Fellow scribes Holly Phillips and Derryl Murphy came and went. Susan MacGregor came and went and came back again. Steve Mohn came and stayed (you may remember the running debate he and I got into over Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy a few years back). Jena Snyder, Editrix from the start (think of her as Ian Anderson to On Spec's Jethro Tull) — gave heart and soul and midwifed a thousand literary births. But On Spec is a hungry bitch as well as a beautiful one, and Jena had her own tales to tell; eventually she had to take back her life and her passion for writing. Diane Walton replaced her as General Editor a few years back.

And all this time the Clifford Burns Memorial AntiVeto Bomb sat snuggled safely in the back of my mind, never to be used except at the utmost end of need...

The Present Day. Diane Walton asks me to write an editorial for the next issue of On Spec. I mull over themes, decide: I will write a celebration of the one thing Hollywood and Electronic Arts has left us after they kicked sand in our faces and stole all our shiny spaceships and Big Dumb Objects and Bug-Eyed Monsters. Multimedia has taken away our special effects, you see. The galactic tour, the epic sensawunda vistas: you don't have to squeeze those images from rows of black type anymore, like some pagan divining meaning in rows of ants. You can sit back and let Spielberg show it to you, big as life. You can live it, thanks to Valve and BioWare. People don't have to read for their eyeball kicks any more. There's purer product as close as the nearest torrent.

So what did those big bullies leave behind? What did they value so little they didn’t even bother to steal? Why, ideas. (Take your average Hollywood fx blockbuster, turn it upside-down, and shake it. See any ideas come out?) And not just any ideas. Radical ideas. Dangerous ideas. The kind of ideas that timid, bottom-line bean counters would never risk letting into their big-budget movies for fear of losing some vital demographic. Sturgeon's "If All Men Were Brothers Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?", exploring the ramifications of a human society with no incest taboo. Moorcock's "Behold the Man", a searing time-travel odyssey in which the search for faith leads to Mary on the make and a drooling, idiot Jesus. Delany's Dhalgren, about — well, actually, I'm still not sure what that one was about, but it had a lot of gay porn and Bellona stays stuck to the roof of my mind like peanut butter...

That is where literary sf retains its edge. That is the high ground the lowest common denominator hasn't yet stolen along with our lunch money. So that's where we plant our flag, that is what we celebrate: dangerous ideas. And we at On Spec have got the right to celebrate it, by Jove! We don't just walk the walk, we put our money where our mouths are! We've got the Clifford Burns Memorial Anti Veto Bomb!

And Diane Walton says, Yes, Great! Good subject for an editorial! Just don't do anything that would make it, you know, controversial...

Because you see, I'd wanted to take a token back from the visual arts. I'd wanted to illustrate my editorial with a picture of Mohammed in a spacesuit.

No, Diane says.

Well, wait a minute, say a couple of the other OSers (not me; I'm on the road at this point, and only intermittently online). Why not? It fits. We should go with it.

No, Diane says.

By this time I'm back online, and I say "I'd rather everyone was on the same page on this, but I suppose I could just invoke The Bomb."

Now Susan MacGregor weighs in. Susan and I have always got along despite her misguided devotion to imaginary friends, but now she's saying we should just revoke the Bomb altogether. She calls it "juvenile". She invokes the spectre of an editor using On Spec to promote the rape of children, and of all the other editors having to nod and act as though they agree. (You ever notice that the folks who invoke victimized children whenever their beliefs are challenged have a certain — er, how to put this — common mind-set?)

Oddly enough, this is all going down one year to the day after that Danish newspaper originally published those Mohammed cartoons that started the whole kerfuffel. The same newspaper is reprinting some of them, to commemorate the anniversary and to celebrate free speech. So are a number of others, one being Canada's National Post — hardly a bastion of radical thought. I try to point this out: we're not even talking about doing anything especially provocative at this point, we're talking about jumping on a bloody bandwagon. OS doesn't even have the yarbles for that? But before I can hit Send, Steve jumps in and rebuts Susan's argument. Someone else says Hey, I know a couple of Muslim academics, I could always get their take—

At which point Diane, evidently realizing that three out of five seem to be in favour of running with the Mohammed riff, puts her foot down:
"The CBMAVB is a joke," she says, and

"Don't get the idea that this magazine is a democracy. There will be no "Mohammed" or "Jesus" or "Buddha" or any religious icon you care to name cartoon on our editorial page."
The thing is, I'd always been under the impression that our little magazine was a democracy. And I rather got the impression that the others thought so too. And I can't help noticing that Diane Walton has taken this opportunity to preemptively veto not just icons of Mohammed, but of any religious personality, period. Which I guess means we won't be running any pictures of L. Ron Hubbard in the near future either.

And The Bomb — the very reason for my continued presence at On Spec, my first, last, and only reassurance that we will not shy away from provocative ideas — is "a joke". On me. Evidently it always has been.

Back in the day, On Spec had the balls to publish good stories, period, even those deemed too controversial for other markets. I know this, because they published such work from me before I joined. And there were a lot of those good days. On Spec approaches its twentieth anniversary, its legacy significant and undiminished by recent events. Its cover art continues to kick the asses of much larger magazines. And there are many serviceable, safe, inoffensive stories in the world; as long as 80% of them are Canadian, On Spec will continue to play a valuable role.

But it is not the role I was told it would be, nor one I can get behind.

Understand this: good people work at On Spec, and they work hard. Current policies in this regard are not based on consensus: they have been autocratically imposed by someone with no significant writing credentials, but through whom vital funding passes. She controls the purse-strings; this puts her in de facto control. My fear and my expectation is that as long as that's the case On Spec will blend ever further into the background, forever unwilling to risk notice for fear of losing the government teat. Or perhaps just out of fear of offending the sensibilities of Diane Walton. At this point I don't really know which.

In either case, I'm outta there. I resigned on Saturday.

Update 2211: Steve Mohn has now also resigned in protest over Diane's behaviour. He did ask, first, that she reverse her decision over my editorial, and that she reinstate The Bomb. Also that she ask me to return to On Spec. She refused on all counts. At which point he walked.

I have to say I'm really touched by Steve's support. My whole damn life I've been accosted by people who sidled up to whisper their admiration for my principled resignation from this job, or my public stand on that issue — only to follow up with a plea to not tell anyone they'd said that, because they didn't want to make waves. Steve (whom I've never even met face-to-face) is one of the few who actually climbed down into the trenches with me. A single ally can make all the difference.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Green Spine

So the trade paperback edition of Blindsight showed up in my mailbox yesterday. Not bad, I guess. You've seen it before: they truncated the teaser text on the back, but that left room for more blurbage (which, I'm pleased to note, was actually about Blindsight this time around). I'm a bit doubtful about the presence of that virtually incomprehensible quote from John Clute inside the front cover (seriously, guys, what is "a great, granulated, anfractuous rat king of shrikes", and would you pay good money to have it goose your midbrain?), but okay. No big surprises on the front cover: catchy title font, way better than on the hardcover, and they lost that lurid red border, but — oh wait a minute, what's this on the spine....?

Ah. Lurid green border this time. Perhaps it is meant as a symbol of growth and rebirth, a signal that the bloody days of the revolution are past and now it is time to rebuild. Or something. Wish I knew what it was with these guys and borders. But at least they kept it off the front panel.

Anyway, here's some good news about the paperback, especially for those who read Blindsight for free online and now want a hard copy for their very own, but don't want to spit on the very soul of the Creative Commons by actually paying for it. Patrick St-Denis, of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist — the guy who brought you the infamous "Angry Man Interview" — is giving away three copies of the paperback, just as he did with the hardcover when it came out. Go over there, check it out, give him your hits.

Oh, and according to Leonard Nimoy on The Colbert Report last night, poor body-images in today's teen girls are causing them to opt for oral sex over the intercoursal kind, because blow jobs don't require them to be seen naked. I'm not really sure what that has to do with anything, but I thought I should pass it along.


Friday, February 8, 2008

The Frogs Are Swarming in the Milk

Going over the transcript of the Locus interview I did last July. I am grateful that Locus gives its interviewees the opportunity to "clarify or expand upon" aspects of such transcripts; I had no idea that such a smart guy as myself could be so inarticulate and unfocused. During the course of the actual interview I thought I was performing pretty damn well — at least, everyone in the room was chuckling at all the right points. But either they were just humouring me, or digressions and clever dives down irrelevant alleys don't translate well onto paper. Not to mention the number of sentences I evidently finished with nonverbal gestures. Either that or I'm some kind of closet narcoleptic in denial, with an unfortunate tendency to nod off in mid-sentence. You’d think someone would have mentioned it by now.

Anyway, "clarify and expand upon" I did, to the point where I now seem both profane and articulate. The only problem that remains has to do with Locus's standard policy of formatting these interview things — to wit, they omit the questions to which the interviewee is responding, printing instead an extended monologue innocent of context. And of course, because different questions provoke different answers, said monologue tends to take sudden and aerodynamically-impossible turns in weird directions with no warning. For example, take the following snippet:
... which would, of course, explain the underlying Native-American subtext of the rifters trilogy. The whole saga can be seen as an extended metaphor for the history of Inuit seal-hunting culture in the eighteenth century. The frogs are swarming in the milk. Which at least is an improvement over those big hairy bats, I guess. At least you could hit those with rulers...

Locus assures me that their readership is used to interviews with authors who are apparent victims of multiple personality disorder. I'll take their word for it. But I'm still a bit worried that all you'd need to do is insert a couple of outbursts of cackling hysterical laughter into the transcript to turn me into Tom Cruise.

Anyway, I don't know when the interview goes to press, but here's a snippet to tide you over:

I've tried to create villains. Once I tried to base one on a specific guy I knew in real life, but when my real-life perceptions ended up on the page they seemed more caricature than character; the dude was such a smarmy dick that I might as well have given him a mustache to twirl. The only way I could make him believable on the page was to make him more sympathetic than he actually is in real life, to give him enough depth that the reader would say, 'Yeah, you can kind of see why he's the way he is.' I wish I hadn't had to do that; he really is a complete dick here in the real world.

I of all people should know that moral convictions do not improve one's fitness. Ethics are not an evolutionarily stable strategy. Every time you look closely at altruistic behavior in nature, you find that it's ultimately selfish. A ground squirrel who sees a threat will raise the alarm when there are relatives around, but not otherwise; he's saving his own genes, even if his alarm call draws lethal attention to himself. Animals do fairly sophisticated subconscious processing in their heads. Take ducks. Ducks sometimes adopt ducklings from other broods, which seems counterintuitive; why would any creature in Darwin's universe take a competitor's genes under its wing? But it turns out that the adoptees are always kept in this outer buffer zone, and the parent's real kids are kept in closer. The adoptees are thus more vulnerable to predators; they're being used as cannon fodder (although I guess we'd call them National Guard these days). Every time we see an act of altruism in nature, it ultimately comes down to inclusive fitness.

"I really should learn to internalize that. I need to become more opportunistic, more of a sociopath. Sociopaths tend to make a lot more money than I do."


Friday, January 25, 2008

Us and Them

I'm not going to dwell on the The Big Paris-Hilton Scale moment that's been all over the science blogs for the past day or two, since let's face it, Venter's new artificial genome is really just another incremental step on the path, and besides, I already mentioned that guy recently. So instead, a potpourri of peteresque and popcultural pointers:


A few developments on the writing front:
  • Recorded Books is going to release an audio rendition of Blindsight (which is especially cool since evidently these guys put out the only single-voice English language narration of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy officially approved by the Tolkien Estate). If I'm lucky, they can get Andy Serkis for the performance.
  • Heyne, the German publisher putting out the translations of Butt Plug and Down Hill, have made an offer on Maelstrom. After a bit of haggling over money and my insistence that the book's title should be an easy target of juvenile humour once translated, I accepted. (I suspect we even got more for it than Tor did for the Heyne edition of Starfish, although I don't know because Tor still hasn't told me how much that was.) (Yes, I've asked.) This almost makes up for the those one-star Amazon reader review reviews that just shot Blind Flug down from the heady days of unanimous approval it had enjoyed only yesterday (although the sales rank seems to be doing pretty well over there regardless — the book's grazed the five-hundreds a couple of times, which even accounting for the difference in national populations is probably better than it ever did over here).
  • It also looks as though a Czech edition of Blindsight is in the works from Triton Books. (On the down side, that Russian deal I mentioned a while back might be a bit shakier than I'd thought — at least, they keep telling me that the deal's still on but I haven't seen a penny of an advance that was due well before the end of last year. I'd probably push them harder if the memory of Cronenberg's Eastern Promises wasn't still so fresh in my mind...)
  • Oh yeah, and some doofus over on Futurismic says I'm all in favour of torture and everything. I'm not saying he's wrong, but jeez.


I don't usually serve up link salads, since they'd generally point to far more popular blogs than mine and thus it would probably be old news to you all anyway. But today I'm making an exception, because the following links lead to things that made me grin broadly, and that doesn't happen as often as I'd like. Also it proves that sometimes I can still "get" popular culture, which also doesn’t happen as often as I'd like:
I'm going to go work now. I'm actually writing prose these days. Some day, if you behave badly, I may share some of it with you.


Monday, January 14, 2008

A Farewell to "Gerbils"

Three bits of news today. The smallest item is that "Repeating the Past", the short-short that appeared in Nature last December, has been recruited for David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's annual Year's Best anthology. The medium item is that, after months of negotiation, I have reached an agreement with Fleuve Noir in France to produce a French translation of Blindsight. (The fact that the lady on the other side of the negotiating table has cats named after Aliens characters had no undue influence on my decision to go with these people).

The Big News is ― wait for it ―

I have renamed Gerbils, a novel I'm currently working up the outline for. It is now called Sunflowers, and the reason for the change is that I've finally figured out the punchline for the damn thing. It is epic. Seriously. It encompasses the fate of the entire universe.

I dare anyone to get more epic than that.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Here We Go Again

Well, looky here. Blindsight is on the preliminary Nebula ballot. I don't really know much about the mechanics of that process — how "preliminary" turns into "beta", when "beta" turns into "final" — beyond the fact that the award seems a bit too in-house inbred for John Clute's many people's liking. I'm not a member of SFWA; worse, I'm one of those (how did it go again?) "pixel-stained technopeasant wretches" whose forays into the Creative Commons so pissed off certain elements in its administration. So even if these folks know who I am, I rather suspect they may not like me very much.

I'm actually kinda surprised that I even got this far; obviously somebody must like me (or at least, like my book), and I thank them for pitching on Blindsight's behalf. If I find out who you are, I'll buy you a beer next time we run into each other.

But still. Like this is ever gonna happen.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Performance Art

The good folks at Starship Sofa have posted a podcast of my longish-story "The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald", read by, er, me. You can listen to it over here if you're curious about the sound of my voice, if you want to check out the shots I take at the "Mundane SF" movement in my introductory comments, or even, I suppose, if you're interested in the story. Be warned, though: it's fifty minutes of your life that you won't get back. I will not be held responsible for the crushing post-hoc realization that you could have been getting laid or drinking a V8 instead.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Benthic Baptisms

So it begins (actually continues, but let's not let accuracy get in the way of a good cliché): the race to exploit the deep sea. A couple of choice quotes:
"deep sea mining ... has the potential to explode ... The hotspots are ocean floor geysers known as hydrothermal vents ...

"...we know almost nothing about the microbial life or their ecology."

So, yeah. Bring on βehemoth! Let's get this apocalypse on the road!

And — in a nice bit of timing — one Bernd Kronsbein has just pointed me to the Amazon page for the upcoming German edition of Starfish (which evidently translates does not after all translate as Abgrund, but as another word entirely!). The cover steers away from the rifter-collage design that Bruce Jensen so effectively rendered for the Tor editions, instead giving face time to the more conventional preshmesh armour that Yves Scanlon lumbered around in for a couple of chapters:

I'm guessing they were looking for something a bit more space-suity, to maintain thematic consistency with their Blindflug cover. Anyway, I like it.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

A Lack of Focus

Been a while since I posted, I know. Not for lack of material. I've been meaning to post a few more I, Robot-type findings — more hardwired-aesthetics, this time centering around the "Golden Ratio"; more unsurprising evidence of a developmental basis for pedophilia, along with the (even-less surprising) preemptive disclaimers by the researchers that oh no, this shouldn't let pedophiles off the hook, no sirree. (I can't shake a certain sympathy for the kiddy-diddlers on this score. Biology seems to let everyone else off the hook: teenage brains are wired differently than adults, so we have a Young Offender's Act with different standards of culpability; jealous lovers are blinded by fight/fuck circuitry, so "crimes of passion" tend to carry lighter penalties than those that come precalculated. There's no end to the shit we're expected to put up with from victims of dementia, because hey, they "really can't help themselves". But pedophiles? Societal revulsion for those poor bastards is so strong that we don't even wait for the peasants to grab their pitchforks, we trip over ourselves insisting that no, the neurology doesn't matter for these monsters, they just need to exercise more self-control...)

Then there's this godsend from the University of Colorado — batteries, built from kidney cells! — that fits perfectly into a hole I've been trying to plug for the SquidNet novel. A seriously-overhyped item suggesting that a chatroom spam sex-bot has passed the Turing Test (I dunno— didn't Turing specify some minimal intelligence for the person the AI is supposed to be fooling?) I'm also reading this book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief, by one of the leading lights of the Human Genome Project, and you can be damn sure that's gonna get it's very own extensive posting over the next little while. (Current opinion, at the ¼ mark: this guy is the Harriet Miers of gel jocks. How the hell can a top-flight geneticist be so abysmally ill-informed about basic biology? How can he be so utterly unfamiliar with basic logic?).

But it's fucking Christmastime, don't you know, and the obligations of this season eat at one's waking hours like a cancer. And I have four or five pitches/outlines, all in various states of (in)completion, that I gotta get done before my new agent writes me off for dead and eaten by cats. So for now, I'll just hand off with another excerpt from the imminent Szeman/Whiteman interview " Wildlife, Natural and Artificial: An Interview with Peter Watts ":

IS/MW: Dark, troubled, disturbed, heroic: Lenie Clark is one of the great characters of contemporary science fiction writing. A sympathetic protagonist despite her outward coldness—and the fact that her rage at the Grid Authority leads her to seed βehemoth across North America. Ken Lubin, too: a character about whom we know almost nothing beyond his capacity to expertly assess situations and to act on the results, but whom readers nevertheless see as on their side against the threats of the world. How did you come to create Lenie? What are the special challenges (if any) of writing about characters like these?

PW: Lenie Clarke was my attempt to imagine what was going on inside a woman I was briefly involved with back in grad school. It was one of those relationships that lasts maybe two months, tops, tosses you around like a pebble in a cement mixer full of broken glass, and then spits you out in the certain knowledge you’ll never see your partner again. You know all this going in, of course. You know the relationship has no future. And you do it anyway, because hey: what does have a future, these days? And at least you know you’re alive in the meantime.

The special challenge, of course, is that I probably got her completely wrong. But I rather suspect she’s been dead for some time, so she’s not likely to contradict me. And other people, who hail from similarly dark places, tell me that Lenie feels real to them. This honours me. I haven’t been fucked over nearly as much as these people have, I’m basically a pampered poser playing let’s-pretend-we’ve-been-sexually-abused. But if my prose can convince people who’ve actually been there, that’s something.

Unless, of course, they were just sucking up to me. That happens too. Not as much as it should, sadly.

The whole interview (which I've previously excerpted here, when I was first muddling through the questions — just scroll down to April 5) weighs in at well over 7,000 words and is slated to appear in the journal Extrapolation 48(3): 603-619. (And I mean really appear, which is not so common as I might have expected. Regular visitors may remember my mention of extensive interviews with the likes of Locus and the online editions of The Wall Street Journal, way back in spring/summer of this year. Don't know what's up with those, but I grow increasingly skeptical of either's appearance.)

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Profiles of the Future

Got the pdf from Nature for "Repeating the Past" yesterday; it's scheduled for the Nov 29th issue, for those of you with access to academic libraries. I would post the whole story here, but I think the contract gives Nature dibs on first publication. So instead I'm showing you the official illustration, since the contract never said anything about scooping someone else's work. I find it nicely restrained, low-key, and not really scifnal at all. Just what you'd expect from one of the most prestigious and respectable scientific journals on the planet. I only have one minor quibble, and it may just be my imagination, but...

Is it just me, or is that larger silhouette a dead ringer for Wesley Crusher?


Thursday, November 8, 2007

You'll Never Be Rid Of Me Now

I was contacted a while back by a fellow named Nicholas Bennett, who had built a little java program for reading e-books off of cellphone displays. He'd already ported a few hundred public domain titles onto this website for free download (including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and was hunting more recent, Creative Commons releases. He wanted to add Blindsight and the Rifters books; I told him to go ahead. (I notice that Karl Schroeder's Ventus is also up there). One nifty little feature is that you don't have to load a separate program; the reader is integrated into each downloadable book.

I myself have not tried out these freebies because my cell — like my Internet connection, my landline, and my cable — all hail from Rogers, and Rogers (being the avaricious and duplicitous scumbags that they are) sold me a phone that only plugs into a proprietary Rogers cord that costs an additional eighty bucks, which I refuse to pay. (I could surf wirelessly, but even the otherwise-sleazy salesperson who sold me the phone warned me that Roger's charge for that service would take me up the ass like a Carlsbad Stalactite.)1 But I admit I'm curious, so if someone out there wants to try out this product and let me know how it runs, I'd be grateful. My cellphone-ready books are here; download instructions, over here.

1 I really, really hate Rogers. I hate them as much as I hate Dell. By the end of this month I hope to be free of them forever. Except for Cable. Still no real alternative for cable.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Behold, the Dawning of a New Literary Movement.

Squidpunk. My own contribution to this groundbreaking anthology will be called "Tentacles of Vague Unease".

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Excessively Graphic

I'm in a sodden corner of upstate rural New York at the moment, catching up on statistics and e-mails. You do not want current, believe me. You want flashbacks.

Here are a couple more shots from Pure Speculation last week. I won't say the one on the left is an accurate picture, insofar as my asymmetrical bananafacedness is not quite so obvious as it is on my passport photo, but it is one of my more flattering likenesses in recent memory. Thanks to Justina Ackeral for making me look vaguely rugged. In contrast, the photo on the left (from Bill Hately , for those who didn't catch Cath Jackel's comment on my previous post) makes it painfully obvious that my nose and the rest of my face bend in opposite directions, but it does at least encapsulate The Dream.

But here's something a bit cooler and a bit less egocentric. Che Gilson, an artist for Tokyopop, has rendered several of the crew of the Theseus as anime characters. Speaking as someone who actually knows the characters on whom these characters were based, she's actually done a pretty good job (Rob Cunningham in particular is a good likeness, insofar as animé characters can capture the essence of any flesh and blood). The only character that doesn't work for me is Sarasti— and interestingly, Sarasti is the only character of the lot whose physical description is not based on a real person.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Portrait of the Artist as a Not-So-Young Parasite

Dateline, EDMONTON, near "the chipping yards". Okay, I'll admit I wondered what I was doing here at first. The people were nice enough, but everything was games and action figures and Klingon prosthetics; I saw no great fascination with the written sf lit, and it seemed pretty obvious that anyone who showed up to an hour-and-a-half interview with Peter Watts would probably have just gotten lost on their way to the bathroom.

But wouldn't you know it: the room was packed. The questions (delivered by Barb Galler-Smith, who arrived in the nick of time after convincing us all she must have been run over by a bus) were ripe for riffing. And the audience was pretty damn appreciative, even if some of them had already heard my comparison of God to an invisible purple hamster who lives up my butt and tells me what to do. There were many books to sign. And then a bunch of them (the fans, not the books) went out to this bar across the street and forced many beers and breadsticks and slices of pizza down my throat:

I met Bahumat, who posts here sometimes and insists that his LJ userpic is not an angry purple unicorn with erectile dysfunction. I met a wandering Rasputinian Mennonite with LaGrange-point Jovian-Earth asteroid trajectory calculus tattoed on his back. I met geeks and techheads and editors and we talked about neurology and political metaorganisms and other things beyond the ken of your average Harry Potter fan (notwithstanding that several of them seemed to be Harry Potter fans themselves), and — and this is the really cool part — I didn't pay for anything.

I even got interviewed by CTV for a piece that might get national exposure, although I think the word "fuck" may have slipped into a couple of my answers. The guy seemed to like my answers, anyway.

Very, very occasionally, being an author does not suck. This was one of those times.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Faster than the Eye Can See

This cat— Chipwalla, by name— is one fast fuzzbot. Yesterday he clawed the contact lens right off my eyeball before I had the chance to blink. No shit. Popped it right out with one blinding swipe of a paw. That'll teach me to be two minutes late with breakfast.

I have to admit I'm impressed. I mean, yeah, my eyeball's all lacerated now, but really: before I could blink. I felt like I was in an episode of Kung Fu written by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I'm heading out to PureSpec in Edmonton now. It's shaping up to be the weirdest GoH gig I've ever pulled; there's nothing for me to do, beyond a 90-minute Q&A. No keynote address, no mandatory panels, not even a reading (unless I want to bundle one into the interview, which I might — PureSpec has a games-heavy focus, and my evil-Holocaust-survivor story not only has a strong gaming tie-in but Nature won't be running it until December, so an advance screening might be nice). Really, I don't seem to have much to do except wander around trying to look cute. Which, granted, is getting tougher to pull off every day.

So if you're out there, and you run into me, buy me a drink and we can bash creationists together.


Thursday, October 4, 2007


I just passed a busker on the street playing Thus Sprach Zarathustra on an accordion. (The thing that makes me wonder if it wasn't a hallucination is, it wasn't half bad.) I had this strange encounter returning from the plenary session of the 23rd annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies, which featured myself, Nalo Hopkinson, Jim Munroe, and Karl Schroeder in a 90-minute free-for-all on literary world-building. We got a great meal out of it, free post-prandial drinks, and the discussion was lively. I think it went over well. I haven't seen those guys in too long.

There would be, at the best of times, an irony in the role of Peter Watts as any kind of authority on utopias — ("You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means")— but the irony is especially pungent this week. I am about to embark on a battle of principle with City Hall that might get me evicted; Revenue Canada is pretending that they never got the seven grand in taxes I sent them last spring and is demanding I send it again; and someone very close to me has just been extracted from a nest of two-month old pizza boxes and institutionalised. Let's just say I am not feeling especially utopian at the moment, which may also account for the lack of recent activity on this 'crawl.

So, sorry for the lapse. I'll try and get back into the groove over the next few days. At the very least I'll try out a new color scheme, given the resounding thud with which the current "blueberry-light" motif has landed.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Agent. New Sale. Same Old Attitude. And One Unsubtle Highlander Reference.

Got me a new agent. Howard Morhaim, about whom everyone raves (Jeff Vandermeer told me he'd gladly get into a knife fight for the man— I remain undecided as to whether this implies fierce loyalty, or just a sick desire on Jeff's part to get into knife fights at the slightest provocation). It was actually a pretty tough call. I would have gladly gone with three or four of those on the short list, all of whom came universally praised, all of whom were candid and insightful during our dates, and all of whom I'm sure would have been honorable and stalwart allies. But in the end, there can be only one. Howard it is. And I shall seek out the others at cons, and buy them beers for their time.

I am also pleased to report that my "evil Jew" story has sold to Nature — they have this on-again, off again feature called "Futures", in which sf writers try to cram a bit of plot and some hard-sf extrapolation into 950 words or less. Henry Gee, the editor of the series, began his e-mail to me thus:

I won't say I enjoyed your story "Repeating the Past" very much. Nonetheless I'd like to publish it in Futures.

which is pretty spot-on. "Repeating the Past" is not a story to be enjoyed. It is a prospect to be troubled by, and it grows inevitably from technology already gestating in R&D labs throughout the gaming and neuroimaging industries. It also makes a nice companion piece to the "Good Pedophile" story that Solaris picked up a while back.

And at <1000 words, it's the shortest thing I've ever written. I didn't know whether I could pull off any story at that length, and I'm actually quite proud of the result. But the real payoff in this sale is not the literary feat, nor the (very respectable) per-word-payment. The real payoff, as before, is being able to sit back and tick off the various tenure-track colleagues who looked down their noses at me as I slouched away from academia, and who have since devoted an unhealthy number of waking hours trying to get their work into Nature.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Done Deals & Fair Warnings

So, two more sets of negotiations concluded, two more contracts signed and sent: Arabesque (a new imprint of AST Publishing) is now officially putting out a Russian edition of Blindsight, and Bibliopolis is tasked with the Spanish translation.

Both have promised me input on cover layout.

Ominously, the editor at Arabesque — after having seen the author photos I sent him — mused tentatively about using one of them as an actual cover-art element. Not sure how that would work. I suppose my nose could stand in for Big Ben, if the light was right...

The crawl might be going down briefly over the next couple of days. Apparently, by keeping all its files at, I'm depriving us all of cool things like Polls (which would allow me to learn how many of you really do think that this tiny white-on-black motif blows goats and would rather that I went with yellow on chartreuse). I think I can move everything back to the Google server while still retaining the appearance of a URL — if I can't, fuck it, it's staying put — but who knows what's gonna happen? So if your bookmarks suddenly take you to 404via, wait a bit. If they still don't work, go to my Updates page; any new architecture will be reported there.

See you on the other side.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Bosum Buddies

The good folks over at SF Signal have pointed me to results of a post-Hugo poll on their site, suggesting that a strong majority of their 72 respondents seem to think I was robbed. (This is especially gracious of them since they themselves didn't like Blindsight all that much.) What's really interesting about this poll, however, is not so much Blindsight's straw-first-place-finish, but the fact that "No Award" came in second, with twice as many votes as third place got. To me, this casts the poll itself into question: a quarter of skiffydom thinks there were no award-worthy titles on the whole slate? I'm doubtful.

On the other hand, one element does remain consistent between this wouldashouldacoulda poll and the actual vote at Worldcon: in both, "No Award" and Blindsight hung out side by side. Granted, they were at the bottom of the list for the Hugos and at the top over on SFSignal — but wherever they show up, they show up together.

Me and "No Award", we're just like that.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

No, not the pigment around the nipples. The award.

So barring the possibility of some cruel hoax, Blindsight is now on the final ballot for the Auroras. They haven't posted it officially yet, but my buddy Karl's just announced that he's on the same ballot for Sun of Suns, so I guess I'm not breaking any embargoes. For the nonCanadian among you (and probably for most of the Canadians too, now that I think of it), the Auroras might best be described as a Canuckian Hugo, albeit much smaller of scale and a bit more threadbare at the knees (as befitting the modest and self-effacing nature of the Canadian people). The award itself looks pretty cool, like something out of Delany's Dhalgren. I doubt anyone's been able to carry one onto a commercial flight since 2001.

Oh, and I've also just been told that Starfish is going to be translated into German — presumably by the same guys who are translating Blindsight, although I have no details. I was younger and even dumber when Starfish sold, and I let Tor retain all the overseas rights, so this is basically their deal. Hopefully I'll get a few more spoils out of it than I did from Blindsight's SFBC edition...


Saturday, September 1, 2007

The End of the Rainbow

Rainbows End took home the Hugo, coming from behind to unseat Novik's Dragon opus in the fourth round. Congratulations to Vernor Vinge; the first story I ever read by the man was "Bookworm, Run!", back in the mid seventies — it actually first ran in 1966, from Analog — and after forty years in the business, the dude still has it. If my stuff proves to have half the legs, I'll have done well.

Judging by these results, though, that may be doubtful. It wasn't even close; Blindsight started in last place and suffered a quick and violent death. I was not surprised that it didn't win, but I was surprised at how poorly it did. I thought it would at least come in ahead of the Flynn — not because I thought it was a better book by any means, but simply because I haven't seen much Eifelheim-related buzz online. But Blindsight did even worse than I expected. In future I should probably dial down that sunny optimism for which I am so well-known.

It's a shame from a pure story perspective, though. After the difficult pregnancy, the painful birth, the neglected childhood — wouldn't it have been cool if my stunted baby could've come from behind and scaled the heights in true Hollywood fashion? Wouldn't that have made a heartwarming little in-your-face, bitch! kinda story?

Ah well. At least I kicked "No Award"'s Ass.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

You Take What You Can Get

Snagged from some online promotional pdf from Tor; looks like the trade paper is officially set for March '08. The lurid red border seems to be absent this time around, and the title font actually looks quite cool; one can only hope they gave it a different colour than the split-pea soup tint of the hardback. Unfortunately the Buck Rogers spaceship is still in evidence, but I'll take what I can get.

XFire has posted last week's official chat transcript here; you don't even need to be a member to check it out. I apologise for the various misspellings. My fingers were going a mile a minute and haste made me sloppy. (It's supposed to be "trouser eel", for example, not "trouser ell".)

Here's a few more questions that didn't make it on there:
  1. MÖטζєя: Peter Watts, in your book Blindsight, you wrote I really liked that opening sentence, were you inspired by someone to write this ? I was, actually. Someone I was involved with for a few months during the copyedit stage: a very smart, possibly-borderline sociopath pharmawhore (I mean, let's face it, you pretty much have to have sociopathic tendencies to thrive in the biotech industry these days) who happened to be a masochist. It was one of those things you know are doomed going in — you know you're going to destroy the friendship you had for the sake of a few electric moments — but you do it anyway because those moments are worth it. (They were, too. Ah well.)
  2. Vanderdecken: Peter Watts, what provoked you to describe yourself as a 'reformed' marine biologist? "Reformed" sounded better than "failed".
  3. LightSol: Do you get high or drunk to get ideas?
  4. LightSol: Do you get blanks while writing a book and feel a need for marijuana or any other mind affecting drug?
  5. Xfire Moderator: Lightsol, please refrain from asking those questions. No, no, that's okay, really. Being drunk or high has never given me ideas — or at least, they never gave me any ideas that proved worth putting in a story after the hangover had cleared. However, it's given me lots of experiences, so that I can write about being drunk or high with a certain amount of authority if the story calls for it. (For similar reasons, when reading certain unnamed sf writers, I sometimes wish they had had more sex.)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

XFire PrePostMortem

I'm just decompressing after one hellaciously frenetic hour answering questions, along with Mssrs. Vinge and Stross, on XFire. The way it worked was, attendees asked questions in one chatroom; XFire staff selected some to paste in a separate room; we authors selected the ones we wanted to answer from that room, and posted said answers in a third room. Plus there was a separate room for "unofficial chatter". The questions were flying thickly enough in the high-graded zone that I never once got a chance to look in on Unofficial Chatter or The Raw Question Room (Charlie did — just once — and caught sight of a question about whether we supported gay marriage, which sadly never got high-graded.) So I grabbed everything in all four before logging off, to glance at later.

Man, there were a lot of questions directed at me that I never even saw, either because I just didn't notice them in the hi-graded blizzard or because they never got hi-graded in the first place. And some of those questions were pretty damn good, and I feel bad for having not answered them. The official transcript will be posted back on XFire before too long, but because those won't include unanswered questions, I will be answering those here in dribs and drabs over the next little while.

So if any of you guys have come over from XFire and didn't get your questions answered, watch this space; I'll rectify that shortly.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This. Is. The. Real. Peter. Watts. Speaking. This. Is. Not. An. Android. Imposter. No. Way.

Okay, the comments were touching enough, but I'm starting to get emails now. Even a phone message. Time to put these ugly rumours to rest.

First of all, I didn't know you cared. I am touched.

Second of all, I am still alive and reasonably healthy. There have just been a number of deadlines keeping me busy lately, the most imminent now of which is this damn story I promised Solaris I'd have ready by Aug 6. It is not going well. The words are coming readily enough, and the prose is even pretty smooth considering my writing muscles have been rusting out for the better part of two years now — but it's currently lying around in pieces all over the floor, and it's bloated and ugly and all character-driven, and while the sf elements seemed shiny enough for a 1000-word short-short (this was originally intended for Nature), the current 7,000-word version reads like a half-assed porridge of Total Recall and Glasshouse and Neuropath and a third-season episode of Red Dwarf without Arnold J. Rimmer or Arnold Schwarzenneger. I have five days to add the final bits, stitch it all together, and hammer it into shape. So bottom line, if you're hoping for another posting from me this week, dream on.

I have been able to squeeze a couple of other things in around the margins, though. Got interviewed for two hours by TVO (kind of a provincial PBS, for those of you stateside) on the subject of Ray Bradbury in general and Fahrenheit 451 (both movie and book) in particular. (Speaking of which, has anyone else out there heard Bradbury admit that he just made up 451 as the temperature at which paper burns, after the guys at the local Fire Hall weren't able to tell him?). I've just signed a contract for a Polish edition of Blindsight, and have contacts for Spanish and Russian editions sitting on my desk as well. (Counting everything from "done deals" to "enthusiastic butt-sniffings", we're talking somewhere around a half-dozen languages so far).

Oh, and there's this: I'm going to be participating in a live online chat with Charlie Stross and Vernor Vinge on August 13th, hosted by XFire (which, I'm led to understand, is MTV's online gaming subdivision). They're going to be giving away multiple signed copies of our Hugo-nominated novels during the chat, and I'm pleased to note that not only are more copies of my book going to be given away (15) than of Charlie's (12) or Prof. Vinge's (10), but judging by the author photos, I also have more hair.

Oh, and I saw "Sunshine", which I'd really been looking forward to since I hold "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting" in high esteem. My God, what a silly, vacuous, inconsistent, scientifically absurd, and derivative movie. I am honestly mystified at the number of good reviews it has received. The Internet itself is not big enough to hold a complete list of the narrative inconsistencies. Suffice to say that when you're shown a ship containing twice the airspace of the Skydome, any claim that four people are in imminent danger of asphyxiation is bound to be met with some skepticism. And when one of the crew discovers that a homicidal, batshit-crazy Freddy Krueger knock-off has stowed away in the Observation lounge, and doesn't inform anyone else on board before rushing to confront himand who, when finding himself blinded by bright sunlight in said lounge, chooses to remain blinded during Freddy's minutes-long crazy-man rant about Sun Gods and Human Sacrifice instead of oh, I don't know, telling the ship's AI to dial down the brightness like every other crew member has done onscreen up to this point, just so he can see clearly when Freddy stops ranting and comes at him with a knife — well, let's just say that you end up wishing that imminent asphyxiation of the whole cast was not so far-fetched.

I'm going to go back to work now. You may speak amongst yourselves.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

We're Number Three! We're Number Three!

..."We", of course, being Jo Walton and myself, who (as you all must know by now even though I'm only getting around to posting it now) tied for third on the Campbells. We came in just behind Morrow's The Last Witchfinder in second place, while the lot of us lost to Ben Bova's Titan, the winner.

It would be technically inaccurate to describe these results as "controversial"; reactions seem pretty consistent wherever you go (here, here, and here, for example). Nobody seems to have a problem with the relative rankings of the runners-up (although I've seen more than one regret that Karl's Sun of Suns didn't make the cut), but Bova's win appears to be a source of widespread disgruntlement, and — so far, at least — none of the jurors have gone public with the rationale for their decision. I myself have not read Titan (although I read a lot of Bova's novels back in high school), so I'm in no position to pass judgment. I am, however, following the discussion with considerable interest.

Anyway, third is a nice Canadian kind of ranking (Jo Walton's Canadian too, I note); politely accomplished and not the bottom of the heap, but not quite world class. In fact, I've been told that Blindsight also came in third for the Locus Award a few weeks back, although I haven't been able to track that down. Can anyone out there confirm or deny?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

ReaderCon Report

Okay, Catch-Up Post #1: Ode to the Domestic Shorthair Cat.

Just kidding.

Readercon, the Good: met cool people. David Edelman, author of Infoquake , and shared commiseratory we-didn't-win-the-Campbell beers. Jenny Rappaport, agent to a friend of mine who started out merely as a talented wannabe in search of advice — and whom I should have destroyed when I had the chance, because this Rappaport woman has now turned him into a serious rival with a lucrative three-book deal under his belt. (Dave Williams. Remember that name.) Ted Chiang, whom I only managed to talk to briefly at checkout, my copy of Stories of Your Life and Others locked away in a car whose keys were in the possession of someone who was avoiding me. (I was probably too effusive for coolness even so. In fact, I know I was. Stupid fucking Inner Fanboy.) George Mann, of Solaris (whom I also didn't get as much time with as I would have liked.) Laura-Ann Gellman.

Reignited old friendships, even though the Heinlein Ceremony bled off many of the usual suspects: Ursabelle (that's Ms . Elizabeth Bear to you, Mister), The Montreal Mafia (oh, all right: Glenn Grant, Yves Meynard, Christian Sauve, maybe Jean-Louis Trudel if my brain isn't fudging with memories of the previous year), Judy Klein-Dial (think a shorter Joni Mitchell, in a bookstore). David Hartwell's wife. (Actually, that doesn't sound quite right; would have been David Hartwell too, except there was a miscommunication over dinner plans so I only got to see him for a few minutes outside the bar. Kathryn spent time planted in the bar, which was much more conducive to quality time.) To name but a few.

Got interviewed by Locus for a couple of hours. Spent far too much on seafood in Boston. Gave a talk which, while it went over time, also went over well. Signed many books (I'm told the dealer's room sold out of Blindsight , but without knowing how many they'd stocked I don't know how good to feel about that). Had some really nice chats with some really nice fans, about everything from Jethro Tull to "Hard-Character sf" (whatever that is, although I'm told I'm a prime exemplar). Met some of the regulars here in fact, and none of 'em — not a one — bought me a beer. And I was proud of them, one and all, because haven't I told you time and again how maladaptive altruism is?

I met Charles aka Chang, who is I swear to God even taller than me. I met AsYouKnowBob, and we strangled each other on film. I would have met this Tim character, and he would perhaps have bought me a beer, but I got hustled away. To name but a few.

Readercon, the Bad: The fucking Marriot, and the naked avarice they display in charging $10US per day, per laptop , for internet access that every Motel-6 on the planet gives away for free. (I did, however, find an unsecured network with leaky access over at one corner of the building, and I announced it to all and sundry at an early panel so that as many as possible might cadge free bandwidth and deny those bastards their pound of flesh.) Marriot Security shutting down a room party consisting of twenty people eating carrot cake and quietly conversing — I mean, there wasn't even any music — because of "noise complaints". Panel topics not quite as edgy this year as they've been others (and while we're at it, Readercon's wussiness in not pushing the whole wireless issue with the Marriot— I mean, at the very least they could have set up a temporary wireless network outside the salons for the duration, even if they didn't want to tell the Marriot to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut and move to some other more reasonable venue). And sadly, I didn't get a chance to meet as many folks as I would have liked to, and who were evidently there. Wasn't able to stay an extra night, which would have mitigated that somewhat.

Readercon, the Ambiguous: "Cuddlier"? "Canadianer"? "Reach of an orangutan"? "Swearier"? "Energy of a mongoose"? Do these terms really apply to me? I don't even think they're all even real words .

And how do you sign someone's uvula anyway?

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Going South

Scant posts for the next little while: I'm heading off to Readercon, just outside Boston, at the crack of dawn tomorrow. I may even see some of you down there, assuming I don't end up the token white guy in the little room at the border because some slack-jawed imbecile at Customs doesn't like the way I answered his inane questions. It's happened before.

I may get a chance to post from down there; don't count on it. In the meantime, I see the director's cut of the Nature piece has gone live (click on the pdf link for "supplementary materials); it does contain substantially more bits than the printed version did. (For one thing, my comment about farting human seals in Vonnegut's "Galapagos" has a little more context to back it up. Sadly, the Paris Hilton enema remark remains lost for all time.)

You may have noticed a paucity of real science postings lately. I'll try to rectify that upon my return. But seriously, the deadlines just keep on fucking coming, and no matter how short they are, when you're living gig to gig you don't feel comfortable turning any of 'em down. It's just a question of finding the time to read the source material.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Banana Does Not Look Like This

Banana's a brown tabby with gloriously misshapen ears. This actually looks more like my first-ever cat, The Cate. (Except for the nose. The Cate had 63 dots on an otherwise flawlessly-pink nose.)

But there are many good things about the illustrations for this Nature interview. For one thing, Banana makes two appearances, the second in the pull quote (which contains a typo, but then again, cats always were agents of chaos). For another, I alone of the four of us retain some semblance of humanoid/porcine ancestry. And last but not least, I'm the only one who isn't naked.

Here's the article itself. URL for the director's cut is contained therein — it's not up yet as of this writing.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nature Nurtures.

The Nature interview went pretty well, after a start-up technical glitch or two. I had a blast. The ideas were thick upon the ground. (I especially liked Ken MacLeod's premise of military robots developing self-awareness on the battlefield due to programming that gave them increasingly-complex theories-of-mind as a means of anticipating enemy behaviour.) I got in references to fellatio, child pornography, and Paris Hilton's enema (a subject which Joan Slonczewski explicitly stated she was not going to run with, or even mention by name.) Oh, and I also talked about, you know, some biology-in-science-fiction stuff. I don't know how much of it will survive the edit, but we'll find out in early July.

But the real cherry on the sundae? I'm not sure how definite this is, but it sounded as though my cat Banana — aka Potato, aka Spudnik — is going to appear in Nature.

My cat. Nature.

I have never been so proud.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The New Superstar of the Science Fiction

Which is what Google's translation software makes of der neue Superstar der Science Fiction, which is evidently what I am according to the Random House/Bertelsmann web page heralding the German edition of ButtPflug — er, Blindflug — which translates as "Blind Flight", but that's fine because the literal translation of "Blind Sight"— Blinder Anblick — sounds out phonetically like a couple of attornies-at-law.

Also, according to their catalog, I am a talent who "enters the international science fiction scene as it occurs only every ten years once" — which sounds nice — and "the present shooting star among American SF-authors", which sounds even nicer until you remember that a) I'm not American, and b) shooting stars are flaming chunks of debris with life expectancies measured in seconds, disintegrating in public.

Not a bad cover design, though. Doesn't take my breath away, but it's perfectly serviceable and I see they stuck my name above the title and in an equally prominent font. I seem to remember reading somewhere that that means they're promoting the author, as opposed to just the book.

I've only got one problem with all this: if I'm some kind of superhero, how come I got paid like a sidekick?


Monday, June 18, 2007

A Motley Mosaic of Miscellaneous Minutiae

Sorry for the recent radio silence; been a lot going on lately, events to plan, agents to approach, interviewers to charm (not easy when you're me), awards to lose (somewhat easier). Also, I was hoping to get back to some cool science postings, since a lot of cutting-edge stuff has been coming down the pike and I don't want the crawl to revert to all-me-all-the-time mode. But that would have involved having time to actually read about the research, and time has been short these past few days.

So today, despite my best intentions, it's a diffuse cloud of unrelated particles centering on me me me. I'll try not to let it happen too often.

First up: I have passed the giddy peak of being a multi-award finalist and begun the long ignoble slide into multi-award loser. The Locus went to Vinge's Rainbows End, which I really should read one of these days. Not entirely unexpected; one does not (one should not) easily topple someone of Prof. Vinge's stature. (I just hope he chokes in all the other awards I'm about to get an ass-kicking in...)

For those interested in catching sight of me in the wild, it looks like I'm going to be Guest of Honour at Pure Speculation, this upcoming October 13-14. It's in Edmonton. It's in the Masonic Hall in Edmonton. This could be really interesting. Also, as usual, I'll be your regular garden-variety writer at Readercon this July 5-8 (just outside Boston), where they're trying to talk me into giving a Blindsight-related talk (I'm considering it) and an autograph session (not bloody likely: I gave a reading last year and a leprous woodworker could have counted the attendees on the remaining fingers of one hand).

Here's something cool: I'm getting interviewed tomorrow by Nature, in a kind of teleconferenced roundtable with fellow bioskiffs Paul McAuley, Ken MacLeod, and Joan Slonczewski. We're going to be talking about everything from the sublime (H.G. Wells) to the ridiculous (Michael Crichton), and it's going to end up both in their print journal and on their website (plans to also release the event as a podcast may be aborted depending on Skype's sound quality that day). In slightly staler news, I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal's online edition a week or so ago, in relation to the whole Creative Commons thing. (I gotta say, publicity wise, that CC decision of mine was at least the luckiest move I ever made, if not necessarily the smartest). I don't know if that story will ever run, but the guy who interviewed me seemed hopeful at the time.

Oh, and this Marc Andreessen guy who included me amongst the top ten sf writers of the decade? I don't often mention personal blog entries here — it makes the frequency of my own insecure egosurfing all too apparent — but evidently this dude co-invented Mosaic and cofounded Netscape. This guy is huge in the real world. The fact that he puts me in the same league with guys like Stross, Asher, Reynolds, Scalzi et al — on the basis of a single book, no less — shit, that almost makes up for Marvin Minsky calling Blindsight "stupid" (Update: Marvin Minsky did not call Blindsight stupid after all! It was all just a cruel hoax!)(Meta-update: okay, not a hoax, then. A misunderstanding. But hoax still sounds better.)

Now I'm gonna go answer some of the comments you've been leaving.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Three Times the Scabbery

Today's edition of the Vancouver Province carries a piece by Peter Darbyshire on online fiction giveaways, focusing on three of us Creative Commoners: Cory Doctorow, David Wellington, and me. The layout in the dead tree edition is quite pleasing to the eye, showing one of Blindsight's alternate covers without comment (I love it when that happens, when reviewers just act as though the original jacket didn't even exist...). The online edition contains the same text, but no snazzy graphics. And the longer, director's cut is over on Darbyshire's blog; it contains never-before-seen quotage of me being grumpy and pessimistic (and yet another alternate cover!). It's probably just as well that none of these versions include my take on NIN's This is the Year Zero as a new example of multiformat novel-scale storytelling. (By the way, am I the only one who wonders if the last line on that album is meant to suggest that the whole story was a computer simulation?)

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Not the Orange Juice. The Award.

One of these objects does not belong with the others. Guess which one.

  • "a complex drama of faith, love, church politics, and art, set in 17th- and 18th-century Cremona"
  • "A delicate, haunting story-within-a-story told by a girl who must choose between her bright, beloved town and the dark forest beyond it"
  • "A mortally injured child lying in a coma seems to influence, or somehow preside over, the lives of her parents and others."
  • "Keylanders, the boys are told, must keep within their walls to avoid the filth and disease spread by the Droughtlanders—those who struggle to survive on the parched land between the Keys."
  • "Neurobiology, vampires, alien encounters, mommy issues, deep space"

What we're talking about here is the short list of the 2007 Sunburst Award for speculative fiction. Most of you probably haven't heard of it; it's young and Canadian, which is enough to ensure its obscurity even (especially) amongst young Canadians. But it's juried, and it carries a thousand-dollar prize, so it's plenty credible as far as I'm concerned.

And Blindsight is on it.

I have to say I'm surprised, given the nature of the other contenders on the list; literary, small-press stuff mostly, respectable tales which, one gets the sense, not even Margaret Atwood would feel ashamed to be caught reading. I recognise none of these titles from other recent sf shortlists (although Jo Walton's much-lauded Farthing made the Honourable Mentions). In fact, I confess— with some embarrassment— that I recognise none of these titles, full stop.

Which, while it reflects badly on me personally, is a good thing overall. Here is an award recognising works others have overlooked, an award that eschews bandwagons and makes its own choices.

I'm not quite sure what my luridly-packaged space-vampire novel is doing there. Kinda sticks out like a sore thumb. But I'm grateful and honoured that the jury felt it belonged.

That's four now. I'm starting to reach the point where I figure I may just win one of these things through random chance...


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Not the Soup. The Award. Not that Award; the Other Award.

Okay, I got this via Scalzi's blog, which linked in turn to this official-looking site, so I guess it's on the level even though I've received no official notification. But it looks like Blindsight made the finals for the John W. Campbell Award.

It's in there with the usual worthy suspects from the Hugos and the Nebs, and lots more besides because — hey, thirteen finalists? Is that normal? Well, whether it is or not, I'm especially gratified to see Karl Schroeder's Sun of Suns in there, because that really is an incredibly fun book with some glorious Technicolor worldbuilding. I wish I'd written it.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Off-Key Speaker

So there's this annual thing up at York University: the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (although for some reason their web site seems to stop at 2005). A few months back I gave a guest lecture up at York, which was evidently a big hit on account of most academic speakers tend to not use terms like "hand job" and "shit-for-brains" during the course of their presentations. Anyway, one of the people running the course — Allan Weiss by name — asked me if I wanted to give a talk at this ACCSFF thing. Er, I said. We'll pay you, he told me. I'm in, I said.

Now I find I'm listed as Keynote Speaker. Ohhhhkay.

So far I've come up with a title. "Anachronism, Inattentional Blindness, and the Turd in the Punchbowl: or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Singularity." I have until June 9 to either figure out what that means, or failing that, to stick so many additional words onto the title that it'll take half an hour to read aloud.

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish it for my audience.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Starfish tp ETA?

I know this is a long shot, but I don't suppose anyone out there knows when the trade paper edition of Starfish is due for release? A search on Tor's website turns up nothing.

Yes, I've asked them directly. Repeatedly. I actually brought it up twice in my last e-mail, which netted the response Yes, we're rereleasing Starfish. Not that I wasn't happy to hear this — ever since they pulled SF from its original 2006 slot I've wondered whether it had really been "rescheduled" or simply abandoned — but it doesn't actually answer the question of when. And I know it must seem weird to resort to message-in-a-bottle tactics over such a basic query. But, you know. Tor.

So, anyone?


Monday, April 30, 2007

"ßehemoth" set free

For the last couple of years I've been subjected to chronic whelming demand for a Creative Commons release of the final rifters novel. I am relieved to announce that "ßehemoth" went live as of 2a.m. this morning, over on the Backlist page. (The first bug fixes were up by around 11, so if you downloaded the html version before then you'll find hash where "°"s, "ß"s, and the like are supposed to be.)

This is actually something of a landmark. Now, officially, my entire oeuvre is out there for anyone to pillage. "ßehemoth", like my other CC releases, is available here as a pdf, zipped html file for convenient download, or as an eyeball-burning experience to be read online, right off the site. If precedent is anything to go on, others may well pitch in and translate into other formats — but they'll have to find out about it first so, you know. Spread the word. I've done my bit.

And yes, I am presenting the damn thing as originally intended before Tor's beancounters got ahold of it: as a single self-contained entity, not the miserable abortion that was ripped in half and then thrown at the market in two soggy severed chunks, months apart, the slashed stubs of tendons once responsible for balance, arc, and thematic symmetry quivering and necrotic.

You probably haven't noticed, but I'm still a wee bit bitter over that...