Sunday, August 10, 2008

All Hail the Mighty Ursabelle!

It takes a while sometimes for electrons to get all the way out here to Gibralter Point, but my understanding is that Elizabeth won the short-story Hugo last night for "Tideline". And though I hate her for her talent and her characters, I also love her for her talent and her character.

So, way to go, Ursabelle. Another rock face scaled.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Look into the Mirror

So, my bud Dave Williams' The Mirrored Heavens is out, and garnering raves as well it should. And if you wander over to the appropriate Amazon page and click on the cover art, you'll see a blurb dead center of the spread, courtesy of Stephen Baxter.

But once you get your hands on the actual book you'll see a whole different quote there, from me:

And I don't know if they decided at the last moment they simply liked my blurb better (possible, I suppose), or if they thought my name would sell more books than Stephen Baxter's (unlikely, and misguided if true) or if someone screwed up and spliced in the wrong quote just before everything went off to the printers (which, as I can attest from personal experience— albeit with a different publisher— has happened before). Or if Dave just sent me a one-off vanity mock-up to feed my ego and set me up for a fall. Regardless, I'm pleased to see my name up there, basking in a little of Dave's reflected glory.

Not least because Bantam/Spectra turned Blindsight down flat.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fallen Giant

Sometimes, in defiance of entropy, little knots of complexity form in the universe and awaken. I have always found it deeply unjust that such knots, sooner or later, always stop. Each is unique, each cognizant, and if I were running things, the moment matter developed enough complexity to look around and start asking questions, well, it would have made it. It would go on forever. (Well, except for those clumps of matter who hold beliefs substantially different from mine, I mean.)

I entertain such thoughts whenever I look upon a loved one that I know is doomed to die some day, and I generally keep it to myself. But today I forego that privacy, because today, Arthur C. Clarke is dead. And that should matter to all of you.

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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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Monday, February 25, 2008

I've Just Handed My Pinball Crown To Him

I may have mentioned a fellow by the name of Dave Williams (maybe not here — I know I've mentioned him in interviews, at least). The guy came at me out of the blue a few years back via a mutual friend, and asked me to check out some skiffy prose he was working on1. His descriptions were great; his mood and atmosphere were perfect. His pacing kind of sucked, and what's with these chains on a prison ship on Titan? We can ship our evildoers all the way to the outer solar system but leg-irons are the best we can do for prisoner restraint?

Anyhow, Dave was a diamond in the rough but a diamond nonetheless, so we got to hanging out and mutual critiquing. At the time he was one of those jet-setting corporate whores, and whenever he was in town he'd take me out and get me drunk and expense everything to The Man, which made us both feel good. And he never stopped writing. And he never stopped getting better at it. I really should have seen those signs, and stopped him while I had the chance.

Because then the fucker quit his high-paying job, started writing full-time, and right out of the gate sold a trilogy to Bantam Spectra for a figure that made me stop calling him "Dave" and start calling him "Fucking Bastard" (in the friendliest possible way, of course). The first volume is The Mirrored Heavens, it's coming out in May, and you'd never know by reading it that ol' FB ever had any kind of problem with pacing.

But I hate him even more now. Because he always liked the approach to book promotion — the whole alternate-reality-fly-on-the-wall approach — and he decided to steal adopt it to serve up the insanely-detailed backstory that informs his own world. (The draft of MH that I read came backloaded with all manner of technical appendices and historical timelines — think Dune, or Lord of the Rings — but apparently they got cut from the final edition.)

Except Dave did it better than me. Hired professional artists and webweavers to implement his ideas, instead of cobbling everything together in self-taught html. I note, a bit defensively, that my interactive geopolitical map offers more in the way of arcane region-specific details than his, at least. And his pages all come with little Amazon links imploring you to buy the book, which kind of compromises the spying-on-reality illusion if you ask me. But man, it's so much cleaner, so much more professional-looking. The art is outstanding. The military hardware and technical specs take my breath away. And this is only the first incarnation of the damn thing; who knows how deep his world will go when he's had a decade to build it?

Anyhow, it's right here. Go and marvel. I am equal parts honored that FB took inspiration from my own efforts, and pissed that he surpassed them so, but the rest of you are more mature than me so you can just stand in awe at the thought and talent that went into that delivery platform.

And who knows? Maybe this is the kick in the ass I need to start contemplating my own upgrades...

1 Note to aspiring writers in search of feedback; the mutual friend was key. I obviously can't afford to invest time in everyone who might approach me with a manuscript in hand. (The only exceptions to this would involve unsolicited work that's distinctly better than my own, and then only because I'd appreciate the heads-up; it'll give me a chance to use my professional connections to crush the competition before it gets too strong.)


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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Monday, July 16, 2007

Guest Stars

Today we take time to honour the works of others, especially when such works reflect well on me in some way. First up is this cool rendition of Lenie Clarke, rendered by one Brian Prince (who quite needlessly apologises for its "hastiness"). I love the look and the apocalyptic mood of this piece. I even like the not-exactly-according-to-canon cleavage, and have given it a permanent home over in the gallery.

Next up, a very effective short-short from my journo/horrorfic buddy Dave Nickle, to whom I have commended you all in the past: "The Mayor Will Make A Brief Statement And Then Take Questions". Go read it; it's barely longer than the title, but it packs a nice little icepick just the same.

Finally, to any Toronto readers waiting for a copy of Blindsight to become available at the local library (and I was surprised to hear how many people have it on hold): if you should open your long-awaited loaner only to find the words

Thanks for reading my words the sweat of my brow without paying anything, you cheap and heartless bastards.
Best, Peter Watts

Well, yes, that really was me, and no, I don't really mean it. It just seemed like a clever thing to write at the Jersey Giant last night, when someone slipped the book between me and my Rickards. (And in my own defense, the rest of the beer-swilling crowd seemed to think it was pretty clever at the time, too.)

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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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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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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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Thursday, June 7, 2007

One millionth the budget of Spiderman 3. One thousand times the smarts.

A couple of weeks back I told you about Infest Wisely, the seven-part "low-fi sci-fi" independent film put together by Jim Munroe and his motley accomplices; Dave Nickle blogged his thoughts following the premiere. Since that night (standing-room only, by the way) they've been podcasting one episode a week. I've kept quiet about that until now, not because I didn't like the show but because I like it enough to want everyone to check it out; and this week, with the "Early Adopter" episode, I figure it's safe to send you over.

You see, while Infest Wisely was filmed in seven episodes, they're not really stand-alone episodes. Characters recur and intertwine throughout the overall story. Sometimes you've got no idea how a given episode ties in to the overall arc, until someone or something from a previous installment makes an appearance and ties another link in the braid. It's really quite elegant— but it also means that if you downloaded the first chapter when it first came out you'd be confronted with two characters saying strange things in dark alleyways and under overpasses in the dead of night, filmed in ambient light with muddy sound. When it was all over you would have no idea where the story was going, and you might not come back a week later to follow up. And that would be a shame, because the story does go somewhere.

It goes into public urinals, for example, where hapless men get "milked" by women who pounce from the stalls and deliver guerilla hand-jobs as a means of acquiring semen for identity-theft purposes (genetic ID has become the norm in this day-after-tomorrow tale). It goes into your mouth, with sticks of gum that deliver nanites that turn your eyes into cameras and cats into sentient tool-users who speak in effete British accents (today's jpeg is a scan of one of the treats they handed out to the audience on opening night). It touches on the mind-controlling powers of certain parasites (there's a consistent eco/bio vibe running through the whole story, which is a nice change from the usual inorganic nanotech). It even goes into the Wright-Ramsey Building at the University of Toronto, where I've been known to hang out. I recognise the lockers.

The point is, this experiment has smarts far in excess of its miniscule budget— and now that three episodes are up, you can watch a bunch of 'em in one go to get a sense of how it all comes together. And I think you should do that.

At the very least, it'll help wash the taste of Silver Surfer trailers out of your mouth.


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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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Torontonians: Infest Wisely

You all know the scoop on self-publishers, don't you? Those losers who, unable to interest any legitimate publisher in their verbiage, haunt Kinkos with pockets full of quarters, printing out their magnum opus on the backs of old cable bills in the hope that some streetcorner pedestrian might take pity on them. A hapless breed, their numbers kept in check by their natural predator, the Vanity Press. Oh yes. You know all about self-publishers.

Well, here's a new subspecies for you: Jim Munro, whose debut novel was published by HarperCollins, and did very well for the man. And then Munroe turned his back on Rupert Murdoch (not that ol' Rupe noticed, of course) — and walked away.

You know me. I piss and moan endlessly about the Big Bad Publishing Industry. There is no end to my fucking whining. But Jim Munroe did something I never had the guts to do: he left his Big Name Publisher because he didn't like the way it behaved, and he started publishing his books himself.

And damned if he hasn't made a go of it.

Now he's branching out into other media, writing and codirecting "Infest Wisely", an episodic "lo-fi sci-fi" feature about chewable nanotech. And if you happen to be in downtown Toronto this Friday the 18th with five bucks to spare, you can catch the premiere.

Seriously, go. It's not like you'll be missing anything here...

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007


I've just finished reading a draft of R. Scott Bakker's soon-to-be-released Neuropath. Holy shit.

The neurology of consciousness. The advantages of nonsentience. People neurologically stripped of their behavioral constraints so that they can make the necessary Big Decisions of life and death without getting caught up in touchy-feeling shackles like conscience and morality. All the major themes of Blindsight and a bunch of those from the rifters trilogy thrown in for good measure...

And does he stick them in a hard-sf spaceships-and-aliens chassis that only hardcore skiffy geeks will read? Does he locate his story in a future so close to the Singularity's event horizon that society itself has grown strange and forbidding to the average reader? Does he present his arguments through characters so twisted and specialised that most readers have no choice but to regard them as more alien than the aliens they encounter?

No. He sets it a mere decade into the future, in the context of a serial killer police procedural. Instead of aliens and freaks he uses sexy FBI agents and divorced psychologists. This guy is basically writing about Blindsight-type issues, but is aiming them squarely at a da Vinci Code audience. He is dealing with the same existential questions, but has rendered them accessible for beach readers. He has done exactly what I would have done, if only I'd been smart enough.

At least Blindsight came out first. I can cling to that. Because trust me: when Neuropath hits the shelves, it's gonna be "Peter who?"

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