Bye Amazon

My latest hobby of the minute is rolling back my activity on heavily-corporate social media and online services. Amazon is among the ones that fall into the ‘really pretty darn bad’ category, so I’ve decided to put up a tiny bit of resistance and pull my book, Miners, from their KDP select program.

The program lets me offer the book for free for a few days every three months, but with the catch being that I can’t have the story available anywhere else. So I’ve canceled that and made Miners available for free forever on this site and on my shared folder on Keybase in e-reader formats. (Hey, if you’re on Keybase, let’s be Keybase friends, yeah?) Keybase really let’s you scratch that nostalgia itch for the old web, when things were much more diy, which somehow made sharing feel a bit more genuine.

Of course, nothing beats a 1 click buy that delivers automatically to your kindle, so it’ll stay on Amazon for now, but that’s gonna line Bezo’s pockets with yet another $1.

Things that are happening

Well whoa things have been busy and I have not been reading or writing as much as what keeps me psychically afloat. I am still here, though, and have not disappeared into an interesting void and do have a few things I’m planning in the short term.

1. Miners is free on Amazon Dec 1 and 2 and then I will break exclusivity with Bezos and make the kindle/ereader files available on keybase some time after that. If you don’t have keybase, it’s like signal/whatsapp plus a public and private dropbox. This wordpress site doesn’t let me add anything other than text or images so it’s a cool cyberpunk workaround IMO.

2. I’ve been revising old stuff, beginning with Bytes. Next up, I want to revisit and edit all the short stories here. After that, I’ll hit Miners with another round of revisions and put the ebook files up on keybase. There is a little too much room for interpretation of some parts and I really want to clear them up for new readers.

3. Writing a little book was more of a project than I thought and I still have issues with it. Unfortunately, I have an idea for a spinoff of Miners. Ok, it’s really cool in my mind but perhaps not on paper. I maaaaay start writing it in the next couple of months. I really like focusing on Bytes-level stuff more, though. So I may just continue with that.

Miners is a tajin-sprinkled orange slice of The Picture of Dorian Gray

I’ve passed around Miners to some people, and someone thought it was thematically similar to Oscar Wilde’s book from the late 19th century, The Picture of Dorian  Gray. In it Dorian, a young, beautiful man, is granted the fountain of youth, with a catch. The sins that would normally age and disfigure him over time are instead projected onto a painting of him, which he hides from the world. Throughout the story, Dorian wrestles with having to view his misdeeds form on the painting as his soul degenerates, all the while his face and his physical attractiveness remain unchanged.

One recurring theme is how sins can be rationalized into virtues and how virtues can often be rationalized into sins. It’s a view emphasized by Dorian’s reading of a fictional book, in which the author mentally visits and adopts the moralities and beliefs of different ages throughout time. The suggestion is that morally, anything goes, if you wait long enough. The potential of human beliefs is wide.

In Wilde’s story, we view this from a single point in time, squarely planted in late 19th century England where the culture is firmly established. Society has a developed etiquette and this or that way of dealing with and judging people and actions while Dorian himself (and his closest, morally ambiguous ally) are on the outside looking in.

This is a very effective way of showing Dorian’s moral evolution, which is apparent against a static background  of “how things are”.

Miners has a similar premise. The main character, Matteo, has access to immortality but where Miners differs is in setting. Instead of a well-defined society, South Texas (in the future) is in a transitional phase in several ways.

The setting of Miners hangs between an emerging authoritarian state and an emerging wild frontier. In it, people are continually monitored by “Mist”, a sort of live, cloud-record of personal activity. Yet corruption thrives and “Alamo City” can appear lawless. Biohackers sell off-Mist data to both law enforcement and criminals by swapping physical hard drives.

Unlike Dorian, whose ethics are challenged by newfound immortality and constant praise, Matteo is challenged by the ghosts of misogyny and machismo of the recent past. These aspects of culture survive in digitally indexed forms and hint at the danger of mixing toxic beliefs with radical biotechnology.

I hope this muddies the waters for how we evaluate Matteo (and other characters). What are the sources of Matteo’s sins in a fluid, changing society?

Put another way, Miners would take place in Dorian’s book of the ages between each chapter, where the landscape of morality is evolving and not yet decided. There is even a fictional book in Miners, which is hinted deals with the “persistence of personality”, or how values and perspectives are passed from person to person, through generations.

Stepping back, I think it’s really cool that my little attempt at a science fiction story parallels themes from a novel from the past, which itself is a thing I wanted to explore.

I’m super excited to be on several panels at this year’s Armadillocon. Feel free to say hi and if you happen to have any biotechnology-related questions, I’m happy to help answer them (I’m a card-carrying molecular biologist). Also, I’ll have free mini-zines for my 15 minutes of fame in the Dealer’s Room.

Here’s my schedule:

Sat
1pm Clarke’s law Ballroom E
7pm MST3k Ballroom F

Sun
12pm 2001: A Space Odyssey Ballroom D
3pm Signing Dealer’s Room

C u there 🙂

Happy to blog that the zine I wrote and Rabbit Charly illustrated will be at Paper Trail at the Brick on July 29!

The two stories, Los Angeles and The Science-Fiction Writer were written months apart, but kind of come together as a weird marriage of West Coast light-hearted, disturbing nostalgia and East Coast Twilight Zone weirdness. I’m a huge fan of Rabbit Charly’s art, so I’m still processing the fact that he put together incredible original illustrations to go along with my writing. Go check out his table if you’re around!

http://www.papertrailsa.net/artists/

http://www.facebook.com/events/180972962431825/

https://www.instagram.com/rabbitcharly/

No E.T. contact yet means singularity unlikely

We may be approaching the singularity, where a potentially exponential technological ascent could quickly render humans a powerful, competitive threat to other civilizations in our galactic neighborhood.

It would be in the interest of aliens to watch over and guide up-and-coming intelligent species as they approach this singularity to ensure their own safety.

If this is indeed how extraterrestrials behave, since we have not yet been contacted, we might argue that, to date, we have not developed the necessary technology or made the necessary scientific discoveries required for the singularity.

The pulp novella, a few years later

It had been a while since I last edited A Collaboration of Scientists, my novella set in a universe where Darwin and other scientists gain superpowers (mostly biologists and physicists because chemistry sucks and I don’t know anything about it). I remember wanting a break from writing ultra-personal things on a shitty Tumblr and scientific stuff for work, so I had decided to go after making something ultra-pulpy. Something easy.

How does it stand up a few years later? Friends irl liked it. I trust my friends because they are mean people. Some random online even said I write like a cynical Terry Pratchett (but 🙁 3/5 stars). I guess that’s a compliment but I can never make it through TP’s writing. It’s too much. Despite the few vocal positive responses though, I can’t help but think, after re-reading it, that it’s a story without an audience.

At its core, there’s next-to-no character development, which was deliberate. I wanted to lean mostly on given stereotypes to fill out the scientists so that the story was driven more by action than anything else. There are arcs that don’t stray from what you’d see in an 1980s Uncanny X-Men or Star Wars movie. It could find a home in a teen-targeted comic book.

But it also couldn’t. Too many of the jokes are a little too adult. They also require a little too much knowledge and appreciation of science and science history. And I probably failed at handling sexually-charged passages. I wanted to show how some characters were sexist, but maybe also it seems like I am? (Maybe I am. I’m not.) So you lose the kids because of the adult stuff, but lose the adults with the simplistic plot lines. How did I write this? I am still a child probably.

Then there are the good bits. I do get some jokes in here and there that still please. There are a few reaaaally cool sci-fi ideas (e.g. in the epilogue there’s a holographic library where everyone that ever died exists as a conscious entity, ‘resurrected’ to some degree of error by back-calculating what that person would’ve been like based on historical records and genealogy). And I kind of did end up caring about Tesla and the other characters in the end. But is this because they are complete people in my head only?

Do I fix it? Is it possible to fix a creative work? Well, aside from taking it down from Amazon, it’s going to stay on here as a Google doc. I think I’ll keep it available as an electronic epitaph to my first foray into science fiction. It doesn’t represent the direction of my recent writing, which is focused on robot and alien sex, now. Still, it bleeds nostalgia.

An improvement on religion

Sci fi is better than religious texts for addressing ethical/spiritual issues in a tech-developing world. It deals with modern problems that antique literature could never have dreamed of while leaning on a more accurate understanding of reality. And it’s less dangerous because “fiction” is in the title.