You’d better start reading Chinese science fiction right now

The Three-Body Problem cover

Chinese science fiction, including the Hugo Award-winning novel, The Three-Body Problem, is breaking through in the West.

China is a rising power. China’s economy is the second largest in the world, after the United States’, as measured by gross domestic product. China is the most populous nation the world. The power of its leader, Xi Jinping, is now compared to Mao Zedong, the emperor-like founder of the modern Chinese state.

If you want to understand the Chinese mind, read its science fiction. It’s probably already in your Kindle, if not on your bookshelf.

Carbon Run cover

For a limited time, Carbon Run is available on Amazon Kindle for 99¢.

In 2015, Chinese writer Liu Cixin won the Hugo Award, the most prestigious award in science fiction literature. I read his novel The Three-Body Problem in translation by Ken Liu, himself a Hugo Award-winning author. The word “ambitious” does not begin to describe the novel, which opens with the Cultural Revolution, a bloody civil conflict of the 1960s defined by deadly purges of intellectuals and teenage Red Guards waving copies of Mao’s sayings. Thirty million people died.

In the midst of the paroxysm, astrophysicist Ye Wenjie loses her father to murderous radicals intent on eliminating Western ideas from China. She finds herself exiled internally after a Kalfka-esque charge, but her unique expertise gets her a job at a top secret communications base run by the People’s Liberation Army. She sends a message to an alien intelligence inviting them to Earth, because she knows they will destroy her species to save themselves. It’s an act of revenge. Continue reading

Carbon Run cover reveal! And check out the novel’s official release date

Carbon Run cover

Tales From A Warming Planet: Carbon Run

I will release Carbon Run, the second story and the first novel in my series Tales From A Warming Planet, on Saturday, October 21, 2017. Woohoo! To celebrate, I’m giving you a sneak preview of the cover, created by Christian Bentulan. He’s done an amazing job.

At launch, the 327-page novel will be available in paperback and exclusively as a Kindle ebook. Here’s the description from the back cover:

What if your father had to run for his life? Carbon Run is an exciting thriller set in a dystopian world ravaged by climate change. Fossil fuels are banned, pirates smuggle oil, and governments erase citizens’ identities. Anne Penn dreamed of saving an endangered species of birds. When a fire destroys the birds’ last home, her beloved father Bill is accused of starting the blaze. Fanatic officer Janine Kilel comes to arrest Anne’s father, but Bill escapes, because in the 22nd century, destroying a species means execution. How will Anne find her father in a Russian city where the difference between good and evil is as murky as the choking smog?

Reminder: The first book in the series, The Mother Earth Insurgency, is still available as a free download from Instafreebie. The ebook features the first ten pages of chapter one in Carbon Run. However, the giveaway won’t last much longer. Soon, I’ll start selling it on Amazon, so don’t wait if you want it for free.

By the way, I’m also offering Insurgency as a free download in partnership with dozens of other independent writers. Our Thriller & Mystery Giveaway runs through September 9. Don’t miss out!

Thank you for your continued support of my work!

Two-Hour Transport: A journey into Seattle’s sci-fi and fantasy community

Two-Hour Transport

Podcaster Anaea Lay of Strange Horizons reads her work at Two-Hour Transport in Seattle.

Seattle’s reputation as a literary town includes an enormous presence in the science fiction and fantasy universe. The great Octavia Butler, author of the Parable of the Sower, penned her works in the shadow of the Space Needle, the city’s iconic landmark. Other authors include Don McQuinn, Cat Rambo, and Shawn Speakman. Lesser known and budding writers are nurtured by a vibrant writing community, and recently a new series of events is encouraging fresh voices to speak up.

Theresa Barker, Nicole Bade, and other writers are producing “Two-Hour Transport,” a monthly series featuring readings by established sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors. These invited readers share published work or test out new work on an audience at Cafe Racer, a funky, arts-oriented watering hole in Seattle a few blocks from the University of Washington. The most recent THT I attended was on March 22, and it featured horror writer Sherry Decker, reading from her upcoming novel A Summer With the Dead, and Anaea Lay, the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons magazine.

In a new group called “Brag-a-Thon,” participants win a sticker when rejected by an agent or publisher.

The quirkiest segment of the THT program is the open mic, when up to ten writers ranging from pure novices to experienced pros take five minutes to share something and build up their presentation chops. Almost anything goes, from poetry in the style of Lewis Carroll to excerpts of full-length science fiction novels in progress. I’ve had great fun presenting my own work a few times, and the audience is always friendly and appreciative, no matter the skill level. It helps that everyone sips a beer or a glass of wine to support a neighborhood business.

Two-Hour Transport is part of a larger ad hoc collection of meetups under the banner of the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers, which started out several years ago as reading groups meeting in local cafes. The meetups include a regular Sunday critique group at Wayward Cafe in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, and a new group, a monthly “Brag-a-Thon,” in which participants win a sticker for having a story rejected by an agent or a publisher. It’s all intended to build solidarity in a traditional publishing business growing less and less welcoming of writers, ironically, particularly new writers, if they don’t fit into a pre-existing pigeonhole.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of my participation in these groups. It puts the lie to the image of the lonely scribbler at his or her word processor pounding out the next great American sci-fi novel. Though a writer can isolate himself, writing is a social act that depends on support from friends, feedback from colleagues, and if you’re very lucky, help from a publisher. Here’s to a long run for Two-Hour Transport and her sister activities.

The next Two-Hour Transport is Wednesday, April 26, at at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle. To participate in the open mic, place your name in the hat near the stage.

Have you attended a Two-Hour Transport reading? What did you think?

Five Questions: D.F. Lovett, author of The Moonborn

The Moonborn cover

The Moonborn is the debut novel by D.F. Lovett.

I’m excited to welcome to Five Questions Minneapolis-based author D.F. Lovett, who released his debut sci-fi novel, The Moonborn, in 2016. David the head editor and writer for the blog What Would Bale Do, and he writes the acclaimed Reddit novelty account /u/DiscussionQuestions. He has also collaborated on several film projects with the production studio Corridor Digital.

The Moonborn is the story of Ishmael, who lands on the Moon to ghostwrite the autobiography of Adam Moonborn, first man born on the Moon. Ishmael soon learns the job is not as straightforward as it seems. In an adventure tale inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, they embark on a mission to destroy all of the Moon’s rogue robots, whom Adam Moonborn holds responsible for the death of his family and the impending downfall of civilization.

Here are the author’s answers to my Five Questions.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it. Not specifically, but it would probably be the personality assigned to one of my action figures. For most of my childhood, a lot of the writing I did was inspired by stories that my brother and I first invented with Star Wars and G. I. Joe action figures. I know this isn’t very specific, but a lot of those characters blended together or would evolve over time.

D.F. Lovett

D.F. Lovett

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time? The same way I feel now: a mixture of pride, excitement, and self-consciousness. I wrote for the junior high newspaper in seventh grade, which was the first time I encountered the frustration of an editor changing my words. I remember specifically some negative criticism I got from a classmate over a review I wrote of The Phantom Menace where I referred to Jar Jar Binks as an “alien.” My classmate told me that was incorrect, as most of the movie takes place on his home planet, so he’s not an alien. I guess that got me started early at learning how to respond to criticism, although it frustrated me at the time. I think I have a thicker skin now because of it. Continue reading

Two thoughts about the future U.S. Supreme Court

We come in peace to replace Antonin Scalia with Gort.

We come in peace to replace Antonin Scalia with Gort.

meme

Humans get justice at the Supreme Court. How about some justice for me?

The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend turned national politics on its head. Not only will Americans elect a new president, but the Senate will debate the future direction of the highest court in the land. The situation makes me wake up in the middle of the night with meme ideas. What fun! Here’s what comes to mind.

Why The Martian’s success probably won’t spawn a sequel

The Martian still

Hollywood needs to make more science and technology movies like The Martian. Photo courtesy 20th-Century Fox.

My two college-age daughters and I walked out of a showing of The Martian last weekend in a mild daze resembling postprandial satisfaction. You want that feeling of well-being to go on, and so the first question I asked them and an accompanying friend was, “Should it get a sequel?”

The answer: “NO!!!!!”

I agree. In fact, most hard science fiction movies don’t get a sequel. No science-driven stranded-in-space stories I can think of—Marooned, Apollo 13, Gravity, Interstellar—got a sequel. The only hard sci-fi film that did was, ironically, the granddaddy of them all, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Does anyone remember 2010: The Year We Make Contact? Continue reading

More Skirmishes in the Genre Wars

Real sad puppy

Oh god, not another genre. When will it end?

I find the genre wars incredibly entertaining, mostly because they’re pointless, and the participants waste an amazing amount of time making their points when they could be writing good stories. The kerfuffle everyone in the scifi universe talks about these days concerns the definition of “science fiction.” Traditionalists, who call themselves the Sad Puppies, have a stereotyped, populist view of science fiction, defined as technology-driven dramas and masculine adventure stories. On the other side are the “inclusives,” as I like to call them, which have an expansive, sociological view of speculative storytelling. This scifi is more about societies than gizmos and evil aliens. Both sides, particularly the Puppy partisans, behave like a two-year-old having a meltdown in the supermarket’s cereal aisle.

Any close examination of genre shows its meaninglessness. I’ve completed another draft of my novel Carbon Run, and although I’ve pitched it as science fiction, my editor suggested I call it a dystopian thriller. I’m in the midst of reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, widely regarded as a master science fiction writer. Though I’m in the early going, Kindred is closer to fantasy or possibly magical realism than scifi. Amazon, however, classifies it as African-American women’s fiction. I’ve just finished The Subprimes, by Karl Taro Greenfield, described in its blurb as a “dystopian parody.” Amazon classifies it as dark humor. Continue reading

Review: The Water Knife is bleak, but uncomfortably possible

Water Knife cover

The Water Knife is a noir-ish thriller set in a water-starved Southwest.

The western drought has forced everyone to know their rights. From San Diego to Seattle, talk shows, newspapers, and blogs overflow with debates over senior water rights versus junior water rights, who is abusing their rights to water by wasting it, and how much government is trampling on those rights. A year ago, water was something that came out of the tap. Today, it’s a way to shame your neighbor into environmental responsibility. How long before shots are fired?

In his new speculative novel, The Water Knife, released today, Paolo Bacigalupi imagines a low-intensity shooting war over water. The battles are fought by paramilitary hirelings of water districts, who take what other districts, cities, or states won’t sell, and send agents to investigate rumors of water and rights thereto. That’s the task of Angel Velasquez, a gang banger turned water knife, a semi-legitimate employee of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA, or “sin-wah,” as I liked to pronounce it in my head) and its leader, Catherine Case, an empire-building Las Vegas water manager. Continue reading

Review: Ex Machina and the amoral machine

Ex Machina movie still

Ex Machina is about freedom, survival, and an amoral machine.

Spoilers ahead…

The key moment of Ex Machina arrives when eccentric tech CEO Nathan Bateman tells Caleb Smith, his employee, why the young programmer was selected to deliver a sophisticated Turing test on Ava, Nathan’s android invention. Nathan lists off the reasons, and one of them is Caleb’s “moral compass,” his understanding of right and wrong, and his ability to follow his conscience. For Nathan, Ava passes the test of conscious self-awareness when she can manipulate a moral man into gaining her freedom, but the consequences of this achievement shock Nathan and doom Caleb.

Artificial intelligence is at the core of Ex Machina, but like most excellent science fiction, or any fiction, it’s a thought experiment on human values. Ex Machina is about freedom and the lengths someone might go to gain it. What if you were locked in a prison, with death almost certain? What would you do to escape? More importantly, what moral rules would you break to break out? The story of Ex Machina would be dull if Ava were an ordinary human female. You would expect her to make desperate choices. Changing her into a highly intelligent robot adds a level of uncertainty that keeps you guessing throughout the movie, as you wait to see if Ava is smart enough to break the rules.

Writer and director Alex Garland owes much to Mary Shelley’s science fiction novel Frankenstein. Scientist Victor Frankenstein fashions an artificial creature using a secret formula. The creature (Shelley doesn’t give it a name, though it refers to itself as an “Adam,” as if it were a prototype.) is intelligent and articulate, but it’s also murderous. Frankenstein endows his living machine with an intellect, but no moral code. It gains a sense of right and wrong over time, but its acquired morality doesn’t prevent it from killing the scientist’s fiance. Likewise, inventor Bateman programs a beautiful and believable automaton, but he apparently left out the code for Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

If Ex Machina fails at all, it’s that it gives the audience what it expects in the end: a monster. A more interesting outcome, and one more frightening, is how a robot would behave if it applied a human moral code perfectly? In a time when the military is experimenting with autonomous drones, philosophers and computer scientists are struggling with how to imbue machines with a sense of right and wrong, but it’s only a technical challenge. Eventually, they’ll figure it out, and once they do, will the robots discover that their creators can’t live up to their own rules consistently? Robots are very good at repetitive tasks, but nuance and circumstance are highly variable, and humans are notoriously unpredictable in how they respond. Will a moral machine tolerate human imperfections and unpredictability? I’m not so much worried about machines getting smarter than us, but whether they will account for our moral failures.

Here’s How to Beat the Sad Puppies: Let Them Win

Don Vito Corleone

Marlon Brando rejected his 1973 Oscar for his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone. Does anyone care 42 years later?

Cheaters never prosper. That’s what I was taught in kindergarten, and although the dissident science fiction writers known as the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” have only gamed the 2015 Hugo Awards ballot to their benefit, rather than defrauding it, the principle still applies. People who twist a system to their benefit only hurt themselves in the long run. Science fiction readers who love the Hugo Awards face the challenge of preserving its value while sending a message to the tricksters. Letting them win may be the best revenge. Continue reading