Category Archives: Blog
Operation Iago (The Confederated Worlds, Book 2) has been out four weeks now. If you haven’t picked it up yet, its focus is an exciting story about a likable character struggling to grow as both a leader and a man. But one of the joys of reading science fiction is the chance to explore strange new worlds. And Arden certainly is a strange one… Read the rest of this entry
Quick note: this blog post may look familiar to my mailing list subscribers. It was one of those exclusive, pre-release bonuses my mailing list subscribers received almost three weeks ago, and almost a week before Operation Iago became available.
You can get similar bonus content about my next books by subscribing now. Scroll down on the page to “Signed Paperbacks Giveaway” for a chance to win signed copies of both Take the Shilling and Operation Iago. Mailing list signup gives you your best chance to win!
Even though Operation Iago is my fifth science fiction novel, and the second book in the Confederated Worlds series, I still get a thrill when I swipe through the ebook edition or riffle the pages of the trade paperback and see a story of mine in print.
Part of the thrill for me comes from knowing how the story started life. Writers come up with all sorts of metaphors for the process of writing a novel. Running a marathon. Building a house. Giving birth.
One way I look at a novel is as an oak tree. A thick trunk, reaching deep into the earth, extending branches into the sky. Words like leaves, thousands of them working together, creating a shady spot for readers to pause and refresh.
Yet large as it is, and long as it may take to grow, the oak tree starts as a single acorn. So too does a novel. An acorn of an idea, dropped on a fertile spot of the subconscious, and watered by new notions about characters, locales, and events, can grow into a novel.
The acorn from which Operation Iago grew
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Either way, act now, because the giveaway ends on Sunday, August 3.
Since my last post on religion and space settlement, a number of people have asked me which of my books touch on those subjects. Time to gather those responses in one place.
Desmond Park, the protagonist of New California, invents a religious-like movement, the “TranscenDNA Society,” which promises liberation from some of the urges built into our brains by evolution (the “selfish gene”). Unlike most past religious movements making the same promise, which were limited to crude and clumsy psychological techniques (prayer, social pressure, etc.), Desmond fulfils it through brain implants dispensing neuroactive drugs.
The Confederated Worlds were settled by religious communities who used slower-than-light ships to cross interstellar distances to find terraformable planets. (Aside–a background assumption of the series is the chokepoint in the Drake Equation is f_l, fraction of planets on which life emerges). Some of those religious communities are traditional (Presbyterians, Lutherans). Some are fanatic splinters of established religions (the “Transtellar Union for Traditional Progressive Judaism” comes to mind, as does a world not yet described on paper, New Nauvoo). Some are conscious revivals of past religions (pre-Islamic Arab paganism, the Troth of Midgard). And some are not “religions” at all, but visions of ethny, culture, or ideology–among them Garvey’s World, Zion-against-Babylon, and Challenger.
The first two books in the series take place on worlds of the latter sort. The fighting depicted in Take the Shilling occurs on New Liberty. The religious beliefs of the locals are captured well in this passage.
Except for intersecting streets, buildings fronted the square. In the middle of one side, lit by [the local sun’s] rays, a mural covered a six-meter-high wall. It showed a human shape, probably male, dressed in a puffy white vacuum suit with a gold reflective face shield on its helmet. The man stood on a gray, pitted, lifeless plain, under a black sky, next to a rigid sheet on a pole. The sheet looked a little like the Confederated Worlds flag, except the white stars stood on a rectangular, not circular, blue field, in the upper left, not the center, and the red and white bands ran horizontally instead of radiating outward.
The man in the vacuum suit was not alone. The bust of another man floated in ghostly outline in the black sky behind the suited one. The ghostly figure featured narrow eyes and wavy hair in front of a nimbus of light. He gazed with serene confidence on the man in the vacuum suit.
“Is that a saint?” Obermeyer asked.
“He’s a president,” Tomas said. “Don’t you read any briefings about the [locals]?”
“I don’t have to. I’ve got you for that.” Obermeyer laughed.
“Fine. I won’t answer your question.” Tomas took a couple of steps away and stretched his arms overhead. A clock tower a few hundred meters away, in the direction of the college, sounded the local hour.
Obermeyer paced over. “What do you mean, you won’t answer? You said he’s a president. That means he isn’t a saint.”
“Can’t the [locals] think he’s both?”
Obermeyer frowned, then shook his head. “On Challenger we respect the ancient presidents, but we don’t worship them.”
Tomas said nothing. Marchbanks squinted at the mural. “Obermeyer, d’you think we’re on Challenger?”
My forthcoming short novel, The ALECS Quartet, is about missionaries to aliens. (“ALECS” is a backronym for “Apostolic League of Earth Communities of Spirit”). ALECS provides common infrastructure shared by multiple religions/spiritual traditions/ideologies: Christians, atheists, North American neo-Taoists, and good government true believers, among many others. But despite their spiritual dedications, these missionaries are quite capable of sex and violence…
Thursday, 17 July
Raymund Eich, Matthew Alan Thyer, Tony Daniel
Tony Daniel, Raymund Eich, and Matthew Alan Thyer read from their work.
Future of Sports: SF vs Reality
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Raymund Eich, Dave Hogg
There has been a great deal of SF written about futuristic sports. How do existing SF ideas of sport correspond with the direction that things are actually taking?
Friday, 18 July
Patent Law 101
Scientists and engineers, ever wonder about the things your organization’s patent staff asks you to do? If working solo, ever wonder about whether to pursue patents on your ideas in the first place? A registered patent agent will lead you through brief introduction to patent law, followed by an active learning session about writing a patent application and dealing with the US patent office. (Limited Seating)
ROI: Do We Still Go to Space if It Won’t Pay?
SF writers such as Charles Stross and Bruce Sterling have suggested that space colonies will never be able to pay their way. Is there any other reason to establish a space colony? If so, how would these colonies differ from the mining and trading colonies most often seen in SF?
After numerous posts, we’ve now reached an analysis of the final term in the Drake equation, L, the average lifespan of high-tech civilizations. If you thought putting a value on f_c, the likelihood of an intelligent civilization developing a high enough technology to make its existence known across interstellar distances, was a prime avenue for political and ideological axe grinding, this one is even more.
Still, we have to try. First, we’ll look at some factors supporting a large value for L, then, some factors supporting a small value. If you’re playing along at home, pick the one that most appeals to you.
Factors supporting a large value for L
Sustainability is one of those teeth-grating buzzwords of contemporary life, but it’s still the case that a civilization not much more advanced than ours could sustain contemporary US levels of per capita energy consumption for billions of years. Capturing energy from hydrogen fusion would consume just 0.1% of the oceans’ volume by the time the sun turns into a red giant and swallows our planet. Even nuclear fission, making use of relatively rare isotopes, could fuel a contemporary level of civilization for 5 billion years. Covering a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface with solar panels would do the same.
(We don’t have the technology for hydrogen fusion or long-range transmission of solar power, you ask? True, we don’t. Yet. But today’s nuclear fission would give us more than enough time to develop those technologies, if we need to).
So far in the series, we’ve gotten a range for N, the number of detectable civilizations in the galaxy, to [5e-7 to 8e-6] * f_c * L. Today’s post will estimate the value of f_c, the fraction of intelligent species that go on to develop a civilization detectable (through electromagnetic transmissions and/or probes travelling at a sizable fraction of lightspeed) across interstellar distances.
A common assumption in science fiction is that intelligent life forms will inevitably build high-tech civilizations. Similarly to the typical view of inevitable evolutionary progress toward intelligence which I demolished previously, this common assumption smacks of whig history. Of course progress is a law of nature. It gave rise to the pinnacle of existence: us.
I’m pleased to tell you about two new books I have coming out this summer from CV-2 Books.
Coming July 17, 2014
The Confederated Worlds lost the war.
Can Lt. Tomas Neumann win the peace?
By the terms of the peace treaty, the citizens of the planet Arden will vote to stay in the Confederated Worlds or join the victorious Progressive Republic. Newly-minted Lieutenant Tomas Neumann leads his overstretched and demoralized Confederated Worlds Ground Force platoon in a mission that pushes men and machines to their limits, against elusive, deceptive foes out to tilt Arden to the Progressive Republic—and turn the Confederated Worlds against itself.
Find out more about ebook and paper editions, including ebook preorders, at
Coming September 25, 2014
THE ALECS QUARTET
He had a month to learn the planet’s secrets– and Juliette’s
His Cover Story
Return to Elard to dismantle his sect’s missionary work to the planet’s natives.
His True Mission
Investigate decades-old mysteries of love and death.
Return to Earth with his discovery–if he can.
Find out more about ebook and paper editions, including ebook preorders, at
You may have heard that Samuel R. Delany was recently named 2013 Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). He will receive the award at the Nebula Awards weekend in May 2014.
Long time readers of this blog knew he would win the honor last September. Following up on my prediction that Gene Wolfe would receive the award in 2013.
To whom will SFWA give the Grand Master award in 2015?
To be eligible, a candidate must be a living writer of sf/f. It helps to have a long career, a productive career, and mutilple award wins or other acclaim.
Recent events involving SFWA and sf fandom suggest future winners will tend to be one or more of non-white, non-straight, or non-male. (Take this statement as is, not should be).
Long career? About 40 years.
Productive career? Over 60 books.
Non-male? Check, plus the oppressed woman marker of being forced into her byline to disguise her sex and sound more rigorous than “Carolyn Cherry.” And “She now lives… with science fiction/fantasy author and artist Jane Fancher.”
Caveats: I’m not a SFWA member, and wouldn’t bother spending time in the organization’s private chat rooms if I were. I don’t know what sort of gossip, back-scratching, and other primate coalition building goes on in there that can impact the grand master selection. Also, I’ve read a few of Cherryh’s novels and some of her non-fiction on her website. I don’t know Cherryh at all. Given her subject matter and themes, she doesn’t seem the type to wilt and complain about sexism. She seems she could fire a rifle, field dress a deer, solve a calculus problem, and translate text into Latin. In sum, to my mind, Cherryh has some parallels to Elizabeth Moon. And we all know what happened to her.
They say prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Check back in a year to see how it turns out.
In our last post, we looked at some of the many ways life could be prevented from giving rise to a pre-intelligent species–say, an animal like Proconsul, the earliest known ape, living about 25 million years ago. In doing so, we knocked f_i down to 0.02. Here, we’ll look at what could prevent the descendants of a pre-intelligent species from evolving intelligence.
First, we have to set aside our self-centered bias and admit a blunt truth: Evolution has no goal. It blindly pursues local optima. There’s no guiding hand ensuring that evolution reaches an unsurpassable pinnacle, i.e., us.