Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What you need to know about the Knowers

The Knowers by Nina Martineck is not what you’re expecting. It has the intrigue of dystopian fiction and the tension of a romance, but it is neither of those things. A fresh, quirky conspiracy book about the kind of awkward kids you know, it has a story that pulls you along and dialogue that makes you smile. It leaves you with a couple of things to contemplate. I’m not sure I want my young adult fiction to do more than that.

The hook of the book is the Knowers for which the novel is named: kids who feel different, learn they are different, and then come to terms with the fact that, like everything, your specialness can be a bug or a feature. They perceive time differently, which can make them seem smart and clever. And gives them the power, collectively, to rule the world from the shadows. It does not give them the power of avoid crushes, hold tempers or avoid catastrophe.

All of which makes for a really fun read. Looking forward to the next one.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Milkman Always Rings Twice

I am pleased to announce a very narrow science fiction sub-genre: Milkmen Dystopia. I was shooting for “Milkpunk” to be more in line with current subculture, but you don’t always get to pick these things. The terms “Impressionism” and “Cubism” were coined by journalists. That’s the way nicknames work, so I won’t fight it.

Milkman by Anna Burns (Check out this review) doesn’t have anything to do with a world bereft of governments, but it is set in a tomorrow we may not altogether like.

What I do like is the growth-rate of Milkman-related speculative fiction. It doubled over night. That’s better than bitcoin.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

For writers, a peek behind the curtain

I am loving Robert J. Sawyer’s Patreon account. For those not familiar with either –

Shame on you. Robert is one of my favorite writers. He’s probably most famous for his novel Flash Forward, which became a television show. He should be most famous for Quantum Night, which imagines technology for detecting psychopaths. The book is insightful and terrifying, and not in a jump-scare, creepy ghost kind of way. It’s been more than two years since I read it and I still think about it from time to time. There is no better review than that.

Not being familiar Patreon is OK. It’s not as fun as Patron or helpful as a Patronus. It’s close on both accounts, and you don’t need a lime, salt or wand. Patreon lets you become a patron of your favorite artists. You get be someone’s Baron van Swieten or Peggy Guggenheim. Artists get to spend more time creating than marketing, which is what you really want them doing.

Robert’s Patreon feed is more than new material. It’s a very candid look into what it’s like to be a professional writer. He is not giving you a glossy, sugar-coated public relations statement. He is not marketing. And it is very refreshing.

Not a lot of writers like to write about the harsh, mercantile side of the business. Even fewer make it a continuous theme. Robert’s feed talks about frustrations, economics and process. But it’s not dower. He talks about smiles as much as frowns, because that’s how life is. Even the life of a successful writer.

While anyone interested in biography would be interested in these posts, if you’re an aspiring writer, Robert’s Patreon account is an ongoing paternal talk you don’t get from most dads. It's insightful and terrifying.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Liberty’s getting very sleepy

Liberty swings like a watch on a chain. Forces like individualism push on the needs of society, privacy pulls against security and the watch sways up, down and up again. We can follow the movement with literature.

At one apex we see George Orwell’s 1984. I wanted to see what the other side, the Libertarian utopia, so I went about writing two novels. And I have learned two things. First, a world without governments works just fine. Second, one person’s ‘works just fine’ is another’s hell.

The Freeworld, as I envisioned in it The Milkman and The Link Boy (EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy) is set in the near, post-government future. Corporations have foreclosed on debtor governments, disbanded them and bought each other up until only three mega-corporations remain. Everyone works for one of them, birth to death. It is a world free of laws. At least, the unnatural kind.

Natural laws are immutable - gravity, weak force, conservation of energy . . . the fundamentals of economics. In fact, when you fully loose economic forces from the hands of government, they are stronger and easier to see.

One of the first things I realized exploring a post-government world is that it pretty much works like the one we’ve got. People need to eat, drink and not die from dysentery. There is a buck to be made from each of those things, so demand will draw supply. Making such services available requires an educated workforce. Extrapolated out, one finds a world with schools and roads to reach them and power to light up their white-boards. By necessity, corporations in the Freeworld provide universal education, healthcare and even vacation time to create and maintain a workforce that is also a large customer base.

Then there are the things companies don’t need. Privacy? Nope. The company controls all communication and commerce. Personal choice? Algorithms are much better at determining your capabilities than you are, with the added benefit of filing in company needs. Guns? None. The odds of you killing someone the company educated and nurtured until he or she passed peak productivity is too great. Everyone knows liberty has a price, but the costs have changed quite a bit over the years. The tyranny of kings has long passed. We don’t face swords and cannon. We face someone taking our iPhones away or telling us our babies can’t have heart surgery. While not oil painting worthy, they are not small things. We succumb to those threats. No one wants to go backward.

There are places where liberty and the free market part ways. The market, after all, serves the market, not infant mortality rates or quality-of-life indices. Capitalism and Libertarianism are very different words, for reasons that are not always apparent. So I wrote two books for their appearance’s sake.

And because sometimes I think we’ve been lulled into thinking freedom for us, as individuals, is the same as freedom for corporations. The droning voice telling us that started with ‘your eyelids are getting heavy.’ We don’t remember that part too well.

I hope you at least remember my books. They are hypnotic.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Listen up

Hear excerpts from my new novel here https://www.sageandsavant.com/ 
You will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Guns are the new cigarettes

Smoking is cool. You only need to watch any five minutes of Humphrey Bogart on screen to know that’s true. Still, cigarette use in the US has been in decline for years. There are several reasons for this. Cigarettes are bad for you and everyone knows it. They have warnings right on the package telling you not to use what you just bought. Addiction therapies have improved.

More importantly, somewhere in there, smoking became less cool.

Since the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco companies have been forced to stop marketing to minors (Joe Camel retired to Key Largo) and restricted in their advertising and sponsorship activities. Cigarettes companies are pretty much forbidden from making smoking look cool. And it’s worked. In the year I was born, 42 percent of American adults smoked. Last year it was under 17 percent. Even fewer young people are lighting up.

This is a great example of a demand-side initiative. Supply-side stuff - like Prohibition – hasn’t had a lot of roaring success in America. We like having choices. (We don’t always like others having choices, but that’s a different article.) Supply constraints are not easy to start. An act of Congress takes an act of Congress, am I right? Senators and Representatives traverse the lobby and you know what lurks in the lobby.

Decreasing demand, though. That’s a different story. In fact, it’s all about the story.

Tobacco companies were major investors in Hollywood from the 1920s through the 50s. Cigarettes were featured everywhere, and not just on screen. The studio system that prevailed at the time meant major stars often shilled for tobacco companies off-screen too. When movies took a bow to television, tobacco sponsored America’s prime time.

Then they didn’t. In 1971, back when Congress had the ability to pass laws, they banned cigarettes from television. Smoking has continued its drop-off ever since. We don’t want to smoke as much because we don’t see our personal Humphrey Bogarts with a cigarette in hand.

In Bogie’s other hand was something else he made cool: the .38 special.

I like guns, as I like motorcycles, wood chippers, catapults and nearly anything mechanical. There is no explanation for this, as none is required. I understand how important firearms are to America. I can tell you how unimportant they are to fiction, in any form. They are as cool as cigarettes, and we need them in print or on screen about as much.

Batman – no guns. Wonder Woman – no guns. Most of the Marvel universe? For every gun in a scene, there’s somebody kicking it free or waiting for a reload, because arrows, repulsers or smashing with green fists is way more interesting than point-and-shoot. You want to watch Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris in a duel at 20 paces? Hell no.

There were plenty of guns in the top ten grossing movies of 2017 (so far) but none were the feature. Webs, a lasso, swords (light or metal), claws and cars were the big draws. I wonder if Hollywood can’t push the needle. Nudge it in the direction it’s already heading. Deglamorizing guns doesn’t take them away, but it may make them less a source of identity. Less important. Less ubiquitous. By the laws of mathematics, less likely to go off.

Guns are tools, after all. They were never supposed to be fashion accessories or objects of worship. They are not “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”