Yes, it’s that time of year again. You know, that time when I take a look back at the past year and try to see whether I’m making any progress.
It’s not easy. Each year seems pretty much like the one before. But it has been seven full years since I started taking publishing seriously and I think it is pretty obvious that progress has been patchy.
In the past year I’ve published four novels, one commercially and three self-published. I was also shortlisted for an Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. (That’s two years running and I’m beginning to wonder if there is a chance I could actually win one of these puppies.) I also updated and reissued my Placid Point collection (and made it free on most retail sites) and put together another collection of short stories called The Future Below (more about this in a moment).
So, it was a pretty good year. I achieved all my targets as far as publication is concerned and I had two nice surprises (the Aurealis Award shortlisting, and the fact that one of my short stories was used in a charity anthology – something that thrills me).
It was also a year in which I started using a design company to produce book covers for me. All the books I published this year have professionally-designed covers. The Rik Sylver Series (The Credulity Nexus and The Sentience Machine) and the first book of my new Canta Libre trilogy (Emissaries) were designed by Kate Strawson at Dwell Design, and the third book in my Timesplash series (Foresight) was done by the publisher, Pan Macmillan/Momentum. I see absolutely no clear financial advantage to having book covers designed commercially, but I do feel better about the look of my books and, probably for that reason alone, I will keep on paying for a professional designer to do them in future.
Last year was also the time I decided to start up a newsletter. I’ve been resisting this for so long now, thinking it smacked of crass commercialism, but a writer friend finally persuaded me that people really don’t mind being kept up to date and receiving the odd special offer. So I’m giving it a go.
And, today, I release my new short story collection, The Future Below. Some of these stories have been published before but often in obscure magazines or anthologies you probably haven’t read. I’d really like some of these stories to have a wider circulation (like Skyball, and The Shouter and the Chanter) so I’m republishing them. Others just haven’t been seen anywhere before (like Signs of Life and Special) and it was time they got an airing. Two stories (Snowy and Finding the Future) are on sale separately as 99c shorts and I put them in here because I love them and it makes the collection more obviously a bargain since you get both those stories plus 13 others for not much more than the price of both separately.
Anyway, there won’t be a big fanfare over the release of this collection but I’d like to give away a few copies just to mark the end of my seventh year as a serious writer. I’d also like to promote my newsletter. So, if you sign up to my newsletter during May (it’s up there on the top right of this page), you will get a free copy of Placid Point PLUS a free copy of The Future Below.
I thought you might like to know – since I’ve been going on about it for a couple of weeks now – that my new sci-fi trilogy kicks off today with the release of Book 1 – Emissaries. You can read all about the book elsewhere on this site but this is a series about first contact with alien civilisations and the people sent out into the void to be our representatives. It’s got elements of space opera, alien contact, military SF and transhumanism (the trilogy is part of my Placid Point mega-series). It contains some of the most strange and the most lovable characters I’ve ever written.
Book 2 will be out in July and Book 3 sometime around Christmas. So this is a big year for me. Hopefully, you’ll join me.
And, if you’re interested, here’s where to buy Emissaries:
For Kindle eReaders
For Other eReaders
Or you can just search for “Emissaries” at your favourite online book store.
It’s great that there are so many planets in the galaxy. We’ve spotted thousands already and current estimates are that there are about two planets per star (+/- 1) and possibly 1 Earth-like planet for every 5 stars. There could be as many as 200 billion stars in our galaxy, meaning we might be sharing the Milky Way with 10 billion Earth-like planets. As I said, great, but the downside is that they’re all so very far away.
And even that’s not such a big problem, unless you happen to be writing a space opera. Then all the light years between Earth-like planets start to add up. In our local stellar neighbourhood, the stars are about 3 light years apart. Our nearest neighbour is actually farther away than that at 4.2 light years. Rockets, even fusion rockets, are barely adequate for chugging around our own solar system. A fusion rocket trip from here to Jupiter would still take us a year, and to Saturn, maybe 2 years. With other kinds of technologies we can envisage now – and might be able to build in the next fifty years, say – we could get to the next star in a few decades at best (using maser-propelled sails, for example). It’s all so slow!
So, if you’re writing a space opera, you need something with a bit more oomph. Rockets are great, they give you plenty of acceleration, but they work by throwing stuff (reaction mass) out the back at high speeds. Pretty soon, you run out of stuff to throw. To accelerate to significant fractions of the speed of light – say 50%, where relativistic effects can be felt, and the eight-year trip to Alpha Centauri A only feels like a bit under seven years – requires you to keep burning fuel for a long time, especially when you’re pushing a spaceship that can keep people alive for seven years. In fact, you need so much reaction mass that the whole thing becomes impractical. Ion drives or electric drives are more efficient for long journeys but they accelerate so very slowly that you could die of old age waiting for them to get up to a reasonable fraction of light speed.
So sci-fi writers have long dreamt of rockets that gather reaction mass from space itself as they go along, using gigantic magnetic “scoops” to funnel hydrogen into their fuel tanks. A little-known piece of Star Trek trivia is that the glowing tips on the warp nacelles on a starship are supposed to represent the scoops in action. Sadly, the reality of the situation is that the density of material in open space is so low, it would take an electromagnetic scoop the size of the Earth to gather a single kilogram of hydrogen! Also, gigantic scoops feel drag due to the interstellar medium and this tends to exceed the thrust you can generate under reasonable assumptions.
In fact, it all looks pretty hopeless – until you start thinking about warping space. There’s an idea out there, attributed to Miguel Alcubierre, that if you can configure an energy density field around your spaceship in a very specific way, you can contract space ahead of the ship and expand it behind. It’s as if you are static within a bubble of space which, because of its distorted edges, moves through normal space (or moves normal space past the ship!) No-one is going faster than light in their local space-time frame of reference, but the bubble itself can move faster than light. (It’s a relativity thing. If you want to know more, you’re going to have to look it up.) It’s a dodgy idea since it might need vast amounts of negative energy to make it work (and we have no idea how to create or use negative energy). Also, if quantum gravity turns out to be the grand unifying theory some hope it is, Alcubierre’s idea wouldn’t work anyway.
Yet, while there’s uncertainty and doubt, there’s still enough wriggle-room for a sci-fi writer like me to slap Alcubierre drives into space ships and send them off into the void. Trouble is, even these faster-than-light marvels of a future age may be too slow for what I need. It’s hard to say what kind of speeds might reasonably be expected from a warp drive. 3c (3 times the speed of light) seems to be a general consensus, with it possibly going all the way up to 10c. Now ten times the speed of light is really motoring. You get to Alpha Centauri in about five months, Gliese 581 (where we know there is an Earth-sized planet) in about two-and-a-half years. If you want to colonise all the nearby stellar systems, the Alcubierre drive is the man for the job. But what if you want to go a little farther, to Gamma Sagittae, for example, just 273 light years away? You’re back to taking decades again. And Gamma Sagittae is practically on our doorstep compared to size of the galaxy.
Yet, if you want to go faster than that, modern scientists shrug their shoulders and turn away. “Space is big,” they tell you. “Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.” Being scientists, they like quoting Douglas Adams. They also like to accept the prevailing paradigm, until someone brighter than they are runs a truck through it.
But sci-fi writers are made of sterner stuff and, besides, we have stories to tell that won’t wait decades or centuries while all those geniuses clamber slowly up onto the shoulders of giants. If you want to go faster than 10c, you’ve just got to make stuff up – but plausible-sounding stuff, not just any old stuff, or you might as well be writing fantasy.
Those of you who know anything about quantum theory know that quite a lot of it sounds like the ravings of a madman. Particles have some probability of being everywhere in the universe at once, they can teleport through matter, the absence of a particle can behave just like a particle, they pop out of nothing in pairs and immediately annihilate one another, they can be in many states at the same time, they’re not just particles, they’re also waves, but not waves in anything, and so on. It’s crazy and, moreover, no-one can give a clear and complete description of the world based on quantum theory – which is why a number of different interpretations of it have arisen.
The Copenhagen interpretation, for example, says that reality is fundamentally non-deterministic and the probabilities and uncertainties of quantum theory are a true reflection of the world but that, moment-to-moment, those vast inherent uncertainties are being “collapsed” into the single universe we are aware of as quantum particles interact to “decohere” their “superposed” states. The many worlds interpretation says that the universe we know is one of a possibly infinite number and is everywhere forking off into new universes, one for every possibility implied by the uncertainties of every quantum particle. No one universe is therefore non-deterministic, but the universe you end up in could not have been determined.
The interpretation Einstein preferred for all this quantum weirdness is known as a hidden variable interpretation. It’s simple. It says we can’t predict what the quantum world is going to do because we don’t have all the information. There are variables at play that are hidden from us. There has been heated debate about hidden variable theories and one type (local hidden variable theories) may well have been rule out experimentally (though maybe not), leaving only non-local hidden variables as possible contenders. Indeed, David Bohm’s “causal” interpretation is one such model that still stands unchallenged.
So let’s fast-forward 200 years to a new and amazing breakthrough in physics – a detailed non-local hidden variable theory of physics has been demonstrated to be the best possible fit to all physical phenomena – subsuming quantum theory and relativity. Indeed, the world of these hidden variables has been dubbed “infra-reality”. A hundred years after that, physicists have finally learned how to manipulate infra-reality and the results are fabulous new technologies which would have seemed almost magical to primitives like ourselves. At last, I have the opportunity to create the star drive I’ve always wanted. To explain it, let’s go inside the mind of physicist Susan Iverson, a character in my new novel, Emissaries, as she waits to take off in the spaceship Canta Libre and ponders the physics of the ship’s prototype infra-reality (IR) drive.
Susan Iverson was not feeling so confident. She found herself gripping the arms of her couch as the timer counted down to the transition. She had been reviewing the physics of space-time tunnelling (‘stunnelling’ in the jargon of the field) and she was well aware of how many theoretical questions remained to be answered. She wished again that they weren’t using such a pioneering technology. The traditional space-warping techniques had been in use for over a hundred years and it was safer to travel that way even than by fusion rocket.
One minute to go.
Stunnelling relied on Osamoto’s IR equations. They too had been known for a hundred years and IR was as well-established as any theory had ever been. The host of IR effect products on the market, the very gravity she was experiencing, were proof that it worked. Yet…
She considered the effect as it was applied by the ship and shuddered. By the usual magic of IR, a gravitational force was created, effectively warping space around and ahead of the ship, not into a gentle ripple they could surf in the usual way but radically and violently, into a short tunnel – what would have been called a wormhole in past times. The tunnel connected the space around the Canta Libre with the space a minute distance ahead of it – just ten zeptometres ahead in fact – about a thousandth of the width of an atomic nucleus. The ‘depth’ of the stunnel, in the reality perceived by everyone outside it, appeared to be just one Plank length, the smallest length it could be. The ship sailed through the stunnel at sublight speeds (thirty thousand metres per second being the maximum permitted by theory for reasons even Osamoto could not understand) but a new stunnel kept opening just ahead of the ship. So the ship kept stealing those ten zeptometres for every Plank length that it seemed to be moving. The stability of the stunnel was the problem. Keeping one open was a delicate business and nothing she had read could convince her that the technology existed to do this reliably. Of course, her calculations showed that, even if the stunnel collapsed, they would only lose the first ten zeptometres of their ship’s nose – an amount so small they wouldn’t be able to detect it. Either that or they would be spread like a fine gas across millions of kilometres. It all depended on the size of a particular constant that nobody had yet worked out. All in all, she would rather that someone else was aboard the first stunnelling interstellar flight instead of her.
It’s so nice to be able to just make up physics when the physics we have just isn’t up to the job. The multiplication factor achieved by this strange application of an invented physics, allows a ship to travel at 1,000 times the speed of light. now you can get to Gamma Sagittae in three months and out to the planetary nebula, M27, in fifteen months. You could cross the whole galaxy from end to end in a hundred years or so! Perfect for a space opera. Suddenly I’m free to go where no one has gone before – in any ship half as plausible as this one, that is.
With a new novel just about to hit the streets, I thought I might do a post summarising the works I have that are already out there. If you know all this, just jump to your favourite online bookstore and buy my books. (Hey, it was worth a try.)
As I write, I have seven novels available, two short story collections, and a few odd short stories. These are they:
The Timesplash Series – Timesplash, True Path, and Foresight
These are sci-fi time travel thrillers, all published by Pan Macmillan under their Momentum imprint. They each stand alone (I think) but it is definitely a better experience if you read them in order. They’re about a near future when time travel has become a terrorist weapon and two people – just teenagers when it all starts – whose lives become hideously screwed up by the whole thing. Two of the novels in this series have been shortlisted for Aurealis Awards in the Best Science Fiction Novel category.
The Rik Sylver Series – The Credulity Nexus, and The Sentience Machine
These are also sci-fi thrillers, only they deal with the emergence of transhumanity and the many problems that causes – particularly for our hero, Rik, his friends, and, of course, the uploads themselves. Like the Timesplash books, they’re written so that they stand alone but, again, reading them in order is recommended. I’ve written and published two of these novels so far but a third is in the planning stage.
Heaven is a Place on Earth
Imagine a world where we work and socialise in virtual reality and, when we’re not there, our real world is so heavily augmented we almost never see it for what it is. This is the future our very reluctant hero, Ginny, inhabits. Her life isn’t exactly easy but at least it isn’t dangerous and frightening – not until she meets Cal and agrees to do him a little favour… Heaven is a novel about deception and struggling against all odds to find the truth.
And now for something completely different. Sam is a young journalist with a burning ambition. When her idiot brother turns up with a clearly wasted superstar Loosi Beecham in a stolen truck, she kidnaps her in an attempt to get the scoop. What Sam doesn’t realise is that Loosi is an alien in disguise and that twelve more aliens in the same disguise are currently escaping from the police with a busload of pensioners as hostages. It’s all part of a plot for galactic domination, and humanity is about to discover that the universe is far, far stranger than they’d ever imagined. This is my attempt at sci-fi comedy. It took me twelve years to write and it still makes me laugh.
The Canta Libre Trilogy – Emissaries, Supplicants, and Warriors
I haven’t yet released these novels but two are already written and a third is in progress. The first book, Emissaries, will be out on 27th April and you can pre-order it now. This is my first trilogy (as opposed to series which happen to have three books in them). They are set three hundred years in the future when Earth has just received its first contact from an extraterrestrial species. Under the auspices of the UN, a team of scientists and soldiers is assembled to be humanity’s emissaries and sent off in a prototype deep space vessel, the Canta Libre. As you might suppose, first contact doesn’t go all that well and pretty soon everything we know is under threat and the crew of the Canta Libre is all that stands between Earth and destruction.
It’s pure space opera (with some military SF and a bit of transhumanity thrown in) and it is set in the same “world” as the Rik Sylver series only farther into the future – so don’t be surprised if the same transhumans turn up.
Collections and Short Stories
If you want to quickly get into the world in which the Rik Sylver series and the Canta Libre trilogy are set, you should pick up a free copy of my short story collection Placid Point. Just click the image on the left. It’s a collection of short stories set in the Placid Point universe and provides the origin story for Omega Point (which later is re-named Placid Point) as well as various tales from the “future history” of this universe.
I have a number of other short stories and collections, all available for 99c each. Also, coming out later this year, there will be a new short story collection called Signs of Life which has a selection of my published and unpublished short stories, including a couple from the Timesplash universe.
And that’s all folks. A total of seven novels (with an eighth out next week), a couple of short story collections, and a handful of individual short stories. It’s not a huge body of work, but I hope to add to it substantially by the end of next year, with two more Canta Libre novels, a third Rik Sylver novel, a couple more stand-alone novels, and the first book in my Deep Fracture series. It’s going to be a busy time and I hope you’ll stay with me as these amazing stories unfold.
The long-promised Canta Libre trilogy is about to begin. There are three books in the set (well, duh!); Emissaries, Supplicants, and Warriors and I have just received the cover design for the first book, Emissaries.
Now, I want you to look at this lovely image and just imagine all the sci-fi goodness it promises. Isn’t that just spine-tinglingly tempting?
Well, you tell me? Is it?
As you know, I’ve been grappling lately with the value and efficacy of covers and whether they sell books. So this is another commissioned cover by a professional design company (Dwell Design – the same designer who did my Rik Sylver series). I’ve been very impressed with their work. I think this cover – which is for a first contact, space opera novel, set in my Placid Point universe – has just the right genre feel. What do you think?
Emissaries will hit the online bookstores in a couple of weeks. Watch this space for the announcement.
Just when I’d decided to push a boulder across the front of my cave and have nothing more to do with the world of book promotion, those nice people who manage the Aurealis Awards stuck their collective foot in the door and shortlisted my book, Foresight, for Best Science Fiction Novel. Now I’ve got people congratulating me and saying “w00t” and “awesome” and things like that and it would be awfully rude not to jump back onto the “social media” to thank them all and “favourite their tweets” and whatnot.
I should be celebrating, I suppose. In fact, when I’ve finished this post, I’ll be heading off to find my best beloved to share a bottle of champagne. So I am celebrating, in fact. Being shortlisted for an Aurealis Award is no small thing and I am over the Moon about it. However, the thing is, being shortlisted again this year has left me feeling quite sad. Here are the many and varied reasons:
- I had four eligible novels in the period the award covers. Foresight was one, but there were also Heaven is a Place on Earth, The Credulity Nexus, and Cargo Cult. If I’d been asked beforehand, which of these books deserves an Aurealis Award, I’d definitely have said Heaven is a Place on Earth. Despite the cumbersome title (which my best beloved hates with a passion) this is a real sci-fi novel in the best tradition of all the great sci-fi novels I have read and loved in my life. It tackles a theme close to my heart (the deceptions possible when augmented and virtual realities are ubiquitous), it is lovingly crafted with a 4-part, 4-PoV structure, it is very much character driven, it uses a plot development technique based on the method that Robert Goddard uses so effectively, and it’s set here in Australia – it’s On the Beach meets Permutation City for chrissake! Number two on my most deserving list would have been Cargo Cult – not just because it took me 12 years to write, or that it still makes me laugh and I’ve read it twenty times, or even that it too is set here in Australia, but because it is a book full of huge affection for the genre and the tropes I love.
- Of those four eligible novels, Foresight was the only one that was commercially published – and that’s the one that was shortlisted. It’s also the third book in a series. The other books (Heaven and Cargo Cult in particular) are more deserving of this honour, and all were stand-alone or the first in a series. So I can’t help having a horrible, nagging suspicion that the success of Foresight over the others is only because it was commercially published, not because it was better. Now that’s probably just pure paranoia talking and, no doubt, does the Aurealis Award judges a terrible disservice (and Foresight), but, well, you have to wonder. Even if there was no nefarious intent to avoid awarding self-published novels, it’s a shame. All of my work is self-published now. If the awards do favour commercially published writers, people who follow them will miss out on much excellent work that will go unacknowledged. Next year, none of my eligible novels will be commercially published. Will I manage to be shortlisted again? Time will tell.
- I won’t be able to go to the awards ceremony. I’d love to – just as a thank you to the Aurealis Award organisers if nothing else. These people are all volunteers and do a massive service to Australian fandom in organising the awards each year. The least I could do – especially having been shortlisted – is turn up, wouldn’t you think? But the ceremony is in Canberra, which means it’s a 300 km bus-ride to Brisbane, a 1200 km flight to Canberra, a hotel for four nights (because the awards are during Conflux and you wouldn’t go all that way just to come straight back again), taxis and meals, and the conference fee. Of course, I could spare six days out of my busy schedule, but the total cost of all that is absolutely staggering. I can’t afford it. I can’t even think of affording it. I went to Conflux a couple of years ago so I know what I’m talking about. That time, I walked everywhere, bought cold food to eat in my room, and avoided the cafes and bars to save money. It was pretty dismal and Canberra is not an easily walkable city! Maybe I could drive. My wife has a friend with relations in Canberra and there could be a sofa on offer. It’s an 1100 km drive from here but petrol’s at a ten-year low and I like listening to Radio National…
- Which brings me to the fourth cause of my sadness. One of the reasons I don’t have any money is because I don’t sell many books. In fact, I sell so few books that it’s very easy to tell if any particular marketing activity has affected sales and by how much. Last year, when my novel, True Path, was shortlisted for Best Science Fiction Novel by the lovely Aurealis Award people, I did not see any change in sales at all. Let me expand on that, I did not see evidence of any additional sales, either of True Path, or of its prequel, Timesplash, or of any of my other novels. The honour of being shortlisted for the Aurealis Award as Best Science Fiction Novel in Australia that year – which I consider a stupendous honour – didn’t actually mean that anyone bought any of my books. An honour it was, for sure, but it didn’t translate into sales. Which was a surprise and left me feeling very dismal about my prospects as a writer. I mean, what do you have to do to get noticed around here?
- For all kinds of reasons, I don’t expect to win. I know that’s just defeatism. I’m sort of prone to it. But, honestly, without Heaven being on the list, I don’t believe I have have my best work on show here and, well, look at the quality of the competition. There’s even Marianne de Pierres in the mix! Also, two of my fellow Momentum authors, both of whom outsell me by prodigious amounts. It’s a tough field. (And check out The Shattered Worlds, why don’t you? Great writing.) I’d like to be more up-beat about it but it’s not happening. I probably need to get on Twitter and read a load of “never give up” motivational crap. That’ll buck me up.
- Finally, this would be a good year to support the awards, and a really good year to win one. Most years I bitch that the sci-fi novel category is half-filled with fantasy novels. I mean, WTF? There’s a separate fantasy section, so clear out that stuff and give some real sci-fi writers a chance! This year, however, I cannot complain. One novel seems to be a little bit iffy but the rest are good, solid sci-fi, no doubt about it. There is only one category in these awards that is worth winning for me and that is Best Science Fiction Novel. The rest don’t matter. My life is sci-fi. My world is sci-fi. If you’re an Australian sci-fi writer, this is the only place to be. These are the awards. This is the category. And I’m there, and it’s a really good shortlist. And if I were to win, and I wasn’t at the ceremony, I’d regret it my whole life. So it’s just as well I won’t win, huh?
FORESIGHT: Timesplash 3
With the Australian government pressing hard for mandatory metadata retention, it seems all that stands between us and the possibility of total surveillance of the entire population is a vote in the Senate. If I had the ear of opposition leader Bill Shorten right now, this is what I’d say to him.
Dear Mr Shorten,
I know the Australian Labor Party likes to indulge in me-too chest thumping when it comes to security issues, despite the better instincts of many of its members, but dragging Australia down into the ethical murk of total surveillance of all its citizens is where I would hope you would draw the line.
Metadata retention is simply wrong. However benign the proposed uses of this data might be, the existence of such a repository of information on each and every person in Australia, every phone call, every email, would create a tool for oppression the like of which has never existed and should never be allowed to exist. Think of what Stalin could have done with this resource, or the Stasi, or US Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
We need to think hard about what kind of society Australians want to live in but also what kind of dangers we are opening ourselves up to. Spying on every single Australian may indeed help prevent the occasional terrorist outrage or even some crime, but the cost is so very high and the dangers so very real that we should resist it vigorously. The step from police support to police state is not such a large one.
Today sees the release of my latest novel, The Sentience Machine. It’s part 2 in the Rik Sylver series and it’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, just like the first one.
As a special inducement to anyone interested in buying The Sentience Machine, you can get book one, The Credulity Nexus, for just a dollar (depending on your location, the exchange rate, and local taxes – but one US dollar, basically). That means you can get both books for less than the price of most commercially-published sci-fi novels.
Get them both on Amazon: The Credulity Nexus, The Sentience Machine
Or on Smashwords: The Credulity Nexus, The Sentience Machine
Or on Kobo: The Credulity Nexus, The Sentience Machine
They’re also available elsewhere, of course, and I’m trying to make it as easy as I can, but it would get tedious if I listed every single online retailer, wouldn’t it?
“Science fiction writer” must be the best job description in the world. It’s literally all about sitting around imagining the future and making up stories to fit the most interesting ideas that come up. And it doesn’t even have to involve completely plausible futures, either. You can kick back and let your imagination run wild, playing around with all the Big Themes, like Time Travel, Space Colonisation, First Contact, Space Wars, Alien Invasion, and the one that has been entertaining me for almost a decade now, Transhumanity.
Transhumanity is all about the technologies that we are currently developing to prolong life, and enhance physical and cognitive performance, taken to the point where we are no longer quite the species we used to be. Perhaps the new, enhanced people that are coming will no longer be able to breed with us – or want to – becoming a completely new species. Perhaps the whole idea of breeding will become passé – when you have complete control over your own biology, or you have moved beyond biology altogether, you no longer need to breed to enable evolution, you only need to dream up new designs for yourself.
I’m certain that transhumanity is coming and that “post-human” species are not very far away now. The only questions are what kinds of technology will take us there soonest and, what will we do with it when we have it?
In my Placid Point stories, I have imagined a world in which the first technology past the post involves uploading human minds into computers. To create some tension, I have made the process extremely difficult and expensive so that only the richest among us can afford it. Can you imagine how that would go down? Not only do the 1% get to own 50% of the world while they’re alive, but then they get to live forever and keep it! And then I’ve thrown religion into the mix. How would our “spiritual leaders” feel about people who can cheat death, cheat God’s judgement, effectively thumb their noses at repentance and forgiveness and laugh at the fires of Hell? And where does the soul go when a mind is uploaded? Would it follow the upload and live inside a computer? It seems to me that questions like this would quickly lead the major churches to denounce the whole business and add uploads to their list of the damned.
But what about the uploads themselves? Transhumans are people too. In fact the vast majority of people in the 1% didn’t earn their money by being ruthless entrepreneurs, they inherited it or married into it. They’re just ordinary people who got lucky, and now they can be immortal and live in virtual paradise for all time. But they can also do and be so much more than that if they choose. Once your brain is replicated in a computer, you can augment it – add more memory, add more processing power, run it faster, change its methods of working. You might want to tinker with your simulated emotions, your instincts and limits. You might want to put your shiny new mind into a spaceship, or some other kind of robot body. You might want to try to pass as human again.
I wanted to look at how all this works out for the people involved. I’ve written a number of short stories to explore here and there in this gigantic space of possibilities. These are gathered in a collection called “Placid Point” which you can pick up for free from most online book sellers. But it is in the novels that there is really room to explore the way all the many facets of such a society interact, and how the people cope – on both sides of the transhuman divide.
The first of my novels in this world is The Credulity Nexus. It’s about the growing tension between the religious right and the transhumans they resent so much, in a tale told from the perspective of an ordinary and very human man who becomes a pawn in their power-plays. And, because I’m a science fiction writer, and because all this is happening in the future, the story also has spaceships, and robots, Moon colonies, and satellites. But like all good sci-fi stories, this one is about the people and how they struggle to be true to themselves as they are tossed on the stormy tides of history.
Because I’m about to release the second book in this series, The Sentience Machine, The Credulity Nexus is available for about a dollar on all the major online book stores (prices vary because of exchange rates and local taxes – but, roughly, one US dollar).
And there is so much yet to come. I plan to do one more novel in this series and then move on to a slightly more distant future – about three hundred years from now. It will be the same “world”, the Placid Point universe, but I’ll be throwing in another Big Theme – First contact. There is an idea, “Aliens”, that sends a shiver down the spine of all sci-fi fans. I want to tip my future humanity, with its transhuman outcasts and its squabbling factions into the fires of a first contact drama. And you might have guessed, I don’t expect our alien neighbours to be popping round with a welcome-to-the-neighbourhood gift.
The Sentience Machine is a fast-paced science fiction thriller and number two in the Rik Sylver series. It goes on sale on Feb 2 at all your favourite online book shops. But before that happens, let me show you what it will look like.
You may be interested to know that this is the very first time I have commissioned a cover for one of my novels (as opposed to commissioning artwork and then incorporating it myself into a cover design). It’s by the same person and the same company that did the design for The Credulity Nexus, Dwell Design & Press (click to see how that came about). The whole process was quick and easy, and less expensive than I feared it might be.
So what do you think of the end result?