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?
I hope to be able to show you the cover for the second of my Rik Sylver novels sometime next week. The book – The Sentience Machine – is the sequel to The Credulity Nexus.
Two years have passed since Rik became involved in the credulity nexus affair and things are looking up for him – until his old nemesis, Rivers Valdinger, shows up with a message from Omega Point. Rivers is a “zombie” – the mind of a dead human uploaded into a powerful robot body. Omega Point is a “ghost farm” a satellite, orbiting the Sun, with the disembodied minds of 20,000 dead rich people living inside its virtual world. The message is that Omega Point is under attack by an unknown enemy and Martin Lanham, the uberghost who runs Omega Point, is holding one of Rik’s friends hostage until Rik finds out who the culprit is. Once again, Rik and Rivers become unlikely allies as they track down the perpetrator. Once again, they soon find themselves tangled up in a web of lies and misdirection, prejudice, deadly danger, and high-level corruption, as they stumble towards a discovery that neither of them could have foreseen.
If you’ve been following the saga of the cover for The Credulity Nexus, you’ll know that it recently had a makeover by Dwell Design & Press. This proved to be so popular, I’ve commissioned the second book’s cover from them too. As soon as it’s ready, you’ll be the first to see it.
Like most writers, I often wonder about the efficacy of good cover design. From all directions, I hear the assertion that good covers sell books and bad covers cost sales. Yet I have never seen any real evidence to support this belief (a scientific study, for example), just anecdotes and more assertions. Clearly, to some, it seems self-evident but to me it does not. I can see the reasoning behind it, I can understand that some cover styles may be genre-appropriate (or, at least, typical) while some are not, but even the best reasoning can never be as good as hard evidence.
I was having this debate recently with some fellow writers – all of whom are completely convinced that covers sell books or cost sales. I was the only sceptic. Naturally, talk turned to the quality of our own covers and I took some
flack for constructive criticism of the Timesplash series covers and for the cover of my self-published novel, The Credulity Nexus (read all about it). While I didn’t have much input into the Timesplash covers, The Credulity Nexus design was all my own work (the artwork and fonts came from other people, I just put it all together).
Then someone suggested that one of the cover designers in our group (yes, some people can design covers for a living and write books) should redesign The Credulity Nexus cover, I should put it on the book and then we should look at how sales are affected. Intrigued, I agreed. Also, similarly intrigued, writer Leigh K. Hunt (who does cover design under the business name Dwell Design & Press) did a new cover and kindly donated it for the purpose.
Here are the two covers. On the left is the original amateur design, and on the right is the new professional design.
The difference is pretty striking, isn’t it? The old design was rather dark, gothic and a bit sinister. The new design is brighter, technological and emotionally neutral. But will the change affect sales? Only time will tell. As of today, the book is for sale on Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo (other retailers to follow in due course) with the new cover. If you haven’t bought The Credulity Nexus – either because the cover put you off, or because it just didn’t attract you enough – you may be feeling the urge to change your mind. On the other hand, you might just want to buy a copy to mess with my head. Either way is fine.
Whatever, I’d be very interested in your views on these covers. Does one make you want to buy one more than the other? In fact, I’m interested to hear what you think about book covers in general – especially if you actually have some real evidence to support or refute the popular view that covers make a real difference to sales.
Just a quick post to say that, if you’re a sci-fi fan, you might like to sign up to scifi365.net. It’s a free book recommendation site. They send you an email now and again recommending sci-fi books by new and upcoming authors. The books are at reduced prices and the Sci-fi 365 team has actually read the books and gives a pithy review.
If you’re a sci-fi author you might want to try it too. I’ve had three recommendations from them since I signed and I bought two of them. My own novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth (which is on offer at the moment at just 99c), went out in their mailshot a couple of days ago and has done very well – something I cannot say for any other book recommendation site I have tried. My guess is, they are targeting the right readers.
As a sci-fi reader, finding good novels in the genre is extremely difficult. As a writer, finding ways to help readers discover my books is even harder. I look forward to the day when there are many high quality recommendation services out there that will make both these jobs easier. To paraphrase the scifi365 site, what we all need is more signal and less noise.
Here is what they said about Heaven:
Storr’s premise – ‘how would society function if augmented reality became the norm’ – is a strong one and he handles the idea logically and consistently, making ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’ a joy to read.
Oh, and the twist at the end of the novel is one we didn’t see coming.
All unprompted and all for free. And, no, I have no affiliation whatsoever with these guys except as a consumer of their services.
Hot on the heels of the highly successful 99c sale of The Credulity Nexus (now back to its normal price of USD4.99 – but definitely worth it) I’m having another promotion. This time my augmented reality thriller, Heaven is a Place on Earth, is about to be knocked down to 99c. It’s already available at that price on Amazon Kindle stores around the world and at Smashwords and Kobo (but the other retailers may take a few days to catch up).
If you’re wondering what augmented reality is, just think about phone apps like Layar for Android or the Google Glass phenomenon. Then imagine that technology embedded in your brain so that computers can overlay everything you see or hear or feel with additional information. It seems like a natural extension of where mobile computing is moving. First these things are carryable, like smartphones. then they’re wearable, like Google Glass and the various “smart” watches that have come onto the market recently, eventually they will be embedded into our bodies and our brains.
In Heaven is a Place on Earth, set perhaps eighty years in the future, this whole process has run to completion. Everyone lives in a world where augmentation is always on. Everyone you meet is surrounded in a cloud of information about them. Everyone who meets you sees a better, more attractive you. The world is cleaner, tidier, your garden may be full of weeds but all anyone sees are flowers. You are embedded in networks that monitor the world, and enhance the world. People no longer travel about much. Everything you need is delivered by robot machines to your door. You meet people and do your work in virtual worlds, completely immersed in the illusion, sitting at home in sealed tanks so that there are no distractions, drip-fed your meals through catheters permanently embedded in your arm.
It might seem an unpleasant or even frightening future but it is entirely plausible and many technical and social trends are moving us in that direction.
But who are the misfits, the criminals, the terrorists in this new world? Not our protagonist, Ginny, that’s for sure. She’s just a woman trying to make a living writing soundscapes for virtual worlds. But her life is about to become a nightmare.
She has only dated Cal Coplin a couple of times when the police arrive to question her about him. He’s disappeared – something that should be completely impossible in a world where everyone is electronically tagged. And then she receives a recorded message from Cal, asking her to deliver a small package for him. Her decision to help him plunges Ginny into a world of fear, corruption, and massive deception. On the run from the police, a dangerous terrorist organisation, and a shadowy corporation, Ginny struggles to stay alive and free while she tries to understand what is happening and prevent a deadly attack on the government. But in a world dominated by augmented and virtual realities, nothing is as it seems, and the deception runs deeper than anyone could imagine.
You can get this glimpse into a strange and disturbing future for just 99c while the promo lasts. So grab your copy now from the Kindle store, or Smashwords, or Kobo.