Rogues and Magi in an Adventure with Firefighters

I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for eight (how can that be possible?) years now, and we’re all well-versed in the theory and actuality of wildland fires (though most of the grass and forest fires I’ve been on-scene for have been very tame by the standards of the big western/southwestern conflagrations). We know that these things can turn on a dime and be deadly in their capriciousness, but even so I don’t think we’re ever quite prepared for sudden mass casualty disasters, not in this day and age. Training and technology help us feel invincible, until suddenly we’re simply not. On June 30, 19 firefighters were killed near Yarnell, Arizona when the wildfire they were fighting overran their position.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is administering the Yarnell Hill NFFF Fire Hero Fund to help the family and coworkers of those killed that terrible day. I want to make a contribution to this fund, so I’m offering a truly one-of-a-kind literary collectible via eBay: The one and only complete unbound galley of The Republic of Thieves:

Follow this link to check out the auction.

“Galley proof” means the book has been edited, copy-edited, and more or less laid out for printing. Galley proofs are the very last chance an author has to correct mistakes and adjust small details. This galley proof is for the American edition of TRoT, and was sent to me in June of this year. My corrections were e-mailed back, leaving the 662-page galley in my hands.

This is straight from the desk of the author (yours truly), annotated and scribbled on in a number of places, containing assorted notes and corrections. This is the one and only unbound manuscript of any of my novels I am ever going to offer for public sale. All the others will be deposited (as have unbound manuscripts of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies) in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department of the Northern Illinois University Libraries. So if you’ve ever wanted a truly rare piece of Lynchiana, or know anyone who does, this will probably be hard to beat.

This auction will last for five days, ending July 30th. Every penny of the proceeds will go to the Yarnell Hill NFFF Fire Hero Fund. I’ll post a photo of my check (with my personal info blotted out) when it’s about to go in the envelope.

Karthain!

I promised that if the CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK VS. ALIENS Kickstarter broke $4,000 I’d offer up a copy of my official map of Karthain from The Republic of Thieves. And I do mean my map, since this time around I actually got out my technical pens and tried to re-conjure my old drafting skills. This is scanned from an original piece about 10.5 x 15.5 inches and I’m mostly very happy with it… not quite pleased with the fiddly bits at the edges and a few tiny details, but it does its job and it’ll be in the books on both sides of the Atlantic.

Click on the image to get a much larger version.

I have plans to redo my maps of Tal Verrar and Camorr by hand, taking what I’ve learned from this project to (hopefully!) improve significantly.

Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens

“When aliens reach Earth, they encounter the clockwork mechanisms and Victorian sensibilities of a full-blown steampunk civilization. Inspired by the classic science fiction adventure tales of the nineteenth century, leading fantasy and science fiction authors will bring us tales of first contact with a twist, as steam power meets laser cannons . . . and dirigibles face off against flying saucers . . .”

I’m one of the anchor authors for the new CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK VS. ALIENS Kickstarter anthology, along with Brad Beaulieu, Caitlin Kittredge, Gini Koch, Gail Z. Martin, Seanan McGuire, and Ian Tregillis. If the Kickstarter successfully funds, the seven of us will write the first of the 14 stories planned for the volume, with the balance to come from authors yet to be selected. This is the first Kickstarter I’ve ever been a part of, so please be kind to it if you can!

I can’t say what direction my story will take . . . discussions at Readercon left me wanting to play with steampunk more than ever, and also flex the sensibilities of whatever I set in the milieu. It’ll definitely be a go-big-or-go-home sort of affair, as fits the high concept. Push us past our modest goal of $10,000 and I’ll be forced to get much more specific!

Returned From Readercon

Last weekend was Readercon, and it was mostly excellent. The con was hit at a very late planning stage by the news that both the pub and the lobby area of the hotel would be out of service, but you really had to see it to believe how thoroughly those areas of the building had been un-made. They weren’t merely taped off, but sealed away by blank white walls like something out of a movie, and the con’s traditional central gathering space was turned into the functional equivalent of a long scenic corridor in an old Doctor Who episode. The folks behind the con did a damn fine job of steering everything right past this obstacle, and there was a bumper crop of room and hallway parties to compensate.

I wish I could be as lavish with praise for the actual staff of the hotel, some of whom were angels and some of whom seemed overtly annoyed by all the hungry, paying customers who had the nerve to actually ask for things. Service at the one functional restaurant was lacking… and I can’t emphasize enough what it takes to drag those words out of me, as I waited tables myself for several years and have a preternatural degree of sympathy for those who wield aprons and order books. We often joke about how convention hotels and bars never seem to heed the warnings they receive about fannish hunger and thirst, but seriously, this wasn’t the hotel’s first rodeo with Readercon and while the restaurant food itself was usually lovely, the service (especially the bar service) was several distinct flavors of inadequate.

It probably seems ungenerous to harp on this, but Readercon has a thick and well-attended panel schedule, tightly time-managed by the con staff, and it’s also a place where dozens of agents, editors, and authors are holding business meetings at any given time. Agents, especially, often have appointment after appointment, hour after hour, and the need to chase down restaurant staff with IR cameras and hunting dogs for basic functions like getting a check really throws sand in the machinery of maintaining a professional schedule.

So, other than waiting for drinks and bills, what was I doing?

Friday, Elizabeth Bear and I shared a Kaffeeklatsch, which is German for “authors share embarrassing personal stories with more people than they ever expected to see in the room.” I stumbled through a long, revealing tale of something I’m really not proud of from my teenage years, when I applied my talents to a prank that caused unexpected emotional grief. Oh, Stainless Steel Rat books, you never warned me there’d be such ethical quandaries!

Saturday, my first panel was “A New Mythology of the Civil War,” also featuring Mikki Kendall, Dennis Danvers, Ronnie Stott, and Howard Waldrop. I think we did a fine job pounding the Lost Cause mythology into the dirt (not that this was difficult); anyone who can insist with a straight face that the American Civil War was not about slavery from the first angry word to the last shallow grave is lying or deluded. There wasn’t a heck of a lot to say, more’s the pity, about trying to carve a new counter-mythology in spec fic because we don’t really have an evolving major tradition of Civil War fiction at all, apart from the Twilight Zoney mechanistic approach (anachronistic technology is brought into the war by time-travelling assholes and hilarity ensues). There was some interesting stuff about the similarly mechanistic fixations of a lot of steampunk and the urge to play with airships and gatling guns while trying not to look too hard at the social tapestry and the actual, individual lives of millions in bondage and the sick culture surrounding them. I think we could have kept going for another hour, at least.

Next up was “The Uses and Values of Realism in Speculative Fiction” with Elizabeth Bear, John Crowley, and Rose Lemberg. After the usual ten minutes or so of trying to engage all our conceptual motors and define our terms, I think we settled into a rich and lively discussion. Coming from my perspective as a pretty staunch lover and repurposer of classic sword-and-sorcery, I have a tendency toward a fairly defined and physiologically grounded notion of “realistic.” Crowley was good about yanking things back to the broad picture from time to time… what world were we discussing? What rules, what reality? We touched on modes and expectations, on the pressures of genre, on why things like Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” work beautifully on their own terms and fail completely to integrate with the structures of SF/F, where we expect meaningful “thens” for our if/then statements. Rose Lemberg was pretty sharp, and carried off the night’s trophy for pithiness when she suggested that readers shaken by A Song of Ice and Fire could find relief in something less cold and onerous, like Crime and Punishment.

My last Saturday panel was “The Xanatos Gambit” with Jim Freund, Yoon Ha Lee, and Jim Macdonald. We discussed the hell out of the titular gambit, the sort of multi-layered scheme someone sets up with a variety of outcomes, all of which are ideally beneficial to the schemer. I think we lost a tiny bit of traction and opportunity by being too literal about this; the history and theory of schemes that are not purely win-win is a wide, deep river we barely dipped our toes in, but what the hell. I still think we rendered very fair return for the brain cells engaged in listening to us. We did discuss the history of the trickster/schemer figure at some length, generally agreeing that we were less interested in the notion of trickster as cosmic balance or theological compulsion than we were with the notion of the self-interested plot hatcher. We touched upon the transition of the role over time, and how the once-popular “unironic rake who rapes his way across the story” had lost a lot of traction in the public consciousness due to the fact that some of the human race is trying to grow the hell up. We didn’t get to talk much about one near-exception I had wanted to cite, Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever, the greedy egotist who inevitably ruins life for himself and nearly everyone he encounters in a world-spanning epic of poor life choices.

Saturday night, Amanda Downum and I made our own series of amusingly poor life choices as we tied more than one on at various room parties, especially those hosted by the generous Bracken Macleod and Marco Kloos. Liberal application of spiritous distillations helped ensure that we didn’t get to bed until Stupid O’Clock, with the threat of Amanda’s 9 AM Sunday Kaffeeklatsch hanging over us like Poe’s goddamn pendulum. Bear and I arose shakily, determined to show solidarity… actually, I exaggerate. Bear was pretty stable. Amanda and I were the delicate ones, and after the Klatsch I actually had to go cling to the bed awhile longer to make the universe stop spinning.

I was mostly recovered just in time for my last panel, “Pining for the Fnords: The New Nostalgia,” also featuring Elizabeth Bear, John Benson, Andrea Hairston, Liz Hand, and Richard Killheffer. I think there was a bit of a troublesome dichotomy in the panel description, as I don’t find Scalzi’s Redshirts to be of a piece with Walton’s Among Others, and I don’t find the sense of ‘nostalgia’ allegedly evoked in those books to intersect with the other half of the discussion prompted by Paul Kincaid’s jeremiad… but it wasn’t my show alone and once we got up to speed we flew along at a nice clip.

This panel featured one of the stranger interludes of my Readercon experience. Bear had just finished discussing the attractiveness of the genuinely old-fashioned “get out your slide rule” puzzle story, and how it could be at least perfunctorily invigorating to play with the style of story where the audience is invited to do the math or science along with the characters in that quintessential 50s way. Then we both cheekily lamented the march of technology as a bar-raiser for narrative trouble, using our cel phones as an obvious and immediate example. I mentioned something about how many of the books and films of the 20th century revolved around the plot device of not being able to find or contact other people (the example I used was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and how a society where nearly everyone carried the equivalent of a Star Trek communicator at all times made this harder to pull off.

So, that’s what we were lamenting… not our damn cel phones themselves, invaluable tools that they are, but the NARRATIVE CHALLENGES improving technology poses. Even the lament was very tongue-in-cheek; it’s not a bad thing to be forced to stay on one’s toes as a writer.

A short while later, the panel opened up to the audience for questions, and a very… forceful gentleman asked us why we were afraid of technology. We all replied pretty forthrightly that we weren’t; he had the wrong end of the stick entirely. The guy then went on about his work developing, as he put it, the apps and technologies that will define the next five years, and asked why science fiction writers were all afraid to use the most cutting-edge technologies in our work, as according to him, leaving out the last fraction of the newest developments was tantamount to writing fantasy.

We got very energetic in responding to him, and he asked “Why are you all so threatened by my question?” which was a response classically symptomatic of a guy fixated on flogging a point rather than listening to what other people might have to say about it.

Well, to you, guy in the audience, if you’re out there, we weren’t “threatened” by your question. Your question (which I have since learned you threw at another panel before reportedly leaving the room in a huff) wasn’t “threatening” in the slightest. What it was, was predicated on a whole series of false assumptions, namely that:

A. All science fiction writers are the same, part of some club or hive mind that collectively shirks or embraces the things it will write about. What you’ve actually got is a diverse conglomeration of thousands of individuals each with a different degree of technological experience, a different set of interests, and a different range of access to the freshest information. Not to mention wide variations in the amount of plain old effing time we can apply to our research and our work. I mean, how comprehensive a survey of genre fiction can you really have made if you don’t get this?

B. That what you were asking was within the scope of the panel, and the panel’s ability to efficiently engage with it in the time remaining. There’s this thing that happens when a subject is broached that is orthagonal to a panel’s description or ponderously tangential to its actual focus– the moderator says, “Look, we really can’t go into all that,” and everyone moves on.

C. That failing or refusing to feature the absolute latest in cutting-edge real-world tech invalidates the act of writing speculative fiction.

So, we weren’t threatened by your question, sir, may the gods of technology bless and keep you. We didn’t have the time to try and shake you out of all your presumptions, and we knew it, and frankly it wasn’t our responsibility to do so. If you wonder why people get het up when you don’t appear to want to listen to them, it’s not because your questions ring too fiercely for mortal ears to hear them. I hope that helps.

Other than that, I got the chance to briefly sit in on the “Teen Violence, Teen Sex” panel, which was of interest to me because The Republic of Thieves features, in case you didn’t already know, both teenage violence and teenage sex, written to frame some issues of consent and false idealization that I think sex in SF/F has at times been prone to. A good discussion was developing when I had to sneak off to other responsibilities.

One thing I will say, in response to the frequent observation (and hell, I’ve made it too) that our culture seems far more comfortable with gruesome fictional violence than it does with consensual fictional sex, is that there is one rarely-discussed reason for author squeamishness that has nothing to do with prudishness or presumption or lack of awareness. It is merely that an author writing a sex scene may be in more danger of revealing actual facts about their intimate self and their kinks and preferences than they are at any other time in the writing process; the art of writing honestly and with feeling and vigor threatens to expose much about the person behind the keys. Mitigating or preventing that exposure is a hard skill to learn.

Whether you realize it or not, you will actually learn some real things about me and my experiences from the sex scenes in The Republic of Thieves. It has taken time for me to become comfortable with that, and I will never feel any need to apologize for taking that time.

Anyhow, that was Readercon! No more public appearances for me until GenCon in Indianapolis, August 15-18.

The Con is On… Again… in Burlington, Massachusetts.

So, I’m back, fresh from CONVergence, which was fun and invigorating despite the fact that I was in excruciating lower-back pain when I arrived and literally couldn’t stand up each morning without thirty minutes of half-starts and moaning. I got successively better each day, thanks in no small part to the kind attention of the awesome convention staff, who ordered me to eat my stoicism and get myself onto a massage table several times. I’m sorry if I bumped into anyone reading this while I was at the height of my pain (Thursday and Friday) and was weird or impatient as a result.

Speaking of CONVergence, I am absolutely delighted to be returning in 2014 as a guest of honor; I hope to be a great deal bouncier and to do more programming and events than are healthy or sane. CONVergence is the first con I ever attended and has remained special to me across the years.

In a nearer timeframe, I will be attending READERCON this weekend, July 12-14, and my programming schedule is as follows:

FRIDAY, JULY 12

2:00 PM
Kaffeeklatsch

This is a two-for-one deal, as I will be Kaffeklatsching with my partner, the illustrious Elizabeth Bear!

SATURDAY, JULY 13

11:00 AM
A New Mythology of the Civil War

Dennis Danvers, Mikki Kendall (leader), Scott Lynch, Romie Stott, Howard Waldrop

In a 2012 piece for the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the Lost Cause mythology of the American Civil War has settled so deeply in U.S. culture and historical understanding that it penetrates even our science fiction. (He was speaking of John Carter of Mars but might have been referring to many other works of SF.) “What we now need,” he wrote, “is new stories, and new narratives, that not only refuse to revel in historical escapism, but also resist the lure of blaxploitation. People like James McPherson and Benjamin Quarles have gifted us with a new history. What we need now, is a new mythology.” Who, if anyone, is undertaking the building of these new myths? And what are they reckoning with along the way?

6:00 PM
Readercon Blog Club: “The Uses and Value of Realism in Speculative Fiction”

Elizabeth Bear (leader), John Crowley, Rose Lemberg, Scott Lynch

In response to the Readercon 23 panel “Why Is Realistic Fiction Useful?”, Chris Gerwel wrote a blog post exploring the aesthetic uses of realism in spec fic and other literature. He says, “To be effective, fiction must communicate or reveal something true…. That truth is not necessarily factual (such-and-such happened), but is rather more nebulous and insightful (such-and-such could have happened).” Gerwel goes on to argue that “realistic” descriptions of fantastic things can be a way to help the audience to deal with these concepts, giving them better access to the underlying metaphors of a dragon or a spaceship. He closes by saying, “I believe that quotidian speculative fiction has its place in the genre. And that is precisely because it speaks to different truths than most speculative fiction: it speaks to the little heroisms of daily life, and to the practical challenges that arise from our human and social natures” an idea that echoes discussions of early science fiction stories written by women, and offers an alternative to the conflation of “realistic” and “gritty.” We’ll discuss the place of the quotidian in speculative fiction and other aspects of Gerwel’s complex and intriguing essay, which resides here.

8:00 PM
The Xanatos Gambit

Jim Freund (moderator), Yoon Ha Lee, Scott Lynch, James D. Macdonald

The tangled webs of schemers both good and bad have always had a presence in imaginative fiction. There are the wily king-killers, the intrigue-fomenting spinsters and widows, the bard who hides the knife beside the harp, the indispensable keeper of secrets, and more. What are the challenges in writing an especially clever character? How has the role of the schemer evolved, and what versions do we no longer see?

SUNDAY, JULY 14

12:00 PM
Pining for the Fnords: The New Nostalgia

Elizabeth Bear, John Benson, Andrea Hairston, Elizabeth Hand (moderator), Robert Killheffer, Scott Lynch

Well-received novels like John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Jo Walton’s Among Others, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One pointedly allude to the SF of decades past. In a controversial review in the Los Angeles Review of Science Fiction, Paul Kincaid suggested that contemporary SF is suffering from a feeling of exhaustion; “the genre is now afraid to engage with what once made it novel, instead turning back to what was there before” or reverting “to older, more familiar futures.” Others view this type of SF as celebrating its heritage. What’s driving this backward-looking urge, and to what extent is it positive or problematic?

I will not be doing an individual signing but I am always happy to scribble on anything brought to me at just about any other time.

My Convergence Schedule, July 4-7

Convergence is imminent, and here’s my formal schedule:

FRIDAY, JULY 5

  • Things I Wish I’d Known Before I started Writing
    11 AM, Atrium 4

    A panel of experienced writers will share the secrets of the profession they wish they knew when they first started writing. Come learn tricks of the trade that your publisher will never tell you! Panelists: Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Elizabeth Bear, James Moran, C. Robert Cargill, Scott Lynch

  • Reading (with Elizabeth Bear)
    7 PM, Sofitel Lyon

    I will be reading from THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES. Sharing this time will be my amazing significant other, Hugo- and Locus Award-winning SF/F author Elizabeth Bear.

  • Ian Fleming
    11 PM, Plaza 2

    Discuss the James Bond books and their original author, not the movies. Panelists: Paul Cornell, Chris Stenzel, Scott Lynch, Cynthia Booth

    SATURDAY, JULY 6

  • Beyond SF 101
    2 PM, Atrium 2

    There’s a lot of advice out there for the beginning writer, this panel is for those of you who have moved beyond that point. Panelists: John Klima, Scott Lynch, Peter Hautman, Michael Merriam

    NOTE: There’s only four of us on that last panel, and it’s all dudes. Surely we can find at least ONE woman, out of the area’s large pool of qualified speakers and the con’s huge attendance, willing to join us. Pretty please? Send me an e-mail (scott at scottlynch.us).

    UPDATE: Monica Valentinelli has agreed to join us! Huzzah!

    EXTRA NOTE: I am not having a formal signing time this year. if anyone wants anything signed, I’ll be delighted to do so at any of my other appearances. Cheers!