These Maps Are Not the Territory…

So, as promised, here are a few scanned maps from Ye Olden Days (2002-03) when what would eventually become The Lies of Locke Lamora was in what you might call active gestation… but damn, there was so very far to go. These are the sorts of things I would doodle night after night in a 24-hour family restaurant in St. Paul, MN, nursing my Diet Coke and trying desperately to feel competent.

At this point, I was still trying to launch the story via the plot elements that are set to emerge in The Thorn of Emberlain, the Vadran civil war in the Kingdom of the Seven Marrows. Strangely enough “March of Shite” and “Confederation of Fucking Unnamed City-States” did not catch on in later drafts of the background material.

This is closer to what eventually stabilized as Locke’s reality, though it’s vertical where the final version is horizontal and it’s on the wrong continental coast. Camorr, believe it or not, was originally called “Lorem,” which I thought of as just a nice elegant made-up word. I had not yet been introduced to the concept of “lorem ipsum” placeholder text.

This poor, torn-up, soda-stained map represents the oldest surviving recognizable version of Camorr, back when it was still Lorem, and back when I thought I had to have chintzy names for every last brothel on the waterfront. Some of the final elements have begun to gel… the lagoons and the generally nautical/hydrological nature of the city, as well as the vast towers linked by cables. Aspects of Venice were eventually incorporated into Camorr to flesh it out logically; it was not originally conceived as a straightforward analog of any sort. I honestly wish I could remember when my intent finally shifted for good from the epic wars in the north to the more intimate problems of Locke and Camorr… but it’s one of those things that is lost to the warm Jell-O salad of memory.

THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you now know that the semi-mythical beast known as The Republic of Thieves has at last been captured in the wild and given official release dates: October 8th in the US and October 10th in the UK. You can read the Gollancz announcement here and the Del Rey Spectra announcement here!

So what’s the deal with all the wacky release dates we’ve seen over the years?

They were more or less artifacts of bookseller databases. Basically, if a book is going to be available for pre-order, it needs to have a release date attached, any release date, even a ludicrous or fictional one. That release date kept shifting as the book kept failing to appear. Eventually, my publishers stopped even consulting tea leaves and the projected dates became still-more loosely tethered to reality. Add inertia and hearsay to the mix (some sites continued to post long-outdated fictional dates, others falsely reported that the book had been published) and you have the ingredients for a gigantic confusion pie.

And how do we know this release date is the real one?

I have Tweeted several times that I would vouch for no release date until I formally shouted it, myself, from the ramparts of my own blog and other social media. This is me shouting from the ramparts. October, 2013 is not a random guess from some poor sod behind a database. My publishers in New York and London hold a revised version of the complete manuscript that pleases them both; with that in hand to work from they have set forth a release date that is not a mere prayer of hope muttered over an empty cocktail glass. In short, to prevent the release of this book, you must now obliterate the planet Earth. Good luck with that.

What about release dates in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, etc.?

I do not have that information at my fingertips, but as I acquire it I’m going to try to set up some sort of central repository of known availability dates.

Now, the next few items are mild spoilers, so if you’re the sort of person who wants to preserve as much of the surprise as you can, skip the rest of this entry until mid-October.

When does The Republic of Thieves pick up chronologically?

The “present day” thread resumes the story a few weeks after the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies. The flashback thread shows several episodes from Locke’s early years, and then a long adventure from when Locke, Jean, and Sabetha were about sixteen.

So Sabetha is actually in this thing?

Yes, Sabetha Belacoros is finally revealed in person for the first time and is a major character in The Republic of Thieves.

Do we find out more about the Bondsmagi?

The Bondsmagi are fairly integral to the plot. We meet several more of them and explore their home city of Karthain.

What else would you say to tempt us without spoiling?

Well, you’ll get to spend more time with Calo and Galdo Sanza, as well as Father Chains, and there are cameo appearances by a few other familiar faces from The Lies of Locke Lamora. You’ll find out how Locke and Sabetha met (you can read it right now, in fact). You’ll witness the very awkward teenage years of the Gentlemen Bastards. You’ll find out more about the customs of the hidden religion of the Crooked Warden. You’ll see Locke and Sabetha deploying the full panoply of their skills, against one another and against the world. You’ll discover who brought proper coffee-making to Therin society, and you’ll learn vital elements of crossbow safety!

Now that TRoT is in the bag, what are you doing?

My immediate project is to refinish a novella (another long overdue project) called The Mad Baron’s Mechanical Attic, which will be published by Subterranean Press.

Although TMBMA and its companion, The Choir of Knives, were conceived as prequels to The Lies of Locke Lamora, I have decided after lengthy reflection that I’m not willing to contribute another inessential prequel to our society’s towering heap of the damn things. Although I think TMBMA is a fun story with a great cast and setting, it ultimately revealed nothing surprising about Locke and Jean’s history and it stretched the boundaries of what I consider acceptable retconning. I have come to believe that prequels should cast some accepted facts of their universes in a new light, and I just didn’t have anything up my sleeve in that department.

What I am deeply interested in, however, is the further adventures of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen now that I’ve recovered something of my ability to push them forward. Thus, I am retooling these novellas as a bridge story between the events of The Republic of Thieves and The Thorn of Emberlain, one that is entirely optional but hopefully enriching.

After that, I will resume work on The Thorn of Emberlain, already in progress.

My Embarrassing Juvenilia: THE MUTT

Our tour of my embarrassing juvenilia, promised as a “reward” for your assistance (oh, you poor goddamn people) in Operation Steve and Emma, continues! This week… just what was the Terrible Secret of SPACE… er, THE MUTT?

You’ve already met the Chensakau, the Space Velociraptors who were one-half of the story. The MUTT was the other half. Seven unfortunate human souls, crammed into one artificial body and given a week to avert interstellar war by hunting down conspirators in the year 2296. That’s right, when I was 17 I thought it would be really cool to recycle the central conceit of HERMAN’S HEAD as my narrative framing device. Facepalm. ALL THE FACEPALMS, ALL AT ONCE.

Here’s the largest image (click the little link above) in this particular collection, a “splash page” sketch emphasizing the epic lameness of the whole shootin’ match. The idea was: In 2296, the Chensakau Imperium coxesisted uneasily with the Terran Republic, each species controlling a handful of star systems in an old and long-settled galaxy. The Functionary Corps, professional bureaucrats sworn to the service of the Chensakau empress, hatched a plot to drag the two powers into a full-scale war. I cannot remember their reasons, if they had any. Let’s assume the usual: A lifetime supply of free cupcakes and beer if they somehow pulled it off.

TSS Wallenberg, a Terran patrol vessel with a crew of seven, was ambushed and destroyed by a Chensakau vessel lurking in the Oort Cloud. I was really, really confused about the nature of the Oort Cloud, envisioning it as something like the asteroid field in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. There was no Wikipedia back then, kids. We had to go check actual books out of the library, like the beasts of the field.

Anyhow, that would have been it for the intrepid crew of the Wallenberg, if not for the intervention of a vastly more ancient species based, as you can see, on the eerie anal-probing little guys from Whitley Streiber’s COMMUNION. These guys wanted to prevent the war, but like all Cheapskate Magical Omnipotent Fantasy Assholes, they didn’t want to use any of their vast actual cosmic powers. Or do anything sensible and logical. So they, uh, collected the souls of the seven dead crewmembers, put them into an artificial body, and sent this brain-chorus of the damned back to earth with a mandate to hunt down the human traitors who were helping the Functionary Corps spring their scheme.

Big Shyamalan Surprise: One of the MUTT souls turned out to be one of the major conspirators. Gasp! Tweeeeeeeeeeest!

So, uh, yeah. An ancient alien race so powerful they could capture and re-use souls at will, but so stupid they’d use that power on a cockamamie plan like this one. Above you can see my equally dimwitted initial conception of the Mutt; a patchwork of body parts (and mullet parts) salvaged from corpses found floating in deep space. Because when you want your secret agent to be inconspicuous… that’s what you make ’em look like.  Fortunately, I soon wised up and settled on this final design:

A synthetic male body with African/Pacific features. I’m almost 100% certain this guy was influenced by King Mob, as I was an INVISIBLES reader at the time. I do dig the face, I think it was one of the few things that worked, but damn… that left shoulder is apparently dislocated so far out of its socket, the Mutt in the tie ought to be begging for death. “To be an artist means never averting one’s eyes,” they say, and to that I would add: Especially in anatomy class.

My Chicago Worldcon Schedule

I’ll be on three panels, as well as attending the Hugo Awards ceremony. This will be my first Worldcon. My panels are:

Friday, August 31

VIOLENCE IN FANTASY

10:30 AM, Wright: Silver West

The use and misuse of violence in SF and fantasy. How much is too much?

Saturday, September 1

WHY FANTASY DOMINATES SCIENCE FICTION

10:30 AM, Grand Suite 3: Gold East

How and why did fantasy emerge as the dominant commercial and literary force in the genre? Where did science fiction lose its way, in terms of attracting and keeping its share of the fans? What can written SF learn from motion pictures and television, and vice versa? What can SF learn from the more successful fantasy works?

DISASTER RESPONSE IN SF

7:30 PM, Gold Coast: Bronze West

Apocalyptic natural disasters, hungry zombies, devastating plagues. These are all mainstays of SF&F stories. The federal government has real National Incident Management System (NIMS) for dealing with them. How would NIMS react to some science fictional scenarios? What would the response look like?

 

My Embarrassing Juvenilia, Part One of Several

I’m back home in Wisconsin, and more or less well, and upright and functional again after getting savagely whiplashed by that damned virus I brought with me… chills! Shaking fits! Lassitude! Sweating fits! Major stomach upset! Everything but a chestburster. Not quite the  begging-for-death spectacle that H1N1 was a few years back (imagine a weekend in which approximately 20 pounds of sweat jet from every pore in your body, like you’re some sort of water porcupine). Nor the pneumonia that made my 2006 UK book tour such a joy for everyone. Nor the binary clusterfuck that resulted when I returned from my 2010 UK visit with a nasty flu, and neglected to refill my antidepressant prescription for… a truly stupid length of time. But this thing made a solid fourth-place showing in the Pathogen Olympics.

From the Department of More Gooder News: I did manage to see both Emma and Steve at lunch last week before I was confined to sick bay, and I dispersed to them their shares of your generosity that had poured in by that point (I expect to see them again after Worldcon). Emma was on her feet again post-surgery, with a fetching bandana covering her Sweeney Todd-esque surgery souvenir.

Steve had his own surgery two days ago; by all reports it too went well, and he’s back at home, tweeting and chafing under his post-op instructions, which appear to be “don’t have any fucking fun for two weeks or you will explode.”

Now, thanks to several ludicrously generous donations of late, we are PAST the $4,000 mark, and thus past the point where I owe you the crown jewel of your faux-Kickstarter “prizes.” Oh, you poor creatures. I am still hard at work on the bigger QotIS e-book, having set myself a bit backwards while attempting to work on it while I was still sick and feverish. I have, however, had a long dance with a scanner.

Context! When I was a teenager, I suffered from the delusion that I was going to grow up to be a comic book self-publisher. In those long-ago pre-ebook days, self-publishing went through a sort of mini-golden age wherein all kinds of hip, quirky, niche-hunting stuff that had no chance in hell at any major publisher managed to flourish, or at least bob gamely a few times before sinking. It seemed like genuinely important battles over creators’ rights were being fought before my eyes, month by month, in letter columns and at summits and conventions in exotic places like Everywhere Else But Where I Lived. I wanted to be Dave Sim when I grew up… in those amazing times before he went catastrophically bugfuck nuts, he was my honest-to-god hero.

My collection included Cerebus, True Swamp, Wandering Star, Stray Bullets, Bone, Rare Bit Fiends, Starchild, Strange Attractors, Hepcats, Poison Elves, A Distant Soil, and similar charming weirdness. Said collection, by the way, was stolen in 2000 (whether the thief was expecting pristine Wizard magazine price list investment fodder, or just happened to have randomly exquisite taste in comics, I’ll never know).

Anyhow, there I was, dreaming of a future writing and drawing until my spine snapped in half. Fortunately for myself, and for everyone spared an opportunity to read the stuff I planned, I lacked the discipline to take my illustration past a certain plateau. The following sketches in a 10 x 15 pad still survive; I adjusted the scans a bit in Photoshop to make the pencil work as clear as possible. Thumbnails link to larger versions.

Orbison the Alien thumbnail

 

 

 

1. Cover sketch for Orbison the Alien, 1994-1995

Orbison was intended to be my first foray into self-publishing, a four-issue limited series about an alien broadcast monitor who crashed his personal saucer on Earth and was forced to scrounge up temp work, attempting to communicate using the limited patois of pop culture references he’d gathered from scanning our TV channels. If it sounds like a one-joke concept, that’s ’cause it was. I planned to write, draw, and publish this during my senior year of high school, and by providence I discovered roleplaying games instead. Which was amazing luck… even if I had managed to create the pages, any attempt by me to run a business at that point would have been raw atomic failure.

 

 

 

2. Concept sketch for The Mutt, early 1995

The Mutt was the project I intended to follow Orbison with, a seven-issue science fiction series based on the dumbest premise ever… well, surely a dumbest premise ever. But it did feature a moderately cool alien species obviously based on Velociratpr/Deinonychus. I called ’em the Chensakau (and later adjusted that to the more poetic Chensathra). The influence of David Brin’s Uplift universe on this project was extreme.

 

 

 

3. Chensakau cybernetic combat skeleton concept, 1995

The Chensakau were intended to be a cybernetics-happy species, for a very Cyberpunk 2020 value of ‘cybernetics.’ Their elite royal commando formation, the Giirdaan Regiment, were augmented to ludicrous extremes. You can see from this conceptual sketch of a cybernetic skeleton replacement that I had no real grasp of concepts like “surgically feasible” and “guaranteed death on the operating table.” I mean, damn. Poor space reptiles. “Now comes the part of the operation where we hold your brain very, very gently while we replace your entire skull all at once. This is why you earn your hazard pay, lizard marine!”

I must give my dumbass teenage self a tiny bit of credit, and admit that there are perhaps less cool things in the universe than the notion of hundreds of cybernetic velociraptors pouring across a landscape with laser guns in hand and grenade launchers sticking out of their spines.

 

 

 

4. Chensakau architectural concept, 1995

The original caption, which didn’t fit into the scan, read: “The Imperial Tower, 15,000 feet high. Home of the Empress on the Chensakau Homeworld.” I was aiming for a bio/mechanical hybrid aesthetic, buildings that looked almost grown, studded with technological features and surfaces. This is a concept I’ll revisit at some point, in a story that makes sense.

 

 

 

5. Extraterrestrial dinner conversation, 1995

I’m not sure if the diner on the left was meant to be a Chensakau, or just a variation on a theme. Another major influence on me all those years ago was Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials, an extraordinary work created by a genuine artist when he was just a couple years older than the Scott that produced these sketches.

 

 

 

6. Embarrassing Cyberspace Trilogy Fan Art, 1995

A third major artistic lodestone in my teenage years was cyberpunk, particularly the earlier work of William Gibson and the goofily lovable CP 2020 roleplaying game. This, I think, must have started out as a sketch of one of my characters; by adding MAAS-NEOTEK to his t-shirt I suppose I transmogrified it to Gibson fanart. And doesn’t the woman in the background look thrilled to be there?

More to come…

 

Failure Isn’t Forever, and the Man Who Wasn’t There.

One of the things in the air following the recent Readercon creeper mess is women writing about their own sexual harassment experiences at conventions, so often with codas of: “I should have been stronger! I should have been tougher! I should have made myself clearer! I should have set firmer boundaries!” And while that’s only natural it’s also unfair, self-castigating, and precisely aligned with the sort of victim-blaming behavior that needs to be forcefully stamped out wherever it pops up.

At the risk of coming off like that shudder-inducing tool Boy in Outer Space, it’s not your fault for having no idea what the hell you’re doing the first time you unexpectedly encounter an incredibly stressful situation, as when someone invades your personal space, takes advantage of you, or outright harasses you. It’s a keen encounter– your adrenalin is gushing, your pulse pounding in your head, and no doubt part of you is trying hard to disbelieve that something so unpleasant can really be happening. You may even be actively second-guessing yourself. It usually takes experience to evolve smoother, quicker, more forceful reactions. There is nothing wrong with you for not having been born with them.

ARCHIE GATES: “The way it works is, you do the thing you’re scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it. ”

CONRAD VIG: “That’s a dumbass way to work. It should be the other way around.”

ARCHIE GATES: “I know. That’s the way it works.”

-From Three Kings, (1999)

—–

The first time I entered a burning structure as a member of a firefighting hose team, I was barely in control of myself. I shook like mad. I hardly did anything decisive or useful. Six years have since passed. I’ve walked through fire, climbed up to it, crawled down stairs into it. I’ve had ceilings and melted fiberglass come down on my head. Burning houses, burning garages, burning car engines, I’ve had my face in them all. I’ve learned to breathe more slowly, think more carefully, cut out panicky speculation and useless side-thoughts. It’s never easy. I’m always scared shitless. But I’ve evolved the ability to select and maintain useful action over less constructive behavior like, say, curling myself into a little ball and yelling, “Computer! Freeze Program!” over and over again until someone else drags me back into fresh air.

The ability to choose useful action under stress is a learnable skill. Practice makes courage. It also makes decisions move so quickly and smoothly as to be indistinguishable from courage. Either one will do. The point is, while you can certainly try to prepare yourself in advance with useful training and resources, you can only directly acquire smoothness at dealing with harassment in the most unpleasant way possible– by dealing with it.

So it’s no moral failure to not come out swinging and screaming the first time you realize you’re being made uncomfortable by someone else’s creepy behavior. Deliah Dawson writes about this at length in “dear dudes: don’t tell me how to lace my corset,” which is worth a read.

Now.

Even with that said, the whole “could have done more” shtick is a classic component of victim-blaming, a key element in rape/harassment culture used to turn all agency, all responsibility, all possible blame back upon the victim. The seemingly sensible, seemingly helpful question, “Oh, but could she* have done more?”

The thing about this question is that the goalposts tend to move, and move, and move, further and further away from assigning any fraction of responsibility to the actual creep. More is always open-ended, always followed by ellipses. “Oh, you got raped? Well, couldn’t you have run? Couldn’t you have run faster? Couldn’t you have run faster and climbed a fence? Couldn’t you have run like an Olympic sprinter, climbed a fence, and leapt onto a passing bus?”

The subtext of “couldn’t she have done more?” is always “oh, she obviously didn’t want to avoid that rape/harassment quite enough.” Whatever the questioner would deem “sufficient” can always just lie one step beyond what was actually done. Thus it becomes, gradually or all at once, none of the perpetrator’s responsibility and entirely the victim’s.

This is a mode of thinking intended to erase one human actor from the equation, leaving only one possible conclusion: Somehow the victim did this to herself.

The perpetrator becomes, by magic, the Man Who Wasn’t There, and we pretend that sexual harassment/violence is some natural phenomenon, like pollen or bad weather, that women just happen to walk into. We pretend that it doesn’t stem from human actions or choices, except the actions or choices of the victim.

Imagine that a man heaves a bucket of cold water all over a woman. Soaked, shocked, the woman appeals to passers-by for help, pointing to the man, who stands there laughing and enjoying her consternation. “Who the hell does he think he is?” asks the woman, but the passers-by completely ignore the man with the bucket. Instead they ask the woman why she wasn’t carrying an umbrella, since she ought to have known it might rain.

A small yet still depressing number of people right now are patting themselves on the back for asking “Why didn’t Genevieve Valentine just carry an umbrella and a raincoat with her at all times?” The question they ought to be trying is, “What the hell did Rene Walling think he was up to, following her around with that bucket of cold water?”

—–

*Women aren’t the only victims of sexual harassment/assault, yet male-on-female incidence of the phenomenon so far outstrips all others, and is so obviously what the case presently under discussion is about, that I’ll consign any attempt to divert the discussion on this point to moderation purgatory.