What My Secret Agent Grandmother Taught Me

In my latest column for Medium, I share what I learned from my oma about stories worth dying for:

https://medium.com/s/greatescape/how-stories-help-us-escape-491f24b233c8

Complement with a brief anatomy of story and how to kill a dragon.

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‘Bandwidth’ Examines How Our Feeds Create Our Reality

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A brief anatomy of story

Every story is about getting lost in a dark forest and trying to find your way to the other side.

Who you are (character) shapes what you do (plot) which defines the lessons you learn (theme) which changes who you are (transformation) at which point you stumble into sunlight.

Complement with these three quick writing tips for novelistshow to figure out what happens next, and this podcast interview on why reading fiction is like visiting a foreign country.

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A Recipe For Avoiding American Ruin

In my latest column for Scout's Incoming Transmission, I interview Omar El Akkad about the price of power, the psychology of extremism, and charting a new course for America:

https://scout.ai/story/a-recipe-for-avoiding-american-ruin?shared=772.H1yxHqx77

I previously recommended El Akkad's critically-acclaimed debut novel, American War, in this edition of my reading recommendation newsletter.

Complement the interview with Cory Doctorow on the true meaning of dystopia and Alexander Weinstein on how technology is changing what it means to be human.

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BANDWIDTH

After two years in the works, my new novel Bandwidth is now available. Bandwidth is a science fiction thriller featuring hackers and spies grappling over the geopolitics of climate change, with a group of techno-utopian activists hijacking the global feed to manipulate world leaders. Fast-paced, lush, and philosophical, it will suck you in and stick with you long after you reach the end. Brad Feld calls it "spectacular near-term science fiction" and Ramez Naam describes it as "an all-too-plausible thriller of power, morality, and global consequences."

The rough draft grew in fits and starts. This was a turbulent time in the United States, and it was impossible to escape the chaos and outrage of the presidential election. Technology played a disturbing and divisive role in that election, defying the starry-eyed pronouncements all too common in Silicon Valley. Judging by the current news cycle, there is still ample material for investigative journalists to dig their teeth into.

But great novels offer something different from great reporting. Fiction shines when it entertains and challenges us at the same time. It transports us. It offers an opportunity to move beyond intellectual debate and play out ideas in the gritty, intimate, messy context of people’s actual lives. It forces us to put things in perspective and to ask hard questions even if we don’t have ready answers.

If we are the stories we tell ourselves, what happens when someone else controls the narrative? If every detail of your life was algorithmically engineered, would you even be able to trust yourself? What does it take for a cynic to rediscover authenticity? How is technology changing the structure and exercise of power? When absolute data corrupts absolutely, what price would you pay to change the world?

These were some of the recurring questions that surfaced again and again as I worked my way through Bandwidth chapter by chapter, scene by scene, word by word. They are questions I am forced to consider every day when I succumb to the distraction of social media, find myself ignoring injustice because it all just seems to be too much, or contemplate just how out of touch our social institutions are from a world of accelerating innovation.

These are dark thoughts, and there is a dark vein running through Bandwidth. But whenever I struggle, I try to channel the protagonist's passion for history. I’d rather live in 2018 than in 1918. Or 1818. Or 1718. Or any other time.

By historical standards, most people alive today enjoy miracles that the emperors of old could only dream of (and likely didn’t). We are a lucky and privileged few, and whatever corruption and injustice we seek to overcome isn’t new or unique. And that leads us to a challenging conclusion.

The world is what we make it.

If we throw up our hands when the going gets tough, we get what we deserve. So take a deep breath, do some gentle stretching, and make the world a better place. Do a favor for a stranger. Be kind when instinct calls for harshness. Question your assumptions. Make good art. Tell your loved ones how grateful you are to have them in your life. Lend a hand to those in need. Take real risks to do the right thing.

And, of course, read Bandwidth! Books live and die based on word-of-mouth. You are the best readers that any writer could hope for and Bandwidth's future is in your capable hands.

Selected praise for Bandwidth:

"Real and urgent... a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of power among those who broker it. Peper manages a great deal of complexity without sacrificing clarity or pace, and I read it all in a single fascinated sitting." -The New York Times Book Review

"Eliot Peper’s Bandwidth is a riveting novel exploring the dark side of feeds and geopolitics... an engaging, electric read that forces us to confront the state of the world today." -TechCrunch

“A thrilling and all-too-realistic future in which the ubiquitous ‘feed’ — an immersive algorithm used by millions — becomes a tool for high-stakes blackmail, with climate change hanging in the balance.” -Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor

"The techno-thriller novel that we need right now, Bandwidth explores a terrifying world where we are all consumed by 'the feed.'" -Ars Technica

"Peper does a fabulous job depicting power and its trappings... [Bandwidth] is science fiction that grapples with consent, manipulation, equity, duty and friendship, where no one is entirely irredeemable and even the heroes need redemption." -Cory Doctorow, author of Walkaway and Little Brother

"Captivating near-term science fiction." -Farnam Street

“An all-too-plausible thriller of power, morality, and global consequences. What would you do to wield influence? How far would you go to wield it for good? Bandwidth’s answers may disturb you.” -Ramez Naam, author of Nexus

"Technology, not only social media but also the news feeds we consume, changes the ways we look at everything. Good and bad actors manipulate us via that technology in ways that we're only now beginning to appreciate. Bandwidth tells a really good story and illustrates exactly how that happens." -Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist

“A smart techno-thriller that plays out the near future of data immersion, the digital divide, and climate change with mind-expanding effectiveness.” -Malka Older, author of Infomocracy

“A very credibly rendered near future… Peper guides his story with a sure hand, lacing its narrative with issues and references that resonate powerfully in the age of net neutrality, algorithms, and social media hacks.” -Publisher's Weekly

"Bandwidth is science fiction perfectly timed for the crazy world we live in these days. Highly recommended, even if parts feel like they hit a little too close to home." -Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt

"What. A. Ride. A perfect near-future world that feels chillingly real. Bandwidth will make my top books of the year without blinking an eye." -Brian's Book Blog

"Eliot Peper's Bandwidth is an exciting, unpredictable, high-tech espionage thriller." -Templeton Gate

"All too plausible... [Bandwidth] asks big questions about trust, technology, power, and who really controls narratives." -East Bay Express

"Avoids taking the easy 'outs' and subverts expectations. Bandwidth moves to center stage real world issues that we’re all living through right now: global warming, climate refugees, the subversion of democracy." -Open Buddha

Read Bandwidth today.

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THE UNCOMMON SERIES gets a new look

My first novel came out four years ago and quickly grew into a trilogy. The Uncommon Series is a fast-paced, deeply-researched near-future thriller that follows the irrepressible Mara Winkel as she leads her brand new tech startup from garage to IPO and gets caught up in an international conspiracy along the way. The series remains the #1 top-rate financial thriller on Amazon and wrestles with the challenges of entrepreneurship and the social implications of technology. A few months back, I talked to the original cover designer about updating the visual identity of the series. The results blew me away and we "stealth" launched them last week.

Check out the gorgeous new editions and let me know what you think. The design is based on a flow snake fractal and the "static" type was originally the product of an error in the design software that we immediately fell in love with. You can see more details about the art direction and side-by-sides with the original covers here. The designer also published a wonderfully granular essay detailing every step of the cover redesign process here.

If you haven't read Mara's story yet, now's the time.

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The Mental Gymnastics of Space Travel

In the latest Incoming Transmission over at Scout, I talk to novelist Meg Howrey about the inner lives of astronauts. Read the interview right here.

Meg shares many thought-provoking insights into the human experience of astronauts, the psychology of peak performance, and the cultural power of the final frontier. Her novel, The Wanderers, is a deep, awe-inspiring, and thoughtful story about three astronauts preparing to go to Mars (I featured it in my reading recommendation newsletter). As her protagonists struggle through a brutal seventeen month training exercise that simulates every aspect of the impending journey, Howrey illuminates the hearts and minds of these extraordinary people with clarity and precision. In doing so, she shows that our dreams of exploring space reveal as much about human nature as they do about the cosmos.

You can find more Incoming Transmissions from visionary authors like Malka Older, Cory Doctorow, and Kim Stanley Robinson here.

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