‘Null States’ Maps Out the Geopolitics of Tomorrow

My review of Malka Older's new science fiction thriller that brings the future of democracy to vivid, divisive life ran in The Chicago Review of Books. Read the review right here.

Older's series hits the center of my Venn diagram of weird obsessions: imagining the future, gorging on international street food, seeking out crazy adventures, and making sense of geopolitics. She's one of the smartest people thinking about how technology is changing our political institutions and her novels yield deep insights in addition to pulse-pounding entertainment.

For a peek inside her brain, see my in-depth interviews with her here and here. We discuss how our systems of governance are changing and the underlying trends that are shaping the future.

Check out the review and then read her books, you won't be disappointed.

Dystopia is a State of Mind

In the new Scout Incoming Transmission, I ask Cory Doctorow which questions will define the future. Read the interview right here.

He points out our most pernicious assumptions and how we need to update our world views and institutions to accommodate technological change.

We discuss his new novel Walkaway (featured in the latest edition of my reading recommendation newsletter), his activism with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and where he finds strength in his darkest moments.

I found his book and the interview moving and provocative. Give it a read and let me know what you think. I promise it's worth your time.

You can find more Incoming Transmissions from authors like Malka Older, Alexander Weinstein, and Kim Stanley Robinson here.

BANDWIDTH coming May 2018

I just signed a three book deal with Amazon Publishing and my new novel, Bandwidth, will come out May 2018.

Bandwidth is a near future thriller that explores the geopolitics of climate change and how algorithms shape our lives. Imagine Mr. Robot meets House of Cards, with techno utopian activists hacking the global feed to influence the psychology of world leaders.

I'm super excited to work with Adrienne Procaccini, Colleen Lindsay, and the whole Amazon Publishing team to bring the story to life. Speaking of teams, I'm also extremely happy to be partnering with DongWon Song at Howard Morhaim for literary representation. He's a (possibly evil) genius.

(Hot tip: If you come across a possibly evil genius, recruit them.)

To pay it forward, I'm donating 15% of the Bandwidth advance to support Michelle Welsch's incredible work improving education in Nepal. Whether or not our science fiction stories imagine better worlds, we can all do our part to help build one.

More details to come. Join my reading recommendations newsletter for updates.

For now, I’m off to start working on book two.

Why Business Leaders Need to Read More Science Fiction

My first-ever piece for Harvard Business Review explores how science fiction can help us overcome false assumptions. Science fiction reveals how fragile the status quo is, and how malleable the future can be. Science fiction isn't useful because it's predictive. It's useful because it reframes our perspective on the world. This is a topic very close to my heart and I hope you enjoy the essay:

https://hbr.org/2017/07/why-business-leaders-need-to-read-more-science-fiction

I'd love to hear what you think. Let me know what science fiction stories have changed the way you see the world.

How technology is changing what it means to be human

In the latest Scout Incoming Transmission, I interviewed award-winning writer Alexander Weinstein about how tech influences our lives. Weinstein has so much to say on the underlying trends that shape our future and the most important philosophical and ethical challenges we face. I recommended his stellar debut short story collection, Children of the New World, in a previous edition of my reading recommendation newsletter, "Akin to a literary Black Mirror, each story powerfully illustrates how technology impacts our lives and forces us to confront what it means to be human. In dissecting the future, Weinstein reveals hidden truths about the present."

In the interview, Weinstein shares how he identifies and analyzes the ways technology is changing our lives, what makes the best speculative short stories so powerful, and what we can do to prepare ourselves for a world of accelerating change. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Fun fact: Reading Children of the New World is one of the things that inspired me to write my very first short story, True Blue, which debuted at #1 in its Amazon category last month.

Bound adapts Cumulus into a digital serial with art and extras

I'm excited to finally share a project that's been in the works for almost two years. Matt Hannus reached out to me back in September 2015 after reading the Uncommon Series. Matt is a veteran game developer and told me that he was launching a new company leveraging the flexibility of digital media to tell stories in new ways on mobile. He was hoping to rope me in to develop a story for the platform.

His vision resonated with me. When we read on the internet or on our phones, we read mostly nonfiction: blog posts, news articles, personal essays, etc. But in the world of books, fiction vastly outsells nonfiction: we read many more mysteries, science fiction stories, and romance novels than we do nonfiction books. Why is that? Why do we read nonfiction on the internet and fiction in books? There are as many answers as there are armchair media pundits, but it seems to me that there might be an untapped opportunities for storytelling on the internet.

Fast forward two years. Matt and his team raised investment, transformed their vision into a product, and just this month shared that product with the world. Bound is a new mobile app that combines serialized prose, art and audio with community features from the best storytellers in "geek genres" like science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. The app is available for free in the iOS App Store and you can download it right here.

Bound launched with exclusive content based on the new novel The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, and Purgatorio, a sci-fi adventure series by award-winning author John Shirley, based on the Midnight Star: Renegade mobile game universe developed by Industrial Toys and best-selling author John Scalzi. Bound has also announced agreements with acclaimed creators Gunslinger Studios, former Pixar and Telltale Games creative Stephan Bugaj, award-winning game writer Matt Entin, and writer and linguist Nick Farmer (Nick and Stephan both happen to be friends of mine).

So I'm honored and excited to announce that Bound just released the first three episodes of their adaptation of my science fiction thriller Cumulus (new episodes will come out weekly). Cumulus takes place in a world that we seem to be barreling into. Tech consolidation, ambient AI, crumbling public institutions, escalating economic inequality, persistent surveillance, these are all things that have migrated from science fiction into reality. Bound's platform will bring that world to life, enriching the narrative with original art and extras. If you've read Cumulus, you'll get a kick out of the redacted emails from Graham's Agency operations, scandalous news articles documenting Huian's rise, and even Lilly's Lancer profile. It's been a delight seeing how deep their sourcebook goes, and I can't wait for fans to access it. If you haven't yet read Cumulus... what are you waiting for?! 🤓

We all read books, watch movies, and play games. Bound is leveraging the malleability of digital media to build something new and unique, an example of what the future of storytelling might look like. Check it out and let me know what you think.

True Blue

Wow, thanks for being the best readers ever. My very first short story just debuted at #1 in its category on Kindle. Writing it changed my life, and I hope that reading it changes yours.

True Blue is a parable about persecution and self-discovery set in a world where the color of your eyes might just get you killed. In this parallel universe, everybody knows that people with blue eyes are lazy, violent, and stupid. Blues are absent from the halls of power, the few celebrated exceptions proving the rule. Crime dramas feature blue homicidal maniacs. Parents protect their children from the corrupting influence of blue peers. Blue travelers take secondary screening at every airport for granted. Born a blue, Kamran Tir has survived by living a lie. But his secret is about to come out.

Get your copy right now. It's a short story, so you'll be able to read it in 20 minutes or so. Even if you don't have a Kindle, you can read it on any device via the free Kindle app. I'm looking forward to hearing your impressions.

Now, for some backstory on True Blue. A few months ago, I received an email from my friend David Cohen, "I've had an idea for a book for a while. Given what's going on in America, I thought I'd send it to you because I sure as hell am never going to write it." David went on to present a thought experiment: what if discrimination targeted eye color instead of skin color or any other trait?

I'll let you in on a little secret. If you start writing books, your friends will start sending you ideas. Strangers too. You'll get very good at letting people down easy. After all, you have your own dreams to bring to life.

But David's premise stuck with me, lurking in the shadows of my subconscious and rearing its head at opportunity moments. It would visit me as I took the dog on a walk or did the dishes. It made me think of my opa whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis and my oma who risked her life every day to fight in the Dutch Resistance. Every time the idea resurfaced, it took on weight and texture, building up creative momentum until I had no choice but to write it.

Speculative fiction has a secret superpower. Imaginative stories invite us to experience plausible realities unlike our own. In doing so, they empower us to confront the myriad hidden assumptions we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. We cannot explore new worlds and return unchanged.

True Blue is a story about the absurdity of discrimination, the importance of being true to yourself, and our irrepressible capacity for overcoming injustice. It's a story about standing up instead of standing by. It's a story about finding the courage to stop caring what other people think.

These are truths we need to keep in mind now more than ever. Oh, and next time someone sends me an idea, I promise to pay attention.

I may have written True Blue, but only you can give it wings. Stories live and die by word-of-mouth. Any success my books have achieved is thanks to you. Here are three things you can do right now to help:

  1. Buy a copy today. Early sales make an outsized impact on a story's success. They catapult it up the Amazon rankings, contribute to it getting featured as a hot new release, and attract attention from press and booksellers. This matters. A lot.
  2. Leave a review. Early positive reviews give stories a critical boost in Amazon's algorithms (Goodreads too!), exposing it to new readers who depend on your good judgement. It only takes a few minutes and makes a huge difference. Oh, and I read every single review so I can't wait to see what you have to say.
  3. Share it with your friends. We discover our next favorite story thanks to someone we trust recommending it to us. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. Whisper about it in the shadows and shout about it from the rooftops. If you have an audience of your own, I'm happy to answer any questions and send you a press kit. If you're short on time, here's a copy/paste-worthy example for social media: "This is worth your time. A mind-bending short story about social justice and standing up instead of standing by. http://amzn.to/2sR3Cv8"

A thousand thanks, you're the best readers any writer could hope for. Your grassroots support has helped my books hit #1 in their categories, raise thousands of dollars for charity, and earn praise from major publications like Businessweek, Popular Science, io9, TechCrunch, Ars Technica and the Verge. I hope you enjoy True Blue and I can't wait to hear what you think.