It's hard to believe Cumulus came out a year ago

Y'all are the folks whose enthusiasm got it reviewed in Businessweek, Ars Technica, Popular Science, io9, GeekDad, etc., sent it to #1 in its Amazon categories, and helped the story raise more than $10k for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Chapter 510.

That's pretty darn unusual for a self published novel with no fancy publicist or marketing team. Your word-of-mouth recommendations and grassroots reviews are what put wind in its sails. Sometimes the small things make a big difference.

Thanks a million.

https://www.amazon.com/Cumulus-Eliot-Peper-ebook/dp/B01E4L5L6S/

Kim Stanley Robinson interview

I interviewed Kim Stanley Robinson about his prescient, moving new novel, New York 2140. You can read the interview and excerpt right here.

Stan is one of my favorite authors and his books have influenced me since I first discovered his Three Californias trilogy as a teenager. In this interview, we talk about his sources of inspiration, creative process, how he imagines possible futures, the importance of science fiction, and what climate change and sea level rise mean for us and the planet.

This is the second edition of the Incoming Transmission series that explores the social implications of technology through books that illuminate the present by examining the future.

If you enjoy the interview, you'll probably get a kick out of my reading recommendations.

Speaking at GamesBeat Summit

Next week I'll be speaking at GamesBeat Summit in Berkeley. They even wrote up a nice story about it here. This is what we'll cover:

The pace of innovation is accelerating. Technological revolutions that once took millennia to play out now take decades, years, months. At the same time, science fiction has rocketed from nerdy niche to mainstream blockbuster, capturing a popular imagination faced with the hard truth that change is the only constant. Science fiction stories inspire technologists, entrepreneurs, and scientists to build a future shaped by narrative. Are we living in science fiction? Is science fiction actually the most "realistic" tool we have to make sense of the modern world? Venture capital investor Tim Chang and author Eliot Peper discuss how science fiction and real world tech influence each other, and what that means for the rest of us.

Tim is a good friend as well as an investor at Mayfield Fund. He spends his time betting on entrepreneurs and helping them build the future. Every few months, we get together and gab about what's coming and his unique perspective has had a big influence on my writing. I'll also be on a separate panel with science fiction author Austin Grossman and Thwacke cofounder Sebastian Alvarado. There are some other stellar folks coming, including Gary Whitta (first writer on Rogue One), John Underkoffler (science adviser on Minority Report and CEO at Oblong Industries), Tim Sweeney (CEO at Epic Games), and many, many other highly accomplished folks.

More details here. If you're around, it should be a good time. The event organizers tell me that if you use the code "Deantak" you'll get 35% off.

How to make an author's day

Want to make your favorite author's day? Review their work wherever you buy or discover books. You'd be amazed at the impact.

Amazon's algorithms favor books based on quality, quantity, and velocity of reviews. Goodreads points readers to new works based on ratings. Blog and social media posts weave our favorite narratives into the larger cultural conversation.

At the end of the day, we all rely on each other to recommend the stories we love. That's how we discover our next obsession!

Speaking at the Conference on World Affairs

I'm excited to visit CU Boulder next week (April 10-14, 2017) to speak at the Conference on World Affairs. CWA is an annual week-long event covering an astounding variety of political, business, and scientific fields.

I'll be on a number of panels that revolve around trying to make sense of the future (very in line with my books and editorial work at Scout): Art Without Borders (9-10:20AM on 4/10), SciFi Influencing Society (2-3:15PM on 4/11), Bioengineering: Designer Babies and More (9-10:20AM on 4/12), Singularity: When the Real World Becomes Westworld (12:30-1:45PM on 4/13), and "Hacktivism" and Cyber Security (11-12:20PM on 4/14). Basically, Black Mirror in a conference format. 😱

It will be particularly cool to talk with the students, given that the protagonists of my first three novels are Boulder-loving CU dropouts who take their tech startup from garage to IPO and get caught up in an international conspiracy along the way. If you're in Boulder next week, let me know. I'd love to see you at one of the panels or grab a coffee/beer.

You'll notice the breadth of panel topics. Nobody could possibly be an expert in all of these things, least of all me, but I love learning about them. If you've read a particularly good article/essay/book on any of them, let me know. I'd love to channel your best ideas!

Huge thanks to Bob Baskerville for inviting me to participate and to Brad Feld for making the trip possible.

Joining Scout

I’m excited to share that I'm joining Scout as an editor and special adviser. Scout is a fantastic new publication that combines original speculative fiction and in-depth technology journalism to explore the social implications of innovation. I backed them on Kickstarter way back when and quickly befriended the founders, Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath. It’s been amazing to watch them grow and publish groundbreaking stories that have changed the way I see the world.

In addition to advising them on strategy, I’ll be contributing original fiction to Scout and launching a series called Incoming Transmission that explores the big ideas living inside important books that illuminate the present by examining the future.

As readers of this humble blog, you already have an inside view of exactly what we're hoping to achieve. In fact, the very first Incoming Transmission is an exclusive interview with Malka Older, author of the amazing debut political science fiction thriller Infomocracy which I recommended in my reading recommendations newsletter a few months back. If you check out Incoming Transmission, I’d love to hear what you think.

Oh, and by the way, becoming a Scout member is still invite-only. If it piques your fancy, let me know and I’ll hook you up.

Using storytelling to fight oppression

I'm giving a talk at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today about using storytelling to fight oppression. Like an ACLU for the digital world, EFF defends our civil rights online. Their work is more important now than ever.

In December, I donated more than $10k of proceeds from Cumulus to EFF and Chapter 510 to help head off some of the darkest aspects of the future the book portrays. As readers and champions of Cumulus, you are the people who made this possible and gave a science fiction adventure some real social impact. Thank you and kudos.

If you're wondering how you can make a difference, donating to EFF is a great start.

Neon Fever Dream audiobook comes out today

I'm excited to share that the audiobook of my latest novel, Neon Fever Dream, is now available. Narrated by the estimable Jennifer O'Donnell and produced at Brick Shop Audio in Brooklyn, I couldn't be more delighted with the results. Led by a diverse cast, Neon Fever Dream is a fast-paced, deeply-researched thriller about a dark secret hidden at Burning Man. It's earned praise from Popular Science, TechCrunch, NYT bestselling author DJ Molles, and Hugo/Nebula award winner David Brin. You can start listening right here.

The area of craft I'm currently focused on improving is character development, creating compelling casts that feel like real people. So I was moved when a reviewer wrote, "Neon Fever Dream gave me everything I wanted in a thriller—surprises, quick pacing, great characters, and a colorful setting—while opening my eyes to a larger world. I also deeply appreciated how Asha was more than the sum of her parts. She had incredible agency and bravery. If I had daughters, I’d want them to turn out exactly like her."

If you've read it, don't forget to let me know what you think and leave a review. It makes a big difference.

Central Station is a glimpse of the messy, diverse, heartbreaking, beautiful future

An interview with award-winning science fiction author Lavie Tidhar.

Reading Central Station by Lavie Tidhar feels like falling into someone else’s dream. Using a far future Tel Aviv as his canvas, Tidhar weaves an emotionally driven tale that interrogates the human impact of digital technology. The story is complicated, touching, and multifaceted. It left me with a not unpleasant sense of melancholy, as if I were leaving behind close friends who I wouldn’t be seeing for a long time.

Fans of science fiction and fantasy will relish the many hidden references to genre tropes and classics. Tidhar won the British Science Fiction Award, World Fantasy Award, and Central Station has been praised by heavy hitters like Alastair Reynolds, Ken Liu, and NPR. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book.

Science fiction is a reflection of the present as well as a vision of the future. It’s easy to draw parallels from elements in Central Station, like the Conversation, to some of the social and technological issues we all wrestle with today. What inspired the story? What ideas, questions, or themes did you explore with it?

Gosh, so many. It’s a bit of an optimistic future, really, isn’t it? I wanted to just write about ordinary people against this big science fictional background. To kind of have all those cool things but as scenery, almost. The book comes from a very contemporary place and time (specifically, the central bus station area of Tel Aviv, which is now home to both economic migrants and refugees) and I was inspired to write about it when I was living back in Israel for a while. Also, I do come from an Internet background, so the progression of communication and the way it affects our lives have been on my mind from an early age. It’s a novel about religion, communication, family — I wanted to explore the idea of the big extended family, which you don’t see in Western SF much but is very natural to me. Ultimately, I’d like to think it’s about love.

The story is full of lovingly rendered references to the larger body of SF/F. Who are some of the lesser-known writers that have influenced you? What’s the latest book you fell in love with?

I’d say Cordwainer Smith, most obviously. To me he’s probably one of the three most significant American science fiction writers of the 20th century, but he’s virtually unknown. Simak, too, with his pastoral SF. C.L. Moore. I don’t read that many genre books anymore — the last one I read was Alastair Reynolds’ Slow Bullets, which I liked a lot. The other thing you might notice in Central Station is also a lot of throwaway references to Israeli SF/F and pulps, which, I suspect, is as obscure as it gets! I just write these weird little jokes in to amuse myself, but it’s nice when someone picks up on them from time to time.

Central Station is relatively short as novels go, but it feels sprawling and inclusive, almost like a magic house that’s larger inside than without. What was your creative process like for the book? Did you outline or just start writing?

I worked on it, on and off, for about 6 years! It was my crazy little side project, basically. I’m still amazed it got published! It’s interesting working on it in chunks, because you’re plotting individual stories and then fitting them into the overall narrative — but I wasn’t going for plot much with this, I was taking a very different tack to my more commercial novels, and just exploring people, relationships. I was very much exploring as I went along. And it’s set in a wider universe I’ve been writing about, on and off, for over a decade, so it was easy to fit in a lot of material that, if you follow the thread, will lead to another story entirely.

Many of the chapters of the book were previously released as individual short stories, and were later modified and included in the novel. What structural considerations did you have in mind as you pulled them together? How did you go about weaving them into a narrative whole?

Central Station was always meant to be a single creation, but I was always fascinated by the old science fiction novels that were done as mosaics, that were sold as stories first — mostly it’s a way of getting a bit more money, really! But it’s quite a challenge to do, as I found out. What really happened was that, when I was finished with the sequence, it didn’t quite work, and I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. It took Tachyon’s support, and great editorial feedback, to help me find it, which I was incredibly grateful for — as I was getting pretty frustrated at that point! It was mostly technical — reordering the stories, I think we dropped one, cut one in half, and then smoothed the transitions, removed redundancies… it really was just normal drafting work, you know. 95% of it is the same. It was actually very soothing, once I knew what I had to do!

Intricate personal and social politics permeate Central Station. Reading it made me reflect on many recurrent news items. Did you have any goals for the story besides crafting a compelling tale? What role does speculative fiction play in our culture?

Well, it’s not for me to say! Obviously one aspires to Say Something, but it’s up to each reader to take from the book what they will (if anything). It occurs to me, as I move away from Central Station, that’s it’s quite a hopeful book in many ways. It’s what happens if humanity doesn’t destroy the planet and each other. One can only hope!

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Enjoy this interview? Then you’ll probably like my reading recommendations curating amazing books that explore the intersection of technology and culture.

Reading Recommendation: Flatland

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott was originally published in 1884 and is proof that great stories survive the test of time. It's a mind-bending adventure starring a protagonist that lives in a two-dimensional world. The story is filled with humor, romance, and satire. Flatland is a captivating and delightful invitation to free our thinking from the artificial constraints we constantly impose on it.

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Enjoy this tip? Then you’ll probably like my reading recommendations curating amazing books that explore the intersection of technology and culture.

Cumulus is eligible for a 2016 Hugo Award

"Cumulus is your new favorite surveillance-fueled dystopian novel. It's a future we can all recognize - and one that we should all be genuinely afraid of." -Ars Technica

Cumulus is my first science fiction novel, and this is my first Hugo eligibility post. The book went viral on Reddit when it came out in May 2016 and has earned praise from Popular Scienceio9Businessweek, GeekDad, TechCrunch, and the Verge. Andrew Chamberlain, Chief Economist at Glassdoor, says, "Cumulus is a prophetic Bay Area thriller, a Jason-Bourne-meets-Silicon-Valley story of escalating technology, inequality and a crumbling state. When a former CIA-operative-turned-hired-gun joins forces with tech giant Cumulus, cracks in the digital facade emerge, laid bare by a powerful and simple analog alternative. In today's world where intimate personal details are just another row in someone's 'big data,' Cumulus is a stark reminder that data are power--and absolute data corrupt absolutely."

Led by a diverse cast, Cumulus is a dark, gritty rollercoaster ride through a near-future San Francisco Bay Area ravaged by economic inequality and persistent surveillance. To be perfectly honest, the public response to the book took me entirely by surprise. Cumulus is self-published and it's unusual for indie books to get any attention from the press. This is purely my personal speculation, but one reason the story might be resonating is simply that we seem to be living through many of the themes that the characters wrestle with: accelerating technological change, increasing income inequality, stark gentrification, cyber espionage and doxing, power transitioning from the public to the private sector, a new wave of populism, government and corporate surveillance, and making sense of the human experience in the midst of such a maelstrom.

Twenty-sixteen came a little too close to realizing some of the darker aspects of the future Cumulus portrays and I'm extremely proud to report that last month I donated a total of more than $10,000 of proceeds from the novel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Chapter 510. EFF fights to protect our civil rights in the digital world and Chapter 510 provides badly-needed literacy programs to underprivileged youth in Oakland. We need real world heroes like the brave staff of these two organizations now more than ever. Hopefully, this will in some small way contribute to the social impact of science fiction.

If you're curious, you can find Cumulus here and information about how to vote in the Hugos here. Google invited me to come give a talk about the book which you can watch here. You can read more about what inspired the book here and what I learned writing it here. If you're a fan, please help spread the word. If you're a WSFS member, I appreciate your consideration!

NPR/BBC blurb on self-driving cars

Cumulus fans know that I spend a lot of time thinking about autonomous vehicles. So it was a fun surprise to be interviewed on NPR/BBC last week about what the future of self-driving cars might look like and how they'll change our lives, cities, and industries. You can listen to the show here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04kxn3z