Eva Hagberg Fisher on Lifesaving Friendships and the Art of Memoir

I interviewed Eva Hagberg Fisher for the Chicago Review of Books about writing, life, and her brilliant debut memoir, How To Be Loved:


"I had to find the heart of the story, which was really my transformation from someone who was loved but couldn’t feel it, into someone who could feel it. And once that became the central catharsis, everything else—eventually, with tremendous rewriting and editing—fell into place."

"There’s a great line in The Killing, which I watched with Allison, and I don’t remember it exactly, but it was something about how the hanging out in the car, the driving around, the going to cases, that’s what the point was. It wasn’t the highlights and the plot points, it was the time in between."

"My fantasy had been that I would go off to the woods and write from page 1 to page 240 and it would pour out of me, and instead if felt like building a car engine—it had to WORK. It has reinforced my beliefs that writing is a very technical skill that gets better with practice, and I was able to write this intensely personal honest book by thinking of it as work—just thinking, okay, does this bit connect to this bit correctly."

"I read the manuscript out loud to myself every night to see where I felt like skimming or skipping, and then I’d rework that section. I also read the dialogue out loud to myself hundreds of times – deciding if something should be an ellipsis or a hyphen or a semi-colon."

Complement with three pieces of advice for building a writing careerBarry Eisler on writing Livia Lone, and this radio interview about how creativity is a form of leadership.


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True Blue: An Internet Public Art Project

For the past two years, I've been working with award-winning designer Peter Nowell and illustrator Phoebe Morris on a secret project that is finally ready to share.

Some of you may have read my short story True Blue when it came out on Kindle. It's a tale of persecution and self-discovery set in a world where your future is determined by the color of your eyes. The reader response to the story was so strong and moving that I was able to raise a grant to adapt True Blue into an internet public art project.

Phoebe, Peter, and I challenged ourselves to reimagine what online storytelling could be and built a custom site from the ground up to bring True Blue to life. The result isn't quite a webcomic or an article or an art installation but a little bit of all of those things and more. We hope it contributes to making the internet a more beautiful, meaningful place.

Experience True Blue right here. It's a story about being true to yourself even when the world turns against you, standing up instead of standing by, and finding the courage to stop caring what other people think.

To make True Blue, we experimented with new production techniques: blending digital and physical media, developing custom logotypes and micro-animations, cropping images not just to resize them, but to change their content and composition to accommodate different screens, etc. When you read the story many of these endeavors invisibly contribute to making it compelling. To see exactly how we did it, read this detailed companion essay about the creative process behind the project.

It's hard to believe that the day has finally come to let True Blue out into the wild. We poured ourselves into this project and are incredibly proud of the results. I can't wait to hear what you think.


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Speaking at SXSW: How Fictional Futures Influence Tech

I'm speaking at SXSW this week on a panel with Kevin Bankston, Malka Older, and Tim Fernholz where we're going to discuss how fictional futures influence tech:


"What does it mean when many of the richest and most powerful people on the planet—like Elon Musk, Larry Page, and Jeff Bezos—think how they think and do what they do in large part because of the science fiction they read and watched when they were 12? What were the key sci-fi authors and ideas that most inspired them, and continue to influence them and Silicon Valley more broadly? Is that influence ultimately a good thing or a bad thing? And what can we all learn about innovation from science fiction? Join bestselling sci-fi authors Malka Older ("Infomocracy") and Eliot Peper ("Bandwidth") along with journalist Tim Fernholz ("Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race") as they examine the tech industry's long-running relationship with fictional futures."

If you're interested in the topic and want a sneak preview, I did an interview with a student journalist at Texas State University:

“Science fiction is the mythology of our age of acceleration. It reflects the fact that we are trying to make sense of living lives that are fundamentally different than our ancestors, it warns us of danger and inspires us to imagine how the world might be made better. Many technologists and entrepreneurs love science fiction not just because it’s a wellspring of ideas, but because by presenting plausible alternative realities, science fiction challenges readers to reexamine the status quo.”


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Richard Powers on human civilization as a computer game

“The player will start in an uninhabited corner of a freshly assembled new Earth. He’ll be able to dig minds, cut down trees, plow fields, construct houses, build churches and markets and schools—anything his heart desires and his legs can reach. He’ll travel down all the spreading branches of an enormous technology tree, researching everything from stone working to space stations, free to follow any ethos, to make whatever culture floats his state-of-the-art boats.

But there’s a kicker: other people, real people, on the other end of modems, will each be furthering their own culture in other parts of this virgin world. And every one of those other actual people will want the land beneath any other player’s empire.”


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Using science fiction to understand the future of the web

ZDNet just ran a lovely, profound, generous review of the Analog Series that is thought-provoking in its own right:


"Peper's tomorrow is familiar yet utterly changed."

"We're living in a world that's increasingly connected, and in the same moment, increasingly divided. How do we square the circle of the technologies that are at the base of this paradox?"

"Like the best futurist fiction, Peper's Analog trilogy leaves you both satisfied and unsatisfied, content with a story that ends well, but asking questions about how we can go from our current informational wild west to something democratic, something we all have a say in, that's for all of us and not solely built to generate shareholder value. These are big questions, and it's good that the final pages of Breach leave us asking them. After all, if we don't know what questions to ask, how can we build a better world?"

Complement with TechCrunch on Bandwidth, the East Bay Express on Borderless, and this podcast interview about the Analog Series.


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Nick Harkaway on Algorithmic Futures, Literary Fractals, and Mimetic Immortality

I interviewed Nick Harkaway for the Los Angeles Review of Books about how to make sense of the future, the power of speculative literature, and how he wrote his mind-bending novel, Gnomon:


Gnomon muscled its way into my head and it gets to people in a way that seems to be equivalent—that sense of something organic happening independently in one’s own mind, slightly creepy, weirdly exciting… I hope.”

"Science fiction is how we get to know ourselves, either who we are or who we might be. In terms of what is authentically human, science fiction has a claim to be vastly more honest and important than a literary fiction that refuses to admit the existence of the modern and goes in search of a kind of essential humanness which exists by itself, rather than in the intersection of people, economics, culture, and science which is where we all inevitably live. It’s like saying you can only really understand a flame if you get rid of the candle. Good luck with that."

"Why are we trying to build AI? It’s not because we want to have something that makes coffee properly and walks the dog. It’s because we want a perfect, wise friend to stop us from doing stupid shit. We’re trying to build the angels we were promised who never show up."

"There are aspects of the book—truthful allusions, deliberate mistranslations, misstatements, references and implications, signs and phrases, secrets I slaved over, faithfully wove in and reiterated in different sections—that I no longer remember or understand. I pushed my limits more than I ever have before."

"Our societies are defined by the technologies that enable them. Humans without tools are not magically pure; they’re just unvaccinated, cold, and wet."

"Borges is simultaneously enlightening and infuriating. He claimed to be too lazy to write a novel, and said it was just easier to write critical appreciations of fictional novels he might have written. I didn’t believe him when I read it, but now I almost do; to write the kind of novel he’d have written, you have to run your brain on so many levels, see things that can’t be envisaged. Each of his short stories is like an explosively compressed sculpture. You let it go off in your head and bang! It’s there and then you turn around and it’s… melted away."

Thanks to William Gibson, Max Gladstone, Hannu Rajaniemi, and Michael Dirda for their generous suggestions on this interview.

Complement with Cory Doctorow on Bandwidth, Kim Stanley Robinson on lunar revolution, and Meg Howrey on the inner lives of astronauts.


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A reading guide to building the future

I wrote an essay for TechCrunch that explores the literary culture of Silicon Valley. It digs deep into the feedback loop between books and innovation and turns up weird gems along the way. Think of it as a reading guide to building the future:


"Every year, Bill Gates goes off-grid, leaves friends and family behind, and spends two weeks holed up in a cabin reading books. His annual reading list rivals Oprah’s Book Club as a publishing kingmaker. Not to be outdone, Mark Zuckerberg shared a reading recommendation every two weeks for a year, dubbing 2015 his 'Year of Books.' Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube, joined the board of Room to Read when she realized how books like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate were inspiring girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Many a biotech entrepreneur treasures a dog-eared copy of Daniel Suarez’s Change Agent, which extrapolates the future of CRISPR. Noah Yuval Harari’s sweeping account of world history, Sapiens, is de rigueur for Silicon Valley nightstands."

"Cloud Atlas, The Inevitable, The Overstory, Gnomon, Folding Beijing, and AI Superpowers might appear to predict the future, but in fact they do something far more interesting and useful: reframe the present. They invite us to look at the world from new angles and through fresh eyes. And cultivating beginner’s mind is the problem for anyone hoping to build or bet on the future."

"The Kindle was built to the specs of a science fictional children’s storybook featured in Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age, in fact, the Kindle project team was originally codenamed 'Fiona' after the novel’s protagonist. Jeff Bezos later hired Stephenson as the first employee at his space startup Blue Origin."

"Just as technological innovations are incremental and relational—machine learning wouldn’t exist without the internet which wouldn’t exist without the transistor—literature is best described as a single extended conversation. One author in particular made a significant impact on both Harkaway and Gibson, as well as many of the most influential computer scientists and venture capital investors in Silicon Valley: Jorge Luis Borges."

"Life is parochial. Every one of us is born into our own little pocket universe with a unique set of parents, friends, opportunities, threats, circumstances, and choices. To make sense of the world around us, to catch a glimpse of underlying reality, to notice those invisible forces, we must step outside ourselves. Reading is one way to do that. Books are windows into other hearts and minds. Books allow us to communicate with the dead and to imagine countless alternate dimensions. Books contain the ideas of our greatest philosophers, the insights of our most brilliant innovators, and the tales of our most inspiring storytellers."

Complement with why business leaders need to read more science fiction, my Whose Century Is It? interview, and my monthly reading recommendations.


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