July 14, 2009 — 1,043 words
Next Monday, 1889 Books will be releasing The Vector, a science fiction novel about people trying to survive a slow apocalypse. When we start the book, things have already been deteriorating for some time, and no time is wasted explaining why. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing a series of background articles that fill in the back story. You don’t need to read these to understand the book, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to know.
Part VI: The Russian Wars
While China suffered terrible losses in its containment efforts, Russia was gutted by a lack of coherent strategy. The outbreaks that had kicked off the virus age worsened as incubators fell further down the criminal food chain, out of the control of the already-overwhelmed police forces. Within six months, the number of known viruses in Europe tripled, all thanks to Russian coders.
The Free Incubator Network (FIN), in a hotly-debated referendum, voted to filter Russian IP addresses out of the system, to prevent viruses to spread outside Russia, but also to prevent virus programmers from exchanging ideas. It did little to slow down the spread. Either the perpetrators found ways around the admittedly-flawed filtering routines, or they weren't collaborating in the first place. A third, protected network called S-FIN (Secure FIN) was set up with trusted nodes that needed to be re-authenticated daily, but they were simply no match for the spread of viruses.
The Russian government, fearful of the collapse of their nation, begged the international community to help treat their sick. It was a stunning admission of weakness that moved many nations to immediate action. But while the Russians had been expecting medical personnel on-site, all they got were loans and investments in technology. As one politician put it: "All the medicine in the world can't help us if there are no doctors here to administer it!" But this was as far as nations were willing to commit, fearful of becoming targets themselves.
Into the gap flooded organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which deployed hundreds of highly-skilled volunteers from all over the world, in an effort to stop the plagues before they eradicated Russian civilization forever. The doctors, nurses and technicians sent into Moscow and St Petersburg were welcomed as saviours, but even with all the technology they carried with them, they were only able to ease a patient's suffering in his last hours. Within months, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were added to the "Black Zone" list, of countries deemed too dangerous to visit.
When a case of Moscow-22 was detected in western China, events became more urgent. Having just returned to stability itself, China was not willing to risk another serious outbreak. They demanded a 50 kilometre "buffer zone" around their borders. When Kazakhstan balked at the unprecedented request, the Chinese tabled a UN resolution to remove the territory rights to any Black Zone nation while it was under quarantine. The demand met with stiff opposition from Russia and the United States, killing it before a full vote.
Two days later, China mobilized troops along its north-west border, and delivered an ultimatum to Russia: either support the buffer zone, or China would wipe the former Russian Federation off the map. In papers filed with the UN Security Council, China argued that the Russian plagues presented an imminent threat to their nation, and as such were justified in taking pre-emptive action. Any doubt as to their resolve was quickly clarified when a civilian convoy near Zaysan, Kazakhstan was destroyed and burned for crossing within 25 kilometres of Xinjiang.
Against the wishes of American diplomats, Russia agreed to the Chinese terms, supporting the buffer zone and going further to ask China for any support it had in coping with outbreaks. After a two-week delay, the response came in another UN resolution: China requested special non-interference guarantees as part of an initiative it called the "Healing Program". It had equipped its former PHEU agents for travel abroad, and would bring its special brand of treatment to the world.
By the time the first PHEU agents reached Russia, they had earned the bitter nickname "Healers", infamous not for the infected they killed, but because they never actually cured the sick. They were the diagnosticians and the hunters. Others cared for the sick.
The MSF contingent in Russia had suffered staggering casualties. By some estimates, all the top-ranked medical minds of the world had died in the space of a year. Those that were left were desperate, unorthodox, and largely discounted by their colleagues at home. When the Healers arrived at their doorstep, fireworks were to be expected, and on November 23 of that year, a Healer was killed by a mob of patients at a hospital outside St Petersburg. Reports quickly singled out the leading physician, Dr Alberto Gauss, as the instigator. When China demanded punishment, MSF argued Dr Gauss, for all his faults, was an integral part of maintaining order in St Petersburg, and could not be removed. The Russian government, fearful of large-scale reprisals, went against popular opinion and arrested Dr Gauss for murder. He was convicted in a hastily-arranged trial and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. China was placated, but the public (and MSF) were furious.
The first wave of Healers spent three years in Russia before moving further west. The world they found there was nothing like they'd expected...
The story continues next Monday, July 20, in "The Vector". You can read the first chapter now, with new chapters every Monday and Wednesday.
July 12, 2009 — 696 words
Note: I wrote this in about 15 minutes as part of a contest at Boing Boing Gadgets. I wanted to post it here in case any of you enjoy it. The rules were simply: flash fiction, about gadgets. This is what my mind gravitated to...
“You’ve gotta try my toothbrush,” Jeff said breathlessly, shoving the shiny plastic tube between Laney and her cereal. She made every effort to not kill him on the spot.
“I keep telling you,” she said, pushing it away. “I’m not risking my dental hygiene based on some techno-fluff marketing bullshit. I don’t care how the sound waves supposedly detach plaque from your teeth. If it doesn’t taste like mint, I don’t trust it.”
Jeff looked ever-so-slightly hurt by this. He displayed his gum line proudly.
“It really works,” he said. “No cavities. Not a one.”
“You haven’t been to the dentist since you got it.”
“Well, all the same.”
“No thanks,” she said, shovelling another spoonful into her mouth.
He didn’t give up. He pulled his chair closer, leaned close to the extent that Laney really wished the sound waves somehow conveyed a minty smell somehow.
“It’s not the teeth,” Jeff said quietly. “It’s something else. It can do something ELSE...”
She stared at him a moment.
“This isn’t sexual, is it?”
“No. No!” he said. “Nothing like that. Okay. Wait. Let me show you.” He turned back towards the bedroom, cupped a hand to his mouth, and called: “Digby! Here boy!”
In a second, their six-month-old black Lab was tearing across the hardwood floor, tongue flailing in anticipation of whatever made his owner call him. Jeff pointed the toothbrush at the puppy’s head and pushed a button, and in an instant, Digby collapsed to the ground, sliding the rest of the way to Laney’s chair.
“JEFF!” she yelled. “What the hell?”
“Don’t worry,” Jeff laughed. “He’s just sleeping. It’s nothing serious. See?” He pointed the toothbrush again, and this time, Digby bounced back to life, ready for action. Laney patted his head absent-mindedly, eyed the toothbrush.
“How did you…”
“Total accident,” he said. “I was holding it upside-down and Digby was right there, and next thing I know, he’s collapsed on my feet. Pretty amazing, right? I guess the frequency they use must trigger something in simple brains that shuts them off!”
“Wow,” gasped Laney. “That’s… that’s pretty amazing.”
“I know! God help us if Gizmodo finds out about this…”
Laney put out her hand, eyes narrow with skepticism.
“Let me try,” she said. Jeff put it in her hand, leaned back in his chair so he had a good view of Digby. His chest puffed with pride. He could barely cook his own ramen, but he’d gone and discovered something IMPORTANT. He was a MAN, dammit!
Laney stroked Digby’s head, and he licked her palm.
“Good boy,” she said, pointing the toothbrush downward. “Good little doggie.”
Before he knew what was happening, Laney swivelled the toothbrush around and zapped Jeff in the face. His head dropped backwards, eyes rolled, mouth hanging open stupidly. He began snoring almost immediately.
Laney dragged Jeff from the table to the bed, threw the covers over him and closed the curtains as if he’d slept in. It was so much easier doing this at night, she thought. She should have seen this coming weeks ago.
She hid the toothbrush in a pack of tampons, tucking it in the corner of the bathroom closet next to the soap refills, where Jeff would never, ever look.
It was going to take a lot of work to convince him that it had all been a dream, but it had to be done. “I have a headache tonight” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
July 10, 2009 — 56 words
July 9, 2009 — 353 words
This started out as a one-topic post, but quickly got out of control. I am so easily distracted.
In case you don't subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter, I'd like to point out the new Fission Chips is out and ready for voting. Already, we have the return of the alcoholic sympathizers. You guys make me worried for civilization.
Book Count for 2009
A few weeks ago, I was concerned I wouldn't make it to the 12 books for 2009. Right now, I think we stand a chance again. The current line-up is:
The last two are still iffy, but the rest are in good shape! I think I have plans for #11, so that leaves me one short. I can't fit "Typhoon" in there in this year, but there's hope!
Virtual Book Tour
I'm going to go about this all wrong: if anyone out there has a blog or site that would be willing to let me guest-post or be interviewed about any of my projects (most notably The Vector), please get in touch with me. Or pass my name around. The more yakking I do, the better I'll feel.
I'm thinking of making a series of digital-age fables (like The Pig and the Box), but shorter, and on a broader series of topics. If you have any topics you'd like to see covered, send them my way (comments or email). I want to try and make a collection of 21st century Aesop stories if I can. Spread the word. The more the merrier.
July 8, 2009 — 405 words
This is a response to a comment at TorrentFreak about TorrentBoy, so please excuse the unscheduledness of it.
TorrentBoy: Zombie World was released in March of 2009, and since then, it's been downloaded over 250,000 times. For the sake of simplicity we'll count each one of those downloads as a unique person.
592 people have donated money after reading Zombie World. The most common donation is $9, with a grand total of $9,636.32 (after PayPal fees). Around $2,000 of that was in the first 30 days. 0.2368% of my readers donate, but they tend to donate more than I would have made in royalties from a regularly-published book ($1.79 per copy).
Put in perspective: a typical advance for a book of this kind is $5,000. Odds are, I wouldn't see royalties at all. So right now I'm $4600 ahead of where I would have been under the traditional "pay first" model. Also, under this system, I have a lot more readers than your typical book aimed at this market. Canadian best-sellers ship 5,000 copies. I've already done that, fifty times over.
Can I live off $9,600 a year? No. I'd have to write a new TorrentBoy book (with the same rate of success) every three months or so, and even that would be cutting it close. Under this system, you need to produce constantly, or you don't survive. I happen to enjoy producing, so it's not a big deal for me... but as a replicable model, it's not quite fully-formed yet.
The thing that stuns me about the whole situation is how much of this money has come from (what I assume to be) BitTorrent fans. These are people you'd assume are hardcore pirates, pillagers of "intellectual property" and enemies of artists everywhere. Instead, they have sent me donations without coaxing, and made my little TorrentBoy experiment a big success. It may not happen again, but I think it puts a twist in the theory that pirates are immoral leeching psychopaths
Free works. I'm going to be trying "freemium" later this month with The Vector (where you can bypass the serialized scheduled by donating $5), but thus far I have no reason to bother trying to lock down anything I do. Treat your audience with respect, and they'll do the same to you. Treat them like criminals, and they'll take great pride in watching you squirm.
July 7, 2009 — 219 words
Today marks a momentous day in the history of 1889 Books! It's the launch of the new TorrentBoy adventure, "Pirates Attack!", by Chris Keyes!
When danger strikes the Maritime Museum, TorrentBoy and his crazy teddy bear Crash must save the day! But when a battle erupts between the infamous Sweesh Pirates and the noble Protectorate Guard, they find themselves caught in an impossible situation. Now, with giant whales and Proton Crabs causing trouble at every turn, TorrentBoy needs to work hard to uncover a dark secret that could destroy the world!
This is a really great book. I was really excited when I read it, and I hope you will be, too. It's being serialized at 1889 Books, with a new chapter every Tuesday. Subscribe to the RSS feed or just mark your calendars! Go see right now!
(side note: the artwork on the cover is temporary while I try and work through an artistic roadblock... I have a really cool design in my head that I can't seem to execute properly. Once it's done, I'll update everything. Apologies to Chris)
July 7, 2009 — 1,119 words
At the end of July, 1889 Books will be releasing The Vector, a science fiction novel about people trying to survive a slow apocalypse. When we start the book, things have already been deteriorating for some time, and no time is wasted explaining why. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to writing a series of background articles here that fill in the back story. You don’t need to read these to understand the book, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to know.
Part V: Black Clouds Over China
Although there had been incidents of synthetic viruses being spread beyond Europe, very few had been of a magnitude to do much damage. A Chilean infection known as DOMA-4 had killed several senior cabinet ministers, but it had been so carefully executed it left many with a false sense of security.
A year after the Bonn-1 attack, Hong Kong was thrown into chaos by the emergence of an extremely virulent disease, killing tens of thousands within a month. The local government, fearful of the panicking populace, requested support from Beijing while it tried to restore order with its police force. Beijing wasted no time: soldiers in full hazmat suits were on the ground in 24 hours, with order to shoot anyone that broke curfew. There were 390 casualties the first night, and no more after that.
Diagnosis of the virus revealed a signature encoded in the DNA, calling the strain "Freedom-1". The government publicly decried it as a foreign invasion, an attack against the Chinese homeland. Military installations were put on full alert, ready to "strike back against the aggressors where we find them." The United States urged calm, but after a second outbreak in Tianjin, it looked certain that war was close at hand.
While European states had implemented careful containment measures aimed at stemming the spread of infection, Chinese authorities found such measures lacking. A new program was put into place, called the "Health Protection Unit", charged with maintaining public order in the face of impossible odds. The first directive issued by the HPU was to cut off all internet access to the outside world, as any new virus codes must have been transmitted from outside China.
The HPU recruited top soldiers from within the regular army, equipping them with robust closed-system armour, and deployed them into Hong Kong and Tianjin. Although their role was primarily to be investigative, the HPUs quickly found themselves in the thick of a dangerous unrest. Five agents were killed in the first month, swarmed by angry mobs, and another two disappeared while on assignment.
Two months later, an outbreak of Freedom-3 in Shanghai threw the country further into disorder. By the timing of the strike, it was clear the threat had come from within China itself, possibly by a pro-democracy group emboldened by other terrorist attacks around the world. While the special police rounded up all known suspects, the HPU sent its agents into Shanghai to deal with Freedom-3.
This was the first instance of HPUs being on the ground at the start of an infection, and the game plan was significantly different. When cases were confirmed in a city block, the entire area was gated off for quarantine until it was deemed "safe". HPU agents were sent into quarantine areas to execute and burn the sick, in the hopes of stemming the spread before it overtook their resources. After two agent deaths, the rest of the force began to defy orders, refusing to kill innocent civilians. Many of the agents were Shanghai natives, which only added to the tension within the ranks. The government quietly disbanded the HPU and began to retreat from Shanghai as conditions worsened.
Two months later, a new force was established. Called the People's Health Enforcement Unit, it was made up of specially-trained agents from the western district of Xinjiang, deemed "safe" because of its remote location and relatively low population. The PHEU used more streamlined armour than the HPU, with more dire orders: it was clear from sign-up that they were to contain all threats, no matter the cost.
The PHEU invasion of Shanghai was quick and efficient. In the first week, 263 infected had been neutralized, with 51 "other" civilian deaths. None of the agents reported injuries. Rather than trying to burn bodies on site, PHEU installed powerful ovens in the outskirts of town, and carried out cremations in relative obscurity. Heavy masks were mandatory for all citizens; going out in public without one would result in immediate execution. Freedom-3 was not dead, but it was greatly diminished, and PHEU was declared a success.
By the time authorities properly diagnosed a new outbreak of Freedom-3 in Fushun the next month, it had already spread throughout most of the population. PHEU directors debated for several days before deciding there was no way to isolate the infection, and drastic measures were needed. In the night of June 6, agents and soldiers constructed a massive fence around the city, declaring the entire area a "black zone", and condemning its citizens to death. Air Force bombers torched Fushun from the sky, killing all 1.7 million people over the course of a week. None of the PHEU agents resigned over the affair, cementing their reputation as monsters in their eyes of their own people.
The world was shocked by the events in Fushun, with many countries closing their embassies in protest. But despite the moral objections, the results were undeniable: after Fushun, there were no further large-scale outbreaks in China at all. Because of this, the PHEU agents — now the symbol of death themselves — worked in a diminished capacity, isolating and treating viruses as they came up. The suicide rate among their ranks were astonishingly high, and it appeared that the saviours of China might all die off, reviled as their greatest nightmare.
It was not until the Russian plagues that they found a new purpose.
July 6, 2009 — 681 words
Today I'm going to announce two things that some of you already know, and I fully expect to receive a healthy amount of hate mail about. Also, a minor update on the Deathmatch.
TorrentBoy: Pirates Attack!
Starting tomorrow, 1889 Books will start serializing TorrentBoy: Pirates Attack!, with one new chapter every Tuesday for 18 weeks. The big news is that "Pirates Attack" was not written by me. It's by a very cool guy named Chris Keyes.
When I was finding beta testers for PA, I pinged a few hardcore self-publishing people, some of whom found it extremely offensive that I would betray "the cause" by becoming what was essentially a micro-press. There's a notion (that I guess I overlooked) that says that self-published authors must work exclusively for themselves, and cannot pool resources in any way. If I'm understanding correctly, the idea that I would partner up like this means that I am two steps away from Satan, and yet I will also burn in the pits of Hell for all eternity etc etc.
Honestly, Chris sent me a really great draft, but needed assistance getting it produced. It's a TorrentBoy book, so I had a natural inclination to help. Chris is self-publishing it with a bit of support from me, but any donations you make will go directly to him (minus the standard 20% TorrentBoy Project share), and if it goes to print, he's handling the logistics there too. It's self-publishing with benefits.
Just to be clear: I am not accepting submissions, I do not pay advances, and I am not trying to establish any kind of publishing company beyond what I already have. If I end up diversifying my author portfolio (ha!), I will do it in my own secretive way. You'd do better to get your book produced yourself than to put your hopes in me helping you. I'm not that good at this stuff yet.
I've already had one awkward conversation because of this, so I'll just make it clear: as of a few weeks ago, I have an agent for my screenwriting career. She's Amy Stulberg of Vanguarde Artists Management, and she kicks serious ass. Also, she's funny. In my TV-related world, she rules with an iron fist. Happy, non-threatening iron. Or something. Anyway.
Having a screenwriting agent is not the same as having a literary agent. They are two different things. I am not "betraying" anyone by doing this. I've always been very clear that my RollBots-related life was more conventional, and my book-related life was experimental. To help pay for my experiments, I need to earn money doing conventional things. The one helps the other.
That said, I have never been of the opinion that agents are as evil as many other people seem to think. In the book world, they're just overwhelmed and trying to keep their heads above water in ways that seem (to writers) to be shifty and disrespectful. If you had a few thousand people trying to get your attention every day, you'd construct a wall to keep them out, too. The system itself is broken, not the people.
Anyway, I wanted to put this out in the open so it didn't seem like I was trying to hide it from everyone. I honestly hadn't thought about it at all, but then got chewed out for my "deception", so I figured I'd better save myself further headaches.
I'm still not calling it done, but in the Deathmatch, The Chaos Book has a devastating lead. Like 3:1 over D'Myr, its closest competitor. Better still, I've had a few people actually PRE-PURCHASE The Chaos Book. So it's looking pretty solid there. I may shift D'Myr to an animated concept, or just shelve it for a while. Thanks to all 3 people who liked "The Ransom Line"!
You have until Friday to vote. Recruit friends and stuff. Cheating is acceptable.
Stay tuned for the Pirates Attack announcement tomorrow, and vote in Fission Chips too!
July 3, 2009 — 509 words
Know a great quote I missed? Which sounded most convincing? Let me know in the comments!
July 2, 2009 — 1,212 words
Next week, things will be getting very exciting and busy around here, so I want to give this as much time to breathe its own air as I can. This is what I like to call the Book Premise Deathmatch.
Usually, I do this process in my head, but my psychiatrist tells me it's not healthy to talk to myself so much. Quiet, you, I'm talking! Where was I?
Ah, yes. The Deathmatch. Right now, I have three ideas competing for my Friday timeslot*. These are going to be as insanely Social Media-ey as I can make them, and should be a lot of fun. But only one can survive. And that's where you all come in. I need you to vote for the premise you like most by visiting its 1889 Books page. Every hit counts as a vote. At the end of a week, whichever concept has the most votes will win.
(Side note: because I am in full-on fundraising mode, these all have money tied to them in some way. You may judge based on that methodology as much as creative content if you like).
Concept: Lucifer Clockhopper is a Myrian, a kind of pygmy fox is thought to have died out hundreds of years ago. The Myriad live in an advanced society underground, borrowing language and technology from humans, and doing their best to survive. But when Lucifer gets back from his latest reconnaissance run, he finds the entire city of Myr has been destroyed, with only a handful of survivors. As they make their way to the ancient Myriad home on the banks of the great underground Olyvent Sea, the last remnants of this troubled race discover there may be more of them still alive, and that the destruction of their home may not have been as random an event as it seemed...
Release: D'Myr will be an episodic series, following Lucifer ("Lux") as he tries to recover the rest of the survivors. Chapters will be about 1,200 words each, once a week, likely for a full year (52 weeks). Subscribers (one-time $5 fee) will get chapters as they're done, with everyone else stuck on the schedule.
Characters: Early on, the fact is revealed that there are 499 Myriad still alive, all scattered around the underground world. As a means of sponsoring the story, I would implement a system where you could suggest a name and occupation for a Myr survivor, and for $30 I would draw you the character and mail you a print. They'd appear in a chapter somewhere along the way.
Appendices: The Myrian world is full of linguistic and social influences, and has a rich culture leading up to its quasi-steampunk existence. I would write appendices outlining these elements on commission, at approximately $10/1,000 words.
Concept: The hero is an efficiency expert for the supernormal. When a zombie army is moving too slow to eat brains, he picks up the pace. When a rogue AI is having trouble getting its drones to massacre humans, he sets them straight. When an alien race can't figure out which organs to harvest for their experiments, he's got the answer. But there's one thing he HATES, and it is...
...up to you. You see, every episode of the Chaos Book is based on feedback from you. Even the hero's background will be a mixture of the most popular recommendations from the audience (via the site and Twitter etc). What's this week's dilemma? Agoraphobic vampires from Mars? Done! I'll make it happen, with as much action and comedy and absurdity as I can squeeze in.
Release: The Chaos book is episodic, which is slightly different than a normal chapter. Each episode will be fully-contained, but collected into a larger book (with story threads continuing through). Each episode will be about 2,000 words, once a week, for 20 weeks. Subscribers (one-time $5 fee) would get episodes a week before anyone else (as they're posted), with everyone else delayed slightly.
Custom Stories: If you really want me to write about sociopathic combusting fire ants, you could request a custom story for $60. If you don't have $60 to spare, you could opt for a $20 option that lets me package your idea with two others, making things even more chaotic. Once a $60 mark has been met, I will throw your story to the top of the queue, and give you a sneak peek when it's done.
Concept: Marjory Breen has been kidnapped from her kidnappers. It's really embarrassing. Joey was getting some candy and he left her alone for five minutes, and now she's gone. The worst part is, the new kidnappers want Joey and his seriously pissed partner Dan to jump through some pretty insane hoops, or they'll tell Marjory's parents who her original abductors were. They're forced to use a messaging service nicknamed the Ransom Line, where they're given their instructions, and have to post progress reports as they go. The trouble is, the Ransom Line isn't fully private, and they aren't sure who the actual kidnappers are, so they sometimes go way off-script trying to please the wrong people. But with only a few days before Marjory is killed, they have to work fast to save the day. Someone's day. It's a bit murky.
Release: This is what we call an improv Twitter story. Joey and Dan communicate entirely by Twitter (standing in for the Ransom Line), yakking back and forth with the expectation of privacy (which they don't get). Every Friday, the kidnappers give them another task to complete, and they work it out, live, for everyone to see. At the end of the day, the collected Tweets are assembled and put online so you can read it any time.
Interaction: Because it's just regular Twitter, readers can actually interact with the characters. In this context, the readers can be random passers-by, other kidnappers, generic criminals, or maybe even law enforcement trying to trap them. Dan and Joey (and the kidnappers) will react and change their plans according to what you say.
Ransom: Every so often, the kidnappers will demand payment from Dan and Joey, or they'll do something nasty... but rather than it being up to the characters, the audience will have to chip in to keep Marjory alive. If the target isn't met by the next chapter, they'll follow through on their threat... too many missed targets, and Marjory might not make it.
I would love to do any one of these, but there can only be one. Ask questions about them if you like (use the comment box below), and visit the page for the one you prefer. I will pick the one to do at the end of the day on July 9, based on the hit volume to their pages.
Thanks, and good luck!
* The Friday night timeslot does not preclude other regularly-scheduled books like Xander and the Wind. Timeslots are for serialized content only.