Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Irreconcilable Differences Premier party speech/reading

For those who were at Flying Pen Press's Summer of Science Fiction event, you've heard all this before. What follows is a transcript (more or less) of the speech and reading I delivered at that event.

Irreconcilable Differences is about a woman named Rachel Santana. She is an agent of Interpol Covert Services. She’s thirty-six years old, married, soon to be divorced, and an experienced undercover operator. They’ve taken a digital copy of her mind and personality, and implanted it in Micki Blake, a 16 year old hacker girl from rural Kansas.The mission: Locate the dangerous new player who is prowling the rural hacker ecology. Destroy him. Take no prisoners. Leave no trace. Use Micki Blake and her life as a cover.

What this means for the copy of Rachel Santana is that she’s spending time as a sixteen year old again. She’s in high school again. Above all, she has to face some hard questions. Who am I? How did I get to be this person/ Where do I go from here? These questions and their answers are a matter of life and death.

When I tell people about Irreconcilable Differences, the question I get the most is,Why Kansas?

My wife and I used to drive a lot between Colorado Springs and Sheridan Wyoming. It’s a long, dull drive. You wind up playing games like Road Kill Bingo just to pass the time. We stopped in Douglas Wyoming. It’s a town of about 5000 people, mostly support for farming and ranching, mostly retail and medical. It’s also the home of the Wyoming State Fair.

So anyway, we stopped there at the combination gas station, convenience store, and Subway Sandwich shop, and we’re sitting there, eating our sandwiches, listening to the country music, when these two goth-punks walk in. And they were in full uniform: Leather jackets, piercings, tattoos, chains, makeup, hair, the works.

No-one batted an eyelash. Except us. We talked about them for some time once we were back on the road. They were more interesting than road kill bingo. You don’t expect to see that kind of big city culture in Douglas Wyoming. But clearly, it’s there.

That idea rattled around in my head a while, and it really took off during another long drive, to the other end of Kansas. You want to talk long, dull drives? There’s not much interesting scenery. Not even much carrion on the road. I’d been working on a followup book for Looking Glass, I was thinking about cyberpunk and thinking about how yes, cyberpunk culture and technology would penetrate even here.

I knew this. I’m from these big square states. I knew it’d be different, going more rural with it, but Cyberpunk doesn’t have to be about big urban sprawls slowly being made over in the image of Tokyo. I’ve set it in normal cities before. What hit me at that point was that cyberpunk doesn’t have to be in cities at all.

By the time I got home, I had a rough idea of Micki Blake and her life going in my head, so I scrapped the novel I was working on and wrote this one instead.

I can go on about this at some length, but rather than talk about the book, I’d rather read you some of it. So.

Our scene is in Kansas, on a school bus ride home, after Micki and the copy of Rachel’s first day together in high school. They’re in the process of hashing out their working relationship, and things have been a little rocky in that regard. Micki is calling Rachel by her high school nickname, Rae. Trust is still a touchy issue, and they’ve butted heads a few times. They’ve also run afoul of Robert Neil, Rachel’s soon-to-be ex-husband and boss at Interpol Covert.

One other thing. The dialog between Micki and Rae, takes place inside Micki’s head, where no-one else can hear. Rae, the copy of Rachel Santana, is narrating.

Stare out the window on the bus, as soon as we sit down. Reverie of tiredness. Mental fatigue. The neurofiber net may be depleting Mick’s blood sugar too fast. Have to ask Mom … Mrs. Blake for a bigger lunch, probably. Micki’s a growing girl. I’m tired of defending myself, and what I’ve done. Tired of explaining. Tired of living Micki Blake’s life with her, already. What was Robert thinking? I keep asking that, but no answers.

Look around the bus, from the stringy, long-limbed thirteen-year-old boys and their rather more developed female counterparts to the pregnant girl sitting in the back of the bus. They all look so young. Look at one boy. Young man. Thin mustache, as only a late teenager can grow. Blonde. Blue eyes like the sky. Talking to one of his friends. Impish flash of a smile. Look away. Close my eyes.

“Would you quit that?” she demands. ”I can’t see when you do that.” Give her back control.

“What? That’s just Bobby Freyr. What’s the big deal? I mean, yeah, he’s hot, but…”

“I just feel old, Micki. That’s all.”

“Well, you are old. But don’t get any ideas about Bobby. He’s dating the senior class president. Bobby’s graduating this year, too. He wouldn’t notice me if I painted myself blue and came to school naked.”

“You might be surprised.” I’m taking far too much joy out of teasing Micki. This is getting out of hand. But. But.

“Oh, please,” Micki says. “He doesn’t even know my name.” Defiance. Challenge. I feel it from her. I feel it as though it’s my own, too. Okay. We can go that way. “Make a bet?”

“Oh, yeah? What?” she asks.

“I’ll bet I can make him notice you. Extra points if he already knows your name.”

“Um,” she blanches a little. Smile a bit at her, in the gestalt. “Um,” she starts again, “You know I was kidding about painting myself blue and going to school naked.”

Chuckle at her. “Trust me. Nothing like that, Mick. Nothing indecent, or immoral, even.”

“Yeah, right. Okay, what do you get if you win?”

“A nice, long soak in the tub. Quality time.”

“And if you lose, how about you do my homework?”

“You’d get better grades if I didn’t.”


“I never was a great student, Micki. I wasn’t anything special. Just one of the other kids on this bus. Nobody you noticed. Unless you were on the volleyball team. Sang in choir. That kind of thing.”

“So how do you think you’re going to get him to notice me?”

“I’ve learned a few things.”

She nods slowly. “Okay. Homework verses tub. I got a history paper due tomorrow. Pretty much any topic from the turn of the century. I figure you could write on the war in the Middle East.”

That. Wouldn’t be my first choice, but…“Fine. You’re on.”

She grins inwardly. “Snap. You’re so going to lose.”

Assert control. Micki doesn’t resist. I could use the practice. When the bus stops at its next stop, I get up. Move to Bobby’s row. “Hey Bobby.” Smile.

He looks up, as though a little startled. “Hi. Um. Micki, right?”

Nod at him. “Yup. That’s me. Congratulations. You know. The whole graduation thing.” Try to get the patter right. Try to let Micki’s speech sound like Micki.

“Thanks, Micki. Looking forward to it.” He chuckles. He goes on. “Are you going to the end-of-year party on Saturday?”

“I dunno. I’m kind of grounded.” Roll my eyes. Micki’s gestures. Body language.


Smile at him. “You gonna be there?”

He chuckles a little. “‘Course. It’s my last chance to go. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Lean forward just a little. Invade his space a bit. He glances down the neck of Micki’s tank top. “Well, then,” I say, “I’ll have to try, won’t I? Maybe see you there?” Give him another smile. He chuckles, looking a little shy.

“Maybe,” he says, and smiles back.

“Blake, get back to your seat and sit down!” the bus driver yells. “We’re moving.”

I sit Micki down in her seat. Give her control back. Try not to smirk. Too much.

“Oh. My. God,” she says.


“He’s like, the most popular guy in the school, and a senior, and graduating, and you just flirted with him. With my body.”

“Yeah, and?”

“He… ” she squirms.

I can feel the flush rising to her cheeks. “Say it.” Definitely smirking now.

“He noticed me. He even knew my name.”

“Yup.” Chuckle at her a little.

“How did you know? That he’d notice, I mean.” I should not, as a rational adult, feel such a sense of victory from this as I do. But I’ll take it. I could use it. I might even get to like it.

“It’s the kind of thing you talk about at reunions, Micki. ‘Hey, I remember you. You were the star football player. Voted most desirable guy in the yearbook.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, I remember you, too. You were the yearbook photographer. The quiet one. I always wanted to ask you out.’ And you both laugh, but in the back of your mind, you think, ‘Aw, shit, I wish I’d known before you were married.’ Well. Now you know.”


That’s just a little taste of Irreconcilable Differences. I’m pleased to announce that the book is available today, right here at The Tattered Cover. Thank you.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stealth Suits and how they work

Irreconcilable Differences makes extensive use of stealth suits, and I've already gotten questions on how they work. Before I go on at length about what chameleopoly is and how it works, there's this video I found on youtube that shows what it *does*.

(If you can't see the video, it's of a laptop rigged with a camera looking out the back of the screen being displayed on the front of the screen. If you can't see the video, you'll have to trust me that it's an effective illusion that the screen is transparent.)

From the glossary of Irreconcilable Differences:
Chameleopoly: Short for chameleopolymer, a family of polymer products whose color, pattern, and reflectivity is variable. The most common types are passive matrix, which requires no external power, and which gradually assumes the pattern on its darker side, and active matrix, which will digitally generate and display anything that would have been in the environment, were the chameleopolymer not there. One can, for example, watch TV through someone wearing a chameleopolymer suit, and in fact, most modern roll-up TVs are made of chameleopolymer.

I envision a layer of video sensors and some active processing that ensures that what is on the front of the suit looks just like what's on the back of the suit, and vice versa. Obviously this works better the less there is to see of the suit, which is why people wearing them tend to hug the walls. (Hugging the walls also reduces your chances of being walked into whilst invisible, and gives you some natural cover as well.)

It bears noting that the idea isn't original to me, particularly. Gibson's mimetic polycarbon suits did approximately the same thing, as does thermoptic camouflage in Ghost in the Shell. It's a common meme. My addition was to deal with the problem of body heat, by adding (in later versions of the suit) what amounts to a sponge layer saturated in liquid nitrogen, which is insulated from the body. Body heat is transfered to the liquid nitrogen layer and absorbed by the state change of some of the nitrogen from a liquid to a gas. The gas emerges from vents in the suit at ambient temperature. Given that nitrogen makes up 78% of Earth's atmosphere, this small amount of extra nitrogen would be devilishly hard to detect in the air space of a building. And yes, I did calculate how much heat the body produces, and how much heat a given volume of liquid nitrogen requires at sea level to vaporize and rise to room temperature, and those factors were all considered.

The result is a suit which is reasonably invisible to the naked eye, and exactly the same temperature as ambient air, making it invisible to infrared sensors.

I would have loved to see the Mythbusters try the liquid nitrogen idea in their Mega Movie Myths episode, and they did try hosing the wetsuit down with a fire extinguisher, which worked until it warmed up. The idea of carrying liquid nitrogen in the suit would have been interesting to see them explore, but the possibility of freezing Tori solid probably would have made it impractical. It was, in any case, gratifying to see that the basic premise of the suit's thermal control was workable in the real world. :)


Friday, August 15, 2008

Sometimes it's scary being right.

I'm certainly not the first person to talk, as I do in Irreconcilable Differences, about information warfare as a force multiplier in a real war. Gibson did it in Neuromancer, and I lifted the term from Ghost in the Shell: SACC. And yet I didn't expect to see infowar being a force so soon. Even if the Russians didn't coordinate the DDOS attack on the Georgan web infrastructure, as THIS article suggests, if there is any strategic or tactical advantage that results from doing so, someone will next time.

The advantage here would be compromising the ability of a government to address its people. A savvy operator could probably extend that to disrupt net-based telephony fairly easily. It seems like so very little, and yet if my government can't keep me informed, and I can't phone THEM and tell them "Say, there are tanks coming up my street," that seems like a tactical/stratiegic advantage.

More concerning is the fact that particularly American forces command and control is increasingly dependent on net based communication. Admittedly, this is a different kettle of fish entirely - hardened and encrypted network, satellite communications, etc etc. I certainly hope it's secure. Severing command and control is a huge tactical/stratiegic advantage.

The response to the Russian/Georgan cyberwar will be interesting, too. It's going to be an interesting few years while worst and sloppiest (and most widely distributed worst and sloppiest) operating systems become strategic liabilities and (maybe) are systematically expunged from the net. They make DDOS attacks possible. It will also be interesting to see the extent of liability for the corporations that made these operating systems.

It's scary being right, sometimes. When you write semi-dystopian cyberpunk, sometimes the things you predict are the last things you actually want.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Irreconcilable Differences Premiers during Denvention 3

A week ago tonight, August 7, 2008, Flying Pen Press premiered their Summer of Science Fiction lineup of books. I'm pleased to say that Irreconcilable Differences was among them.

Here's me, giving the speech and short reading at the Tattered Cover. Unlike last time, this speech and reading went pretty well. I figure when I can get the audience to laugh, I've got their attention. :) Oh, the pictures are all clickable, if you want them big enough to actually see. :)

Here's fellow FPP author Gaddy Bergman, giving his speech and a short reading from his upcoming Riders of the Mapinguari.

As I mentioned, the premier was on the second day of Denvention 3, aka Worldcon. For those of you who've never been, Worldcon is the World Science Fiction Convention. It's held in a different location every year, anywhere in the world where Science Fiction is read. Last year's was in Yokohama, Japan. This year? Denver. Mighty convenient, that. :) It's the first time I've been able to go to a worldcon and then sleep in my own bed at night. Although we did rent a hotel room Friday and Saturday nights, so we could go to bid parties. (A bid party is where cities who would like to host a worldcon 2-3 years hence throw a party at the current one. Much fun. :)

I knew I was on a panel at Worldcon. Our topic was "The Successful Misfit in Science Fiction." I figured that, given it was fairly early Sunday morning, at the tail end of the con, it would be populated by lesser known writers like myself.

I found out a week beforehand that my assumption was wrong.

This is a picture of that panel. That fellow on the far (house) left there? That's Larry Niven. Continuing to (house) right is Richard Dutcher, the moderator; me; and George R. R. Martin. Intimidated? Me? You bet. :) As it turned out, Mr. Niven had some very good examples of the successful misfit from his own work, and Mr. Martin and I had quite a bit to say on the broader implications and technical uses for misfits. Turns out that on close reflection, misfits abound in Sci-Fi and fantasy. A good panel. At least I had fun. I hope they did.

I had a signing, too. This picture is of me signing some kind of who's who in sci-fi, my only customer. But it was still fun. The well dressed gentleman to the (house) left of me is James Morrow, who had a lot of interesting things to say once his line of fans had been taken care of. Watching him sign was probably more educational than doing it myself. The man takes good care of his fans.

A good con. A fun con. But I have to say that the last time I went to Worldcon was 6 years ago, and I really *felt* the difference those 6 years made. In tiredness. Still. Looking forward to Bubonicon (where I'm just going as a fan) and Mile Hi Con (where I will hopefully be contributing). I'd somehow lost sight of how much fun sci fi cons can be. And I think I'm getting used to being a contributor, too. And I like it. :)


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Flying Pen Press Summer of Science Fiction at the Tattered Cover, Lodo

Something I've been meaning to post about and have consistently forgotten.

I’m pleased to announce that on August 7, 2008 at 7:00pm, Flying Pen Press will be having its second premier party, once again at the Tattered Cover Lodo. My new novel, Irreconcilable Differences will be one of several books premiering at the party. I’ll be giving a (short) speech, probably doing a short reading, and of course, we’ll all be signing. The Tattered Cover will have books on hand, but you're attending, you may wish to call ahead and reserve a copy.

Having announced all that, I’d like to invite you to the party. It’s taking place during World Con, and the Tattered Cover is within walking distance (or a short, free ride on the 16th street mall shuttle bus) from most of the con hotels. Please note that while the party is taking place during World Con, it is not part of the con, is open to the public, and no con membership is required.

Past experience suggests that these things run long, so I’d advise coming on a full stomach. Fortunately, the 16th street mall is literally awash in great restaurant choices. :)

More info here on The Tattered Cover Lodo


I have a Book!

If you follow lolcats, ( you've undoubtedly seen the picture of a happy looking walrus holding a beach pail while his keeper is washing him. It has the caption, "I has a bukket!" and it is from this that the whole "bukket" meme flows.

Well. I has a book. That would have been the title of this post, too, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. :)

It's funny. I've seen this book. I mean, I wrote this book, obviously. I've seen it all dressed up in typesetting, with the cover and everything. And still, like the first time around, it's a lot like standing in the living room of your prom date's parents' house and all of a sudden that girl you've known in school for who knows how long is all dressed up, and you and your sweaty palms have to pin a corsage on her without stabbing her. Holding the first copy out of the carton was like that, minus the stress of trying not to stab someone - or wind up with a hand in her cleavage in her parents' livingroom.

Yeah. Second book. Was like that. I hope that doesn't ever change. It's one of the things that makes writing fun.

Oh, and word to the wise. The prom dress effect described above? Wedding dresses have the same effect, only an order of magnitude stronger. Gentlemen, if you're getting married, make sure to see the dress beforehand. Bad luck? I dunno, I think it's worse luck to pass out at the altar. :)


Friday, August 1, 2008

Irreconcilable Differences Released!

Finally! Irreconcilable Differences is released and on sale. Any bookstore should be able to order it by the ISBN13 number (978-0-9818957-1-0), and quite a few online stores are carrying it in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Germany, of all places. No coverage for Irreconcilable Differences in Australia yet, but I'm keeping my eye out for them. :)

Much more info on my website, (Hint: click the BUY button.)

If you're reading this on my Amazon author blog, obviously buying at Amazon is easy. You can look the book up, or just click HERE to go directly to the amazon product page.

There is also a very nice press release from Flying Pen Press about my new book HERE.


It's kind of rewarding to surf the web looking for sites carrying a book I wrote. It's also becoming apparent that in the very near future, I'm going to have to change the way my buy page works. Right now, it's all hand coded HTML, and it's getting far too large.

This is a good thing. :)

The fact that Irreconcilable Differences is on sale in Germany was startling, and amusing. More puzzling was that the same seller is not also carrying Looking Glass.

Anyway. It's here! It's here! Enjoy!


Blog Archive