Pluralistic: 13 Oct 2020

Today's links

Attack Surface is out! (permalink)

Today is the US/Canada release-date for Attack Surface, the third Little Brother book. It's been a long time coming (Homeland, the second book, came out in 2013)!

It's the fourth book I've published in 2020, and it's my last book of the year.

When the lockdown hit in March, I started thinking about what I'd do if my US/Canada/UK/India events were all canceled, but I still treated it as a distant contingency. But well, here we are!

My US publisher, Tor Books, has put together a series of 8 ticketed events, each with a pair of brilliant, fascinating guests, to break down all the themes in the book. Each is sponsored by a different bookstore and each comes with a copy of the book.

We kick off the series TONIGHT at 5PM Pacific/8PM Eastern with "Politics and Protest," sponsored by The Strand NYC, with guests Eva Galperin (EFF Threat Lab) and Ron Deibert (U of T Citizen Lab).

There will be video releases of these events eventually, but if you want to attend more than one and don't need more than one copy of the book, you can donate your copy to a school, prison, library, etc. Here's a list of institutions seeking copies:

And if you are affiliated with an organization or institution that would like to put your name down for a freebie, here's the form. I'm checking it several times/day and adding new entries to the list:

I got a fantastic surprise this morning: a review by Paul Di Filippo in the Washington Post:

He starts by calling me "among the best of the current practitioners of near-future sf," and, incredibly, the review only gets better after that!

Di Filippo says the book is a "political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance," whose hero, Masha, is "a protagonist worth rooting for, whose inner conflicts and cognitive dissonances propel her to surprising, heroic actions."

He closes by saying that my work "charts the universal currents of the human heart and soul with precision."

I mean, wow.

If you'd prefer an audiobook of Attack Surface; you're in luck! I produced my own audio edition of the book, with Amber Benson narrating, and it's amazing!

Those of you who backed the audio on Kickstarter will be getting your emails from BackerKit shortly (I've got an email in to them and will post an update to the KS as soon as they get back to me.

If you missed the presale, you can still get the audio, everywhere except Audible, who refuse to carry my work as it's DRM-free (that's why I had to fund the audiobook; publishers aren't interested in the rights to audio that can't be sold on the dominant platform).

Here's some of the stores carrying the book today:

Supporting Cast (Audiobooks from Slate):


I expect that both Downpour and Google Play should have copies for sale any minute now (both have the book in their systems but haven't made it live yet).

And of course, you can get it direct from me, along with all my other ebooks and audiobooks:

SF as intuition pump (permalink)

I have a column up in today's Slate's Future Tense: "The Dangers of Cynical Sci-Fi Disaster Stories."

It's an exploration of fiction as an "intuition pump": Daniel Denning's "thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use their intuition to develop an answer to a problem."

That is, we use fiction to mentally rehearse potential scenarios.

I'm a fiction writer. More specifically, I'm a science fiction writer, which means I'm a pulp fiction writer, so plot is always front and center when I work ("I can do fucking plot. I can feel my links to Dashiell Hammett… I’ve still got wheels on my tractor"-William Gibson)

And unfortunately, there's easy plot wins to be had through cynicism: rather than choosing between man-vs-man and man-vs-nature stories, we get a twofer by combining them into man-vs-nature-vs-man (the tsunami knocks your house down and your neighbors come over to eat you).

I have both enjoyed and written these kinds of stories, even though I knew they were lies. Disasters, history tells us, are when people rise to the occasion, not when they sink into barbarism.

Sure, plutes are always worried that crises will precipitate a comeuppance, but let's not let elite panic override our own experience: if your neighbor's house fell down, you'd race to dig through the rubble, right? Not steal their Amazon packages while they were distracted.

The more I think about this kind of plotting, the more I worry that it is priming our intuition pumps with the wrong stuff, with the precursors for barbarism, the fiction-driven conviction that disasters precipitate a war of all against all.

What's more, there are even better plots – chewier, gnarlier ones – to be had in telling stories of crisis in which people DO rise to the occasion, but can't agree on what to do about it – where crisis becomes disaster because of good faith, not bad.

Today, Tor Books published Attack Surface, the third Little Brother book, in which I really lean into this idea, finding my plot points primarily in irreconcilable and even vicious differences among people trying to do good.

I'm not just trying to tell better stories – I'm also trying to create better intuitions. So many of the techies who found inspiration through Little Brother still manage to rationalize their way into perverting technology into something that oppresses rather than liberating.

The stories they tell themselves are often about the bestial nature of humanity and the justifiability of putting those beasts in high-tech cages.

"New stories will help us understand the importance of seizing the means of computation and using it to build movements that break up monopolies, fight oligarchy, and demand pluralistic, shared power for a pluralistic, shared world."

Beyond Cyberpunk (permalink)

I'm a "post-cyberpunk" writer. That is, I was raised on and inspired by cyberpunk fiction, and, unlike the majority of the cyberpunks, I actually went to work in the tech industry, thanks, in large part to them.

Over the years, I've given a lot of thought to what it means to be "post-cyberpunk" and I think the key difference lies in how you relate to computers and networks: whether they are metaphors, or concrete things in the world.

The technologist-wizard archetype of cyberpunk needs to be able to cast spells with technology, to transcend its limits and make it do the impossible – but the post-cyberpunk hero depends on their comprehensive knowledge of the possible, all the things a computer can do.

In some ways, this transition was inevitable. The 15-or-so-years of cyberpunk supremacy coincided with a moment of both widespread technological excitement and technological inexperience: most people hadn't used computers much, but they really wanted to.

Today, in the post-cyberpunk era, technological know-how is much more widely distributed, as is technological disillusionment. The "poetics of the technological subculture" (as William Gibson memorably phrased it) are no longer quite so esoteric.

Attack Surface, my latest novel, is a decidedly post-cyberpunk novel, inviting readers to relate to its technological elements as they relate to their daily lives, rather than their dreams of the future.

I'm doing an event on Oct 19 hosted by Andersons Bookshop with OG cyberpunk, "Chairman" Bruce Sterling; and Christopher Brown, a new and exciting post-cyberpunk writer (both Chris and I were mentored by Bruce) on this subject:

Half-Life's G-Man performs "Once in a Lifetime" (permalink)

Machinima has its roots in the early cracker and demoscene – stunters who'd use the games' sprites to create splashscreen animations in tribute to their prowess.

As highly customizable games like Doom hit the market, the scene intensified, excited by the prospect of actual feature film production on the cheap, assisted by game-engines.

Pioneers like Hugh Hancock stretched the realm of possibility with incredible and heroic efforts, but Hugh died before he could see his vision bear fruit – today, major studios use game engines to animate movies and shorts all the time.

I always think of Hugh and get a little sad smile when I see this stuff in the wild. Today, I found this: a remake of Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime starring G-Man from Half-Life, created by Corey Laddo.

It's nothing short of spectacular – exactly the kind of creative, playful experiment Hugh dreamed of.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago HOWTO Make jello blood-worms

#10yrsago Kevin Kelly’s WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS: how technology changes us and vice-versa

#5yrsago CIA black-site torture survivors sue shrinks who made $85M overseeing CIA torture program

#5yrsago Police end round-the-clock Assange detail at London’s Ecuadorian embassy

#5yrsago How to make “Dracula’s dentures” cookie sandwiches

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Boing Boing (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 528 words (71794 total).

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla