I found another online mention of Only Superhuman! Audible SF/F listed it in their “Ridiculously Huge Preview of 2012” column recently. It’s wayyyyy down toward the bottom, in the “Sometime” section (since its publication date isn’t entirely locked down yet). But at least it’s a mention!
Oh, and I got the word yesterday that the copyedited manuscript has arrived safely back at Tor. Yay!
Well, it looks like Only Superhuman is starting to get a bit of attention beyond what I’ve been able to stir up (or what my editor has been saying about it over on the TrekBBS). A blog called Superhero Novels has mentioned it twice now: back on Christmas Day it included it in a list of superhero-themed novels slated for 2012 (a much longer list than I would’ve expected, though it seems most of them are either small-press books or DC/Marvel tie-ins), and two days ago, in a monthly news update, they linked to my recent post debuting the novel’s cover, and said “it looks great.” So, my thanks to Superhero Novels for helping to spread the word.
I just finished a novel I picked up at the used-book store recently, Fool’s War by Sarah Zettel. This 1997 novel was my first exposure to Zettel’s writing; I bought it because the premise sounded interesting and because I’m interested in reading more SF/space opera from female authors. And it turned out to be a solid, engaging hard-SF novel whose approach and values were similar to my own in some ways.
Fool’s War is set in a starfaring human civilization over 500 years in the future. There’s FTL travel and communication, called “fast-time” and never really explained, but otherwise the treatment of physics and engineering in spaceships and space habitats is very realistic (for instance, there’s no artificial gravity). There are no aliens, but there are artificial intelligences which occasionally become fully sentient, their birth pangs wreaking havoc in the highly computerized, networked human civilization of the novel. The interstellar community is held together, not by a government, but by the banking network that manages all transactions. (However, this is not a work of libertarian SF, refreshingly enough; one of the main characters comes from a libertarian sort of society and scathingly indicts the brutal anarchy he grew up in.) And to a large extent, the peace is kept by the Fools’ Guild. These are Fools in the Shakespearean sense (there are numerous references to the Bard herein, with a lot of the action taking place among the Shakespearean-named moons of Uranus), professional jesters who serve as social release valves and easers of tensions. The story focuses on the packet ship Pasadena, whose crewmembers come from a variety of different cultures with sharply conflicting values. The co-owner and engineer of the ship, Katmer Al Shei, is a devout, veiled Turkish Muslim woman in a future where anti-Muslim bigotry has become far worse than it is even today (startling that this was written before 9/11/01). The pilot is a Freer, a member of a habitat-dwelling society that reveres sentient AIs, believing they have captured and effectively reincarnated the souls of dead humans. Whereas the communications officer (a position cleverly labelled the “Houston”) is a survivor of a disaster wrought when his colony’s AI became sentient, and is fanatically, paranoiacally anti-AI. And the ship’s co-owner, who timeshares it with Al Shei on alternating missions, may have left some dangerous contraband onboard. So tensions are high in this enclosed environment, and ship’s Fool Evelyn Dobbs has her work cut out for her, using comedy and wit to entertain and calm the crew so the ship can run smoothly. It’s a charming notion, and Dobbs’s presence makes the book quite entertaining — at least in the first half, before things end up becoming deeply serious and increasingly dark.
But the Fools have a deeper goal, a secret mission to keep the peace on a far more sweeping scale, and there are others with a conflicting agenda that may destroy that peace once and for all. I don’t want to go into specifics, because it turns out that Dobbs has her own deep dark secret that is very deftly concealed. I absolutely did not see it coming, even though I was given clues, things I was shown and allowed to interpret through my own preconceptions, leading me to the wrong conclusions. It’s a deft bit of misdirection, befitting characters like Dobbs and her fellow Fools.
Perhaps reflecting its origins in the ’90s, there’s a lot of cyberpunkish stuff, characters diving around through cyberspace, and a lot of the descriptions of how that happens feel rather fanciful to me, though perhaps they’re just metaphors for otherwise incomprehensible processes and program interactions inside a computer network. Still, this is the first SF work I’ve ever seen or read that actually offered a plausible justification for the premise of the mind “leaving” the body upon diving into cyberspace, and being potentially in danger of bodily death if something goes wrong.
So this is the kind of story I like, both to read and to write. A hard-SF setting, richly textured worldbuilding, a witty central character with depth, a celebration of multiculturalism, a message against intolerance, and — I felt — an ultimately positive, optimistic tone, even though some very dark and awful things happen (or have happened in the characters’ pasts). It’s one of my most satisfying impulse buys in recent memory, and I’m definitely going to be checking out more of Zettel’s SF (though I see she also writes fantasy and paranormal romance — making it doubly cool that there’s so much hard science in her SF).
I’ve finally finished the copyedits to the manuscript for Only Superhuman. Actually I pretty much finished them yesterday, but since this is being handled the old-fashioned way — a hefty printout that I had to mark up by hand and will mail back to Tor tomorrow — I wanted to add all the changes to my digital file of the manuscript so there’s a backup record of them in case the pages get lost in the mail.
I’m a bit puzzled that this part of the process is being done old-school all the way, seeing as how my earlier editor-requested manuscript revisions were handled digitally. But I guess when you get to the copyediting phase, it’s deeper in the machinery of the publisher, or whatever, so I guess the procedure could be different. But it’s just been rather a long while since I’ve had to mark up pages and mail them back, rather than sending a Word file with changes tracked, or just sending my editor an e-mail listing the edits by page and line. When I’m sent physical pages, I still do take the red pen to them as a backup; but since it’s so rarely needed, I’ve let my notations get a little sloppy, so I’m a little out of practice on the proper format. I hope all my notations are clear.
But I was finally able to make a couple of fixes that I’ve been waiting to make for a while. One, which I’ve mentioned my intention to do before, was an update to a passage about the planetoid Vesta, incorporating some of the new information we’ve gained from the Dawn probe currently orbiting it. I replaced a conjectural passage about Vesta’s geology — something that Dawn has found no evidence to support as yet — with a mention of Rheasilvia Mons, the name of the enormous mountain in the center of Vesta’s south polar basin. At first I was going to say it was the tallest mountain in the Solar System, which it is as far as we know right now; but then I realized we could maybe discover a taller one somewhere out in the Kuiper Belt. So instead, considering the extent of human travel and colonization in the system at the time of the novel, I described it as the tallest mountain humans had ever climbed.
The other fix I’ve been waiting to make was to correct an oversight. In my last major revision of the novel before selling it, I reworked the backstory of a featured community in the novel so that they originated in a space habitat rather than on Earth. And a while back, after the previous set of post-sale revisions, I realized I’d accidentally left in a line in which a character from that community referred to his “Terran upbringing” and how it affected his perception of a certain situation. I was able to fix it by saying he’d resided on Earth for a time, which is a reasonable extrapolation from his backstory as it now stands.
Meanwhile, I’ve been consulting with my editors about a design issue. There’s an appendix in the book, a listing of the locations featured in the book and their relative positions within the Solar System, and I’ve never been happy with the format I used to present the information. I intended it merely as a stopgap and figured that if I ever sold the book, I’d consult with the editors/designers about coming up with something better. But I’d forgotten about that until just recently, doing the copyedits. But I had a little back-and-forth with Greg and Marco and came up with a couple of ideas, including a table format that I think works a lot better than what I had. So hopefully that will be all worked out, and I’m glad I remembered to ask about it while we’re still pretty early in the process of designing and assembling the book.
Anyway, with the copyedits done, Only Superhuman is now one step closer to being a completed book. All the major changes and adjustments are pretty much done by now; once we get to the galley proofs, with the typesetting and composition done, any further changes will probably be pretty minor. So the way the book is now is almost its final form, probably. Which means that any mistakes and plot holes I still haven’t caught are doomed to be immortalized (though with luck I’ll get a sequel and be able to rationalize or retcon them).
I just discovered last night that I still had this blog set for Daylight Savings Time. I have now corrected that oversight. The management apologizes for the great inconvenience and confusion that surely must have resulted. 😉
Here it is…
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect cover for this book. It marvelously conveys the novel’s sense of high-flying action and adventure in a high-tech setting, and the flamboyance and power of its heroine, Emerald Blair (aka the Green Blaze). It makes the novel look exciting and energetic, and that should help sell copies. (This scene doesn’t appear in the book, but it’s kind of an amalgam of elements of the opening and climactic action sequences.)
And it’s a marvelous portrait of Emerald Blair. First off, I’m stunned and honored by how closely artist Raymond Swanland followed my character design drawings. Allowing for a bit of idealization, and my own limited ability to translate my visual ideas to paper, it’s as authentic a portrait of Emry as I could’ve hoped for. More, it captures her personality and the life she leads very well. She looks like she just hurled herself off the top of a skyscraper without giving any thought to what happens next. She’s totally focused on fighting the bad guys and won’t let little things like plans or gravity distract her. She’s in an incredibly precarious and dangerous situation and she looks completely at home there. Yes, she is presented in a sexual, glamorous way too, but that’s in character for her, and it’s a very athletic, active, powerful kind of sexiness that (at least to my eye) complements the impression of strength and competence in this image rather than undermining it.
Here’s a look at the cover painting without the text:
The composition is fantastic. The lines of the image converge on her face, drawing the viewer’s eye there, and there’s a powerful line of action running from her eyes along the arm to the sidearm, reinforced by the parallel line of her leg, and by all the shrapnel flying past. That outthrust, perfectly straight arm just conveys so much power and skill and confidence, and I’ve never been happier with my decision to give her a sleeveless costume. Even though she seems to be in retreat from something, her body language feels forward-thrusting and aggressive and fearless. (Not to worry, though — that’s a stungun.) Also, the background is muted, mostly in grays and browns, with the only bright colors being on Emry, so she really pops as the dominant part of the image.
Emerald Blair peers over my shoulder and has this to say:
“Vack, I look great. I wish I could get my hair to look that good, especially in action. Normally I just tie it back, or French-braid it if I have the time. And I wish my outfit showed off my curves that well, though just as well it’s not quite so flimsy. Cool Flash Gordony gun, though I’d stab myself in the side if I actually wore the thing. Still, this is how I should look in action.
“But I’m glad he didn’t exaggerate my body. Some things, honey, you just can’t improve on.”
So yeah, it’s a slightly idealized portrait of the Green Blaze, but it conveys her essence very well. It could validly be a portrait someone painted of her in-universe. In any case, it’s an ideal way to introduce Emerald Blair to the world, and I’m very happy with it.
EDIT: Since this post is getting a lot of new attention, here are some ordering links for the book:
Things are starting to pick up with the process of getting Only Superhuman to publication. Not only is the cover nearly done, as I mentioned the other day, but I’ve just gotten the copyedited manuscript pages sent to me for review. Over at Pocket, this is being done digitally now, with the copyedits sent to me as a Word file with tracked changes, but apparently Tor (or at least Marco, the assistant editor who’s handling that part of the process) still does things the old-fashioned way, with printed pages delivered to me. And it’s a hefty sheaf, over 400 pages that I need to work through by the end of the month.
And here I was just starting to get some momentum going on the reworking of my second spec novel. I just finished revising the first of the book’s three parts (the one that’s an expansion of my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”) and am about to start on the second, which is the part where the revised plot begins to diverge more substantially from what I’d written before (before I realized that I was writing myself into a corner and needed to back up and take things in a new direction). Well, hopefully I’ll be able to spare enough attention for both projects, though of course the OS copyedits need to take priority since they’re the project I have a deadline for.
Anyway, I printed out the OS cover art at about 7×10″ size and hung it over my desk, next to my own pencil/colored-pencil renderings of Emerald Blair. The more I look at the cover, the more I like it, and I hope it isn’t much longer before I can share it publicly. (I wonder what the title font will look like.)
Meanwhile, this seems to be my week for seeing covers, since today my Trek editor at Pocket e-mailed me the cover mechanical (i.e. the flat version of the full cover, front, back, and spine) for Star Trek DTI: Forgotten History. No surprises in the cover art, but now I’ve seen the back-cover blurb too, and hopefully the final cover and blurb will be publicized soon.
And in other news, as I’ve already reported on Facebook, the Twitter page set up by my impersonator has now been shut down.
To prove that I was the real me, I had to fax proof of identity to Twitter, and since I’m not set up for telefacsimilating from home, I had to walk up to the nearby FedEx Office place — and by bad timing, today was just about the coldest day we’ve had all winter. I could’ve driven, but I wasn’t sure about parking availability, and I wanted the exercise, and it was only 7-8 minutes to walk either way. Still, even such a short walk in such cold weather can really take it out of me, and I’m still feeling the fatigue.